Deadly Premonition is, by far, one of the most polarizing videogames ever made. In fact, within the survival horror genre, it has won an official world record for its extreme split of critic opinion -- earning a 2/10 review score from IGN at the lowest, and a 10/10 from Destructoid at the highest.
Developer Hidetaka Suehiro -- known better to fans as Access Games director Swery65 -- couldn't be happier with the viral success his game has enjoyed, and as Deadly Premonition gears up for its Director's Cut re-release, Destructoid chatted with him about cult followings, controversial content, and "feeling" life in a videogame.
It's pretty fascinating stuff!
Life is beautiful
"It’s not as if I was going to design the game as a cult maniac intentionally," answered Swery, when asked if he sets out to create niche titles on purpose. "But we always think that we should create a game that doesn’t exist in the world and which only our studio can do. On the other hand, we always struggle with the limited cost and limited time given to us, so I have to add 'within those conditions.'"
Deadly Premonition is not the first game Access has released, but it's certainly the first to gain widespread attention. Previous titles Extermination and Spy Fiction -- a survival horror and stealth game respectively -- were relatively obscure, though no less capable of drawing mixed responses from the critics. Just like Deadly Premonition, these games have their fans who nowadays lament how overlooked they were.
Though traditionally billed as a horror game, Deadly Premonition really gained attention post-release for its bizarre sense of humor, and has led to it being labeled more of a comedy horror than a survival horror. Interestingly, Swery65 did not intend either. His intention with the game wasn't about creating a pure horror or a pure comedy experience, but to give players something real.
"This game seems to be categorized as a 'survival horror game' but actually our aim was not that," he revealed. "The theme of this game is real life, real time, and real scale, and to pursue the truth of a tragic serial murder in the local town with those settings. In other words, I would say, 'to feel life.'"
The game's less-than-stellar graphics and awkward animations meant that "life" did not necessarily come from crafting a believable, realistic world. However, there's no doubt that Deadly Premonition goes farther than even the most "immersive" big-budget titles in making a world that seems to have a heart of its own. Every character in the open world of Greenvale has its own routine, based on an in-game clock with a 24-hour cycle. As protagonist Agent Morgan explores, characters can be found going about their daily business, living their own life -- or as close to "life" as a humble budget game can get.
The player's character is no less bound by routine. Access Games put a lot of effort into encouraging players to maintain Francis York Morgan as a person. Gamers must keep him fed, shaved, and in clean clothes. According to Swery, this is all part of the plan to make Deadly Premonition a game about life.
"As I said, the original concept of this game is, 'living in and feeling part of the town.' Even if the player is an efficient FBI agent, he will also become hungry, sleepy, and stinky if he didn't bathe at all," explained the director. "This doesn't change even if zombies appear in the town or even if serial murders occur. It also means we are not perfect, just human. I wanted to bring reality into the game using those factors."
While Suehiro states that survival horror was not the specific goal of the game, it certainly plays an overwhelmingly strong part. For all its whimsy and eccentricity, Deadly Premonition can be quite disturbing, featuring multiple tortured victims of a serial killer, not to mention a cast of contorted zombies that thrust their hands into Morgan's mouth and moan constantly that they don't want to die.
The end result, according to Swery, could have been a lot worse. He confessed that the original game would have featured more horrific and violent content, to such a degree that cuts needed to be made.
"To be honest, we had more horrific scenes when developing this game but we deleted or fixed them before release," he told us. "For example, in the scene where the second victim (I intentionally hide the name) is killed, he (or she) was going to be killed by having the entrails pulled out from his (or her) body while he (or she) was alive. Why did I want to make these kinds of horrific scenes? Because I wanted to express the most [feared] thing in the real world -- death -- as something meaningful. One by one, very carefully. I reflect on it now that it was too extreme. I’m confident I can have a much better expression now, but at that time, I didn't have the width of the idea.
"As for the controversy about this kind of expression [violence in games] -- I think that has nothing to do with me. There are so many beautiful games that can ease the mind, but in the real world, we can't stamp out any war or murder happening somewhere. I feel the need to express the dark side of the world, not only the beautiful side. So, it will be most important to create the game I really feel and want to express, with moderation."
Videogames and art (and fun!)
Though games get written off as the toys of children -- often the source of furious pundits who rage about violent content -- many others view them as art, including fans of Deadly Premonition. Swery's game has been used as an example of why games can be art, something that humbles and surprises the director. For him, videogames need to keep striving for something meaningful, and should stop being focused solely on making a profit.
"It’s really honorable to have this game called 'art.' I’m so happy, it makes me cry," he exclaimed. "I think the videogame has to move to the next stage, not just make money. We won’t see any progress until we seek a game that truly attracts people. Most creators must realize this to a point, though it's hard to say we've had that kind of movement in the video game industry.
"Of course, to have commercial success is a prime condition but many movies, TV dramas, animation, comics, novels, paintings and carvings combine both commercial quality and artistic quality. I feel the video games industry is not mature yet in that regard and I also have to work much harder to contribute that quality."
One byproduct of this maligned focus on profit can be seen in Japan, with frightened studios struggling to "appeal to the west" as they fear alienating a key demographic. Games such as the recently released Resident Evil 6 epitomize this mentality, as the horror series jettisoned horror entirely in favor of Hollywood explosions and cover-based gun battles. Other developers have similarly shown a keenness to abandon what they know in favor of what they believe the West wants. Swery, naturally, is not one of them.
"All I can say is that, to create a game with the concept of, 'appealing to the West,' is not necessarily the same meaning as 'copying the West.' Some years ago, Japanese games were so popular in the West, in spite of not thinking of the Western market at all. Why? What were the creators then thinking of when creating the game? I suppose, they were just seeking the fun of the videogame, and as a result, it attracted the people in the West.
"Therefore, what we have to do is purely one thing -- it is to create a fun game and that's it."
The Director's Cut
The Director's Cut of Deadly Premonition is coming exclusively to the PlayStation 3, and will bring with it enhancements, improvements, and extra content. Swery65 revealed that all textures will be redone in HD, while some of the modeling has been altered completely. A new user interface, improved controls, fresh music and faster loading times (thanks to pre-installation) are all on offer as well. Not to mention 3D and PlayStation Move support -- because why not?
Swery65 admitted that time and budget still crept in while creating the re-release, but he has been able to add new story content to the title -- nothing too deep, sadly. It will be in keeping with his stated themes of real-life and relationships, and new characters have been hinted at.
"I must say 'thank you' to Destructoid," he laughed, when talking about reviews for the original. "I really appreciate that you fairly understood the fun of this game. Thank you, and I mean it from the bottom of my heart. Yes, I found some reviews which broke my heart, but more than those reviews, I was able to find the great reviews, and they really 'rescued' me.
"But now, I think that it’s my fault that I failed to deliver the fun of this game to those reviewers who wrote negative reviews. I have to reflect, thinking that my creativity was not enough. So with Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut, I hope to deliver a very attractive game that provides an enjoyable experience for all players. Lastly, with being given the chance to develop The Director's Cut, I now have the opportunity to revisit and retouch the game I once completed. This was my first experience with this kind of development, and sometimes it was like climbing over a wall. But I’m confident that I did what was needed to improve upon the original version."
For a guy who gave Deadly Premonition a 10/10, I'm not sure if I feel improvement was ever needed, or that the original game would not be served better as a retained snapshot of weird perfection. Nevertheless, I can't pretend I'm not excited to try the improved features and new content, and I can but wish Swery65 all the best.
After all, the more successful it is, the more deliciously mad games we'll get. That's hardly a bad thing.