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Isn't that right, Zach?
March 4, 2011 8:25 AM   Subscribe

"In 2010, Deadly Premonition was a surprise hit among players searching for a deep narrative single player game, and went on to win over a dozen end of the year awards from a variety of media outlets (including Gamasutra). At GDC 2011, Deadly Premonition director Hidetaka “Swery” Suehiro, revealed his seven tactics for creating a memorable story that will inspire a strong fan reaction." Link contains spoilers, excerpt inside the thread.

Swery65 is a video game designer from Japan. He was the mind behind the cult classic Deadly Premonition (SPOILERS!) (featured previously: here). Found out about this via the excellent Let's Play of it at the SomethingAwful forums, by the amazing LPer SuperGreatFriend. There are spoilers for the game in the interview, so here's a spoiler-free excerpt from forums user Doctor Chef:
SWERY:
Point 1: Make gamers think about your game when they aren’t playing it.
Relate actions in the game to actions players take in real life. “Gamers who smoke have said this a lot – when they see York smoke in the game, they want to light up in their living room,” said Suehiro. “Sleeping, Hunger, and Shaving, wanting to stay clean. Though these things seem unnecessary at first glance, they help with the cause and effect.” The goal is to link memories of Deadly Premonition with the player’s actions real world.

Suehiro says he likes to put daily human needs in the game, because they help affect the player outside the screen. “Playful elements” like predictions in the coffee, discussing movies lead to players identifying with the characters. “They’ve also told us they’ve rented one of the movies York talked about in the car,” he said. These things linger in your mind.

Point 2: Make gamers actively “want” to play through your meticulously scripted story.
Being forced to play through a tightly-bound storyline is a chore. “Those rails make the player feel like they’re being forced to do something. How do we alleviate that?” he asks. “How do you make them want to play through it?”

There are two pre-existing methods; multiple endings, and side quests. DP used a third method – freedom of timing – allowing for a “change of heart” from the player. They can stop whatever quest they’re on at any time, and take another path. It creates the illusion of freedom. “Once they’re comfortable, they’re more willing to get involved in the story,” he says.

In other games, including his previous game Spy Fiction, you get scolded for failure. In Deadly Premonition they wanted the main character, York, to go along with the player when he changes his mind. “That’s exactly what I was thinking,” is the feeling York gives the player when he or she goes off the rails of the story to pursue their own path. In fact, an important character within the story itself tells the player that timing is what’s important, not speed.

The goal is to earn the player’s cooperation with the story and suspension of disbelief. To do this, you’ve got to allow for a retry at any time, support the player’s actions 100%, and modify the story to allow for a player’s change of heart. Player feels empowered due to decision being allowed.

Point 3: Creating a storyline for a free-roaming open world game.
“We need to make a universe and characters in our game that are unique,” he says. Vague characters never stick in anyone’s mind.

When creating a storyline, it’s not uncommon that you’d figure out the map of the game world, and character details after the script for the main plot is complete. In DP they created the high level synopsis, then the map and character details, then made a 24 hour action table for each character’s daily life. Only then did they finalize the plot.

“The universe, the environment, and the characters are just as important as the storyline,” he says, especially for a free roaming open world game. “When we started making this game many years ago, there weren’t many games with free-roaming storylines that we could refer to,” said Suehiro, and this was the solution they came up with.

Point 4: Prevent players from quitting the game at the result screen.
Any game that prioritizes getting the player to finish the game over getting the player to want to learn more of the story is already dead. Every pause in a game, such as a results screen or chapter end, is a place a player might choose to quit.

“We inserted a glimpse of the next challenge before the results screen, making them want to know what happens next,” Suehiro said, though he did not address the idea of making a game where results screens and stages aren’t necessary, such as in larger open world games like the Fallout series.

Point 5: Make appealing characters.
“If you can’t remember any of the names of the characters, then that game is crappy,” said Suehiro. Note down everything you can possibly think of about a character, to really develop them so that they’ll stick in players’ minds. “You need to spend a lot of time to make deep characters,” he says. “It really helps to generate a resume for every character you make.”

He creates a mind map for each character, including habits, hobbies, the character’s first love, and so forth. Signature phrases and poses are also important, he says, because they’re easy for fans to recall. “It’s important that your fans can copy the poses and use the phrases,” he says. “You want your characters to have these elements that are copyable and mimic-able.”

“It could be a lot more natural though,” he said, acknowledging that his own poses and phrases for his main characters were a little extreme. The most important point is that the characters have good and bad points. “They say every rose has its thorn,” he says. York, for instance, is a good looking agent, but he’s an otaku and inconsiderate. Each character has a main overlying good quality, but some weaknesses built in.

“It takes courage as a game designer to add a bad side to your character,” he says. “Of course you want everyone to love your characters.” But putting flaws in them makes players actually identify with them more.

Point 6: Direct voice recording sessions.
Characters should speak in a memorable way. How did he voice direct without knowing English? He referred to music and thematic ideas when dealing with the actors. Agent York’s manner of speech is inspired by the Liverpool sound and the British Invasion. “I ocused on the how of the lines being spoken,” he said, focusing on rhythm and “musically, how they work in the scene. You need to make sure you have your own set of rules when you go to a voice recording.”

Point 7: Use your ideas whenever and wherever you can.
“What’s most important are your ideas,” he says. You should use all your ideas while you can use them! Even if you feel people may not see everything you’ve put into the game, unnoticed ideas explode when they do get noticed, he says. “You should use your ideas when you can. Don’t hold on to them until a rainy day.” As an example, he showed the fact that the town of Greenvale where the game takes place, is actually an outline of the Dalmatian in the game.

In the end, Suehiro closed with the thought that that, “If I get the chance, I’d like to make another game that makes larger leaps for a world-wide audience.”
Swery talks a little more with the guys at Giant Bomb in a spoiler free video interview.
posted by codacorolla (30 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm ashamed to say that even though I made the original FPP, and I ordered the game shortly thereafter, it still sits unopened on my game shelf. It just seemed there was always something else I wanted to play more. Once I have a 360 again (damnit FWPD, how long does it take to get a friggin' subpoena?!) I'll definitely take a crack at it though.
posted by kmz at 8:32 AM on March 4, 2011


Zach, I'm excited to see another Deadly Premonition post.
posted by cortex at 8:34 AM on March 4, 2011


SuperGreatFriend's LP alone must be responsible for a good chunk of sales of Deadly Premonition. His style and choice in games to LP have consistently been a favorite of mine, and for those who have watched his Let's Plays of Illbleed and D2 (also must watches) know that he wasn't joking when he said that Deadly Premonition seemed like a game tailored for him. The DP LP is really, ridiculously good. Like, seriously.

Also Swery is the bestest person to follow on Twitter :3
posted by kkokkodalk at 8:42 AM on March 4, 2011


My friend was telling me about this game, and about how it's both so horribly broken and just plain weird that after a while you get the impression it's meant to be broken and weird, and that the brokenness/weirdness is part of the intended game experience. Definitely seems to earn the "cult classic" title, in any case.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:04 AM on March 4, 2011


Zach, this is good. (the GB endurance run is a thing of legend and beauty.)
posted by slimepuppy at 9:10 AM on March 4, 2011


My friend was telling me about this game, and about how it's both so horribly broken and just plain weird that after a while you get the impression it's meant to be broken and weird, and that the brokenness/weirdness is part of the intended game experience.

It really is pretty butt in a lot of technical respects. When I bought it, inspired by the big old mefi thread about it, I started playing it and got worried fairly early on that the crappiness of the execution was going to overrule the wonderful weirdness of the content. And it was kind of touch and go for a bit, but I pushed on, me and my wife really enjoying the bizarreness and charm enough to make plodding through the crap combat and horrid driving and futzy interface and sometimes fairly weird plot logic execution worth it. Endgame really does deliver a hefty payoff dose of weird.

That said, much love to Swery et al but I'm pretty sure most of the stuff that's shitty about the game is just actually kind shitty or underfunded game development. Having the driving not be arcadey is a choice. Having the driving make you want to not drive while making driving a necessary part of the game is just crappy design. Most of my complaints about the game are about how poorly an idea is executed, not the oddness of the idea, and I'd love for DP to have been polished on the mechanics.
posted by cortex at 9:12 AM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't recommend the LP enough, by the way. SGF is like... a master-level LPer. Takes the game seriously at its own level and doesn't set out to mock it while still managing to incorporate some dry humor, plays completionist routes for most games, provides descriptions of game mechanics, edits and narrates well.
posted by codacorolla at 9:18 AM on March 4, 2011


The game doesn't necessarily interest me but the process - immensely - thank you for the FPP.
posted by Fuka at 9:25 AM on March 4, 2011


I have to get my XBOX ac adapter back from my sister so I can continue playing this.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 9:27 AM on March 4, 2011


Lookie at the closeted goons coming out. Heh heh heh.
posted by Samizdata at 9:28 AM on March 4, 2011


So many stairs.
posted by Samizdata at 9:29 AM on March 4, 2011


Point 4: Prevent players from quitting the game at the result screen.

That worked so well on the PC version of Assassin's Creed.
posted by straight at 9:33 AM on March 4, 2011


What, no love for GiantBomb's excellent Endurance Runs of it? (watch Vinny & Jeff's unless you're one of those inexplicable Brad worshippers)

This game seems like it's much better to watch a let's play of than to actually play, Zach.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 9:37 AM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


SGF is like... a master-level LPer. Takes the game seriously at its own level and doesn't set out to mock it while still managing to incorporate some dry humor...

Indeed, he totally ranks up there for me as far as providing fantastic and entertaining LPs that aren't just simply runs through a game (same reason why I love LP super team helloitsdan and Lithuanian Dad so much. I don't even care for the genre of games like Mercenaries and Lost Planet, but the amount of effort and additional gorgeous art and personality-filled info they pour into them turns the LPs into an enjoyable multi-media experience).

I'm still trying to figure out how much, if any, of the LP SGF pre-scripts. Only because he's got this great way of introducing side quest, secrets or alternate strategies without disrupting the narrative flow of his LPs too much.

What, no love for GiantBomb's excellent Endurance Runs of it?

I don't think GiantBomb's endurance runs were bad, but the reason I gush about SGF's LP is because it really made me fall in love with the game and made everything click in a "Ooooooooohhh, hey, this thing is totally up my alley!" kind of way about Deadly Premonition.
posted by kkokkodalk at 9:43 AM on March 4, 2011


BTW, throwing out some love for Voidburger and her amazing LP's for Silent Hill.
posted by Samizdata at 9:46 AM on March 4, 2011


OMG I just realized I am seriously talking about being a fan of Let's Play's. I think I need to go shoot myself now.
posted by kkokkodalk at 9:48 AM on March 4, 2011


Nothing wrong with loving LP's, multiple K's. Seriously. Unless it's sucky ones.
posted by Samizdata at 10:02 AM on March 4, 2011


"What, no love for GiantBomb's excellent Endurance Runs of it?"

They ran through the game without stopping for any sidequests and bitched about the game because of it. They weren't very good at the game, either, leaving most people with the impression that the game was terrible and not worth trying.

I love the Giantbomb dudes, but I really don't recommend watching the Endurance run as your introduction to the game. Definitely follow the SA LP of it linked in the FPP, though -- it's absolutely wonderful.
posted by flatluigi at 11:17 AM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


What are some of the better non-video LPs that are not called 'Boatmurdered'?
posted by jtron at 11:23 AM on March 4, 2011


Here's a link to all the archived screenshot LPs. They're all decent to great.
posted by flatluigi at 11:26 AM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was hoping it was by Hidetaka “Sweary” Suehiro.
posted by ciderwoman at 12:09 PM on March 4, 2011


Point 8: Rip off a great television show's style and (for the most part) plot.

I'm not going to fault him for it, but one of the reasons DP has such a cult following is because it feels like Twin Peaks. Also

Point 9: Have a constantly repeating yet enjoyable main theme song.

That LP of Illbleed is one of the weirdest things I have ever watched. It's seriously worth it to make it to the end, where it just gets completely insane.
posted by graventy at 2:32 PM on March 4, 2011


I love Deadly Premonition. It's one of my favourite games ever. It took days, maybe even weeks after I finished it to shake off the feeling of unease the ending gave me. Sure, the zombie hunts are not very well implemented, but I never understood the hatred of the driving (at least, not after I found out how to buy a better car) and really its other numerous technical limitations are not so bad. And along with all of the surrealist humour it has one of the cleverest storytelling moments that I've ever seen, and one that could only work in a video game: the Amazing Grace scene.

Having said that,

“The universe, the environment, and the characters are just as important as the storyline,” he says, especially for a free roaming open world game. “When we started making this game many years ago, there weren’t many games with free-roaming storylines that we could refer to,” said Suehiro, and this was the solution they came up with.

The free-roaming open world was the most disappointing thing about the game for me. There were lots of things to do - find bones, solve basic puzzles, stalk the townspeople, catch fish etc - but other than filling in minor bits of backstory none of them made any difference at all to the entirely linear main narrative. I wanted to have to gather clues by having random conversations on the street and peering into people's windows late at night then piece them together myself; instead all I had to do to push the story forwards was follow the arrows and turn up at a point on the map. The side-quests were also uniformly not very well written, I think because they were translated from Japanese rather than being written in English by the developers like all of the main storyline material, and the American localisers put about as much effort into the translation as you'd expect for a $20 budget game.

But still, game of the year.

Point 9: Have a constantly repeating yet enjoyable main theme song.

The music is probably the best thing about the game after the voice acting. You can download the soundtrack here, although some of the track titles are spoilers. There are also remixes.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 4:07 PM on March 4, 2011


Wish I had attendedd this talk, but I. Don't have 800 to drop on an all access pass, also I spent the week hustling the career pavilion for a job of some kind.

Gdc is a real interesting place. I could go on forever about it, but I'm dead tired and typing this on my phone.
posted by hellojed at 5:20 PM on March 4, 2011


I really want to play this. Select Button loves it. But it's banned in Australia.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:45 PM on March 4, 2011


> I love Deadly Premonition. It's one of my favourite games ever. The music is probably the best thing about the game after the voice acting.

Seconded.

Up there with EDF 2017 and Bayonetta as my favourite game this generation, something I found very surprising because I tend to not care about narrative at all and favour "gameplay driven" games. Had I bought a 360 just for this it would still have been worth it.

I liked the free-roaming sections above all else, you can still piece together quite a bit (Deadly Premonition actually goes out of its way to spoil itself), although as you said none of it matters much since there's only one ending; still, that was what made me so engaged in the story, wondering whether the little details I kept noticing were relevant or not.
The sidequests were pretty useful from a gameplay perspective, some of the rewards made the unpolished parts of the game much more bearable.


> This game seems like it's much better to watch a let's play of than to actually play, Zach.

GiantBomb's excellent Endurance Runs


Well, there's the problem... Avoid the GB ERs, they're funny in their own way but do not do the game justice at all. If you're interested in the game but can't play it yourself, watching sgf's LP is the next best thing, it really is too good for words. The first couple of episodes should be enough to tell you if DP is going to be your cup of tea, and also are a great tutorial for the way one should approach the game.

For potential new players, read this first and stay away from anything DP related - reviews, articles, even the trailers are spoiler-filled - on the internet until you finish it. Most of the frustrating things about the game can be easily circumvented if you play it properly. The combat remains boring, mind, just much less so, and it was no deal-breaker to begin with.
posted by Bangaioh at 6:09 PM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I really want to play this. Select Button loves it. But it's banned in Australia.

No, it was never submitted for classification (they thought there wouldn't be any point, and they were probably right). The UK version works fine on an Australian Xbox. I'm not 100% sure on the legalities of importing it considering that it probably would be RC if it was submitted, but I thought it was worth the risk.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 7:26 PM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've had the flu all weekend and have been drinking shots of robotussin and watching the Let's Play non-stop while drifting in and out of conciousness. I think this is making the game seem a lot more profound than it is.
posted by empath at 12:12 PM on March 7, 2011


Empath, the only thing better than watching the Let's Play in a state of semi-delirium would be playing the game that way.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 12:26 PM on March 7, 2011


Worth noting: The game which lead SGF to Deadly Premonition is the equally insane Illbleed (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illbleed). The entire LP is up on SGF's Youtube channel, and is also worth watching. Like Deadly Premonition it's also a game that lends itself well (maybe even better) to being watched.
posted by codacorolla at 1:34 PM on March 7, 2011


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