Hidetaka "Swery" Suehiro's best-known work is Deadly Premonition, but the developer and his team at Access Games are currently working on D4 for Xbox One. Though this new project is a departure in some ways (like its episodic structure and use of optional motion controls), fans of Swery's signature style can still expect plenty of colorful characters, interesting dialogue, and surprising plot twists. As Access Games prepares to show D4 at the Tokyo Game Show later this week, Swery (who is directing the title) answers our burning questions about the game's structure, his approach to character development, and the lessons learned from Deadly Premonition.
Different games have had different approaches to “episodic” delivery. Can you explain what it means for D4?
D4 is extremely unique as a time travel and mystery combination. Nobody can predict what comes up next – or rather, prediction is futile, since it can be overturned by the unpredictable nature of the story’s timeline itself. With that in mind, we wanted to go with the episodic structure to allow players to fully enjoy the anticipation and excitement of wanting to know what’s coming up next.
In a murder mystery game, is it difficult to give players satisfying clues without giving too much of the solution away?
Although I’d love to say “No, it’s not hard at all” with a straight face, I have to admit that, yes, it is very difficult. There is a phase in the development of the key structure of the story where I must devote my full attention to that.
At the same time, however, that phase is the most creative and exciting one for me. In that sense, I think it can be said that I am getting a lot of enjoyment out of challenging you all in writing up this mystery.
Elements of Twin Peaks and other TV shows can be seen in Deadly Premonition; can you talk about some of your influences and inspirations for the events of D4?
During my development of the world and characters of “D4,” I wanted to make the content as realistic as possible. Of course, given the fact that I’m working with time travel and super powers, the inclusion of non-realistic expressions and a dreamy atmosphere are pretty much inevitable.
That said, if I let the speech and atmosphere of the characters also slip away from reality, then the whole project becomes “entirely fiction,” created with the intent of being just that. This results in a serious disconnect between the game world and the player.The result would be very temporary entertainment — not a unique and valuable experience that leaves something behind in the players’ minds.
Because of this, I tried to get my inspirations for “D4” not from specific movies or TV shows, but from the real world. In the end, I think I was able to create a game world that is definitely bizarre but still distinctly realistic.
When developing characters and scenarios, do you ever say, “This is too ordinary, we need to make it weirder”? Or is it more common to say, “This is too strange, we need to rein it in”?
I’m not sure if this answers the question, but when I create a character from a bizarre background element that strikes me, the character tends to become pretty docile and not do much for the story. On the other hand, even down-to-earth characters can really get on the stage and do their own thing really well if the character has a really solid core.
So during our brainstorming sessions, the characters that we get most excited about — in other words, the weird guys that we got really excited about during our meetings — tend to require a huge change or overhaul when the actual story writing process starts.
I think anybody can come up with characters that are “too bizarre.” In that sense, “too bizarre” is actually “really bland,” and not something that actually excites me.
The main character, David Young, can travel through time. Does D4 occur in a world where many people have powers, or is Young unique?
I can’t reveal that yet. Please see the story unfold, feel the surprise, and then start imagining what comes after.
Young is able to visit the past, but to what degree can he alter it?
“You can’t change the past.” That is the reality of the world we live in. Young, however, repeatedly dives into the past to try to bend this truth; that is the burden that he shoulders, and the goal of his life.
Let me give you the key hook to this story to get you thinking: If you work hard enough — work yourself to the verge of death — perhaps a “miracle” may occur.
What kinds of incentives are there to re-play an episode after completing it?
In addition to the main story, there are several side quests available. Playing these gives deeper insights into the world of D4, and also offers in-game rewards like new cosmetic outfits. Also, there are documents and observations that can’t be gathered in one playthrough, so the incentive to replay should be very high.
D4 has an option for Kinect controls, but doesn’t require them. Which of the two methods – controller or Kinect – do you prefer?
I wanted to make sure we give players a choice for how to play the game. That said, definitely Kinect for me. Since you’re playing on the Xbox One, if you have a Kinect then you need to give it a shot!
Can you think of any fan feedback to Deadly Premonition that impacted how you approached D4?
There are several — a couple I will mention:
In Deadly Premonition, the player was connected to the game world through the relationship between York and Zach. In D4, players are connected to Young, the protagonist, through an idea that we call “Observation.” Players can hold their hand over an object that looks interesting to then read a text of the observation of that item. This observation is not just a detailed explanation of the item — it reflects the character’s personality. Observing various items and reading the text should help players connect with the character in the same way they connected with York and Zach.
Also, gamers worldwide love beards, for some reason. We fortified that aspect of the game as well!
For more about D4, check out more screens and a trailer from this year's E3. You can also go to the official site, where industry figures like Yu Suzuki, George Kamitani, and Ryan Payton have shared their comments on the game.