Hidetaka 'SWERY' Suehiro
The Deadly Premonition producer on his cult hit and Japanese development
Hidetaka 'SWERY' Suehiro is a very Japanese developer. Not because he's made a niche title which has attracted a cult following in the West, or because he's become something of an eccentric celebrity off the back of it. Swery is a man who lives and breathes his craft, a man who produces very personal projects.
Deadly Premonition has followed a similarly elliptical development as its producers. Renamed, delayed and re-imagined, the survival horror adventure has intrigued with its Cronenberg-esque characters and story as much as it has frustrated with its ham-fisted controls and last-gen graphics.
Because of that, Swery's first Xbox 360 title has achieved something of a cult following, albeit quite a successful one. The title led Amazon's 360 sales for some time, where it was priced at a modest £14.99. A 68 per cent Metacritic rating includes a perfect score and a 2/10, with comments ranging from "a beautiful train wreck" to "awful in almost every way". So what makes the man behind it tick? GamesIndustry.biz sat down with him at GDC to find out.
Q: Deadly Premonition has been something of an underground hit in the UK - do you think that success is culturally related?
Swery: We didn't really aim for it to be a cult hit! Strictly speaking, for the Japanese market, the game contains a lot of culture that is hard for a lot of Japanese people to understand. Graphically it wasn't as powerful as other recent titles and because of that only people who were really willing to look at the content of the game really enjoyed it.
Q: If a publisher were to come to you now, having been impressed by Deadly Premonition, and offered you a much bigger budget, would you still make the same kind of game?
Swery: If someone were to give me the opportunity to make a bid budget game, I would want to make sure that I gave them a Swery-type game. People would be expecting it to be a bit bizarre and full of craziness! Lots of what I call 'unnecessary elements'! But I would want to make sure that it was more polished, too.
Q: How easy was it to find a publisher for Deadly Premonition in the West?
Swery: I don't actually know all of the details, only what I've heard from the Japanese publisher - which was a few different publisher names, the game might get published by X or by Y, but the game was never published by those companies, so I imagine it was very difficult.
Q: Is it a game which could have ever been made outside Japan? Would a western studio or publisher ever have given it the green light?
Swery: I think it could have been made in the West, but I think that they would have had trouble getting the green light for all of the 'unnecessary elements'!
Q: Do you think that developers are playing it too safely at the moment? So we need more risk takers?
Swery: There are people who do a wonderful job with those sorts of games: sequels and formulaic genre games, but they're definitely not for everybody. Some people do need to be making new things - we need game directors and producers who are of that mentality.
Q: Twin Peaks is obviously a big influence, is Deadly Premonition a predominantly Western or Japanese title?
Swery: Well the other influences are basically my personal experiences in life. I like to travel to other countries, when I was a child I used to visit my relatives in Canada, that probably had very strong influences on me.
Q: There was a huge range of review scores, from tens to twos. Why do you think that was?
Swery: When you're developing a game, you can follow one of two patterns. One is that everybody loves it 100 per cent. The other is that not everybody loves it completely, but loves it enough to make the game. Our pattern was a third pattern, where we didn't have the time or the resources to get everybody totally in love with it.
Q: Some people seem to think that there's more room for experimentation on handheld devices than console, because of lower budgetary risk. Is it an arena you'd like to explore?
Swery: Everybody is doing more experimental stuff on handheld, but because everyone is doing it, there's no room to shine there. I'd rather do it with console games.
Q: I've read that the shooting sections were the part of the game you were least happy with - would you rather have made the game without them or did you just run out of time?
Swery: It was towards the middle of the development cycle when we were told that we needed to add some combat to the game. At the time I felt that it was completely unnecessary - we already had a breath-holding mechanic where you ran away from enemies. So I thought it was completely unnecessary, but people kept saying, 'you're controlling an FBI agent, you should be able to shoot a gun.'
It was hard was hard to argue against that - and I tried! We ended up putting it into the game but we ran out of time for tuning.
Q: Having crossed the cultural divide with Deadly Premonition, do you feel that Japanese and Western development models are converging or diverging?
Swery: Game development styles, to my mind are distinctly different in Japan and the West. In the West you make a prototype and then when that's approved you go into full production. In Japan there's much more of a sense of developers working by hand and spending a lot of time doing stuff personally.
A lot of people come to us and say 'can you make your game like Western developers'. What always goes through my mind then is - if you want that, why not work with a Western developer? That would be easier!
Hidetaka Suehiro is the director of Deadly Premonition and Spy Fiction at Access Games. Interview by Dan Pearson. Translation by Tad Horie