Learning from SWERY

Attendees from the Game Developer’s Conference were all aglee yesterday that Deadly Premonition designer SWERY was giving a translated talk for us about his design philosophy.  This is the first talk I’m writing about in this blog, even though there’s been a lot of great talks, because SWERY’s perspective is unique and must be shared.

Basically he had seven points about how he creates a game that keeps people interested.   All the points were great, but, the first point that he incorporated really showed the method to what seemed like madness in Deadly Premonition.

If you aren’t familiar, in Deadly Premonition you have to do a lot of mundane stuff. Sleep, eat, shave, and launder your suit – things a person might have to do every day.  It would be easy to dismiss this as just trying to over-simulate life, but it turns out the reason that this was designed that way was deliberate.  SWERY said, “Games you don’t remember when you aren’t playing them are already dead.”  So the mundane activities in Deadly Premonition are designed to make you think about Deadly Premonition when you do these activities later.  For example, if you are a smoker, and you light up, you might think about York lighting up.  If you are shaving, or eating something that’s like something in the game, you’re reminded of it.  He showed a slide where a little caricature was watching “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes,” and, because Deadly Premonition mentions that movie, it’s going to remind someone of playing his game if they happen to choose to rent that movie. Or maybe they’ll want to rent that strange movie because it was mentioned in the game.

SWERY also talked a lot about how you make characters feel real. He didn’t word it exactly this way, but it really all seems comes down to specificity.  He draws mind maps for his important characters: free-associating different traits that that character will have.  He might decide, broadly, “This guy is a bit of an otaku; he likes movies and cartoons.”  But then he asks himself, what is York an otaku of, and settles on the specific choice of 1980s movies.  This makes sense with the age of the character and gives him something specific and cool to talk about.  And it ties in to things that he might discuss that will remind you of the game later.

Deadly Premonition is notorious for its lack of graphical polish, but SWERY wasn’t bothered by that. He had cool ideas and he wanted to use them, and also said one of his goals was just to use all his ideas while he could.  I hope other game developers will be inspired by his character-writing ideas, because Agent York was one of the coolest protagonists to come out of a game in recent memory.

You can see another writeup about the talk (and writeups about many others) at Gamasutra.