PAX West 2018 Interview with Hidetaka “SWERY” Suehiro

Despite the glitz and glam and flashy demos from all the big publishers at PAX West, it’s easy to still find near-equal representation of smaller and indie titles right on the main floor as well. After all, many see the PAX conventions as a showcase for indie creators, so it only makes sense to have them well represented.

Many larger companies have begun creating specific publishing outlets for smaller titles and studios, and one of the “big three” juggernauts, Sony, is no exception. Back in 2017, the publishing label Unties was created by Sony Music Entertainment. The label has since continued to grow, publishing a number of games not just for Sony’s consoles, but most of the current major platforms.

Unties had their own booth on the main show floor this year, and included in it was an upcoming title by Hidetaka Suehiro, often better known as SWERY. Director of cult-classics like Deadly Premonition and D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die, Suehiro was present at the Unties booth to promote one of his upcoming games, The Good Life.

We had the opportunity to sit down with SWERY to discuss a bit about the game’s background and development, as well as what we might expect from the finished product!

Gamer Escape: For our audience, could you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your background?

Suehiro: My name is SWERY, and we just started a studio called White Owls, and we have just announced a game this past April, The Good Life, which was funded on Kickstarter successfully! I want to say thank you to all the backers that helped make it possible! Right now we are partnering with Unties as our publishing partner, and we’re looking forward to making a great game to show everybody.

Gamer Escape: What made you decide to use Kickstarter as your funding source?

Suehiro: White Owls is a small studio. There’s only twelve of us, including myself, in the studio, and we felt like this was the best way for us to make the game that we wanted to make, but also be able to involve our backers as well and get feedback from them during development. Make a game that everybody was going to like.

Gamer Escape: The demo here at the Unties booth, is it exclusive to PAX or is it taken straight from a segment of the game?

Suehiro: This is just a prototype that we did for Kickstarter, and it is not representative of the full game. What we wanted to do was show some of the mechanics of the game, the core mechanics, but the city and the quests and the story and stuff is not really part of it. So this isn’t exclusive to PAX, this is actually the Kickstarter backer prototype.

Gamer Escape: During my demo here at the booth, the extent of gameplay I really got to experience was taking pictures for people around town. Is that the core gameplay of The Good Life or is there more we can expect?

Suehiro: This demo has a few examples of the core gameplay. Of course, taking pictures is part of it, but the sidequests that you see in the demo now – where you go and talk to someone and they give you a quest to go and take a picture – is one of the parts of the core gameplay loop. After you’ve taken a picture, you can upload it to this social networking site called “Flamingo” and based on how great the picture is, people will like it, and you’ll get more money for the quality of the picture. So that’s part of the core gameplay loop.

Gamer Escape: It wasn’t represented in the demo, but various trailers for the game are showing off how people turn into cats and dogs at night. How does this affect the gameplay?

Suehiro: The way that change in mechanics work in the game is that at night, the people, the village, they turn into cats and dogs. In doing that, you can actually see different aspects of their personality are going to come out. You’ll understand these characters even more because, as they turn into animals, some things are going to be more expressed in their animalistic form than their normal day-to-day life.

The main character Naomi, when she turns into a cat or a dog, she’s going to be able to do things that cats can do and dogs can do. Go to places that humans won’t be able to go to, to give her access to different areas of the open world that we are building.

Gamer Escape: From what I’ve experiences, in most of the previous games you’ve directed, they have an obvious kind of “darker” tone to them, while The Good Life seems to be kind of hiding its darkness. It’s more upbeat on first view. Was this a purposeful change from your previous work?

Suehiro: The games that I’ve made before, I’ve always tried to have kind of an ambivalence between the light and the dark. I feel it’s important for you to address both of those things. On the surface of The Good Life, it looks like a very light and cute game. But there are parts of it that are dark. I feel like all of my games have kind of had this theme, and this game, maybe it looks light from the outside, but I feel it’s important to have both sides of the coin.

Gamer Escape: The graphical presentation, the best way I can describe it is “low-poly.” Very hard edges, like maybe PlayStation 1-style graphics. At least, that’s what I see it as. Was there any specific intention behind the art direction?

Suehiro: The art director for The Good Life was one of the artists on Rez. He kind of has a style that is similar to that. His name is Hota-san. So we started from that, and more than just it being an inspiration from old PlayStation games, it’s more of a throwback to puppetry and Japanese puppet theater than something that’s directly like “We want to have a low-poly count for a technical reason.”

Gamer Escape: The writing and the humor in the game came across as very dry and brash, especially for the main character, Naomi. What led to the decision to go so dry with the humor?

Suehiro: Our main character, Naomi, is from New York and for various reasons, she’s come to this small town. At the beginning of the game, she doesn’t really like being there. She’s a city girl, so we wanted to show that she’s not really happy with her situation. You can see from the trailer where she’s like, “I can’t have these nice lattes, I can’t have New York-style pizza,” so she’s very against this “good life.” We want to show her change over the course of the game. So, yeah, at first she’s very brash, very dry, which we think makes for an interesting kind of contrast.

Gamer Escape: For The Good Life, did you take any inspiration from any other media?

Suehiro: Not particularly. There’s not some game or some movie or some pop culture that we wanted to take inspiration from directly. It’s more like real life. You know, my own life, and inspirations from real life.

Gamer Escape: Was there any specific reasoning for placing the game in England?

Suehiro: The producer for Deadly Premonition, when we finished the game in 2007, he went to live in England for a little while. It was supposed to be for a short trip, and the whole time he was kind of complaining about how he didn’t want to be there, and he wanted to come home to Japan. But, very slowly, he started to really love living in England, and was like, “I’m not coming back home!” He ended up staying there for four years! That was kind of the basic premise that we started from with this game.

Gamer Escape: So could you The Good Life is based around his story?

Suehiro: Yeah, at first that was where we started from. But it’s expanded beyond that. We have kind of crafted a game around that one small premise!

Gamer Escape: As I mentioned, The Good Life appears to be upbeat on the surface. Your other recently announced game, The Missing, appears to be completely the opposite. In the trailer, it seems to be all about killing the main character in various ways. What is it like working on two games that have seemingly completely different tones at the same time?

Suehiro: Actually, since 2008, every time I’ve been working on a game, I’ve been working on multiple games at the same time. It’s not really something that’s new for me, to have games of different styles. So The Good Life is kind of my lighter side, while The Missing is kind of my darker side. While both games, like I said earlier, have that ambivalence between the two, as a creator, it’s important for me to explore both sides of this coin, so to speak. Right now, this is something that I’m doing, I’m working on both, but it’s something that I’m used to in my development style.

Gamer Escape: To wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to say to our audience about The Good Life?

Suehiro: The Good Life has been in development for about three-and-a-half months now. We are hoping to have our first alpha done by the end of the year. Until then, we hope everyone will keep cheering for us, and we want to bring it to the next show! Thank you to the backers and Kickstarter people, and hopefully we can show a new build to you very soon.