Japanese mystery games tend to sit somewhere on a rather vast spectrum, ranging from the profoundly serious to the patently absurd. The work of Hidetaka Suehiro – known to his fans as Swery65 – occupies a very specific part of that spectrum, with a smart, surrealist tone all his own. Swery65 is directing the upcoming Xbox One title D4, which launches on September 19 as a $14.99 digital download for Xbox One. And don’t worry: Swery65’s signature sense of humor (as seen in 2010 cult classic Deadly Premonition) is on full display here. We had the chance to chat with the director before he spends the coming days showing off D4 at the Tokyo Game Show.
D4 stars the young, eccentric, and hip David Young, whose wife was killed two years prior, and whose killer hasn’t yet been brought to justice. David, for his part, possesses the special ability to re-experience moments from the past, simply by touching mementos – such as, say, a strappy, summery high-heeled shoe. When David’s crazy roommate attacks him (with a live mouse inside her mouth) in one of the game’s early scenes, David starts to reminisce about the time when she “suddenly” moved in, and wisps nostalgic about how she would often bring him dinner.
D4 can be played using either a controller or Kinect – and the Kinect integration fits in very nicely with the game’s tone. When you choose this control method, looking around the room is handled with wide swipe gestures; if you want to examine an object, you merely perform a grabbing gesture with your hand. When facing off against the crazy roommate, you use quick hand movements to dodge and deflect various kitchenware that she hurls your way. At one point, when she climbs onto the kitchen table, you can grab her shoulders quickly and pull her down. It’s weird stuff, made all the weirder by the fact that you’re doing it yourself.
With Tokyo Game Show going on this week, we had a chance to sit down with Swery65 to chat about D4.
Xbox Wire: How would you say the tone of D4 differs from that of your previous work?
Swery65: D4 stands out as the game with the most refined art style, when compared with the other games I have worked on in the past. However, the overarching “dreamy” atmosphere is pretty much as-expected, and that has been kept unchanged on purpose, since I presume there are many people out there who are expecting that from me.
Xbox Wire: You’re using the Kinect in very creative ways with D4. What’s been most exciting about this technology, and what aspects have worked best with the game?
Swery65: “Replicating senses” and “Empathy” have been key themes to the project since its beginning, and the Kinect has been very useful in realizing those. The player is able to move his or her hands around as if they are actually touching the in-game world, and can effortlessly get immersed in the world. Of course, the game can be played from beginning to end with the standard controller – but if you own an Xbox One, I implore you to give the Kinect experience a shot.
Xbox Wire: D4 has a very specific cel-shaded visual style. Why did you choose this visual direction?
Swery65: D4 has an episodic structure, so if the fans really like what they see, the series could continue for a pretty long time. If that happens, when a new player wants to start from the very first episode, I wanted to make sure they didn’t feel like they were getting into something old or outdated. Those were the points I had in mind while I was iterating on the development of the style we have today.
Xbox Wire: The episodic approach to content has been becoming more common for games in recent years. Were you inspired by other successful titles, such as Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead?
Swery65: I do, of course, play the games from Telltale Games. But at the beginning, I was purely enjoying them from the point-of-view of a player. However, after the various things happened that resulted in our decision to go episodic with D4, I went back to revisit the games from the beginning, this time from a game designer’s point-of-view. At that point, I discovered a lot of clever hooks and techniques being used that I didn’t notice when I had my regular “gamer” hat on. I took in and digested those different points, and have applied them to D4 as a “Swery take” on the ideas.
Xbox Wire: How would you describe D4‘s protagonist? Does he remind you of anyone you know, in particular?
Swery65: David Young, is, in a nutshell, a “man of humanity.” He has a bright past and a family he cared about, overshadowed by a tragedy. He has strengths and weaknesses, as well as likes and dislikes. He has common sense, but isn’t the perfect embodiment of good.
He can laugh, he can get upset, and he can cry – all during the pursuit of his “life goal.”
His approach toward this “life goal” is indeed very unique – but his struggle with life, his longing for happiness, and the way he is struck down by the harsh realities of life are all representative of who I am, and is also a reflection of all of you who will play the game. I wanted to create a personality that embodies all of those characteristics, and turn David Young into not an idol to adore, but a person to sympathize with.
Xbox Wire: What inspirations did you look to for the game, including its time travel aspects?
Swery65: The initial inspiration was really simple. I’m sure everyone has, at some point in their lives, thought about that one day in the past. “If I didn’t make that one decision on that one day, would I have turned out differently? Would I be the same person that I am now?” I believe that these kinds of imaginative explorations – starting from a point in the past and stretching out into the present – is something that only humans are capable of. Nobody taught us to do that, but it’s something everyone has experienced. Tackling themes like this, that are so close to the core, is very challenging and natural at the same time, for me.
Xbox Wire: Does the title reference Kenji Eno’s D series at all? Were you friends with Mr. Eno?
Swery65: Unfortunately, D4 has nothing to do with the D series. I apologize to everyone who was expecting something interesting there. However, as the third Swery original, D4 was created from scratch and loaded with hot passion. I’m sure you’ll like it, so please try it out. I Love You All!
As one can gather from the title (which stands for “Dark Dreams Don’t Die” and also serves as a reference to the fourth dimension), D4 is far from a “normal” adventure game. The game’s cel-shaded graphics would seem more at home in nearly any other genre, and the game is full of bizarre moments – such as hitting a baseball into an enemy while aboard an airplane, using a leg belonging to a mannequin named Sukey, for instance – that make it a far cry from more mainstream adventure mystery fare like L.A. Noire and Fables: The Wolf Among Us Another cult classic for Swery65? We wouldn’t bet against it.