We spent two hours talking in person about the various important occurrences during development and creation of Shinku no Chou by Koei Tecmo Games and Nintendo.
The concept is "everyone scared together"
--First of all, would you please tell us how you came about choosing a remake of Zero ~Akai Chou~ (below, Akai Chou) as the subject of this game?
Kikuchi: Before, when we were working with Nintendo on Zero ~Tsukihami no Kamen~ (below, Tsukihami), we changed the game, which had before had an overhead view, into a TPS (third-person shooter) style viewpoint, which resulted in a really realistic-feeling game. We wanted to use the feedback we got from then for our next game. However, since you start making a completely new game by thinking of the story, development would've taken a long time. So we started thinking about changing one of the past three games in the Zero series (Zero ~zero~, Akai Chou and Zero ~Shisei no Koe~) to use Tsukihami's format, and made the proposal to Nintendo right away, but they gave us the counter-proposal, "We will give you the funds to make a new product, not churn things out, so please make it well." From there we reviewed things, and decided to do a remake based on Akai Chou, the game in the series with an especially high number of fans, and evolve it rather than just make a semi-new game.
--Had you already decided on things such as the concept by that point?
Kikuchi: We had kept making games directed at core fans of the Zero series, so we had decided that we wanted to keep the concept of "fear created by the imagination". Another was the concept of "everyone scared together". The biggest hint towards something like this was the number of people who enjoy watching Let's Play videos of the Zero games on the internet, and how exciting it was when previously the foreign media gathered and played it together. We wanted it to be something that would be fun to watch, even if you weren't playing yourself.
--When did that idea become concrete?
Kikuchi: I think it must have been at the Tokyo Game Show the year before last.
Osawa: We weren't exhibiting anything, but we went along all the way to Makuhari [Messe, site of the 2010 TGS] to check out (at the time) Tecmo's booth, with whom we were involved.
Kikuchi: I remember meeting up with Mr. Osawa and Mr. Izuno outside the hall and saying, "This is the kind of game we want to make next."
Osawa: At the time we had finished making Tsukihami, and everyone felt as though we still weren't done. We wanted to create something else based on Tsukihami that would satisfy us, which ended in us proposing Akai Chou with a new theme. If we were to get together all of the past games in the series and remake them, we probably couldn't have done them one by one with proper care. In that case there would be no point in making them, and the premise above all else was wanting to create something new, so we thought it was the best choice in terms of the thing we could focus most on, and the thing the players wanted most.
Izuno: Based on the shared understanding that we would aim for a better product by using the budget to concentrate on one game, rather than using the money on each of the three, we compiled our advice on how to make a Zero reborn from Tsukihami, and arrived at the "everyone scared together" concept.
Osawa: I think that there is enjoyment in people sharing their fear. Maybe enthusiasts go to see horror movies by themselves, but usually people go along with someone and find it fun to share out their fear, saying, "Waah, scary!" together. To bring that feeling to Zero, so that lots of people could enjoy it, I thought we needed some kind of "trick" that would make people want to play together, and that that "trick" may become important to the Zero series from now on.
A "new fear" to hold the player's interest
--In order to experience "everyone being scared together" you all went to a haunted house, is that right?
All: We did, we did (laughter).
Osawa: Me, Izuno and Mr. Shibata weren't scared at all, so we were looking at things thinking, "Oh, let's use this idea," totally calm. Now that I think about it, we were the group that wasn't crying.
Kikuchi: I was really scared (laughs).
--Did you get anything from it?
Shibata: It was actually a kind of hands-on haunted house where you could touch things, but we didn't really use it as reference for the game (laughs). It turned out to be a different kind of scary.
Kikuchi: There were lots of things that would be difficult to reproduce in the game. That said, I do think we got a lot out of it with regards to getting the feeling of "being scared together".
Osawa: While we were eating together afterwards, we asked the people who had been scared, "What frightened you?" and listened to what they had to say, which was fun for me, not having been scared at all. I think I enjoyed it due to the things the people who were scared said as they complained. In other words, I felt as though I had experienced "shared fear".
--Did you do any research into horror other than haunted houses?
Kikuchi: The first thing we all did together was go to the haunted house. We were always watching horror movies by ourselves, going to see abandoned houses and things like that as individual research. Mr. Osawa and Mr. Izuno loved horror from the start, so after work they went to watch movies together - right?
Izuno: We did rather a lot of research. Even before the project was launched (laughs).
Kikuchi: It's pretty much a hobby for you (laughs).
Osawa: Before, I was really, really easily scared by horror and things like that. Back in university, my friends would recommend me films here and there, and gradually that bloomed into a sort of ambivalent feeling, like, "It's scary, but seeing it will give me relief." Morbid curiosity. Zero is a game that's just like that; when I said to Mr. Kikuchi, "The dilemma of not being able to progress without seeing scary things is the type of game Zero is," he said, "Ahh, indeed," and I felt like we had the same view. Diving head-on into a situation in which you have to purposely look at horrifying ghosts through the viewfinder, or don't want to proceed - it's the same psychology as in horror movies, when even though you're frightened you keep staring at the screen, wide-eyed. When I began to think like that, I thought that this time we should be constantly adding new provocation, then realised it wasn't scary at all.
Kikuchi: With fear, if you're not constantly trying to stimulate it you'll just end up getting bored. In films that move you to tears there are going to be points where it's suppressed, or there's an exchange of dialogue, but if you put in a similar way of frightening people somewhere, they can read ahead and just won't be shocked or scared. In that sense, since this is a remake, it was especially difficult.
Shibata: In horror movies, even though it's scary at first, by the end you get comfortable with being in the house, but in the Zero series was made to make you feel in the end, "I want to be here forever." In this game, too, people who are playing for the first time will be scared as they explore, and people who have played Akai Chou can enjoy just progressing through the village with a new viewpoint.
Osawa: Since in Shinku no Chou the player's viewpoint is different from in Akai Chou, I think that even though it's the same map the impression you get from it will change quite a lot.
--The change in the main character's viewpoint really was quite refreshing. Was there anything in relation to this you had issues with?
Shibata: There was the problem of "line of sight". Since the last game, Tsukihami, was set in a hall that was a mix of Japanese and western styles, most of the furniture and items are quite tall, which matched with the height of the viewpoint, but since Shinku no Chou is based in Japanese houses, there aren't many things at that height. Japan has a culture of living sitting on the floor, amongst other things. So, we used the "Touch More system" to change the viewpoint when you grab things. Actions such as peeping under the floor, picking up things from the ground, pulling back a noren curtain, or peeping through a gap - when these occur, getting closer or lower down makes the viewpoint a little different, so it changes things. In the latter half, I got used to this. I'd wanted to check it over a few times myself, but... If I did, I wouldn't know whether or not the newly-added things were scary, so I asked staff who hadn't experienced it to check for me.
Osawa: There were staff members who, when asked to do debugging for Zero, said, "It's scary, so I won't," and just turned it down (bitter smile). Because I wouldn't ask something unreasonable I gave up, but in my mind I thought, "But these are the kinds of people I really want to play it..." That said, when I showed it to Izuno, who is totally fine with scary things, he simply replied, "Ah, that's good," and when I showed it to the easily-frightened Mr. Kikuchi, he said, "It's good," and only those unrelated people would say, "Maybe your evaluation is a little generous," and seemed strangely suspicious (laughs). Judging scariness is really tricky.
A new experiment possible due to the Wii
--There are now two Zero games on the Wii; how compatible do you think Zero and the Wii are?
Kikuchi: I think the Wii remote is a really great match with the Zero series. The affinity you get with pointing the torch at where you want to aim, walking as you aim the Camera Obscura, things like that - it's really high. Compared to Akai Chou's time, the expressive power of the hardware has also been upgraded, so we were really satisfied.
Shibata: Another big thing was the the speaker on the remote. Previous games were created with the assumption that they would be played used headphones, but since there's another speaker now, we had to change our plan for the sound. In this series there are lots of sounds that you may or may not hear, which makes the players feel a variety of things, and supplements the presence of something invisible in their minds, and concentrating on this we used voices coming out of the remote as a strong counter.
--It really was surprising (laughs).
Osawa: It's possible to adjust the volume of the remote's speaker, but there are loads of people who say, without mentioning that, that the sound from the TV alone is scary. In some scenes, sounds will suddenly play through the speaker in the room, sounding like a real spiritual phenomenon, so I saw so many members of staff being surprised lots of times.
Shibata: In the game itself, two people can cooperate and play together, and we incorporated something that plays a voice through the speaker when the remote is connected or disconnected, so it's really quite surprising. Furthermore, Mayu says different lines depending on the chapter.
Izuno: Huh!? I wasn't aware of that. It looks like there are other things I had no idea about (laughs).
Kikuchi: There's a bit in the instruction manual about "using the 2P remote to play together", but... we really didn't put in even a single word about a voice coming from the 2P remote (laughs).
Shibata: We made the instruction manual simple for this game, so there's not a huge amount written in it. But I don't think people normally use the 2P remote when they play alone. So maybe those people who have played it by themselves should play it again with someone else and make some new discoveries.
About the new character "Kureha"
--A new character called "Kureha" has been added for this game. Please tell us about how she came to be born.
Kikuchi: At the very beginning, we planned to have her as part of mini-games separate from the main game with a "summer festival" concept we were going to have. Amongst them we considered having a haunted house, but for that we would need a receptionist at the reception desk, I thought, and I discussed this with Shibata. After seeing the design we came up with, at some point Shibata began working on the game design, and cooperated with a designer to get a drawing of her.
Osawa: We didn't end up with an old lady with too much effort put into her on reception. Actually, I think that a white-haired woman wearing a kimono like that is even scarier (laughs).
Kikuchi: The person who did the design for Mio and Mayu's models for this game and the designer who created Kureha are both women. The designers have differed between the games, but we did ask the woman who did the designing and modelling for Shisei no Koe to do the modelling. Personally, I think that female characters created by female designers suit Zero's world view.
--Kureha had a biography as part of her concept, didn't she?
Osawa: She was really a twin herself, but the other one was stillborn, so she got her white hair without becoming a shrine maiden.
Kikuchi: Huh. You thought as far as how she got her white hair?
Kikuchi: I had absolutely no idea. Well, I knew her background concept, of course, but I think the thing about her white hair must've been added later (laughs).
Shibata: I'd decided on her white-haired image since the design stages. In the dream I had, the person inside Itsuki's storehouse was originally a woman like Kureha. Her face looked really similar to Mio's, so I wondered if this was what would happen to Mio if perhaps the ritual failed and she couldn't leave the village.
Izuno: So that's why Itsuki's facial features are androgynous.
Shibata: Originally, she had a Kureha-type image, but if everyone was female it would be too samey, so Itsuki was born.
--Does the Kureha Shrine in Haunted House mode have anything to do with the story?
Shibata: In terms of the story, as the Hidden Ritual, which used a Kusabi to soothe the rumbling of the Hellish Abyss, was performed, a festival was simultaneously held at Kureha Shrine, and it was presided over by Kureha Shrine's shrine maiden. We'd planned to have Mio as the protagonist of the haunted house, wandering into the phantom of the festival. It's also tied to the way Mio used to go to a similar festival at the Kureha Shrine in her village the foot of the mountain when she was young.
Osawa: Mr. Shibata really wanted to put all of this in the book, since he had it all laid out in his head (laughs).
Kikuchi: But that is from the very original plan.
Shibata: Right. But it's also a story about how, as far as the game goes, I think it's okay even if Haunted House Mode doesn't have a link to the story. We'd also planned Mio to be the protagonist of the mode, so it would be kind of like a side story shown through her eyes. But in the end we changed the protagonist to the player, and gave up on the side story idea.
A "Haunted House Mode" full of changing circumstances
Osawa: Originally, Haunted House Mode was in the same viewpoint as the main game. Unlike how it is now, everything depended on the timing with which the ghosts appeared and camera-work. We put quite a lot of time and effort into making it, but we discovered that people with a good sense of what was going on would be able to tell when something was going to happen, and it wouldn't be scary enough. It was almost done at this point, but taking that into account we had to start over. It was at this point that we switched to FPS (first person) view, in order to make you feel more immersed in the haunted house.
Izuno: It was also at that time that we decided to have it controlled entirely using the Wii remote. People who have played the main story would be able to play with the remote and nunchuk with no problem, but not everyone would have done. So we changed the controls to something simpler.
Kikuchi: That was a really big decision.
Osawa: About that time we were going through the events we had already created and I reopened things by saying, "It's okay, you don't have to show me every single thing!" (laughs). By then we were already just three months away from the completion date, so we didn't have much time, and immediately set about thinking up things we could to to scare people, and switched to something that would select things at random. Even the people who'd created it didn't know what was going to pop out or where (laughs). But when we actually played it ourselves unexpected ghosts would appear at interesting times, and it ended up being quite satisfying.
Shibata: The main game is focused on being scary, but Haunted House Mode is aimed at having everyone enjoy it together, and I think that contrast gave things a nice balance.
Osawa: When you go into a haunted house, isn't it the not knowing whether or not someone playing a ghost is going to jump out that makes it surprising? If you just do the same thing every time, people who have been through it all will stop coming. But if things change every time, even people who have already done it will want to come back for more.
Kikuchi: Fear is, at its roots, irrational, I think. Things you know are impossible happen normally as part of horror. But if those irrational things are random, they will make the observer feel different things. Haunted House Mode was completely structured with the idea of making people think "that was fun", and we made adjustments here and there to make it how it is now.
Osawa: So far we'd only been setting up specific events, so challenging ourselves not to do that and what was born from it was a new discovery.
Shibata: Actually, before we remade Haunted House Mode, we'd also created a version that changed by using random events. It was quite fun, and popular amongst the staff, but Mr. Osawa said, "Wouldn't it be weird for the Kusabi to appear right away as soon as you enter?" so we gave up on that (laughs).
Kikuchi: In the history of this series I've always been the one immediately rejecting Shibata's ideas so he has to scrap them, but when we picked up Haunted House Mode for this game he was so happy and said, "You've finally listened to something I said!" (laughs).
Shibata: Generally when Kikuchi has an idea the air gets all cold and it's like, "Well, this is something Kikuchi came up with..." before it's even been scrutinised (laughs).
--If you have any responses or reflections with regards to the finished Haunted House Mode, we'd like to hear them.
Osawa: I would have liked to have added more maps. We ran out of time, and in the end it took so long just to plot out a single course and add events to it. If I could've done it, I would have liked to have special maps on which some special events could only be seen. Also, since the events occur randomly, it was really tricky to debug.
Izuno: I would have liked to incorporate a Haunted House Editor function. We'd been talking about it for a while.
Kikuchi: Since the game has been released there's been several things I've been reflecting on, but in the end I think we made a game that you can't see anywhere else, that can't be imitated.
Considerations made for the "Touch More" system
--Please tell us about the "Touch More" system, which has been improved on since Tsukihami.
Kikuchi: This is the thing I spent most of my time on with regards to the main game. We used the "Touch System" from Tsukihami in which you hold down a button to grab an item, but the system this time around made even the time spent reaching out, not just grabbing, scary. We took a slightly different approach, wanting the player to feel the fear, and gave the "Touch System" an upgrade, so we named it the "Touch More" system. In it there appear ghostly, disembodied hands that would grab your arm when you reached out in Tsukihami, but in Shinku no Chou they appear in various places. Furthermore, the chance of them appearing varies, with which we hoped to make people nervous as they wondered whether or not one was going to pop out. The time between reaching out and actually touching the item is important, too, so we spent quite some time getting that set up right.
Shibata: We also took care with the camera positioning as you're reaching out. The scariness and sense of distance feels quite different depending on the angle, so that took some time, too.
--You also added actions such as "peek" and "pull back", isn't that right?
Kikuchi: Peeking into things is psychologically scary. Please try peeking into and pulling back lots of things, however nervous it makes you.
Shibata: This isn't part of the "Touch More" system, but if you peek through the window at the end of a hallway in the Kiryu house in Finder Mode, a vanishing ghost appears. There are other events like this, as well.
Kikuchi: The first time I saw that it scared me so much. I just shouted "Ah!" (laughs).
Osawa: We also added a lot of ghosts you can only see on your second playthrough or later into this game, so first of all take your time with your first playthrough, and then on your second enjoy exploring the village.
Izuno: You could say it's the kind of game that truly begins on a second playthrough.
Shibata: Since Akai Chou, we've been quite detailed in the way we recreate roofs and things like that. I don't think people notice this much, though. I wanted people to see that, but also to have people feel more freedom with touching, examining, peeking, pulling back, and things like that - it's one of my regrets.
Kikuchi: Which each game, Shibata would say things to the designers like, "Let's make this a place so comfortable you wouldn't mind dying in it," all the time. When we were working on Akai Chou I thought, "Do we really need to go that far with it?" Since the game usually had a fixed camera angle, we put so much effort into places you wouldn't even seeing without going into Finder Mode and specifically seeking them out (laughs). But with this game the camera changes, so just by walking around you can see new things. Naturally, there are players who will see things and want to check them out. Now, in Shinku no Chou, you can see all of those things we spent all that time on, so I think you can enjoy the scariness and atmosphere more.
Shibata: It looks like when they got a message saying, "Shift that vase 2mm to the right," they thought, "It's finally begun..."
Osawa: They're subtle things, but a single detail can change the feel of a game, so it's important. Still, Mr. Shibata could probably break it all down all by himself, so it felt like everyone around him would be quiet and let him get on with it.
Kikuchi: I think that Zero fans who have bought and are reading this book probably understand how much hard work he puts into things.
Osawa: They probably admire him. "Nicely done, Mr. Shibata!" or something.
Kikuchi: When I look over comments made by fans on the internet, they call him "Mr. Shibata", but when they talk about me, for some reason they seem to drop the "Mr.". I wonder why that is? (Laughs)
--Is there anything you would say you personally spent a lot of time focusing on, Mr. Osawa?
Osawa: This takes the conversation back a bit, but I think that would be Haunted House Mode. After we decided that events would be random, I put so much effort into thinking of ways to play it.
Izuno: He came up with the idea for it while eating pudding at a certain cafe at Iidabashi (laughs).
Osawa: Maybe the pudding activated something in my head (laughs). I just remember suggesting, "How about playing hide and seek in a haunted house?" and everyone reacting really well.
Izuno: We realised this in the finished product as "Doll Search".
Osawa: We really needed a motive, a reason for why you would want to play the game. Without a goal or some kind of objective, people would go, "Why should I play it?" For this game, we had to go with a motivation for wanting to see scary things.
Kikuchi: When it came up that Shibata and I for once had agreed on something, and were going with the idea of taking photos in a haunted house, it was met with strong opposition.
Shibata: That's right. Some people also thought that having to press two buttons to take a photo would make it too difficult.
Osawa: In the end, we simplified the controls used in Haunted House Mode, so once we got confirmation that it was compatible with photo-taking we had the go-sign.
Izuno: What came of it was the idea of freely walking around taking photos. But if we did that then nothing would change from the main game, and we thought that not everyone would want to deal with its tricky controls, so we decided not to do it.
Osawa: With Haunted House Mode, you spend a lot of time moving around here and there. A lot of people from the office actually played a quite early version, but it seemed like a lot of effort without that good of a response. Put simply, if it doesn't have feeling it's not going to work (laughs). "What do we do, then?" I asked, and everyone said, "Thinking of that is your job!" (laughs).
A very happy ending that finishes with a vision
--Please tell us how the new endings came about.
Kikuchi: For this game we added two totally new endings. At first, I requested that Shibata make "a really happy ending". When I did he said okay, but after a few days passed and I asked how it was going he said, "Sorry, I can't make happy endings after all..." (laughs). So we started over and thought up new ending concepts.
Shibata: We already had "Promise" as a happy ending, so I told Kikuchi I couldn't think of any ending happier than that. So then he offered that we do something really tragic. He wanted something so unpleasant that it would make the player want to play it again to get a different ending. That's how we came up with the "Frozen Butterfly" ending - maybe you could call it "inverted butterfly" - in which Mayu kills her, the other way around.
Kikuchi: The "Shadow Festival" ending shows them dying together but being happy.
Osawa: It shows them going to a festival together, having a happy dream as they both rest in peace. Mayu's leg is cured in the dream, also.
--Now that you mention it, she runs perfectly fine in that scene.
Shibata: That's because the Shadow Festival they went to when they were young occurred before Mayu fell from the cliff. They appear as they are now, but in that scene they've gone back to that time. They share a dream in which they don't get separated. The dream is only momentary, but I think it's an ending in which they're saved.
Izuno: It's a game, after all. Even if there are good endings, it's okay if there are some that aren't, too. Even though 89% of Shinku no Chou's endings are bad ones (laughs).
Osawa: That's because it's a horror game. There are no happy endings where all loose ends are tied up. I think that being left with a sense of it not being resolved is kind of a rule.
--Finally, please tell us what the future holds in store for the Zero series.
Kikuchi: Since I've been working on the Zero series for all this time, I naturally have a strong attachment to it. I want to keep making new Zero games from hereon as one of its developers. But we're always thinking of new ideas, and even now Shibata and I are continuing to talk with everyone at Nintendo. If it takes shape, maybe a new Zero will be born, perhaps as a a different kind of horror game. We don't know yet.
Izuno: We want to keep progressing horror as a genre.
Kikuchi: Right. We're always thinking of things, but... it might not even be horror-related (laughs). I hope people look forward to it.
Osawa: I still don't think like we've done it all with Shinku no Chou.
Shibata: There are still lots of stories I'm thinking about myself (laughs). Before those start shaping up, I'd like lots of people to have a go at playing Shinku no Chou.
--We look forward to seeing a new Zero game. Thank you for your time.