Originally posted on 9 June 2012
Source: Zero / Zero 2 Fanbook, page 78-82

Fatal Frame Fanbook: Post-Development/Creators Episode - The Men Who Created Zero

Behind-the-scenes stories about the development of Zero and Zero ~Akai Chou~. Since time has passed since their release, everything will be made clear here...

Keisuke Kikuchi - producer
The producer who managed the whole of the development of Zero and Zero ~Akai Chou~. Other than that, he has also served as programmer for the Deception series. When asked if he has actually seen any ghosts, he will immediately reply, "I haven't. I don't go near scary places."
"Various things are left to the player's imagination"
"We thought about trying to make the scariest Japanese horror" Makoto Shibata - director
Initiator of the proposals for Zero, and director of both titles. Many sections of the in-game events are based on Mr. Shibata's actual spiritual experiences, "like the way the ghost moves and the sound it makes at that time, and reproducing them as close to the way they actually are as possible". He has also acted as planner for each successive game in the Deception series.

Why a Game Called "Zero" Was Born

White is hope, and black is fear. Even for the first game, it's no exaggeration to say that quite a lot of time was put into fine-tuning the colours.

--To begin with, which of you originally submitted the idea for Zero?
Kikuchi: It was all Shibata's idea. With the Deception series which we'd made before that point, we combined laughs with the scary elements, and combined various things to make an action game, so this time we thought we might make a game that specialised in "fear".
Shibata: Fear is an emotion everyone has, and at the time there were no games representing horror itself in a Japanese style, so I wanted to create the scariest Japanese horror I could.

--When you saw Mr. Shibata's proposal for the first time, what did you think?
Kikuchi: "Seriously!?" (laughs). For example, could we go from a state of nothingness to scene to scene of scary cutscenes made out of polygons? But when Iheard the concept from Shibata, I thought that a Japanese house would suit horror. The shadow of a screen or underneath the decking, darkness like something is lurking in it.If we could properly represent this special darkness, I felt like we could make a game scarier than anything the world had ever seen before, but... When we started, I was still uneasy. When we were making it we didn't want a game system with scary things - we wanted everyone to be on the roller coaster of "fear" itself, unable to get off.
Shibata: Even when "Kagero" and "Soumatou" of the "Deception" series were in development, I had proposals for setting them in a Japanese house. But there are so many differences between Japanese houses and Western castles, and moreover there are so many intricate details for various elements, that it would be really hard to represent it all in image form and push the PS's capabilities to the limit.
Kikuchi: For that point, the PS2's abilities were increased, and out of many candidates that were in the market we chose the PS2 to put out Zero on.
Shibata: I was already fond of Japanese houses, so I had photo books full of pictures of them, so I'd been thinking about how suitable for a horror game they would be before then. So, amongst us, we decided to have it set at a Japanese house. Also, I had the ideas for the enemies being ghosts you wouldn't know where they would come, from and a camera as a weapon that could only be used right in front of them, from the very start.
Kikuchi: But at first I said, "Cameras aren't intuitive, so let's stop." Using a camera has a different reaction to controls where you press a button to slice with a sword or shoot a gun; it's passive, so hard to understand. So in its place I proposed things like using talismans, hitting them with arrows, using a staff, and things like that... But everything in the world inside Shibata's head was complete, and I couldn't get him to change even one thing.

--Which parts of the development stage did you have most trouble with?
Kikuchi: The toughest part with Zero was the third stage. First of all, like I mentioned earlier, we were worried about creating the story cutscenes. First, we created the story, then went back, disassembled that, and used it to create the promotional videos. At the time, the screen was in black and white, and were strengthening the contrast here and there, working out a way for things to look, when I first thought, "This could work." Next, we created the areas. The scenery has a realistic touch to it, but the characters have somewhat of an anime touch to them. So the scenery and plot wouldn't be unnaturally balanced and turn into a puppet show, we kept retuning the ghosts and effects right up until just before the release.
Shibata: Purposely adding noise to obscure the picture, making it so that you can only see the areas where your light hits the shadows... By applying effects like these to purposely remove information from the screen, we made it so that things would be left to the player's imagination. I call it "the aesthetics of subtraction".
Kikuchi: At just that time, the very first cutscene we'd made was shown publicly for the first time at the company's results briefing (to discuss corporate performance, investment, etc.). But they reacted kind of like they were taken aback, and again I thought, "Is this really okay!?" and was anxious about it... (laughs). Immediately following that, it was debuted in a number of game magazines... but opinions were divided between "It's a Resident Evil rip-off," and, "It looks interesting to play."
Shibata: The third wall was that it's a type of game in which you catch ghosts using a camera. But since you ended up just doing that over and over, we added the use of the camera for solving mysteries.
Kikuchi: But since we didn't initially plan on adding the camera into the gameplay in that manner, we kept asking everyone for their ideas as to how parts of the system would work. Even though I was kind of anxious about it, it was debuted at the game show (it had its first showing at the 2001 Tokyo Game Show). But it was received even more favourably than I could've imagined by the players. Even though the company's management team kept saying, "Is this okay!?", right after the game show their attitude seemed to change entirely, and they said to us, "Did you guys see the way the players' eyes sparkled?" (laughs).
Shibata: Though the completed thing is simple, the development process was complicated. Realising a single vision took quite some time.

The particulars of how Akai Chou matured from Zero

Occasionally, as he speaks, Mr. Kikuchi gesticulates and moves his hands along with the story of how Zero came to be through its development.
By having the girls' sixth senses and personalities contrast, Akai Chou was more dramatic. Mayu's disabled leg is for the same purpose.

--The story of Akai Chou is deeper and meatier than that of the last game, isn't that right?
Shibata: It's actually modelled on my dreams.
--Is that true?
Shibata: Yes. I had a dream in which twin sisters from Akai Chou appear - it was a scary dream, but also beautiful. I used it as a foundation when we started thinking about the characters and world view of the game.
Kikuchi: When we talked, when we first began work on the second game, we spoke about how Zero had shown the ultimate fear, and obtained high popularity. But in spite of this, I think there were parts that hindered this generality. I thought that if we could come up with a way to fix these things, perhaps we could make it into a horror standard!? That plan became Akai Chou.
Shibata: With Zero, from the very beginning of the game you're in the mansion's entrance with a "What's this!?" feeling, but in Akai Chou the story element was given serious consideration, and from the normal forest you get dragged into a parallel universe. Getting immersed into the story in that way is important.
Kikuchi: Based on the symmetry of twins and crimson butterflies, we expanded the dramatic side of the story.
Shibata: Things like this that began as pairs, when they're first combined they become complete. But the representation of the sorrow that arises from losing one of them - we wanted the horror to be a bit different from the last game. Also, the game's content - its story, and atmosphere - through which fear is tasted, we pushed really hard with it.
Kikuchi: On that front, we cut out the item element from the last game, and conversely added new elements.
Shibata: Between the last game and Akai Chou, the fear element is subtly different. Even just changing that element was especially hard work.
Kikuchi: Eventually, we thought about what the scariest thing was, and wondered if it was what people imagine. Whatever kind of CG we showed off, what people imagine would be scariest. Rather than seeing the whole thing, just seeing a little, or thinking you'd seen something but you hadn't - these parts are the scariest.
Shibata: We added events in which you would momentarily see something and think, "Something just flashed by, didn't it?"

--It's also prettier than the last game in terms of its cutscenes. It seems as though that endorsed it to female fans more than a normal game.
Shibata: Yes, that's what we were aiming for (laughs). It had to be not just scary, but also beautiful. This is always emphasised by the cutscenes. For example, even at the climax of a scary scene, we took care to make it so that there's a Japanese-style subtle beauty to it.

--Tsukiko Amano's image song "Chou" (Butterfly) also makes quite an impression.
Kikuchi: With regards to the image song, we also wanted to make one for Zero. Shibata was the one who wanted to choose Ms Amano for it.
Shibata: I'd been a fan since her indies days. When I first heard her debut single, "Hakoniwa", her voice had a power, an impact that made it so that once I heard the song it was stuck in my head... That's when I knew it couldn't be anyone but her.
Kikuchi: When we got the official OK from Ms Amano, to give her an idea of the kind of image we wanted her to put into the lyrics when she wrote the song, we created a plot summary with a focus on the twins that we chopped and changed.

--Were there ups and downs while the song was being created?
Shibata: Maybe the world view of Ms. Amano's songs is close to Zero's world view, but out of the lyrics, melody and phrasing, nothing that warranted complaint arose.
Kikuchi: I wondered if something had gone on, but she said, "Is this okay?" almost too quickly.
Shibata: Though I heard that she struggled quite a lot with it...

Revealing Zero and Akai Chou's Director's Cut
"Zero could become a standard of horror games"

What kind of sound is the sound of a body being torn apart!? And a woman's scream... Just imagining it brings on goosebumps.
The Blind Demon Ritual. The scene was meant to continue in a horrific way... You want to see it, but you don't want to see it.

--Though Zero and Akai Chou are both scary, they're not disgusting. I think this is quite important, but what was the thing you took most care with?
Kikuchi: Rather than taking care not to make it too scary, we were careful not to make it grotesque. The movie team seem to have put quite a focus on that point (laughs), so there were times when scenes were cut and the original data changed to make the images not quite so shocking.

--What kind of things, for example?
Shibata: Akai Chou had some pretty horrific things planned for it, but we didn't end up doing them.
Kikuchi: Yeah. There were lots of things we'd chosen for Akai Chou that we planned to do. For example, we were going to make a scene for the ritual to create the Kusabi in which a man is slashed up.
Shibata: And things like the massacre scene we planned to put in before the scene where Sae stands on the corpses cackling.

--Wow, that sounds scary!
Kikuchi: But out of them all, the thing I found most jarring was the process of making the videos of the "Mourners". It was the scene in which their eyes are sewn up. Even though it was immediately thrown out of the window... That must have hurt like hell.

--It must've. It hurts just to hear about it.
Kikuchi: Well, we didn't put in a cutscene of it because I thought that if we didn't just put in a horrific scene that clearly showed it, the players would imagine "What happened here?" or "What on earth was that?".

--Because the player's power of imagination doubles the fear. Then, please tell me about the shocking videos that were cut.
Kikuchi: The scene showing the Blind Demon Ritual in Zero actually continued. It directly showed blood seep from her eyes and gave you a really horrible feeling, but more than anything the sounds were strange. Hearing them gave you a bad feeling. I thought it was really unpleasant.
Shibata: There are lots of ritual scenes in Zero. With regards to what was cut... even what was in the retail version can make you imagine what happened, so I'm even more glad we removed it.
Kikuchi: Also, for the Strangling Ritual, too, we had a painful, grotesque scene.
Shibata: Yeah, the scene where the Rope Shrine Maiden's limbs and neck are tied to a contraption with ropes. It ended there in the retail version...
Kikuchi: That one also continued, actually. Afterwards, you would hear the maiden scream as she was stretched in four directions to the maximum, the sound of tearing, and then after being torn apart you would hear her four limbs flop onto the floor... However I thought about it, it was such a shocking video that I didn't see how we could put that into the final version (laughs).
Shibata: Come to think of it, there were other scenes in Zero ~zero~ that were completely cut.
Kikuchi: The family head carried a furoshiki (wrapping cloth) bundle, and you would think, "What's in there?".

--Huh? What is it!?
Kikuchi: First, you realise it's not a bundle but a human head dripping with blood that he's carrying. But until the end, Shibata obstinately referred said "It's a head-shaped handbag" (laughs). I said, "There are handbags that drip blood!?"
Shibata: So, anyway, in the end you get the feeling that something like a head is inside the bundle.

The Zero series, which lets you get closer to more realistic ghosts. Its latest work...!?

They wouldn't talk about the story of the third "Zero" game, but said that it will be concentrated on being a horror game and giving a new experience.

--When I ask people with a strong sixth sense who see ghosts, they all say that they're quite close to the real thing...
Shibata: A certain magazine editor told me, "I sometimes see ghosts, but it really does feel like that." But from my own spiritual experiences, they're a little different from the real thing. In actuality, when I take a good look at them they're blurry. For example, when I look at their faces they're all blurry, but I can see the rest of them clearly. When I look at them from another angle, that part is blurry. But something like that can't be represented by a computer. Also, real ghosts move a little more slowly.

--That's quite specific. Mr. Shibata, do you have any stories about strange things happening around you during development?
Shibata: A fluorescent light at the office broke, a woman's ghost appeared in my room; lots of things happened. But the thing that scared me the most was when I found long hair inside my bag that seemed to belong to that woman's ghost (For Mr. Shibata's strange experiences, check out the official Tecmo site!).

--You wrote on the website that you would be moving soon - did you move after that?
Shibata: Yes. I moved (laughs). Nothing's appeared since I moved.
Kikuchi: That room you mentioned must've been at the company dorm.

Shibata: Yeah. The next person to join the company will have to take that room.

--So then the proposal for the next game will come from the new person? (Laughs) Seriously, though, are there plans for another game?
Kikuchi: Naturally, we'll be thinking about it. But if we do make another, it'll have a completely different story again, there's no doubt about that.

--Though I personally suspect there was a reason for it, Zero and Akai Chou are connected by the characters who appear in them; as for the Zero series, will the next game also be connected somehow?
Kikuchi: How do you mean!?

--To make it enjoyable? But I think that maybe things like that are a sort of way of starting off a successor...
Kikuchi: The important part is the connection of the cameras, which can establish something as a new chapter even without links between the characters.

--Then, are there any more things you want to challenge yourselves with in the creation of a game themed around scares?
Shibata: From the point of view of "ultimate fear", we've not thought of any more themes than Zero. When we think about a sequel to Zero, there are lots of things related to the protagonist, setting, ghosts and events we want to do. But they're still secret...
Kikuchi: We're learning from the second game and thinking up plans for ways to make scary things and how to lay them out in a balanced way in the environment, and trying to unite the structure of a game with fear in a more efficient manner. There are still technical elements and things in the planning that haven't been dabbled in yet. Those are implementing a camera with regard to the player's movements, and giving a twist to the system in which events occur, but we've not spoken about it yet.

--I see. Finally, then, please tell us if there is anything you'd like to tell fans about how to enjoy the games however many times they've played them.
Shibata: Wander around lots of places. Though it's a really scary game, through that alone there is a moment when you will be enchanted by Himuro Mansion and Minakami Village. When that happens, just by the character's movement you'll be comfortable. Please experience this state of mind. I enjoy doing it that way, too.
Kikuchi: The way you view this game changes depending on the environment you play it in. Whether a couple or friends play it in a dark room, if you think of it as a test of courage, if you play it alone wearing headphones... I think it would be nice for people to create a situation for themselves.

--Thank you very much for your time.