Originally posted on 2 October 2011
Last edited on 1 January 2016
Source: Official site

Fatal Frame: Zero Anthology #3 - The Camera Obscura

Head: Keisuke Kikuchi (producer), Makoto Shibata (director)

The Camera Obscura was indispensable to Fatal Frame

The Camera Obscura as a weapon

―Fatal Frame is a game that utilises a camera. How did you decide upon this?

Kikuchi: In terms of the order of things, we first decided that the game system would be one that employed a camera to fight with. There were a few twists and turns until we decided upon having a camera be a weapon used to defeat ghosts, however.

Shibata: We had a camera in the initial proposal, but I kept hearing, "Why a camera?" and being told to change it. Maybe because of a childhood experience of mine, the idea of using a camera as a weapon to defeat ghosts came very naturally to me.

―This is the story about you looking at a ghost through the viewfinder, right? (Note: see staff column "approached by a procession of spirits".)

Shibata: A friend who read the column later told me in surprise, "Oh, so that's the meaning behind the camera you used to have in your room."

Kikuchi: Looking at it now, I can agree that there's nothing else that suits a horror game so well, but at first I thought, "I don't care what, but you must have a better idea than this."

―Did you have any other ideas before you settled on using a camera as a weapon?

Kikuchi: Plenty. We had ideas like shining light on them, throwing ofuda at them, shooting them with hamaya - things like that.

Shibata: ...Or using a vacuum cleaner to suck them up (laughs). At one point, we also rewrote it to employ a game system where you would accumulate fear and use a shout button to shout at a ghost and temporarily drive it back. It was awful, though.

―And so finally you settled on the camera.

Kikuchi: As part of the game system it keeps you right up close with the scary things so that you can photograph them, and it was interesting. There's a thing called spirit photography, too, and a superstition that your soul is sucked out when your photo is taken, so physiologically it just about makes sense. The quality of the photograph is reflected in the score, so as the player, you also have that simplistic desire to take a good picture.

Shibata: I was disappointed in the way that, with all of the horror games so far, you have no choice but to run from enemies when they show up. I want to see something scarier, but the game makes it more advantageous to flee. I started to wonder if perhaps I could make a game where you have no option but to face it head on.

Kikuchi: Aren't you the only one who wants to be in scarier situations? (laughs)

The Camera Obscura's finder view

―The camera is used not only in battle, but for exploring as well.

Kikuchi: Hints will appear in photographs, and I thought it was an interesting idea to also be able to use it for solving puzzles.

―When Miku looks through the viewfinder, the player also enters first person view.

Shibata: I wanted to have people looking around them in first person view as part of the game system. I've always been a fan of first person shooters. It feels realistic, and if you consider it, it's fitting for a horror game. I think the stereophonic sound really shines, and it increases the fear, too. For a time I even considered having the whole thing in first person view.

―Another game of yours, Deception, was in first person view as well.

Kikuchi: Now that you mention it, it was.

Shibata: There are people who get motion sickness in first person, and some people also said that it was difficult to get an understanding of your surroundings. You wouldn't see the character, either, and we wouldn't be able to show off the camera working as you controlled it.

Kikuchi: The mansion has an exquisite atmosphere to it, so we wanted to be able to show it from good angles. Also, if it was it first person, you wouldn't be able to get that "There's a ghost behind Miku..." feeling.

Shibata: I thought that if the protagonist carried a camera and entered first person view when looking through it, we could easily fuse the two viewpoints together, and also give it some variety at the same time.

Kikuchi: The act of looking through the camera by itself means that you can't see what's around you anymore, which is scary.

Shibata: Furthermore, when you're looking through a camera you feel this incomparable sense of isolation, which puts you in Miku's shoes as well.

The model for the Camera Obscura

―How did the Camera Obscura (Shaeiki)'s name come to be?

Kikuchi: It's a uniquely made camera, so we wanted some kind of fitting name to call it by, and did a lot of thinking.

Shibata: But when I think about the word for "photograph", it's pretty amazing. The characters it's written with mean "to show the truth".

Kikuchi: It's a device you use to destroy shadows, so we went with "Shaeiki" (射影機, or "shadow-destroying device").

Shibata: The concept was that it's meant to sound like the kind of name something would have been given between the Edo and Meiji periods, when foreign culture was starting to arrive from overseas.

―Is the time setting also reflected in its design?

Shibata: Yes. I had a firm idea of what I wanted the camera's design to look like. I had it in my hands in my dream. To get it across, I tried to find a real life camera that matched up with it. I thought that would go smoothly.

―Was there anything you used for reference?

Kikuchi: We looked for all kinds of data on cameras.

Shibata: The premise was that, because Miku carries it around with her, it's an old, folding style camera which, when folded up, looks like a small, square bag.


Shibata: Right - when you open it up the lens comes out, and you can see the bellows body. I wanted it to be an old device like this, and found something that was a perfect fit. It's a camera called the Linhof 5x4 from Germany. When I found it, I knew that it wsa the one.

―So it was modelled on a foreign camera?

Kikuchi: It's an Air Force camera, so it's not from the right era, but the image matched up.

Shibata: We also took designs from Edo period devices. Telescopes, magic lanterns, pedometers, microscopes, telegraphs, Elekiters... all of these old-fashioned machines served as reference points. It's a dull golden colour, like it's made out of brass, with arabesque patterns carved into it.

Kikuchi: The process went smoothly.

―The Camera Obscura becomes an important piece of the puzzle in the latter half of the game, doesn't it?

Shibata: It does. This led to a steady stream of detailed questions from the designer, like how the insides were constructed. We had some issues when they looked at the layout of the plot and instantly said, "There's no way something like that would fit!"

Kikuchi: We'll leave what "something like that" is for you to find out when you play the game.

―How did it get in there?

Shibata: We had actually prepared a sidestory about the man who created the Camera Obscura, but we don't go into details in the game. If we put it in, the game would be too bloated. It's a real shame.