Originally posted on 27 November 2011
Last edited on 9 January 2016
Source: Official site

Fatal Frame: Keisuke Kikuchi Interview

(Reprint of an article published in the September edition of Hyper PlayStation 2)

Part 1: From the Deception series to Fatal Frame: concepts carried over from Deception were its dark atmosphere and a new system

―I hear that you were involved in the Deception series for a long time prior to this, Mr. Kikuchi?

Kikuchi: That's right. I worked on the first two games, Deception and Kagero: Deception II, as the main programmer. I was involved with the third game, Deception III: Dark Delusion, as the project manager.

―It seems like, while dealing with the same horror-styled world, Project 0 (tentative) - the first game you will have produced - will be totally different to the Deception series.

Kikuchi: Yes. The project's current title is Project Zero (tentative), but this is actually still just its development codename.

―So that's why it's "tentative"?

Right. Its development team also contains members who worked on the Deception series, but we put Deception aside to hibernate for a while as we start a new project to build up a brand new game from completely zero. That's why we named it Project Zero (tentative).

―...Does this mean that you're tired of making Deception games or something? (laughs)

Kikuchi: No, no, that's not it (laughs). There are still things we want to do... But the series has entered the realm of completion in terms of game style, so I thought we might need to leave that system alone for a while, create a new game and then reevaluate it. We actually think of the third game, Dark Deception, as a compilation.

―So does this mean that there are no commonalities between the Deception series and Project 0?

Kikuchi: I wouldn't say that as a rule. When we started Project 0, we tried to figure out what our advantages were. These were its dark, eerie atmosphere and a new game system that had never been seen before. We showed off a never before seen system in Deception as well with trap battles. We tried to figure out what would happen if we specialised in these two things, and ran into the horror genre.

―So it's inheriting the fundamental ideas of the Deception series.

Kikuchi: But simply the word "horror" can be shown in a lot of ways, right? There are horror movies, and then there's horror games, like what we're trying to do. We had this thesis that it was important to leverage the interactivity of games that is the big difference between the two. In terms of scariness, sure, you can have similar experiences with horror movies and books, but only making something that's scary to see would make it meaningless for this to be a game. If the horror we were aiming for was to be a game, then we had to make it so that the player would even be scared to touch the controller. That was the starting point for Project 0.

―But there have been plenty of horror games aiming to get people to experience horror through a game before, right? Don't you think that it's a very difficult thing to create a game with a novelty that hasn't been seen before in the genre?

Kikuchi: That's right (laughs). We've played a lot of games, and had a couple of challenges that we'd need to overcome to make a new kind of horror game. For example, there's a kind of horror adventure where the worldview is scary, but actually fighting enemies isn't. That's not interesting. Also, with games that utilise systems where you take damage when you see something scary, actually experiencing scary things becomes a demerit for the player and they try to avoid seeing scary scenes as much as possible. That means that they never come into contact with the core part of the fear. Neither makes for a fun game, and we wanted the horror game we were trying to make to be something different.

Part 2: Photographing ghosts with a camera? The camera was necessary in order to make the player face the fear

―Then what kind of concept were you trying to implement with Project 0?

Kikuchi: As the game's framework, we wanted to make the player see scary things with their own eyes.

―And it was the camera that took its place?

Kikuchi: Yes. Using the camera, you try to combat the terror of the ghosts that are the enemies. There's another reason why we wanted to use a camera - long ago, before the art of photography had proliferated, people would say things like your soul would be sucked into the camera, or having your photo taken would shorten your lifespan. These are superstitions, but the camera has a long history of being tied to such a mentality. We were trying to leverage that feeling in the game.

―And that's how you ended up adopting the innovative system of photographing ghosts with a camera?

Kikuchi: It was actually proposed by Shibata, who's serving as director on Project 0 and originally worked with me on Deception. He's the ultimate horror geek, so he's very thorough regarding scary things.

―Are you a horror fan, too?

Kikuchi: Horror was one of the games I wanted to play... but I'm actually not good with scary things at all (laughs). I like scaring people, but not being scared myself. Now that I'm working on Project 0, though, I've ended up spending all day every day thinking about scary things (laughs).

―What I'm curious about is what kind of scariness Project 0 lets you experience.

Kikuchi: There are all kinds of being scared. For example, there are different expressions for it in the dictionary, like being startled, getting goosebumps, your hair standing on end, and so forth. This includes the kind of fear provided by seeing brutality, like you might in the Deception series, but also fear that's caused by psychological stress.

―What kind of fear do you most want people to feel?

Kikuchi: That ultimate scariness where just being there makes you afraid. This is a game, of course, so normally the player will probably be relaxing in a safe place like their room while they play. What I want to do is use the game's atmosphere, as well as the ghosts that have come into everyday life, to make these safe spaces feel like scary ones. That's the fear we're aiming for with Project 0.

―This means that you're using various kinds like brutality and psychological, yes?

Kikuchi: Yes. We spend each day racking our brains trying to think up ways to scare the player, so I hope people look forward to the scariness of each scene, as well as the creeping sense of terror that the story holds.

―I'd like to talk about some specific parts of Project 0. The game is set in a mansion called Himuro Mansion, right?

Kikuchi: This is a huge, old samurai residence. It's filled with things that belong in Japanese houses, especially rooms and items that seem scary. Strange incidents of unnatural deaths occur successively in the village where the mansion is...

―And the protagonist, Miku Hinasaki, ends up visiting Himuro Mansion.

Kikuchi: When her older brother, a journalist following the strange deaths, visits the village, her sixth sense tells her that something bad is happening there. Then she goes to the village, worried about her brother. He vanishes inside the mansion, staggering as if being controlled by something, and she follows him inside.

―Is her goal to find her brother?

Kikuchi: That's what it is at first...

―Does something else end up happening to her?

Kikuchi: There are some things I can't be too specific about here right now, but there are things like rope marks that Miku sees in a photo related to the strange deaths that her brother was looking into using her sixth sense, and the camera left behind by her mother that she uses...

―Which are deeply connnected to the goal of the game?

Kikuchi: ...Maybe (laughs).

Part 3: What is a horror action adventure? The game has strong adventure elements too - what is a brief summary of the system?

―The next thing I want to know about is the game system. How did it take shape?

Kikuchi: The game is divided up into chapters. Miku wanders around Himuro Mansion; the set up of the story in this adventure game is that Miku finds key items in each chapter, through which she digs deeper into the long history that is characteristic of a samurai residence.

―Characteristic of a long story...

Kikuchi: I'm sure that lots of things have happened during the course of the generations for which Himuro Mansion has existed, don't you think? (laughs)

―I see. It seems like Miku, with her strong sixth sense, will end up caught up in the mansion's background. About how many chapters is the story made up of in total?

Kikuchi: It's set in a large mansion, so the play time that makes up each chapter is quite large. Because of this, we currently plan to have several chapters.

―What I want to know next is about battles against ghosts using the camera. What kind of system is this?

Kikuchi: The camera acts as a weapon, but it can also be used as an item outside of battle to use when investigating.

―For investigating, too?

Kikuchi: If you use the camera to take a photo of something interesting, something will show in the photo. It's kind of like spirit photography, and can give you hints for solving puzzles.

―How about finding items like keys to progress through the game, like an aveage adventure game?

Kikuchi: We have that too, of course. The photos serve as hints about where those items are located.

―And what about the crucial battle system using the camera?

Kikuchi: I think you can tell this just by looking at the name of the genre, but rather than being a simple horror adventure, this is a horror "action" adventure. This means that we've put quite an emphasis on the action in battle scenes.

―Be that as it may, it's difficult to clearly pciture a system that has cameras AND action...

Kikuchi: In basic terms, battle goes like this: ghosts will attack you in a variety of ways as you look at them in first person through the viewfinder. Then you wait for the right timing and take a picture, and the spirit is burned into the film.

―The ghosts attack Miku?

Kikuchi: I think that as a subject matter, ghosts are very delicate but also interesting. Furthermore, they aren't physical beings. They might come out of a wall, or might be floating around somewhere. All that's clear is that they used to be human. For some reason they're unable to be at peace, and are there with their own intent. This means that ghosts with grudges will attack on sight, and spirits with other reasons for existing will behave differently.

―So the ghosts act in different ways?

Kikuchi: That's another of the elements that makes up the framework of the gme. Miku has some kind of back and forth with the ghosts using the camera, sealking them into the film. That's the tactics of the action. There are some ghosts you can't capture completely just by photographing them once, which I think makes the action element comparatively high.

―I wouldn't want to go to a mansion with ghosts like that living in it (laughs).

Kikuchi: Neither would I (laughs). But the ghosts were something that myself and Shibata, who put forward the proposal, worked hard on, and decided that we absolutely would not treat ghosts like small fry. This is another thing that came from Deception, but every one of them has their own story, which we wanted to use to make people empathise with even the enemies. I hope this gives depth to the story, too.

―What else about Project 0 did you focus on?

Kikuchi: There's meaning to the colours of Miku's clothing, and the game's theme colours are white, black and red. White is light, black is darkness, and red represents the "life" that blood makes you think of. These three colours are accentuated on the screen.

―There are sepia toned scenes as well, and it looks like even subtle visual elements will increase the feeling of fear even further.

Kikuchi: The sepia tones appear in scenes that have to do with story progression, so I hope everyone enjoys the interestingness of these scenes where the screen changes completely.