Comments by Suda51 and Makoto Shibata on the development of Fatal Frame IV.
Despite retaining the "Camera Obscura", a camera that has the power to exorcise ghosts, the setting and characters are completely different from those seen in the previous three games in the series, and the game feels very much like a spin-off with very few story-based connections. The story mainly follows five girls, two of whom die mysteriously. All of the girls performed as shrine maidens in the Rougetsu Kagura, a ritual held ten years earlier on Rougetsu Island, and all of them lost their memories after being spirited away following it.
Thinking that the cause of the other two's deaths lies in the incident ten years ago, the three girls visit Rougetsu Island one after another. Meanwhile, Choushiro Kirishima, the former detective who rescued the girls a decade earlier, also heads for Rougetsu Island at the behest of the mother of one of the five to save her daughter. Can the three girls return alive? And just what happened ten years ago? What is the truth behind their lost memories...? Set at an abandoned hospital on Rougetsu Island, the player hunts for the truth behind the incident, changing between character perspectives with each chapter.
Simply walking through the gloomy, abandoned hospital makes you tense, and the player is always being given fresh scares, such as the evil spirits that pop up when you let your guard down and the gradually returning memories. The ending, paired with the song "Noise" sung by Tsukiko Amano (now Tsuki Amano), is heartrending and emotional.
The scenario, which involved the participation of series creator Makoto Shibata at the request of Suda, contains few hallmarks of a Suda game, making it a true sequel to the Fatal Frame series, and is also a magnificent ground-breaker for the games to come.
Tecmo reached out to me for this project. I was a fan of the Fatal Frame series to begin with. But it was too scary for me (laughs). I didn't buy the Fatal Frame series at first. American zombies aren't all that scary. But in Fatal Frame, you go inside an old Japanese mansion deep in the mountains to rescue your big brother... A young girl can't be going to a place like that all by herself, can she!? Any normal person would get out of there! If it were me, I'd tell her to go home! (laughs). But in that game, you can't leave, you have to go. And it's all in a monochrome world, on top of that. Of course something's in there, right? Of course a game like that would be too scary to play, right? I kept running away from it.
But my wife is a lover of horror, and she told me to play it... So I ended up playing it, and it was seriously no joke. It was monochrone, and there was noise on the screen. You take just one step, and something rattles... And then a ghost pops out, right? (laughs).
Every night. Every night, she made me play that game... At the time, I got so stressed out that I came out in these awful pimples (laughs). My wife would just roar with laughter as she watched me sit there in terror.
An editor from Famitsu was good friends with Fatal Frame producer [Keisuke] Kikuchi and director [Makoto] Shibata, and it was through his introduction that we all first met at E3.
Mr. Shibata said that he was a fan of my games, and after learning that we were fans of each other we really hit it off, becoming the sort of friends who'd go out drinking together now and again.
One day, Mr. Kikuchi summoned me, and when I went to him I found out that they'd actually decided to make a new Fatal Frame game for the Wii. He said to me, "So, Mr. Suda, we'd like to ask Grasshopper to do it." No, no, I said, we can't do that. I told them that it was something I shouldn't be touching, and initially turned him down. But he was extremely persuasive. I worried over it for a while... Then I decided that it would be a fake if Mr. Shibata wasn't there, so I would be director, but he absolutely had to write the scenario and direct as well. I heard back that he would oversee it and do the scenario as well, but he was busy and directing would be tricky, so I agreed to that and development began.
When development began, Mr. Shibata ended up spending the whole of the latter half at our offices directing. He would adjust something, and then I would change it again myself, and we did that the whole time. We had a producer named [Toru] Osawa from Nintendo, too, but he ended up becoming a director as well somewhere along the line, so at one point there were three of us. All of us giving our own directions like that caused a lot of trouble, and we fell behind on the schedule.
The three of us were summoned by Mr. Kikuchi, who got mad at us and said, "That's enough! Stop messing around with it!" (laughs). It really was a lot of fun, though.
Mr. Kikuchi is the sort of producer who will tell you honestly when something is no good, and give you the green light when it's okay, so we had this mutual trust between us where if he said something wasn't going to work, I'd give up on it.
He's a really serious person, and I wanted to really make a good game for his sake. That meant that making it was really fun. It was tough a lot of the time, but the game itself turned out well. There were some things we weren't able to achieve as its developers, but I think overall we did a good job.
Actually making a horror game for myself made me feel like horror, in the end, is an impossibility for me. I couldn't beat Mr. Shibata. His scariness is the real deal. He's been able to see the real deal since he was young, after all.
All he does is take the experiences he's had so far and put them into a game. That's why it's scary. I'd be a fake. That really hit home.
All I wrote for the game was Choushiro Kirishima's part. I basically wanted his chapters to be like an action game rather than being scary, and left that part completely up to Mr. Shibata.
I think it was in 2005 that I met Mr. Suda for the first time. When we were talking about each other's games, he insisted to me, "If it were up to me, I'd move the camera closer in the next Fatal Frame. I wanna smell the girl's scent!" That naturally matched up with my vision for the next Fatal Frame at the time. I'd been thinking of making a game that valued realism of the atmosphere, where you could take your time walking around the area, sort of like a sightseeing game, and I recall being surprised by Mr. Suda's animalistic instincts. I remember telling him about the two things I liked about Killer7. The first was the way the dialogue is handled. Many of the lines felt to me like they were mindful of death, but also joking about it. The dead, unaware of their own deaths, seemed to me like they were making tedious complaints. The second was that there are "pauses" here and there that appear unnecessary to progress with the game. Creating pauses that let the player feel and think is difficult if you aren't aware of what you're doing. I suppose you can only manage it if you're the type of person who is able to subtract things rather than excessively piling things on. As we spoke, I thought that Mr. Suda might be able to write the words of the dead and control the pauses - in other words, I envisioned that we might be able to team up to create a new horror game.
Later on, a project began to create a Wii version of Fatal Frame. I was busy with another project at the time, and it would have been difficult for me to be involved, but I simply wanted to try doing a game where you use the Wii remote as a torch, and I didn't want to let that chance pass me by. Initially, instead of being a true sequel where you would follow a linear story, the Wii version of Fatal Frame had been envisioned as a sort of spin-off game that featured a collection of small episodes. The one who came to mind as my pick for director was Mr. Suda. Kikuchi, the producer, explained to me that Mr. Suda had experience developing Killer7 for the GameCube, which had internal architecture similar to that of the Wii, and had also been involved with a horror game called Michigan. Large-scale game creation is a contest of personnel management, resources and quality, but small-scale games must be brought together using limited resources, so it would need a confident, consistent director. With horror games you also have to manage discomfort, so strictly speaking they're different from entertainment. Japanese horror in particular involves you matching up with the perception of enjoyment and discomfort of one person and then adjusting it over and over, which finally creates pathos. I thought Mr. Suda might be able to do that. Kikuchi had had the experience of being spun in circles by a director who lacked strength in the past, and so ended up coming on board with the plan, and then Mr. Suda agreed to direct.
What I didn't know, however, was that despite being someone who had created such intrepid games, Mr. Suda was an extremely timid person. The first time I visited the GHM offices in Asagaya, he jokingly asked me, "Are there any places in the office that seem like they might be haunted?" I pointed to the corner of the ceiling in the development room and answered honestly, "It's not a ghost, but I can see black mist over there." Mr. Suda contacted me later on to tell me that that part of the ceiling had collapsed. I don't know if that was the cause, but they ended up moving their offices. I called Mr. Suda an extremely timid person, but he was particularly afraid of ghost-related things.
At about the same time as that, I think, the direction of the game underwent a major shift towards a true sequel with a linear story to enjoy. We decided to put the story together as an omnibus based upon previous ideas we'd already had. I wrote the chapters for Ruka, the main character, and Mr. Suda wrote the chapters for Kirishima, a minor character. Misaki's chapters were written by Masahiro Yuki, who was at the time affiliated with GHM. I blended Ruka and Misaki's parts on my end as we went along, but since he was also busy with the development of No More Heroes, the story for Kirishima's chapters wasn't really getting done. We finally started to get pressed by the schedule, and Mr. Suda shut himself up alone in his room. He says that when he's concentrating on the text, he becomes fully immersed in that world and can get all of the writing done in one evening. The following day, Kirishima's part finally arrived... What the hell was this? After giving the scenario a read-through, I was so outraged that I ran the printed pages of writing through the shredder. I deleted the email from Mr. Suda and expunged it thoroughly from my harddisk. The scenario was more like splatter horror than a ghostly one, and was shockingly violent. More than anything, though, Kirishima was too eloquent. If he spoke excessively about every single thing, the player and the character would become too detached...
I raged about for a while, and then realised that what I had done was childish. We were the ones who had asked for Mr. Suda - what was I doing? Having calmed down, I began to reconstruct the scenario while remembering what he had written. I wanted to retain Mr. Suda's vision and intentions whilst also adding in my own interpretations to turn it into a spiritual horror. First of all, I added another major supporting role so that Kirishima didn't talk too much, while also preserving his character. Then, I maximised the atmosphere from Killer7 I'd liked where the dead talk about death in a trivial manner, and rebuilt it under the condition that I would not change the ending. Mr. Suda had recalled that "It'll end up being a splatter if I write it...", but in the final assignments I took on the horror-style pathos and Mr. Suda handled the action.
I'm sorry to fans of the Suda style, but his flavours ended up being quite muted. I hope people understand that Kirishima's part is a collaboration between us. I was worried that I had destroyed his world, but later on, Mr. Suda told me that this had mostly been what he had wanted to do with Kirishima's part, which relieved me as a fan.
Finally. The meetings with Mr. Suda about the game were always surprising, but those things are too numerous to mention, so let me tell you about just one. One of the themes of this game for me was visualising the scenery that lies beyond our memories. At the end of the game I wanted to show the scenery of the moment right before your consciousness is born, at the place where nostalgia for death and the consciousness of life are born, something which everyone remembers somewhere. The visions I saw and remembered of that landscape, known as the "zero region" in the game, were a chaotic, milky-white melding of light and dark, abstract and difficult to express. I knew it was probably impossible, but even if it was only as a mysterious vision at the end, I wanted to share what I saw with the players. Mr. Suda said of the place: "If a place like that existed, I'd like it to be something like 'paradise'," and his words influenced me strongly in realising that final scene. It may be a very personal and trivial thing, but I wanted to talk about it somewhere.