Within Japan's entertainment industry, the most successful genre worldwide has been horror movies.
Famous horror films with which Japanese people are very familiar, such as Ring and Juon, actually receive high praise overseas, too, as part of their own unique genre of "Japanese horror". For example, The Juon, which became number one in terms of attendance two weeks after opening nationwide across America, was the first film by a Japanese director to surpass $100 million at the box office, and that record still stands to this day.
On the other hand, what about games? Horror games are of course said to have been pioneered by foreign computer games, but it is without a doubt that Japanese game creators of the 90s paved the way for this epoch. Among these is the global hit Biohazard, released by Capcom in 1996, which opened up the possibilities of horror in a game.
Since then, beginning with Silent Hill - turned into a film which garnered many Western fans - Clock Tower, and Corpse Party, made using RPG Maker, Japanese-made games have steadily gained fans overseas, too. Nonetheless, horror is still clearly a peculiar genre of game. It is a fact that it has been treated as somewhat of a niche.
However, looking around us now in 2016, perhaps horror games have made a big mark on the world. For starters, there has been an increase in the number of particularly zombie-focused horror games amongst worldwide hit tittles and indie games overseas. We also cannot overlook games such as The Last of Us, which have skilfully used elements of zombie games to move gamers with deep, Hollywood movie-like human drama.
When talking about Japan, the most remarkable thing must be the influence of let's plays. This genre, once part of the underground of entertainment within such realms as internet radio, was brought to prominence and achieved its peculiar sense of popularity alongside let's plays of free horror games such as Ao Oni and Ib.
For today's Game no Kikakusho, we spoke with Keiichiro Toyama, developer of Silent Hill and Siren, and Makoto Shibata, developer of the Zero series, which received high praise from horror fans and also became popular let's play choices. We asked them about the unique world of horror games, a genre which rarely conforms to the standards of normal games. Despite being quite different from the usual Game no Kikakusho, we hope that people who would not usually describe themselves as horror fans will also experience this unique world.
―For today's discussion, I'd like to hear about the horror game genre, which is unique in many ways, as people who have actually worked on them. I think, though, that the horror genre itself is a very special genre, not limited only to games.
Keiichiro Toyama (below, Toyama): The first tricky thing is just what constitutes a horror work. Even if you don't explicitly call something horror, there are things that are really scary. It's also really vague in terms of distinguishing it from mystery as a genre, and you can't just say that "it's horror if there's a murderer".
Makoto Shibata (below, Shibata): For example, Alien※ is first contact sci-fi, but there are people who think it's a horror. If you're going to classify that sort of story composition as a horror, then it would be bloodsucker horror. Once night falls, people are killed one by one... something like that.
An American film released in 1979. It is a sci-fi classic, set in the gloomy, closed-off environment of a large spaceship, portraying the terror of the crew as they are attacked one by one by an alien. The characteristic shape of the alien, said to have been modelled after male genitalia by H. R. Giger, drastically changed the image conjured up by the word "alien" after the film's release. The series' protagonist, Ellen Ripley, has garnered popularity as a fighting woman in Hollywood movies.
―Alien is supposed to be sci-fi, but some things that occur mean that it always appears on lists of horror movie staples.
Toyama: Which is why it's not as simple as saying, "It's horror if you have this gimmick." If anything, the only way to differentiate might be how conscious the creators are of the context within which horror is set up.
Shibata: Their consciousness of the horror genre?
Toyama: The genre... or maybe I should say the way they handle unrealistic things. For example, in Stephen King※ you've got homages to horror works he's experienced, and Ring is based on traditional Japanese ghost stories. We think about past works like this in the context of horror... But being asked up-front whether a sci-fi film like Alien is a horror film is tricky. A lot of things deal with aliens in a way that resembles horror.
Well, I tried to come up with something since you asked (laughs), but that's about it. One of the marks of a horror-lover is looking back on history. Unlike with action movies, if someone recommends a series to them they'll start watching from the very first one, rather than the newest release or a remake.
An American horror author born in 1947. He became known as the standard-bearer of modern horror, setting itself apart from traditional horror, with his portrayal of the fear lurking within everyday American life. He is the most important person in modern horror, who has turned out such huge bestsellers and film adaptations as The Shining and The Green Mile.
Shibata: I understand that. When someone recommends something to me, whether it be a film or a game, I faithfully go off and buy it up on Amazon no matter how old it is. It doesn't matter that filming techniques and CG are better these days.
Toyama: That's not what horror fans are after, though, is it? If you ask them for a recommendation, they'll casually recommend you a film from the 70s. I heard recently that Siren on the PlayStation 2 (below, PS2) was still in print up until very recently (laughs). They've stopped it now, though, because it's on Game Archives.
All: (in surprise) What!?
Toyama: It looks like Rule of Rose※ is still in print, too. Horror fans really will buy something once they hear about it with no regard for current trends.
※Rule of Rose
A psycho mystery adventure released for the PlayStation 2 by SCE in 2006. It became very popular for its unique worldview.
―...Hmm. Saying that makes horror maniacs sound like a very unique bunch. Actually, even with horror games it might be less about horror as a genre and more like an assembly of people obsessed with the pleasure of being scared around the world of the horror genre, and they just so happen to have games as their medium. Do you have a strong sense of camaraderie as creators of horror games who work within the same genre?
Shibata: It may not be kabuki or something like that, but it's a category that's gradually turning into a sort of traditional entertainment (wry smile). I don't know about consciousness of it as a genre, though. Of course, it's a genre containing things like Biohazard (below, Bio) which everyone is aware of that are making it huge.
Toyama: Myself and other horror game creators get together for drinks and things like that. We have people coming like Twilight Syndrome's Goichi Suda※, Clock Tower's Hifumi Kono※, Akira Yamaoka※ and Masahiro Ito※ who do Silent Hill's music and art, and Siren's Naoko Sato※, who does the scenario.
※1. Goichi Suda
The CEO of Grasshopper Manufacture, born in 1968. He is a game designer, director and scenario writer. He has worked on games such as the Twilight Syndrome series and Killer7.
※2. Hifumi Kono
The representative director of Nude Maker, born in 1969. Famous works include Clock Tower.
※3. Akira Yamaoka
A composer, sound director and game designer born in 1968. He is primarily known for his work on the Silent Hill series' music.
※4. Masahiro Ito
An illustrator and designer born in 1972. He is in charge of scenery and creature designs for the Silent Hill series. His unique creature designs have many fans.
※5. Naoko Sato
The scenario writer for the Siren series. She is currently working on the scenario for the Gravity Daze series alongside Mr. Toyama.
―Quite the drinks party (laughs).
Shibata: Nanashi no Game's Takashi Tokita※ has come in the past, too. I've never drunk with Bio's Shinji Mikami, by the way.
A game creator born in 1966 who works for Square Enix. He has directed Chrono Trigger and done game design for Final Fantasy IV. More recently, he served as executive producer for Nanashi no Game.
Toyama: Huh, that's surprising. Well, Mikami isn't the type to go out much, but I do see him here and there. We have a game industry go kart-racing club where Mikami happened to show up and win, after which he went home without attending the party afterwards (laughs). Things like this happen.
―Just taking his prize and gallantly departing (laughs). Do you ever have earnest discussions about horror games in those kinds of situation, though?
Shibata: No, not really. Toyama never wanted to make horror games, after all. He says that he just ended up pulled into the J horror culture even though he had no intention of making one!
―Well... I mean, I don't see how that's possible with things like Silent Hill and Siren (laughs).
Toyama: Really; when we were making the games they were based around making something revolutionary and fun, and horror was just added as part of the scene setting. I guess it acts as a hook, or makes it sell better. It's easier to design the kind of games you want if they seem like they'll sell (laughs).
Shibata: See, this is how he is. I do develop games with the intention of making a horror game. What Toyama is after is actually different, which is why people say they turn into such scary games. When I hear people saying this I think, "Toyama is loved by horror, whereas I'm just somebody making horror-related content because I like it."
―I see. Mr. Toyama is a natural horror writer blessed by the divine, and you are a horror writer who loves horror and makes it as a theorist - is that the gist of it? (laughs)
―May I ask one more thing of you, who are such polar opposites? Why do people enjoy horror? There's something that seems a bit strange about the mentality of enjoying an unpleasant experience.
Toyama: Hmm... Sorry for such a vague answer, but I guess it feels good (laughs).
Toyama: For example, I absolutely love scary stories you find online. I just love the chills they give me. I wonder if maybe this is a faculty from a time when people were monkeys, before we became human, that we're using in a way it wasn't intended for.
Shibata: A professor at Tokyo University said something like that in a Denfami feature, right? Humans feel discomfort in the face of a threat, but also a pleasantness.
―Yes. To explain it briefly for our readers, it appears as though the human brain secretes a substance that makes us feel good when we're in some kind of discomfort. According to evolutionary biology, this is because we need to suppress pain when fleeing from a threat. Training in this situation, much like those who are masochistic in B.D.S.M, causes pleasure to exceed the discomfort.
Toyama: Well, some kind of mistake might have made this happen to me, but it's clearly pleasurable. I can't even understand how there are people who don't enjoy horror (laughs).
Shibata: This is one way of thinking about it, but I think about it in a slightly different way.
I'm not a riaju, which might be why I think this way... but I think that at times when people are at rock bottom in a terrible mental state, coming into contact with something even worse makes them feel like they can finally breathe. Riaju having a good time want to have an even better time. When people are struggling and in mental pain, though, they want to learn of a world of even greater pain or be hurt by something, which somehow lets them be at peace for the first time.
I do think there are actually a lot of horror fans who look to horror for relief. This is one of the reasons why I myself continue to make traumatic games.
Toyama: You might be right. I think that one of the most striking traits of horror works is how fable-like they are...
―You mean that traits of stories like Aesop's Fables and fairytales can also be found in horror?
Toyama: Yes. Horror seems to be governed by the logic of necessity.
Nasty people will have a tragic end, and those you want to be saved will indeed be saved. In this way it resembles the world of fairytales, and that's why I think you feel like you've just read a fable when you finish watching horror, like you've received some kind of lesson in morality. The way it's expressed is more complicated than it is in fairytales, but I guess you could say that humans have very simple wishes at our cores... In any case, it acts as a good reliever of daily stresses.
Shibata: Basically like a couple getting it on being cut up by Jason※'s axe (laughs).
A fictional person who appears in the Friday the 13th series of horror movies. One of the staple scenes is Jason showing up to kill a couple who are getting hot and heavy.
―Aside from karmic stories like the ones in fairytales, there is also a kind of irrational horror within the genre. I think these tend to show up in Japanese horror movies, where things are really unreasonable and awful things happen...
Toyama: It's not uncommon for things to have nothing at all to do with karma either, though. With none at all, it ends up like a David Lynch※ movie. Well, with things like Juon, it's not like the people living in the house did anything wrong...
Then let's just say that this is the fairytale element where bad things happen to unlucky people...! (laughs)
An American film director, scriptwriter, producer, musician, artist and actor born in 1946. He likes to employ surrealist techniques, with enthusiastic fans of such fantastical films as Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive all over the world. One of his most famous works is Twin Peaks, a TV series for which a sequel was recently announced to be in development.
―Th... Hey (laughs).
Toyama: Fufufu. Jokes are definitely part of the essence of horror, though.
Specifically bringing up things you could never talk about in daily life like taboos and corruption that are suppressed gives you a feeling of liberation. It's like laughter. There's definitely a sense of pleasure to it, like an elementary school kid happily saying, "Poop, poop!"
―True; I do feel like comical scenes are a staple of splatter movies. I suppose that laughter and fear are very compatible.
Toyama: Yes. If you laughed at someone who died a tragic death in real life, you'd be treated like a madman by society. Within a fictional setting, however, you're allowed to laugh at a messed-up corpse. It's much like the way elementary school kids say, "Poop, poop!"
Shibata: To speak as a non-riaju again (laughs), I feel like the kind of people I mentioned before who are suffering mentally want to experience taboos and corruption as "beautiful things". I guess you could say that you can't be at ease unless you have that feeling of "poop, poop!" that lacks a sense of rawness.
Because of this, the ghosts in the Zero series don't bleed too much, and they aren't too corrupted... Not only that, but if humans are creatures that take discomfort as pleasure, death would be the ultimate pleasure. I wonder if this appearing as a vaguely recalled simulation might be a beautiful utopia.
―It doesn't seem like horrors with absolutely no element of death - whether it be vampires or zombies, aliens or mad scientists - are very common.
Shibata: When humans are on the verge of death, they want to shout, "I don't want to die!" and feel a range of "final emotions". This is a very important point of view in terms of the way I think about horror. I think people will have wildly varying answers with regards to this, though.
―One last thing I want to ask before we get into talking about your own games is to do with when you think about "horror" as a game. Is there any kind of way of expression horror that's unique to games?
Toyama: Games have been good at depicting space since the rise of 3D, so I think there are times when just being in a place makes it into a horror.
―The first Bio did depict 3D spaces. Even though there were precursors such as Otogiriso※, true horror games didn't make their debut until after the release of the PlayStation.
A game released by Chunsoft in 1992. It was the game that established the genre known as "sound novel". It was also one of the pioneering horror games aimed at consumers before Bio.
Toyama: With horror in other media, you need to prepare in terms of the flow of the story. It's difficult using the text of a novel alone to make someone scared simply of being in a place, and films depict an axis of time, so you need a story.
Recently, though, it's true that the experience of a place has been progressing in novels, manga and films, and you can finally experience the fear of a space depending on the game. 3D was a particularly large part of this, and now you can directly express fear without it being directly set in a scary context, meaning that you can even find scenes in Minecraft※ frightening (laughs).
A sandbox game released in 2011 by Notch (Markus Persson) and the staff of his company (Mojang AB). By placing blocks in midair or on the ground, you are able to freely create objects and buildings. Its popularity is not only limited to game-loving adults, but also extends to middle-schoolers and children all around the world. It is compatible with let's plays and mods, and is an important modern work on the forefront of pioneering the way we play games.
―In that sense, VR might represent that kind of evolution in the future.
Shibata: Yes. These days, you can create a horror game just by walking around in a scary place without even having fights with zombies or anything like that.
I'm expecting great things from VR myself. At least, if you go to something like VR Zone※ you can experience things like a fear of needles or heights which have been difficult to express in media up until this point.
A limited time "experimental facility for virtual reality entertainment content" by Bandai Namco in Odaiba's Diver City. You can experience a variety of entertaining experiences using VR there between 15 April and 10 October 2016.
―That seems like a kind of fundamental fear using the senses which precedes any kind of context. By the way, Mr. Toyama, what was the first work where you felt the kind of fear that only a game can create?
Toyama: In terms of games that don't take place in a simulated space, the one that made the most intense impression on me as the player experiencing it has to be Otogiriso. I guess... you could call it the fear of not being able to see the bottom.
―Not being able to see the bottom?
Toyama: It's not in a neat package like a film or book where you can see where it starts and where it ends. It's the kind of horror that goes on for infinity.
Shibata: Isn't there a story in Jorge Luis Borges※' book The Book of Sand about a book whose contents change if you close and then reopen it? Otogiriso reminds me of that. The scenes are joined together randomly, so you surely can't see them all. What if this were to be realised in a game...?
In Otogiriso, upon entering a mansion you come upon twin girls, and from there it takes about an hour to reach the end. It changes each time, though, so you have to imagine what happens during the intervals.
In Siren, too, you can see from the viewpoint of a Shibito hammering a nail using sightjacking※, but if you think what's happening behind him... your thoughts turn to the gaps between each point. That's really intriguing.
※1. Jorge Luis Borges
An Argentinian writer, novelist and poet born in 1899. The essays and stories spawned by his unique philosophy from a great number of reading experiences was influential not just on the postmodern literature of the late 20th century, but also on authors in all sorts of genres around the world. Famous works include Ficciones and The Aleph. He died in 1986.
A characteristic system from the Siren series, which allows you to hijack the vision of enemies or other humans.
―"Not being able to see the bottom" is a wonderful way to describe it. I do think that not being able to grasp the truth wherever you go and the fear of not being able to put it all together represents the true fear of Otogiriso, and it's the kind of terror that you can't get from the kind of linear storytelling you'd find in other novels, manga or films.
Shibata: Having to imagine things because you can't see everything is an incredibly important part of experiencing fear. For example, I often say that Ring is the scariest film I've ever seen in my life. That's because I didn't see it at the time.
―Huh? What do you mean?
Shibata: What I mean is that my colleague said to me, "There's this really scary movie, so we should go and see it," so I would wait around with images of how scary it was ballooning inside my head. Then my colleague ended up getting freaked out, so we had to go and see something else instead. The dream I had that night was the scariest I'd ever had. Not having seen it meant that my imagination had taken on a life of its own with regards to what that incredibly scary thing was.
Toyama: When I go to see a horror film, sometimes it's like, "Huh, this is just a normal film." Like, oh, it actually has a proper story (laughs). The thing that scared me most as a kid was an advert for a film called House※, the visuals and such of which had a huge influence on me, but I've never actually seen the film.
A Japanese film directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi which was released in 1977. It is a horror comedy with a fantasy touch, and is sometimes credited as one of the pioneering works in J horror. It also marked Obayashi's directorial debut on the big screen.
Shibata: Yeah; if you see it, it stops being scary.
―I think it's about time we started discussing your own games. Three years after Bio's appearance, you made Silent Hill in 1999, Mr. Toyama. As far as horror games since Bio go, this in particular was a game that left a deep impression.
Shibata: Actually, I thought that Silent Hill made more of an impact than the first Bio. It was a psychological horror, after all. Not only that, but it utilised the ambiguity that's particular to games... I guess that's how you could put it.
―What do you mean?
Shibata: In the first Bio you're attacked by zombies which you shoot with your gun and there's blood spraying everywhere and it's scary, and the fact that this had finally been made possible with CG came as a shock. It was the shock of games getting closer to movies. Films are a kind of objective medium, where you have actors who are filmed by cameras in a real location. When I played Silent Hill, however, I felt like we were now able to use the situation and spatial representation to depict the internal and psychological world. It was like having a nightmare whilst being awake.
―With the arrival of 3D CG and the increase in power of expression, games were now able to use objective representations the way movies do. At the same time, though, they gained the ability to express the subjectivity of what goes on inside your head?
Shibata: Everything is ambiguous in Silent Hill, isn't it? All you can see amidst the fog is a shadow; all you have in the darkness is a torch; the static of the radio echoes around you; then at the end, you step into the mental world... and then finally, like some kind of art installation, there's a classroom containing only desks and chairs. That was impactful.
Toyama: Huh, that's quite a way to give praise (laughs). Metal Gear Solid※ came out while we were working on it, though, which flipped things around. We were like, hey, this has camerawork!
※Metal Gear Solid
The one mentioned here is the third game in the Metal Gear series by director Kojima, released in 1998. It became widely talked about for its usage of movie-like camerawork and action quality based on 3D images made from polygons, which were at the forefront at the time.
Shibata: You were at the same company, but you didn't share your techniques (laughs)!?
I personally found Silent Hill's camera quite impressive, too, though. The way it sits is perfect. It has just the right feeling of distance, and nothing that's happening feels real. You're attacked by these weird, mysterious creatures, and have to just keep proceeding onwards without resolving anything. It's a very horror-ish type of atmosphere. You're stuck in this situation where you don't know the truth, nothing is explained to you and you can never relax.
―It's like simply being there is the horror. Even still, what surprised me when I read the documents was that you were still 26 when you [Toyama] directed it.
Toyama: That's thanks to the time we were in (laughs).
The Sega Saturn and PS came out during the first year after I joined Konami, and that's when 3D showed up. 3D was still new back then, though, and it wasn't very expressive, so my veteran seniors didn't want to touch it. We, the youth at the time, stepped forward. That was all.
―So along with the emergence of 3D technology came the emergence of young developers? Now that you mention it, I hear that the team for the first Bio was built around Capcom's youngsters, such as Shinji Mikami.
Toyama: Anyway, by that time we had 3D and used textures, yet my seniors were making grids out of dots. I still remember them getting mad when we tried to change the resolution using a tool, saying, "No, you can't do that! Redo each dot one by one!" (laughs). Shibata and I are of the same generation, so I'm sure he understands what I mean.
Shibata: They're just funny stories these days. Like, "You create an intermediate colour by gradually mixing another colour into the gradation."
—But in actuality, the expressiveness of 2D games had reached an insanely high level by the final days of the Super Famicom. At the time, it even felt as if games' expressive power had regressed due to moving to the PS.
Toyama: For me as a newbie at the time, though, things like unintended noise sneaking in through a colour reduction tool actually gave it flavour, to the point where I'd rather use that tool.
Shibata: Things like OPTPiX※, right? Something felt good about its post-processing, which made it popular.
An image colour reduction tool. Later, it became an indispensable tool in the development of games for the PS2.
Toyama: Right, right. Takes you back, doesn't it? But anyway, the young guys actually wanted to work with 3D. After I finished my training, I was officially assigned to Hyper Olympics in Atlanta※, and did motion capture for the first time at KCE Tokyo (one of Konami's development locations at the time). No one in the company had any idea what to do with motion capture data, and I guess they took note of me somehow managing to get it into the game using things like Softimage, because they ended up telling me to try directing next.
The next thing they said, though, was, "You can either do "in Nagano" as a sequel to Hyper Olympics, or (riding on the Bio trend) do a survival horror; pick one." So I said, "Alright, then I'll do the horror one," (laughs).
※Hyper Olympics in Atlanta
A 1996 release in Konami's popular Hyper Olympics series, which has been running since 1983. The graphics received high praise.
—What were your thoughts at the time?
Toyama: I thought that differentiating it from Bio 1 was important, and so chose a dynamic representation of light and dark as the theme. A discussion with the programmers led to us deciding to go with full polygon backgrounds, rather than the pre-rendered ones used by Bio. Using a combination of the foundation techniques of depth cueing※ and positional light sources, we were able to express white fog and the torch.
A technique where areas near light sources are brightened, and ones far away are darkened.
Shibata: You initially wanted to make a video game adaptation of Stephen King's book The Mist, didn't you?
Toyama: Yeah. Doing modern horror in a game seemed like a new and fresh approach to me, and I did try to go to America for negotiations, but... There were a lot of obstacles, so it ended up being an original game. At the time, The Shadow over Innsmouth※ was being broadcast on TBS. It was a drama set in Japan that was themed around Cthulu, and I sensed some possibilities there, which later led me to Siren.
※The Shadow over Innsmouth
A drama created by TBS in 1992. Based on American horror author Howard Phillips Lovecraft's 1936 novella of the same name, it was adapted for a Japanese setting.
—Mr. Shibata brought up the charms of a vague worldview before, but where did that come from? I've seen you explain before that you envisioned something close to a "nightmare" to maintain reality and the consistency of the game. It does seem like it would be difficult to make a game like a horror film using the polygon resolution and expressive power of the hardware you had back them, so I agreed really hard...
Toyama: That was me focusing on the feeling of absurdity in the films I liked by David Lynch and Alejandro Jodorowsky※.
It would sound really cool if I said that it was all calculated, but for me it was a last resort. I was young and didn't really know how a director's job worked, and my team was inexperienced, too. We couldn't properly create a setting with consistency, so some parts leaned towards absurdity.
We didn't have a choice, and so decided to use our inexperienced sense of vagueity and bring it all together in the style of a nightmare. We then figured out the compromises of what was and wasn't possible to express regarding things that could happen within a dream, setting out the boundaries of expression. We were also kind of like, well, things in games people enjoy poking fun at like "don't they get hungry?" and "don't they need to use the bathroom?" wouldn't matter if it was in a dream, too (laughs).
A Chilean film director, comic writer, therapist and tarot student, born in 1929. He has worked on several cult films such as El Topo, his best known work.
Shibata: And yet unlike Bio, there's always toilets in Silent Hill (laughs).
Toyama: I guess (laughs). But we got the talents of Ito for the art side of things, who kept coming up with impactful visuals during the height of development. I was like, "If I saw something like that in a dream, I'd wake up!" (laughs).
Well, that was also because of the fact that more and more people joined as we were making it, and I couldn't direct perfectly back then, but I do think that as a result it turned a docile-seeming game into one with an impact.
Shibata: Did you not have confidence in it as a work of art, though? Back then I thought, "This is a game that won't age." It was fantastic as a piece of art, so I thought that it would be the sort of thing that would hold up for a long time. Trevor Brown※ was used for the box art as well, and I thought, "Ah, that's a nice luxury," (laughs).
An artist and illustrator from London, born in 1959. His scandalous style wasn't accepted within his home country of Britain, so his activities are currently based in Japan.
Toyama: Yeah, we got to do whatever we wanted. We put in so many homages to edgy films and music that I respected that I didn't think any other game was doing, and I ended up liking it for that.
—By the way, were you confident in its quality as a horror game?
Toyama: No; I didn't think it was scary at all, and was so nervous that it was going to get criticised really harshly (laughs).
Toyama: But in the late stages, we heard back from the playtesters in America that it was really scary. That's where I learned the important points of what they liked, and they really took to it overseas after its release. The dullness I'd felt never really came up as an issue, and they really loved the parts I thought were going to work out.
There were a lot of things to reflect on with regards to my direction, but I think what I was best at back then was the background and building up an overall worldview for the story, then carefully bringing it all together.
—I actually get the feeling that there are a lot of difficult elements involving the relationship between horror and games. For example, there is a segment in an article contributed to Denfami whose analysis asserts that Bio delivers a horror experience by incorporating things from the staging of films that doesn't necessarily fit with a game. It makes me wonder how you managed to create horror when your worldview leaned towards that of a dream.
Toyama: If we're talking about the difference between films and games, it would be that the only calculated "pauses" you can create are probably cutscenes.
At any rate, you're entrusting control to the player, so you can't always have them go to the places you want them to go to. That makes it difficult to stir up that steadily rising anxiety and then suddenly go boom! like you often see in the staging of a film.
Not only that, but when people are afraid, they suddenly take unexpected actions that normally they wouldn't. I'd often watch the playtesters and think things like, "Whaaaat, you're going over there!?" (laughs).
Shibata: That does happen often, huh? (wry smile)
—You mean that while horror in films and manga is mostly created based on the premise that the writer can use intentional staging, you have to come up with different ideas for the staging of horror within games?
Shibata: Zero is a classic linear game that just has a few branches you can take. There are limits to how much fun you can give people exploring wide open spaces, but it makes it easier to intentionally set up things to scare them. With this sort of thing, we create them based on the syntax of a haunted house. But Toyama's Siren and Silent Hill are completely made using open areas, so I think it would make things tough.
—In what way specifically did you stage the fear, Mr. Toyama?
Toyama: Well, with events there'll be moments like, "I really have no choice but to open this locker," so we put it in there. We basically got rid of anything that would be dependent on timing, meaning that we had to base things fundamentally on having it be scary just to walk through the place and design an environment that would make it easy to be afraid.
Shibata: In that sense, you can use the length or twists and turns of the map to control the player's emotions. Silent Hill 2 was particularly impressive with that. The intro sequence is pretty long, which serves as a space to pull the player into its world. Silent Hill's maps were linked together weirdly, which made it feel like a nightmare, and maps in Zero with strangely long hallways or turns at odd points creates a "space" that lets you control the emotions.
—Ahh. You often see things like connecting passages in between rooms in horror games with nothing in them that seem to have no real meaning, and I kind of wondered why they were actually necessary, but I suppose those are to create "space", too.
Shibata: Right. With a room, you think, "Alright, let's take a look around," and can move about freely. With a hallway, however, you can only move forward, and I think that creates the time for you to wonder whether what's behind that door in front of you.
I don't think the creators other than the ones working on horror games are conscious of this method of controlling the emotions using the map, though. It's in a different genre, but when I played Killer7※, I thought, wow, there are people outside of horror games using the length of the map to create space.
A "multilayered personality adventure" released by Capcom in 2005. It was directed by Goichi Suda.
—By the way, are there other tricks like this involved in the creation of maps?
Shibata: Well, the more turning points you have, the harder it is to know what lies ahead, which can make you nervous. Straight lines are banned in horror games' maps (laughs). Maps with good visibility give you peace of mind, after all.
Toyama: That's the basics.
Shibata: We also put in unexplained things that make you sort of anxious. It can be scary to have a small window below that's just slightly open, too. It's also standard to create cover. Just walking through the middle of screens set up to your left and right is scary on its own, don't you think? And sometimes there are remnants there of something happening in the past when you take a closer look, which lets your imagination run wild.
Toyama: That's important. There's a persuasive power within the maps, too. For example, if you have a normal living room but with traces of some sort of struggle, your imagination will get carried away with wondering what could have happened there. Isao Takahashi, the art director, was more involved with that kind of scenery for the story on Siren than I was. He said things like, "Don't just barely make it, think about what's happening in the back and put some intent into it."
Shibata: The kind of realism within the background that you talk about is important for horror. I heard Takahashi talking in the past about how he would think about the direction the wind would blow in Silent Hill and design the terrain to make it easy for the wind to pass through. It's having these minor details so thoroughly thought out that makes it easier to imagine there really being a town where people lived, and that makes it even scarier. With Zero, too, we create a background for the mansions, like what kind of people lived there and what they did. It makes you feel like you're barging into another person's house, giving you the feeling that you've gone somewhere you shouldn't be.
—This time, I'd like to hear about your Zero, Mr. Shibata.
Shibata: No, no. If you compare it to Toyama's, it's really just a normal game.
—This is probably a weird way to put it, but I do get the impression that in comparison with Mr. Toyama's Silent Hill and Siren, it does have the "normalcies" of a game tightly laid out (laughs). The first Zero was released in 2001, which puts it at five years after Biohazard and two years after Silent Hill. The hardware was the PS2.
Shibata: Around the time that the PS2 and the Emotion Engine※ came out, I thought that the expressive power of CG was a cut above. It was like actually walking around in graphics that up until then had only been possible within CG movies.
It was at that time that I came up with the idea of using CG to reproduce ghosts. I thought that maybe then we might be able to depict the vagueness of ghosts better.
A RISC microprocessor developed by Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) and Toshiba, primarily designed by and used for the PS2.
—It's like the charms of the vague expressions made possible with CG you noticed through Silent Hill made you think that you could depict even more.
Shibata: Yes. That's why I think that the existence of Silent Hill really was the only thing supporting the initial proposal for Zero. The other thing was that I wanted to try reproducing the presence of a ghost from an experience with them.
Shibata: You can hear a unique sound that indicates the presence of a ghost right before you see one. If you can reproduce that then you can create the experience you get from seeing one when you go to a haunted spot for even those without a sixth sense, right? I thought that there would be a certain level of demand for that, and that it might create a new sort of horror game...
—Um, sorry. You've been talking about having experiences seeing ghosts (laughs), so does that mean that you can see them yourself...?
Shibata: Oh, right. One of my formative experiences was a story about a ghost I saw at my childhood home, but it's pretty long... (laughs)
Toyama: What's with that "want to hear it?" air? (laughs) I hear about your experiences with ghosts a lot, though.
Shibata: Well, that's all I have. I'm not the type of person who's loved by horror like you are, just a person who loves horror (laughs). I guess the only thing that really separates me from all of the other horror game creators is that I can at least see ghosts myself...
All: (burst out laughing)
—I'm not really sure what this has to do with games anymore, but it's summer, so... go ahead. (※This recording was conducted on a hot summer's day in August)
Shibata: Well, the very first time I saw a ghost was before I entered elementary school. I didn't know what a ghost was back then, but one evening I got up in the middle of the night and saw a person with a sloppy face standing in front of the post. Not only that, but they were translucent and gave off a pale glow... They looked like they were sort of morphing slightly.
—A morphing ghost? (laughs)
Shibata: I was so scared at the time that I just decided to play dead, but later on I saw a book about ghosts in the library at my elementary school and thought oh, was that a ghost? That's my first memory.
But I've seen them since then, too. There was a shrine near my house, and upon waking up at night I realised that there were the voices of loads of people whispering to each other that I could hear coming from the entrance. They would say things like "ohhhhh" and "don't push, don't push" as they turned down the road past my house and disappeared. I wondered what they were, but later read a book by Shigeru Mizuki and thought "oh!".
It was about hyakki yagyo. My elementary student self thought, "This has to be it!"
—Huh? But doesn't hyakki yagyo involve yokai?
Shibata: Yeah, that's exactly right, but there were so many presences that it made me think that. Well, back then I thought it was a bad idea to look at the hyakki yagyo, so I didn't actually look out of the window, so I'm not sure what they really looked like.
In any case, I thought it would be amazing if we were able to reproduce the presences of those ghosts using the technology of the Emotion Engine... Well, ghosts themselves are masses of the emotions of the dead, too (laughs).
—I get the feeling that even if I searched the whole world over, you would be the only developer who noticed such potential in the Emotion Engine (laughs). I've never encountered a ghost for myself, but what do their presences feel like?
Shibata: A sound comes from the direction of the ghost. I know that it's unique to every ghost, but I'm not really sure what the sound is.
Talking about it like this might be because my sixth sense is weak, though... All I can really tell is that they're whispering something. I think it might sound different to someone with more of a sixth sense...
In order to reproduce that sound, we put sounds of high and low frequency outside of the hearing range of humans into the games. We also have a sound in the games called "long silence", where we play a really loud sound at a frequency that humans can't hear.
—So you mean that there are sounds blasting at a frequency that humans can't hear coming from the console when you're playing Zero?
Shibata: Yeah, at a level that it goes outside of the meter. But it's that overpowering sound that's the closest to the ghostly presence that I'm familiar with. I've heard things about pet dogs barking and the birds in the neighbourhood starting to shriek sometimes when they play Zero, but I think that they're just scared by the sudden loud noise (laughs).
—The animals of the neighbourhood are screaming because it's too noisy (laughs).
Shibata: We put in sounds at a bunch of other different volumes, of course. I think we did a really good job of reproducing the sounds a ghost makes in the first game. Their appearances, too. I actually had the editor of a certain magazine tell me that we'd got it exactly right. "But real ghosts move a bit more slowly," he said, and I thought he might be right, so we made them slower in the second game.
Sadly, all I can tell in the end is something like the sound a ghost's presence makes, things like the sound pressure and so on. I'm sure someone with a stronger sixth sense would be able to hear the sounds of a ghost more clearly, though.
Toyama: How do the sound guys make the music? (laughs)
Shibata: They all really have no idea at all what it's like, so it's pretty troublesome for them. I sort of give the person in charge directions like, "Remember the saddest thing that's ever happened to you and turn it into a sound," or, "Feel bitter about everything in this world."
—Being told by the director to "feel bitter about everything in this world" (laughs).
Shibata: Our back-and-forth is like, "The saddest thing that's ever happened to me was when my dog died." "Yes, that's it! That feeling!" ...Are you going to write about this? (laughs)
—It's a great story, so please let me (laughs). Also, there's one more thing I was wondering about... How do you write about this sort of thing in the estimates you send around to the staff?
Shibata: Things like "the sound of presence that ghosts make".
—Nothing weird about that (laughs). Speaking of Zero's game design, the battles are carried out by taking photos with a camera. ...Did that come from one of your spiritual encounters, too?
Shibata: Naturally, that was something that was considered as one of the ideas for the game, which we ultimately ended up choosing (laughs).
It did come from a spiritual experience, though. I never directly saw the hyakki yagyo that I experienced as a child, and I instinctively felt like if I looked at it they'd take me away with them, but one day, when I got a broken camera from my father, I felt like if I looked through it at the ghosts it'd mean that I hadn't actually looked at them. Thinking about it now, though, it's nothing but a rule made up by a kid (laughs).
—You mean like the way an elementary school kid thinks things like, "if I walk on the white lines of the pedestrian crossing, I won't fall"? (laughs).
Shibata: I remember thinking that if even one from the hyakki yagyo came my way, if I could just take a photo of it... maybe I could drive it away with the flash, or suck it inside the film, I don't know... I just thought that it would be alright, and felt weirdly reassured. This sort of thing had an influence on the background of Zero. The camera was a really great fit in terms of it as a game too, though.
—Like I often hear being said, I think Zero's camera is a plus in terms of horror staging due to the fact that you have to peer right at the ghost, but since you look through it with the mindset that you'll be okay as long as you have the camera, doesn't it give you a sense of security against the fear of ghosts? It's one of the things I wonder every time I play Zero...
Shibata: There's definitely that aspect to it. From the start, you shouldn't really be putting combat into a horror game. Going around defeating these objects of fear spoils it.
—I've seen Shinji Mikami say something similar in another interview. This is another of the dilemmas between horror and games, isn't it? In horror films or books, you can just run away from the thing that scares you, but in a game you have to face up to your fears and defeat them...
Shibata: Right. Since it's a game, you want there to be sense of resolution, too. That's what led me to think about sealing ghosts inside photos by taking pictures of them with the camera.
Even in comparison to the other ideas we came up with, the camera came out really well. I especially like the way your field of vision is limited when you look through the camera. The ghost suddenly vanishes, and you have to hurriedly search around for it. It's good to have them suddenly fall from the sky when you look up, too. It makes it more interesting both in terms of horror, and simply in terms of combat.
—So the combat itself turns into horror staging?
Shibata: Everyone was opposed to it at first, though. In the end, I had to actually make a mock-up of it and sell it to them on the premise of it basically being a shooting game where you have bullets that you can only shoot one at a time, and they said, "I see, so it's a Bio where you have that sort of weapon." I said things like, "Ghosts are scarier than zombies, and ghosts can keep coming back and attacking you over and over. Ghosts don't die or get sick or anything!" (laughs).
—I'd like to ask one more thing about the difficult parts of horror games... Do you think that a kind of "inconvenience" is important in a horror game? For example, the camera making it harder to see that you mentioned before would actually be considered an issue in a conventional game, I think. There are lots of horror games where the walking speed is slow, too. A lot of the creators I interview for Game no Kikakusho value comfortable controls very highly, but it seems like horror games think that uncomfortable controls are what's really important.
Shibata: Yeah, I suppose so. I think you could find horror games where you move around quickly and easily like any normal game if you were to look, but it's a bad idea to make movement pleasant in a horror adventure, especially in the case of something like Zero which is atmospheric and appeals to your imagination (laughs).
If you were to calculate the speed necessary to allow space for the imagination to work, which is indispensable for a horror game, the best walking speed for your character would be a slow and uncomfortable one.
—A walking speed that lets your imagination work...?
Shibata: Right. A speed where you can spontaneously take interest in the things you're walking past, like for example, "That desk looks interesting, so I'd better check it out," or, "Why has the same vase been sitting there all this time?" You need to be moving pretty slowly for that to happen, and if you're moving at the kind of speed where you can just move around smoothly it just doesn't work.
Also, another really important method for horror staging that's unique to games is having differences between similar things. For example, you might go back to the same hallway you came down earlier and see that a window that you're sure used to be shut is now open. With the Japanese residences where Zero is set, you could run from one end to the other in about ten minutes if you felt like it, so making clever use of the repetition is important, but if you're rushing all over the place you don't notice those things anymore, and there's no time to breed fear within your head.
—Certainly. And even if you did notice, or you managed to solve the mysteries too quickly, it would stop being scary when you have ghosts showing up one after another.
Shibata: But every single time someone new joins the team, we end up arguing about it.
—I read a manga※ a long time ago about how Shinji Mikami's boss got mad about how slow the characters' movements were when they were going to release the first Bio. It sounds like that sort of friction would occur a lot.
※A story contained within Game Creator Biographies 1 (Takayuki Hirasawa, 1998/Kodansha). By the way, the boss mentioned here is Yoshiki Okamoto, known these days as the developer of Monster Strike.
Shibata: Anyhow, whenever we had people playtest it, they'd always set the speed at double or something like that. When we asked them about the controls, they'd all say, "It feels better when it's faster." But that would ruin the most important part of a horror game. It's really bad for Japanese-style horror games in particular.
There have been times when we'd have no choice but to very gradually lower the walking speed throughout the whole day so they wouldn't notice. Well, they found us out in the end...
Shibata: But I can't yield on that, so there have also been times when we've ended up arguing about whether or not to raise the speed by 0.01 for about three hours. I think in the end I had to say in front of a bunch of people, "We've decided on a number. Please don't mess with it any more."
Toyama: With Siren, though, I tried to keep it pretty close to how the body actually moves. It was a game where you had to run away as soon as you encountered an enemy, though.
Shibata: The turning speed in Siren is fast, yeah. But the game's rules are clear, like playing tag or hide-and-seek. If it were like that, it would probably work.
But with Zero, it's an adventure game. We think about the placement of things like desks and vases so that you'll notice them with the walking speed we initially imagined, so if you just go around changing it midway through, you end up with an issue where the adventuring itself doesn't work...
Toyama: I see. In my case, things about the speed and such are decided like "do it like this, because of the issue of loading speed!" in a way that has nothing to do with me, so I guess I don't think that deeply about it (laughs).
—I see (laughs). But with Zero: Nuregarasu no Miko, the latest game on the Wii U, the "unpleasantness" of a horror game has been pulled back quite a lot... It's a masterpiece that's filled with pleasant controls that utilise the unique characteristics of the Wii U's controller.
Shibata: There were actually a lot of Wii U owners who'd never touched the series before who said that it was scary even with the slightly more pleasant movement speed. I think that was a really good thing.
—Hmm... Hearing that makes it sound like getting the amount of unpleasantness right with horror is difficult, too. The dilemma that horror faces in terms of business is that it's not going to sell well if it's too scary.
Shibata: Yeah, it's really tricky. I often hear that people get so scared that they don't even play past the first half, and there was that one time when I gave a ROM to a writer and they said that the shelf they put Zero in was shaking at night, and ended up giving the ROM back to us without actually writing an article... (laughs).
When I was making the first Zero, I thought, "We'll make the next one twice as scary!" but I was told that it wouldn't sell. That it was enough, and it didn't have to get scarier. I think horror games are probably like a "super hot curry" restaurant where you go and put "super hot curry" on the sign, but when it's hotter than they expected they quickly go, "It's too hot!" Though that does make me wonder just what the restaurant's specialty is supposed to be, then...
Toyama: Super hot fanatics and horror fanatics have always been alike. If you take it too far, you end up with something that isn't even proper food anymore, something like that. Well, guys like Mr. Mikami are good at that sort of thing. At the end you blow stuff up with a rocket launcher, right? Like you end up fighting it (laughs).
Shibata: I'm sure if we could do that, too, we'd sell millions of copies...
—I'm sure a big part of it was because it was a pioneering work, but it is a mystery why Bio is the only one to sell so well worldwide. Is it because of its comfortable, mild flavour, or because it has tonkatsu on top...? (laughs) Then I guess Siren would have to be a legendary restaurant that's kept stubbornly serving super hot curry.
Toyama: No, that's not scary.
Toyama: There are scary things about it, but it's not the theme - the main part is the feeling of being immersed in a world like that in Fuyumi Ono※'s Shiki or a King novel. It's just sort of like there's a horror that comes through the tension. I think that that sort of feeling of uneasiness is important, and things like the escape from the abandoned house are symbols of that. Ahh, we laughed so hard while we were making that.
An author born in 1960. Shiki, a classic mystery epic with strong horror elements, became a bestseller and made her name widely-known. Aside from working on horror novels such as Ghost Hunt, she is currenly writing the otherworld fantasy The Twelve Kingdoms series.
Shibata: That's nice. That scene was fun.
—I thought that scene was said to be the scariest scene in the history of horror games, though...
Toyama: No way! It's funny, isn't it? (laughs) You'd laugh if you someone was sleeping in the closet in a place like that.
—Hmm (wry smile).
—In that sense, I feel like the character elements in Zero fulfil a role like the tonkatsu on top of the curry. It's pretty amazing how much attention you pay to the girls (laughs).
Shibata: At the start, we never meant... well, maybe we did (laughs).
Well, we were talking about what to do with the protagonist, and since the first Bio had police and Silent Hill had a middle-aged man, we thought we'd go with a pretty girl for ours (laughs). It's always the plain girls who survive until the end of horror films, too, so we kind of thought we had to have our protagonist be a pure girl.
—A message that horror fans will understand (laughs). But there are a lot of female fans of horror content, too, not just for Zero.
Shibata: Of course, with experiencing horror it's better to have yourself there rather than a protagonist, so I think it's better to use first person. But when I was looking through reference documents like photos of old Japanese-style architecture, I realised that just having a girl in a kimono next to it made the scenery weirdly stand out. Like it gave it a sense of scale or something. I felt like we could use that when designing the on-screen layout for the game.
Which makes you want to ask why we went with a cute girl, but that's just because I pushed through my own preferences, since everyone would be scared and looking around at the scenery, so they wouldn't be paying much attention to the girl and I could make her how I wanted (laughs). Rather than the company's policy, it's really just my own fixation.
—I see. Don't you think that the girls draw more attention that the ghosts these days, though? (laughs) Is it a softness engine? They jiggle so much.
Shibata: We're gradually shifting in that direction... It's sort of like one of the characteristics of Koei Tecmo Games (laughs).
—When we had a horror game party in the editing department, everyone got together late at night and stared right at the boobs (laughs).
—Going back to the topic of Mr. Toyama's games, I'd like to talk about Siren. That game was released in 2003, two years after the first Zero.
Shibata: The second Zero game's release and Siren were at around the same time, and that was the first time I got to talk to him.
Toyama: Ohh, I remember that now. We chatted while we walked around Aoyama Cemetery together (laughs).
Shibata: I was sent a sample ROM of Siren before we spoke, and it had that stubbornness of pre-PS games, with none of Sony's stylishness (laughs). I played it about a week before release to prepare for our chat, and though I'd thought that that would be plenty of time to beat it, it was unusually difficult and I thought, what is this...?
But horror is a unique genre, and it has a lot of hardcore fans, so there's a fixed number of people who will definitely play something if it's scary. I think this is a game that was a gamble on that.
—Siren is a title that comes up often when people who like horror talk about the scariest games, but through what kind of process was it made? There was a four-year gap in between you making this and Silent Hill, wasn't there?
Toyama: After that, I moved from Konami to what used to be Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) and started working as a designer. I wasn't directing, of course. Back then, after we finished work on Silent Hill, I decided that I wasn't suited to being a director.
—What!? Even though you directed a historic game at the age of 26...
Toyama: Like I said before, maybe I wasn't bad at bringing together a concept, but I didn't enjoy the hardships that came with the relationships you have when you're managing a team, I guess. I felt like I was running away from the position of director.
—And that caused a four-year gap... But it does seem like it would be difficult from the start to do the complicated direction required from a game developed after the PS at the age of 26.
Toyama: What made me want to give it another go was gaining experience with the team I was part of in what was then SCE later on, which was sort of like... well, I didn't do that great of a job taking the lead back on Silent Hill, but it wasn't bad enough to worry about it that much (laughs)?
Toyama: But since I was the one saying that I wanted to direct, I of course felt like I had to make it something that would really be a hit. In that sense, I did have this desire to make Siren a proposal that was guaranteed to succeed.
—Was that what led you to lean towards J horror with it?
Toyama: Yeah. And when I decided that I was going to make another horror game, I knew that I wanted to make a thorough re-evaluation of the formula that horror games had been using since Bio and break it down.
At first, then, I decided to use many forbidden things. There would be none of the common developments like exploring and gathering consumable items, no huge monsters as bosses at important parts, nothing like that. If you really think about it, it's not realistic to be able to use an item and recover health in the blink of an eye, so that was out (laughs).
Shibata: In Siren, you just die if you get shot about two times (laughs).
Toyama: And ever since Bio there's been a continuous stream of puzzle-solving type things, right? There's stuff like that in Silent Hill as well, like having to insert a mysterious crest somewhere or whatever, and even as the writer I myself thought it was nonsense. We called these types of things "insertables" and banned them.
Shibata: Huh? But there are things like that in Siren as well, aren't there (laughs)?
Toyama: Well, in the end, as we were actually making the game we did put some of those banned elements in (laughs).
But what interested me most was that element you often see in horror games of picking up bullets. I did it on Silent Hill as well, but I felt like it was weird for a game to be making you decide whether or not to use your gun when you have no idea how many bullets you find lying around for it up ahead.
—There's no strategy to it, is there? You don't really know, so you sort of have no choice but to keep usage to a minimum...
Toyama: Yeah, right. So you have the bullet count rounded up at the start of the scene.
But current day me would actually praise the style of game design where you make people pick up bullets. When you make a game, it's important to add elements that make you feel fear towards the unknown and a sense of security, and that's not just limited to horror games. I can't definitively state that it's more "game-like" to specifically reveal the number of remaining bullets and make you think about it based on that.
Well, in that sense, I suppose it's the result of deep consideration of the whole thing. I guess that back then, I was just more preoccupied with wanting to break apart the formula of horror games. I did want to introduce realism into Siren, so I think that deciding on how many shots to give them right out of the gate was a fitting method.
—That realism is part of what makes Siren's charm.
Toyama: When you enjoy a piece of work, I think there are times when you hallucinate that the thing it's telling you is the truth, even when you know perfectly well that it's a lie. We were all influenced by the events in the stories we read as children, weren't we? Sakyo Komatsu※'s Japan Sinks has a crazy ending, but there's a sense of reality to it. I wanted to incorporate the magical interest of fiction into a game. That's why I intentionally mostly left out the typical construction of a horror game, like the kind of direct staging that's part of the template of a horror game that writers love to use constantly.
One of Japan's most famous sci-fi writers, born in 1931, known as one of the "big three" along with Shinichi Hoshi and Yasutaka Tsutsui. Japan Sinks, a massive bestseller, utilised leading scientific knowledge of the time and was based on the premise of changes in the earth's crust causing the islands of Japan to sink beneath sea level within at least two years.
—Even still... I get the feeling that there wouldn't be many people who would agree with the idea that Siren broke apart the horror game style (laughs).
Shibata: As someone who makes horror games, I think Siren actually did everything you're not supposed to do. I just don't think most people realise it.
I mean, for starters, horror makes it so that you don't know the location of your enemies. The basic way is to set up the enemies in order to scare the player who's waiting for it as they endure the fear of the unknown, so if you know where they are then it's usually all for nothing. In this game, however, one of the big selling points is a system called sightjacking.
Not only that, but rather than you wondering what's going to happen next, in the mission's intro scene you've got something like "find the diary" written there, revealing it. It makes you wonder why they'd use a system like that, what they were thinking when they made it. But now, it's one of the first titles that's brought up when talking about Japanese-style horror, even though it's filled with forbidden things.
—I see. But then what is the reason that something that forbids the basics of a horror game and refuses to stick to them is as scary as it is?
Shibata: If we were to talk about sightjacking, a big part of it is the introduction of fear from using the enemies' first person view. Not only that, but even though you know that you're seeing through the enemies' eyes, unless you know the map well you aren't sure specifically where they are.
So, since all you can see is one point on a map you know is crawling with enemies, you can't help but imagine what's going on elsewhere. That's when your imagination starts to run away with itself and you think, I can see this now, but what if something even crazier is somewhere else? What's going on over there?
The set-up of having the story progress in fragments as you're presented missions works the same way. The story is like a series of connected dots, and your imagination gets carried away with what might be happening in between.
—I see. Even if it seems like impossible staging at first glance, the way it makes you imagine fear is actually close to the essence of horror.
Shibata: Right. And on top of that, even without the developers specifying the timing with which you get scared, the player starts to gradually imagine things as they walk around freely and ends up getting scared that way.
Toyama: We actually created the school stage first, and already it was super scary and fun. It was really amazing having things like you hiding in a toilet stall and just seeing someone's view peek in, go, "Hm? There's no one here," and leave, and the sense of relief you get in that moment.
Toyama: Well, it wasn't a horror game that led me to think up sightjacking, but Team Fortress Classic※. It was popular amongst the team at the time, and I thought it'd make for a fun game if you had to strategise when all you knew was that there was a sniper after you.
To bring horror into that, I thought that maybe we could stage the fear by having there be some sort of malicious thing pursuing you, but you couldn't see what they really were. I find Indian poker scary, but I thought that if you thought of the fear as being based on that sort of theory, then it might be a decent fit for horror.
The problem, which is common in my proposals, is that coming up with the idea is simple, but actually making it is not.
※Team Fortress Classic
An online FPS by Valve, released in 1999. Team Fortress 2, a sequel of this long-lived title aimed at casual players, continues to be updated even 10 years later, and remains one of the most played games on Steam.
—I hear the same thing about the Gravity Daze series that you're currently working on (laughs), but what made it tricky?
Toyama: Generally speaking, in a game, the things that the camera can't see aren't moving. But with sightjacking, they have to be moving around at all times, no matter when you peek. You have to decide what movements they're making at all times and have them keep doing it. This means that you can't just have the screen go black and make them whoosh to a new spot when they open a door and go through it.
Shibata: So you have to have all of the pictures joined together the whole time you're using the eyes of an enemy with sightjacking.
Toyama: The programmers were at their wits' end... (laughs). Like, "You want them to put their hands on the doorknobs and open and close them!?" "Yeah." We created videos where you could see the enemy characters' views, but it was like a fixed camera and didn't look like the perspective of a living person. Everyone was racking their brains, trying to figure out how to make them look like living people (laughs).
—I remember it leaving an impression on me when I saw an enemy sniping from a lookout spot in a scene at the start of Siren, where the arms holding the gun were jerking up and down, but I didn't know that was why. It's true that if the arms weren't moving around, it would look like surveillance camera footage.
Shibata: You said that the new media artist Kazuhiko Hachiya※'s Inter Dis-Communication Machine gave you some ideas for sightjacking as well, right?
※1 Kazuhiko Hachiya
An associate professor of art at Tokyo University of the Arts, born in 1966. As well as being one of Japan's top new media artists, he is also popular outside of the art world, being famous for the development of So-net's mail software PostPet. Recent notable endeavours include the OpenSky Project to create a real Möwe from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.
※2 Inter Dis-Communication Machine
A work by new media artist Kazuhiko Hachiya that was unveiled in 1993. As the name states, it is a device which switches two people's sight and hearing. It was created with the intention of making the boundaries of identity fuzzy. In 1993 it received an honourable mention in Multimedia Grand Prix's visual exhibit category, and won the prize for interactive art at Ars Electronica, the worldwide new media art festival, in 1996.
Toyama: Yeah, yeah. Actually, everything we've talked about so far came after I thought up the concept for the story, so Siren's gimmick was something added later on. It was talking with Sato near the end about how interesting Mr. Hachiya's installation was that was the basis for deciding to put in sightjacking, too.
—So the story came first. In what way specifically did you make it?
Toyama: You basically sort of get this story like a messed up ball of yarn dumped in your lap, and at first you have absolutely no idea what to do with it, but gradually you start to see ways to tie it together, like, "Ah, I can untangle it from here," and at the end it all comes together and feels great - that's the sort of game I wanted to make.
So we had all of these main characters, and then we tore up the chronology... it's that sort of set-up. It was something I came up with during a really frustrating period, so it's pretty cutting edge.
—From what you've been telling me, even though you were trying to make it turn out great, you chose a crazy way of doing it... (laughs). By the way, about how long did it take to put it all together?
Toyama: We had loads of time back then, so I guess we spent a few years messing around with a time table in Excel showing who was doing what and where.
—A few years...!
Toyama: I slowly did most of the work of setting up the game and making sure that the characters' movements lined up by myself. Reasons for their movements and the background were added on top of that through cooperation with Sato.
It took me a load of time to do things like "put the start and goal in different places, have these characters spend this much time moving so they meet here, make it so that morning isn't immediately followed by night..." even for the same stage.
Even if I do say so myself, I really was thorough back then. I haven't been able to spend that amount of time on something since Siren 2. I doubt I'll ever be able to make a game like that again.
Shibata: It's like doing a TRPG with a GM and a single player.
Toyama: Hanuda Village gradually took shape on the Excel sheet, and the characters started to move about inside my head. There was a time when I was working alongside the asset development, but I was making it way ahead of time. The game itself didn't take that long to make, but it did spend about three years in development.
—Even still, I'd like to hear what made you think that a game with such an edgy concept would be commercially viable. I assume that it would have been fairly risky even at the time.
Toyama: It was just the product of a misunderstanding.
I had this pretty crazy idea in my head when I was making it, like if there was a person who had only been able to find amusement in a single game in the whole world, then I had to make this game into something that would truly satisfy them (laughs).
All: (burst out laughing)
Toyama: Back then, I used to love unreasonable Western games like Zork※. They were the types of things where you'd get stuck and leave it alone for a month, then feel like you suddenly figured it out over and over; the sort where it would take you months just to figure out the whole thing... But Silent Hill's Good+ ending and things like that were figured out in the blink of an eye, so I felt like I had to go even more overboard (laughs).
A computer game released in 1980 as one of the original text adventure games.
—Were there still a lot of that style of gamer left back then?
Shibata: I think that type of gamer was on the decrease at the time of Siren's release. I think there was an easy-to-beat game with a budget coming out every week back then, after all. Once you'd seen the ending it was like, "Right, time to buy the next game."
Toyama: I felt like it was fitting for an ending that's sort of like vague salvation within the hopeless worldview of Siren's story and worldview. To mention one more thing, I was also really aware of the internet's word of mouth that had basically sprung up overnight back then.
Shibata: You called it "the Tower of Druaga※ of the Heisei era" when we spoke. Although I did think that it was so difficult it'd never make it that far (laughs).
※The Tower of Druaga
An arcade game released by Namco in 1984. This was the next game worked on by its developer, Masanobu Endo, after Xevious. It was designed for the trading of information within arcades that was in full swing at the time, with its difficulty set very high.
—I do feel like Siren was elevated by the internet's website culture.
Toyama: But it was when let's players appeared that my aim was truly fulfilled. I feel like when you bring in the element of let's players as curators of a sort, you get that fun-ness that a lot of people were never able to properly digest.
Of course, right after it came out there were people complaining that it was too hard for them to figure out and wanting to return it.
—I suppose it must have been difficult with Siren, what with even the TV ad being pulled...
Toyama: Actually, that showed up in sports papers and the like and got people talking about it (laughs). Sales had been slow, and then all of a sudden it was sold out the next day, and we were being flooded with enquiries.
Shibata: If anything, it was good promotion (laughs).
It does seem like a game with a long lifespan, though. Even after you've untangled the ball of yarn, you have the enjoyment of examining the worldview. It was really hard for me, since I had a sample ROM and wasn't able to share information on message boards or anything, but it must have been even more fun to share information online as you played through it.
Toyama: Well, now that time has passed, that seems to have led to it turning into a "cult" game.
Shibata: We have the culture of let's plays now, so the idea that "adding my own supplements and beating it would be fun" actually makes it easier to see how fun it is.
—Even so, how is the reception of your games overseas? Silent Hill is famous for its popularity overseas, but Siren and Siren: New Translation have also been released there.
Toyama: Silent Hill has a huge number of fans, but Siren doesn't...
With Siren: New Translation, we were in pretty serious talks with Sam Raimi※ to turn it into a movie and release a game alongside it, but that came to a standstill... Later on, we decided to give it its own flavour and make it that way. Development was really tough, since this was back in the really early days of the PlayStation 3, and it was the toughest thing I've ever done (wry smile).
An American film director, producer and screenwriter born in 1959. His splatter movie The Evil Dead, released in 1981, was a hot topic, cutting a new path in low-budget B horror. He later achieved success on Hollywood epics such as the Spider Man series.
Shibata: Oh, right. There was a preview in each one, and I'd thought that was because there was an American TV show there.
—By the way, what was the localisation for it like?
Toyama: For Siren: New Translation, we were told to "do none of that incomprehensible stuff that Japanese people like". We were supposed to properly explain why everything was happening.
—But based upon the theories about horror you've both talked about so far, doesn't that stop it from being scary no matter whether you're Japanese or American? When you consider that it didn't actually have the expected results...
Shibata: Was their rating of Silent Hill different from Japanese people's?
Toyama: It was just the general "I like that it makes no sense".
Shibata: Then you might as well just have done it the same way you always do (laughs)!
—By the way, does Biohazard feel Japanese to you? It's very popular all over the world, but its setting has nothing to do with Japan, but is the sensation of J-horror shared with those sorts of games, too?
Toyama: I feel like the original Bio had it. I think that the little sounds and hints of their presence before you see them are important with zombies. Even the "pause" while you wait for a door to open promotes the staging of fear, doesn't it? I really feel a sense of Japanese-style horror in that.
In the end, the scariest part of Bio 4 is the bit before you reach the village (laughs).
Shibata: Well, the first village in Bio 4 is scary because it's pure panic horror, but there's a bunch of zombies who come running at you waving around dynamite near the bridge outside of the village, and the moment I shot the dynamite and made them all explode I thought, "I guess the rest of this is going to be an action game," (laughs). Speaking about the first Bio, the coming and going was scary. The scene with the dog is famous, but with each repetition something is different and it stirs up your imagination wondering what's going to happen, which is something I used a lot on Zero as well.
—Fatal Frame, the Xbox version of Zero, was well-received overseas.
Shibata: I actually thought that there was no way they'd get it, and no way that it would sell, when it was released.
But it was pretty well-received, and I was surprised. It was right in the midst of a J-horror boom, and no one other than Japanese people was making J-horror games, so it was just when the demand was there. It got good reviews in Europe, and was especially popular in places like France.
—By the way, what were they most surprised by?
Shibata: I think they would have been interested in orientalism, too, but I think it was probably the threat of something they can't understand. Films like Juon had already made J-horror known as a completely different context for fear beforehand, so I think they took our horror games as a slight expansion of that.
What did surprise me, though, was the way they managed to understand things like "space" and "humidity", which is difficult to explain even to Japanese people.
Shibata: Right, since Zero is Japanese-style horror, the "humidity" of the place is important as well.
It's a very intuitive thing, but it's important. Like I mentioned before with regards to the characters' walking speeds, if you increase the speed then the damp and humid atmosphere of this island nation of Japan vanishes. It would sort of turn into the sort of dry and sunny air of somewhere like America...
Don't you think the Japanese countryside especially has some sort of strange feeling about it, like you and the things other than you all exist as one being?
—I understand that.
Shibata: It's a sort of suffocating feeling of not being able to easily escape, tied down by the area and your relationships with others. That kind of damp feeling really reminds you of moving slugglishy through water.
Toyama: In Japan's case, there's a bizarre sensation that you're almost bound to the land. Like your feelings remain there. I think that's a unique sensitivity.
Shibata: If you think of humans as "creatures of the water" who contain a large amount of moisture, then it seems as though the boundaries of your body become fuzzy in places where there's a lot of moisture in the atmosphere. It gives me the sensation that this high "humidity" makes the boundaries of the people who live in Japan - no, of all of the nature in this country - fuzzy. I also get the feeling that Japanese-style ghosts appear because this "humidity" makes the boundaries between the memories of themselves and others and life and death vague.
Part of the reason why I make Zero is because I want to represent this sensation. When I go to places like Los Angeles in America I think, "No ghosts will show up in a dry place like this..." (laughs).
—So dry weather like that in America turns into "individualism", and makes the boundary between life and death more defined. But there are people overseas who see ghosts as well, right? Do they make noises?
Shibata: About that... even when I ask the people from elsewhere who can see them about it, they say they don't hear anything.
—Maybe the ghosts over there don't talk about their grudges in a roar like Japanese people do (laughs).
Shibata: I wonder... I think there will be people who can hear them as well, though.
—The other thing I wanted to ask about was the source for the ideas behind the Japanese horror elements you both brought into your games.
Toyama: I wonder... There was a time when I went home and saw an old lady farmer making motions like cutting the grass, and thought that if she attacked me "it'd be pretty scary, huh?" (laughs).
—What an awful idea (laughs). But I think you both have lived through an era quite rich in horror content, with booms in occult and horror films. Were there any horror works that influenced you during your childhood?
Toyama: I'm actually a coward, so if anything, it was more like I avoided horror... But for some reason, I always had the feeling that it was immensely alluring to my soul.
Right... the visuals and use of language in Seishi Yokomizo※'s A Devilish Temari Song and The Devil Comes and Plays His Flute were really traumatic for me.
A mystery author born in 1902. Including such works as A Devilish Temari Song, The Devil Comes and Plays His Flute and The Village of Eight Graves, he became famous for his series of detective novels, leaning heavily towards the bizarre, featuring Kosuke Kindaichi as the detective. In the 70s, when Mr. Toyama and Mr. Shibata were young, Kadokawa Shoten were in the midst of a media mix as part of a revival in his popularity.
Shibata: I found Yokomizo's The Village of Eight Graves scary as well, and after seeing an advert for it and being told, "It's after 9PM, go to bed," I had an incredible nightmare. It's like the thing where the movies you haven't seen are the scariest of all.
—So a Seishi Yokomizo boom took place in your childhood. Maybe his mysteries were a pioneering work in portraying the indigenous community part of Japanese houses and regions as fear. It must have had an influence on Fuyumi Ono's Shiki, which itself influenced Siren, since she was originally part of a mystery novel research society.
Toyama: Of course, I was completely taken in by this baptism by occult boom, and I loved stuff like spirit photos and UFOs as well. Horror mangas, too. When I was little I'd see things by Kazuo Umezu※1 and Hideshi Hino※2 and think, "If I read this, I'll be corrupted," but ended up reading them anyway.
If anything, I get the feeling I didn't watch any horror films worth talking about in a place like this. But I loved the way that on the TV shows of the time, on the images taken on the film the light would hit in a way that made it look like this Showa-faced old guy was wearing dazzling make-up... It really completed it. I must have been influenced by the contrast and intense persuasiveness of the colours in the feeling that sort of film had. I also wanted to reproduce that shading on Silent Hill and Siren.
※1. Kazuo Umezu
A manga artist, personality and lyricist born in 1936. He is the leading person in horror manga. Famous works include The Drifting Classroom.
※2. Hideshi Hino
A world-renowned horror manga artist born in 1946. Famous works include Hell Screen.
Shibata: I understand totally. I think there's a part of us that's reproducing the memories of really scary scenes inside our heads. I wanted to have that same filmy feeling for the first Zero as well, and was tweaking it right up until the very last day. Even for an effect that made the screen rough-looking, we'd change the resolution of the roughness and experiment with things like having it change once every eight frames, trying to think of how we could make it look like an old film.
—It seems like your imaginations of "fear" that evolved from things like the visual images of video works that were popular when you were children became the source for your J horror-styled works.
—Lastly, then, I'd like to talk about the future of horror games. We touched on this a little before, but I think the arrival of VR will be a big part of it. Could VR bring about a new way to experience horror the way games did?
Toyama: Actually, I think VR is such an extraordinarily good fit that it's going to cause us trouble. The element of just being in that place making it into a horror experience will probably get even stronger. If you want to make something scary you can make it as scary as you want, so if anything it'll be difficult to achieve a balance.
I mean, if someone simply turns a knife on you in a video or comic that itself isn't scary, but VR is the same as reality, and it's very easy for it to turn into horror. I felt that really strongly with Bandai Namco's VR Zone.
Shibata: I think changes will occur in terms of staging, too.
In any case, most horror games on current media are story-based, aren't they? There's a set-up within the plot, and when you needed an introduction for the staging you had to make the story scary, too. But that's not necessary with VR, and you can just suddenly shove the scares into their faces. It's best to keep the view consistent as well, so putting in an objective cutscene and explaining things would probably cool off the fear.
Toyama: I personally want to see a sort of experience where your senses go beyond those of a human. I think it'd be scary if you were watching VR and the normal sensations of your body gradually started to be shaken. There was actually a time when I was testing a prototype for a certain VR game and saw a video that was like having Alice in Wonderland syndrome※ when you have a fever, and I felt like I was going crazy. It was amazing, honestly (laughs).
※Alice in Wonderland syndrome
A state in which the size of yourself and things in your environment seem different from normal.
Shibata: Maybe we'll be able to grant the wishes of those who want to have an out-of-body experience.
Personally, I'd like to combine it with sightseeing, too. Wouldn't it be fun to go sightseeing around a haunted spot in VR and reproduce a spiritual experience like that? (laughs)
—I think that in terms of horror, let's plays of games will be important, too.
Shibata: For me, VR and online are the two untrodden territories. With the latter in particular, I'd like to try making it scary and a serious part of the game design.
I'm also surprised by the fact that let's plays have created such a demand for horror. I never knew there was such a large group of people who don't play horror games by themselves but want to watch then and share the scares together.
—Like not wanting to eat extra spicy curry, but enjoying watching other people eat it (laughs).
Shibata: That shared way of enjoying it comes from a different place from the game system. But... with Siren, everyone enjoys just the faces so much. It's not fair.
Toyama: I love that sort of exquisitely flavoured horror. It's interesting in the way that it's not all perfectly put together, but there's a vague sense of warped discomfort, and lots of stuff is going on. We purposefully selected models who were truly amateur actors for Siren, so each one of their lines sounds really weird. I just love it.
—It's like that sort of strange flavour you only get with B horror movies. Everyone watching that sort of thing together makes it fun, too. Pretty much all of the most popular games for let's plays on Nico Nico Douga are actually horror games. It's like when you look at let's plays, horror ends up being the most popular genre.
Shibata: And current horror games, myself included, still heavily assume that they're being played alone, and aren't properly incorporating the demands of the market into the game system.
Toyama: I think there are people who imagine that it's couples playing them, though (laughs). But I myself assume that they're being played solo, too.
Shibata: To state one of my concerns, if they lean too much towards "riaju", they don't need to be horror anymore... (laughs).
—But in actuality, when you ask people about their memories of horror games, a strangely large number of them will mention experiences they had while playing with friends.
Toyama: I suppose it's a bit like everyone going out on a dare together. They probably don't want to experience real fear alone, and so they want to disperse it in a good way together.
—When you think about it, you hear a lot about people having horror movie-watching parties at their houses, and there's always been this sort of "Hyakumonogatari"-style culture, plus it's not like people usually go to haunted spots on their own (laughs). Maybe the entertainment of horror actually has a traditional element of sharing to it.
Shibata: That is very true.
—I'm not sure if such a topic exists within psychology, but since "fear" is something that should probably be transmitted throughout a community, it doesn't seem strange for humans to be able to find pleasure in consuming it together.
Toyama: That sounds like it could be totally right. I mean, with the old guy killer in VR Zone's Ward Escape Omega, I'm not joking when I say that you'll probably actually scream. I think that when you see it, a primitive part of humans activates in order to let your friends know that danger is approaching for your own survival. I think it's an instinctive thing, then, that humans are interested in sharing scary stories.
Shibata: Oh, wow. Doesn't that make horror a genre for everyone? (laughs)
Toyama: Maybe it does (laughs). I think it's for certain, though, that it has a ubiquitous amusement factor that's rooted in the animalistic part of humans.
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