Originally posted on 5 April 2015
Source: Siren 2 Maniacs, page 170-173

Siren 2: Isao Takahashi Interview

From wooden ruins in the mountains to an iron and concrete maze... The two approaches to showing ruins

Art direction: Isao Takahashi
In charge of art direction on Siren 2, as with the first game. He has a unique CV, having got his start in the CM industry, but has been working with Mr. Toyama since Silent Hill.

―You are in charge of art direction on Siren 2 just as you were on the first Siren, is that right? Despite both games being on the PS2, it can't have been easy to work out the differences in terms of visuals...

Takahashi: They were released on the same hardware, of course, so we couldn't change the basics. But I accumulated knowledge during the development of Siren, so I've really challenged myself to do a lot of things. I at least managed to be more efficient in terms of time than I was with the first game. The reserves that gave me made it possible for me to challenge myself to something different, I guess... Also, there are things like making wider levels where you can drive a car or increasing the variation in the Shibito - I was quite conscious about increasing the game's volume in that way.

―Precisely what kind of direction were you aiming for with regards to Siren 2?

Takahashi: If we're talking about the things that changed most with what we were aiming for when comparing the two games, they can be largely divided into three. The first is that it's set on an island. The second is that we have added Yamibito to the existing Shibito enemies. The third is that we had a member of the JSDF as a playable character.

―It seems as though having a JSDF member appear would be a big element of the game's balance, action and gimmicks, but maybe also have a large impact on the visuals and artwork.

Takahashi: That's right. With the addition of a JSDF member, we introduced new elements alongside hiding; active things like filling things with bullets. This also caused changes in the nature of the game, so we also had to keep in mind the looks and visuals as we made it. In particular, it had a great influence on the composition of the in-game map.

―Unlike the first game, which is set in a poor mountain village, this game is set on an island, a unique environment with hard, concrete ruins. Could you tell us the reason that brought about this huge change?

Takahashi: Moving the game to an island was a result of putting together the opinions of everyone from each department, but if we're talking in terms of point of view then the reason we chose to set it on an island was because it made it easier to figure out the differences. In contrast to the symbols of the ruins from the first game, ie wooden walls, sheet iron and tiled roofs, whereas this game's world is one of concrete and steel frames... I guess the abandoned houses we had in the first game had a kind of familiarity for the average person, like something they'd seen somewhere before. Regardless of whether you've ever actually been there or not, it's the standard scenery you'd see if you went to the Japanese countryside or mountain villages. Instead, Yamijima, where Siren 2 is set, is, as you know, an island modelled on Gunkanjima, an abandoned island off the coast of Nagasaki. Excluding some ruin fanatics, it's quite unfamiliar to most, and almost seems to exist in another world.

―Excluding a very small portion of Siren 2's main characters, they aren't residents of Yamijima by birth. In a way they're outsiders; people who come to Yamijima for their own individual purposes.

Takahashi: "Outsider" is actually one of the keywords we had in mind for Siren 2's overall image. All kinds of people enter Yamijima, an insular island with its own unique customs, from the outside world. I guess you could call it an overlapping between this composition and the theme of Yamibito invading the surface world that modern humans inhabit...

―The staff went around the country researching ruins and abandoned buildings for Siren 2's development - what is your personal experience with ruins?

Takahashi: I'm from Machida, outside Tokyo, so when I look back on my childhood both classical abandoned houses, wooden with tatami, and abandoned buildings of reinforced concrete feel familiar to me. The place had been halfway turned into a city, so I guess both existed (laughs). Thinking about it now, I played differently depending on which ruin I went into. Going into wooden, Japanese-style houses feels kind of like going into someone else's house without taking your shoes off, and that alone is sort of exciting... And, you know, things like opening drawers on furniture and peeking inside (laughs). My memories of abandoned concrete buildings, though, are things like playing tag or hide and seek in the rubble - somehow active things. In game terms, I guess the former is reflected in Siren and the latter in Siren 2.

―In a way, it feels inevitable for the game to be set around concrete ruins, now that a JSDF member has intensified the action.

Takahashi: We actually took a boat to the area off Gunkanjima when we were making Siren 2. The impression it made was so strong... There was such a huge, complicated mas of concrete buildings that it looked like the whole thing had turned into a ruin. It made me think how fun it would be to have a survival horror game set there (laughs).

―Seeing Gunkanjima with your own eyes had quite a strong impact?

Takahashi: Yeah. At the time of our research entry to Gunkanjima was prohibited, so we could only get near by boat, but I was still overwhelmed by it. We made our approach around dawn, with its square silhouette sitting atop the horizon. That silhouette was something familiar and straightforward to those of us living in the city. In short, it's like a street with rows of buildings. However, as we actually got closer there wasn't a single place with the lights turned on, and there were holes in the buildings. The sight of these rows of huge, dark buildings was so strange.

―I've seen it in a photobook before, but it does look like the ruins of a city floating in the sea, an entire island covered in concrete (Hashima, nicknamed "Gunkanjima" or Battleship Island, was entirely shut down in 1974 along with the closure of its coal mine. Since then, it has been completely abandoned).

Takahashi: Not only that, but during the peak of the mine's operational period the population density was high, so it was packed tight with 10-storey apartment complexes... It seems as though they found it too much trouble to go from the top floor to the bottom just to move between buildings, so they would even set up bridges between them - though this was, of course, illegal (laughs). It sounds somehow like a magnificent maze, so I thouht it would make the perfect place to use as a map for a game. The problem is that game development is a constant struggle with memory constraints; increasing the quality of that many several storey buildings and expanding the map was a really hard task.

―Did actually seeing a place like that with your own eyes have some kind of influence on the development team?

Takahashi: It changed things completely. We used data to faithfully reproduce this place you'd normally never be able to visit, which is something I hope everyone experiences in the game.

―Were there any differences between the research you did for Siren and Siren 2?

Takahashi: The biggest was the advancement of the digital camera. When we were doing our research for Siren, the average digital camera's pixel count was around two million. For Siren 2, though, it's progressed to around five to six million. This difference in the amount of information was decisive. We naturally took a huge number of pictures when we went on research, but one of our goals with this was to pick up noise. What I mean by noise here are the elements that make up the feeling. For example, when you photograph a plank, if the resolution is high then, aside from the woodgrain, you can even pick up tiny scratches on the surface. The amount of information had a decisive influence on the way we picked up information like that. To be honest, the difference was so large that I wouldn't want to use the photos we took before for 2.

―Please tell us about the Yamibito, the new enemies who appear in Siren 2.

Takahashi: I think [Miki] Takahashi would know more about the Yamibito since she designed them, but the problem was, of course, distinguishing them from the Shibito. The way we thought about it was that, in contrast to the Shibito, who reflect the image of your traditional zombie, the Yamibito are like different humans who have come from an outside world. They're basically the same kind of beings as humans, but kind of different (laughs). Yamibito are meant to be humans, but there's something vaguely off about them that makes someone looking at them feel uneasy... As that disparity progresses, it turns into "A" and "B" types. Things like the placement of their faces being fundamentally strange. To put it simply, rather than just taking over a corpse, we thought of them as being creatures from another world who try to become human. By "otherworldly beings", I guess I mean something similar to insects. I actually can't stand insects... (laughs) There were all kinds of them in the ruins and caves we went to for research - things like house centipedes and cave crickets... The cave crickets, in particular, I can only think of as having been designed to be hated by humans.

―"Designed to be hated by humans" sounds so much like something an art director would say... (laughs)

Takahashi: Maybe the way Yamibito hate light is similar to those kinds of insects.

―A pylon appears as a sort of key visual in Siren 2.

Takahashi: That was something we came up with along the lines of the first game's Mana cross, that would act as a sort of symbol. Siren 2 as a game is a group drama, but there are some parts that are a bit difficult to see as part of the scenario due to the passage of time, so we wanted to have something kind of symbolic to give off the feeling that everyone is in the same place, sharing the same time. You can see it from anywhere on the island, and it gradually starts to look more and more mysterious as time goes by. Its role is kind of like the headquarters of all of the oddities.

―I hear that you were involved from the early stages on the making of this game's archive items, too.

Takahashi: I joined comparatively late on during Siren, but from the very start on 2 I did all kinds of things... [Yoshiaki] Yamaguchi was in charge of the graphics, and I was kind of helping him out. If you think about it in terms of the story, there are things that are basically just information you want the player to know, but to me, being in charge of visuals, I feel like I have to do not only that, but also make things look interesting, too...

―Is that the kind of thought process that gave rise to the video and audio archives on this game?

Takahashi: Yes. In particular with [No.010] Shikai News, there's a parody on the second screen of a music programme called The Best Ten, which is something I'm quite proud of. We actually also put a lot of smaller jokes in the background of the video, so I hope people go and check it again.