◆ Siren illustrates a fear of turning into something humans can't understand
Monster Gamers Office (below, Office):
This year is a turning point for Siren, which welcomes its tenth anniversary. Even after ten years have passed, the depths of fear experienced in the original game seem like only yesterday...! It was really scary! It was Ms. Takahashi who designed the Shibito, inhuman creatures. Could you refresh us on what led to her joining the Siren team?
Keiichiro Toyama (below, Toyama):
I had an image of the Shibito in my head. I was originally a designer myself, so I tried creating them myself based on this image, but it would end up something like, "This isn't what I had in mind..." (laughs). I suppose I would say that Siren is kind of like something from the zombie genre, but they aren't just dead bodies moving around, they're more than that - the Shibito. They're like transformed humans, changing into creatures that you don't understand... I wanted to show something even scarier than dying... I just kept saying these tricky things (laughs).
Office: The fear of people close to you turning in the space of a second into something you don't understand is the fear at the base of Siren... When you gave up on trying to reproduce the image inside your head, was that when Ms. Takahashi made her entrance?
Toyama: It was. First off I had her sketch a few things for me as a test, and I thought, "This is it!" Which character did I ask you to do first...?
Miki Takahashi (below, Takahashi): The very first one I drew was Mina Onda.
Toyama: Ahhh, that's right!
Takahashi: Mr. Toyama, who said he already had a clear image in his head, and the art director, Isao Takahashi, gave me lots of hints, so I didn't get all that stuck... As the artist, it was really easy to understand.
(Left) Mr. Toyama and Ms. Takahashi talking about their memories of the time.
(Right) The design for Mina Onda, the first to be designed by Ms. Takahashi, to which Mr. Toyama said, "This is it!"
◆ Cuteness that surpasses fear!? Shibito designs
Office: The spider and fly Shibito, and then those bulging Shibito brains. How did you convey to Ms. Takahashi the image you had for each Shibito type?
Toyama: It was on a very case-by-case basis... But I suppose that in a sense, the spider and fly ones were quite easy to understand. Their roles in the game are being fast and flying (laughs), so I didn't really have to say what form they would take, more like, "Yeah, yeah, that's right." The Shibito brains, uh, like I said before... I told her that I wanted something like a fear of something superhuman, and the first one that came out was Mina Onda... That's when I started going, "Oh yeah, yeah, that's right!" so I don't really think I actually said anything particularly detailed.
Office: So you heard their role in the game and expanded on their form from there.
Takahashi: Right. Um... so, I got as much as I could from a fairly basic concept, and afterwards let myself go with it, so it was really easy to do and grasp.
Office: Looking back over them all I wouldn't want any of the Shibito to come near me, but was there anything Ms. Takahashi designed that you thought was too scary and should be toned down a bit?
Toyama: No, I really don't think I had any reason to turn anything down... (laughs).
Takahashi: Oh, but... we did have a lot that were no good. Like, uh... like this (gestures).
Toyama: Ah, that, but... I don't really think we could have gone against basic morals. I had no choice but to say no to that.
Office: You mean, not because they were too creepy? Like, they were too scary?
Takahashi: Rather than being creepy, yeah.
Office: When we asked you to do the cover image for this interview you kept saying, "It's probably going to be quite creepy, are you sure it's okay? Is it really alright? Is it okay to show this to everyone?" so I wondered if anything like this ever happened during development when you thought something might be too creepy.
Toyama: ...It was kind of like a joke, like, if you laugh when you see it you win (laughs). The Takato character becoming a Shibito brain for a moment at the end was amusing. She has this burger-like face.
Takahashi: She was supposed to look kind of like a monkfish. All squishy (laughs). A monkfish and... there was one other thing... a sea anemone too, a fusion of these kinds of things. I thought that making it look like sealife but being hard to tell would be scary. Scary and cute... Rather than it being two different facets of them, I think the difference is minor... (laughs).
Office: I guess they is kind of cute, in a way. Like the Yamibito Type B with the big face from Siren 2. At first they're so scary it's unbearable, but when you look at them calmly they're surprisingly cute. Enough to make you want a figure of them to carry around.
Takahashi: Right... That big one, Tomoe Ohta, I really like her myself. I think she's cute too (laughs).
Office: I think she would be really high up on a poll of favourites. Which is your favourite, Mr. Toyama?
Toyama: Hmm, I guess... I guess it would be the first one we settled on, Mina Onda. ...To have a world that should be inside me on the outside, it feels really weird. Like, "It's like this!" (laughs).
Office: That must be because you saw from someone else what you hadn't been able to do yourself the whole time, and it fit your own image.
(Top/bottom left) "Ms. Takato", themed around monkfish and other sea creatures, that Mr. Toyama says he liked.
(Bottom right) Concept art of Type B Yamibito. Tomoe Ohta, Ms. Takahashi's favourite, also transforms into a Type B Yamibito! Amidst the scariness, can you feel the... cuteness...?
Office: Hearing you talk about it now, it sounds like the ideas just poured right out, but were there any Shibito or characters that you really struggled to deal with?
Takahashi: Yeah, there were troubles... By the time we got around to Siren: New Translation... to be honest, we were almost out of ideas (laughs).
Office: Because NT came out after Siren and Siren 2.
Takahashi: Yeah. The first had sea creatures, and the second had Yamibito. We... did get a bit stuck with where to go next... (laughs)
Toyama: Ms. Takahashi also oversaw the makeup for the half-Shibito... the, uh, the characters who are still kind of zombie-ish. There's a weird number of them, so I think there must be a lot of jokes in there (laughs).
◆ Sudden terrorism in the office!? Until the Shibito are complete
Office: A lot of staff members were photographed in makeup for Siren: NT. Was it you who gave the directions as to how you wanted it to look, Ms. Takahashi?
Takahashi: Yeah, though the art director gave the main outline. Also, Naoko Sato, who is in charge of the scenario, would tell me things like, "This person has a wound here," for the characters depending on the story. Most of the rest was me discussing things with the makeup artist... When things were busy, I would go to the studio and go through them one by one, detailing what needed to go where.
Toyama: Oh, that's right - before shooting officially began you had... I don't know, some kind of test makeup on your face, I guess you did it in the bathroom or something, and came to ask, "What do you think of this?" which was the scariest part (all burst out laughing). I was caught totally off guard.
Takahashi: Oh, but, you know... I did think of drawing it out and giving a picture of what I was thinking to the makeup artist, but I didn't think that a picture alone would be able to convey the finer details and overall image. So, as the one giving directions, I thought it had to start by trying it out, and I spent loads of time in the office bathroom doing makeup... (laughs) ...and then asking what people thought.
Office: You came out all of a sudden? That must have been a shock! People must have wondered what was going on in the office in the middle of the afternoon (laughs).
Office: The Siren team wouldn't mind that much, but there was one female employee who came into the women's toilets with no idea... (laughs) As soon as she came in she walked right back out (laughs).
Toyama: It's like terrorism (laughs).
Office: It's a good thing she didn't hit the alarm or something. It would have been like the siren beginning to sound (laughs).
(Left/centre) Ms. Takahashi created the Yamibito along with the makeup artist based on rough sketches she drew.
(Right) Ms. Takahashi at the time she began her sudden reign of terror over the office.
Takahashi: Well, when we were deciding on costumes for the Shibito, there were... loads and loads of them. We settled on them each one by one. Just getting a clear picture of the story, and where each character would appear. In terms of the game itself, there was no... hmm... nothing to get lost on, so it was really easy to choose. So though there were lots of them, it wasn't actually that much hard work.
Office: So having the game - the entire thing, really - so carefully made was linked to how easy it was to do.
Part of the style guide Ms. Takahashi drew for Siren 2's Yamibito. A huge number of characters were created, combining things like futon, yukata and obi.
◆ Siren, a work that caused girlish feelings to blossom
Office: It looks like you gave up a lot of time to the Siren series from Siren until Siren: NT. Looking back on it, how do you think the series was?
Takahashi: Hmm... Uh, I, I feel like it caused the dark girlish feelings inside me to finally blossom (all burst out laughing).
Office: You mean this is where your love of drawing long necks finally came to fruition after so many years?
Takahashi: Yeah, for sure... Uh, Siren 2's final boss has a long boss, right? (laughs) Back then I was so happy I'd finally done it.
Office: Did you know about her love of long necks, Mr. Toyama?
Toyama: No... But I did think she drew them a lot (all burst out laughing)
The interview was packed with laughter from beginning to end. Even now, ten years on, you can still feel the Siren team's strong bonds!
Office: So the truth has finally been revealed ten years on (laughs). This year Twitter got all excited about celebrating the tenth anniversary, and Monster Gamers offered Siren for free on PlayStation Plus. Please give your messages for the players who are playing Siren again at this special time!
Toyama: To be honest, it's a real shock. Normally, popularity hits its peak at the time of release and gradually decreases. But I feel something more intense now than I did when it was released... I'm really grateful, but really shocked as well! It renews my want to do something to repay the support we've been getting for all this time.
◆ To young people aiming to become game artists
Office: Do you have a message for any young people who want to become game artists?
Takahashi: If you keep doing what you want to do, it will come in handy, and wouldn't it be nice to do whatever it is you like?
Office: Like drawing long necks (laughs).
Takahashi: The basics really are important. I had this big understanding when I was a student that because I was great at rough sketches, that would mean that when I grew up I would keep my drawing ability going without doing anything, but I was wrong. Like the way sports players have to constantly train their bodies, artists have to keep drawing or their skills will weaken. So I think it's a good idea to keep going with that. I finally realised that recently, and started drawing things other than long necks (laughs).
Office: If you were involved in the next game, what kind of thing would you like to make?
Takahashi: That I was involved in Siren left quite a sense of achievement for me, so I think I'd like to put that to use somehow... Yeah... I'm the kind of person who draws dark pictures, after all (laughs). I'd be really happy if I could do something with a dark worldview. I'll do anything, though (laughs).
Office: Please make another game like Siren again sometime, Mr. Toyama.
Toyama: If I'm told I can, I'll do it right away (laughs).
Office: Then finally, is there anything you feel you really have to say?
Takahashi: Nothing, I don't think (laughs). It was actually really fun to get to draw the monster on the cover for this interview.
Office: Sorry for pulling you away when you're so busy working on Knack... (Knack is a PlayStation 4 exclusive title on which Ms. Takahashi is serving as artist.)
Takahashi: Oh, no, it was actually a really refreshing change of pace mentally (laughs).
Office: The aim behind this project was to show what kind of things SCE Japan's amazing artists draw, and have them see the Japan Studio's potential... And then we asked you, and got a long neck (laughs).
Takahashi: What do we do if they think it's a long-necked person? (laughs)
Office: Maybe we should edit it so that it... no, it's hopeless (laughs).
Takahashi: My SNS icons are all things with long necks, too.... (all burst out laughing)
Office: You really do love long necks, huh?
Takahashi: Maybe I'm cursed...
Office: Maybe something happened to you in a previous life.
Takahashi: I think something probably did (all laugh)
That concludes our special interview with Miki Takahashi.