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Siren 2 Maniacs - Keiichiro Toyama Interview

The things that can be changed, and the things that can't... The methodology of continuing on the world of Siren

Director: Keiichiro Toyama
Served as director on both Siren and Siren 2. Came to attention in 1999 whilst working at Konami with the release of Silent Hill. Siren 2 is his first sequel.

-- I think it goes without saying that Siren 2 came about because of Siren 1. First of all, please tell us what led to the start of planning on Siren 2.

Toyama: Siren itself was created all along to be a standalone work. I guess maybe what this meant was that we tossed in all of the ideas we had without holding back... In any case, it was a game that incorporated a huge amount of experimental material, so when Siren was complete we were left with all kinds of residual ideas that we couldn't squeeze in, and a sense of wondering whether we could have done such and such thing as well. We were motivated to try to create something full of those ideas, which seems to have moved us along very naturally into the planning of Siren 2. Of course, there were also many players of the first game who made their desires for a sequel known, too. Though I am grateful for that.

-- Which leads me onto my next point: "Why Siren 2?" For example, I do wonder, was it possible for you to build up a game with a totally different world view based upon the ideas you couldn't fit into the first game? I mean, after working on the first Silent Hill (1999, Konami) you transferred to SCE, which makes Siren 2 your first sequel.

Toyama: All that had to do with was my own wishes. Thankfully, Siren received praise across the board, but that doesn't mean that, seeing this, the company instructed me to make a sequel. Then why did I choose Siren 2? Well, one of the main factors in making the decision was to do with the time period. Around the time we were planning what was to come next after Siren, we were getting close to making the platform shift from PS2 to PS3, and there were lots of decisions we had to make. I knew that the next proposal after Siren would probably be the last thing I would have a hand in that would be on the PS2. Given how things were at the time, a fairly difficult period, I thought it was a bit too early to be taking the plunge and planning out a PS3 game. It was still too soon to begin basic research into the next gen console. That said, it would also have been quite difficult to make something brand new from scratch on the PS2... For example, I tried thinking of something that would feature online elements, but there were lots of issues with this, such as service periods. Taking this into consideration, and the continued motivation of the staff who had worked on the previous game, we decided that, in order to get a basic project going, we should go with the things we had left undone with Siren.

-- I'd like to spend a moment hearing again what it was you were aiming for with Siren 1.

Toyama: The first game had three basic concepts: "I want to make a Japanese-style horror game," "I want it to be a group drama with lots of characters," and "I want to use 'sightjacking' as part of the gameplay." Those were the three basic things.

-- What kind of elements did you want to try adding into Siren 2...?

Toyama: Nothing has essentially changed all that much from the three main pillars of Siren. If anything, I think it feels more like changing the recipe without changing the framework. For instance, one of the elements we put a lot of effort into with the last game was darkness, but for this game we put in the more evident juxtaposition of light and darkness, things like that...

-- It seems like whenever Siren 1 is discussed, the subject of its high difficulty comes up. I get the impression that the difficulty has been changed quite a lot in Siren 2.

Toyama: The first game's difficulty was something I planned all along; it was exactly what I was aiming for. Something that you can't beat if you just play it as normal by yourself (laughs). I wanted that to lead to sharing of info online or by word of mouth, complementing each other. Like I've said before (see interview in Siren Maniacs), what I had in mind was something like the old arcade game The Tower of Druaga (1984, Namco, now Bandai Namco Games). Internet message boards didn't exist back then, but the information needed to get through the game was disseminated via notes left at game centres or word of mouth. I wanted to see if I could get everyone to experience the fun of getting together to solve the game. That ended up with the difficulty being intentionally cranked up. What surprised even me was the breadth of Siren 1's unforeseen potential. As a creator, there were things I had made with the idea that they would be for players used to gaming, but there were also lots of people who said that, despite being bad at games, they fell in love with the story and characters. When that happens, I think you naturally have to reconsider what you're doing. For example, when I hear people talking about how they never found out what the story was really about, because they gave up partway through, I find what we did kind of a waste (laughs)... It happens sometimes. We were actually developing a game with things oriented in that direction before Siren 2 - I guess you could call it Siren 1.5. It was Siren 1, but with the guiding hint screens and difficulty selection of 2 added to it... Aside from that, there was also a first person view mode that would be unlocked if you finished the whole game, but things happened and we were unable to release 1.5 However, these experimental guiding elements served as a base for 2's system.

The "Siren 1.5" mentioned during the interview was, at one point, listed in the release schedule of a game magazine as the "Special Edition", and some fans knew of its existence. In the end, it served as a practise for 2's development.

-- In any case, you seem to have put quite a lot of thought into what to do with Siren 2's difficulty.

Toyama: That wasn't simply to lower the difficulty, though - we considered what we could do to make as many kinds of player enjoy it as we could. I definitely think that you can get a real sense of the strength of the Yamibito, particularly in the latter half of the game, if you play on Hard...

-- I suppose that the strength of the Yamibito isn't something that will really come across if you play on Easy mode. Maybe if people want to understand what it was you wanted to do, they should play Siren 2 on Hard mode...

Toyama: The Yamibito actually seem pretty weak on Easy (laughs). This was one of the hard parts, though I wish we could have shown the strength of the Yamibito in some way other than their resilience. I had planned that through AI they would, to an extent, try to take cover, but maybe because it increased the overall processing of the game it didn't have as much of an effect as I had first thought. This is one of the things I'll note and challenge in the future as a creator.

-- As well as inheriting the aforementioned three pillars from Siren 1, I'd like to ask if there was any kind of motif you had in mind as to the flavour of Siren 2.

Toyama: One of the things during development that I found interesting and suggested to the team was Sumerian mythology (myths of ancient Babylonia. These are said to be the oldest myths in the world, serving as the basis for all kinds of stories). There's a puppet animation called "The Epic of Gilgamesh, or This Unnameable Little Broom" (1985, UK) shot by twin dollmakers called the Brothers Quay, which is based on the ancient Babylionian Epic of Gilgamesh. I saw it when I was a student, and though I didn't understand the story, it left quite a strong impression on me. Later on, I was reading a book on art history when I happened upon The Epic of Gilgamesh, and when I researched it I found it to be interesting. The basic story is centred around goddesses, messengers of the gods, etc. - women from all different positions - playing around with men.

Mr. Toyama comments that he is taken with the concept of men being toyed with by women that appears in Sumerian legend. If I may digress, the development team on Siren 2 has, since the development of the first game, seemed to have comparatively more women working on it than on other games. Could it be that perhaps Mr. Toyama himself occasionally enjoys being toyed with...?

-- So you found something strangely charming in the idea of men being toyed with by women? (laughs)

Toyama: A lot of these nasty stories, sugar-coated in modern movies and books, appear in mythology. They're generally stories where men go through horrible things because of women - I guess the idea resonates with me somehow (laughs). The doves' devilishness, which you see particularly in Yuri Kishida, reflect that kind of tone in Sumerian mythology. Maybe the thing most characteristic of this is the scene where Yuri Kishida opens her clothes and exposes her chest.

-- Now that I think about it, Hisako Yao from Siren 1 also has a face like she wouldn't harm a fly, whereas in reality...

Toyama: I didn't have Sumerian myths in mind when the first game was in development, but now you mention it, I guess the composition is similar (laughs). But this doesn't mean that Sumerian myths are the theme of Siren 2 - they were a hint for creating something extraordinary when we were coming up the story and visuals. When in the initial stages of planning I said that I wanted to do Sumerian mythology this time around, Sato (Naoko Sato: lead of background and scenario on Siren and Siren 2) was a bit too vague about it, which caused issues. In the end, of course, she managed to dig up different stories from the first game and create something interesting in its own right.

-- I think the contributions you and Ms. Sato make as a duo are a huge part of creating Siren's charm. What kind of part did she play in Siren 2?

Toyama: She grew even further through her experiences during 1's development as well, so she has more to do than before. The time we spent tweaking Siren 1's timetable - things like who should be doing what where, and what events occur - was actually unusually long. To that extent, at the stage when Sato was setting up the scenario, the general framework of the story's composition was in place. The state where we had, "This character is doing this kind of thing because of X at this stage." I wanted to remove most event-like circumstances, so Sato had to take on a way of building a story on top of that. With Siren 2, though, I entrusted those duties to her at an earlier stage than before. What I said to her when I gave her the work was, "I haven't decided on the motive or what leads up to it yet, but ultimately X occurs. Please include that and explore it further."

-- Do you feel as though the burden of your own work has been substantially lifted?

Toyama: Rather than getting easier, I'd say it's really more interesting. The story isn't playing out from my ideas this time... I also had her do the majority of the character backgrounds on this game. For example, if we were to talk about Soji Abe, in my initial ideas he was a much scarier-seeming man. I was thinking of the kind of person who the players would think, "Hm, maybe this guy is the murderer after all?" But when we were doing the actual shooting, and Sato got to know [Eiji] Nakamura, who plays Soji Abe, the image took on a life of its own (laughs). A lot of the time, our image of the characters changes after we choose an actor for them from the auditions. In my head, Takeaki Misawa was a more aloof-seeming kind of person. My image of him was that he looked like a normal old guy, but was weirdly strong. But Mr. Taki (Pierre Taki, who plays Takeaki Misawa) had a really solid body and looked tough all the time, so his concept changed. You can see the balance in the end, but the dynamism of the characters' images changing in this way is something I find interesting.

The actors who served as character models during development seem to be quite close to the development team. The Soji Abe "Is this pure gold...?" material is in a way an in-joke. Even without knowing this, though, you can sense its superb humour.

-- Siren 2's story again takes on a "parallel" construct. If I were to express Siren 1's story construct in a word, then I think it would be "loop". How did you come up with this difference?

Toyama: That was another of the ideas proposed by Sato. Sato was really into sci-fi when we were doing the planning, which you can see in the game. I also read a lot of books dealing with the theme of parallel universes at her recommendation.

-- Horror and sci-fi seem like fields that appear similar but are a little different...

Toyama: For me personally, I felt nothing strange whatsoever about putting sci-fi elements into Siren 2. It's not like I usually have a fixed mindset when I'm working about what has to be in a horror game... I think that the only difference between horror and sci-fi is the words, and that at their core they're the same. Even if there's a scientific explanation for it, the idea that there's another world different from our own is scary, don't you think? If a world you knew nothing about existed, and inside it you were chased by someone unknown... pretty creepy.

-- Once, you said that horror means depicting a world that awaits just on the outskirts of normality. This means that the idea of parallel universes easily transforms into horror, yes? If this immense thing lurking just outside the borders of normality has scary tones to it, then that's horror...?

Toyama: Right. So I think you can think of it in a lot of different forms. Urban legends that people like to make documentaries about are scary too, you know...

-- I get the impression that, because you utilised a story constructed in parallel in Siren 2, the tempo of the story has changed a bit. What do you think of this?

Toyama: I agree. With Siren 1, we took care that the different scenarios didn't get tangled up. For the first time in the closing stages, you suddenly start to see how the entire story is tied together, like a switch has been flipped... The catharsis of that moment was taken into serious consideration. The story itself is constructed in a loop, and without one little "chance" you wouldn't be able to get out - I personally like that way of making it. On the other hand, it's been pointed out that this setup makes it difficult to understand. Apparently, it's "boring" to go over the same level again and again (laughs). But I wouldn't simply accept the idea of not doing it because it received criticism, so I searched for something to change it, and I guess the idea of parallel words was a fit... Unlike the previous game, Siren 2 was created so that you could see the structure of its story from quite early on. During the early stages, without having to repeat the loop over and over, you can see the "Return of the Dove" event. By employing the use of parallel worlds to set up the story, we could have the story unfold like a roller coaster up until the mid stages, without needing to slow the pace of any of the individual stories. It creates a climax early on, dragging the player along with it.

-- Does this mean that you had to made modifications to show the differences between the first game's loop and this game's parallels, since it's a sequel?

Toyama: Changing things itself wasn't our aim, but the dilemma of entertainment goes hand in hand with sequels. This isn't restricted to games - I think everything is the same way. The first proposition thrust your way is that changes must be made. It turns into a case of, well, if you're going to make the same thing then they may as well just play the first game. This is mainly a matter of the game's size, but you also have new demands from an entertainment perspective. You become trapped in this cage, trying to decide what changes, what doesn't - in short, how much distance you have to put between it and the previous game. With Siren 2, we spent a long time arguing that point. As a result, for example with the Shibito, we go with a completely different interpretation of them to the first game. There are strange happenings and strange beings - how, in a different place with a different culture, does everyone take in the concept of these things that are beyond human comprehension? The relationship between the first game and Siren 2 is our answer to this. I hope you can enjoy these two stories, each different, but both sharing the sound of the siren.

How different places and different cultures take the idea of beings that go beyond human understanding... This comment of Mr. Toyama's is very interesting. The viewpoint here seems to also affect Nagai's ending, where the positions of humanity and the Yamibito swap around entirely. A switch in values is important to unravelling the mystery of Siren 2. To the "Ancient Ones" (Yamibito), who once controlled the earth, we modern day humans must seem like the ones unjustly occupying their world.

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