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Siren 2 Maniacs - Naoko Sato Interview

naoko sato forbidden siren silent hill game developer

Action and story... the pleasure created by the fusion of both in Siren

Planner: Naoko Sato
In charge of both background and scenario for Siren 2, as with the first game. The weaver of a story, combining a wide range of genres such as horror and sci-fi, that create Siren's world.

-- As with the first game, you are in charge of both background and scenario on Siren 2. The previous game was set in a village, and this time it's an island... First of all, I'd like to ask about this in a way bold changing of the setting.

Sato: I think that a large part of Siren's charm relies on the setting. For that reason, we spent quite a lot of time agonising over whether to set this game, after having the first one in a poor mountain village. It had to be a place with a variety of converging images, like famous ruins or somewhere told of in urban legends. As we went on I started talking about, "Wouldn't something like an island work?" and things seemed to just expand from there. I didn't just decide the setting all by myself, though; I gathered opinions from all kinds of places and ultimately decided on this.

-- What was the reason for you focusing on an island?

Sato: This is just my opinion as head of background and scenario, but whenever I'm thinking of the story for something that's horror-related, the thing that always causes me trouble is, "How do I create a world isolated from the outside world?" If it were a a long-form novel like the ones by King or Koontz (both masters of modern horror), I could take my time in creating that environment, but when you're creating a game scenario you don't have that much freedom. But if we set it on an island, I guess it would solve that issue (laughs). One other thing, too: I think the entire development team felt this way, but the depiction of the "sea" that appeared in the last game, with a village that suddenly becomes blocked off when it's surrounded by a red sea, didn't really go the way we wanted it to... Because of a variety of things, such as the specs of the hardware, we had to modify things like which shots we were going to use, so the depiction of the actual sea itself got toned down. With Siren 2, though, we have much more experience from the techniques we ued in the first game, and the team has more to give, so it seemed like we would be able to pay more attention to the way the water looks. If it was set on an island, we also knew that there would be situations in which we would have to show the sea.

-- In a way, it seems like there was also an implication of getting revenge by properly showing the sea. Do the difficulties of depicting the sea have anything to do with the high processing burden caused by sightjacking, part of the gameplay that was representative of Siren 1?

Sato: Yes. Unlike standard games, everything in Siren runs in real time, including things like characters in locations that would normally be omitted by processing. We had to do this so that (when you sightjack) everything conforms no matter when you look at what they're doing. As a result, we needed to keep a lot of the data in memory, which is quite a heavy burden. More than anything, sightjacking is a fundamental part of the game, so there was nothing we could do...

One of the disappointing things about setting this game on an island was that we had to ditch the gimmick of there being a sea that shouldn't exist. But we did that in Siren 1, so we just completely cut it out. If we took the simple view of making it an extension of the previous game, I felt like we as creators would instantly run dry. As we thought about what exactly had been the fundamental parts of Siren, I thought it was also important that we thought of the other things that were now possible because of our strengthened techniques.

-- Director Toyama said this as well when we spoke to him, but during production the reality of the game being a sequel seems like it had a big meaning.

Sato: Yes. In a lot of ways, we prepared ourselves to broaden the scope of the game and lower the entry level. This is the way in which we decided to make the difficulty level selectable in 2. The development team all shared the idea of in particular making the game worldwide.

-- I believe that the concept of transmitting a Japanese original horror to the rest of the world also existed at the time of Siren 1. At the time, what left quite an impression on me was producer Fujisawa saying, "In the end, what will link it to the rest of the world is to first drum the idea of the "ultimate in Japanese" into the domestic players."

Sato: In a sense, I think there were parts of it that were almost like acting like a samurai and saying, "Let's challenge the world!" I believe this is one of the reasons why Siren was particularly endorsed in places such as Europe. But - and this is just my own point of reflection - because we worked so hard on a Japanese-style worldview, I guess we kind of ran so far with it that even modern Japanese people who played the first game were thinking, "I have no idea what this is!" (wry smile). There were people who didn't really know about mermaids or the legend of Yao Bikuni. I guess that when you have things where you'd need to explain them one by one in a lecture for people to actually understand what they mean, they're not general enough... Not to mention that, if you're planning to take it worldwide, you should make it so that everyone no matter their country can understand it, or at least compare it to something familiar to them. It's this manner of thinking that means that there's not so much of a religious element in Siren 2, and why things like shrines and local customs aren't so meaningful. In Siren 2, we came up with a way of thinking based around parallel worlds, a sci-fi element, to replace the religious element.

-- Having mysteries hidden at every turn is one of the essential parts of Siren. What did you do about the difficulty of figuring out those mysteries?

Sato: I think that Siren 2 is definitely easier to understand. I've also realised, though, that there is a bipolarisation developing amongst the players with regards to how skilful they are at deciphering the mysteries. With 2, they figured it out even more quickly than they did with the first one. The people who look closely at everything really do figure out all kinds of things at an unusual speed... But on the other hand, it's also true that not everyone is like that, so we did struggle as creators with which group we should be targetting.

-- Mr. Toyama told us that he wnated Sumerian myths to be Siren 2's main theme.

Sato: That's right. When he first told me to keep Sumerian myths and the legend of Gilgamesh in mind, I really struggled with whether it was possible for me to take those stories and make them fit with a Japanese setting. At first I thought it was impossible (laughs). But as I spoke to Toyama about it, I realised that rather than the myths themselves it was more based around the image of a woman tricking a man and started to understand.

-- Mr. Toyama told us that the idea of a man getting into trouble because of a woman hit home with him...

Sato: I wonder. Maybe he feels something strange towards women? (laughs) It did feel, though, like we had finally settled on a theme - like, if we had this then we could make something interesting. The basis of the story is that there used to be something that had control over the earth. Humans were only born afterwards, and the former rulers send after-effects to the surface. If we put the Sumerian myths underground, then we could have those after-effects take form as the women.

-- In Siren 2, the characters being toyed with by the women are even more diverse than in the previous game. How did this come to be?

Sato: The first game was the typical kind where people get caught up in it, but we put so much importance on the realism of the fact that the characters were average people that, upon reflection, seems like it was a little bit too realistic. With Siren 2, though, when we were creating the characters we kept the gameplay as our number one priority. We carefully plotted out what each character was capable of. That's also why we have members of the Self-Defence Force as playable characters.

-- Roughly in what way did you go about creating each character?

Sato: With Shu Mikami, the very first thing we had was, "He's blind, and can borrow the sight of animals and other people to get around." It was an idea that came about from sticking to the game system. Then we thought about what occupation a blind man could have, and at first he was a musician. We had decided to use audio files in the archive this time around, so I thought that if we had a musician we could use sound to create interesting archives. But when I was trying to explain the character's background, I found that it was quite hard to express that with music. I arrived at the conclusion that it would be a good idea if it was directly shown using text, and so Shu Mikami became a novelist.

-- Having characters created in this way played by (modelled on) real actors is one of the characteristic things about Siren.

Sato: This is a method we carried over from Siren 1, but at first we hadn't considered having the actors do everything, including the performance. If anything, we were thinking of using them as photographic models for the characters. We were selecting the people based on their appearance. But as we went through recording, and began to form relationships with everyone, we changed our minds and decided that it would be more interesting if the whole person was reproduced, for voice and motions as well. We even had a model who had never acted before performing (laughs). The game settings also changed to get the most we could out of the actors' individual personalities.

-- I've heard that, by collaborating with the actors playing the characters, the character settings themselves became quite flexible.

Sato: Take (Eiji) Nakamura, for example, who played Soji Abe. He's the kind of person who sets the mood, constantly easygoing and making people laugh. That part of him definitely influenced the character's background. In the original version, he was a more violent, stronger character. Hisakatsu Murakami, who played police officer Fujita, is a really passionate actor. An hour before recording started, he would talk passionately about what it means to be an actor. We latched onto that and tried incorporating the unique sorrow of a middle-aged man. Also, another big one was Takeaki Misawa, played by Pierre Taki. Misawa is superior in a way that normal people can't understand. The inside of this great man is being eaten away by Hanuda's curse. In this situation, where a normal person would think, "I can't go on like this, I'm scared!" Misawa has the strength to hold it in and deal with it. I think, though, that he had that madness because he can't say that he's afraid. In a sense, because he's such an excellent man he breaks down in the ultimate way... He's a character with such a complex side to him, so we did a lot of rewriting lines, even during filming, which was a lot of trouble. Mr. Taki himself dug relentlessly, saying things like, "Why does this happen? Why is Misawa doing this?" Toyama, in his position as director, had to keep explaining things, but after we passed a certain stage we realised that Mr. Taki's acting had changed. I think that he sublimated something in his own way, flipping a switch. Rather than just being a capable actor who goes along with what you want, having someone like Mr. Taki who can bring "something" to maturity inside himself was unexpected feedback, which helped us. It's not something you can write into the scenario... I often get asked, "Why do you use real people like that when the characters are made using CG?" Even we sometimes think that it would have been easier just to make it live action (laughs). But you can never create something above the human power of imagination using CG alone. Being able ot have that feedback, like noise and tremors, that can't come from the imagination is one of the unique charms of Siren's character creation, I think.

-- Speaking of character moulding and its relationship with the story, Kyoya and Miyako in Siren 1 were set up in a kind of "boy meets girl" scenario. Is there anything like that in 2?

Sato: It's an ensemble cast, so you could think up several different couplings, but for me it's the pairing of (young) Shu Mikami and Kanae. I wanted to project the kind of female image onto her like that of Galaxy Express 999's Maetel... The pair are not the same age, but rather a small boy and an older female. There are some difficulties with the story format of boy meets girl, where they have a happy ending... This game is themed around men who are toyed with by women so, unlike Kyoya and Miyako from the first game, Shu Mikami's fate is a kind of tragic one.

-- The existence of the archive is also one of Siren's big charms.

Sato: I think that working on Siren means that the people working on each part overlook a lot of things. Even I sometimes have moments where I think, "This is an oversight, huh..." (laughs). But what is incredibly important is when that excessiveness overflows and something happens. Maybe the existence of the archive symbolises that. Even we sometimes think, "Why are we going to so much trouble with this?" (laughs). For example, when we were making Yami Name to use as a prop I set up a stove in the office carpark, made a stew and said to a member of staff, "Keep an eye on this until it comes to a boil!" (laughs). It's true that making games involves doing a lot of strange work. Video archives also appear in Siren 2, but no one on the development team was a pro at creating live action movies so that caused a lot of issues. Toyama studied films when he was at university, and (Isao) Takahashi, who is in charge of art direction, came from a career at a company that creates TV commercials, so we just about managed to scrape something together from the staff... It's also true, though, that it's a really fun job when you actually do it.

According to Ms. Sato, the archive was suggested when development was nearing the middle stages. At first, everyone had trouble understanding how that would be connected to the game. But since the team had begun to understand it, with Siren 2 they were able to upgrade the archive, with different ways of showing things, as well as their playful nature.

-- Your job involves a lot of side story creation, doesn't it? For example, the first game's side story "Strange Tales of Hanuda", and Siren 2's text adventure, "Mystery of the Bright Win".

Sato: The reason why the Bright Win story is a text adventure is because I learned that there are more people than I had anticipated who say that they found the reading hard work. I'm a reading addict myself, so at first I didn't really notice... To give it a sense of entertainment, this time we incorporated graphics and sound as well. But when we actually started making it I learned that the amount of work the designer had to do was an issue, so for a while I thought about doing it in novel format like before. But in a good way, Toyama sometimes doesn't really think about other people's conveniences (laughs), and so he said, "Oh, you're making it into a text adventure?" That's how the Mystery of the Bright Win arrived at its final, completed form.

-- Having worked on things other than games, such as novels, what kind of impression do you have of them?

Sato: I feel a great sense of charm within creating a story for a game - not other media, like films or novels - because of the part where the player actually holds the controller in their own hands. Through proper action, the story is reconstructed inside the receiver. I don't think tis method of creating a drama would be possible in any form of media other than games. Countless variations are created - as many as there are players. That's one of the things I like about doing this job.

-- I also think, though, that there are lots of restrictions you have to accept with games, like the gameplay and gimmicks...

Sato: I think maybe it's the other way around - that those are exactly the things that get us fired up (laughs). At a glance, there are things like the player's freedom of action, the action and the story that don't seem to mesh, but when you feel for yourself the interestingness that comes from merging those things it becomes really fun. For the same reason, working with Toyama is fun. Toyama thinks of things no one would normally come up with, and tosses ideas at me with no consideration. That's things like Sumerian myths in Siren 2, but there are requests he just immediately throws at me that anyone would obviously think were really hard (laughs). The hurdles are high, but you get a lot of pleasure out of clearing them.

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