This year at PAX West 2018, I had the chance to sit down with one of my favorite game developers, Hidetaka Suehiro — better known as Swery65. At the show he was promoting his Kickstarted project The Good Life, where a playable demo was on the show floor. Immediately before the show, he also announced a surprise second project, The Missing. We had a brief conversation about these two games as well as other topics with the help of an interpreter onstage at the Unties booth, and here’s what he had to say…
Brad Gallaway: First of all, how are you?
Swery65: Oh. Honestly, I’m so tired already. (laughs)
BG: Okay, we’ll get right to it. First of all, how is The Good Life coming?
S65: Ah. Can I speak in Japanese?
BG: Sure, please do.
[At this point, Swery spoke in Japanese and was assisted by a translator.]
S65: So I’m really really happy and proud that The Good Life was funded, and you know the kind of feeling I got from getting it funded is like almost the same feeling you have when you release your game for the first time. So we’re looking forward to working on the project and we’re very motivated right now.
BG: Excellent. So it seems like it’s been a long journey for The Good Life to finally come to fruition. What has that journey been like for you as the creator?
S65: So it’s been about a year since we made the first announcement about The Good Life, and over the course of that year we’ve learned a lot. I’m happy that we could actually start to build this world that we’ve been thinking about for a while. So we’re very happy about the progress of the game thus far and looking forward to actually working on the whole project.
BG: At this point, how long before we’ll see a complete version?
S65: So right now we’re aiming to have a stable alpha done by December and the game is scheduled to be released in third quarter of next year, 2019. G-rounding is the developer that we’re partnering with on the game ,and they’re doing a good job and working hard towards that goal. Then when I leave PAX I’m going to head directly to Fukuoka and we’re going to start working on the game with the feedback that we’ve gotten here and whatnot.
BG: How has the feedback been here?
S65: This is the first time that a lot of people have played the game — this is like the Kickstarter prototype, and everyone seems to be having a great time with the camera mechanics and the story. Everyone’s enjoying it so we’re really happy. Since we brought the game to PAX we’ve actually had more people on Kickstarter with the backer kit, so we’ve seen the numbers go up for that. We’re really happy.
BG: So, a lot of people were surprised to hear about The Missing. I don’t think anybody expected you to have two projects going at the same time. What is The Missing about?
S65: The Missing is a side-scrolling grotesque puzzle action game. Our main character is basically immortal, and she can use parts of her body — she can cut parts of her body off in order to solve puzzles. So it’s a really strange game. (laughs) and that’s the basic premise of it.
BG: Okay, now that you’ve explained it that makes sense because when I saw the trailer, I didn’t know what the hell was going on.
S65: (laughs) So The Good Life is my light side and The Missing is my dark side. Somehow both of these games are going to come together and they both have their light and dark sides to them, and I think that’s important. That’s like kind of my character and the style I want people to take away from my games.
BG: Hearing that, I’m pretty certain that I’ve played all of your games so far, and they’re not all the same but there’s definitely a Swery flavor to them. How would you describe what you bring to each project that you work on? What is that Swery flavor?
S65: (laughs) So I like to call my style sweryism and sweryism… I think what’s important for me is that it has both that light side and that dark side, but also the gray in between. That kind of ambivalence — you understand that life is not so cut and dry. It’s not so black and white. There’s good and bad and light and dark in everything. So I want to always express that in my games. The other thing is that I feel like my games should always have some kind of a focus on good food, so you always see something about food in my games.
S65: So the other thing is like, I don’t want to have movie score soundtracks in my games. I like the kind of music that you would listen to normally.
BG: Speaking of food, you’ve been to Seattle a couple of times now, and I wonder what is the best thing you’ve eaten here in Seattle?
S65: Do you mean like restaurants? Or do you mean like a certain type of food?
BG: It could be anything. What is your favorite thing to eat when you’re in Seattle?
S65: Oh, there’s a diner called Twede’s Cafe in North Bend. It was a location in Twin Peaks, and they have the best cherry pie with ice cream on top. A la mode.
BG: That’s a very Swery answer.
BG: Changing gears away from food, out of all your work so far, what is one thing that you’re most proud of? It doesn’t have to be a whole game but maybe one part of a game or the way a character came out, or just one very specific thing — what’s something that you feel was your most successful, or that you’re proud of?
S65: That’s a difficult question… So, there’s a part in Deadly Premonition where York and Zach, they’re talking to each other, and they start to address each other but also they’re addressing the player directly. When I thought of this I was in the bed at night and I just kind of woke up all of the sudden and was like, oh my God! This is what I’ll do! I’ll have the characters break the fourth wall and start talking to the player directly. I really enjoyed that one moment you know, when I thought about that.
BG: So, a lot of people have been asking if there are any plans about your older work. I think a lot of people who are discovering you now really like your style and want to find out what you’ve done before, but those things are not easily available. I know there are licensing problems and things like that, but have you thought about maybe doing like a Swery collection of all your older stuff?
S65: I’m really happy that people are discovering me for the first time and want to go back and play the games, but unfortunately because we’ve done games with various different publishers and studios, the rights are all over the place. Trying to make a collection like that would be great and we’d love to do it, but unfortunately we don’t even know where to start. It would be very difficult to get off the ground. Maybe Limited Run games, you know they do retail… maybe they could talk to different publishers and try to figure out how to put a collection together.
S65: Hey Douglas! (laughs) [Swery motions towards the crowd] Douglas is the president of Limited Run Games. Maybe he could do it.
BG: So if people can’t find those games and want to catch up with you as a person, what would you suggest to them? For example, what media do you like? Like what tv shows do you like? Twin Peaks of course, we know that one. That’s a big one. But like, what else? Music, books, movies that people could see and maybe get a little bit more understanding of your thought process? And you can’t say Twin Peaks.
S65: So of course David Lynch has been an inspiration but also Wes Anderson, Terry Gilliam, and Woody Allen. All of those directors — I really enjoy their work and I feel like they have inspired me in some sense. There’s also a Japanese author named Junichiro Tanizaki that writes stories that are kind of a little strange and a little erotic stories. Those have inspired me as well.
BG: Okay. I’ll have to look that up, I’m not familiar with that person.
S65: There’s a book named, a novel called Naomi [ISBN 0-394-53663-0] that’s very um… interesting. (laughs) And maybe you’ve noticed that there’s a protagonist named Naomi?
BG: I did notice that, yes! So where do you get your best ideas or inspirations? I know that’s a very difficult question to answer but people want to know. You have such a quirky style that people like, and what you do is very unusual. How do you fuel that? You mentioned the directors. Is there anything else that fuels your creative process?
S65: Well you know I do a lot of things. I have a lot of hobbies like writing short stories, and I work at a temple as a monk, and of course spending time with my friends and drinking. I feel like it’s important to have a lot of experiences, and through those experiences you find more creative things to do. So it’s like an input/output thing, but also it’s an experience thing. You have to live life in order to create wonderful things sometimes.
BG: Okay, almost done… Right before PAX I took some questions from my readers and followers at the very last minute, so these have nothing to do with anything else. First, what are your feelings on horror? And especially now that we see recent games starting to take more influence from specifically Japanese horror. Do you like that genre, or do you have any thoughts about working in that genre?
S65: Are you talking about just games or like movies as well?
S65: Like Silent Hill?
S65: Fatal Frame?
S65: I’ve been watching Japanese horror since I was a child but it’s really scary, like almost too scary for me. And like, in most western horror movies, at the end of the movie… the protagonists, they defeat whatever kind of evil is going on. But that rarely happens in Japanese horror films. Like at the end the monster wins and it’s hard for me to watch that. (laughs) Yeah. So once the movie starts, it’s over for everyone in the movie. They’re all gonna die, they’re gonna lose.
BG: Have you thought about maybe making a game like that? Would you ever want to?
S65: There would be no reason for the player to do their best because they’re gonna lose in the end!
BG: That could make for a very interesting experience!
S65: (laughs) Okay, okay. It could, yeah.
BG: Another reader question along the same lines. People were wondering, if someone gave you the Silent Hill franchise — I mean, I assume you’ve played Silent Hill before. Are you familiar with it?
BG: I figured. So if somebody said “Hey Swery, you’re in charge of Silent Hill” what would you do with it?
S65: I really don’t have any interest in working in somebody else’s IP, like working on somebody else’s project because that’s their thing, you know. I want to bring my own flavor and start with my own ideas, my own projects. That’s more important to me.
BG: Fair answer. Before we wrap up here, is there anything you would like to say to the people who are interested in The Missing and in The Good Life, or in Swery in general?
S65: We’re really happy that The Good Life was funded and we want to say thank you to all the backers — you know we’re going to do our best to live up to our own expectations and their expectations as well, so we want them to continue watching and paying attention to the Kickstarter page and to follow Swery (@Swery65) on twitter and, you know, also UNTIES (@UNTIES_Games) and you’ll see more information as we progress in the development.
BG: Thank you!
Infinite thanks to Swery65 for taking the time to speak with me at PAX, and also a shout-out to his interpreter at the Unties booth who did a great job at facilitating communication.
Also, an extremely special thanks to Allison Baker for her excellent transcription of this audio interview.
Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.
Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway