Deadly Premonition mastermind Hidetaka ‘Swery’ Suehiro on avoiding the predictable
Hidetaka ‘Swery’ Suehiro’s games are certainly talkative. From Spy Fiction’s movie-inspired banter to Deadly Premonition’s Lynchian language and beats, Swery’s games are as much about motivation and character as action and intrigue. It’s an element that you can trace back to the game creator’s roots, where a fascination for people was nurtured in some unconventional surroundings.
“Being brought up in a Japanese temple, there were always lots of people coming and going,” he explains. “People of all ages. I had the opportunity to meet lots of people, talk to lots of people, be influenced and absorb all of those influences. It had a major effect on me. Also, [my upbringing] was quite strict with regard to laws and manners and things like that, so possibly when I’m thinking of the rules within games, I’m thinking back to that.”
Swery was born in Osaka, Japan, to a Buddhist monk family. To this day, they wish he’d give up the games and follow their lead. “We do fall out about it,” he says after a moment of silence. “But they brought me up and… We have to get on. I have to get on with them, so I’m thinking about what I should do.”
It sounds like the life of a monk may still be very much on Swery’s agenda as he mentions wondering “if it would be interesting to make games as a monk. My current style is to have lots of people dying, sad things, but I wouldn’t be able to do that. I’d have to come up with something different. So maybe as a monk developer, you’d shoot someone, they’d die, but turn into butterflies and fly away.”
A fan-favourite game developer toying – or wrestling – with the idea of turning to the monastic life as his star rises sounds strange. Then again, strangeness is something Swery strives for in his work. It’s his creative currency. “It’s deliberate. Because it takes so much time, effort and money to create a game if you don’t do it deliberately, there’s a risk [the game will] end up being something normal. It’s quite scary trying to put it in there when all that is at stake, but even so I try to get it in there.”
An aversion to normality, to the expected, is the through-line of both Swery’s own life, balancing success and the solemn roots of his family background, and his body of work. The duality of his persona – part company man, part avant-garde artist – is reflected most overtly in Deadly Premonition’s split-personality investigator Francis York Morgan as he scours the eerie hills and houses of fictional American town Greenvale. (Tellingly, the murderous villain of the piece is draped in a red, monk-like robe, but the meaning of that is a debate perhaps best left for a psychiatrist’s couch).
Having moved away from the Buddhist monk lifestyle as a youth, Swery attended the Osaka University Of Arts to study film. Unsurprisingly for a young man so enamoured and nurtured by human interaction, it was its hands-on, practical filmmaking sessions that he took to most enthusiastically, thriving on the interplay of group-based work. Regardless of Swery’s feverish love for film (his favourite movie is Terry Gilliam’s seminal socio-political parable Brazil for its odd but affecting dystopian world-building) the medium was lacking a special something. “I felt there was a lack of interaction in film,” he says. “So I was more interested in games, which is why I applied to a game company [for work]. Actually, towards the end of university I didn’t have much to do with film; I spent pretty much every day fishing.”