Interview: Naoto Sugiyama, Executive Producer at Square Enix

Next month sees the release of upcoming murder mystery title – Murdered: Soul Suspect – from Square Enix and Airtight Games.

Naoto Sugiyama, the Executive Producer of Murdered: Soul Suspect, was kind enough to answer some questions around the development of the title.

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Would you mind briefly giving an overview of what Murdered: Soul Suspect is about?

Naoto Sugiyama: In Murdered: Soul Suspect, you become Ronan O’Connor, a detective in the Salem, Massachusetts Police Department who is investigating the activities of a serial killer. When he finally catches up with the killer, Ronan is brutally murdered.

In the game’s universe, no one can pass to the next world until they resolve any unfinished business and are trapped in a purgatorial prison that we call ‘The Dusk’ – it’s a a layer that sits upon our own physical world and it’s from here that you must solve the mystery of your own murder and uncover the identity of the notorious “Bell Killer”, while navigating the dangers that being dead brings…

The concept for the game seems really interesting. What inspired the development team to come up with such a unique idea?

Naoto Sugiyama: There’s a good story for how it all started! Yosuke Shiokawa, Creative Director on the game, was watching Die Hard one night and had an interesting thought; what if John Mclane was killed? Would he give up? Well… no, even as a ghost he would walk right back into the building and win the day, one way or the other! And that’s how the concept was born.

The game is reminiscent of a mystery murder novel. What kind of research did the team conduct to ensure the game was as close as possible to the original concept?

Naoto Sugiyama: The team was familiar with the murder mystery genre, but we knew as soon as we decided on setting the game in Salem that it was going to be a totally original mystery story. With the town having such a unique history, some with a really paranormal twist, it was the perfect location for our game.

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Were there any limitations that the team faced due to the character being a spirit/ghost?

Naoto Sugiyama: There was a lot to consider here – visually for sure – we wanted players to be emotionally attached to the main character, but if he was too transparent as a spirit it wouldn’t work, as there wouldn’t be enough of a countenance to rely on. The other way around, if he was too solid, it wouldn’t feel like playing as a ghost. Finding the sweet spot took some time.

Also that visual effect, of him looking ghostly, consumes a lot of memory. It took a lot to manage the memory budget in that way.

Ronan can pass through a lot of objects and walls in the game environment, so it was a challenge to find a way of containing the player within a level without the experience being disorientating. We had to consider that when designing levels.

We also wanted a threat in the game; that is, we wanted the ghost world, The Dusk as we call it, to be a dangerous world. But ghosts are already dead, so what can hurt them? The enemies in the game were inspired by the shadow creatures in the Patrick Swayze film Ghost, and although we definitely don’t pitch this game as a action game we wanted there to be changes in pace and the feel of threat.

The bullet-ridden pattern on the main character’s torso is quite memorable. How did you come up with such an iconic design?

Naoto Sugiyama: We wanted the protagonist to be as iconic as possible, give him some features that people would remember and that would stick in the mind. Back when we were discussing some visual features in the game, we also talked about the idea of every ghost in the world having a sign of how they died. When looking through the concept art for the game and seeing this sign of death on Ronan, it just felt right – so it was the marriage of wanting an iconic design and a visual flair that would carry through the narrative.

How does it feel to develop a game this late into the life cycle of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3? Do you think the team was able to push the hardware to its limits?

Naoto Sugiyama: Because the team was so experienced with creating for the two consoles, it felt very comfortable. But ultimately pushing the hardware was only so much of what we wanted to achieve; this is a narrative-driven game, so making sure the gameplay and artistic style was supporting that narrative was more important to us.

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Are there any advantages to playing the game on the Xbox One of PlayStation 4?

Naoto Sugiyama: On Xbox One and PS4 the game received a pretty significant visual upgrade, so the visual fidelity makes a difference. Ultimately this will build to a really immersive experience, but obviously as this game is more about the narrative, that important element will carry on both generations.

Do you think it’s feasible to expand the world of Murdered: Soul Suspect with downloadable content?

Naoto Sugiyama: It’s possible, but we feel like Ronan’s story is complete by the end of the game. There are other opportunities to explore in the universe of Murdered though, so we shall see!

Even if it isn’t possible to use downloadable content in a game like this, were there any ideas that you would have like to have used? Like extra sections for players to learn more about the protagonist’s past or future?

Naoto Sugiyama: Already in the game is a lot background story on the protagonist and a lot of other characters in the game – that’s part of making an immersive, expansive world. Interestingly, one thing we had earlier on in development was a big debate on whether to have players play as Ronan when alive, to examine how much Ronan lost when he died and make the player feel that. Eventually though, we wanted to concentrate fully on the shock of dying from the start.

Playing as him when alive feels like a different game, so it became ghost all the way!

Any tips for future wannabe murder investigators?

Naoto Sugiyama: I don’t have the authority to say, as I’m no expert, but solving your own murder as a ghost I may be able to help more with…

Finally, if you were tasked with solving your own murder, what would you do in order to complete such a task?

Naoto Sugiyama: Well I have a pretty good idea as I’ve already said, but the best method would be to play the game and see what Ronan achieves in the end!

 

Murdered: Soul Suspect will be out on Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and PC on the 6th June 2014. Find out more about the title in our hands-on first play preview.

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