You can't talk to cats, but Swery can


Big update coming this week

At Tokyo Game Show 2017, I finally got a chance to meet and talk with one of my favorite game developers, Hidetaka Suehiro aka “Swery.” He directed the masterpieces Deadly Premonitionand D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Diewhile at Access Games, but after a leave to become a Buddhist monk he has started a new company called White Owls.

Their first title is The Good Life, a game that hovers between RPG, life simulation, puzzle, and adventure genres. In it you play as a journalist named Naomi who must pay off debt while simultaneously uncovering a murder. The extra twist is that people turn into cats at night. Sound strange? Welcome to the world of Swery.

One of the questions I had planned to ask but considered whether or not I should really ask was what they may do if The Good Lifedoes not get funded. Turns out I didn’t need to ask that as it was covered in the answer to my simple warm-up question of how things are going.

“We’re mostly proceeding as planned. We are a staff of 13 right now, and we are planning to do a variety of different projects. Those include both The Good Life and other projects we have not announced yet. We’re doing all these at the same time and it’s mostly going as planned. If The Good Life is a success, things will be perfect.”

The only real question anyone in QToid presented when I asked if anyone had questions for Swery was what his favorite type of cat was. His answer was “Hachiware,” which doesn’t have an English equivalent to my knowledge. It’s the common black and white cats, with “hachiware” meaning a symmetry shape (or in this case division of colors) on the face. You can see one below, but as to whether or not Swery’s favorite cat will appear in The Good Life, he can only say “I hope so.”

On the topic of game characters, I just had to know about FK. In all of Swery’s games thus far (Spy Fiction, Deadly Premonition, D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die) there has been a character called Forrest Kaysen. Not the same person, but rather different, unrelated characters in their respective titles which just so happen to have the same name. Will there be an FK in The Good Life? “Maybe, you might be right.”

That opened up a small discussion about his games and the rights. Although Access Games owns 100% of D4and Marvelous owns Deadly Premonition, neither of them prevent him from using ideas like Forrest Kaysen or connecting them all in the same world which he calls the “Sweryverse.”

There is a lot to take in from the Fig page on how the game works, so if for no one else I wanted to make sense of a few things for my own sake. The game is part murder mystery solving and part debt payment, and of course at night you turn into a cat. The murder mystery looks to be the main focus of the story, an you uncover evidence to advance the story both as a human and as a cat.

When you’re a human, Naomi takes photos and talks to villagers to make reports to the newspaper firm she’s employed at in order to pay off her debt, but she can also find clues and evidence in her photography as well as from talking with the townsfolk. As a cat, you can reach places inaccessible to humans by climbing to high locations or squeezing into narrow paths. This allows you to obtain items and evidence that you can’t acquire as a human.

I asked Swery if the cats recognize each other, and while that answer wasn’t clear he did reveal to me that they don’t speak human languages, but only “meow meow” without any translation via subtitles. “Of course they understand each other, but you can’t understand them maybe. I can understand them because I’m a cat lover.” I guess it’s confirmed that Swery is trilingual: Japanese, English, and Cat.

Although the debt repayment appears to be relatively separated from the murder mystery, Swery confirms they are “totally connected” and adds “You’ll use photos and conversation notes to report to the newspaper, which is the base gameplay system and how you get paid. As you progress, if you don’t repay back the loan people won’t talk to you because you won’t be on good terms with them. As you repay the debt, you’ll get along with people more and be able to talk more which advances the story by getting more information.”

There are also part-time jobs you can do to help earn money, but you must spend your time wisely and make sure to rest by eating and sleeping or else it will negatively affect Naomi. If she is too tired, she won’t be able to work and may even end up in the hospital. The cycle of “work, rest, work, rest” is critical.

The last thing I was curious about with regard to uncovering the murder mystery is if the player takes on a passive role as the story unfold automatically, or if we play an active part by solving puzzles or answering questions a la Ace Attorney. “The story mostly progresses automatically by showing pictures to villagers and talking with them, but sometimes there are puzzles where you will have to think to solve it.”

Swery had two major reasons in choosing Fig over Kickstarter or approaching a larger publisher for funding. The first is what you would imagine: they don’t have any say over the games design; “it’s 100% Swery.” The other reason, he explains, is that you have to pitch a game to Fig and they only start a campaigns they choose (as opposed to Kickstarter where anyone can start anything apparently). He explains that creates confidence on all sides that when a game is selected and its campaign started “this is definitely an interesting game.”

As a final message and pitch to those unfamiliar with Swery and his work, he says “I hope everyone loves cats, even if they don’t love me. Cats are more famous than Swery. We’re raising money from users and investors to make games that we want to make, even if they’re not accepted by everyone. People seeking weird/bizarre experiences, we hope you support us. We want to make a great product.”

He also said that there is a big update that will be announced next week (i.e. this week, the last week of September) so be sure to check the Fig page every day.