Interview by Harvard L.
In Nude Maker’s latest game, NightCry, audiences are thrust into the clutches of a demonic scissor-wielding murderer. As a spiritual successor to the long running Clock Tower series, NightCry inhabits a unique place in the horror gaming canon as both a third person game and one which does not heavily rely on existing horror mythos. We at DDNet were lucky enough to have a chat with the game’s director, Hifumi Kono, regarding his new title and the future of the horror genre as a whole.
Horror is perhaps my favourite genre to study simply due to how sensitive it is to cultural context. It is always going to be a niche, but it has the ability to tap into the mindset of an entire society – naturally we are scared most by stories which represent and exploit our deepest fears, and thus the best horror games, films and novels will have a lot to say about what our culture is most afraid of. NightCry is a perfect example of this, blending elements from classical horror films, surrealism and modern day technology to hit us where it hurts.
My initial impression with NightCry was that it had a very unique atmosphere and character to it compared to other horror games. Ever since the first “weird” scene where a ship’s captain boils his glass eye in a beaker to purify it, the game is keen to be as absurd as it is terrifying. Like Deadly Premonition before it, NightCry is a game which dabbles in the surreal and veers almost into humour while at the same time remaining deadly serious.
Kono regards this as a good way to disorient players, referencing a classic horror film: “I was surprised by watching The Beyond by Lucio Fulci again after watching it a few years ago. That surprise probably had the most impact on NightCry as The Beyond led me to realise that the story doesn’t always have to be understood by the audience. In fact in the genre of horror, I think that concealing parts of the story has its advantage.”
“By nature, fear is a natural reaction to the unknown. The more you get to understand the mystery, the more secure a person will become. In that sense, a well-reasoned story actually hinders the point of horror. Of course there’s trouble if even the developers doesn’t know what the story is, but we have purposely left the mystery as a mystery without revealing everything.”
Furthermore, the use of surrealism also serves to discomfort and even humiliate the player. In reference to the often goofy Scissorwalker, Kono reasons that “a “humorous death” would be the least desired death a human would want to meet.
“The Scissorwalker follows a similar concept. At times it might show that its actions are foolish and silly, but what if you were killed by such a bonehead? Wouldn’t you feel more humiliated than if you were murdered by say, a serious bloodthirsty killer?”
A matter of perspective
NightCry is also unique in that it portrays the action from a 3rd person perspective, rather than the 1st person perspective we’ve come to expect from so many modern horror games. The original Clock Tower games were side-on 2D point and click titles and NightCry follows this structure in three dimensions. The resulting tap-to-walk control scheme met some complaints with reviewers, but Kono notes one significant advantage that this design offers:
“The first person perspective limits the vision to that of the protagonist, there are numerous expressions/scenes that become impossible to do in that perspective. For example, think of a scene where a shadow lurks behind the protagonist, but he or she isn’t aware of that shadow. That feeling where we, as a player, can recognise the situation but the characters cannot, I believe that this is another sensation of fear.” The mention of camera angles belies a strong influence from film, shown through the collaboration with famed horror director Takeshi Shimizu. NightCry’s design borrows a lot of elements from the filmic medium, with lighting cues, camera angles and sound design all exhibiting a distinct cinematic flair.
Citing a dislike of the found-footage style popularised by The Blair Witch Project, Kono focuses his design on the players empathising with his characters. In NightCry, you’re guiding your characters along but they themselves have their own personalities, goals and quirks which sometimes go against yours as a player. Kono attributes this to a “powerful bond between the player and the protagonist” – a sort of connection between the real world and the fictitious character that lets the player participate in the narrative without being responsible for driving it.
The market for horror
Regarding the mainstream demand for horror, Kono is not surprised that the genre has largely been left to independent studios after horror’s peak popularity in the PlayStation 1 era. The issue lies mainly in that the pure experience of fear is not desired by the mainstream market, so horror developers have had to settle with tighter budgets and more focused target audiences. Kono also jokes that originality can at times be a hindrance, acknowledging that horror is “a difficult market without relying on zombies”.
Kickstarter was a temporary solution for Nude Maker but even then, the alternative funding scheme came with its own issues:
“Unless the campaign ends up as a massive success, it’s pretty difficult to cover all development costs on Kickstarter alone. If the indie game that you’re working on isn’t a “very small” project, I believe that the mainstream method of funding would be building up from the Kickstarter success and gathering further support from other companies. In our case, there were difficulties as we weren’t as successful at that later part in the funding process. Another thing to mention is that, because of the promise that was made to the Kickstarter users, I felt that there is a larger responsibility that you have to keep in mind compared to the regular development process.”
The project was successful overall, but that hasn’t stopped a vocal minority from voicing displeasure that NightCry wasn’t exactly what they expected. NightCry’s Kickstarter campaign seems to have had the unfortunate side effect of creating a culture of entitlement, where the pressure to appease backers hinders the artistic freedom of the developers. Nevertheless, for each fan that was disappointed there seems to be another who truly respects Nude Maker’s efforts to revive the Clock Tower franchise.
The future is terrifying
With the mixed critical response in mind, Kono-san is still optimistic about the future of horror games. The team at Nude Maker seemed to have a lot of fun while developing NightCry, tailoring every moment to best extract a response from the player. There was also a lot of great material which unfortunately didn’t make the final project: “A lot of the story had to be cut and it feels like I wasn’t able to give it my all. Originally we had ideas for adding in another Scissorwalker and a Baby Scissorwalker but that also had to be cut out of the plan.”
Let’s just take a moment to consider how utterly terrifying a Baby Scissorwalker would be.
Like a true horror narrative, Kono refuses to give a definitive ending to the Clock Tower and NightCry saga. Nude Maker’s work has left a lot of territory still left to explore in the Clock Tower universe, and Kono is keen to keep going. There is a distinct understanding that, as long as people continue to fear what they don’t know, there will be a reason to represent that fear through art.
“The appraisal is not as high as I hoped, but I do have ambitions to make a sequel or a continuation of the story through a different medium. Many creators seem to end up discouraged once a harsh evaluation is given to them, but just because there are a number of thumbs down on Steam, it’s not like that’s the end of the world for me. I will continue seek the opportunity to bring this up again.”
– Harvard L.