If you’re into cyberpunk, horror and sexy waifus, then you might remember that I have previously written about Suzaku’s upcoming 2.5D cyberpunk game “Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story“? (which I did back in November of 2017)
Long story short, since “Sense” is said to launch to PC via Steam and itch.io in early 2020, I just thought that it would be a good idea for me/us to reach out to Suzaku for an interview.
Well, Suzaku said yes to our interview request =) So we ended up talking about “Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story”, cyberpunk waifus, horror, Suzaku’s plans for the future, censorship, cancel culture and much more!
So with that said, please enjoy our interview with Suzaku 😉
Right off the bat, thank you very much for taking your time doing this interview with us =) I’m going to start off this interview by simply asking you to do a brief introduction of yourself. So please go ahead and do so 😉
Thank you for taking the time to interview us! I’m Benjamin Widdowson, co-founder of SUZAKU (which is a new game development studio that started in 2017).
Our first title in development is Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story, which was successfully Kickstarted in 2018, with 600% funding.
Our aim as a studio is to revive the PS2 and Dreamcast creative era of game development, primarily with survival/adventure horror titles.
I’m kind of curious to know the story behind how your studio came to be? (when, where, why and how) And how did you come up with your studio name? And does it mean anything? (Suzaku)
In mid-2017, I was let go from my main contract position at a studio that was working with Big Fish Games called Daily Magic Productions.
I put a lot of love and effort into that position and was responsible for writing, concept art, and game design on 18 titles, but eventually, it was time to move on. So over the years, I had some rather negative experiences with the AAA industry, and that didn’t change much while being unemployed…
Thankfully enough though, my girlfriend (now wife and co-founder of SUZAKU) got tired of hearing me rant about how terrible the western game industry is, and told me to stop whining and make my own game.
I’d been building my cyberpunk IP, “Shirotech” for several years before this, and kind of knew exactly which story needed to be told first. So with my wife’s support and a few months of rent secured, I got started on a proof of concept. SUZAKU was chosen as a name to symbolize that “rebirth” in my life in many ways – it means phoenix in Japanese.
I mean, getting engaged/married, starting our own studio, and also trying to bring back a certain type of game development that produced some of the most legendary games of all time sure feels like a huge rebirth to me.
I got quite surprised when I did some research preparations for this interview, because I had no idea (whatsoever) that “Sense” was Suzaku’s very first commercial game title.
So what has that experience been like for you guys and girls? (the development process, the hype, the expectations and so on)
I actually had quite a bit of experience making games before Sense, and the specific type of games I was working on is what I view as training for this title. Sense is SUZAKU’s first game though; so much of the experience I had from beforehand was kind of useless in a way.
Working remotely with a studio of 20 or more people across different departments is a vastly different “engine” than doing nearly everything yourself. Now it’s 4 of us, 5 counting our publisher Top Hat.
My wife sits next to me and helps me with what she can when I need the occasional opinion or 3d asset. My coder Al Tan is in SE Asia, and Andi Han, the soundtrack composer, is in England.
This dev process has basically been me gaining 25 lbs and sleeping 3 or 4 hours a night for the past 24 months.
The hype has been a different beast altogether. Big Fish’s market is very different than SUZAKU’s, a few people here and there very excited about the game that would actually post about it, but 99% of the players don’t (or didn’t in 2016/17) get too active on social media.
A lot of our growth has come from the awesome “Vita Island” folks on twitter, and the new and growing Nintendo Switch community. Those guys and girls are hugely plugged in and rabid fans.
They have truly helped us get the word out there and we’re doing it on our first announcements with almost nothing to show. The expectations of these groups have me nervous and humbled, they’re really pushing me to live up to their standards.
What could you tell us about “Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story”? And how did you even come up with the idea for the game and title name in the first place? And is “Sense” a game that you have wanted to create for a long time?
Sense is a game I’ve wanted to make for nearly a decade. Fatal Frame is in my top three favorite game series of all time, and the sparse releases (particularly in the US) left this giant hole in my chest, especially after the butchered US release of Fatal Frame 5.
I wanted to make a game that wouldn’t just fill that void, but be something different that I personally would kill to play. I loved Fatal Frame 4, and especially 5’s attention to the waifu player characters, and pushing that line further was always a core idea of mine.
The narrative, though, was meant to be a Japanese ghost story set in the cyberpunk world I had been creating.
No culture gets ghost stories better than the Japanese, and pulling as much as I could from literature, movies, and even manga I wrote something that was based on a true story from where I was living at the time.
It was my wife’s suggestion to switch the Japanese setting to Hong Kong, which is where she’s originally from.
We realized that Hong Kong is a rarely used setting in video games. Even cyberpunk stories, which pull a huge amount of their aesthetic from Kowloon and other older areas in HK, rarely go the full mile.
We also found almost no Cantonese culture presented anywhere in media. I fell in love with Hong Kong the first time I visited and wanted to share that with the world in my own way.
The other key aspect was the biggest and most unique thing, hence the title “A Cyberpunk Ghost Story”. Horror and cyberpunk are very rarely mixed, Observer did it 3 years after I started writing what’d became sense (and a few months after I began earnest development), but at the time Cyberpunk Horror was a totally untapped genre.
It was really exciting, and still is because almost no one’s doing it, and no one is doing an old fashioned ghost story in the setting but us.
Was “Sense” always thought out to be a 2.5D horror/RPG/adventure cyberpunk game? Or was that something that you came up with overtime?
It was originally a fully 3d survival horror game. My first demo for it was meant to be a proof of concept that would help us get some funding for what I wanted to do. The reality of not being a multi-million dollar studio kicked us back down to a 2.5d title.
That said, Clock Tower was always one of the key gameplay influences, so it may have been a godsend, seeing as how there is a definite point of reference, and my experience in HOPA titles is more closely related.
I feel like a lot of things clicked a bit better after firmly deciding to stick to a 2D sidescroller.
If I’m not wrong now, “Sense” has been inspired by games such as “Clock Tower” and “Fatal Frame”?
And the game is a mix of cyberpunk and traditional Cantonese folklore? And speaking of which, does “Sense” have any other inspirations besides those? (video games, movies, anime and so on) If so, which?
A ton. There is a yearly horror anthology show that comes on tv in japan every August/September called “Honto ni Atta, Kowai Hanashi”.
It’s one of my favorite TV shows, and watching almost 20 years or 40 plus hours of it really set a tone in my mind. Further, movies like Ju-On and “Rigor Mortis” (a Hong Kong horror film from 2013) were integral to the early writing process.
I’m honestly just a huge fan of Asian, and particularly Japanese horror. So I try to read, watch, and play anything I can get my hands on.
That said, the two most important references are the classical Japanese ghost story “Yotsuya Kaidan”, and Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell.
My memory could be failing me now…But I do recall that there will be some erotic elements to “Sense”?
So, if that’s correct, then how lewd exactly do you plan to make “Sense”? And are we talking about +18 content here?
I am a huge fan of waifu/harem anime, the bottom four of my five favorite anime and manga of all time fall right into the ecchi/lewd category.
Ghost in the Shell is number one on all levels, but in no particular order after that are Tenchi Muyo, Saber Marionette J, Dirty Pair, Yuragi-sou no Yuuna-san, and Betterman. I think adding a bunch of cute girls to literally any genre of the story just makes things better. It’s fun.
I don’t need panty shots or Gainax bounce every five seconds or anything like that, but waifus make life better, that’s why I married a 3D one.
That said, Sense will always be primarily a horror IP. There will be some waifu icing on top, but the game itself is basically “SFW” regarding sexual content.
A good ballpark for the level of content in Sense is probably something like the classic Dead Or Alive games, not the neutered and butchered ones.
The horror aspects may be a bit more intense though. I wanted that contrast because there’s quite a bit of very dark and heavy narrative and horrifying visual design in the game.
Mei’s designed the way she is to make the player want to protect her, and get them more afraid of all the dangers inside the Chong Sing building.
What could you tell us about the story and gameplay aspects of “Sense”?
Sense is about a girl named Mei-Lin Mak who gets pulled into a haunted apartment building that’s waited 100 years for a new victim. I don’t want to spoil too much of the narrative because this is a story-driven “adventure” game, after all.
I CAN say that there are over a dozen vengeful ghosts with intricately woven stories that Mei will need to evade or exorcise within the 7-floor apartment building.
You can experience a little bit of the first ghost’s story in our demo on steam for an idea of what is going on overall, and how the narrative is given out in-game.
Gameplay-wise, Sense more closely mirrors Clock Tower, while Fatal Frame was a visual and storytelling inspiration. The player will need to interact with hundreds of objects and areas within the building to solve puzzles and find a way out.
That means paying close attention to even minute details for codes, triple-checking interactions for items, and some serious critical thinking will be necessary. That said, I’m no fan of pixel hunting and moon logic, I take great pride in my gameplay chains!
Sense’s world is said to be huge and complex. So I take it that the game’s lore is rather deep then? On a personal level, the “Blade Runner” adventure game came to my mind when I saw the very first trailer for “Sense”.
Nice! I’ve played that one many years ago and consider this to be high praise! Yes, Sense’s lore is very deep, starting specifically in 1975, and will stretch all the way into the 2100s.
Sense 1 has a full section explaining the 1975 portion of the story but otherwise takes place in 2083. Sense 2 and further will continue the core story into the 2090s. I have other “side stories” I want to tell as well, from all over the 300-year timeline I’ve written for my “Shirotech” IP.
Will there be any romance, sexy waifus and sexy time moments in the game? (I’m asking for a friend *cough cough*)
No romance in Sense 1, but 2 may have a love story of some importance. There are tons of waifus though, and I put a LOT of love and care into the unlockable costumes.
How has the response and feedback been so far from gamers and the gaming media since you first announced, “Sense” to the world? And what has it been like working together with Top Hat Studios Inc?
Top Hat Studios is amazing, and Joe, the owner, is a great dude. He has been supportive and helpful directly, which is not my typical experience with publishers. I love the guy, and am very happy to be forming a long term relationship with Top Hat.
The response from gamers has been great, I feel like I tapped into something missing in the market right now, mainly because I am one of those gamers who feel like the AAA industry doesn’t want me around and is actively trying to get rid of me.
I really hope to keep living up to their expectations and fully intend to work FOR them first and foremost. They’re customers first, but the number of people that have put their trust in me to make this game is incredibly humbling. I actually think about that all the time, and keep it in the front of my mind when I make decisions.
The gaming media has been the exact opposite. Most of the mainstream outlets have largely and purposefully ignored us. Whistleblowers have let us known we’ve been outright blacklisted by several.
The usual spiel, yada yada, problematic this, sexist that, unrepresentative humbug. I do want to give a shout out to Twinfinite, OAG, and Dual Shockers and Noisy Pixel though, they covered us early and often.
Of course, we’re very thankful for every article we see, and the streamers that have played our game wherever, on twitch, youtube, or elsewhere. So definitely thank you as well for giving us the opportunity to get our message out here.
What can players expect to get for their money if they pick up “Sense” on the release day? And what are your own personal hopes, goals and expectations with “Sense”?
A copy of the game! Most of our “bonuses” are tied to preorder due to how small our team and budget is, but so far Sense is shaping up to clock in about 10 hours per playthrough with dozens of secrets and a bunch of unlockables (Several of the costumes require multiple playthroughs to unlock FYI).
The game is designed to be able to be played through several times, so even after finishing it once, there are still things the player can find and experience.
My personal hope is that Sense helps us create a very strong IP, and solidify continued funding for an actual brick and mortar studio where we can build even bigger games in the future.
This is just the beginning, so I’m really hoping, and I am confident, that we can give you all a glimpse of what we can do. I’m very proud of Sense so far, and I expect it to at least help me pay my rent until our next project, but the dream is to go much further.
I take it that “Sense” will be uncensored on release? And while on the subject of censorship. What’s your take on censorship and cancel culture in the games industry?
And what do you think could be done to tackle cancel culture and censorship in the games industry?
I have to be very tactful here I think haha. So let me organize this as a bullet list:
– Right now, Sense is looking to be uncensored on all platforms. That said, Sony is the only platform that could pose a problem, BUT we don’t have any content in-game that should be egregious.
So at the moment, all is looking good. We’re sticking to our plan in the event that Sony requires any changes, which is that any KS backers that wanted a vita or PS4 copy will also get a digital PC copy for free. We are following the situation very closely and will be really clear and loud with everyone as we know more.
– Censorship of any kind, but particularly of art is an absolute cancer on the world. Anyone who thinks that censoring videogames, movies, comics, etc.
for ANY reason has the markings of a tyrant and should never be listened to by anyone. Those people do damage to societies and cultures unlike any other. I have no patience for that garbage anymore.
Too many have fought, bled and died for a bunch of early 20 something twerps with useless BA/Gender Studies/HR degrees to shut down the freedom to create freely because they lack the ability to make things that people actually want and like.
And make no mistake, all this idiocy on twitter and elsewhere is about jealousy from people who lack the ability to succeed on their own in any forum.
Most of these people were handed all they could need on a platter and have no conception of how to actually MAKE something and SWEAT and get beaten down, and stand up again over and over until you finally succeed. Success isn’t a place you arrive at, it’s one you build yourself.
These intolerant little intellectually deficient toddlers give up on anything the minute it doesn’t go their way, and the ones who have success seem to constantly fail upwards until they bankrupt a beloved company or two.
Andi has shared with us stories of his time in academia, and the intellectual core which drives these highly progressive, censorship heavy ideologies is dark to the core.
One thing he pointed out, was that any of the people who believe in how video games are art are also ardent supporters of censorship or mandating hardline radical politics in games.
It seems ironic, but a large part of this is that by making video games art, and then having the power to censor them and pummel developers into submission over certain depictions, quotas, or whatever nonsense, it makes them (feel like) authority figures on a societal level.
– Cancel culture is a despicable “tactic” employed by these same types of people. Remember that thing about jealousy? Take someone who’s achieved a large measure of success and a large market.
X developer shows a trailer at E3 for his first full game that everyone thinks looks awesome? BOOM! “problematic”, and tons of salty tweets starts surface.
Don’t get me wrong, it is entirely possible that the victim of a mob can actually be a gigantic PoS, but more often then naught it seems to be intentional targeting of successful people by people incapable of succeeding due to hard work – either because they’re incapable of doing it, or have lived such a privileged lifestyle they literally cannot envision how your blood and sweat can bring results.
The only way to stop this stuff from happening is:
– Never apologize to the mob, if enough people stop doing the corporate non-apology, or the “I’m sorry, I’m woke now”-apology then the mob loses it’s power and the “game” stops being exciting for the hangers-on.
An apology is a vindication, a self-defeat, a statement saying you acknowledge you did something worth an apology. Don’t do it.
– Stop supporting the people that engage in this behavior (on all sides), and stop supporting the companies that employ them. Money talks, eventually…
– Minimize engagement with these people. Starve them of attention; make them feel like they are screaming into a void of exactly 0 people that care. Remember, these people subsist purely on outrage, anger, and discomfort. You don’t have to.
So if you really need to engage with these people though, make sure you do it in a way that benefits you. We’ve connected with some great fans and new customers thanks to this.
– Speak with your wallets, if you see a large company bend the knee to the mob, stop giving them your money at all.
You don’t need the next AAA EA/Activision/whoever published game, but they certainly need your money. You guys have 100% of the power. Never, ever forget that you determine actual success regardless of what those in “power” redefine that word to mean.
Is it correct that “Sense” will come to PC in early 2020? And do you have any plans at all to release the game to other formats than just PC in the future?
Yes, PC digital will be in spring 2020! We aren’t 100% positive, but our goal is to release all platforms simultaneously.
We’re working on physicals now, and may need to launch them slightly later, but for now, we are operating under the “release all platforms as close to the same date as possible” mantra.
So once we have a clearer image after the holidays we will be able to give a more firm answer. It’s tricky as a lot relies on our partners at Nintendo, Sony, etc. and physical manufacturing to co-ordinate.
Now, as for my very last question. What are your hopes, plans and expectations for the rest of the year? And is there anything else that you would like to add or tell our readers?
Right now my only focus is to finish Sense and pay bills, so the rest of the year is going to be a lot of long days and longer nights haha.
All I expect, is the usual pains of game development, but I’m really hoping to pick up some more traction and eyes on the game before the new year.
So having that boost in people paying attention to us, and of course, pre-ordering the game is going to really help keep the pace up going into Spring on the final stretch of dev.
There’s still about 30-40% of the game to finish over the next six months, but since our toolkit’s now complete the work is going much faster, it’s now about “plugging” everything in and connecting dots.
I’m doing all the implementation for everything except scripts and music myself, so it’s going to be an extremely busy few months.
The last thing I’d like to say to all of you out there today is, simply thanks for giving me the time to share all this with you. I really hope that if you haven’t backed or checked out the game yet, you will give it a shot.
You can check out Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story on Steam right now and wishlist the game, and definitely let us know what you think in the community tab. Feedback is really driving us to improve on what we have, and I do personally read every comment and criticism.
So if you like what you see, hop over to the backerkit and support us early, help us build a studio capable of creating even more games like Sense. I have so much more I want to show you all!
Robin “V-Act” Ek
Editor in chief
The Gaming Ground
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