Splatterhouse – 1988 Developer Interview
originally featured in “NG” (Namco Games) magazine
Kazumi Mizuno – Chief Planner
Haya-Paya – Planner
Katsuro Tajima – Composer
Yoshinori Kawamoto – Composer
Itou-kun – Programmer
Mizuno: Our design goal for Splatterhouse, simply put, was to make a serious horror game. There was an old Western arcade game called “Death Race”, where you ran over and killed people in your car to get the most points. It was banned on account of its cruelty, but today, that kind of stuff has become commonplace in violent tv/movie scenes. So it seemed odd to us that only video games should be forbidden to show the same things.
Haya: But that didn’t really match with Namco’s company policy—or rather, it was almost a taboo in the game industry itself, so we faced a lot of opposition, and slander of our good names. (laughs)
Mizuno: They forced us to change a lot of parts in the planning document.
Haya: Like being told not to use the color red. (laughs)
Mizuno: In the beginning, the color of the blood was red, and the zombies were realistic. But then management told us, “If your game is going to be about killing, killing, killing, you can’t make it realistic.” Ultimately we had to make the blood a fluorescent green color, while the zombies became more alien.
I mean, I guess that brighter color for the blood might have been the correct answer, if you consider that it stands out better with all the dark screens/environments.
Haya: As assistant planner, I had a pretty easy job this game, thanks to the clear vision we had for the concept of Splatterhouse. All we really needed to do was pull all the various horror and splatter elements together into a game. There were a lot of failed ideas though…
Kawamoto: The voice recording for Splatterhouse… I wouldn’t say it was difficult, but it was super embarassing. (laughs) We included lots of vocal samples, but they were all done by us—it was just us going “GWAAA!!” and “GYAAA!!!” into the mics. It was really embarassing when people would come by.
Tajima: We kept getting requests from the team for different vocal samples, honestly too many. Even though we had about 1 meg of program memory dedicated to the samples, if we had actually done all they wanted, we would have run out of space.
Kawamoto: It was my first time doing anything like this. We did our best to shave everything down and make it fit.
Mizuno: No, you guys did a really great job. That’s why I hope, at least once, players get a chance to play the game with headphones. With so many sound effects, and the music swirling about your head, it makes for a very rich and eerie listening experience.
Itou: For the programming, I had a lot of requests for different movements, animation timings, things like that. This was my debut game, so I was really lost most of the time. Splatterhouse runs on a Namco System 1 PCB, and there have been about 10 games made for this platform now, so I was able to ask a lot of people for advice and pointers, which really helped me.
Haya: This was my debut game, too.
Programmer Itou-kun (a pseudonym). The caption explains that this is his debut work, and he is “a weirdo who researched sesame seeds in college.”
Mizuno: We went over-schedule, and it took us 1 year and 2 months to complete Splatterhouse. The delay was mainly due to all the revisions management kept asking for, and the fact that we had two rookies on the team, I suppose. (laughs)
Haya: Well, it meant a lot of overtime, and now I’m ricchhhh. (laughs) Thankfully, when it comes to creepy stuff, we had some old hands on this team, so it wasn’t too stressful. (looks at Mizuno)
Mizuno: Well, yes, but the previous game I worked on, “Yokai Douchuuki“, that was a bit different. The monsters there may be scary, but the way they move is actually kind of cute. But for Splatterhouse, we wanted the scary characters to really be frightening. This was very difficult. We tried doing unpredictable, weird movements, messing with the timing, giving them weird, angular postures.
Haya: And besides just being frightening, they of course needed to work in the context of the gameplay too. Then there was the limited memory… it all made for a very difficult experience.
Kawamoto: I remember Mizuno asked me to change the sound when you behead an enemy. Although I was a little annoyed because I had already made a sound for it, I re-did it anyway. However, that too got rejected, and so did a bunch more takes… so I stopped, and tried to ask myself again what I was doing wrong, when Mizuno came over to my desk, took a big, deep breath and pushed all the air to the front of his lips, then let it out. It made this plosive ‘pop!’ sound. That became the sound of Rick beheading enemies with his machete… ‘pop!’ goes their head. (laughs)
That experience was eye-opening, and taught me to always seek out the advice of the planners when I work on music or sound.
Mizuno: The sound team worked really diligently making all those different effects and vocal samples. I remember seeing them in front of the mic and noticing how hard they were working.
Tajima: It was hard because the requests we got were vague things like “the sound of this character dying” or “the sound of this guy groaning”.
Kawamoto: Yeah, and at first, the sounds we made were all too similar to each other. It was challenging to find ways to differentiate all the characters, sound-wise. By the way, here’s a little secret for you: Jennifer’s voice… that’s all me.
The team was quite proud of this particular scene, which (for its time) really was one of the more horrific to be found in Japanese arcade games.
Mizuno: Speaking of Jennifer… in this game, the player (Rick) actually kills the heroine.
Haya: Yeah. If I can share a little of the story… in the beginning, the two of them enter this house together, but Jennifer disappears shortly thereafter. In stage 5, just when you think you’ve finally reunited with her, it turns out she’s already been transformed into a monster…
Mizuno): This was something we DEFINITELY wanted to do for Splatterhouse. Actually, we had wanted to include a lot more backstory and plot, but there wasn’t enough memory…
Haya: Most games before Splatterhouse involve you saving the girl and everyone living happily ever after, you know? We didn’t want to do that.
Mizuno: In the middle of the fight with Jennifer, she temporarily changes back to her original human form, crying out “Help me! help me!” I really like the story for Splatterhouse.
Haya: Speaking of which, one of the fun things for players, I think, will be identifying all the different movies references and influences in the game.
Mizuno: During the location tests, I heard kids saying “Oh I know this, this is from xxxx!” When I heard that, it was like, bullseye! Just as we’d hoped for. And a big smile came to my face without me even realizing it.
Haya: By the way, which horror/slasher movies do you guys like? For me, it’s definitely Friday the 13th, of course. I love the plot twists in horror movies. Just when you think everything is safe and you can relax… he’s baaackk!!!
Mizuno: For me, it’s more about favorite scenes than movies per se. There’s a scene in Dario Argento’s Phenomena, with Jennifer Connely, where she falls into a sea of maggots… when I saw that, it was like, “alright, this director isn’t %&^%$ around!” And in Friday the 13th Part VI, that scene where Jason runs for the first time was good. (laughs) But you know, my favorite has to be the final scene of Carrie. That’s really the grandfather of the horror plot twist.
Tajima: I’m bad at this kind of stuff. To be honest I’m a bit squeamish when it comes to horror. As for movies, it’s not gore, but Troll was really good. There’s a lot of cool different monsters, and they all sing together! Though I should just say this now, if you guys are thinking of making a sequel to Splatterhouse, I would like to sit this one out. (laughs)
Assistant Planner Haya-Paya, also a psuedonym.
Kawamoto: I don’t really like gory movies either, though, in contrast, I think doing all this weird stuff for my work is really fun. My favorite movie? It’s totally unrelated to horror, but I thought Ikoka Modoroka was really good.
Itou: I like all different kinds of horror. Alien, Terminator, and more. For inspiration for Splatterhouse, I watched the two Evil Dead movies.
Haya: “Sequel” was mentioned a minute ago… Mizuno, as our leader, do you have any ideas for a sequel yet?
Mizuno: If we do another Splatterhouse game, I’d like it to be a mixed media project, like Mirai Ninja. And I want them to give us a bigger budget, and of course, we’ll add LOTS of sound effects again. (laughs)