Policenauts – 1996 Developer Interview

Policenauts – 1996 Developer Interview

In this short Policenauts interview from 1996, director Hideo Kojima discusses his themes for the game, the Saturn port, and his aspirations with adventure games generally. For those wanting more, Kojima also discusses Policenauts in this 1999 interview for Nice Games.. These interviews were found at the GSLA, a Japanese a website that preserves game developer interviews from older print sources.

Conception and Themes

The design plans for Policenauts are actually very old. During the development of the PC-88 and MSX versions of Snatcher, we encountered various problems all related to the limitations of the memory, and had to take a break in the middle of the development. That was when I came up with the idea for Policenauts, and I once again realized, as I had for a long time already, that things I want to do with games are best expressed in the adventure genre.

When players finish a game I’ve made, I want my feelings to have reached them in one way or another; it’s sort of like playing catch, but the ball is the themes I want the audience to receive.

For example, with Policenauts, I wanted to ask questions like, “what will happen if humans go into space?”, or “what will be the influence of living in space on the human body and human relationships?” Having a colony in space is something humans have dreamed and hoped for, but what will actually change if we migrate there? On the other hand, what unchanging aspects of human nature will be revealed by this new environment? I didn’t want something strictly sci-fi, but rather something that realistically examines a future that is a little nearer to us.

Hideo Kojima in 1996.

And so, my hope is that for the next week or so after playing Policenauts, players would be thinking things like “I want to learn more about organ transplantation” or “I wonder what life would be like in space…” In other words, I’m trying to create a game that will have a small but positive affect on players’ actual lives. I know it sounds a little dramatic, but that’s what I’ve been thinking about for a long time now. (laughs)

The story itself is something I thought up in the 1990s, in response to two things. First was the release of the movie Rising Sun and the outburst of “japan bashing” that it caused, and second was the public debate over organ transplantation and problems associated with people who had suffered brain death injuries.

Also, in 1990 Toyohiro Akiyama was the first Japanese person to go into space, and we were suddenly getting to read a lot of amazing NASA documents that had never been published in Japan before. All sorts of information was coming in, answering questions like “what is the effects of weightlessness on humans?” and “what does space travel feel like?” My friends and family were all talking about it.

Weightless humans frolic in zero-G.

I wanted to take those social problems as my story theme, and the result ended up being Policenauts. In the choice of words “Home” and “Beyond” (aka “Earth” and “Colony”) it shows a cordial relationship like parent and child, but “Beyond” has two meanings for me: the physical distance between Earth and the colony, but also the 25 years that Jonathan Ingram passed in cryosleep. That was one of Policenaut’s themes, that even if technology advances and we can go into space—even if something as amazing as time travel became possible—in the end you still have the persistence of human relationships and human society.

Cinematic Aspirations

As for the cinematic sections of Policenauts, I do like movies, but I wasn’t trying to use the format of games as a vehicle for movies or anything. Rather, I feel that what the game industry lacks right now is the quality of lighting, acting, and direction that you find in movies. Then there’s the depth of the story, the accurately depicted relationships, and the final polish of your story… I think it’s incredibly difficult to make a game that matches the production quality of a movie. Policenauts uses cinematic camera work and cuts, and it was my awareness of movies that caused me to use those techniques.

As for the subtitles, when the PC-98 version went on sale I received a letter from a hearing-impaired player. “I’ve been able to enjoy games up to now,” he said, “but now that CD-ROMs are here and games are using actual speech, they don’t include text and I’m sad that I can no longer play them.” So yeah, I didn’t include the subtitles so it would look more like a movie. As a director, there’s lots of scenes where I’d rather not have subtitles, but in the end I will choose what makes players happy, of course.

The Policenauts development staff.

The Saturn Port

This Saturn version of Policenauts is truly the final version. In one sense the Saturn port isn’t really all that different from the previous versions–that is to say, it is a perfect port. The reason we chose this platform to do that is because Saturn users are people who truly love games, so I knew it wouldn’t go over with them unless we released something superior to the previous versions. For the movie clips, the 3D0 had 24fps playback, but we had to lower that to 15fps for the Playstation. That was something I insisted on with the programmers, that the Saturn version not movies look good, not using Cinepak encoding.

I think the Saturn version is the most charming. (laughs) The PC-98 version was the first, so I do have an attachment to it, and when the Playstation version came out I remember thinking “this is the best!” But after some time passed I started to think differently. It’s pretty minor, but there were some detailed lines that suggested substories, and we had to remove those lines in the Playstation version, but now we’ve added them back for the Saturn.

As a nice immersive touch, the Saturn port actually came with stickers you could put on the gun.

Also, I had been wanting to add lightgun support to Policenauts. Gun games like Lethal Enforcers are really fun, but they don’t really evoke much empathy from the player. I mean, enemies just come out of nowhere, then they die in one shot, ok bye bye! In Policenauts, take Redwood for example. As Jonathan comes to see him as a villain in the story, his (and the player’s) anger rises, until it reaches a boiling point and, at the time, Jonathan draws his gun.

That’s the kind of virtual sensation I wanted to convey. For that, a mouse just isn’t going to give you the same feeling.

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