Snatcher – 1992 Developer Interview
Famous game developer Hideo Kojima talks here about Snatcher, what it means for media to be interactive, and the potential for moving experiences in games. This piece is not technically an interview; it is more of a testimonial, and was probably printed in one of the many Japanese PC Engine magazines of the early 90s. Alternatively, it may have been included in OST liner notes or an art/guide book.
Snatcher was released for the PC Engine last year on October 23rd. Time sure has flown by–it's almost been half a year. Now, with some distance between it and me, I can look back on Snatcher and share my memories of it. There’s something lonesome about it, but I’ll do my best now to respond to the questions and comments you’ve all sent in.
In all the letters I’ve received, the most common question is “what happened to Gillian and everyone after the game?” It ends on a tantalizing note with Gillian deciding to go back to the Snatcher factory in Siberia, and I realize it's natural to want to know what happens next. But I don’t think it's wise for me to answer that question. There are things I’d personally like to do and see happen, but that is my perk as a developer; it isn’t the Snatcher that already exists in your hearts.
Gillian, Jamie, and the others are all now a part of you, and I think it's best that each person’s vision of their “future” be allowed to grow in its own way. I know it sounds like I’m taking the coward’s way out in answering this. But it's been 5 years that I’ve known these characters, and I feel a strange affection and kinship with each one. They may be entirely fictional, but somewhere in me the illusion persists that they are alive and real.
Snatcher is now out of our hands as developers, and you could say it's walking on its own now. And our decision not to depict the Siberia auto factory is part of that. So there is no ending that we developers have to offer. We concluded this tale, but where the characters go from here is something we can only leave to you. Gillian, Jamie, and all of them… we fleshed out their core roles, duties, and relationships. The rest is for you to develop. Gillian’s relationships with the women in Snatcher were deliberately left vague in the ending for that reason, too.
After completing the game, its my hope that players will continue developing the drama and the world in their imaginations. I think that’s the “true interactivity” of Snatcher. For me, it honestly feels like I’m saying farewell to new friends. On the one hand I feel relieved, but I can’t shake this hope that we’ll meet again someday.
The most common criticism we received was about Act 3. Many people complained that “I wish you would have given the player more freedom. Act 3 is like a digital comic.” And that is certainly true.
However, the story was so complex, and we had so much that we wanted to convey to the players that we took the chance of making it less interactive. The story required that we restrict the player’s freedom to a certain degree, and I wanted to create a final scene (a tragic conclusion) where the player couldn’t participate. Each character was beholden to a fate they could not change.
I wanted Act 3 to let the player experience that anger and frustration. Act 1 and Act 2 are interactive scenarios, but Act 3 is different: a tragedy one cannot change–fate. Perhaps it wasn’t conveyed as well as I wanted… that’s something for me to reflect on.
The other day I received a letter from a high school student. He wrote that he had bought Snatcher the day before a test at school, and unable to control himself, he stayed up the whole night finishing it. As a result he failed his test. But he said he didn’t regret it, and he thanked me for the moving experience. I felt a sense of responsibility for having influenced this small part of his life–but this is exactly the kind of thing I have always wanted to create. Not a game merely played to “pass the time”, but something that would be important to one’s own life experience.
Something that requires a sacrifice to create, something with value… a positive contribution to the world, even if only for a moment… Everyone has had that experience with a book, movie, or music and the like, where we secretly say to ourselves afterward: “I’m glad to have been alive and experienced this.” That is entirely different from the transitory activity of “passing the time.”
Some things have a deeper impact–I think you could call it culture. And I too have had many such experiences. I’ll never forget the art that has moved me in this way, I’m very grateful for it. With Snatcher, I wanted to prove to myself that the new medium of games could do this too.
Also, my concept for Snatcher was not to make a game with a broad and shallow appeal that anyone, “from children to adults!” could enjoy. The concept was different: this game would appeal to, and remain etched in, the heart of a very specific kind of person. Also, I should probably say that compared with other media, Snatcher’s story/setting isn’t very good. We borrowed a lot from Blade Runner. It certainly wouldn’t be strange if someone thought we were just screwing around.
We received criticism for things like the hackneyed dialogue, which was nothing to cry home about. However, what I was interested in expressing was not an original story or world. The world was simply the empty vessel for the activities and lives of the various characters that you meet, and the inexorable fate that they are dragged into unawares… I wanted to present that experience, which can only be adequately conveyed in a meaningful and satisfying way through interactive media.
In whatever shape or form it takes, that is the kind of game I want to make again.
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