In this special developer interview, we ask Kaizen Game Works creative director Oli Clarke Smith, some questions about the conception, development, and future plans for Paradise Killer. Read on below!
Phil and I are childhood friends and used to hangout skating and playing Dreamcast before forming a punk band together. As life moved on, we both ended up in the games industry. Back in 2011 we released a hobby project on iOS, a STG called Wonton 51. We loved working together and decided we wanted to do something together in the future. 7 years later we opened Kaizen and started Paradise Killer. We started with nothing except our own savings and support from our wives (Amy, the voice of Dead Nebula and Rachel who has become our new art director) to go on. It was scary but we just started making something we’d be proud of and that put something of ourselves out into the world and Paradise Killer took shape. Thankfully Fellow Traveller approached us about working with them and their extra funding allowed us to complete our vision.
1Print Games: Paradise Killer has a very heavy influence from Japanese culture. We can see this from various architecture, items, and music in the game. What inspired you to go with this direction?
We’re both stupid weebs and love Japan. Early on in life I discovered Street Fighter 2 and found myself reading a manga based on the game. I hadn’t seen art like it before and the ads in the magazine for anime VHS looked insane compared to western media with lots of a violence and horror. Over the years I realised that the games I really loved were all Japanese made. Then we went to Japan on holiday together and my fate as a weeb was sealed. We love exploring Japanese streets and appreciate how different it is to the west in terms of architecture as well as the culture. I really love Japanese game design and the influence creeps in all over the place in PK.
1Print Games: Before Paradise Killer was released, a 3D open world style murder mystery game was unheard of. How did this idea came about, and what were there any challenges faced to make this a reality?
We didn’t set out to make the game that PK became. It started out as a more traditional first person narrative game without investigation mechanics. We knew we wanted to do an open world and as the story and open world met, we realised that a traditional linear or branching narrative wouldn’t work. The free form investigation of PK evolved from this mismatch and became something new. We had to abandon a lot of our preconceived ideas about how to present characters and dialogue as the find-clues-in-any-order gameplay broke a lot of the dialogue. We had to completely restructure how we approached dialogue and item pick up logic. The key is to never force the player to do anything. We always give them a choice as to what to do. We know 99% of players will never go down some story branches but by forcing ourselves to always cater for that 1%, the mechanics are forced to always remain true and we never bend the rules for the sake of storytelling. When we originally implemented the trials at the end of the game it was more automated and Lady Love Dies (the player character) would present all of the evidence against your chosen suspect. We realised that this broke our rules and the player should choose which evidence to present so we had to tear them apart and put them back together near the end of development.
1Print Games: In Paradise Killer, players can choose to interview whoever they want, investigate crime scenes, and explore Paradise at their own pace. With so many things going on, how did your team handle the writing process, and what were the tools you used to help you in this?
When we would plan out the story we would put dialogue in game that was functional; in each conversation the dialogue would only communicate what the player needed to know without any flavour. All the dialogue would be iterated over and over again as a new bit of evidence needed adding to dialogue or we fixed a plothole. We made the dialogue and story in a really unprofessional way in that it was all in my head. There was very little documentation. If I had suddenly got ill or something, no one could have finished implementing the story without me. That’s a really bad way of making stories but thankfully we got away with it. For two years all I really thought about was details of the mystery and the world and how each needed to be rewritten to fix something with the other one. Since it is a non-linear narrative I was the one who would make sure that doing things in any order would make sense and it was a massive load of work. Thankfully Phil wrote a very flexible dialogue tool that allowed us to do all sorts of branching dialogue with logic checks and cool systems. There’s no way we could have made the game without a flexible writing tool that allowed all 500+ conversation files to reference each other.
1Print Games: Players have often compared the character design in Paradise Killer to JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. What do you think of this comparison? Also, please tell us more about how the character design came to be.
Well, we were certainly inspired by JoJo so we’re very happy with that comparison. Lady Love Dies was heavily inspired by LisaLisa from Part 2 and her outfit has some similarities to Jotaro’s. I love how bold JoJo character designs are and I don’t think enough games go for wild designs like that. Our process for designing characters was first to work out what function they needed to serve in the story. From there we could make some decisions like Akiko being a soldier and thus needing armour. We also made sure to show Akiko’s sword on her belt as it is a piece of evidence. After that we’d dig into their personalities and history while finding reference pieces, looking at high and avant garde fashion. We’d compile a ref sheet, indicating the style of jacket or shoes we wanted and that would be given to our artist Gigalithic who would take our design and turn it into character art. Their line art is superb and gave all of the characters very strong shapes. Other characters like Dead Nebula and Bear were done by Rachel and she designed Dead Nebula from scratch after being told we’d like a mascot character.
1Print Games: We can’t talk about Paradise Killer without mentioning about the game’s excellent city pop soundtrack. How was the city pop direction decided, and how did you convince Barry “Epoch” Topping to compose for the game?
We approached Barry after hearing his work on his personal albums. He has a very luxurious style and got what we were going for. When we started the project we settled on the tropical vaporwave aesthetic early and when it came time to do the music, we were able to give Barry a build and loads of art materials to draw inspiration from. Since the game is so free form, we didn’t want to write specific music for specific narrative beats and gave Barry the freedom to create an album of music rather than a traditional soundtrack. This means that each player has a different experience with moments of magic being created by the right track coming on by chance with the right view of a sunset across the island. Along with this, just over halfway through the project we threw all of our UI out and redid it to be city pop album cover themed and that helped to create a really strong package.
1Print Games: The characters in Paradise Killer have strike out and have very different personalities. Who’s your favorite character and why?
My favourite to write was Shinji. Since he is so separate from the crime, it allowed me to write weirder, funnier and unconnected dialogue. I also liked writing Yuri because I hate him so much. He’s such an annoying idiot. My favorite character is Lady Love Dies though. She’s really cool putting up with all this crap and not stopping until she has found her truth. She has her own demons but not as many as the other island inhabitants. I love Sam as well. His backstory was the most fun to come up with.
1Print Games: Were there any unused ideas that you wanted to implement in the game?
We talked about making the jetski controllable but it was too late in development and would have needed a huge change in the world art. We also had a DNA minigame in a prototype form but it ended up not being needed and we couldn’t find the fun in it.
1Print Games: The new Paradise Killer update released in March 2022 introduces new B-Sides music, quests, and performance improvements. Please tell us what made you decide to add these in this major update, and what you want players to experience from it.
We had the opportunity to release on new consoles and didn’t just want to do tech upgrades. We have been stunned by the response to PK and wanted to give something extra to fans. We couldn’t do new story content to time restrictions and how complete we made the main story in the original release. Adding new music, collectables and some new mysterious beings was a good way of adding more flavour without changing the core game. For the performance updates, we brought in a new programmer to get it running on new machines, track down long standing bugs and polish up some of the rougher bits of performance. This got it running amazingly on new consoles and improved the existing versions.
1Print Games: We know that you’re currently working on a new project that is unrelated to Paradise Killer. Do you have any hints to share on what you’re working on?
Nothing to say for now except that it is very different to PK. It is a totally different type of game but one that has our design philosophy so we hope PK fans will like it. It is another game that has very gamey mechanics but is still a game you can chill with and take at your own pace. The characters are very different but Ikumi Nakamura has designed a lot of them so they are weird and fascinating.
1Print Games: If you decided to work on a sequel to Paradise Killer, what do you want to add in the game, and what would you like to do differently?
Doing a straight sequel is very difficult since any of the characters could be alive or dead and we don’t want to pick a canon ending for a sequel. We have ideas for other Paradise games as prequels though. The fall of Lady Love Dies on Island 13 or an action game with Lydia and Sam.
1Print Games: Before we end this interview, do you have any words to share with our fans and readers?
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