Editor’s note: With the recent release of Fatal Frame on PSN as a PlayStation 2 Classic, we reached out to Fatal Frame series director Makoto Shibata to share some thoughts on the inception of one of the most tense, atmospheric series in gaming.
The initial project kicked off under the “Project ZERO” codename when the PlayStation 2 development tools were first made available, back at the time. Before the Fatal Frame project, I worked on the “Deception” series (aka Tecmo’s Deception) which focused on coming up with a new, yet complex game system in order to broaden player experiences. This led us to transcending traditional game genres by combining the best parts of different game systems: action, adventure, puzzle and simulation genres, just to name a few.
When the PS2 hardware came out with dramatically improved graphical capabilities, we took a different approach by keeping the game system and play experience simple. We tried to emotionally reach out to players and get them to feel things they cannot actually see on screen.
As a result, we selected the horror genre, which was an area aligned with my personal interests since I tend to “see” things myself every now and then in real life. In other words, my experience of seeing things that weren’t actually there — or noticing abnormal things around me — were some of the fear factors I thought would appeal to the emotional side of the player, if we were able to embed them on top of the adventure side of the gameplay.
The initial research of the new PS2 hardware led us to the conclusion that we would be able to recreate some of the ways I experienced seeing “things” in real life. Also the existence of Silent Hill was beneficial for us in seeing how well polygon-created horrors were accepted by the players. As a result, our task was to take it a step further and get players to feel things they couldn’t see on screen, recreating that uncountable feeling one tends to experience in certain rooms and locations like in real life.
When we first started working on the project, our basic idea was that the more fear and fright we provide to scare the player, the more it will sell. In this sense, the first installment can be seen as the scariest, since it took the most direct approach in all areas. As a result, many players gave up mid-way through the game since they could no longer stand it. For the second installment, we had to provide some encouraging factors for such players to get them to take the extra step to complete the game. This led to us making the game more story-driven as a result.
With the title now reappearing in a slightly different format, I’m hoping both old fans and new players give it a try, though I have to warn that anyone who does not have a strong heart should try avoiding this.
Hopefully, the approach we took in having players work their imaginations on top of what they see in front of them will be a long-living horror game, which will remain fresh in their memories for years to come.