‘The Good Life’ Delivers Sense of Wonder to Mundanity of Life

Crushing debt isn’t often funny or enjoyable, but with Hidetaka “Swery” Suehiro and his White Owls studio, there is a bright side to everything. Best known for campy survival horror game “Deadly Premonition,” he visited PAX West to show off a demo of his Kickstarter-funded “The Good Life” and its cheeky exploration of the unknown.

The Good Life” stars Naomi, a photojournalist from New York who racks up too much debt and is grudgingly forced to move to rural England. She isn’t shy how upset she is about her circumstances and her disdain for the people she meets in Rainy Woods. Unfortunately for Naomi, she needs the odd jobs offered by the strange townsfolk to earn money and hopefully escape back to New York.

There’s a story in my own life that fed into that and was the inspiration for making a game around that central theme,” Swery tells Variety. “That story starts in 2007, when I was making ‘Deadly Premonition.’ The producer who was assigned to that project gets reassigned to go to England for what was supposed to be a few months. It turned out that once he went over there, for work and professional reasons, he ended up being stuck there for almost four years. Something fascinating happened. When he started there, he wasn’t particularly thrilled about the fact that he was stuck in England. Over the four years he was there, his feelings toward his life in that country and his time there really changed. By the end, he didn’t really want to go home. That was a theme that resonated with me, that idea of being someplace and feeling a certain way about your circumstances and the place you are, and having that feeling change over time.”

Each of the three photography jobs in the demo includes light puzzle elements, like figuring out how to stop a truck so you can get the perfect shot. The humorous dialog helps drive things forward, but there wouldn’t be enough meat there to carry an entire game.

This is a Swery project, though. So the mundane is always mixed with a sense of wonder. Naomi will have to put her journalistic skills to the test and unravel a murder mystery.

“There are several themes that have recurred over my games,” Swery says. “One of the things that is important to me is that characters—not just the main character, but NPCs—are strong personalities and they are central to the game. I spend a lot of time building these things up. Additionally, you will find a heavy fascination with food.

“One other theme from me is—I describe it as ambivalence—a sort of bifurcated balance. If there is sadness in the game, there will be levity. If there is horror, there will be light. That balance is something I try to strive for on a more serious level, as far as game design is concerned.”

Balancing out the murder mystery is a second conundrum. Everyone in Rainy Woods turns into an animal at night, including Naomi. Eventually, she’ll even have access to an “optimized-for-dogs GoPro” that players can use to snap pictures while walking around on four legs.

Swery is thoughtful about the decision to turn villagers into animals. It’s an exploration of human nature and the social contract we have with one another.

“There are always places we have to hold back what we’re actually thinking or not do what we actually want to do,” Swery explains. “For me, the thought was about whether we would do those things if free from those constraints as animals. I think that as animals, those personalities can come to the forefront. They can be stronger and more true to themselves. It’s one of the things I’m looking at in designing character interaction and personalities. For instance, Naomi as a cat, how might she be able to act differently. When’s she’s a dog, how might she be able to act differently? That’s a thought that’s always in my head.”

In October 2017, things weren’t looking good for “The Good Life.” A crowdfunding campaign on Fig (a platform focused on investments rather than the traditional backer model) hadn’t even raised half its $1.5 million goal. Kickstarter culture has changed drastically for video game creators since Double Fine’s “Broken Age” raised $3.3 million in 2012.

“One of the things I noticed in Kickstarter is that when the program was at its inception if you had a name in the industry that was trusted and a concept you could pitch, that was enough to get people to open up their wallets,” Swery says. “Nowadays, that’s not so much the case. People are more reticent to throw down their cash without something more tangible being brought to the table during the Kickstarter process.”

He attributes naivete about crowdfunding to White Owl’s failure on Fig. At the time, there wasn’t enough of “The Good Life” to show. Swery and his time quickly educated themselves to give the project a better chance on Kickstarter.

“The core difference is that I had not yet versed myself in the right way to attempt a crowdfunding initiative,” he explained. “We took a real look ourselves and asked, ‘What do we need to differently? How can we fix the lack of confidence?’ Putting out a playable demo during the Kickstarter process, pushed it suddenly and aggressively toward our goal. It added a lot of fuel to the fire. Kickstarter recommends that you stream your game, stream interactivity with fans, communicate with the people who are trying to reach out to you who are already backers or could be backers. By doing these other things, we saw a big lift during the campaign. Along that same line, we did these Ask Me Anythings. In real-time, while we were streaming the AMAs, we could monitor the Kickstarter and we saw significant gains just over the course of the stream.”

“The Good Life” launched on Kickstarter with a ¥68 million ($612,000) goal (about $70,000 less than the game attracted on Fig). It raised ¥81 million ($730,000), with White Owls also securing a publisher. Sony Unties, an indie publishing label run by Sony Music Entertainment, is bringing the game to Windows PC and PlayStation 4 in late 2019.

Popular on Variety

More Gaming

  • Venn co-founders

    VENN Raises $17 Million to Launch a Cheddar-like TV Network for Gaming

    Video game industry veterans Ariel Horn and Ben Kusin have raised a massive $17 million seed funding round to launch a new gaming-focused TV network called VENN. Short for Video Game Entertainment and News Network, VENN wants to mix esports with Twitch-style video game streaming and other gaming-related entertainment content when it launches in 2020. [...]

  • JoJo Siwa'The Angry Birds Movie 2'

    Nickelodeon Star JoJo Siwa Gets Her Own Dance-Tour Mobile Game (EXCLUSIVE)

    Fans of JoJo Siwa will be able to join the teen influencer’s dance squad on stage — virtually — in a new mobile game. In “JoJo Siwa — Live to Dance,” players will become part of the Nickelodon and YouTube star’s worldwide tour on her professional dance team and experience what it’s like to be [...]

  • Game Awards OrchestraThe Game Awards, Show,

    The Game Awards 2019 Sets December Date, Will Live-Stream Across 45 Platforms

    The Game Awards 2019, the fifth annual video game industry kudosfest, will be held Dec. 12 in Los Angeles and will be live-streamed for free again on more than 45 different platforms worldwide. The Game Awards is an annual celebration of video games and the people who make them, created and executive produced by Geoff [...]

  • HTC Vive Cosmos

    HTC Replaces HTC Vive With New $699 Vive Comos VR Headset

    HTC is getting ready to retire the headset that was central to its expansion into the virtual reality market 3 years ago: The company announced on Thursday that its new Vive Comos headset will effectively replace the original HTC Vive, which was first released in April of 2016. “It was time to upgrade our consumer [...]

  • Sohu logo

    China's Sohu Seeks Games Consolidation With $500 Million Bid for Changyou

    Sohu, one of China’s Internet pioneers, is offering to buy out its games subsidiary Changyou in a deal that values Changyou at $532 million. Both companies currently have their shares listed on NASDAQ, but if the deal goes ahead Changyou would lose its separate stock listing. Sohu, which has interests covering search, digital advertising and [...]

  • marvel lenovo ar

    Lenovo, Disney Launch Marvel AR Headset

    Lenovo has once again teamed up with Disney to bring one of the studio’s iconic franchises to augmented reality (AR). After first launching the “Star Wars: Jedi Challenges” AR headset in 2017, the two companies are back with a new “Marvel Dimension of Heroes” experience running on slightly revamped hardware. News of Lenovo and Disney [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content