The following is a discussion of the works of Swery65, who has recently come under fire for the depictions of Trans folk in his title ‘Deadly Premonition 2’, the sequel to today’s Hallowe’en pick.
The game’s original dialogue featured deadnaming, as well as other inappropriate treatment of its Trans character. Swery addressed the issue by apologizing publicly, committing to doing better, and tweaking the dialogue in certain scenes. Although deadnaming remains in the edited version, Swery claims it is intentional as a reflection of real-world misconceptions about Trans people. While Swery has shown he is listening and committed to improvement, it is up to the reader to decide if his actions are sufficient.
And to be very clear: Trans Woman Are Women, and Trans Rights are Human Rights.
A number of years ago I attended a talk by Swery65, the creator and visionary behind Deadly Premonition, D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die, and, most recently (and infamously), Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise. The primary purpose of the talk was to announce the (successful) kickstarter for The Good Life, his upcoming title about a down-on-her-luck journalist solving a murder in a town where the residents mysteriously turn into cats by moonlight. It looks to be part daily-life sim, part adventure game, part surreal murder-mystery.
It that sounds odd and delightful, you’re in the right place.
The other purpose of the talk was to showcase Swery himself who, like fellow numbered auteur Suda51, has a reputation for incredibly distinct, art-forward games. For example, his D4 was a kind of deconstructionist mystery title in which you time-travel by focusing yourself into evidence relevant to your wife’s murder. In The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Mysteries you play as J.J. herself, who must find her lover Emily by disfiguring her own unkillable body to solve puzzles. The Missing was hailed for its portrayal of a Queer romance, and its willingness to explore themes of self-harm in the context of a puzzle-platforming game.
If those sound complicated and strange, you’re also in the right place.
Swery’s games fascinate because, like Swery himself – who presented the panel from a platform at the end of the room with his stuffed monkey friend in tow – they’re incredibly unique. He finished his talk by describing his intense work schedule with charts: roughly 30% work, 30% ‘drinKING’ (which is exactly what it sounds like), and 30% the 1990’s television series Twin Peaks, with which he is absolutely obsessed. Note the 10% for sleeping, but hang on to the Twin Peaks thing. That’ll be important.
Presumably he doesn’t eat.
Just in case you needed a reason to feel old today, Swery was also a designer on 1999’s excellent Tomba! 2 for the PSX. Swery (whose full, rarely-used name is Hidetaka Suehiro) is 47 now, which would have made him 17 years old in 1990 when David Lynch’s bizarre, visionary Twin Peaks debuted on cable television. He now admits to rewatching it compulsively, and it’s no exaggeration to say that Twin Peaks, specifically, is the backbone of Swery’s work. That spooky little Pacific Northwestern town with its haunted inhabitants, limited sets and cast of deeply secretive small-towners is his muse. It’s where the majority of his productions live, and it isn’t subtle.
I sure hope you’ve seen Twin Peaks. But let’s get to the game.
To call 2010’s Deadly Premonition the Twin Peaks videogame would be reductive, both to Twin Peaks and Deadly Premonition itself. But it isn’t wrong. At its best, Deadly Premonition is Twin Peaks ported halfway across the globe, strung through a kaleidoscope of personal and cultural influences, and sent back inside-out. It’s a love-letter, a remake, and a reflection. It’s like nothing you’ve ever played.
Or at least it is if you can get it to run. The big joke is that the first big boss of Deadly Premonition is its framerate, and then getting it to boot properly, and then making sure it won’t crash on you. This took me several hours, and it will again if I reinstall today. When I last played, it was still crashing 30 hours in.
But something very special is hiding just past the reboots and the mods you’ll have to install to make it run. In 2017 I wrote that “Deadly Premonition is buggy in a way that immediately scans as bravery”. I’m talking out of frustration about the performance issues on PC there, but as you jump-start the game over and over to make it work, there’s an element of magic at play. It feels like a ritual, as if the game itself is unwilling to start up. Like a magic book sealing itself shut, not wanting to be read. It’s the first of many, many surreal experiences you’ll have, and not the only one linked to performance issues.
If you’ve watched Twin Peaks, good news, you already know the plot.
Dale Cooper Francis York Morgan is sent to Greenvale, Washington to investigate the murder of 18 year-old Anna Graham. Riding along in his head is his silent partner Zach. York will derail conversation constantly to mention Zach, talk to Zach, or just listen to him speak back. You’ll never hear Zach, and there’s some question as to whether you, the player, are Zach yourself, or if York’s simply lost his mind. It’s a question that goes unanswered. Greenvale, Washington is filled with weirdos: some lovable, some not, and almost all of them strange and detached. It’s up to Officer Morgan to wander the town and dig up clues, go fishing, learn darts and shoot zombies. The clock is ticking, because whenever it rains the Raincoat Killer shows up, and his body count is mounting.
So it’s just like in Twin Peaks. Except backwards and inside out.
To play, Deadly Premonition is a mix of life-simulator, mystery game, adventure title and survival-horror shooter. It’s all open world, and your relationships to the people in your small town will grow and prosper if you allow them to. On any given day you’re instructed loosely on what to do, but you’re also free to ignore it and go about your business. Imagine Animal Crossing with murder, gore and the cast of Silent Hill and you’ll be nowhere close. I’m not ashamed to admit I became an ace at darts immediately, and the game rewarded me with a weapon bag. Sure.
Deadly Premonition is so much more than its familiar premise and strange mix of gameplay styles, though. It’s filled with heart, with strange little details and an earnest love for its kinda-source material. If you loved Twin Peaks as I did, Deadly Premonition will be both nostalgic and bewildering, like listening to a beloved song backwards. It hijacks your memories of Twin Peaks and twists them into new, surprising forms. To say Deadly Premonition derivative is ridiculous – it springs from the DNA of Twin Peaks fully-formed, unique in its form of homage.
To some degree all of Swery65’s modern work is like this. The game doesn’t have to run properly because it has heart, so much heart it seems to be bursting at the seams. Deadly Premonition can be terrifying, but it can also be hilarious and heartfelt. Sometimes it’s tasteless or dated (as a game developed from 2004 on might be), but more often it’s incredibly awkward in a way that recalls Twin Peaks perfectly. Mostly it’s just very human.
It’s rare that you get to see the hand of the creator so clearly in an interactive medium. Swery is there with you at every moment, just as excited to be along for the ride.
Endnote: Okay but how do I feel about the Deadly Premonition 2 controversy?
It’s difficult to say without having played the game. What I will say is that the exceptional thing about this situation is that Swery responded at all. Transphobia in gaming (really, entertainment media of any kind) is incredibly common and only recently addressed on a public scale. It sucks. Swery stands out because he realized his mistake and apologized openly, taking full responsibility himself. It doesn’t mean it’s okay, and it doesn’t mean the changes he made to DP2 are necessarily sufficient. He clearly has a ways to go.
But it does mean that he’s aware and open to improvement. At this year’s PAX Online Swery was a presenter in another talk, LGBTQ+ in Games and Media Around the World. As part of a six-person panel, he hardly spoke at all, content to follow along, listen and hopefully learn.
Sometimes it’s the right thing to do.