Paranormasight Revisited: The puzzles and implementation

What went into bringing the 1980s setting to life and how did the game’s clever fourth wall-breaking puzzles come about? Our deep dive into the game continues.
By Edward Price

Welcome back to our PARANORMASIGHT: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo retrospective.

Last time, the developers of the game talked about its inception, and the considerations that went into making a supernatural game based on real urban legends. Today, we discuss the implementation of these ideas, including their approach to the fourth wall-bending puzzles and distinctive environments.

Answers were provided by Kazuma Oushu (Producer), Takanari Ishiyama (Director), Gen Kobayashi (Character Designer) and project members. We hope you enjoy their insights.

To read Part 1 of the retrospective, click below:

PARANORMASIGHT is different to many visual novel-style games in that it has 360-degree areas you can look around. How did you achieve that effect?

The idea to do this came from Character Designer, Gen Kobayashi.

We actually went to Sumida in Tokyo and took some panoramic photos using a camera that could shoot in 360 degrees. Once we had done that, we created the backgrounds on the basis of those photos, tweaking them in places to look closer to the 1980s aesthetic that we wanted.

This means we were able to put together a gameplay experience that utilizes space and depth in a way that doesn’t normally come across in 2D adventure games.

How did you adapt the environments to be accurate to how they were in the 1980s?

Some people who knew what the area looked like in those days were kind enough to check the backgrounds for us and tell us, “this should be a bit more like this” or, “that should be a bit different”.

Specifically, that involved things like making the buildings look simpler or adding more dirt to the roads.

What help did the Sumida Ward provide to help you make the game as accurate as possible?

The first thing relates specifically to the backgrounds in the game. When it came to shooting our panoramic photographs to use in the game, we needed to shoot some areas that would normally be off limits to the general public, but we were given permission ahead of time to shoot there.

Also, when we were adjusting everything to make it feel more like the 80s, they provided us with materials from that era. They also checked the images and in-game screens that we had produced and offered their feedback so that we could tweak everything to make it look more like how Sumida would have actually looked.

How much time did you spend exploring the Sumida Ward, and how did you decide which parts of it to include in the game?

We were pretty close to Sumida, so we visited a lot, and even went as far as exploring every nook and cranny on foot. As far as we were able, we decided to have the places associated with the seven mysteries be publicly accessible areas, such as parks, so that players would be able to visit them.

Were there any real-life locations you wish you could have used, but they didn’t fit into the final game?

Although the Tokyo Skytree is the most well-known landmark in Sumida, it didn’t fit with the time during which the game is set. So, any time it showed up in a photo, we had to remove it when creating the in-game background!

The game has multiple endings, including a secret additional ending. How did the team implement the different endings into the game?

Takanari Ishiyama (Director): There are different goals for each character’s path through the game, so we came up with endings that fitted with those goals, and then added them in.

I actually thought that this game didn’t have all that many endings when compared to a typical visual novel-style game. Personally, I think that the more branching points a game’s story has, the harder the players find it to keep track of what information came up on what path, so I prefer not to create too many endings and overload them.

In the first “act” of the game, you meet the other characters who the player can control throughout the rest of the story from the viewpoint of Shogo. What was your intentions behind this?

Ishiyama-san: It was necessary to introduce the characters who would appear later in the story during this first act, so we started by designing this section in such a way that Shogo Okiie would bump into all of the other characters.

It’s also notable that some of the characters (such as Harue) act slightly differently in the prologue to when they’re playable. Was that due to Shogo having a different perspective on them? Or did their personalities alter in this timeline?

I think that this is because in the prologue, the actions of Shogo and the player influence the situations that the other characters find themselves in later in the story, which has a knock-on effect on their actions.

On top of that, this section is told from Shogo’s perspective, so the way he sees each character is different. That being said, their characters and personalities aren’t actually any different here to how they appear in the rest of the story.

What was the biggest implementation challenge you faced when making the game?

This is an adventure game with a huge amount of text, so the biggest challenge was releasing the English version at the same time as the Japanese.

We were very lucky that we were able to enlist the help of an extremely accomplished translator who delivered a very high-quality translation within the deadline.

Let’s talk about one of our favorite things about the games: the puzzles!

Early on in the game, the narrator informs the player that the solution to a particular puzzle involves doing something that you would know to do, but your character wouldn’t. How did this philosophy affect the design of puzzles in the game?

Ishiyama-san: Strictly speaking, I don’t think this counts as solving a puzzle, as such because the game will give you hints and make it clear as you progress through it. But I thought that the experience we could offer to players through this kind of technique and presentation would be something truly unique.

Some puzzles break the fourth wall - such as muting volume in the settings to avoid getting cursed by a sound. Were there any other games that inspired this approach?

Ishiyama-san: Years ago, I worked on the development for Metal Gear Solid for the PlayStation, and I think that this was an influence.

That experience of learning that it’s okay to do things like that really helped to underpin what we did with this game.

That said, it feels like you were very careful about how and when you add these fourth-wall breaking moments. Why was that?

Ishiyama-san: The hint to the final problem is to separate the player from the game, so we put in a number of different moments to help the player to be aware of that from the very beginning.

Turning the volume down was one of these moments, for example.

How did you balance the game so that they could be so clever, but players would still be able to solve them?

Ishiyama-san: After listening to some of the feedback from the playtests, we made some adjustments to the way that hints are presented.

That being said, I think the way that information is presented is the most important consideration in a mystery game, and I think that we got that right because of our years of experience in that area.

The hint to the final problem is to separate the player from the game, so we put in a number of different moments to help the player to be aware of that from the very beginning. Turning the volume down was one of these moments.

What was the inspiration behind making the final true ending so elusive to achieve?

Ishiyama-san: In this day and age, if you don’t know how to beat a certain section of a game, you can just look online and find the answer, so I knew that players wouldn’t be completely stuck if we made things a little difficult. We intentionally didn’t offer much help to the player.

That said, I think it is at a level where people could figure it out by themselves.

Were there any puzzles that you really wanted to include, but couldn’t due to time or because they didn’t work for the game?

Ishiyama-san: We might use them in the future, so my lips are sealed!

Many thanks to the team for their insights. Join us on Tuesday March 26 for Part 3 of this series where the devs talk about the post-launch reaction and answer some burning questions about the story and characters. We’re going deep with this one folks!

If you haven’t tried Paranormasight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo just yet, then you should check it out. The game is available now on Nintendo Switch, PC via Steam, iOS, and Android devices.

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