Then, or nevertheless – 15 Years of ‘Soo Il-bae’ Jin Seung-ho

  • subject: Ways to tell a narrative in a story-based single game
  • Lecturer: Seungho Jin – Line Games Largo Studio / Director
  • Presentation area: career, planning
  • Lecture time: 2021.11.19 (Fri) 15:00 ~ 15:50
  • Lecture Summary: Director Jin Seung-ho, who made his name for the ‘Black Room’ and ‘Gray City’ series, proved his worth by succeeding in the multi-platform adventure game ‘Berrid Stars’. It is a story about 15 years of turbulence spent by director Jin Seung-ho, who left the room and passed the city and passed the stars.

  • ■ Game maker Jin Seung-ho, writing ‘Soo Il-bae’

    “I am a person who makes games and writes”

    Director Jin Seung-ho, also known by the nickname ‘Soo Il-bae’, has directly or indirectly participated in the production of 12 games through three companies: EA, 433, and Line Games. There are as many as eight storytelling-type games that have been developed by writing scripts and writing scripts. If so, what process did Gene Director go through to become an expert in the field?

    The first game that Director Jin participated in the production was Hands On Mobile’s mobile action game ‘V-Man’. However, ‘V-Men’ collapsed without a word. However, as the producer of Heroic Secretary Zero resigned for personal reasons, a new opportunity was given to the director, and he was able to learn a lot from the spot. Meanwhile, Hands-on Mobile was acquired by EA, and Director Jin suddenly became an EA employee.

    At the end of 2007, the company gave director Jin an instruction to produce a tycoon game, and he submitted and passed the ‘Stewardess Tycoon’ plan. Director Jin, who was just starting the game development effortlessly, received news like a blue sky. That is, another company’s ‘Stewardess Tycoon’ was uploaded to the upcoming release. The ‘Stewardess Tycoon’ project was immediately blown up.

    Afterwards, at the direction of the company to bring what he wants to do, Director Jin proposes a few concepts after careful consideration. Among them, a storytelling-type room escape game was adopted, and Jin explained, “Actually, I had never written a proper story before, and I was pushing myself to try it.” So, the story of the director Jin designing the room structure and escape method, naming the character, and writing the first ending came out to the world. In 2008, ‘Black Room 1’ appeared.

    ■ Narrative delivery in the ‘Black Room’ series

    “I’ll continue to talk about how I started developing a storytelling game that started out of nowhere, what intentions and concerns I had and how I reflected them in the game.”

    The main motif of ‘Black Room 1’ were flash room escape games that were available on the Internet in the mid to late 2000s. The first-person flash room escape game without characters had little or no causal relationship between the story and the puzzle. Director Jin said that he referenced the movie Saw-Cube to attach the story to ‘Black Room 1’. The escape room game had a strangely disturbing and scary feeling, so the tone was naturally acquired, and I thought it would be worth adding a story if several people were trapped in a dangerous and deadly space, cooperating or feuding to escape.

    Director Jin paid attention to the keyword of cooperation, ‘many escape together’, and created an item delivery function in ‘Black Room 1’ to change the gameplay. In order to solve the problem, we had to pay attention to the characteristics of the party, and we completed a narrative that showed different interactions depending on the development of the story or the personality of the characters.

    Another work that influenced the production of ‘Black Room 1’ was a novel by Agatha Christie. Like ‘And there was no one’, the story was completely according to the criminal’s plan until the end, and ‘Orient Express Murder’, where all seemingly unrelated characters were involved in a single incident. In addition, the final reasoning is designed to give satisfaction to both players who are good at reasoning and players who are not good at reasoning by allowing only options.

    The director, who lost more than the expected results of ‘Black Room 1’, started to produce a sequel. Before the start, he thought that the foundation was exhausted, but when he started, he thought of things he wanted to do. The basic policy was to maintain and develop the existing framework, but to tell a new story by strengthening the story and system.

    Accordingly, in ‘Black Room 2’, elements such as the story of a mysterious serial murder taking place in a closed space to find the culprit, the reasoning system through options, and the delivery of items were kept intact. Referring to the progress of the season system of American dramas, the main character and detective character from the previous work were re-appeared. In addition, a separate event to obtain information and hints through dialogue between characters according to specific conditions has been added to allow players to access character characteristics more closely.

    The main change in ‘Black Room 2’ is the two main characters, and the route is designed to change as the progress progresses. This was intended to diversify the progression, but also served as a basis for delivering a specific story gimmick to the player. It is the unfolding of ‘the new protagonist is the culprit of the case’. The player could manipulate the protagonist and see his thoughts from a first-person perspective, but only be able to jump to another protagonist’s route or see a suggestive narration when the murder occurred. Like its predecessor, it was influenced by Agatha Christie’s novel ‘The Murder of Ackroyd’, and the use of tricks using the game system continued in the sequel ‘Black Room 3’.

    ‘Black Room 2’ was also a box office success, and room escape planners and character artists joined. After establishing a more stable development environment, Director Jin was able to focus more on visuals, directing, and storytelling. In addition, due to the rapid development of terminal specifications, larger resolution and effects were available, and thanks to the experienced team members, it was possible to show an improved appearance. Thus developed ‘Black Room 3’ produced results that surpassed both previous works.

    A total of four main characters and viewpoints appear in ‘Black Room 3’. Although they are in the same place, they are moving in different locations and in different time zones. In fact, this was a trick using Jin Director’s game system, which was also used in ‘Black Room 2’. The specific route was only timely, and the point of view was more than 10 years in the past. Director Jin hinted that the same item in the same location was older, broken, or missing, but said that it would not have been easy for the player to notice.

    In addition, an argument system was added to ‘Black Room 3’. It is a system in which the player develops the story through choices in the context of an argument with another person. But this was also Jean’s design for the final scene. The arguing system was intended to allow direct manipulation of situations where there was only one choice at the end of the story. A player who remembers the characteristics of the argument system while playing the game encounters a kind of ‘gi-chul transformation’ and directly experiences the changes or decisions of the characters in the story.

    ■ The end of the ‘Black Room’ series, a re-start to the ‘Gray City’

    “Who am I who doesn’t create a ‘black room’? What can I do and what should I do?”

    Director Jin, who produced the three ‘Black Room’ series, started imagining the appearance of the main character and party completely out of the room. However, in the process of dealing with issues from the overseas headquarters, the atmosphere of the company became disturbed and large-scale resignations occurred, and even the team members who had been with them since the development of ‘Black Room 1’ left their seats. In this situation, ‘Black Room 4’ was produced, but to make matters worse, it faced the worst situation in which several team members were organized at the final stage of development.

    ‘Black Room 4’, which was released with difficulty, caused many issues due to instability. The structure that connects the system and the narrative has been greatly reduced, and even if the system was created, the content could not be fully contained. There was a route choice, but it was almost fixed, the arguing system was used very little, and the difficulty and operability of some puzzles were not reviewed. Feeling dissatisfied with the company’s policy, Director Jin left the company and joined the existing team.

    When the main characters of ‘Black Room’ were unable to talk after they left the room, Director Jin fell into a question about himself. He was no longer the creator of ‘Black Room’, but was looking for what he could do, so he decided to make a game that incorporates everything he has done so far. It is a game that tells the story of choice and identity, encompassing the past and the present. Thus, the development of the ‘Gray City’ series began.

    Development of ‘Gray City’ The mobile game industry has entered the era of Kakao represented by ‘Anipang’ and ‘Dragon Flight’. All the companies started fighting to keep pace with the Kakao era, and Director Jin also changed the development direction to the Kakao Adventure game to spread the IP of ‘Gray City’ more widely. Accordingly, the difficulty of the main system of ‘Gray City’ under development was significantly lowered, and rather than dealing with violent incidents, the story focused on character relationships like a drama, and complicated causality was excluded such as boldly reducing/editing the past.

    Even in this situation, Director Jin put a trick through the game system in ‘Gray City’. It was a substitution system that selected evidence from a specific character’s point of view and reconstructed the case. The system, which felt like an unnecessary procedure, was actually not just an item or a clue. It was a device that put another person in his position and explained the murder he had committed as if it had been done by someone else. The player was unwittingly helping the criminal in the process of making an alibi.

    ‘Gray City’, which was released after twists and turns, received its own attention with mixed reactions. However, I received harsh criticism that I had never experienced before because of the parts I didn’t finish properly and the parts I could have done better but missed. After a moment’s pause, Director Jin reconsidered what he had missed, too little, or not focused on during the development of ‘Gray City’. I looked back at myself for what I lacked, what I wanted to do, and what I was working so hard for.

    Judging that it was a moment that required choice and concentration, Director Jin decided to properly deal with the past of the reduced ‘Gray City’, complement the present ‘Gray City’ and end it properly. The idea was to connect the missing links and tell the final story when everything was ready. The development of ‘Gray City 2’, a sequel and prequel to Gray City, began.

    Director Jin, who deepened his thoughts about choices while producing the ‘Black Room’ series and ‘Gray City’, introduced a new system called ‘Reprompt’ in ‘Gray City 2’ where you have to choose options in real time. This improvisation was an absurd way to end immediately with a moment’s mistake, and to drive the player away with little hint.

    However, Director Jin said that the violence and irreversibility were the essence of the choice he made at the time. Because it is fiction, it was possible to set a more fatal situation, and there was also the purpose of making a quick decision and experiencing surviving there. In response, Director Jin left only one improvisational system in ‘Gray City 2’, which excludes all skills that were shallow, including tricks using the game system, and forces a choice.

    On the other hand, the prequel game had the advantage of being able to maximize the irony felt by players who already knew the future and broadening their understanding of the world view. The problem was that there was also a fatal flaw that accessibility was greatly reduced if you did not know the previous work. The time given was tight due to the previous work that did not perform as well as expected, so Director Jin made a tight plan to divide the episodes of ‘Gray City 2’ into 6 episodes and open the first and second parts first, and then update the 6 episodes at monthly intervals.

    Thus, ‘Gray City 2’ episodes 1 and 2 were launched in October 2014, and after a difficult schedule, it was concluded with the episode 6 update in February 2015. However, as the episodes progressed, the number of players plummeted, and the ‘Gray Theater’ promised as an open specification was only completed and updated in May. The problem was that he paid attention to the excessive schedule, avoided places to see, and focused only on completing his own ideas. Director Jin made a sincere effort to get a good evaluation, but rather was buried in the effort and deviated from the track.

    As a result, the ‘Gray City’ project ended and the team disbanded. In this regard, Director Jin said that making a game in the overground is impossible just by thinking ‘because it looks fun’ and ‘I want to do it’. This is because game production is something that can be completed day and night with the trust of the superior in charge, the business and development support organization, and the development team. Director Jin also recalled that time and said that his own problem of running without looking around at all was also a big problem.

    ■ The end of the ‘Black Room’ series, a re-start to the ‘Gray City’

    “After a long weekend, I have a story I want to tell again.”

    When it became known that the team was disbanded in 2015, Jin’s SNS timeline was flooded with comments and comments from followers. Director Jean conceived a new story after experiencing an unfamiliar experience for the first time. This was the beginning of the storytelling game with the concept of using SNS, Buried Stars.

    In Buried Stars, elements of serial killing and criminal mystery were introduced again. Although the body is confined, SNS set possible situations and took the medium as a smart watch, which also served another purpose. The trick was to use the ringtone and recording function as a trick and melt it into the game. By pointing this out through the dialogues of the characters at the beginning of the game, Jin made it possible for players to check all the elements used in the trick within an hour of the game’s start.

    In addition, Director Jin designed the communication system of ‘Berryd Stars’ in a complicated way based on the situation he was in and what he experienced afterwards. There are many differences between the ideal communication with game NPCs and the communication that occurs in real life, and we focused on this. However, the massive amount of communication system put a great load on development, and it was negatively evaluated as it lowered the pace of the player’s progress. Regarding this, Director Jin said that there must have been a better way, and he is now thinking about a better way to develop.

    In the case of SNS, which is one of the main concepts of the game, the settings of each account are separately set, given personality, and used like a character. There are only nicknames, photos, and texts on SNS posts, but as the story progresses, nicknames that stand out and you get to know their characteristics. This was arranged so that the player could feel the irony that comes from the gap from the real situation by allowing the third person to see the contents that are ignorant of the internal situation.

    Here, like in the ‘Black Room’ series, a detective role appeared, and the director Jin set it as an outsider who supported him. It was to give the player a sense that ‘someone cares about my well-being and keeps talking to me’. As a result, the characters and players of ‘Berrid Stars’ suffer a lot from internal and external circumstances, which is what the Gene Director intended. Because there are uncomfortable situations that cannot be avoided and cannot be avoided, but I wanted to say that that is the starting point again.

    In addition, there were many new things to try in ‘Berrid Stars’. It was the first game by Gene Director who introduced the Unity engine to secure development versatility, and it required research and testing in areas that had not been done before by changing the platform to a console in the middle. It was difficult in many ways to create and release a package without a publisher.

    As the long development ended and the release date approached, anxiety overtook Jin. However, contrary to concerns, the Buried Stars received a lot of support. In the week of its release, it ranked 3rd in overall sales of console games and continued its crucifixion for a considerable period of time, ranking 1st to 10th in Nintendo eShop sales rankings. It won two awards in the planning/scenario category at the 2020 Korea Game Awards, the Excellence Award and the Technology Creativity Award, and was also selected as the Best PC/Console Pick at Maid with Unity 2021. Director Jin added that ‘Berrid Stars’ is still in progress, so it is likely that it will be possible to organize it completely later. Currently, Buried Stars is about to release a PC version through Steam.

    ■ Then, or nevertheless

    “The consequences of the choices I’ve made have brought me here.”

    From ‘Black Room’ to ‘Grey City’ to ‘Berrid Stars’, Director Jin summarized the past 15 years as follows. A person who didn’t know how to do anything right and started accidentally, started making things that he liked without hesitation, and then had a greed to do better. At least it was a process that didn’t stop.

    For Director Jin, storytelling game development was or nevertheless a path that he had to go. I developed a storytelling game and I really fell in love with it. The more I like it, the more I want to do better. What I want to do better is that I think I’m not doing well right now. This may be a painful, never-satisfying job. But Director Jean likes this job, so he’s willing to accept the pain. Director Jin is taking on a new challenge through a new project, Household (working title).

    Numerous choices await in front of everyone. No matter what director Jin chooses, as a result of which he goes up and down, he will surely go a little further than before. Director Jin, who expressed his gratitude to the game industry officials who are walking the ‘road not to be taken’ like myself, and gamers who found Jin’s game among masterpieces, left the following final greetings.

    “I will once again walk the ‘road I couldn’t help taking’, full of worries and choices.”