Game

The making of Clock Tower: “The most important thing for me was the stillness”

Fear of survival has been a mainstay of games for decades; Fear and hiding in closets seem to go hand in hand. However, some of the first seeds of the genre were in Clock Tower, the widely respected and deeply disturbing Japanese point-and-click adventure game. Originally aired on the SNES in 1995, you play a 14-year-old orphan girl trapped in a gruesome mansion, while you desperately try to get rid of a ruthless golden-haired boy wielding giant scissors. It can appear at any moment, and it does so with reckless glee.

Without the arsenal of firearms seen in Resident Evil, you’ll need a mix of wit and point-and-click puzzle action (the kind where a slice of ham can mean life or death) and plenty of hiding until the horror passes. . While the dexterous keystroke provides a short-term escape, you’ll also panic—meaning you’ll likely stumble while dodging your little pointed follower. Dark, tense, and somewhat surreal, Clock Tower brought a new genre of horror to a generation of gamers and was wildly popular at launch. He’s since left a bloody but scarce legacy in video games – making much of the template for survival horror games.

Whether it’s through the plethora of Clock Tower sequels, or modern games like Alien: Isolation, where you crawl through long corridors fleeing from aliens, or Amnesia: Dark Descent, where you’re helpless and shrunken, that cite its secret thriller as inspiration. Hiding in closets until it doesn’t look bad, its impact on modern gaming is undeniable. It’s also fair to say that Clock Tower, with its nine different endings and a variety of horrific deaths based solely on your choices, has the slasher-style DNA seen in future games like Before Dawn. Arriving at less than two hours to play, its randomly generated selections and rooms also provided the potential for replays – some promising to unlock dark secrets, although, as you’d expect, the endings often end in death.

to impose hell

Clock Tower SNES 1995

“In the beginning, when I had an idea for a project, I would usually deconstruct a movie, anime, or novel I loved. Then I would extract what I found interesting and why, and then configure it,” Kono says. “So when I created Clock Tower, I was based on what fascinated me in horror movies like Phenomena and Suspiria. The suspense of being chased and the thrill of hiding from a killer while holding your breath – none of those features existed in video games at the time. So I felt they were worth portraying.”

Things are undeniably Clock Tower shaped. Dario Argento’s (of Suspiria fame) strange and very bloody film follows a young girl who can communicate telepathically with insects and a stranger holding a large silver scissors. These frightening and frightening images laid the foundation of the building that will become the Clock Tower. Kono then went to work for Human Entertainment, a Japanese company that developed more than 80 games, albeit not well known in the West. However, developing the Clock Tower within the company was not as easy as it seems.

Clock Tower SNES 1995

old player

“Therefore, members of the planning department spoke to senior management to allow us to experience an original game. As a result, all employees decided to hold a competition where everyone could participate freely. It was open to everyone, provided the winner went into full production.” Kono decided to design something akin to the ‘cinematic live games’ made by Human Entertainment at the time, featuring SOS, where you escape a sinking ship, and its spiritual successor, The Firemen, where you are tasked with rescuing civilians from the ship’s dreadful flame that exploded at a Christmas party.

“Apart from Sweet Home, the only horror games in existence at the time were horror-flavored action games like Splatterhouse, and that wasn’t my ideal version of horror,” he continues. While Splatterhouse was steeped in horror influences, including H.P. Lovecraft and American horror films, it was also a side-scrolling combat. It is not because the Clock Tower is not bound by blood, but rather leans towards the atmosphere. However, the mansion itself is filled with all sorts of gothic horrors: dead animal heads, buzzing insects resting on meat, and mysterious mannequins, to name a few things beautifully rendered in full 16-bit splendor.

With all this in mind, Kono came up with designs that embodied the idea of ​​fear and subsequently won the competition. After its concept, the next step for the Clock Tower was to actually develop it. “All of my game designs are based on a series of logical steps, so my process gets pretty solid at the proposal stage,” explains Kono. “When development started, I needed to focus on things like story flow, map creation, and event production. But there was only one problem. Outside of the text adventure genre, the idea of ​​not being able to attack or defeat your enemies was a very foreign concept to games at the time.”

afraid of the dark

Clock Tower SNES 1995

Clock Tower SNES 1995

Hifumi Kono

As a result, Kono felt that there were only a few people beside him. “So I had to ask some people if they could help and tell the others to do as I assertively say. That’s how we completed Clock Tower. There was one member of the development team that was particularly challenging. They would clearly say, ‘This game is boring.’ But as soon as the game was critically acclaimed They started saying, ‘I’ve been working on it,'” Kono laughs.

And he laughed, because the very first Clock Tower broadcast on the SNES in 1994 was such a big deal. In fact, its success spurred Human Entertainment to create more bizarre and experimental games, and it also spawned numerous Clock Tower sequels. The Clock Tower continues to be terrifying in its original form even today, with its old-school graphics and simple movement. This is because it creates its own horrors with its unusual design, atmosphere and storytelling – all drenched with strange visions of the horrors of the seventies.

“The most important thing for me was silence – nothing happens, I just walk down the halls in complete silence,” explains Kono. “The only sound you hear is the echo of the footsteps. By creating these moments of stillness, I think I’ve managed to make Scissorman’s look and his fear of the sound of his scissors more effective. Mr. [Koji] Niikura was responsible for the sound direction and really showed off his excellent skills in this extremely important part of the game.”

In fact, the sound of the Clock Tower greatly adds to its legendary atmosphere. The soundtrack is really harsh – permeating an environment mostly made up of a distant wind and discordant footsteps. There is very little music. However, the immediate, extravagant and sinister theme of the Clock Tower, Don’t Cry, becomes even more powerful when Jennifer shoots – signaling the Scissor Scissor is coming and you must flee – as a result.

deep cut

Clock Tower SNES 1995

“There was a scene in The Eroded Scissors where a pair of scissors was running down the protagonist’s cheek through his mouth, and there was a real, easy-to-imagine pain about it, especially since it’s an everyday item. And that’s something I thought we could convey to gamers on the screen through video games. Also, the irritating sound of metal scissors was very effective in evoking a sense of urgency and imminent danger.”

Scissorman’s frivolity is part of what got him into the horror villain hall of fame. If he constantly and repetitively creeps up on you and grabs you and brutally kills you, he’ll do a little victory dance on your corpse. It is also a constant threat that can appear anytime and anywhere. The scene where Scissorman sits in a rocking chair and watches cartoons in Clock Tower, the enhanced PlayStation port, is one of Kono’s favorite scenes in the series.

“I think the idea of ​​a murderer laughing innocently at the drawings that come after you has a much more disturbing fear than a serious murderer.” But more important to horror than antiques and scissor-wielding little men is pacing, according to Kono. “It’s true for all games, but I think it’s especially important for survival horror games. “These games are fast when you’re being chased or fighting monsters, but if it continues, the player will become desensitized to it,” he says. “This just turns monsters into obstacles that should be the focus of your fear. To mitigate this as best as possible and keep the monsters creepy, you need to have a calm and slow state and periodically catch things in the waves.”

Clock Tower SNES 1995

He explains that the monster designs in Silent Hill are brilliant in their own right, but that the radio is actually one of the most frightening aspects of the game. “The radio noise itself creates an ominous sense of premonition that is important to amplify the atmosphere before monsters appear,” he says. He advises budding horror game designers to analyze fear as much as possible. “The word fear can be broken down into many different types, each presenting its own quality of fear,” he continues. “What kind of horror do you want to present? Where does this fear come from? You should always remember that there is no clear and correct answer to these questions.”

“For example, a very young child hugs his frightened mother. Most will face their mothers, but some will lean on their mothers and look outside,” she continues. “Are they afraid to see what they are afraid of, or are they more afraid of not being able to see? Fear is different for every person.” After the huge success of Clock Tower and its sequels, Kono, now part of his own Tokyo-based company Nude Maker, is in the process of carefully crafting a project he would be “pleased with”. Kono in particular would love to start a new horror game.

“But aside from zombies, modern survival horror games struggle to balance the size of the market and ever-increasing budgets for quality graphics.” “How we’re going to solve this is a huge challenge as we continue to move forward.”


This feature was first old player magazine issue 218. For more great resources like the ones you’ve just read, don’t forget to subscribe to the print or digital edition at My favorite magazines.


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The making of Clock Tower: “The most important thing for me was the stillness”

Survival horror has been a mainstay of gaming for decades now; horror and hiding in cupboards go hand-in-hand it seems. However, some of the first seeds of the genre lay in the widely revered and hugely unsettling Japanese point-and-click adventure game, Clock Tower. First released on the SNES in 1995, it sees you playing a 14-year-old orphan girl trapped in a mansion of unknowable terrors, as you desperately try to outpace an unrelenting golden-haired child wielding a gigantic pair of scissors. He can turn up anytime, and does so with reckless glee.
Lacking the fiery arsenal of weapons seen in the likes of Resident Evil, you have to escape using a mix of wits and point-and-click puzzle action (the sort where a slice of ham can mean life or death), plus, plenty of hiding until the horrors pass. While the dexterous mashing of buttons may grant short-lived escape, you’ll also find yourself panicked – meaning you’re likely to trip up as you run from your tiny, pointy pursuer. Grim, tense and somewhat surreal, Clock Tower introduced a new type of horror to a generation of gamers, and was wildly popular on release. Since then, it has left its bloody, yet restrained, legacy on video games – forming much of the blueprint of survival horror titles. 
Whether through the myriad of Clock Tower sequels, or the modern games that cite its simmering tension as an inspiration, such as Alien: Isolation, where you creep around long corridors avoiding the alien, or Amnesia: Dark Descent, in which you are helpless and reduced to hiding in cupboards until the unknowable nasty passes, its impact on modern gaming is undeniable. Plus, with its nine different endings and varied grisly deaths based solely on your choices, it’s fair to say Clock Tower has slasher-style DNA, seen in future games like Until Dawn. Coming in at under two hours to play, its choices and randomly generated rooms also provided potential for replays – its endings, as you’d expect, mostly result in death, although some promised the unravelling of dark secrets. 
Towering inferno

“Originally, when I would come up with an idea for a project, I would often break down the structure of a film, anime, or novel that I liked. I would then extract what it was that I found interesting and why, and then structure it out,” says Kono. “So when I created Clock Tower, I drew from what fascinated me about horror films like Phenomena and Suspiria. The suspense of being chased and the thrill of hiding from a killer while holding your breath – neither of these aspects existed in video games at the time. That’s why I felt it was worth depicting them.” 
Phenomena, undeniably, shaped Clock Tower. The weird and very gory Dario Argento (of Suspiria fame) film features a young girl who can communicate telepathically with bugs and a stranger wielding a large pair of silver scissors. These lurid, strange images laid down the foundation for what was to become Clock Tower. Kono then went on to work at Japanese company Human Entertainment, which, while not well-known in the West, went on to develop over 80 games. However, getting Clock Tower developed at the company was not as straightforward as it might appear.

“So, the members of the planning division negotiated with upper management to let us try our hand at an original game. As a result, all the employees decided to hold a competition where anyone could participate freely. It was open to anyone with the condition that the winner would go into full production.” Kono decided to design something similar to the ‘cinematic live games’ made by Human Entertainment at the time, which included SOS, in which you escaped a sinking ship, and its spiritual successor, The Firemen, where you’re tasked with saving civilians from a monstrous blaze that erupts at a Christmas party. 
“With the exception of Sweet Home, the only horror games that existed at that time were action games with a horror flavour, like Splatterhouse, and that was not my ideal version of horror,” he continues. Although Splatterhouse was steeped in horror influences including HP Lovecraft and American slasher movies, it was also a side- scrolling beat-’em-up. Not that Clock Tower does not rely all that much on gore, it leans more towards atmosphere. That said, the mansion itself is rife with all manner of horrible, gothic nasties: dead animal heads, buzzing insects resting on meat and eerie mannequins, to name a few things rendered beautifully in all the glory of 16-bit.
With all that considered, Kono drew up designs embodying his idea of horror, and then went on to win the competition. Following its conception, the next step for Clock Tower was actually developing it. “All of my game designs are based on a series of logical steps, so my process is pretty much solidified at the proposal stage,” Kono explains. “So once development started, I only had to focus on things like the flow of the story, creating the map, and event production. However, there was only one problem. Outside of the text adventure genre, the idea of not being able to attack or defeat your enemies was a very foreign concept for games back then.” 
Fear of the dark

Hifumi Kono

As a result, Kono felt he only had a few people in his corner. “So, I had to ask some people nicely if they could help, and tell others assertively to do as I say. That’s how we completed Clock Tower. There was one member of the development team who was particularly defiant. They would openly say ‘This game is boring’. “But the moment the game came out and was released to critical acclaim, they started saying ‘I worked on this,’” Kono laughs. 
And laugh it off he did, because Clock Tower’s first release on SNES in 1994 was quite the event indeed. Its success, in fact, encouraged Human Entertainment to create more strange and experimental titles, and also spawned numerous Clock Tower sequels. Even these days, with its old-school graphics and simplistic movement, Clock Tower remains terrifying in its original form. This is because it creates its own terrors through its unusual design, atmosphere and narrative – all drenched in strange visions of Seventies horror.
“The most important thing for me was the stillness – nothing happening, just walking down the hallways in complete silence,” explains Kono. “The only sound you hear is the echo of footsteps. In creating those moments of stillness, I think I succeeded in making the appearance of Scissorman and the fear of the sound of his scissors more effective. Mr [Koji] Niikura was in charge of the sound direction, and he really demonstrated his superb skills in this extremely important facet of the game.” 
Indeed, the sound of Clock Tower contributes hugely to its legendary atmosphere. Its soundtrack is actually pretty stark – mostly permeating with distant wind ambience and jarring footsteps. There is very little music. However, when Clock Tower’s urgent, bombastic and sinister theme Don’t Cry, Jennifer hits – signalling that the Scissorman has arrived and you must flee – it has all the more impact as a result.
Cutting deep 

“In The Eroded Scissors, there was a scene where scissors burst through the heroine’s cheek from the inside of her mouth, and there was this easy-to-imagine, genuine pain about it specifically because it was an everyday item. And that’s something that I thought we could convey to players on screen through the medium of video games. Also, the uncomfortable scraping sound of metallic scissors was very effective in evoking a sense of urgency and the impending danger.” 
Scissorman’s lack of seriousness is part of what’s inducted him into the horror villain hall of fame. He creeps on you, steady and repetitive, and if he catches you in his grasp and brutally murders you, he does a little victory dance on your corpse. He’s also a constant threat, that can turn up anytime and anywhere. The scene in the enhanced PlayStation port, Clock Tower, where Scissorman is sitting in a rocking chair watching cartoons, is among Kono’s favourite scenes of the series. 
“I think the idea of a killer who innocently laughs at cartoons coming after you has a much more unsettling fear to it than a murderer who’s serious.” But more crucial to horror than cheek-splitting antics and little men wielding scissors, is pacing, according to Kono. “It’s true for all games, but I think it is especially important for survival horror titles. Those games are fast-paced when you’re being chased or fighting monsters, but if they continue without letting up, then the player will grow numb to it,” he says. “That then makes the monsters, which should be the focus of their fear, become mere obstacles. To mitigate that as best as possible and keep the monsters terrifying, you should pace things out in waves by periodically having a quiet, slow-paced situation.” 

He elaborates that the monster designs in Silent Hill are superb on their own, but that the radio is actually one of the scariest aspects of the game. “The radio noise itself creates an ominous sense of foreboding, which is substantial in heightening the atmosphere before monsters appear,” he says. He advises budding horror game designers to analyse fear as much as they can. “The word horror can be broken down further into many different genres, each offering its own quality of scares,” he continues. “What kind of fear do you want to present? Where does that fear come from? You must always remember that there is no clear, correct answer to these questions.”
“For example, a very young child who’s frightened will hug their mother. Most of them will face their mother when they do, but some will press their backs up against their mother and face outward,” he continues. “Are they afraid of seeing what they fear, or are they more afraid of not being able to see it? Fear is different for each person.” Following on from the huge success of Clock Tower and its sequels, Kono, now part of his own Tokyo-based company Nude Maker, is in the process of carefully composing a project he’ll be “satisfied with”. In particular, Kono would love to start a brand-new horror title.
“However, except for zombies, modern survival horror games have a very difficult time balancing both the size of the market and the increasingly large budgets needed for quality graphics,” he concludes. “How we’ll solve this, is a major challenge as we continue to move forward.”
This feature first appeared in Retro Gamer magazine issue 218. For more excellent features, like the one you’ve just read, don’t forget to subscribe to the print or digital edition at MyFavouriteMagazines.  

#making #Clock #Tower #important #stillness


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