The 2011 earthquake that devastated Japan changed the direction of Sony Computer Entertainment's Japan Studio's game Rain, according to producer Ken Suzuta and director Yuki Ikeda.
Presenting a post-mortem of the studio's puzzle adventure game at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Suzuta said when the studio first began working on Rain, the game was much darker and had a greater sense of hopelessness. Showing video footage of the game's early iterations, Rain was a much more suspenseful, stealth-focused experience. It had more traditional video game features, like a user-interface that warned players when danger was near and induced a sense of panic and urgency when the monsters were in sight.
Suzuta said it was much more of an action game, with a focus on fear and isolation in a cruel world of pounding rain. "But everything changed," he said. "On March 11, 2011, the Japan earthquake hit, and suddenly our silly little game didn't seem so important.
"We didn't have the heart to make this depressing game."
"Every day at work, we had to see two little children struggling in the rain. Were we prepared to take responsibility for this sadness? We didn't have the heart to make this depressing game."
While the development team was disheartened and reluctant to continue development on the game, Suzuta said its team leader encouraged them to not give up, because "times are tough, but people are going to need fun in their lives someday, and when it happens, they're going to need the entertainment we make."
"Sometimes entertainment does hurt people," Suzuta said. "It can cause sadness and pain. With that in mind, we had an epiphany. All we have to do is design the game so it moves players the way we want them to. We decided to create a whole new Rain — a game that wasn't about loneliness and sadness. It would be a game that's unsettling and a little painful, but also tells a beautiful story of the night."
According to Ikeda, the team changed the game's course, shifting the theme from loneliness and isolation to curiosity and bravery. They removed the UI and got rid of overtly game-like markers, and instead added text to tell the story in the way children's picture books do. The result was a game that wasn't just logical through its puzzles, but emotional through its depiction of the relationship between the little boy and the little girl, and their discoveries in the rain.
Rain launched on the PlayStation 3 in October 2013. Polygon's review can be read here.