Last year, eclectic game developer Suda 51 and his studio Grasshopper Manufacture received quite a lot of criticism for a series of missions in its stylish action game Killer is Dead. "Gigolo Mode" saw you courting female characters - ogling them while their attention is diverted, then offering a gift to suit their tastes - and by creeping on them successfully you would be rewarded with sex. Just like in real life! (If you live in a Russ Meyer film.)
But there are two sides to every story, so I thought I'd ask Suda for his perspective when I caught up with him at E3 to discuss upcoming brawler Let it Die. Unfortunately, our interview on the subject was limited for time and filtered through a translator, so it's possible that some of the matter's finer points may have been lost in translation... With that being said, here's how our chat went down:
Eurogamer: One of the biggest criticisms about your last game, Killer is Dead, was to do with its "Gigolo" missions where you got women to sleep with you by buying them things. I was wondering if you could say what you thought of the criticisms about that.
Suda: Those missions were actually supposed to be part of Shadows of the Damned. The original concept was you were supposed to give flowers. It was more of a non-erotic mission. Then I got a request from the Japanese publisher saying, 'We're going to sell this game in Japan. We need more scandalous stuff.' I wanted the mode to be a little bit cleaner, but it came from the top down that I had to add that in there.
They're an erotic publisher. I wanted a more elegant "Gigolo Mode". I wanted to tone it down a little bit, but I'm pretty satisfied with what I came up with.
Eurogamer: So you give flowers, but it's otherwise the same?
Suda: You give flowers and if you do it well enough, you get to go into the girl's room and it all works out. There was more romance involved. It wasn't as erotic.
Eurogamer: Shadows of the Damned was all about trying to rescue your girlfriend. Did it have a different concept at the time, or did you sleep with other women while trying to rescue her?
Suda: We had a different version where he was actually single, so it wouldn't be as bad as that with you going after different girls.
Eurogamer: But the problem most people had with Gigolo Mode wasn't the items that you gave. It was the fact that you're able to get women to sleep with you just for giving them items. So I was wondering what you thought about that specific criticism: that women and sex were treated as a prize.
Suda: This is a conversation I had with the Japanese publisher. Basically, if we'd made it too easy it would make it like you're buying stuff and getting girls, so I made it so you're not able to get the girl all the time. Also, when you mess up, the girl slaps you. So I didn't make it as easy as I could have. There's a degree of difficulty in this, which kind of shows in the game that women are strong. So they don't look like an object that's easy.
People who just saw the visuals might think that women are treated like objects, but if people play it, I don't believe that that would be the same feedback. If you played it, you'd understand the degree of difficulty and it wouldn't look as bad.
For the record, this is what Oli Welsh made of it in our Killer is Dead review:
"It's sexist, it's grubby, it's voyeuristic and objectifying, and it's also a sad, lopsided and profoundly unsexy depiction of romantic interaction. Gigolo Mode is presumably intended to portray our hero as a Bond-style smooth international playboy, but instead he comes across as a pathetic, socially impaired creep who has to bribe women for sex. How it didn't end up cut from the game is unthinkable."