'Dead by Daylight's' Creative Team on the Challenges of Translating 'Ringu' Into the Game

For its latest piece of downloadable content (DLC), Dead by Daylight is crossing over with the iconic Ringu franchise. To shed more light on how this collaboration began and what features you can expect from it, the game's creative director, Dave Richard, joined Newsweek for an exclusive interview.

Before we get started, it's worth clarifying that this new chapter, titled "Sadako Rising", is specifically based on the Japanese Ringu films and not their Hollywood remakes. While they broadly tell the same narrative, there are a few subtle (and not so subtle) differences between those two franchises. For instance, they provide totally separate backstories for their antagonists, have idiosyncratic visual styles and branch off into divergent sequels.

Given that Dead by Daylight is already populated by a who's who of horror icons from American cinema (like Pinhead, Michael Myers and Freddy Kruger), you might assume that the developers at Behaviour Interactive would plump for the English language version of The Ring. However, the imminent update is 100% faithful to the Ringu continuity instead.

When asked about this, Richard told Newsweek: "We always try to chase the original Intellectual Property (IP) wherever possible. Sometimes that can't happen, and we have to take another approach to give players the content they want (such was the case with the Nightmare on Elm Street DLC, which ended up being based on the 2010 remake).

"Anyway, our intention was always to go after the Ringu license. It could very well have been the American Ring, but Kadokawa were interested in continuing the original story and having their characters be part of the Dead by Daylight universe."

Adapting the Definitive Japanese Horror Movie

Dead by Daylight Sadako Rising Key Art
Image shows the key art for the upcoming "Sadako Rising" chapter of "Dead by Daylight". This will be based on the Japanese "Ringu" films. Behaviour Interactive

In case you were wondering, Kadokawa is the rights-holders for the Japanese Ringu film and the original novel upon which it is based.

While the name might not be familiar to western audiences, the media conglomerate is an absolute powerhouse in Asia, where it is involved in everything from the publishing of books to film production, game development and magazine distribution.

Reiko Imayasu, a producer at Kadokawa's film division and manager of the Ringu brand since 2012's Sadako 3D, explained all of this to Newsweek. She said "The company started out as a publisher. It then became one of the first companies in Japan to expand into producing films based on novels [and] mangas [...] Today, we are a comprehensive entertainment company with a diversified portfolio that includes publishing, live-action films, animation [and] educational content."

While the company has certainly has a lot of memorable IP — especially for anime fans — Ringu is arguably its most famous export in the United States. Reflecting on this, Imayasu said: "I think it is very significant because it established the genre of Japanese Horror for the [rest of the] world."

On that note, Imayasu points out that it helped popularize a lot of the genre's tropes for western audiences, including the idea of an Onryō ghost. She continued: "The film was also significant in the history of cinema in various ways. For example, it was the first to have a visual of an antagonist where you couldn't see the face because it was covered with hair."

"I think the most important thing is that it depicts something universal that can be sympathized with beyond generations and nationalities [...] I think the fear of losing one's family is universal. With that foundation, the killer shot of "Sadako coming out of the TV" [and] the story development with a big twist,, I think this is a perfect film with everything in the right place."

Given how beloved the Ringu brand is, you might think that Kadokawa would be reluctant to hand over the reins to another studio. Yet Imayasu claims that the license-holder was immediately keen on doing a collaboration with Dead by Daylight.

Elaborating upon this, the producer said: "Japan is actually one of the countries where Dead by Daylight is most popular. In December, it was even nominated among TV Asahi's Top 100 favourite games of all time according to Japanese players, which is a very high honour in our country. For several years, I had been thinking about having Sadako participate in Dead by Daylight. It's a very popular title in Japan, and that's why I wanted her to be the first horror queen from a Japan license to participate."

Translating Sadako to the 'Dead by Daylight' Universe

Sadako Gameplay in Dead by Daylight
Image shows Sadako attacking Yoichi Asakawa in "Dead by Daylight". The ghost is unable to touch her victims and so instead has to attack with psychic powers. Behaviour Interactive

When most people think of Ringu, the first thing that pops up in their head is guaranteed to be the indelible image of Sadako emerging from a television set to claim her victim's life. She is truly an unforgettable antagonist and so it was of paramount importance that Behaviour Interactive do her justice in Dead by Daylight.

Reflecting on this immense pressure, Richard said: "When we think about Ringu, we think about Sadako coming out of the television. We think about the old well, the cursed tape and all the strange imagery that has been projected onto it. Those are really powerful and enduring images that even people who haven't seen the movie can recognize. So obviously we wanted to show that as much as possible and make it playable in some way."

However, this proved to be easier said than done, because Sadako isn't your typical horror movie slasher. While Michael Myers, Leatherface and Jigsaw can all be rather easily translated into the existing Dead by Daylight mechanics (given that they already run around and hack at people with bladed instruments), the Ringu villain is not such an obvious fit.

Richard continued: "As a team, we were thrilled by the prospect of getting the Sadako license, but it was difficult to envision how it could possibly work in our game. You know, she's not really walking around with a knife, and she doesn't even directly attack people. So, we had to find clever ways to make the character work in Dead by Daylight without undoing what makes her special in the first place."

Indeed, one of the stipulations from Kadokawa was that, as per Ringu lore, Sadako is unable to touch any of her prospective victims. She is a more insidious psychological threat who kills via a supernatural curse and by provoking heart attacks. It's not immediately apparent how you can adapt such an abstract concept for a video game that's all about chasing down other players, hitting them a couple of times and then physically hoisting them onto a sacrificial hook.

It turns out that this was actually a big concern for Imayasu, who told Newsweek: "While I wanted to put Sadako on par with her great predecessor killers, I was worried about whether she would fit in when she is already so different from them. After all, she cannot physically hit people or "hook" them."

Richard is confident that the team at Behaviour Interactive managed to find an elegant solution to this problem though. He said: "One of the main rules for Sadako is that she cannot touch people, right? She is a ghost. She is a spiritual manifestation and cannot physically interact with any of her victims. That was a big challenge because all of our killers need to be able to transport people onto the sacrifice hooks in order to win matches. That's the point of the game!

"So, the team had to find clever ways, in terms of animation and effects, to show these essential actions in a way that didn't break the Ringu lore. Luckily, Sadako has psychic powers, and we know from the movies that she can kill just by looking at you. She can also move things [telepathically] which gave us a way around this issue."

According to Richard, Behaviour Interactive always strives to ensure that crossover characters in Dead by Daylight feel authentic to the original source material and that the game is adapted to suit them, rather than the other way around. For this reason, the team often ask the respective license holders for a list of guidelines that should be adhered to.

In the case of Ringu, Kadokawa had a number of suggested rules. Relating this list, Imayasu clarified: "Sadako needs long black hair and a white dress. She has crawled desperately out of the well, so her fingernails have come off and she can barely walk. However, she was originally a very beautiful, dignified, and pitiful being. So, I asked the production team to ensure that Sadako herself does not turn into a monster or zombie.

"I also asked them to include the two icons that are essential to Sadako: the well and the TV. The Chapter would have been less exciting if those things were missing."

Behaviour Interactive readily complied with all of these rules and also managed to find a way to work in the ominous "Seven Days" countdown. If you are not familiar with this aspect of the movies, it is essentially a curse that is inflicted upon anybody who watches the Ringu videotape, dooming them to a horrible death after a week has elapsed.

Describing how this curse has been translated into Dead by Daylight, Richard said: "The other thing that was super important to us is that, when you're watching the movie, the primary emotion [instilled] is one of doom and gloom. The protagonist gets that "seven days" call, and they know they're fated to die.

"That feeling of slow-burn dread is vital to the Ringu lore and it's something that we had to somehow recreate in online matches that only last for a few minutes. So, we had to create a brand-new gameplay system for this.

"There's a special mechanic in place where the survivor has seven notches in a bar that gradually fills up over the course of a match. Depending on their or the killer's actions, it can either build up really fast or really slow. But once all seven notches are complete Sadako can appear at will and kill you right on the spot. Just like in the movie.

"In that sense, there are two kinds of emotion that you're going to get when facing Sadako in Dead by Daylight. There's the sudden onset of panic whenever she appears right in front of you or crawls out the TV, and then there's that subtler dread as that curse steadily builds up over time. It makes her a really distinctive killer in our game."

Continuing the Story of Yoichi

Yoichi Asakawa In Dead by Daylight
Image shows Yoichi Asakawa outrunning Sadako in "Dead by Daylight". The new survivor has his own set of ESP abilities and perks. Behaviour Interactive

Sadako isn't the only character that's being introduced with this new chapter, as fans will also be able to play as Yoichi.

Ringu aficionados — or Ringworms as they elect to call themselves — will know this character as the lone survivor of Sadako's curse. The last time we saw him, he was still just a young child learning to come to grips with his Extrasensory Perception (ESP) abilities.

For his appearance in Dead by Daylight, he has been aged up to around 30 years old. This is presumably so that he can be hacked to pieces by the other killers in the game, without players having to endure graphic depictions of pedicide.

The interesting thing here is that Dead by Daylight is canonically filling a gap in the Ringu storyline, by revealing what happened to Yoichi once he escaped Sadako's clutches.

About this Richard said: "Originally, it wasn't part of our plan. When we started thinking about Ringu, we knew we obviously had to use Sadako, but for the survivor we thought about going with one of the adult protagonists instead, like maybe Reiko or Ryūji. This turned out to be impossible because we couldn't [secure] the likenesses of those actors.

"So, then I had an epiphany that we could do an adult version of Yoichi. He's a great fit because he is the son of those original protagonists, he has an intimate link with Sadako, and he has his parents' ESP abilities. When we pitched that idea to Kadokawa they were thrilled."

Imayasu said: "This idea came up during the second meeting. I immediately thought, 'That is so interesting!' The Ringu series has always told a continuous story across different pieces of media, such as novels and films and it works [really well]."

When it came to writing a bio for this older version of Yoichi, the team at Behaviour Interactive were given free rein to come up with their own version of events (which are explained in more detail here). However, Kadokawa did pitch in by offering their own insights into the character and providing context for his Japanese upbringing.

As for gameplay, it was important to Richard that players be able to use Yoichi's psychic abilities, otherwise there is not much point in having him at all. He said: "We've actually done similar things in the past with some other characters that have supernatural abilities. I'm thinking of Cheryl from Silent Hill for example, who is linked to the dark world.

"We wanted to do the same for Yoichi, so that his powers are reflected in his perks. For instance, you can project your aura in specific situations to help the other survivors know more about what's going on or where things are located."

The Sadako Rising chapter of Dead by Daylight is due to be released on March 8, on Steam, PS5, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Epic Games Store, Windows Store, Nintendo Switch and Google Stadia.

Correction 2/16/22, 08.20 a.m. ET: This article originally misspelled the developer "Behaviour Interactive" as "Behavior Interactive". This has now been updated throughout.