Development Overview

Alchemists of Emotion

Konami's Silent Hill 2 on the Playstation 2 was a two year project based in Tokyo, Japan with over 50 people working on its development. Despite this large team the project would not have been as impressive as it is today without the help of three masterminds: Akihiro Imamura (producer), Takayoshi Sato (CGI character designer) and Akira Yamaoka (sound director). They were not only part of the first Silent Hill development team but also all have a working relationship akin to being with family.

Even though Konami's original Silent Hill title on the Playstation is considered to be one of the top horror games on the market, the team behind Silent Hill 2's development felt it was important to push the game series and horror genre even further with the sequel. The team felt this was possible with Silent Hill 2 as this new installment embodied much more than just horror or even a tragic love story: It was conceived to shake players mentally and emotionally on many subconscious levels. Masahiro Tsuboyama, the art director for Silent Hill 2, best explained the main goal behind the game, " create a world that would really disturb the game players whilst attracting them...something with an aura of mystery."

Creating this disturbing world involved a lot of planning before full development could even begin. Tsuboyama himself visited various locations that he felt captured the look the development team wanted for the game including a trip to San Bruno, California in the United States. Tsuboyama brought back many photos from his location trips back to Japan to help his fellow artists understand what kind of visuals they needed to create for the game. It was research photos like these that shaped and molded the town of Silent Hill that we have come to know.

Once there was a uniform consensus for Silent Hill's general appearance the next vital step was to establish a sense of great desolation and isolation within the town. This was largely achieved by creating unnaturally elongated streets and alleyways that gave the illusion that the town was much larger than previously imagined. An example of this is during the long trek in the beginning of the game where the player takes James, the protagonist, through a long stretch of trails to reach the fog shrouded town of Silent Hill. Nothing eventful happens to James' during this journey, but the length of time it takes to reach town creates great unease within the player. This built up paranoia keeps the player extremely tense and more on edge for the bigger scares after their arrival to town.

In addition to Silent Hill's physical exaggeration a grain filter was overlaid to "dirty" its appearance. This grain was one of several subtle visual elements implemented by the artists to enhance the feeling of menace behind each environment. Wanting to take the players by surprise, the design team made sure to plant disturbing imagery within the game environments that often went unnoticed at first. An example of this subtle-yet-disturbing imagery is seen when James finds a dead body slumped in a recliner in front of a bloody, loud, and static filled television. What's unique about this cadaver is that it shares James' polygonal model but it was altered slightly enough to appear as an entirely different person. By doing this the designers hoped players would sense something subconsciously familiar about this dead man but be unable to put a finger on it right away.

All of these mysterious details come together to form a visual background that convey impressions of solitude, suggestions of a parallel dimension, and the perfect sub straight to showcase such elaborate characters.

Creation of the Characters

Although James' plight is the player's primary focus in Silent Hill 2 he is by no means the only character in the game to hold the player's interest or play a key role. Every character the player encounters has their own engaging back stories that unfold as the player progresses through the game. One such interesting character is Maria; a fascinating woman who epitomizes the ambiguity of the game. Maria holds a strong appeal over other video game heroines simply due to the fact that she is vulnerable, imperfect and simply put: Human. She has weak points and seems to take full responsibility for them... even flaunting them to the player. For instance, in her costume design, Maria has an exposed midriff despite having an imperfect body and shows little rolls of flab. Her hair is bleached and dyed blonde with red tips and her brunette roots are showing underneath. Maria's imperfect design makes her more realistic to the player and as a result makes her seem that much more attainable versus the more super model like female game characters normally seen in video games.

Takayoshi Sato, the CGI character designer for Silent Hill 2, had big ideas when he initially created each Silent Hill 2 character. For Maria his design was much sexier in her initial character sketches than what is seen in her final game design. However, due to technical limitations and problems, Sato was forced to tone down his original design and make Maria much more modest in appearance.

Sato was so particular in how he wanted each character to look that he would not resort to an easier and less polished method of capturing character facial animation through means of motion capture. Instead, he did the facial animations by hand and combined multiple facial movements to create the perfect library of expressions. Sato became so involved in this process that he would practice facial expressions in the mirror to perfect their animations.

Even though their facial animation was done by hand, motion capture was used for each character's body animations. Character voice actors were used as actors during the motion capture so in the end the character's movements and voice inflections looked in sync. Incorporating motion capture in Silent Hill 2's development allowed animators to transpose the motion capture data to the game's character models which helped reduced the amount of animation workload.

Movement and design could only bring the characters so far and it was the perfect voice that gave each a finishing touch and brought their faces to life. Over 50 actors between Japan and the United States auditioned for the voice roles but in the end only 5 were hired.

With some characters, like Angela Orosco, it was up to their voice actor to reinforce the character's underlying bizarreness. She's only supposed to be 16 or 17 in the game but she definitely doesn't look or sound like a typical teenager. Sato further explains, "[I wanted] to make her face special" and the design team made her appear much older but it was the use of mature voice that really brought out the peculiarity of Angela's character design. This explains why Donna Burke, an actress in her 40's, was chosen for the role. During Angela's development the designers believed that if a younger actress was used the youthful voice would have made Angela seem too "normal" rather than unique and special. Burke's voice fit with the way Angela carried herself as a matured woman instead of a teenage adolescent.

But with some characters, like Eddie Dombrowski, it was their overall animations and actions that showcased their overt bizarreness. Eddie is considered one of the more deranged characters the player finds in Silent Hill due to his over weight physique and heavy handed and clumsy matter of movements. Unlike the other characters his eyes were extremely expressive that constantly moved than any other character which made players uneasy in his presence and hone in on the unstable emotions of the character.

An in-depth study of human emotions, constant attention to detail and perfect casting leads to the secrets of the characters in Silent Hill 2, but the monsters are every bit as ambiguous.

Creation of the Monsters - Something Human

The creatures featured in Silent Hill 2 are not your typical horror game monsters. They do not carry the normal attributes of a demonic creature one would expect to see. They have no horns nor do they appear to have any sort of supernatural powers. In the end it is their resemblance to a deformity in the human form that makes them so monstrous and disturbing to players. This apparent humanity in their form was the heart of the creatures' monstrous design. Masahiro Ito, monster designer for Silent Hill 2, wanted players in the beginning to "believe that [the creatures] were human" but then have those human characteristics undermined by "weird movements[...] and [...] using improbable angles for their bodies..."

This sort of inspiration for Masahiro's designs struck him often when he least expected it. The creation of the Lying figure was inspired by a friend who walked into the studio wearing a hooded jacket with his hands in his pockets. Of course, Masahiro's references were not merely anecdotal. He also drew inspiration from some of his favorite artists like the Irish painter, Francis Bacon, whose paintings of tormented human features greatly influenced his part in creating the demonic inhabitants of Silent Hill.

Masahiro's most striking and original creation is indisputably the triangle-headed monster, also known by fans as "Pyramid Head".

The ease in which Masahiro can draw monsters may make you think he had achieved Pyramid Head's design straight away when in actuality it was this design that went through the most incarnations. Masahiro wanted a monster whose unseen face was more disturbing in a player's imagination then just an exposed or grotesque face. One of his initial sketches resulted in a creature with a rather simple fleshly-like head but in the end Masahiro decided that he would look a lot more menacing in a pyramid shaped helmet. The "right angles and acute edges" along with the sharpness of the helmet suggests the possibility of consistent pain his initial fleshy design just couldn't portray.

Once the monsters were created, all that was needed were a few bizarre monster "noises" and some choice musical sequences, which was a job for the sound designer, Akira Yamaoka.

Music & Sound - Under the Skin

Akira Yamaoka, the sound producer of Silent Hill 2, plays a major role in how the game "feels" to players through ambience and music. Yamaoka's passion and dedication can be heard in Silent Hill 2's opening track, "Theme of Laura", beloved by all Silent Hill fans, for its sheer eccentricity and how it touches the heart with its steady flow of melody.

Despite what many often assume, Yamaoka is adamant that "movies didn't inspire [his] work for creation of Silent Hill 2's music" it's really just his music style. It took Yamaoka 3 days to compose "Theme of Laura" and felt in the end that the melancholy of the game was expressed with the use of unlikely musical combinations.

Yamaoka explained this unique music combination a little further citing "Theme of Laura" as an example: "The melody [isn't] the most important thing in a piece of music..." but for The Theme of Laura [Yamaoka] "based [his] music on a sad melody with a strong beat." But above all Yamaoka stressed that he wanted a person's emotions to stir while listening to his music.

Along with the soundtrack, Yamaoka also produced all of the game's sound effects, a total of 50 sounds, not counting the various environmental nuances. To prevent repetition, he created hundreds of footstep sounds for the characters. It was important to break some of the rules of sound in a survival horror game previously set by Capcom's Resident Evil game series. As Yamaoka explained it the "sounds in Resident Evil are pretty formal" and players are used to hearing them. With Silent Hill 2 Yamaoka wanted the sounds to surprise and challenge the player's imagination that would get under the player's skin as they progressed. That being said, however, Yamaoka is too good a musician not to know that silence can sometimes be the best sound of all.

The audio track of the game, like the graphics and animation, succeeds in creating an oppressive world, mysterious and completely original. But these technical exploits should not obscure what makes Silent Hill 2 a work of genius: Fear.

Psychological Horror - Eros & Thanatos

Silent Hill's major strength was the creation of a different type of fear not usually found in a horror game. Akihiro Imamura, producer of Silent Hill 2, describes the fear invoked by the game as one of paranoia, "what you don't see makes you feel afraid..." The creative minds behind the game hoped tobetter understand this fear by brainstorming about what's behind the human mind and heart.

Psychological horror has to shake the human heart and by doing that it uncovers people's true emotions, motives and actions. There is a reccurring theme of sex and death in Silent Hill 2 that consistently torments the player's emotions with overt sexuality shown throughout the game. Bubblehead nurses ooze promiscuity in their short skirts and low necklines while the Mannequins, a creature of disembodied female legs, further brought into focus a typical sexualized part of women, their legs. Sexuality is further exploited in Pyramid Head's rape of the Mannequins, the hints about Angela's previous molestation by her father, and Maria's cold and later deeply sensual attitude towards James.

To conclude, it is vital to look at one of the most important scenes in Silent Hill 2 and that's the prison scene.

Scene Decoding - Mary or Maria?

The infamous prison scene shows what looks like Maria sitting on a bed and James sitting on a stool across from her, with prison bars separating them James leads forward and Maria speaks:

"James honey...did something happen to you? After we got separated in that long hallway? Are you confusing me with someone else? You were always so forgetful. Remember that time in the hotel?"

Bewildered James can only reply, "Maria?"

According to Suguru Murakoshi, Silent Hill 2's drama director, this prison scene was one of the first imagined while writing the story of Silent Hill 2. By having Maria act and sound like Mary, the late wife he's searching for in Silent Hill, they hoped the player would become confused and let them think that Maria was really Mary the entire game.

It is intentions and scenes like this that make Silent Hill 2 a work of art. It is rife with mystery and horror, yet it is able to capture an otherworldly beauty that leaves you with a feeling of deep enlightenment and seems as real as anything else.