Interviews & Articles

Return to Silent Hill

June, 2001 by OPM - Archived from Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine (June, 2001, pg. 36-38).

With its cinematic approach, Silent Hill helped redefine the way horror is presented in video games - and that was surely one of the reasons why the game became so popular. Capcom's Resident Evil may have had more action and shock value, but Konami's Silent Hill had style. Instead of nefarious beasts suddenly jumping at you from behind glass windows, Silent Hill's enemy encounters were often slow and more built up. You knew there was an enemy up ahead - you could just feel it. But due to lack of visibility along with the dramatic camera angles and aural mood setting, you didn't always know exactly where it was hiding. And that was, well, scary. Because of this, Silent Hill toyed with gamer's emotions, evoking deep fear in just about anyone who dared to play it.

Silent Hill 2 continues what was started with the original, but takes things to the next level with the power of the PS2. This time around, thanks to the added realism, the terror is greatly intensified. OPM [Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine] recently sat down with an early version of the game, and we were completely shocked. This is some seriously messed up stuff, folks - like something out of your worst nightmares. Dismembered corpses with trailing blood and gore; disgusting sloth and self-torture; demented, carnal lust - it's outright evil like you've never come across in a video game.

"As in the first title, rather than expressing direct fright to the player, we are trying to focus on instinctive fears."

"I believe we were able to create a distinct world view in Silent Hill," producer Akihiro Imamura points out about his original horror creation. "But this time around, we want to create a game that, while it maintains a similar taste as the original, features a whole new story and a completely new presentation." It's immediatley apparent that this is Silent Hill - the town is filled with fog, you're required to explore dark hallways with a flashlight - but the sequel certainly does have a new style to it. Imamura drew his inspiration for this new Silent Hill chapter from an interesting source. "I watched a lot of David Lynch films," he says. "It wasn't necessarily just one or two particular movies, but rather his work and presentation overall - his style. I borrowed a little taste of his style for Silent Hill 2."

But while Lynchspirations are likely very subtle in the game, there are some elements that are immediately noticeable - such as the noisy, grainy look of the screen. Why did Imamura opt to use this unique graphical trait for the sequel? "The new generations of game consoles can surely produce more polygons and accomplish better CG movies," Imamura states, "but the glarey, polished CG-ish look is still there. In Silent Hill 2, we are really proud of the analog film kind of style. We wanted to create as non-polygonal-ish an image as possible. That's why the game has the noisy look to it."

Other elements like the flashlight and fog were used in the original to make up for the graphical limitations of the PS one while at the same time setting the mood. It would be a natural assumption that thanks to the PS2 these effects would no longer be required for the sequel, but Imamura disagrees. "For Silent Hill 2, we want to do that same sort of presentation again," he says. "The fear of not being able to see what's really ahead or around you is something that really disturbs human beings. That's why we need to use the flashlight. Also, even on the PS2 this effect can help us accomplish things graphically: If we cut down on the number of polygons, we can use better textures. This makes things look better, so there's another reason."

But just as much as the graphics are integral to setting the mood, in the original as well as the sequel, so is the sound. After playing the original, you'll forever have the haunting sound of the radio ingrained in your mind. Imamura claims that the radio and other sound effects will be greatly enhanced for the sequel. "The radio noise in Silent Hill was monotonous, so we are working on making it more natural for the sequel - more like an actual radio." Silent Hill 2 is also the first title to make use of a new 3D audio tool library from Sony. "You'll be able to hear where sounds are coming from in the game [upward to downward, front to back, direction and distance], and this can be accomplished just by using two speakers or just a pair of headphones."

Silent Hill 2 will also feature lots more voice - which raises the question of voice talent being used for the game (since Konami's recent titles like Zone of the Enders and Shadow of Destiny had poor U.S. voice-overs). CG director and character designer Takayoshi Sato, who recently moved to the U.S. to work from Konami's U.S. studio, chimes in. "That's one of the reasons I went to work from the U.S.," he explains. "This sort of thing could be focused on with me here. Konami is a Japanese company, but is now doing lots of business worldwide, and it's absolutely integral to us that we learn more about the American and other cultures when making products. We'll make sure that the voice-overs won't dissapoint."

While the graphics and sound both seem to be getting their respective upgrades, so will the gameplay. "We've been constantly thinking about ways to improve it," says Imamura. "We plan to not only have radio-control-style control, but also Super Mario 64-style control. And for the Japanese audience we're thinking about having a single button for shooting. (Japanese gamers often prefer more simplistic gameplay than U.S. gamers.)

Having been in development for a year and 10 months, Silent Hill 2 is only now beginning to really take shape. But with a good six months left in its development cycle, the group feels it has plenty of time to perfect this sequel. Not surprisingly, this team has grown considerably since the original title was put together. "All of the core members have returned for the sequel," says Imamura, "but making games for the PS2 takes more resources than the PS one. Roughly, I'd say that the number of people we have working on the sequel has doubled over that of the original. Frankly, making games on the PS2 takes twice the manpower, and costs twice as much." But with the results the team is getting, Sato and Imamura, who have to work together with 3,000 miles in between, don't seem to mind. "The group is very cohesive and everyone adds input," says Sato. "But it can be a difficult thing. We've changed the main scenario completely twice already. Basically, everyone makes suggestions about tricks, scenarios and lines in the game. Our scenario writer compiles all of those ideas and writes and core story. Then we have a meeting and discuss and tweak the lines and scenarios. It takes a long time, but we want to make this thing as good as we can."

"I figured it was a message from God telling me that we went too far, so we decided to tone it down."

The long development time and the patience the team is having with coming up with the scenarios is a good sign. If there's one thing the team really wants to accomplish, it's to once again scare people as they did with the original. "As in the first title, rather than expressing direct fright to the player, we are trying to focus on instinctive fear," says Imamura, "such as the fear of knowing something is hiding in the dark. Basically, it's like the fear in Silent Hill 1, but much deeper." Sato agrees: "Last time, we concentrated on the atmosphere and the feeling that the town has. This time, we concentrated on not only atmosphere but also human emotions, which allows us to express a deep, profound story."

From what we've seen so far, these guys have nothing to worry about. Silent Hill 2 is undoubtedly shaping up to be one of this year's biggest horror titles. Even the little we've played so far featured a great deal of shockingly disturbing visuals. With this in mind, we ask Sato if he's at all concerned that he and his team may be stretching things too far. "Yeah, nowadays we are getting nervous about that," he admits. "But these elements are necessary to explain the story of Silent Hill. There were things we toned down, though - take, for example, the fat guy puking, did you see that?" Unfortunately, we had. A vile scene if we've ever witnessed one - an ugly man looking as if he hadn't showered or seen the light of day in weeks making an awful mess of himself. An image that we would rather have forgotten. "Well, the scene was originally accompanied by a lot of disgusting sound effects," Sato continues, "and it had lots more vomiting. But for some reason during our editing process, the computer we were using crashed and we lost it. I figured it was a message from God telling me that we went too far, so we decided to tone it down."

Interestingly, the original concepts for Silent Hill 2 were even gorier that what's up and running today. "We originally wanted to have you chopping off the enemie's arms or heads when you hit them," Imamura points out. "But because if CESA's [Computer Electronics Software Association, the committee that oversees game software in Japan] code of ethics, we opted not to have that. During development we didn't think of that code at first, though, so we had to change our plans later. We are always trying to do what we envision for the game first, but if it's going to be in the gray area, we usually consult them about it first." So the game is acceptable on CESA standards, but what about for the U.S. market? "Most of the guys on our team did the original game," say Imamura, "so we have a good idea of how it'll be rated for the U.S. market. When it gets into the gray area, we sometimes consult sales people in the U.S. to see if things would be acceptable or not."

Whether the game ends up being acceptable or not, there's no question that it'll scare loads of people, just as the original did. Imamura and his team have the whole horror thing down pat, that's for sure. But we can't help wondering to ourselves: Spending so much of their lives in the Silent Hill universe and working with all these dark creatures, do these guys ever get nightmares? Surely even the masters must get scared.

"I don't get haunted by the games because I see the creatures we deal with everyday," says Imamura. "I guess I've just gotten used to them." Sato agrees, but he admits to having been a little freaked out in the past. "I've never had a nightmare," he says, "but for some reason one of our hard drives crashed three times and we can't figure out why. One time we lost 18 gigs of material. I just couldn't figure out what was wrong with it. But now I'm honestly thinking it has to do with Silent Hill..."

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