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In my restless dreams, I see that town.

Silent Hill turns 15 today.

Source: rodrig321 (link in pic)

A few days ago I saw a thread on a forum that asked “Has a game ever changed you?”  Responses were pretty sarcastic all around, as the concept is a little weird to contemplate. Media rarely changes people, at least in a way they would say so seriously.

However my response, which I didn’t post, is that Silent Hill most definitely changed me–both as a player and as somebody making the games. It’s fairly unbelievable to consider that, but since the series is celebrating a birthday let’s talk about it a bit.

I got the original game for my birthday, which is in a month, and my mom had been suckered into buying the strategy guide as well. GameStop employees were good about that, and it wasn’t the first or last time they’d tricked her. However, I never looked at guides until I’d completed the game, so I didn’t expect it to affect my view of Silent Hill. Imagine my surprise when I did check the guide (the unofficial Prima guide) and discovered they didnt’ know what the Channeling Stone did. They openly admitted they didn’t understand the purpose of this item!  This game was so mysterious and deep that it eluded even its own strategy guide!  Incredible.

Silent Hill taught me what a scary game could be. I’d played Resident Evil 2 with its effective jump scares–but that opening to SH is still unmatched, with the freaky camera angles and forcing the player to die.  These are real actual cinematic tricks, but in a video game. Of the people I knew, I was the only one brave enough to play beyond the school–several of my friends had declared the game too dark, too evil to continue.

Silent Hill 2, a few years later, taught me several things as well. First, it taught me that horror games never show well on the floor of a convention like E3 (something only disproven once–by Climax–with Shattered Memories, which supported constant play on 8 kiosks). I remember coming across it and giving it a shot.  There were 2 kiosks devoted to it and both were empty. The player before me left off during part of what I later learned was the Blue Creek Apartments… and there were no enemies to see and no mood to appreciate, given the loud noises and bright lights all around me.  I knew the game would be great (after SH1 how could it not be?), but I was saddened imagining what other showgoers might think of it.

It also taught me, through its plot, to appreciate the perspective of other people. Not to simply be aware that other people have their own perspective and baggage and beliefs–but to understand how that shapes their perception of the world around them. This is a very powerful theme of SH2 that is often ignored as people are absorbed by James and his grief, but it’s there and it’s important.  Speaking of James’s plot, at the time it was unprecedented and it elevated what game narrative could be.

Silent Hill 3 – I gotta be honest – didnt’ teach me a whole lot. It’s my least favorite in the original four, easily. Sure, Heather is a great character, the graphics are amazing, and that drive to Silent Hill is wonderful. But it’s got a huuuuge stretch at the beginning with no driving force (“Get home, kay?”), and at the end of the day it’s just a story. It doesn’t have the emotional resonance of SH2 or the sheer “what is going on” of SH1. It’s a story in a series–and that’s fine!

If anything, I guess SH3 saved me a little bit? When I got the game, my girlfriend had come over to hang out and we didn’t communicate very well. She played coy like she didn’t want to hang out, so I kept on playing SH3. She broke up with me not long after and a while later she teased me about choosing SH3 over her. So for all you folks who think I couldn’t possibly love the series as much as you because you’d choose it over the opposite sex… there you go.

(It did have some great tableaus, and it did create the carousel, which meant years later on the set of the second film I got to RIDE the carousel, surrounded by fire and everything. So I can’t be too disappointed.)

Silent Hill 4 is (was?) an under-appreciated gem. It locked its most powerful scares into a single room and then forced you to return time and time again, always uncertain what you could be faced with during your visit. It taught me how much the fanbase hates change. Despite its shining moments (the apartment complex level, the Room, Walter himself), everyone focused on the shortcomings. They desperately searched for an answer–anything at all to separate this…thing…from their beloved franchise, and they quickly accepted the idea SH4 had never been intended to be a Silent Hill, and Marketing basically placed it in a Silent Hill box and released it onto an unsuspecting public. This was a warning of what was to come.

While I’ve always been a fan of Silent Hill, I’ve never been “part of the fanbase”.  I was very active on the internet when the original game came out, but it never occurred to me to seek out like-minded fans. I never even really considered there was a growing “base” of fans until an acquaintance on 1up told me how much she hated SH4 and what an abomination it was. For some reason I’d only talked to the few personal acquaintances who played it, or random strangers at parties (oddly enough).

This is really weird considering I read plenty of forums about Final Fantasy games (earlier on), Metal Gear Solid, Zelda, Mega Man, etc. I think the differences is how personal the Silent Hill games are. Their stories and themes, unlike any other game, really approach you as an individual, and your interpretation and your experience are valuable parts of the whole. With Mega Man and Mario you experience levels–obstacles to overcome that thousands like you have also overcome.

Silent Hill is different. Silent Hill has a conversation with you. A long, disquieting conversation, and that conversation is unique to you. It’s a personal thing. And discussing that with others is revealing a part of yourself.

This is part of the reason fans are so precious about it.

This is the reason I was honored and intimidated when a few scant weeks after starting at Konami, I was giving feedback on Origins, getting glimpses of Homecoming, and pitching a Wii version of the game.  If this thing was going to be developed in the West, in the same office where I worked every day, I was sure as anything going to put in my two cents.

Being a Silent Hill insider taught me to trust my gut. Reading this, you will never know the concerns I brought up. You will never know the arguments I started, the battles I won, or the battles I lost. You likely have your own opinions based on who-knows-what, but the one thing I most definitely learned was that my gut–which told me how the fans would react–wasn’t wrong. Not once.

This definitely does not mean I was always arguing for what the fans wanted. Silent Hill is personal. It was personal to me as a player, and it was personal to me as a guy making the games.  This is because to the original creators, Ito and Yamaoka and so on, it was also personal. You don’t get resonance by giving people what they expect. You get it by communicating ideas that you feel, that you care about.

I argued for the fanbase as often as I argued against it (and again, won and lost both types of arguments)–but I always let everyone involved know exactly what the fans would think. Whether or not they listened was up to them.  But once those decisions were made and the games came out, my expectations were proven accurate.

What my gut DIDN’T foresee was the degree of those reactions.  It’s one thing to know “people are going to hate this” and it’s another to have a 2 hour video devoted to hating whoever made that decision (which was always assumed to be me, whether or not it was).

And so, while the first half of the series had taught me the power, the beauty, and the cruelty of humanity’s darker emotions; the second half of the series strung me up as a target for them, like some weird performance art version of Silent Hill itself.  Of course, there are many fans who do like (or appreciate, or tolerate) the recent games, and I love them all dearly. When you put out a personal thing (even when it’s your personal thing mixed with a hundred other peoples’ personal things), it’s nice to get some acknowledgment that, yeah, your thing is okay. There is value in what you did.

I never got to tell my Silent Hill story, the one that SH2 planted, and grew inside me in the years since. I pitched it twice, and I hinted at it in a joke ending, but it remains untold (but you know, if you read Edge magazine……). Instead, the stories we told in Shattered Memories and Downpour were the works of many different people, all with different opinions, and all with different stories to tell. This is the same magical cauldron from which the original games sprung. And yet, the fanbase as a whole didn’t like these games much, some even offering opinions having never tried the games.  These personal stories were offered up to the masses only to be spat back out again.

It’s a very discouraging cycle. Especially to have a hard-working dev team essentially snubbed by the public because your name appears above theirs in the credits. Being “right” about fan reaction is little comfort when the games are left unplayed. I wrote a story about it, actually. This guy finds a book that lets him rewrite the world. It doesn’t go the way he planned. Really, it’s a lot less subtle than you’d think, reading the forums.

Because if they were making me create a Silent Hill that felt nothing like the series… I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to put a personal story into it.

It ends with a song that you could have listened to instead of reading this entire post. As is their way, Troy and Mary say it best of all.

Happy 31st birthday, Silent Hill. The world is better for having you in it, and I hope dearly for your continued existence.

Video killed the kid who ran around doing Yosemite Sam impersonations

I saw some stuff on the internet along these lines today and it inspired me to talk about my history with video games. So let’s get started, shall we?

I remember a rainy day when I was probably 6 or 7, I was probably acting up or something, and my mom pulled out a dusty relic from the family’s past: an Atari 2600.  She put on Space Invaders and handed me a controller, saying something like “You’re the spaceship and you have to shoot the aliens.”

So I, the space ship, shot aliens. I thought it was so cool–moving around onscreen and doing things just by pushing a button. It was like a TV show I controlled! Mom probably did not know what she was sparking here, I imagine she thought I’d get bored of video games soon and move on to something else–but for the moment she had a reprieve.

It turns out that’s exactly what happened with the rest of my family; after a brief case of Pac Man fever, my folks and their friends had collectively gotten over gaming and relegated the 2600 consoles to their children. In the case of those friends, the child was a daughter with MS who used the games as therapy and a way to socialize (with me). I used them as therapy for whatever was wrong with me.

See, contrary to the genesis of our Atari, and the experiences of a lot of kids my age, my parents didn’t game. Sure, my mom would join me for a round of Mario every year or so, and she watched me play Harvest Moon (and in my college years she got addicted to Animal Crossing), but I didn’t have a Tetris Mom. I never came downstairs to find my older sister absorbed in Dragon Warrior. My dad didn’t help me through difficult moments of Zelda. Games were entirely mine–a language spoken by children, like TMNT in the same era. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Between our house and my parents’ friends’ I learned a number of games, from standbys like PacMan and Donkey Kong, to more obscure fare like Swordquest (which I swear was called Aquarius). I also developed a lifelong love of Dig Dug. A little later, my best friend picked up a Texas Instruments gaming computer, and had his own games: Parsec, Munchman, and Tombstone City. True classics, right?

But we were growing up and so were the consoles. Kids around me started getting NES’s, and my parents told me one day we were going to pick up a new video game (which meant system). Here it was–finally the moment I knew would change my life forever!

…I tried to be excited about the Atari 7800 (which I now know was on clearance–I’ve got the box), after all, it came with Pole Position 2! But I knew it wasn’t an NES. My parents remained resolutely on the “fad” side of the fence, probably put there by articles about how video games were dead and the last gasps of the fledgling industry came in the form of astronomical Nintendo hardware ($100!? For a VIDEO GAME? For that price it had better play movies or something).

With the new console came the ability to buy new games with my allowance, and hey at least they were cheap (but why were they all randomly thrown into a bin without organization?), so I picked up amazing new games like Adventure and Vanguard. Sure, my friends all had Super Mario, but at least these games were *mine*.

Speaking of Mario, he sure was everywhere. Suddenly whenever I went over to a friend’s house, instead of standing around asking if they’d ever played a video game like Space Invaders, they were invariably engrossed in Super Mario and barely looked up to say hi when I got there. Tim and Stephen, two kids in my class, were the main source of NES before my best friend picked his up. I mainly watched, as the few times I attempted to play Mario I died on the first Goomba.  I saw sprawling 1-1′s, dank 1-2′s, underwater levels, and even a platoon of flying fish!  While my friends and their sisters (or both Tim and Stephen in a power pair situation) battled through the Mushroom Kingdom, I busied myself reading the manuals or “How to Win At” guides. “Those fish are called Cheep Cheeps” I informed nobody one day.

Then came Zelda. The LEGEND of Zelda. I’d only heard its name whispered on the playground, and the commercials weren’t doing much to educate me. I knew it came in a gold cart, but when I asked other kids what Zelda was, their answer was something like “It’s… Zelda.” Tim wouldn’t even play it–he told me he had to wait for the Nintendo Fun Club News featuring Zelda to arrive, as the game was really complicated and he didn’t understand it. Tim was in a different class and crowd when Dragon Warrior came along, but I am curious what he made of that cryptic beast.

Once he did understand it, he let me play as a third save file–but I couldn’t name my character Link. Even though that was his name! “Link” was reserved for Tim alone. Thus, “Linked” was born. I’d love to say there’s some symbolic tradition where I forever named my Zelda files “Linked” but that’s stupid. I paid for them, *I* get to be Link. I do think of Tim every time, though.

(I’d also like to make a clever Ocarina reference where Link is the Hero of Tim, but we’ll skip it)

So for the first year of Nintendo’s reign, I wasn’t actually playing Nintendo much. But that only added to its mystique. Here was this console, with these huge sprawling worlds inside it, and I could only catch small glimpses and then eavesdrop on kids at school as they talked about how to defeat Mummy Men and if anyone had even SEEN Dracula before. I do remember at Tim’s I was eventually able to pass that Goomba, only to be repeatedly thwarted by the moving platforms in 1-2. I thought I’d NEVER get past them. I totally sucked at these games…

…until one day we were visiting other friends of my parents, and their daughter took me down the street to a neighbor’s house (oddly enough, within 5 miles of where I live now). Nintendo finally “clicked” and I blew past those platforms. This coincided with my best friend getting his NES as previously mentioned, and I secured a firm “Player 2″ spot in all his adventures. Or, in one-player games, as manual-guy and also official keeper of his Official Nintendo Player’s Guide.

But while most of my friends only had Mario, Zelda, and a smattering of launch games (Ice Hockey, Pinball), John Paul got a new game every few weeks (in kid time–was probably every other month), so I learned the ways of Metroid, Castlevania, Ghosts & Goblins, and Commando–which made my slick Atari 2600 version seem blocky and terrible. In fact, Commando would be my final purchase for the system, and the final straw. I took matters into my own hands and began writing Santa a letter. I threw open the Sears wish book and wrote “Santa, I would like a Nintendo, and if I get one here are games I would like…” and proceeded to list every single game in the whole darn book.

Except Karnov.

Because nobody wants Karnov, not even a kid desperate to claw his way out of the Atari era that predates his birth.

So on Christmas morning, certain Mr. Claus wouldn’t let me down, I snuck downstairs and looked for a box the right size, measuring the candidate in the only way I knew how: the console would fit here… and two controllers go here… and the zapper gun would fit here, leaving this space for Mario/Duck Hunt! It’d have to be this one!

The other suspicious box turned out to be Zelda.

And thus, after years of hard labor on inferior consoles it was here–my very own NES. My very own portal into Hyrule and beyond. So after christening the system with a run to 4-1 (ended, as always, by Lakitu) I entered the name Link and set out on my odyssey.  Take that, Tim.

(the next day Tim showed up with his own Christmas haul: Super Mario 2! Making me once again painfully out of date–but December 25th belonged to me!)

Just Explore the Dungeon, Okay?

Today’s a pretty big day! My first released game as Director is out now–Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON”T KNOW!

You can watch a trailer by clicking on this link.

It was really fun working with series creator Pendleton Ward and bringing his universe to life with thickly-spread fanservice… but that’s not what I want to talk about today!

I want to talk about the very first enemy I ever remember creating. Back when I was nine, I played a little game called Mega Man 2, and it convinced me that making games was my destiny. Even before I’d actually PLAYED it, I set about creating my own version based around the screens and art in Nintendo Power. I could tell this Mega Man was something special.  My own version, of course, was Mecha Man–a brave (green!) robot who battled the vile Dr. Willy.

Well, Mega Man had these little hard hat guys (Mets) who were somewhat of a series mascot, and I knew I needed the same. But I wanted mine to be a bit more dangerous. Why wear a safety hat when you could BE the safety hazard!? And so, Dyna-MIGHT was born! (This is also my first recorded pun)

Dyna-MIGHT is a cute little stick of dynamite who is super buff and sports a wicked pair of bancho shades to ward off potential threats.

Why do YOU care?  Well, because obviously Mecha Man never existed. But I held onto DynaMIGHT for years, intending to use him in Mythri (which also didn’t come out)… and now that I’m an official Director, DynaMIGHT finally came to life in Adventure Time.

Pen Ward didn’t just want the game to have Adventure Time cameos in the monster department–he wanted some original stuff too. So, along with Fairy Convict, Harming Bird, and Elec Snake came… DynaMIGHT!  And since these needed to be prisoners in Bubblegum’s dungeon, he got a sweet striped shirt and prison tattoo (it’s hard to see in the sprite, but in the official art it clearly reads BOM*)

This was pretty neat! It was nice seeing a little guy I’d imagined nearly 25 years ago come to life (so I could kill him… over and over and over again).

So check out the game–I hope you like it!  And special thanks to @_swammi who drew an actual good version of him, Gustav Kilman who modeled him in glorious pixels, and @johanvinet who brought him to life. You guys rock. To the max!

*as in Mario 2′s early screenshots, not Book of Memories

PS2 bosses, gang

Zelda bosses, everyone

Gross bosses, kids

Pursuit bosses, y’all

Memorable bosses, guys.

Arcade bosses, dude

Atari bosses, people.