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.

{ Leave a Reply ? }

  1. Andrew Cook

    Great post. I for one loved Shattered Memories as much as the first three, and Downpour was a pretty fun time as well. Thanks for your part in keeping the nightmare alive.

  2. Ty

    Well, I thought you were great. It’s always been very clear that you loved the series.

    Downpour is my second favourite SH game, by the way. Nothing tops Part 3, but Downpour was pretty good. SM was awesome as well.

    Really appreciated your work and dedication to the series.

  3. Bryan Vazquez

    Tomm as charlie pendleton said to murphy in the orphanage “its not your fault” as for me I dont blame you I blame konami. I just hope the road silent hill is on doesnt merge with the road resident evil is on. And I am an avid resident evil fan. But the latest games are just boring and seem to have been co-produced by micheal bay. I trust your gut feeling its a little sad however how the hd collection came to be. I have the xbox version and there are so many changes and breaks in game im sure ypu know this but I focus on the story and thats all that maters to me I applaud you sir.

  4. Kevyn

    Hey Tomm

    First i want to say that i like, Shattered Memories, Origins and even the first halv of Downpour(hunting for side quests was funny!)as horror games, just not as silent hill games

    Lets be honest, none of the new games were as good as the originals, atleast not when comparing depth, atmosphere and story. I know that even the old games changed things in the “canon” from game to game, but you must admit that all of the new games changed alot, i mean Origins and homecoming was a mess, Downpour seems more like a fanfic and Shattered Memories wasn’t even meant to a part of the “canon”. I think most people have a hard time considering these games as “real” silent hill games, because they all feels a bit like American psycho 2 and S. Darko; just inspired by the setting, at best(although Shattered, Origins and Donwpour was of much better quality than the movies i mentioned).

    You always seems to talk about how people doesn’t like change and call that out as the reason why many us doesn’t like the new games(as much). But you never seems to realise that, yes a series have to keep fresh and change from title to title, but it has to be the right kind of change! If you change the things people like about the games, people will get angry. Devin Shatsky even said that he disliked everything that anything to do with the cult.. Then why is he working on the games, if he dislikes one of the biggest parts of what they are about?

    To sum it up, the new games aren’t close to being as good as the old one, they don’t even follow the “Canon”, but you still seem to think that we’re all so unfair for not liking them and calling them worthy successors.

    I’m not saying all the bad things that happened to silent hill is your fault, because ofcourse they arent, and i’m also pretty sure that you did your best to make the games at good as possible, but they just weren’t good enough, and i think that’s a completely fair reason for a lot us, not to like them as silent hill games.

    (sorry for the bad english, i’m Danish)

  5. CJ Melendez

    This was really good, Tomm. I’m sure you know, but I’m thankful for the fights you’ve fought for us fans, even if many of them don’t know about them or care to acknowledged them. Some people are so wrapped up in their bitterness that they refuse to see anything other than what they want to believe.

    I know the negativity outweighs the positivity, and that hurts, but know that Shattered Memories and Downpour were great titles and fans do enjoy them immensely.

    The later Silent Hill games reintroduced me to the series, and if they sucked so badly as some people say, then I wouldn’t even have become a blogger with aspirations to work in the game industry.

    Silent Hill has been a massive chapter in my life as it has yours. Your contributions are appreciated. Also, I’m glad you’re at such a humble developer like WF. You deserve that.

  6. Daniel

    Just wanted to say that shattered memories is my second favorite silent hill game, next to silent hill 2.

    Wish you good luck.

  7. Jake

    I remember SH4 was my 1st SH, but I was stuck towards the beginning & gave up.
    I then tried Origins, but also got stuck.
    Eventually, in 2009-ish, I bought SH1 off of PSN, played it, beat it, loved it, and went on to buy every game. I think I’ve beaten SH1 the most (6-8 times) & Origins (4-6 times).

    SH2, SM, & SH1 are my favorites.

    DP was the first SH I was able to anticipate… for YEARS :) I waited so long & held onto every trailer, screenshot, interview, & OST preview.

    I had to work on its anniversary, but I listened to the theme of SH1 as celebration.

    I just wanted to share the details of my experience with SH thus far in commemoration of the anniversary (as well as this blog post).

  8. Broc

    Shattered Memories and Downpour sit very comfortably in my top 3 games of the series (along with, unsurprisingly, SH2), so it’s worth keeping in mind that SOME people, at least, appreciate the work everyone has down on the more recent entries in the series. I find it hard to believe that people dismiss these games as “not Silent Hill” when what Silent Hill means is so damned impossible to define. To me, the series is about personal stories, and personal horror: the small, secret terrors we lock up inside ourselves. That SM and Downpour explore those themes is what makes them so compelling to me as a fan. I don’t know if the critics missed the point or just had a different personal perception (or, most likely, both), but it’s their loss.

  9. Mr. Enigma

    Lol.

  10. Sian B

    I just wanted to post a quick reply to your blog entry since I felt kind of compelled to do so.
    Honestly, this was a really interesting post and I wish other people could see this.
    You never deserved the amount of hate you received and its shame what happened.

    Anyone with enough common sense should have been objective and should have seen through the apparent “objectivity” of some videos. Fans should have noticed the bias undertones in these videos and should have questioned whether what some people say on the internet is truly accurate.

    I can clearly see that you meant no ill will and that you have a passion for this series, just like how I do and everyone else who loves and cares about this series does. We just all have our different opinions on these games and what makes them great because ultimately we are different people.

    Online, in interviews and in articles things can get misquoted, misinterpreted or not worded in the best way. Sadly, in this day and age due to the internet things can flair up into a storm so quickly.
    Anyway, I just wanted to say I that despite my opinions and everything that has happened that you never ever deserved the treatment you got, the blaming and vendetta. I wish you the best of luck at Wayforward and I hope that your experiences did not affect your feeling towards the original games too much. It would be such a shame, although understandable, if that were the case.

    Oh and on a random note because i’m curious and barely use twitter, Were the James, Heather, Laura, Pyramid Head and Nurse character meshes taken from SH2 and SH3? Like how original PS1 Harry appeared in the UFO ending of SH2. If that is the case did Heather get given sleeves to hide an issue with the mesh?

  11. Sam

    Silent Hill Explore the Town Because I Don’t Know!

  12. silenthill_eternal

    Okay Tomm, I really must call you out on what you said about Silent Hill 3. Mostly because it’s my favorite of the series, for good reason. You are entitled to your opinion, but I just (violently) disagree with you on this. First you say it has a huge beginning section with no driving force. Come on now. Those levels (mall, subway, sewers, office building) have some of the best visceral, psychological, and sheer terror-inducing horror the series has to offer. They are filled with atmosphere and creepy moments. To this day those areas still freak me out. I mean how can you not give mention to the mannequin moment? The ghost in the subway? The tentacle monster moment? Other great moments besides. Next you compare it to the previous games, saying “it doesn’t have this, it’s not like that.” Come on now. SH 3 is its own beast, while being a perfect sequel to SH1 and uping the sheer visceral horror. It goes in the opposite direction of SH 2 which should be respected, not playing copy-cat of Sh2.

  13. silenthill_eternal

    Ran out of space in my last comment, so I’ll finish what I’m saying. Sorry for walls of text but I read through yours so please do the same lol.

    Anyway, Sh3 didn’t copy-cat SH 2 the way other SHs do, and I mean no offense. But Homecoming, Shattered Memories, andDownpour, while having their own original ideas, take a few too many from Sh 2. It got stale pretty fast. It was basically the same story repeated ad nauseam; replace James’s wife with a little brother, or a son. Sure Shattered Memories was a “re-imagining” of SH1, but in my honest opinion, it was more similar to 2 in theme and atmosphere than 1. Yeah I get it, it’s a fan favorite, emotionally resonates with people, etc etc., but come on now. It’s put on a pedestal. So then you say SH3 is ultimately “just a story.” With all due respect, every SH game is just a story. How they emotionally resonate with anyone is subjective; not everyone will love SH2 for example. Maybe some, like myself, prefer the plotline of SH3.

  14. silenthill_eternal

    And finally, instead of actually delving futher into SH3, you make a pretty lame joke about your experience with it. Again no offense but it sounds like your first time experience was tainted by heavy love and bias toward the previous SH 2. I personally appreciate every SH for what they do right, while recognizing their flaws, and enjoy the first time experience of each one immensely; Sh 2 was my first PS2 game and I’ll cherish that memory forever; SH1 scarred me as a child as it did to many others; SH3 scarred me as a pre-teen; 4 offered me a fresh of breath air for the series with the apartment idea which I loved; etc. The second half of the series has its flaws but I enjoyed them all also. In fact, I feel every SH has flaws, even the highly lauded 2. The main flaw in 3 for example, is the lack of real town exploration; all we got was the same one from 2, only a tiny portion with barely anything to actually explore, and too many interior levels. 4 of course is the second half escort mission/level retread.

  15. silenthill_eternal

    So anyway, as my closing note (after too many posts I realize, and I apologize), Silent Hill has indeed been one hell of a series. It has given myself, as well as many other dedicated SH fans, very well loved and cherished memories of delving deep into various horror themes that sometimes hit close to home (like explorations of human psyche and personal darkness, or relationships with loved ones) and other times are a little bit more impersonal but nonetheless still horrifying (cults and demons and what have you). It’s been a hell of a run but it’s also been a bumpy ride; of course there are the whiny and at worst destructive fans (but a lot of fanbases are like that. See: Final Fantasy and Legend of Zelda fanbases for example), some of which unfortunately follow the equally destructive and frustratingly ignorant, not to mention arrogant as all friggin hell, TwinPerfect group, but there is even SH2 itself, while yes indeed it raised the bar for videogame storytelling, it also kind of set certain expectations.

  16. Celx Requin

    Hello Mr.Hulett,

    I actually like most of the games you’ve produced. I thought shattered memories was excellent, had innovative gameplay, and an original story that was an interesting play on the first Silent hill’s Mythology.

    Homecoming had an captivating premise, with creative additions to the gameplay and story that kept the series from becoming stale. Aside from some inconsistencies in the plot homecoming was a solid product that I felt got dragged through the mud for poor reasons.

    I also listened to an interview you did online, where you discussed some of the creative disagreements you went through while making these games. In particular with Homecoming, which as I understand it was originally meant to be a trilogy of games, with significant fantasy elements had it not been for your intervention.

    I have much admiration that you have been able to weather the amount of ill will, that has been directed your way over the coarse of the new additions in the series. In particular the negative response over the HD collection, which is a shame since all you were trying to do was expose a new generation to Silent Hill, that may not have had access to the original ps2 games.

    Anyway I just had a few questions I was hoping you would be kind enough to answer.

    I’m just wondering, how exactly did you get a hold of the Silent Hill IP?

    I looked up the sales of the games you’ve produced on VGcharts (I don’t know how accurate that website is) and all of your games seem to have been commercially successful, with pretty good reviews. So I’m curious given this whether you feel there is a bit of hypocrisy with the silent hill fans over the projects you’ve produced considering they continued buying your products.

    At the end of the day as a producer how much influence did you have over these projects? Did you have last say on the direction of these projects? And if so were there times where you decided to let things slide development wise in order to not cause tension during development?

    The silent hill franchise is a triple A title, have you ever worked on a smaller production, and if so which do you prefer working on, smaller or larger projects?

    Lastly as a producer what do you feel is the best way to go about conflict resolution during game development, or the best way to prevention conflict resolution?

    Thanks, sincerely,
    - Celx

    P.S. what is your favourite scary movie?

      • Joe Fat

        Hey Tomm, Thank you for your contributions and your thoughts. Can I just have one question put to rest? I promise I won’t make a big thing out of it. Is it true that for the HD collection, you were talking about rewriting the script for SH 2?

  17. Celx Requin

    Hi,

    I just wanted to follow up and say thank you for responding! What you wrote was really interesting and insightful, I just wish I got a chance to ask you those questions earlier, it might have saved me some hardship.

    Regardless I think it’s awesome you keep an open dialogue with your fans, and people interested in the industry. I think it’s a practise more people in the gaming should follow.

    It really is a magnanimous use of ones time to help others!
    Thanks,
    - Celx

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