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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.

BoM DLC out now… for real!

You can now buy Book of Memories’ DLC pack from the PSN store. I’ve seen people do it!

Surprise

Hey guys, super busy at the new job working on a cool project you’ll find out about some time eventually…

…but I wanted to make sure everyone was aware some DLC for Book of Memories is being released today!*  It adds a ton of new content, including playable James and Heather.  Pretty much every aspect of the game is getting a boost (more weapons, more classes, more notes, more enemies) so if you enjoyed BoM don’t miss it.

 

…some notes may even shed light on some fan-favorite characters.

 

 

*next week!

BoM: Karma Chameleons

The general consensus on GameFAQs and the like is that BoM’s Note Alignments are decided by your Karma Meter.

This is not the case*

For those of you who want to break the story system wide open you’ll need to recall I said it’s a giant puzzle.  Here are three hints:

  1. Not every note is changeable. Only the notes with symbols can be changed.
  2. Only the Boss Notes can be Neutral.
  3. Stare at Note 8 until it makes sense.

I hope this helps!

*generally.

UPDATE: Hi GameFAQs! Glad you guys are enjoying the game. Still nope, though :) Just because a note isn’t changeable doesn’t mean it isn’t important.

 

UPDATE 2: This one’s dedicated to darkparodius, who is trying so very hard. Note 13. Note 22.
I can’t get much more obvious than this.

 

UPDATE 3: Point lionhart

I’ve been waiting 13 years for this.

So 13 years ago (and 8 months) I, like many of you readers, was introduced to the world of Silent Hill. I played it with my girlfriend at the time who was the perfect partner for such a thing because she scared easily. Very easily. So having her next to me freaking out freaked ME out, and added to things like Alchemilla’s otherworld and what have you. Then a few years later came Silent Hill 2 and its injection of personal meaning to the whole thing. The town became a very real place in all of our minds, and foggy days would remind us of it, and so on.

Then I was given the thrilling chance to be part of the series itself! Unbelievable. And, contrary to what you might read on the internet, something I take very seriously and am honored to be a part of. It was a huge relief when I met with Universal and learned that they took their contribution to SH history just as seriously–and as we all know by now they added Silent Hill to their annual Halloween Horror Nights event, which I went to last night.

Being there was very cool. I’d seen the maze set in the daytime, without effects, and without creatures–so I knew what to expect… kind of. Seeing it “working” was another story altogether. Here was Silent Hill, a place I used to visit as a player, a place which came to infect most of the creative corner of my brain–now a physical space that I could occupy and explore. Surreal. Adding to this effect is the fact that you have to descend down 4 long escalators to even reach Silent Hill–escalators which, by the way, feature classic SH music by Akira Yamaoka. It’s hard not to get into the Silent Hill mood.

The maze itself is incredibly cool. It stretches from the crashsite of a car, through the woods, the stretched corpse from the very first Otherworld, onto the streets and then into classic settings like Midwich and Alchemilla. There are several Otherworld transitions where the images of a wall literally melt away to a rusty metal world where Alessa appears to creep out visitors. Pyramid Head and Bogeyman scared the hell out of the people I was with, and it ends of course in Lakeside with the scent of blue cotton candy wafting in the air.

Astronomical production values aside, the maze isn’t even my favorite part. No, outside the maze (technically on the street that leads to Transformers The Ride 3D), is a scare zone. However unlike the other scare zones in the park (each one with a generic theme like “Klownz” or “Witches”) this one is a Silent Hill scare zone. this translates into an intensely foggy street where Nurses, Pyramid Head, and Bogeyman wander through the crowds, sneaking up on people to freak them out when they think they’re safe reading a map or buying a churro. There is no Halloween sight cooler than seeing Pyramid Head emerge from the fog, towering over attendees, brandishing his great spear. Most of these scare zones at Halloween attractions I’ve been to are generic. I assume the thinking is, people who aren’t familiar with a franchise are likely to ignore its maze, and probably won’t be as frightened of its creatures. But SH apparently rates above that. Nurses and hulking embodiments of Guilt can be as universally scary as chainsaw maniacs and werewolves.

It’s absolutely mindblowing that Silent Hill has reached this point. For all the hand-wringing, mud-slinging fans who wish the series would have died 8 years ago I need to point out–if that had happened, it would never have reached this point. Normal, mainstream people who just enjoy horror-themed amusement parks would never have seen Pyramid Head, or Lying Figure. They would never have heard Theme of Laura! This is a big deal for your favorite Survival Horror franchise. You can’t visit Raccoon City. To most horror fans Wesker is just some throwaway movie character.

When you love a fictional world, I think the natural response is a desire to share it with as many people as possible in hopes they find what makes it so special to you. The hope they will share that, or find their own specific draw to that world and place–that maybe in the process you’ll learn more about one another. I’m honored to have played a part in sharing this wonderful(ly horrific) world with so many people. Enough people to maintain a queue of 60-90 minutes every night for a month and a half, anyway.

It’s about time. Like the past, I guess technically.

rad, right?

SH:BoM’s demo is available free on PSN!

You can try it out starting tomorrow (Tuesday, October 2) in North & Latin Americas.

If you’re in Europe you should have started playing it last week.

If you’re in Japan, uh, just hold on a bit longer.

If Pyramid Head is so sacred, why is all your fanart the Homecoming version?

Hey, sorry guys. I know I haven’t updated in a while. I got pretty disenchanted after my WordPress App won’t let me log in. If any of you have Word Press and iOS and know what I need to do to make the app work, let me know.

For those of you who didn’t already know, the soundtrack to Book of Memories is available now! It’s pretty great.

It includes a remix of “Love Psalm” – the best song from Silent Hill 2. At some point during Shattered Memories, I went back and listened to Love Psalm and realized that it sounded almost exactly like the pre-vocal vocal tracks that Yamaoka-san would turn in. I wondered if his original intention was to have vocals for this song–since then I’ve been obsessed with making that happen.

During the recording sessions for SH HD Collection, Mary, Akira, and Troy did some SH concerts and I remarked how I wanted to bring that live energy to our credit track. Since BoM was all about rewriting the past, I thought it would be cool to take Love Psalm and remix it, finally putting lyrics to the melody, and bring in Akira to do something as if he’d never left. Then during our BoM recordings, Troy wrote up the lyrics and worked on hammering out the song. Mary also brought in Eyeshine (band frontman: Johnny “the Stampede”  Yong Bosch) to perform the track.

The results are incredible. Troy’s lyrics perfectly capture the themes of Book of Memories, which are obviously close to my heart because I wrote the story. But there are a lot of layers beyond that too. One forumgoer correctly pointed out the  song could apply back to James and Mary, in the game it came from originally. And, of course, the two people singing on the song happened to provide James and Mary’s voices. Coincidence…?

This song encapsulates my thoughts and feelings about Silent Hill, so check it out.  Oh–Akira plays that entire guitar solo, not just “the silent hill part” be tee dubs.

(Of course, all of Dan Licht’s songs are amazing as well. This soundtrack is much more “video game-y” than Downpour’s cinematic approach, so I think a lot of fans who were let down by the earlier game’s music will find a lot to love here. Plenty of callbacks to the creepy SH tracks of old, including sound effects I call “evil washing machine” and “devil’s straw”.)

 

I’m just going to leave this here…

(the following is a Note from Silent Hill 2. If you don’t care or understand why I’m posting it, pretend it’s a funny cat GIF)

Doctor’s Journal

The potential for this illness exists in all people and, under the right circumstances, any man or woman would be driven, like him, to “the other side.”

The “other side” perhaps may not be the best way to phrase it. After all, there is no wall between here and there. It lies on the borders where reality and unreality intersect. It is a place both close and distant.

Some say it isn’t even an illness. I cannot agree with them. I’m a doctor, not a philosopher or even a psychiatrist.

But sometimes I have to ask myself this question. It’s true that to us his imaginings are nothing but the inventions of a busy mind. But to him, there simply is no other reality. Furthermore he is happy there.

So why, I ask myself, why in the name of healing him must we drag him painfully into the world of our own reality?

Something else is written by hand.

Alessa didn’t create the Otherworld, guys. Get over it.

HD Collect the whole set

Well I warned you this would keep happening.

This week sees the release of Silent Hill HD Collection, which is remastered versions of SH2 and SH3 in HD, widescreen, with new voiceovers.

Back in 2001 we didn’t really know what a sequel to Silent Hill would be like.  I knew I’d like it, though, and spent much of the year anticipating it.  Since I worked at EB I got to see a trailer on our endlessly looping in-store video thing about twelve times a day.  The ear-terrorizing sound of Pyramid Head’s knife always made customers look up.  The day the game came out, I took a dangerous risk and drove to a mall three cities over on my lunch break just so I could start playing as soon as I got home.  As an added bonus, that morning was one of those “can’t see anything foggy mornings” people were reporting when they snagged Downpour.  Always a good sign.

Of course as most of you know, the game turned out to be great, taking the SH universe to a new level and using it as a canvas to tell a mature story.  It raised the bar for video game stories the same way the original did for horror.  It’s probably what most people think of when they think about “Silent Hill” – it’s the genesis of a lot of the series staples: the idea of enemies reflecting the protagonist, the “big plot twist”, and yes even Pyramid Head, the series mascot whether he likes it or not (and a lot of other rad stuff, like separate difficulties for puzzles and combat).

I was an aspiring game designer at the time, working on my own little indie RPG, and SH2 opened my eyes to the possibilities of game storytelling, demonstrating what you could accomplish by manipulating the bond the player forms with his character.  I imagined how crazy it would be if, one day, I’d get to work on a Silent Hill game.  Funny how that worked out.

Or put more simply here’s something I wrote about SH2 for Gamespite:

Silent Hill 2 does a lot of things right. It has a compelling aural landscape. Its atmosphere is, at times, unmatched. Pyramid Head is freaking scary. These are all things I expected from the game, having played the original and watched the EB trailer at work nonstop for months. One thing I didn’t expect, however, was to be changed. Silent Hill 2 surpasses all other games for its themes. They are not simple metaphors that suggest application, or cutout stand-ins for real-world concepts. Silent Hill 2 speaks frankly of the human soul.

Late in the game, James Sunderland is searching a hotel. One door leads to a flaming staircase where he encounters Angela, a woman who was abused by her father as a child. She’s seemed troubled the entire game, but within this fiery passageway there is no doubt she is suicidal. She blames herself for what happened. She calls herself worthless. She begins to climb the stairs, the flames grow, and James comments on the heat. Angela stops, considering his words. “You see it too?” We wait. “For me, it’s always like this.” We realize that this flaming staircase isn’t an anomaly. For Angela Orosco, this is the equivalent “Nightmare” that she’s been battling, as James has battled through his own. And yet, she didn’t say “For me, Silent Hill is always like this.” These flames aren’t anything new for Angela. She’s had to live here, in this hell, her whole life. When I saw this scene for the first time, I realized there are people, real people, who wake up in those flames every morning. I felt a horrific empathy for Angela — a video game character — and a deep sadness that she wasn’t just a video game character. She isn’t something someone made up.

And yet, the implication follows we all have a Nightmare. Maybe not a flaming Nightmare, or a rusty Nightmare, or a rotting Nightmare, but something horrible inside us we battle with every day. Do I deserve someone’s horrific empathy? Do you? In the second game of this series, Silent Hill became more than a game. More than a scary town where creepy stuff happens. Silent Hill established itself as something dark within each one of us. Something we can never escape from.

The first two hours of Silent Hill 3 and I have a tempestuous relationship.  I mean, the plot of SH3 was pretty obvious, compared to SH2.  Konami’s first E3 trailer made it quite obvious who Heather Mason was.  From there it pretty much wrote itself.  But Silent Hill games are the only things that scare me, so I obviously rushed out and got it day 1.  Thing is, there’s a bug in the sewers that prevents you from ever passing the “tentacle in the water” room.  Which I found.  Then, after exchanging for a new copy at GameStop (after checking online to confirm people HAD gotten past this room), I found it again.  Third time was the charm, and finally I got to play the entire game.

But what’s the portion of a game you play when you get a new build and you want to confirm it works and has various improvements?  Approximately an hour or two, maybe.  Just, over and over again.  I’ve played the first two hours of SH3 so many times, it’s ridiculous.  I wish somebody could make me a save after the sewers and I could start there for the rest of my life.

But hey, the rest of the game is pretty great!

HD Collection takes both of these games–each a top example of survival horror–and puts them in a single package that now fits on your widescreen television and looks all pretty via HDMI.  It also improves on the dated voice acting present in the original.  Most of the characters were just fine for 2001/03, but compared to modern gaming it’s clearly rough.  Contrary to popular opinion, this was not recorded all weird on purpose to establish an atmosphere. Rather, the atmosphere of Silent Hill made it easy to see past the weird stilted quality of the performances.  But that limits the audience a bit.  With HD Collection you may finally be able to get your Halo chugging buddies to enjoy fine digital storytelling.

My primary responsibility on the project was handling the voice recording.  It was really fun–kind of a blast to my past at Atlus, doing game localization.  We got the best talent around – including actors you’d hear in Catherine, Arkham City, Bioshock, etc.  Many of them were already fans of the games, and knew the characters well already.  One standout performance is Angela.  Nothing against Donna Burke (she’s fine as Claudia in SH3), but hiding her accent really hurt the Angela performance.  The new actress really brings out Angela’s pain and instability–a character you want to help, but whose inner darkness is repelling at the same time.

There’s been a lot of fan griping about my choice to cast Mary Elizabeth McGlynn as Mary/Maria.  However I felt this was perfect casting for a number of reasons.  One, the first time I saw that Konami E3 trailer for SH3 with her vocal performance, I mistakenly assumed it was meant to be Maria singing the song (at Heaven’s Night?).  Most people will agree she’s a good fit for Maria, it’s the dual role of Mary where the SH faithful start questioning it.  Here’s the thing.  First, James remarks that Maria’s voice is identical to Mary’s – so having a varied performance between the two doesn’t fit.  Second, every single time we hear Mary (other than the video in the hotel during their vacation) she is at the tail end of her illness.  She’s basically on her death bed.  You don’t sound light and airy on your death bed – you sound heavy, weary, and tired.  By the character’s own admission, she wasn’t a fragile, broken leaf at that moment–she was angry, lashing out at everybody.  I felt Mary E’s performance could bring this out, rather than sticking to a lighter, more gentle Mary.

But now you can hear and judge for yourself!  Hopefully you find HD Collection to be a faithful remastering that cements all the things that made SH2 and SH3 great a decade ago.

Get Comfortable – this is only going to keep happening

So next week, the game I’ve been working on for the past 3 years or so finally comes out.  It’s why I spent 25% of 2011 in the Czech Republic, so you’re honor-bound to purchase it.  Just kidding. Or am I.  It’s pretty good, though, and I”m really proud of it.

That’s right, Silent Hill: Downpour comes out on 3.13.  It’s available on XBox360 and PS3, and it’s the latest chapter in the Silent Hill series.  However, prior knowledge of Silent Hill is not required to get maximum enjoyment from the title.  All you need to know is that there’s this town called Silent Hill where really spooky stuff goes down. 

The game is a return to the psychological horror of the original games.  The previous main entry, Homecoming, took things a bit too far in the action direction and alienated a lot of fans, so this is the return to form they’ve been clamoring for.  What’s psychological horror mean?  Well, basically the game provides an atmosphere and context for your imagination to run wild and creep you out.  So, rather than a big gunfight kicking off after a zombie crow breaks through the window, you might wander around the deserted streets of Silent Hill for ten minutes soaking it all in before you spot a silhouette through the fog and your fight/flight response kicks in.

It’s also got a great, mature story–the likes of which you don’t often see in gaming.  So if you’re a fan of story-driven games, or just looking for something different, you should definitely consider checking it out.  It’s DEFINITELY rated M, though, so I wouldn’t recommend buying it for your 10-year old.

…but Downpour isn’t the only exciting thing happening this week.

That’s right, Community returns after its temporary hiatus!  Against all odds, the show you aren’t watching gets a second chance.  Tune in on 3.15 to see what all the fuss is about. Or better yet, go watch the first two seasons now.  You have five and a half whole days to catch up–that’s more than enough!

Desperate for a tie in?  Uh, well I got into Community last year while in the Czech Republic.  Bam.  The perfect symboitic relationship: primetime comedy and terrifying horror.

Community is about a group of people (of varying ages and backgrounds) that form a study group when they’re all attending Community College for one reason or another.  The show rides Community Colleges pretty hard, but really the jokes are universal for anybody who spent time in any sort of college.  Heck, Chevy Chase is the out of touch old guy who thinks he’s a star pupil because he’s far older than the other students. 

And it’s not your average sitcom.  It’s very well written, but has a sense of whimsy about it too.  I’d relate it to a more mature version of Scrubs, basically.  There aren’t wild fever dreams like that show (well, not as many of them at least) and it doesn’t tread so heavily into serious morality times, but it also has a more focused wit.  So maybe give it a chance.  It’s not that the show got another lease on life–it’s that you did.

So in summation:

Scary.

Usually not quite as scary.

No, Community isn’t “that ripoff of The Office” – that’s Parks and Rec.