Our Silent Hill: Shattered Memories Interview Delves Into The Game’s Psyche

By Spencer . October 30, 2009 . 8:41pm

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Happy (almost) Halloween! Want to know more about Silent Hill: Shattered Memories and its ambitious psych system that “watches” players? We asked Tomm Hulett, Producer at Konami, how it works and why they took combat out of Shattered Memories.

 

What goals did you set for your re-imagining of Silent Hill?

 

Tomm Hulett, Producer: We wanted to re-imagine not just Silent Hill, but the survival horror genre.  We threw out all the rules and started fresh, asking "if we’d never played a survival horror game, and someone asked us to make one – what would THAT game be like?"  We wanted to have innovative mechanics, controls, and interesting gameplay.

 

On the Silent Hill-specific front, we wanted to provide an entirely different experience from the first game.  We also wanted to have an extra layer of "mind trip" for returning fans.

 

How did the ice theme come into play?

 

The ice theme came from several places.  Early on I championed different Nightmare worlds.  In Silent Hill 2 we learn that each individual has their own unique otherworld.  …Then almost every game since has used the same rusty world from Silent Hill 1.  That’s frustrating and limits the growth of the series–it makes things predictable, and predictable is synonymous with "not scary."

 

Also, Silent Hill is in the midwest/northeast, and it snows up there.  It was snowing in the first game but not any of the others.  So we thought it would be interesting to set the game during a snowy period. Climax took the "frozen" theme and really ran with it, designing a freakish frozen Nightmare and really developing our snow idea.

 

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One of the big changes in Shattered Memories is the combat system. Why did you emphasize evasion and how can Harry stand up against the nurses now?

 

Most survival horror games lately have focused on fighting and combat.  Of course, this means the genre as a whole is moving closer to "action" than it is to "survival horror."  This is in large part because the old games had really poor combat and wrote that off because it "added to the fear."  Well, not being able to control your character isn’t fun.  And it doesn’t matter how atmospheric or moody or purposeful you tell gamers a mechanic is – if it’s not fun on some level then it won’t survive for very long. So slowly the industry replaced "poor fight mechanics" with "better fight mechanics" at the expense of some of the fear.

 

But "poor control" is not the only way to create fear and tension.  So we looked at WHY poor controls might have been scary.  In a good action game you have badass moves and weapons at your disposal.  This makes you empowered, and being able to use them easily and intuitively keeps up that feeling of empowerment.  So in action games you are "empowered."  The poor controls and gameplay of old survival horror games negated this.  You can’t feel empowered when it’s hard to hit an enemy, or when you’re too slow to fight, etc.  So how do you keep a player vulnerable, but also allow good, responsive controls?

 

Easy, you don’t give them empowering weapons.  Now we have Harry Mason, who is a capable, semi-athletic guy.  But he doesn’t have a shotgun or a crowbar.  And there are monsters chasing him.  Without a weapon he can’t kill them, which means direct confrontation will equal a quick end for our friend Harry.  Escaping, avoiding, and hiding are the only ways to survive.  That word–survive–used to be a pillar of the genre.  So we’re trying to bring that back.

 

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Can you elaborate on how the psych profiling system works? When I played the demo with Jay we checked yes to all of the test questions in one game and no on the other. Some of the things we noticed were Harry entered a bar instead of a coffee shop and the billboards changing.

 

As you play, the game is watching you.  Literally everything you do factors into your profile.  This isn’t a clever lie to sell the feature – I’m being serious.  It has almost nothing to do with that survey you took at the start of the game.  The psych profile is constantly being compiled by Silent Hill, and it’s evolving and changing along with you. People really latch onto that survey, but that isn’t it.  That isn’t the core of the feature.  That’s like taking an RPG and saying the battle against the final boss is decided by how you roll your stats at the beginning.

 

Anyway, as you play Silent Hill is keeping track of who you are, and deciding what you see and encounter based on that information.  Everything in the game is decided by your profile.

 

What was the biggest challenge of designing the psych profiling system?

 

I can’t speak for the developers as to what was most challenging, but I know they had fun determining which aspects changed, how, why, and what that said about the player.  I’m constantly surprised at how well things all tie in together.  I would guess keeping track of it all was a big challenge for Climax throughout development.  Also proving it out early on so people would believe in the feature was tricky for all of us.  You can’t just show how things change – you have to explain why it’s cool and why it matters.

 

QA Testing it all was a big challenge too.  For my money, though, the most challenging part was capturing all the footage for our ESRB submission.  Silent Hill is pretty tricky to rate as it is… let alone locating and keeping track of hundreds of little changes.

 

Do players get stuck on paths — good, bad or maybe a UFO track depending on their decisions?

 

I want to stress that the psych profile doesn’t involve paths or "tracks" like games with morality features.  The game doesn’t decide "Oh, that guy’s a _____ so he gets ending path B" which gives me a cohesive story straight through to a specific ending.  I can’t then replay it and choose NOT to rescue the princess, and then get a new "evil" story with ending D.

 

Like I said earlier, Shattered Memories is constantly evolving and changing.  There aren’t exact sequences we’ve set in order, where you get 1 of 5 branching quests.  Instead, you’ll get an experience hopefully tailored to you specifically.  How similar that is to mine should depend on how similar we are as people.

 

Can you tell us more about Dahila’s role and will we see any other familiar faces?

 

Dahlia is as weirded out by Harry as he is by her.  There will be some other characters that fans recognize, certainly.  And a few new ones as well.

 

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Where is Silent Hill going as a series? What are the chances of "Silent Hill 2: Fragmented Dreams" with an enhanced psych system, Silent Hill: The Arcade on the Wii, or Silent Hill 6?

 

I think Silent Hill is moving to a much better place.  I think it was hard for the Western studios to take over and get their bearings before.  1 and 3 told a cohesive, finished story.  2 and 4 each had standalone tales, with 2 specifically really getting to the heart of the town.  However when new talent took over I guess it wasn’t clear where to start.

 

They looked to the previous games to decide what Silent Hill was about – and concrete things were brought over.  Silent Hill must be about rust, fog, Pyramid Head, nurses, and creepy little kids.  But Silent Hill isn’t about any of those things.  That’s why Shattered Memories is important – it breaks those chains.  Rust? Gone.  Pyramid Head? Shattered. 

 

Hopefully we’ve taken the series back to the ephemeral, hard-to-grasp qualities that were really always at the heart of Silent Hill but nobody could quite describe them.  That was probably our real goal – to show people Silent Hill isn’t about nurses.

 

Hopefully from here on, we can be free from those constraints.  So whatever it is that Silent Hill becomes, it’s not "predictable."


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  • Kris

    That sounds pretty great! I’m all for horror games that dis-empower the player, and it seems like this is done by a team with a ton of love for Silent Hill. I’ll hae to give this a go.

  • http://twitter.com/ravenschwann Tim Nguyen

    Show it shows us what we want to see? Or what it throws at us based on our actions?
    Its still pretty vague sounding to me, but I would like to try this. The only game I’ve played from the series is Homecoming, the game was really bad IMHO. And not having to fight stuff in this upcoming one sounds like alot of fun.

  • http://www.nisamerica.com NickyD

    Sounds like these guys are really trying to understand what made Silent Hill work. They’ve got a grasp on the mythos and a grasp on what survival horror used to mean.

    This is what happens when you get a good group of people who respect someone else’s work and want to get it back to what it once was. I salute them and will definitely support their work.

    I’ve been quite irritated ever since Pyramid Head mysteriously became a franchise mascot, along with the nurses. Silent Hill itself is the mascot. These devs seem to understand that.

  • http://twitter.com/matty_125 matty

    They seem to really have their head in the right place for this project to work. That gives me a little more faith in the series and excited for the game.
    He said what I felt about Homecoming and Origins; they felt like cover songs. They had Silent Hill in the title, but it really didn’t feel like it to me. Maybe that’s just me, though.

    That arcade game would make a great Wiiware title.

  • MadMirko

    This has got to be a fine example of not “westernizing” a game to increase its commercial prospects. They COULD have turned it into an online co-op shooter, you know?

    The way they are trying to handle this game is enough reason for me to get it.

    • http://www.siliconera.com/ Ishaan

      Agreed. I really love the way they approached this game’s development. Every interview they’ve done, they’ve emphasized how much they wanted to rethink what “survival horror” really means…it looks like their efforts are going to pay off. Both this and Fatal Frame 4 (which is receiving a fan translation!) are going to be very interesting.

      • malek86

        Don’t bother with FF4, it’s not nearly as good as the previous ones. And I’m a huge fan of the series. I actually paid close to 100$ for the game, customs and express shipping, in order to have it as soon as it was released… huge disappointment.

        • http://www.siliconera.com/ Ishaan

          I’ve heard about the weird controls but I was hoping I’d be able to deal with them. Where did you feel the game was lacking aside from those?

          • malek86

            The controls are actually not bad. The problems are that the game is too easy, because of the auto-lock feature that ensures you’ll never miss a shot, and because of the in-game shop where you can buy healing items (the camera is not upgraded with points, so you are free to spend them all in items). And the 07-films have been made uberpowerful. Mind you, many ghosts can be pushed back even with a non-charged shot this time.

            Then, there are almost no random ghosts wandering around (which makes exploration a lot more tedious than before). The graphics have also taken a hit: while the PS2 games were an exercise in smoothness, this one feels like it’s struggling to run at 30fps. And god help you when you open a door and the game starts stuttering badly, sometimes for as long as a minute. Also, the gameplay in the guy’s levels is downright mediocre.But the worst part is the scariness factor. They rely on cheap “jump scares” a lot more this time around, while the atmosphere takes a hit. It’s not nearly as scary as the previous ones.I’ll admit it has its moments (one of the ghosts is veeeery creepy, and there are still one or two difficult battles). But it feels like it was rushed out. And like they watered it down, maybe for the Wii audience. Too bad.

          • http://www.siliconera.com/ Ishaan

            Argh, the cheap thrills thing is too bad. All the trailers made it look really atmospheric so that’s where I was hoping the emphasis would be. I’m surprised there are framerate issues, too…it doesn’t seem like it’s doing anything special.

            I guess I’ll wait for the price to go down or get a second-hand copy eventually, just for the sake of having it. Thanks for the awesome impressions. :)

          • malek86

            “I’m surprised there are framerate issues, too…it doesn’t seem like it’s doing anything special.”

            The guys who are making the patch, said that they’ve looked at the code, and that there’s some pretty unoptimized stuff in there. I guess they just didn’t care about it, or maybe were getting too close to the deadline.

            Oh yeah, one thign I forgot. The cutscenes feel compressed. Like, very compressed. They probably got slightly over the DVD size, and didn’t want to use a Dual Layer.

  • thaKingRocka

    This is exactly the sort of thinking that would most benefit this series (and any other for that matter). However, the proof is in the pudding. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

  • http://denpanosekai.blogspot.com denpanosekai

    Awesome. As much as I prefer Japanese games, Western devs make for the best interviews. Good job Spencer.

  • http://www.younganimal.com/berserk Mr_Qoo

    This gives me high hopes for the game. Obviously, only time will tell, but this sounds very promising. I’m tired of series always having the same old thing time and time again. It gets old after a 5th iteration, no matter how good. It will leave you yearning for something more-something different. I like where this is going, but I’m not sure it was the best idea to change a previous title unless they plan on altering the 3rd game to match it.

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