Banned Memories: Yamanashi takes players to a haunted school to resolve a dark history, but more than that, it is an attempt to bring players back to the blocky days of PS1 low-poly visuals. It is a game that seeks that particular horror that comes from this kind of visual style as well, seeking that same fear that games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil created.
Siliconera spoke with Noah Pauw, developer of Banned Memories: Yamanashi, to ask what drew him to this visual style, the work involved in staying faithful to the PS1, and why he felt this look suited horror well.
Banned Memories:Yamanashi takes players back to the visuals of Silent Hill and Resident Evil. What made you want to work with this visual style?
Noah Pauw, developer of Banned Memories: Yamanashi: I was born in 1998, so one would assume I grew up during the PS2 and PS3 era. Well… I didn’t. My parents weren’t even aware of the PS2’s release back in the day, so all I had was a PS1. I’ve actually used my PS1 up until 2015 when it eventually died. Those PS1 graphics actually hold a special place in my heart.
Despite how gaming has evolved to some of the most stunning visuals I’ve ever seen, there was something strange and unique about those jittery meshes and warped, unfiltered textures. Banned Memories used to take players back to the days of Silent Hill 2, 3, and 4, but then I played Silent Hill 1 again and remembered how special those graphics were to me.
I decided to start all over, this time following the style of Silent Hill 1 and Resident Evil 1, 2, and 3. I liked the result much better this way, even though it was strangely
harder to achieve.
Do you feel that this art style adds to the fear in a horror game? What about it works well with with horror?
I think it does. I don’t want the game to rely on just its art-style to be scary. I do believe that the low-poly and dithered look add to its scare-factor, because of how unrecognizable everything gets. When you are far away from any object, it doesn’t look like said object anymore. It looks like a bunch of jumbled up pixels. It could be anything!
Once, while testing, I completely forgot about the enemy in the first room and didn’t see it due to it not looking like anything. So, it startled me really bad when I saw it!
I also think that relatively low-fidelity graphics and sound work well with horror. Even today, games like Lucky Luke for the PS1 (children’s game) creep me out, by just looking off.
How difficult is it to work with this style, as a modern developer? What challenges does it create as an artist trying to design a game’s, look, characters, and world?
It is in fact very difficult to work with this style. I think it was a lot easier to develop PS1 games up until the year 2000, when developers had limitations to work with when developing games for the system. I have to be very careful not to make anything look too "good" or just plain ugly. It is very challenging for me to not have too many polygons at once in the game. The models must be extremely low-poly and the draw distance must be ridiculously low.
I also need to make sure that nothing looks out of place. Not in a good way, like one would expect in a horror game, but some models being more detailed than others. The same goes for textures and special effects. If I ever get to develop the game using a Net Yaroze (PS1 dev kit), I will have a perfect image of what the game is supposed to look like on PC.
One more issue is that the game engine I’m using (Game Maker: Studio) doesn’t have a 3D map editor whatsoever. So, some items might be in strange places, but that also kind of adds to its scare-factor. I hope.
You’ve mentioned that you will be looking into PS1 development kits. How faithful will Banned Memories be to PS1-era development?
That is true! I honestly do not know how faithful it will be, then. I have never worked with a Net Yaroze before and I am not sure if I can pull it off just yet. I do want the game to look and feel like a true PS1 game. As if the game already existed in the late 90s or very early 2000s.
I got inspired by other developers who want to port their games to the Master System. Maybe if I could get some help from an experienced developer who has used the Yaroze in the past, I think I’d be able to get the game playable on the PS1. I would have to start from scratch though, but that’s not an issue. Developing Banned Memories is what I love anyway.
You have also put a considerable amount of work into the soundtrack. What were you trying to capture with your audio?
I was trying to recreate the eerie feel Silent Hill obviously tries to achieve, yet I didn’t want it to sound too similar. I made the game first and then its soundtrack, giving me an opportunity to experience the game without background noise, just to get a feel for what it was lacking.
Most rooms have a song in it that you’ll never hear again in the game. I tried to make every room feel unique, while looking quite similar. The music is also supposed to be an indicator. For example: "Oh! This room! This is where I solved the first puzzle!"
Then, there is the music that is just straight up droning noise. I have done a couple of experiments involving my friends to see if a single tone with some distortion in it would be more unsettling than a real song. It was! So that is what I went with. In short, I was trying to capture a distinct sound for the game, that would add a lot to the game’s atmosphere as well as keeping you on high alert all the time. I am a mean person.
What do you think when creating a song for the game? How do you create a vibe or emotion through your music?
I actually don’t think a lot when developing songs for Banned Memories. I kind of switch my brain off and let my ears do all the heavy lifting. I mix a bunch of sounds together, edit it a lot, and eventually end up with something that I will either use or delete and start over.
I sometimes look at screenshots or a short recording of the game to get a feel for the room that I’m making a song for. So, the entire vibe from my music comes directly from the game itself.
You use a similar unsettling audio style to Silent Hill, using discordant songs that border on noise. How difficult is it to toe that line?
It is hard to get something that sounds right. I absolutely adore Silent Hill‘s music and sound design. My game definitely takes inspiration from SH, but I really don’t want it sound almost exactly like it when the game launches. Still, it is difficult to stray away from Silent Hill‘s sound design because it is the exact style I want to use for Banned Memories. I have been working on my very own style lately, so I hope the Silent Hill inspirations start to fade out and the Banned Memories inspirations start to fade in.
What drew you to this story of an evil school? What about that story made you want to make a game of it?
It honestly came out of nowhere. It was some kind of brain-flash that originated out of thin air. I started developing the game back in 2012 in the style of early 2000s PS2 horror games. The entire game was called Concealed: Namuza. I know it sounds strange now. I actually have a screenshot of it right here:
Same goes for the story. It came out of nowhere. I am not a good developer when it comes to planning. I used to make the story up as the game went further into development. I am actually thinking about a story at the moment. I might have something to show soon!