I do not have particularly strong opinions one way or the other about the video game sub-genre known as "walking simulators" in general. I have strong opinions about some of the games that I've played within this genre, but I would not say that I either like or that I dislike "walking simulators" as a whole genre. Some work well and are good games. Others are un-engaging or lazy and didn't particularly work for me.

For example, I hated Dear Esther and Ether One. I was immensely disappointed in Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs, after having enjoyed The Dark Descent. But on the other side of the coin, I thoroughly adore Gone Home, Firewatch, and What Remains of Edith Finch.

Patrons had early access to the full video essay.

Are "Walking Sim" games?

So what is a "walking simulator"? Well, like with most things in pop culture, the definition will vary depending on who you ask. But I think most people would agree that a "walking simulator" can be accurately described as interactive entertainment that conveys a narrative almost exclusively through the exploration of an environment and the clues provided therein. You may notice that I used the term "interactive entertainment" as oppose to "video game". I did this in order to keep this discussion's definition as non-contentious as possible. One of the criticisms of walking simulators that I specifically wish to address is the idea that they are not video games, and such critics would immediately object to the use of the term "video game" in the definition. These experiences generally lack any of the violent conflict that is present in most video games, and the mechanics rarely go beyond navigating obstacles, solving puzzles, or managing a limited inventory.

While I am perfectly content to call walking simulators "video games", there are somewhat valid arguments for why the label might not be appropriate for such entertainment products. It could be argued that they are not video games because they lack conflict; they lack a traditional win state, fail state, or any stakes at all; and they lack mechanical depth or complex systems. I personally do not accept these arguments as disqualifying walking simulators from consideration as "video games". There are plenty of universally-accepted video games that also lack one, or even all three of those criteria.

Many games have lacked violence conflict, traditional win states, or complicated system mastery.
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Visage - title

It's virtually impossible to talk about Visage without first referring back to Hideo Kojima's infamous P.T. demo for the canceled Silent Hills project. P.T. has certainly left an almost Amnesia-sized footprint on the horror video gaming landscape, and it's hard not to refer back to Amnesia when talking about any horror game in the past 10 years either. It's hard to believe that P.T. was released six years ago, and the wanna-bes, copy-cats, and attempts at a spiritual successor have been rolling in ever since. The latest indie project to try to replicate P.T.'s success is SadSquare's Visage, a first-person horror game set entirely within a single suburban house in the 1980's. With Allison Road canceled, and Konami giving us no evidence that rumors of a new Silent Hill game (or a revival of Silent Hills itself) is true, Visage is probably the closest yet to a full-fledged realization of the concepts and novelty of P.T..

P.T. has influenced an entire generation of horror games.

P.T. mixed with a little Amnesia and Resident Evil

I think that part of the appeal of P.T. was its simplicity. With that simplicity came elegance. After all, it only had like 2 buttons that actually did anything, and the whole game consisted of walking around the hallway and zooming in to look at things. That's fine for what is essentially a tech demo that only takes an hour or two to beat, but for a fully-realized, full-length game like Visage, you need a bit more substance. Visage does deliver in that regard. While the entire game could be boiled down to just wandering around a house looking at spooky things, it also has several more traditional survival horror systems, which are used in new and sometimes creative ways.

The most substantive of these mechanics is a "sanity" mechanic pulled straight from something like Amnesia or Eternal Darkness, and which replaces a more traditional health system. The ghosts haunting the house will kill you and force a Game Over if they catch you, so your only defense is to run away. But when you run away, you need to try to run into a part of the house that is well lit, as the player character seems to be very afraid of the dark, and his sanity rapidly depletes if you're standing or wandering around in the dark.

The little red brain in the corner indicates you're in
danger of succumbing to a potentially-lethal haunting.

I wish the little sanity indicator had been moved to one of the top corners of the screen. Holding certain items in your left hand (particularly the lit lighter) often covers up or obscures the icon, making it hard to read. Other U.I. elements, such as some button prompts, will also draw a black bar across the bottom of the screen, which also covers up the sanity indicator.

Visage has some pretty good lighting effects, with realistic, dynamic shadows and darkness that is actually pitch black. It's not uncommon to catch a glimpse of a shadow from a flickering or swaying light in the corner of the screen and think that it's an apparition. Unfortunately, there's also some texture pop-in when playing on my PS4 Pro that happens when making sudden turns or when moving between rooms. This also looks like an apparition, and acted to quickly desensitize me to the deliberate peripheral visual trickery that the game tried to employ later.

The ambient sound design is also quite good. There's the cliche background ambiance of a rainstorm and thunder, but it's accompanied by numerous creaks and groans within the house itself. These creaks and groans, combined with the narrow corridors, blind corners, and ubiquitous darkness help to keep the horror atmosphere tense, especially in the early hours. Are those footsteps in the attic above me? Did I just hear something behind me? Is there an apparition waiting around the corner? The groaning and creaking reminded me of the novel House of Leaves, which I read over the summer, and which describes its house as "growling" whenever it reshapes its impossible geometry.

The house of Visage is also claustrophobic enough, cluttered enough, and confusingly laid-out, such that navigating in the dark is genuinely difficult. I had to play for hours (and finish more than a whole chapter) before I really started to get a feel for the layout of the house. Remembering which rooms and objects are where is hard enough in the early hours with the lights on. Not being able to see where I'm going only made early-game exploration feel hopelessly futile -- but in the good horror game way of making me feel unsure of my surroundings and vulnerable.

The house has a surprisingly large and complicated floorplan.
Keeping it well lit will both keep you sane, and also help navigate.
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Could there be good news on the horizon for Konami's flagship franchises?

Last week, I started seeing an increasing number of websites, videos, and social media posts reporting on several new rumors regarding the Silent Hill, Metal Gear Solid, and Castlevania franchises, which currently are owned by Konami. Konami famously destroyed its credibility as a video game publisher a few years ago when its management had a public feud with Hideo Kojima that resulted in Kojima leaving the company, and the cancellation of the much-hyped Silent Hills game that was teased by the viral P.T. demo exclusive to PS4. Konami then went on to release critical and financial duds in Metal Gear: Survive and Contra: Rogue Corps, and further hindered its public perception among fans of its prestigious video game franchises by releasing a glut of slot and pachinko machines based on the IPs.

It seemed that beloved franchises like Metal Gear, Silent Hill, Castlevania, and Contra were doomed to a slow and painful death at the hands of Konami's ineptitude.

Team Silent back for a reboot?

Rumors started surfacing earlier this year that Konami is working on one or two new entries in the Silent Hill franchise. My initial reaction was that Konami had butchered Metal Gear and Contra with shit games over the last two years, so it was Silent Hill's turn to be dragged through the mud. Castlevania would probably be on deck for the next trainwreck. I took the rumors of new Silent Hill games as unmitigated bad news, expecting to see something along the lines of Silent Hill: Book of Memories and Metal Gear: Survive. However, over the past couple weeks, new rumors have been spreading that have opened up the far-fetched possibility that a new Silent Hill game might not be disastrous after all.

First up was the rumor that Konami might be inviting some of the creative leads from the original Silent Hill game to design and develop a reboot of the original, or a soft reboot of the series as a whole. It started out with rumors that original creature designer Masahiro Ito would be working on a new Silent Hill game, and has since extended to the inclusion of Keiichiro Toyama and Akira Yamaoka (the original director of Silent Hill, and the series long-time music composer and sound director, respectively). The latest rumors suggest that this trio (and possibly more original Team Silent members) are working on a next-gen reboot of the series.

...

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Silent Hills just won't seem to die. Shortly after the game was canceled by Konami, petitions started popping up demanding that it be re-instated. Then came the debacle of the Metal Gear Solid V release, which seemed blatantly incomplete and/or half-assed. Then Kojima officially left Konami, Guillermo del Toro tweeted that the cancelation of Silent Hills "breaks his greasy heart", and it all seemed done and buried.

Or was it?

Andrew House (Group CEO of Sony Interactive) announces a partnership with Hideo Kojima.

Within a week of the official announcement that Kojima had left Konami, he was reported to have already set up his own independent Kojima Productions studio, and that he had already partnered with Sony to develop an un-named PS4 exclusive. Geez, that was quick. Kojima has always had a good relationship with Sony. The Metal Gear Solid games were originally PlayStation exclusives, and were definite showcases for those Sony platforms. I mean, when you think of the original PlayStation, what are the first few games that come to mind? Probably Final Fantasy VII. Tomb Raider? Maybe Resident Evil? And definitely Metal Gear Solid. Even when Kojima was initially rumored to be leaving Konami, I had speculated that Sony might make a move to hire him. Contracting him to act as a second-party developer of exclusive content is just as good. I had also speculated at the time that there were three possibilities for Silent Hills to see the light of day:

  1. Konami could hire Kojima's independent studio to continue development of Silent Hills. This seemed unlikely considering the rocky conclusion to Kojima's employment.
  2. Kojima could buy the IP rights to Silent Hill (and maybe Metal Gear). This also seemed unlikely considering that both franchises are cash-cows for Konami.
  3. Lastly, there was the possibility that Kojima Productions could continue the development of what would have been Silent Hills, but without the "Silent Hill" title. Same game; different name.

The partnership with Sony opens up a fourth possibility: Sony could buy or lease the licensing rights to Silent Hill and then contract out development to Kojima Productions. This is the only way that the game could possibly see the light of day and still maintain the "Silent Hill" name. Konami has already expressed its disinterest in continued first-party console game development. It's just too expensive, and the company wants to focus more on its gambling business and mobile games. If Konami wants to continue to see revenue from those IPs, then they are stuck either making smaller in-house games (such as mobile games, pachinko machines, or browser-based games); or they would have to license out the IP to third-party developers. Sony certainly has the buying-power that Kojima, by himself, doesn't have, and could certainly afford to buy those rights, if they so desire.

A trailer for Konami's next Silent Hill game. Not exactly what fans were hoping for...
Hideo Kojima and Norman Reedus

However, Silent Hill fans probably shouldn't get their hopes up for a triumphant return of their tarnished, yet beloved, franchise. In the video announcing the partnership with Sony, Kojima says that he is "thrilled to embark on creating a new franchise with PlayStation". So this project does not appear to be Silent Hills. At least, not in title...

Kojima is rumored to be collaborating once again with Guillermo Del Toro, which opens up the possibility that the two are going to work on realizing the plans that they had for Silent Hills. During a keynote address at DICE, Kojima and Del Toro stated that they would like to continue to work together. Del Toro even went as far as saying that he would "do whatever the fuck Kojima asks him to". He even made an off-hand comment about famed Japanese horror illustrator Junji Ito. I don't know much bout Junji Ito, but his work is apparently a pretty big deal, and he's also been seen with Kojima. Kojima and Norman Reedus have even been seen together, and it's been rumored that Reedus will be working with Kojima again. All the pieces seem to be fitting into place...

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Not much has been seen of Hideo Kojima's Silent Hills since the Tokyo Game Show trailer last September. And now it looks like we might not be seeing any more from it any time soon. Or ever.

The latest news in the gaming world is that Hideo Kojima (and his studio Kojima Productions) is splitting from Konami. And it's a little early for April Fools... Apparently, the split is not amicable, as Konami has stripped Kojima's name from Metal Gear Solid V marketing material and that Kojima and his staff are now working as contractors to finish that game. Apparently, Konami and Kojima are planning on finishing Metal Gear Solid V, but Silent Hills may not be so fortunate.

Kojima interview
Will Kojima and his team be able to continue working on Silent Hills after leaving Konami?

Whatever happened at Konami, the company may have made a monumentally bad decision in forcing Kojima out. He has consistently delivered some of the best performing games that the company has ever made. On top of that, he has surrounded himself with a talented staff that have proven capable of developing solid game engines from scratch in order to make their games as technically-impressive as possible. Konami may be losing all of these resources.

But Konami is likely keeping the rights to the intellectual properties of Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill. It's possible that Konami might hire Kojima Productions as a contractor to continue Silent Hills (as they are apparently doing with Metal Gear Solid V), since the game uses Kojima's proprietary Fox Engine. But even then, if the developers and the publisher / IP-holder do not have a comfortable working arrangement, then the quality of the game may suffer considerably due to the competing interests of the two companies. And if Konami pushes on with development of Silent Hills without Kojima and his Fox Engine, then the final product will likely be a disaster.

Another possibility is that Kojima Productions could buy the IP rights to Metal Gear Solid and / or Silent Hill. I think that's very unlikely, considering that both franchises are cash-cows for Konami.

I also wouldn't be surprised if Sony makes a move to acquire Kojima and his studio to make first party content, since his Metal Gear Solid games were a premiere console-selling exclusive for the PlayStation. If that happens, and Kojima's studio is allowed to continue work on Silent Hills, then the game would likely become a PS4 exclusive. That's if the three companies can come to agreements with one another to begin with.

The last possibility is that Kojima Productions could continue to work on Silent Hills as their first independent game, but without the Silent Hill naming rights from Konami. It's unclear just how much (if at all) Silent Hills' plot was dependent on the established canon of the Silent Hill series. Since the P.T. demo and Tokyo Game Show trailer didn't show anything that specifically tied the game to Silent Hill in anything but name, this may not have much of an impact on the final product if it has to go forward without the IP.

At least one source has stated that Silent Hills has, in fact, been canceled. But I'm still waiting for more concrete clarification from Konami and / or Kojima before I give up hope.

In any case, it's too early to say anything about the future of Silent Hills with any certainty. I'll definitely be keeping an eye on this story as it develops.

UPDATE: May 01, 2015, 12:00 am: Silent Hills has been officially canceled, petitioners demand Kojima finish the game

We all knew it would happen, and towards the end of April, Konami and Del Toro finally admitted that Silent Hills has been officially canceled. No real surprise here, but it is very unfortunate news. Del Toro verified on Twitter that the project "isn't gonna happen", a fact that "breaks [his] greasy heart.". Konami has also confirmed officially that the game's development has been discontinued.

This news hasn't stopped petitioners from requesting that Kojima continue development of the game. Sorry guys, but Kojima and Del Toro aren't the ones in charge! Konami is pulling the strings, and Konami doesn't want anything to do with Kojima. The only reason that Metal Gear Solid V is happening is that the game is practically already done. Having Kojima continue to work on it is just a formality. Silent Hills doesn't even seem as if it had started primary development, so Konami isn't losing much (if any) investment by canceling the project.

That being said, I did sign the petition. P.T. and what was shown of Silent Hills looked very promising from a horror gaming standpoint (not so promising as a "Silent Hill" game), and I was looking forward to the game being released. Feel free to sign the petition yourself; although, I doubt that it will have any efficacy.

Damn shame.

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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