Last week, the Italian version of Xbox360 Magazine quoted Silent Hill Downpour art director Radek Marek as saying:
"At the moment there will be no multiplayer modes in Silent Hill: Downpour, but Konami are investigating a separate chapter devoted entirely to the Multiplayer. ... We do not know the details but it should be an XBLA title that most players have to survive in the town of Silent Hill."
The quote seemed to be confirmation that Konami was working on a multiplayer Silent Hill project that would likely have ended up being a stand-alone XBox Live downloadable game. But Konami was quick to debunk the claim a few days later, saying that Marek's comment was mistranslated and clarifying:
"Whoever that Italian interviewer was either took Radeks comments completely out of context, or it was lost in translation. As previously mentioned, we were (many moons ago) investigating a separate Multiplayer mode, but that was quickly extinguished when we costed it out and determined how much resource time it would detract from the core singleplayer experience."
So it would seem that Silent Hill fans will be going without any sort of multiplayer mode in the near future. The general consensus is probably that this is a good thing. After all, the Silent Hill games have traditionally been focused on a single-player narrative that relies heavily on themes such as isolation, loneliness, despair, confusion, desperation, helplessness, and claustrophobia that would be impossible to replicate in a multiplayer experience.
But hold on just a minute. Let's stop and think about this...
Maybe people are too quick to dismiss the idea of multiplayer Silent Hill and are not giving the topic enough thought.
The writers at Hell's Descent deserve some kudos for giving the topic some thought. In its article about the multiplayer rumor debunking, the site's writer had this to say about the possibility of multiplayer in Silent Hill:
"While the internet went aflame with this multiplayer rumor, we spent some time contemplating just how it would work. A versus mode would be out of the question. If multiplayer ever touched Silent Hill, it would have to be an intimate co-op affair with a huge emphasis on team work and frequent, but momentary separation from your partner. Perhaps in the future something like this will come to fruition."
And I think they are dead on!
I don't see any reason why multiplayer couldn't work in a franchise like Silent Hill. It is something that would just have to be very well thought-out by the designers and developers in order to avoid falling into the trap of becoming a mindless shooter like Resident Evil has become.
So what kind of multiplayer scenarios probably wouldn't work?
Keep in mind that I say "probably" wouldn't work. There is always the possibility that a wünderkind designer could surprise us!
In most cases, competitive multiplayer just wouldn't fit in with the Silent Hill franchise (particularly deathmatches). A multiplayer fighter in which bubble-head nurses, Valtiel, Pyramid Head, Walter Sullivan, and split-head dogs are playable characters might make for an amusing mini-game Easter Egg, but would probably just end up taking time away from the single player story mode.
As mentioned above, a Resident Evil 5-inspired co-op shooter probably would not be very well-received either. Nor would anything more akin to Left 4 Dead. In fact, any multiplayer mode that puts action and monster-killing ahead of creepy atmosphere, intellectual problem-solving, and character-driven narrative would be a bad thing for most Silent Hill fans.
Well, what about an MMO? No, I highly doubt that Silent Hill Online would be very popular. I've already seen one of my beloved franchises ruined by a lackluster MMO game (Star Trek Online), I don't want to see another fall down the same path. Although an MMO-style online experience based around cooperative puzzle-solving and exploration would probably be more tolerable to fans of the series than a co-op shooter would be.
So what kind of multiplayer senario could work?
I've discounted competitive multiplayer, cooperative shooters, and MMOs. So what's left?
Well, there are two methodologies that I see as legitimate contenders for a possible Silent Hill game:
- Cooperative Campaign
- Indirect Multiplayer
A small-scale cooperative campaign in which multiple characters must interact within the town of Silent Hill. Essentially, I'm on the same page as Hell's Descent. Some sort of cooperative adventure/puzzle-solver could possibly work. The players involved would not even necessarily have to stick together throughout the entire game. The majority of the game could probably be played with each character off on their own, exploring the game world, fighting (or running) from monsters, and slipping in and out of the Otherworld; thus, maintaining the themes of isolation, lonliness, and despair.
A simple example would be to imagine the PS3 game Heavy Rain. The player in that game controls 4 different characters as they all attempt to solve one mystery. Imagine if each of the characters in Heavy Rain was being played by a different person. Such a scenario could be fit into a Silent Hill game.
For example, imagine a remake of the first Silent Hill game (again) that is designed as a multiplayer experience in which Harry Mason, Cybil Bennet, and maybe even Doctor Kaufman are all playable characters. Different players could assume the role of each playable character and play through that character's entire story independantly, but within the same game world. So the characters would occasionally run into each other, and would have to interact to solve certain puzzles or gain access to certain areas. But each character would have their own story, agenda, and their actions during the game would affect the communal conclusion to the game. Harry would be searching for his daughter. Cybil could spend the majority of the game trying to solve the mysteries behind the town's cult and the White Claudia drug-smuggling that the first game hinted at, but never expounded upon. And Kaufman could be trying to gather components to make the aglaophotis in order to stop Dahlia from summoning the town's god.
In fact, the first Silent Hill game is even rumored to originally been planned as having a separate story for Cybil - similar to how Resident Evil 2 had two different stories (one for Leon and one for Claire). I don't think there's ever been any confirmation from Konami as to whether or not Cybil was supposed to be playable, but certain unuseable items (such as the glucose, distilled water bottle, undriveable ambulance, the boat steering wheel, and other such "Don't worry about that now" items) seemed to imply that segments of the game were cut. These could have simply been unnecessary levels, additional endings, or (as rumored) could have been the results of un-removed overlap between Harry's story and a scrapped playable scenario for Cybil. So it is not too far fetched to imagine that if a scenario for Cybil had been made, and if two people could play them simultaneously in the same game world, then you'd have a solid multiplayer Silent Hill game. Heck, if the technology had existed back then, Silent Hill could have started as a multiplayer game!
Alternatively, here's another possible scenario: imagine, if you will, that a small family or group of people is coming to Silent Hill for a vacation. They could be going to the amusement park, or camping near the lake, or what have you. Remember, Silent Hill is a resort town! A game could be constructed such that each character in the group could be a playable character. They could get separated early in the game, and then each get dragged into some crazy stuff going on in the town, and then spend the rest of the game trying to meet back up and get the hell out.
Again, each player would essentially be playing what would feel like a single-player game for the most part, but each character's story would be interrelated, and what happens to one character would affect the others who are playing.
In order for such a scenario to work though, we would need several criteria to be met:
- Each character and his/her story would have to be unique and interesting. No, they do not have to have some "dark secret". People tend to forget that Silent Hill games are not always about characters with "dark secrets". Silent Hill 1, Silent Hill 3, and Silent Hill 4 were all completely impersonal stories in which the protagonist was dragged into a situation outside of their control. Only Silent Hill 2 revolved around a character going to the town to unwittingly face his own sins!
- The game would not work well as a "drop in-drop out" game. So players would need to find a steady group who is going to play the game all the way through from start to finish in order to maintain the immersion and consistency that would be necessary to make a scenario work. This would probably mean such a game would be more suited to a short, several-hour-long XBox Live or PSN title (hey wait a minute, wasn't that what Konami said they had been considering?), or a series of distinct, episodic stories.
- The entire game would have to be conceived and designed around this mechanic! This would NOT work as a simple optional extra feature or unlockable, otherwise, the game would be designed around one character, and the people playing as the other characters would be stuck in tacked-on supporting roles - which would not be fun.
- The characters would probably need some method of communication, either walkie-talkies or cell phones, so that they can ask for help from the others when necessary, but access to communication would have to be limited in order to maintain the illusion of isolation.
But those are all solvable problems for a talented creative team.
To me, the hardest challenge for a design team making a multiplayer Silent Hill experience would be how to handle character death. Obviously, when one character dies, the game can't take the whole group back to the last checkpoint. that would be irritating. Also, the designers couldn't make the characters impervious to death, as that would eliminate most of the fear. So if one character dies, would the rest of the group have to just move on without him or her? That might not be fun either.
A mechanic similar to Shattered Memories could be implemented, in which much of the game is simple exploration without the danger of enemies. Then, when the characters all meet, it could trigger entrance into the Otherworld, where they would all have to worry about monsters and maybe even a boss fight. This would create an association between "meeting another character" and "impending death", and might actually make each player afraid of encountering the others and would make them less likely to try to force interaction, since doing so would be putting themselves in danger.
So, I've talked about Silent Hill as a cooperative title, and given two examples of how it could work. So what was the other methodology that could work for making Silent Hill a multiplayer experience?
Did you ever play Demon's Souls? That game has a unique and innovative multiplayer mechanic in which characters could both directly and indirectly interact with one another. Players could leave notes and clues throughout the levels, and any other player in that same level could find those notes and clues and rate them based on usefulness. The Silent Hill games have always been very note-heavy. Everywhere you go, you're finding clues and notes left by the residents of the town. Some of them make sense, most of them do not. So what if some of those notes could be left by other players?
Imagine how much less frustrating the Otherworld hospital would have been in Silent Hill 1 if other players could leave a note in the "zodiac room" saying "It's the number of limbs, stupid!"
Or maybe leaving puzzle solutions would take away the fun of the Silent Hill games. In any case, Demon's Souls could be a great inspiration for future horror game designers who are trying to find creative ways to include multiplayer or online components into their games!
The bottom line is that multiplayer should not be discarded as an idea for moving the Silent Hill franchise forward in the future. There are ways that a multiplayer experience could be designed to work within the style of game that is Silent Hill without sacrificing the game's narrative or tone. Its just a matter of careful design. Hopefully, Downpour will be very good, and will kickstart the franchise once again, and open up the doors to new ways for us to experience our favorite horror game's universe!