Silent Hill senior associate producer Tomm Hulett has been very active this past week discussing upcoming Silent Hill projects for Konami. I've already talked about the release of the first voice recording samples for the Silent Hill HD Collection - it wasn't pretty. But news about the series didn't end there. Hulett has gone on to discuss more information about the two new games and the HD Collection.
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Silent Hill: Book of Memories revealed
Konami recently released the first footage and information from the new PlayStation Vita handheld game Silent Hill: Book of Memories.
So this game is a top-down multiplayer brawler? Like Gauntlet Legends?
According the Hulett, the game is going to have character creation, and the plot of the game revolves around your custom-created character finding a mysterious book that contains a history of your life. By changing the content of the book, you change your own past.
So... how exactly does this relate to Silent Hill?
This actually sounds like a really neat idea for a game! But I just don't see how it relates to Silent Hill at all. Hulett says that some areas and monsters are going to be based on areas and monsters from the previous Silent Hill games. Apparently, they can't make up their own monsters or areas. I guess because re-using stuff is the only way to make this game even closely resemble Silent Hill. Hulett even specifically referenced an appearance by Pyramid Head - a creature that does not belong in any game other than Silent Hill 2. Ugh...
What are these people doing?
Does this "Book of Memories" have something to do with the cult that operates out of Silent Hill? Is the writer or reader of the book somehow trying to invoke the power of the cult's god for some nefarious purpose? Maybe revealing that information would be a "spoiler", so instead, Hulett is just giving us vague details that just make the game sound less and less like a Silent Hill game.
More information about Downpour
The game convention in Cologne, Germany has also shed some new details about Silent Hill Downpour.
A few new features and gameplay elements have been announced:
Weather as an indicator
For one thing, the weather is apparently going to work as an indicator of the danger level of a given area. The heavier it is raining, the more monsters are present. I guess the radio static just didn't cut it as an enemy indicator anymore. Ah well. I can live with this. In fact, this might be kind of neat.
Streaming & Doors
It is also looking like the game will stream completely from the disk similar to Shattered Memories, and the door-opening mechanic is returning. This should be a positive addition. Being able to just touch a doorway and be instantly warped to the next room and out of harm's way was always a bit cheap in the previous games. And the constant loading screens took a little of the tension away. Peeking carefully into a room was a cool feature in Shattered Memories, but the lack of enemies during the exploratory phase and the panicked pace of the Otherworld segments meant that this mechanic was never able to be effectively used. You always knew when you were safe, and when you knew enemies were around, you didn't have time to waste peeking through a door. It was always better to just charge through and sprint to the finish line. So I'm exciting about seeing a more immersive (and hopefully suspenseful) sense of exploration.
The camera is fixed behind the character, although some previews have stated that some areas will have stationary cameras that will attempt to replicate the dynamic angles from the earlier games. We saw this in the above videos in some of the areas. I also noticed that the over-the-shoulder camera does have a look-behind button, which is something that Alan Wake noticeably lacked.
Combat in some of the previews that I've seen looks very clunky. It looked like it was very hard to hit the enemies - as if the game lacks some kind of enemy lock feature. As such, enemies tended to get a lot of cheap shots on the character while he was swinging a chair or fire extinguisher around wildly. Hopefully this is something that will get fixed before the game releases. Either that, or the person playing in those previews just didn't know what the heck he was doing.
I generally like the idea of just picking up whatever happens to be around to use as a weapon. Origins had a similar idea, except that it let you carry around everything that you picked up. So after a few hours into the game, you have microwave ovens, toasters, hospital drip stands, portable televisions, and all kinds of other crap just sitting in your pockets waiting to be thrown at bad guys. It was weird. In this game, you can only pick up and hold one such item at a time; although, from what I understand, you can also carry at least one firearm that you keep even if you pick up another melee weapon. This system seems like a definite improvement over Origins.
In the guided demo video above, the producers make a big deal about the Otherworld transition "not looking anything like the movie or Homecoming." I guess they recognize that Homecoming was not very popular. But the "melting" effect is still very similar to what was presented in the movie and Homecoming, and still clashes with what was shown in the early games.
I'll discuss this more in a future blog post, but this "dissolving away" effect to reveal a hidden Otherworld "underneath" the "real" world is bad form for the game. In the first games, the Otherworld was described as "invading" the real world. That is how Harry Mason described it, and it is what we specifically saw in some of the transitions in Silent Hill 3. Those effects were disorienting and confusing because you were often in areas that should be familiar, but looked and felt completely different. That disorientation and confusion created an uneasiness that contributed to the sense of fear and dread that pervaded the older games. Peeling away the walls to reveal new paths to places that you haven't been yet feels like a "hidden door behind a bookcase" gimmick that just doesn't add anything to the game. There is no sense that the world has changed, just that you are going to a new place that looks different. Which isn't as scary.
This red light thing has also been brought up in some conversations. Supposedly, it shows up in the Otherworld sometimes, and Murphy has to run away from it or die. There was a similar effect in the Borely Haunted Mansion in Silent Hill 3, but this still seems like an odd addition to the game. Personally, I think it has something to do with the amnesia that I'm sure the character will have. Possibly some kind of link to the real world or his own memories invading his consciousness. I guess we'll have to wait and see what exactly it means.
Why the heck is the character knocking over book cases to stop some kind of universe-destroying-vortex-monster? That makes no sense! Is it actually slowing the red light thing down?
Overall, it looks like Downpour is taking a lot of gameplay mechanics that were tried in some of the previous third-party-developed Silent Hill games and refining them for this title. The weapon system of Origins, a melee-heavy combat system like Homecoming, and the exploration and chase mechanics of Shattered Memories have all been combined into one much-neater looking package. This game is definitely looking like it will be the best non-Team Silent game to bear the name "Silent Hill", but it is still up in the air as to whether or not the game will be worthy of the Silent Hill franchise.
Tomm Hulett interviewed by Siliconera
Specifically, Hulett was asked about Downpour's main character, Murphy Pendleton. Hulett remained fairly vague about details. Apparently, telling us too much about Murphy's personality - or why he is in prison - would "spoil" the story. So I guess this is gonna be one of those games where either the character has amnesia, or the plot twist involves telling the players something that the character already knows. Both of which are cheap gimmicks.
The amnesia trick worked in Silent Hill 2 because of the way it was presented. The game wasn't just about "James forgot about his crime", it was more about how he deals with discovering the facts of his own past. But the whole amnesia thing is getting so boring, since every Silent Hill game being handled by an external developer has tried to copy it. Origins had a main character who repressed that his parents killed themselves. Homecoming had a character that repressed that he had accidentally killed his younger brother. Shattered Memories had a character that forgot that he was dead. Now it looks like we're going to have a new character who has repressed whatever crime he has committed.
But apparently, water is pretty important and has a lot to do with Murphy. So I'm going to guess that means that Murphy probably drowned somebody. Either that, or he is already dead from drowning, and his visit to Silent Hill is some sort of death-dream.
Hulett's response to one of these questions showcases his own deep misunderstanding of what is happening in Silent Hill. He makes a comment "for you, Silent Hill may look different." This statement is not entirely correct. It is not the case that different people "see" Silent Hill differently. Rather, the town reshapes reality based on each person who enters it. Earlier in the interview, Hulett said "Silent Hill is different for each person that enters it" - which is more accurate. Hopefully, Hulett is starting to understand and appreciate this important distinction!
The interior of a church with Christian crosses on the gate. Will this game further flesh out the cult? If so, will it screw it up as badly as Homecoming did?
Multiple Puzzle Difficulties
Hulett also revealed that Downpour will return to featuring multiple puzzle difficulties. Which is a positive sign. Homecoming and Shattered Memories had very weak puzzle design. So hopefully the multiple difficulty levels means that Vatra is taking the puzzle element a little bit more seriously.
He also clarified that the puzzle difficulty may also relate to an objective system. According the Hulett, players who play the game on the "easy" puzzle setting will be given "objectives" telling them where to go and what to do. However, on the harder settings, there will be fewer "objectives", and so the player will have to figure out where to go on his own.
I'm on the fence about this "feature". On the one side, it is nice that the developers are respecting the gamers' intelligence and not displaying giant prompts on the screen telling us what to do and where to go all the time. On the other side, it makes me wonder whether the game is designed in such a way that the flow of the narrative feels natural.
The older games were designed in such a way that the game map felt open, but in reality, it was very constrained and guided. Some paths were blocked off and would lead the player to where they are supposed to go be systematically blocking off any possible alternate paths. This design philosophy was used all the way up through Silent Hill 3. And it worked. Mostly.
Tomm Hulett is scared of me!
My cosplay for 2010-2011
In an interview with Siliconera, senior associate producer of the Silent Hill series was asked this question:
Siliconera: "What’s scarier the fans or Pyramid Head?"
Tomm Hulett: "Fans dressed as Pyramid Head. [Laughs]"
-Siliconera interview with Tomm Hulett
I'm a Silent Hill fan! I dress up like Pyramid Head!
Tomm Hulett is afraid of me!
But Hulett isn't the only one opening his mouth
The new voice of James Sunderland, Troy Baker, tried to shift blame onto original voice actor Guy Cihi in an interview earlier this week.
Baker claims that Cihi's desire to be paid for residuals for previous releases of Silent Hill 2 is unfounded in the video gaming industry, and that Cihi alone is to blame for the need for re-recorded dialogue (The Escapist: Troy Baker defends new Silent Hill 2 voice work).
Now I'll admit that I'm no expert on video game voice acting contracts, but it seems reasonable that a voice actor should be compensated for any rereleases of the product that uses his recordings. Cihi has already stated that he wanted to allow Konami to re-use his perfomance, but that he felt he was entitled to compensation which Konami was simply unwilling to pay. He feels so strongly about this, that he is hiring a lawyear to try to get a court order for the royalties he feels he is due.
If Cihi's greed is really the only factor that is preventing Konami from using his voice recording, then why is Konami having to re-record everybody's dialogue? Wouldn't they only need to re-record his dialogue? And how is Konami getting away with re-using Cihi's motion capture work and likeness in the new game?
Nice try Baker, but I'm not buying it.
Besides, even if Cihi is to blame for this whole problem, that still doesn't excuse the fact that the new voice work sounds horrible, and it doesn't change the fact that these games still look fine and did not need to be remastered to begin with!
Baker also committed another faux pas by admitting that some of the new voice actors have changed the way that the lines are being delivered. This is exactly the kind of thing that I was afraid of when the new voice recording was originally announced! Altering the way the lines are delivered is just as bad as changing the lines themselves. It changes the intent of the dialogue, and therefore, its interpretation. And if there is one thing that Silent Hill doesn't need more of, it is more bad misinterpretations of its stories and characters.
Baker also confessed to getting a sick satisfaction out of watching and listening to fans' "kneejerk" reactions to the new voice work. What a dick.
Why Silent Hill 4 isn't being included in HD Collection
Tomm and Troy also were asked about why Silent Hill 4: The Room aren't being included in the HD Collection set.
Their answers were that the game simply isn't popular enough, and Konami didn't want to invest the time and money into it since they didn't think fans would be all that interested.
Maybe somebody at Konami decided that butchering 2 and packaging it in the same set as 3 was bad enough, and they didn't want to tarnish any more of Team Silent's games.