Taking the road less traveled to Silent Hill
The Silent Hill series has been psychologically probing our minds to unfurl our deepest fears since 1999. From the Bubble Head Nurses to the iconic Pyramid Head, the games have given us frightening monsters accompanied with visceral intense stories that keeps bringing fans back for more. And with Silent Hill: Book of Memories right around the corner, fans are anxious to see whether it will stay true to the franchise’s original horror legacy.
Ever since the split of Team Silent (the group of people who were responsible for Silent Hill 1-4), there has been a rift in the Silent Hill community. Many fans are wary of the newer Silent Hill games because they essentially don’t hold the same core experience as the original four. The negativity of fans certainly hasn’t put a damper on the spirit of the companies that have taken over the Silent Hill franchise however. Titles like Shattered Memories take a different direction than standard Silent Hill fare and have inspired the series to morph even more.
From a focus on more action-oriented gameplay to the character customization, Book of Memories strays completely from what Silent Hill fans are used to. I had the chance to talk to Book of Memories producer Tomm Hulett, about these changes.
Book of Memories takes on more of a dungeon crawler hack and slash feel than an explorative survival horror game. The inspiration for the shift in genre came from the device that Book of Memories is played on, the Vita. Hulett says, “[We wanted to] make a game suited specifically to that device rather than just create a traditional Silent Hill title.” WayForward Technologies chose to make Book of Memories for the Vita because they were currently in development for Downpour and the HD Collection for other consoles. “With the Vita on the horizon we saw opportunities to inject a new kind of experience into Silent Hill, and experiment a little bit.”
One of those experiments came in the form of character customization, which has never been done before in a Silent Hill game. Players get to choose from a multitude of options including high school stereotype, or gender, hair and skin color. Tomm explains, “We tried to find a way to immerse the player into the Silent Hill universe as themselves, via the character creation and story. We want them to feel like they’re a part of all this, trapped in the Nightmare, as it were.”
Multiplayer is another new addition, or as Tomm would say, “experiment” to Silent Hill. “The challenge with Book of Memories was actually to establish Silent Hill atmosphere in a game that can support multiplayer,” Hulett says, and he thinks they’ve done what it takes to create a multiplayer Silent Hill game. “Obviously the environments are dark and full of creepy, lonely Silent Hill detail. While it’s a different style of game, the dungeon-crawler approach means the game can be merciless at times, depriving the player of health or ammo that they need to survive. There are also many times in co-op where players will be separated or blocked from one another, with the feeling of isolation that comes along with it (or frantic adrenaline trying to get back to their friends). And of course we have weird scare rooms to creep players out and a twisty story for them to consider as they explore.”
Silent Hill has always been a deep psychological character study of inner turmoil through how it sickly mutates the world around the characters. A Silent Hill that includes a congregation of various customized characters worries some fans that an accurate story would be impossible to flesh out and truly captivate them.
Hulett reassuringly says, “Silent Hill stories are always very personal to the protagonist, and since players are our protagonists we tried to craft a story that took this into account. Since the story is about a person rewriting their life with a mystical book, the game’s story will shift and evolve based on the player’s actions. Book of Memories puts the control into the player’s hands, though they may not realize it for some time. The story system itself is a complex puzzle that can be ‘solved’ – at which point players have complete control to rewrite their destinies and see every ending.”
Everything in Silent Hill is connected. The monsters that lurk in the streets are manifestations of different feelings of the main protagonists. However, the screen caps from Book of Memories all show familiar creatures from prior games. “We chose all the best monsters from throughout the series,” says Tomm. “It ties into the plot and works with the whole ‘Book’ thing – but there are practical reasons as well.”
Hulett goes on to directly relate to the fans. “Because these creatures are tied firmly to their original games, it’s impossible to neatly have returning creatures that fans demand. There’s a camp that expects Pyramid Head in every game, and obviously teams have gone to great lengths to shoehorn Nurses into Silent Hill 4, Homecoming, etc. But that comes off very sloppy and the ardent fans instantly point it out. So in an experimental spin-off like Book of Memories, we have a reason to bring back all these creatures and let fans fear them all over again (and in new combinations!) without doing canon gymnastics.”
Tomm Hulett and the rest of team at WayForward Technologies are fully aware of just how dedicated the fans are to the Silent Hill series and understand that all the new features being presented in Book of Memories can make them uneasy. “There are still plenty of Silent Hill hallmarks, including moments of weird psychological creepiness,” the producer promises. “Many fans have made clear their doubts about a Silent Hill spin-off, but I’m confident anybody who gives Book of Memories a try will find plenty to like. It has the story, atmosphere, puzzles, setting, and darkness that fans love. It just happens to be a bit more actiony, RPGish, and co-op than they’ve experienced before. Change is a good thing every once in awhile.”