Welcome back to Franchise Festival, where we explore and discuss the history of noteworthy video game series from the last four decades. Older entries can be found here.
This article comes with a content warning for disturbing imagery and discussion of topics such as sexual violence, abuse, incest, and more.
This week we’ll be concluding October’s run of horror game coverage with a special guest article from yours truly, Lovely Bones, about that Japanese psychosexual body horror nightmare everybody loves, Silent Hill! Please bear in mind that this article is very long, but I hope it’s to your satisfaction, comprehensiveness and all. Years refer to North American release unless otherwise noted. I have listed out all sources at the end, and unreservedly recommend the following major and recurring sources for more information:
silenthillmemories.net, an archive of information for the entire series which includes many of the images embedded here, and transcriptions of most interviews with individuals that have worked on the series.
The Nikkei for its comprehensive coverage of Konami corporate culture circa the 2010s.
Polygon’s The Complete History of Silent Hill video.
Konami was founded on March 21st, 1969 by Kagemasa Kozuki, who remains chairman of the company to this day. The company’s name supposedly originates from combining syllables in the names of founder Kozuki and his first game designers, Yoshinobu Nakama and Tatsuo Miyasako. Kozuki started Konami as a jukebox rental and repair business, before beginning its transition into a worldwide entertainment corporation in the late 1970s, releasing its first coin-operated video game device in 1978. They started the export of its products to the United States in the following year, which required licensing to other companies to handle US distribution, such as Gremlin Industries and Stern Electronics.
Konami had a variety of hits on the arcade market in the early ‘80s, including Stern’s iconic Frogger and Super Cobra. This success allowed for the establishment of Konami of America, Inc., in 1982, leading into their pursuit of the home console market, through which they established major franchises like Castlevania, with Castlevania (1986)’s release for the Famicom and NES, and the first three Metal Gear games being released for the MX2 and the NES. After the two NES releases were produced without him, series director Hideo Kojima would retake control of the series with Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, and later Metal Gear Solid, although tensions between him and Konami executives would persist over time.
The success of their NES releases brought Konami’s earnings from $10 million US in 1987 to $300 million by 1991. In the wake of this success and the launch of new home consoles, namely the Sony Playstation and Sega Saturn in 1994, Konami divided its developers into several subsidiary teams under the Konami Computer Entertainment (KCE) brand: KCE Japan was devoted to Metal Gear Solid and would later become the increasingly independent Kojima Productions, and KCE Tokyo handled Castlevania and the assignment of developing new IP for these consoles, which led to the start of such critically acclaimed series as Pro Evolution Soccer and Silent Hill.
The original Silent Hill started production in September 1996 under orders from Konami executives, who were responding to Capcom’s runaway hit Resident Evil after its release earlier that year. Konami wanted a cinematic Hollywood-style action game in the vein of Resident Evil, one that could effectively compete and sell well with US audiences.
Silent Hill (1999)
As Konami gave their starting orders and otherwise remained hands-off with the project, the team at KCE Tokyo began to consider what they wanted out of this game, what their vision for it was. Despite Konami’s desire for a blockbuster and the budget to match,1 this small team of developers were more focused on the idea of a game that would be emotionally meaningful and could be remembered for generations as an artistic success and a step forward for games as a narrative medium. According to Akira Yamaoka2, this team consisted of developers that did not work well with the staffs of their previous projects and were expecting to leave the company soon due to not having the opportunity to explore their own original ideas, but this project provided the opportunity to realize their ideas to some extent and its breakout success motivated many, but not all, to stay with Konami for the time being.
Like with any cult classic, Silent Hill has a history of certain components in its legacy being misrepresented by its passionate fans, both consciously and unconsciously, a messy and complicated history being streamlined into something more suitably romantic and mythologized. The name Team Silent has taken on an immeasurable weight through everything it represents, and although there is some truth to the air of underdog dramatics surrounding it, that has nonetheless been distorted by its use as a catch-all broader than its true meaning. Although I will continue to use the term in contexts accurate to its application, it must be understood that there is no one Team Silent constant throughout all games of the series they worked on, and that is true for a number of reasons.
The true background of the title itself reflects this, as an informal nickname possibly coined by the developers themselves out of camaraderie and distinguishing themselves from other games’ teams, a necessity under Konami’s subsidiary corporate structure that left little room for any real independence. The only legally and financially distinct company of its own to emerge from that top-down hierarchy was Kojima Studios, and if we all don’t already know how their sense of independence turned out, we will soon enough. Whether it was specifically a byproduct of this subsidiary structure or not, Team Silent was always characterized by the regular joinings and departures of major and minor employees alike during each of their four titles worked on, as well as the oft-changing roles of those who stuck around for most of their history.
All of this flux is not inconvenient details to be wiped away for the sake of a single idea of what Team Silent is, but ultimately beneficial to the creative process for the series and worth engaging with in how the changes inform it. All this said, some of the ringleaders of Team Silent’s first form will likely be mentioned repeatedly throughout this article and thus are best suited to being introduced now: Keichiro Toyama, Hiroyuki Owaku, Masahiro Ito, Masashi Tsuboyama, Akihiro Imamura, and of course, the beloved and longest-lasting Akira Yamaoka. Toyama took on the roles of Director and Scenario Writer, and is regarded as the series creator due to his role in the premise’s creation. Hiroyuki Owaku was a major programmer and Toyama’s co-writer, focused on writing the puzzles. Masashi Tsuboyama and Masahiro Ito were background designers, with the latter also working on monster design, becoming the most famous and beloved of the series’ monster designers. Akihiro Imamura was the game’s lead programmer, and had been with Konami since the early 1980s, where his first project was the original 1983 Track and Field game. Lastly, Yamaoka was the composer and sound designer who cultivated a unique musical sound and background ambiance for each entry he worked on, and became increasingly involved in game production during Team Silent’s final years.
One of the most unique characters in the Team Silent stable is not a game’s hero or villain, but one Takayoshi Sato, the character designer and original FMV cutscene animator for the first two titles in the series, whose fame stems less from his legitimate substantial contribution to the series’ start and more from his tendency to claim credit for much more, particularly in a notable 2005 interview. Sato started as a 2D artist and animator at Konami working on Sexy Parodius, an erotic parody arcade shooter released shortly before production started on Silent Hill. Sato strived to be assigned to a more major 3D title like Metal Gear Solid, but because he was fresh out of college, in the Japanese culture of Konami it was believed that he should be teaching his older coworkers 3D animation rather than taking the position himself. Through willpower he had gotten himself onto Silent Hill’s team, but all he could do was instruct others while doing menial work like crafting subtitles. In Sato’s own words, he took bold action by creating a brief animated clip and taking it to the higher-ups above his boss, refusing to continue teaching older employees unless he was given the opportunity to make use of his talents. From there he was actively involved in animating and crafting the atmosphere of the game, but tensions with his superiors remained. As he continued to refuse accepting a supervisor when he was already leading the animation team, his boss allegedly attempted to punish him by insisting that he finish everything himself if he wanted to receive credit for it, which Sato readily accepted.
From there, Sato claims to have effectively lived and slept in the KCE Tokyo office for the rest of the game’s development, staying awake at night to employ the project’s entire set of 150 or more computers towards rendering the various FMV cutscenes that would later earn much acclaim during the game’s 1998 E3 debut and upon release in 1999. When Sato says, “Not many people believe I did it myself,” there’s a tangible sensation that this describes not only fans of the game or employees elsewhere in the games industry, but possibly Sato’s coworkers themselves. If Sato was rendering at night and likely sleeping at least some of the day, someone else was working on them in the meantime, no? From there, the outlandishness of his claims only continues to increase, as he takes credit for the dialogue and story of Silent Hill 2 while dismissively referring to his well-respected and officially credited coworker by saying, “There was a writer, but I provided the dialogue and storyline.” Most generously, he has a very misconceived notion of how a creative team works. He goes on to discuss the production of Silent Hill 3, which began by his own admission after he had already departed for Konami of America, and he still attempts to claim responsibility for the unproduced pitch for 3 that is often discussed in hushed but excited whispers. It seems likely that his departure was as much motivated by avoiding further tensions with his coworkers as it was what he claims, that he vocally recognized the untapped Western market’s potential and as a result Konami assigned him to manage the new Konami US division, which he fairly quickly left in favor of Electronic Arts.
When Keichiro Toyama and his team set out to initially craft a premise that would support their lofty goals for the game, they took the team leader’s inexperience with mainstream horror as a guiding principle to instead focus on what interested him and them, which included the occult and surrealist psychological horror such as the works of David Lynch. From analyzing psychological horror as a genre and their specific works of inspiration, several conceits emerged: fear of the unknown integrated with mystery and narrative ambiguity, leaving room for interpretation; an innocent small town with dark secrets, delved into by an outsider; in turn from there, an everyman protagonist ill-prepared for the violent encounters that await them, and thus gameplay that would be oriented around the difficulty of the combat, in stark contrast to the action-ready law officers of Resident Evil. As the first horror game with real-time 3D environments 3, working within their hardware’s technical limitations was a necessity that enabled further conceits for developing the game’s atmosphere. The fixed cameras of those aforementioned titles could be used in tandem with ample fog and shadow effects to skew player perspective and increase uncertainty of what lies around every corner.
Silent Hill established a formula for the series’ gameplay that would rarely be substantially deviated from over the subsequent fifteen years and seven more completed, major entries in the series. The player balances combat, exploration, and puzzle solving across a series of pre-set levels with connective stages. Their defining items to use are melee weapons, firearms, health items, a flashlight for searching every corner of the level, and most uniquely to the series, a portable radio whose static activates to signify nearby monsters. Health is kept track of through the vibrations of the DualShock PlayStation controller and checking a special screen in the inventory menu, with no lives or measurable health bar. Finally, the player’s movements, including attack, are controlled strictly through what are known as tank controls from the early 3D gaming era, so named after the original steering mechanisms of tanks, wherein movement is controlled relative to the position of the player character, rather than the camera-based movement that would largely become more popular for 3D games. Although this control system functioned well with the fixed cameras frequently used in the early Silent Hill games, both the second and third titles provided the choice between tank and alternative control schemes.
Professional writer, single father and recent widower Harry Mason is driving with his young daughter Cheryl to the resort town of Silent Hill, Maine, for what will hopefully be a relaxing vacation.4 On the outskirts of town, Harry swerves to avoid a girl in the middle of the road, crashing his car and knocking himself unconscious. Waking up to find his daughter gone, he’s forced to enter and explore the mysterious town, following what appears to be Cheryl into a dark alleyway. An ominous siren blares and the sky above goes dark, forcing Harry to use his lighter to see the path before him and experience his, and the audience’s, very first glimpse of the disturbing Otherworld. The alley has taken on a rusted and grimy industrial appearance, slathered with gore, insulated by barbed wire, and filled by the sound of grinding gears. Harry stumbles along his path and reaches a dead end, where a mutilated and seemingly crucified corpse hangs before him, then suddenly a swarm of childlike monsters appear and stab Harry to death. This sequence became one of the most beloved and iconic in the series for the very deliberate pacing used to maximize dread and gradually introduce the unique visual aesthetic.
A startled Harry wakes up from this nightmare in the local diner. Police officer Cybil Bennet speaks with him about his daughter and equips him for self-defense in the journey ahead. She does so just in time, too, as the two must soon fend off a pterodactyl like monster that breaks through the diner’s window. From a clue left by Cheryl, Harry is led to a local elementary school that appears abandoned and is infested with the same childlike monsters from Harry’s nightmare. While navigating the building, his surroundings revert to the horrific and Otherworldly nature of his nightmare, where all light except his flashlight’s is gone, and the boiler room contains a large reptile whose head splits into a great, gaping maw, which Harry must defeat to return himself to ‘reality.’ He briefly witnesses an appearance of the same girl from the town’s outskirts, leading Harry to a church and then in turn to Alchemilla Hospital, where he speaks to Dahlia Gillespie and Nurse Lisa Garland. Dahlia’s cryptic speech and mysterious gift of the Flauros confuse Harry, while Lisa is just as panicked and confused as he is. The Otherworld reemerges inside the hospital, Dahlia appears once more to warn Harry that he must stop the spread of darkness in the town, and demonic parasites rapidly infect the hospital staff, deforming them into hunchbacked, zombie-like, scalpel-wielding monsters.
It was from this level that the trend of variable nurse-based monsters recurring in every game was originally inspired, although the motif was sadly soon overshadowed by meaningless imitations of the sexy nurse design from the second game. After some bizarre dream-logic experiences and the discovery of a cultish altar inside Dahlia’s antique shop, Harry reaches Silent Hill Resort, where he must choose whether or not to spend his time on rescuing Dr. Michael Kaufmann from a Grey Child and retrieving materials for him, which reveal that the good doctor is involved in the town’s drug trade, and the materials he uses concoct a mysterious red chemical. After a brief encounter with the ghostly girl inside a lighthouse, Harry follows his ally Officer Cybil into Lakeside Amusement Park, where she suddenly turns on him, infected with the puppet parasite. If Harry successfully attained the first red vial inside Alchemilla, he can kill the monster and cure Cybil, saving her life, but otherwise, she is the first humanoid boss battle of the series, and Harry is forced to kill her.
When the ghostly girl arrives inside the amusement park, Harry successfully contains her with the Flauros, only to be horrified by the realization that Dahlia has been manipulating him all along, using him to destroy holy seals that were actually stopping her monstrous god’s ascension, and trap the soul of her daughter Alessa, who was burned alive in the cult’s ritual. Dahlia harnesses her trapped daughter’s immense power and casts Harry into a labyrinthine construct built from Alessa’s memories and nightmares. Harry must complete and evade numerous puzzles and monsters to navigate this realm called Nowhere. During this final leg of the journey, he learns more of Dr. Kaufmann’s relationship with the cult and his exploitation of Lisa Garland’s addiction. At the center of Nowhere, Harry finds Dahlia and her daughter, who is revealed to have split her soul in two upon her death to negate the birth of her mother’s god, with the other half being reborn and unknowingly adopted by Harry and his wife as Cheryl. Alessa needed Cheryl to restore her full power and attempt to stop Dahlia for good, and Dahlia needs Cheryl to complete her ceremony. The twin souls’ reunion creates the new godly form called Incubator, but in turn brings the demonic Incubus to life, which quickly and carelessly kills its worshipper Dahlia before turning its attention to Harry. If Dr. Kaufmann is still alive, he appears suddenly and uses the remaining red chemical, the Aglaophotis, to save the Incubator while Harry slays Incubus.
The Incubator bequeaths an infant girl, the next incarnation of the powerful soul that was Alessa, onto Harry and Cybil, and sacrifices itself to keep the Otherworld stable enough to allow their safe escape with the child. The doctor attempts to join them, but is attacked by a possessed Lisa Garland and karmically dragged back into the nightmarish abyss. This is the Good+ ending, which is activated by saving both Cybil and Kaufmann’s lives. There are three other major endings along with the base Good ending, which is identical to the first, only without Cybil alive. This design of branching determinant endings would be established as a staple for the series henceforth, as a way to encourage replays and explore different narrative arcs. In the Bad+ and Bad endings, the Incubator is itself the monstrous god with no dual form, its necessitated destruction meaning that there is no new child, and Harry is left to grieve his lost daughter with Cybil in Bad+. In Bad, the game tips its hand to a key atmospheric influence, the 1990 film Jacob’s Ladder, with one last big plot twist of Harry having been in his crashed car all along, imagining these disturbing events while dying. Finally, there is the famous UFO Ending, or joke ending, an idea inspired by a development team brainstorm of alternate explanations for the town’s nature, and which Konami execs fought to cut due to tonal dissonance. Activated by the use of obscure items and cutting off the final boss entirely, a group of UFOS arrive at the town’s lighthouse, blasting Harry and abducting him before leaving; this became such a beloved and folkloric element of the original game that like the nurse monsters, it became an ongoing feature that outlasted Team Silent’s tenure on the series.
There are virtues and flaws alike in this game’s status as the most truly simple and elemental entry in the series. The foundation it builds in atmosphere, visual style, environmental design, and narrative structure is so essential and influential that to dismiss the game as a proof of concept would be foolhardy. 5 However, there are key elements that fail to be especially compelling even solely on their own terms, and that doesn’t only mean the voice acting. Harry is introduced with psychological trouble of his own, that brought him to the town in the first place on multiple levels, but the narrative never engages with it further and only barely digs into his parental fears.
On pure aesthetic alone, the monster designs largely hold up, but the underlying ideas behind them are frequently lacking, courtesy of being so utterly straightforward that they rarely inspire any further thought or effect beyond the visceral interaction. Alessa/Cheryl being scared of dogs, lizards, bugs, and nurses, even with the latter being wrapped up in an abusive backstory, just simply aren’t compelling unless one happens to share the particular elemental and valid fears. 6 Separate from this matter, the puppet parasite is intriguing, but it starts out of place and only grows more so in relation to the rest of the series, left unacknowledged as the ideas behind the town and its monsters evolved with new writers at the helm. Only one monster completely integrates aesthetic and idea into something more, the Grey Children, eliciting the experience of childhood persecution and violence that provides greater insight into Alessa while contributing to a still broad but more complete thematic conceit of trauma. Ultimately, none of this holds the game back from being the overall success that it is, as 1999 proved so clearly.
Upon its January 1999 release, Silent Hill became widely acclaimed as a unique and innovative title, selling over two million copies in the process of becoming one of the definitive best games of the PlayStation, taking survival horror into a major step forward, and taking the position of the definitive game to emulate within the genre until Resident Evil 4 in 2005. A major risk from both developer and company paid off in unexpected immensity and nobody quite knew where to go from there, except that a sequel needed to happen ASAP, and that the artists at work needed to take advantage of their position and keep taking risks. Some major obstacles would quickly arise, but nonetheless it soon became clear that even greater heights were in Konami and Team Silent’s future.
Silent Hill 2 (2001)
With Silent Hill taking on breakout hit status so quickly in 1999, the future for the series and for Konami looked bright, but already a major change in personnel arose: Keichiro Toyama, series creator and first writer/director, departed Konami and Team Silent for Sony Interactive Entertainment, where he would create and develop a new survival horror series, known as Siren or Forbidden Siren in different parts of the world. Unlike his previously disgruntled compatriots, Toyama remained committed to leaving Konami behind even in the face of financial security, and with development for a sequel set to start by June 1999, his coworkers could not afford to look back. Most of the first game’s core team was retained, with thirty more developers brought in from elsewhere in KCE Tokyo to accommodate for the continually increasing scale of production that came with an estimated budget of $7 to 10 million US, adding up to around 50 total developers.
Several of those original developers faced major promotions: Hiroyuki Owaku and Masashi Tsuboyama took over from Toyama as Scenario Writer and Director respectively, Masahiro Ito stepping up to Art Director in addition to continuing as monster designer, and Akihiro Imamura being originally meant as Director, instead becoming the first and only Producer in order to manage the expanded staff and coordinate the overall production. Among the new developers, the most noteworthy is Suguru Murakoshi, who started with the credit of Drama Director and Animator, which most likely means he worked with Takayoshi Sato on FMV animation.
The production of Silent Hill 2 was not only an opportunity for Konami to capitalize on its unexpected hit, but for Team Silent to work with new hardware and greater resources that could hopefully realize the uncompromised creative potential of Silent Hill better than the late-in-life PlayStation. One of the first components of this as development started that summer was for Tsuboyama as Director to lead the near-complete redesign of the town itself as part of the game’s narrative shift away from the Order (still kept present in background lore) and other components of the first game. While the resort background remained in place and plot-relevant, the town as a relatively functional and populated community faded in favor of a force of nature, impossible space actively drawing certain individuals in toward certain purpose.
Graphical and animation advancements allowed for a greater degree of emotional expressiveness from the player character and NPCs alike in and out of cutscenes, evidently one of the team’s bigger regrets about the first game. Gameplay modification from the original is fairly limited, but where it is included, it’s usually oriented around alternatives to combat and aggressive behavior, such as blocking enemy attacks with any weapon based on timing precise to the monsters’ own, and more broadly, the substantiated option and ability to avoid combat encounters through defensive and evasive maneuvering. The series’ first ‘escort mission’ being featured here contributes to this as well. This is key to another major goal for the developers’ unlocked and uncompromised potential from the first game: gameplay data tracking and the corresponding determinant system is greatly expanded, meaning that latent player behavior throughout, including item and environment interaction, builds a profile informing the character and his ultimate ending, rather than the endgame being dependent on isolated data points like certain NPCs being alive or dead.
The outwardly unassuming James Sunderland stands in a dirty bathroom on the outskirts of a lakeside city, looking back over a letter allegedly from his wife, dead for three years from a vaguely defined degenerative illness. Mary’s letter invites him for a reunion at their special place inside the resort town of their honeymoon vacation, Silent Hill. Desperate in his grief, James enters the town through a winding path, thick with fog, that leads straight into a graveyard and young Angela Orosco, an awkward and childlike woman looking for her mother. Her warnings that the town is wrong and dangerous fall on deaf ears, but the two wish each other luck in their searches before parting. The bustling vacation spot James remembers appears to be desolate and rotting away. Things take a turn for the stranger when James follows a trail of blood and a human-seeming silhouette into a construction area and discovers that the silhouette is a thin, feminine entity wrapped in a straitjacket of flesh that he must kill in self-defense.
Encountering more of these creatures as he travels through the city streets, discovering that they quickly skitter around on the ground and under cars, James enters nearby apartment buildings in hope of finding a way into Rosewater Park, one of the key locations he remembers from the honeymoon. Inside the apartments he has many more strange experiences, from an antagonistic little girl and a young man vomiting into a toilet with a corpse beside him (Eddie Dombrowski), adamantly proclaiming he did not kill them, to a bulky humanoid wearing a massive, rusted helmet that vanishes without a trace, living mannequins, and eventually a troubling reunion with Angela. Finding her in despair and brazenly contemplating a kitchen knife in her hands, James struggles through his communication abilities in an attempt to make her safer, ending with her giving over the knife and abruptly running away. Finally, James must evade the apparently unkillable brute in the helmet, now branding an enormous knife, inside the apartment stairwell as a haunting siren blares, to escape the buildings once the siren stops and the creature leaves.
Back outside, James attempts to confront the little girl, who shouts back about knowing his wife Mary better than he did, knowing that he never really loved her, before running off. James only grows more confused when he reaches the park and finds not Mary waiting, but Maria, an independent-minded woman who seems physically identical. Maria flirts confidently to keep James protecting her from the town’s monstrous denizens, and demonstrates knowledge that only he and Mary should know, as she tries to help him find the girl, Laura, and reach his next special place, the hotel across Toluca Lake. Maria’s sudden protective instincts toward Laura draw her and James into Brookhaven Hospital, where they split up for a time, during which Laura and James angrily confront each other again. As the two call each other liars about their relationships with Mary, Laura traps and abandons James in a room with several masses of flesh, hanging from the ceiling inside metal bedframes with legs dangling out and prominent lips.
Upon killing the Flesh Lips and emerging from the room, James discovers that Maria is missing and the hospital has converted into the grimy Otherworld like the apartments before, now infested with scantily clad nurses that convulse, move unpredictably, and attack suddenly with blunt pipes in their hands. When James and Maria finally reunite, she tries to express her upset with his neglect towards her, and as they try to escape the hospital, they are suddenly pursued by the Pyramid Head monster, which stabs Maria in the stomach right as the doors close and the elevator carries James to safety. The increasingly stressed James discovers that night has descended and the city streets themselves are now part of the Otherworld as well. As he traverses his way towards the underground abandoned Toluca Prison, 7 he passes through tunnels with mesh grating floors, from which another feminine monster helplessly hangs and attempts to lash out at James.
Many descents and strange encounters await James inside the prison and beyond, including an increasingly erratic Eddie who casually puts a revolver to his head and discusses how easy murder is, how anyone who makes fun of him has it coming. Inside the prison’s cells are two invisible, heavy breathing, harmless creatures, that James can casually execute at his whim. After crafting a door handle to escape from the prison, James jumps down several holes and takes an elevator, finally entering the Labyrinth as the increasing surrealism of his surroundings completes itself. As an impossible space, the Labyrinth can only be navigated by a rotating cube covered in faces that controls spatial shifts, providing access to several equally disturbing lairs: the cramped chamber from which Pyramid Head patrols, with its great knife laying out and corpses in cages hanging from the walls; a cell holding Maria, alive and unaware of her death until she dies once more by the time James reaches her; a flesh-covered room holding Angela and the monstrous representation of her father; and finally, Eddie’s personalized Otherworld, a massive freezer locker decorated with childlike clothing.
It is here that James at last fully understands the dark pasts of his compatriots. Eddie descended into a state of complete arrested development and violent paranoia from intense childhood bullying, leading to a rampage of shooting his persecutor’s dog, kneecapping the teenager, and running away from home. Eddie relishes holding power over others and soon catches James in his haze of paranoia, engaging in a gunfight that ends with James forced to kill Eddie in self-defense. Angela was repeatedly raped by her father and brother during her life until finally stabbing them to death and burning her house down in attempt to cover it up. The missing mother she yearns for abandoned her long ago after years of experiencing and inflicting in turn her own abuse. Rightfully unrepentant of her retaliation, Angela has still struggled to recover from her intense trauma and achieve a healthy self-image, with the murder investigation on her tail only compounding stress. James and Angela kill the nightmarish manifestation of her trauma together, but she then turns on him, talking about how she recognizes her father’s nature in James and believes he stopped loving Mary. Angela leaves and James wanders into a graveyard inside the Labyrinth, with headstones marked for each of the three main visitors to Silent Hill. James must take one last jump down and enter his own grave to finally reach the the Lakeview Hotel.
As he departs the Labyrinth with both disturbing experiences fresh in his mind, James increasingly questions his own reality, realizing that the letter from Mary has been blank all along. In the hotel, James speaks to Laura again and learns that his wife was preparing to adopt Laura without his knowledge and leave him, and then confronts the final truth thanks to his own video recording from their special place, Room 312. James suffocated Mary to death out of resentment for all the perceived burdens imposed on him by her illness, and this happened mere weeks ago, not years. Mary’s voice comes over the radio and invites the despondent James to further explore the Otherworldly hotel, damaged by a fire, where he fights Abstract Daddies of his own toxic masculinity. Before reaching Mary, Maria, and the end of everything, James finds Angela one last time, realizing that the blazing fire and burnt building is her Otherworld, 8 and making attempts to console her that fall flat, as she mocks him for thinking that a cruel man can save and love a broken person. When James refuses to give her knife back, Angela ascends the blazing staircase in her final act of despair.
James wanders into the hotel lobby, where he witnesses Maria die yet again at the hands of two Pyramid Heads, realizing that she is merely a fantasized construct of what he wanted from Mary, and the monsters are his brutality, guilt, and self-loathing all wrapped together. A brief, futile fight with the two creatures ends with their committing suicide, having no more purpose coexisting with a fully self-aware James. James mournfully listens to a disturbing recorded conversation between him and his wife in her final days before reaching where his radio beckons. He is brought back to Maria one final time to choose how to live with her and with himself: to embrace the fantasy and smother the manifestation of whatever slight guilt he might have, or end the cycle permanently by killing Maria himself. As previously stated, this story’s branching endings are not determined by singular choices, but overall patterns of behavior:
A player who is self-preservational, consistently highly preferential and protective of Maria, and ignores the final recording of Mary, will leave with Maria, who begins to fall ill as soon as she leaves Silent Hill, perpetuating the cycle. A player who self-preserves, but focuses more on mementos of Mary like her picture, her letter, and the recording, will find themselves leaving Silent Hill in attempt to achieve peace and atonement. A player who consistently neglects their health and focuses on several specific totems, like Angela’s knife, certain depressive writings found through exploration, and the recording of Mary, is consumed by their self-destructive tendencies and dies of suicide by driving into the lake.9
Extended analysis of one of this author’s own favorite games is forthcoming, pending her taking some time off for needed self-care. She apologizes profusely. Please enjoy the arguable 10 pinnacle of this series’ joke endings, in which James discovers a large cartoony console inside a shack being operated by a Shiba Inu. “So it was you all along!”
Pyramid Head’s iconography and popularity exploded so much upon the game’s release that it quickly became the definitive mascot of Silent Hill and arguably Konami as a whole. Its popularity was such that it was included not only in various kitschy spin-offs, but also both film adaptations of the series as well as one other mainline game to capitalize on the reception of its presence in the first film, all without any regard for the original context of the character as a manifestation of one man’s sexually violent, self-loathing guilt complex. Many years after Silent Hill 2, following the most recent completed entries in the series, former Team Silent members Yamaoka and Ito have publicly discussed, via Twitter, a “reunion” project for Team Silent, perhaps hoping to stir enough discussion that would catch Konami’s attention. Ito rather infamously made some stark comments of his requirements for agreeing to such a project: most notably the refusal to use Pyramid Head, or alternately, being given permission to actively ‘kill it off’ on-screen, both in response to the continued overuse of the character in the years since Ito’s work for the series.
Even setting aside the phenomenon of Pyramid Head, the public reception for Silent Hill 2 was incredibly complex, and equally unique both for 2001 and 2018. A video game featuring extremely provocative content, focused on some of the ugliest parts of the human condition, all handled in a relatively thoughtful and understated manner, sold more than a million copies within a month of release and became not only more acclaimed than its predecessor, but ultimately and widely held up over time as one of the greatest horror games, period. It still inspires such fandom as to receive extended analysis and coverage from such prominent games industry personas as DM of the Rings’ and Spoiler Warning’s Shamus Young, and Zero Punctuation’s Ben Croshaw.11 The series had contributed to a push into new directions for game horror, and now it had expanded those horizons farther through very integrated gameplay and narrative, albeit more passive gameplay than some might prefer or expect. Konami and Team Silent were on a roll of successful collaboration, and the only question was, where could this series possibly go next after such an entry? Answering that definitively turned out to be far more difficult than anybody anticipated.
Silent Hill 3 (2003)
After the then-unprecedented massive budget, development team, and performance of Silent Hill 2, all Konami as a company truly knew from the start was that this series needed new entries as long as it was receiving this kind of acclaim and financial success. Meanwhile, the key figures of Team Silent were planning for the long-term future of the series, believing that it was time for its first chapter to conclude and a new, more innovative chapter to begin. And so, two games were greenlit for simultaneous development by separate, smaller 12 parts of Team Silent, with the first to be promoted and released being the numbered ‘blockbuster’ entry that would resolve lingering threads from the original game and serve as the climax of the series.
When some unexpected choices were made by key personnel among Silent Hill 2’s team regarding who would work on which game, the question became who would step up as Director of Silent Hill 3, and the answer came from an unexpected source. Kazuhide Nakazawa originally worked for Konami under the developers of a 1998 fighting game called Kensei: Sacred Fist. Upon this game’s completion, he transferred into Team Silent for the second game’s production, starting as an animator for in-game character models. Nakazawa’s work on Silent Hill 2 led to his promotion, where he as Director would work with Hiroyuki Owaku, retained as Scenario Writer from 2, to envision Silent Hill 3’s story together. There was a first pitch for the game’s story that apparently was closer to Silent Hill 2 and deemed “the darkest story we have come up with,” ultimately scrapped due to concerns about content with hope that it would be used for a future game. The ideas behind this original pitch have never been discussed in explicit, greater detail due to the expectation that they would originally be published in a new game, but this would never come to pass.
In accordance with the idea of the third game as a conclusion of sorts for the original series, someone on staff suggested a direct sequel that resolved the cult plot and lives of Harry and Cheryl from the first game, knowing that some fans had wanted to see these loose ends tied up. Some in the game’s team objected to the concept on principle, but ultimately moved forward with it, beginning production on the story of teenager Heather Mason, daughter of Harry, and her confrontation with the town that threatened her as a child. Resources on this production were largely put into fully realizing the narrative, characters, and environment, with fewer cinematics than the previous games due to animator Takayoshi Sato’s departure, and very few adjustments to gameplay, only the inclusion of beef jerky to distract certain monsters, a knockdown sequence, and the replacement of the hunting rifle with a submachine gun.
Seventeen year old Heather Mason wakes up inside the Portland, Maine shopping mall, having dreamt of the horrific amusement park where her father’s final confrontation with Dahlia Gillespie began so many years ago, and begins to leave for home, before the disturbing presence of a stalker detective forces her to hide. Middle-aged detective Douglas Cartland has been lied to about the nature of what he’s been hired to do, and he doesn’t know it yet, but he is both tenacious and smart enough to continue his pursuit while considering the implications of his experiences. Heather struggles to navigate through the suddenly abandoned and monster infested mall before she is accosted by the mysterious Claudia Wolf, the Order’s new high priestess in the years since Dahlia’s death. Heather runs from Claudia and enters the Otherworld after the priestess speaks of her role in the Order’s religion, which Heather has been kept unaware of by her father since leaving Silent Hill. From there, Heather explores the mall’s underground and is forced to slay the giant Split Worm boss monster, which became a key element of this game’s overall iconography, and most importantly, is designed in parallel to the very first boss battle of the series, the Split Head that her adoptive father killed. Heather exits the mall and briefly reunites with Detective Cartland, who explains in vain that he is not loyal to Claudia, he was merely hired to find her and doesn’t know what’s going on. While she shares his confusion, Heather still leaves him behind and travels through her town’s subway and several other areas in desperate effort to get back home.
Before she can finally reach Daisy Villa Apartments, Heather must explore the Hilltop Center office building and remove the massive Glutton monster blocking her exit by assembling the text of a fairy tale thematically intertwined with her life and relationship with the Order. During this time she meets Father Vincent, a leader of the Order acting in opposition to Claudia out of pragmatism, and despite their shared antagonism towards the priestess, Heather leaves the ‘friendly’ Vincent behind as she realizes his relationship to this cult chasing after her and his unconcerned attitude towards the disturbing Otherworld. And this is where we reach what at least was one of the most shocking and devastating moments in the series’ history: our original hero, Harry Mason, viciously murdered, and his grieving daughter clutching his body. Heather finds Claudia again soon after, who coldly tells the young woman that her father died for thwarting her cult’s plans and to “fill Heather’s heart full of hatred,” that she ordered a nearby monster to commit the act rather than do it herself, and she would be waiting for Heather in Silent Hill. The detective arrives on the scene, helping Heather to pay final respects to Harry, promising that he would bring her to Silent Hill out of anger at how Claudia misled him, but also advising her that revenge will not help her, and finally, providing her with several tokens. Two are gifts from Vincent, a map of Silent Hill and advice to find Claudia’s father, Leonard Wolf, and one is a note from Harry, providing a final goodbye. In Silent Hill, Heather and Douglas split up to investigate Brookhaven Hospital and Leonard Wolf’s home, resulting in a battle to the death with Leonard, gaining his talisman the Seal of Metatron, and confronting the final piece of her past, that memories like Lakeside Amusement come from her past life as Alessa Gillespie.
Vincent privately confronts Claudia about her personal motivations for her actions, that she is lonely and unhappy from how her father harmed her and the loss of her childhood friend Alessa, and she is simply taking out her despair on the rest of the world. Vincent then meets with Heather at her motel, explaining that the Seal she retrieved might be able to halt Claudia’s God. Vincent advises Heather to go through Lakeside Amusement to reach the Order’s church, where she’ll find Douglas and Claudia and finish this nightmare for good. In Lakeside, Douglas confronts Claudia while Heather faces her doppelganger the Memory of Alessa, a mutilated figure willing to kill her current incarnation to prevent the birth of God at all costs. In his conversation with Claudia, Douglas reveals that she manipulated him by claiming that Heather had been kidnapped from her and brainwashed, and Claudia defends herself with a full explanation of her beliefs: the new God would create Paradise by removing all of the world’s ills, pain, greed, hunger, illness age, and war.
Douglas, and later Heather, argue that this is not happiness but stagnation and that it’s better to embrace reality with its hardships. Heather finds Douglas injured from his confrontation with Claudia and promises to return, before finally entering the church. The game’s final reveals ensue in short order. After Heather and Claudia debate their ideologies further, the priestess stabs Vincent to death after joyously proclaiming that the Seal of Metatron is useless. Following Douglas’ advice and knowing that hate only feeds the God, Heather controls her anger and instead realizes that as the vessel of God, she can expel it too, inducing herself to vomit the fetal monstrosity onto the ground. Claudia desperately consumes the fetus and sacrifices herself to complete her long-awaited ritual, utterly destroying her body as God’s full form emerges, a massive, deformed, and skeletal creature with a face resembling Alessa’s. Upon killing the God monster, Heather walks out of the church and leaves Silent Hill with Douglas, explaining that she wants to reclaim her identity as Cheryl, and in a final cyclical conclusion moment, the last image before credits is Heather sitting at her father’s grave. This is the only ending available on a first playthrough to further signify the definitive end to the Silent Hill story.
While the bad ending is fairly perfunctory and vague, this game’s joke ending is also in its own way a signifier of the end of an era, being the last truly original and charming joke ending while also resolving the “plot” of the previous ones. In a storyboard-style animated sequence, Heather is happily reunited by her still living father, his alien cohorts, and James Sunderland as their awkward sidekick, who avenge Heather’s mistreatment by destroying Silent Hill in a 50s sci fi style UFO attack. Before destroying Silent Hill, Harry angrily jump-kicks a wooden board in half as Heather cheers, “Oh Dad, you’re the coolest!” The subsequent rolling credits are underscored by the satirical Silent Hill Song, which opens with the lines, “Come on kiddies, gather around! Now tell me, everyone, aren’t you sick and tired of that ol’ UFO Ending?” Like the Dog ending, it really needs to be seen for itself.
There is so much to discuss with this game, but I think the most organic starting place is how this was, arguably still is in terms of succeeding in its goals if nothing else, the biggest Silent Hill game in the series, in the sense of its scope, its plot-oriented nature, and its greater thematic complexity and variety. Even while having fewer cutscenes overall than some of its brethren, Silent Hill 3 is to my memory the only entry in the series to feature a multitude of scenes focused entirely on conversations between NPCs with no direct involvement of the player character whatsoever. Although there is a valid argument to be made that such a concept and approach to narrative can detract from the experience of a game as a game, and it is admittedly part of a larger negative trajectory of the increasing over-cinematizing of AAA games during the 21st century, it works because it’s done well, done sparingly, and done for a more focused and valuable purpose than games being more like movies for its own sake. Making horror ‘big’ is rarely beneficial for its atmosphere, as many of the series’ boss battles can demonstrate. However Silent Hill 3 cultivates a vibrant apocalyptic quality distinct from any of the other religiously themed games, one that is cathartic to the developers’ ‘climax of the series’ goal and mounts further consistently and continually throughout, until culminating in not only one of the best final bosses of the series but also a truly Biblical sequence of surreal grotesquerie. Of course, it’s essential that our heroine and the audience’s connection to her not be lost in the midst of all these other points of interest, just like how the developers ultimately understood that Harry’s role needed to be minimized in order to not undermine her meaning as a character and protagonist in her own right.
After Silent Hill 2 expanded the series’ exploration of womanhood in both compelling ways and narrow confines, it was the right time for Team Silent to tackle the challenge of their first heroine. Heather has several external elements competing to over-define her as a character, from her father, to her role within the Order, and her experience as a reincarnation of Alessa. The story’s pacing is managed very precisely to allow her character to emerge on its own terms, as someone who thrives on keeping her head down but struggles with her temper and sociability, well before any of these elements take on enough presence to affect her character arc. Normalcy, survival, and then revenge are three motivations working in tandem and as trajectory that completely distinguish Heather from her predecessors while avoiding stereotype. Nobody can reasonably argue that a teenager who found her father dead is too emotional compared to the trashfires of humanity that are Eddie or James. All of these elements come together in expressing a much more gradual and complex character arc for Heather, relative to static Harry or largely in denial James, and in turn demonstrating how major of a priority it was for the game’s writers.
That shines through in a lot of the narrative structure, including decisions for characters other than Heather, but most brightly in the sequence of her confrontation with the Memory of Alessa, where accepting her past as part of who she is allows her in turn to control her anger, saving herself and the world. Those independent scenes of Claudia’s debates and confrontations with Vincent and Douglas are kept small in number and size while allowing for the game to flesh out exactly what the conflict with the Order represents, without involving Heather before it’s organic to her character. More subjectively, these discussions are in service to themes that are legitimately heady and ambitious for a horror game, if a bit facile and narrow outside that context. These themes are more importantly not just firmly rooted in the story’s own characters and their development but also meaningfully applicable to the rest of Silent Hill as a series’ cast up to this point and beyond. From despairing Angela Orosco or Lisa Garland to Eddie Dombrowski, James Sunderland, even Walter Sullivan, the roots of suffering and the response to it are the underlying thematic heart of Silent Hill. I truly believe that Claudia and every idea surrounding her is the Order at its absolute best in the series, for taking the cult and its plots beyond good and evil and into consideration of how and why concepts like paradise and apocalypse captivate people. Many fans of the series did and do dismiss the religious aspects of the series entirely, and that was never productive to the series grappling with its own evolution or to interesting critical discussion around it, by failing to effectively distinguish between what is and isn’t done well.
If public reception for this game wasn’t as thoughtful as it could be, it was at least as positive as I feel the game warrants, with chart-topping sales in Autumn 2003 and fairly widespread critical acclaim with particular emphasis on the success of its atmosphere, barring the one common critique that it did not innovate the series’ gameplay. Such an argument had of course already been anticipated given the two years spent on the still secret production of Room 302, planned as a, pardon the pun, major game-change for Silent Hill. Despite the rousing success, the wait between 3 and The Room’s releases was an uneasy and uncertain time for many of this series’ developers, but one in particular confronted his near-future with confidence. Director Kazuhide Nakazawa would continue working with Konami and move on from Silent Hill in smooth, comfortable fashion, being involved in the development of both Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, and MGS: Peace Walker, while the Team Silent he so quickly left behind soon found themselves in complicated territory.
Silent Hill 4: The Room (2004)
As Team Silent divided up their developers to begin two simultaneous productions upon the completion and massive success of Silent Hill 2, perhaps the most significant development was SH2 Director Masashi Tsuboyama choosing the project that began its life as Room 302 over the intended climactic entry of SH3. With the hope of establishing and shaping the future of Silent Hill away from the original trilogy, Tsuboyama signed on for Room 302 in a role parallel to Masahiro Ito’s, as Art Director and Monster Designer. In the division of Team Silent, Tsuboyama was followed by Akihiro Imamura as Producer and Suguru Murakoshi as Director and Scenario Writer. After Silent Hill 3 wrapped and released in 2003, Hiroyuki Owaku remained for some time to write original lyrics for the other game, and received a Special Thanks credit separate from that, for either contributing to story development in that last year of production or having leftover story notes to provide inspiration.
Once again, it’s important to clear up some misinformation right off the bat. The claim that Room 302/The Room was ever intended to be an unrelated, original survival horror game is factually untrue and only somewhat spiritually true. We know that Walter Sullivan, a serial killer established as a background character by newspapers and a puzzle in Silent Hill 2, was always going to be the main antagonist of this game’s story. With the plan that Silent Hill 3 would close out the numbered part of the series, Room 302 was meant as an experimental spin-off entry that would release one year after its predecessor and establish new narrative and game design directions for the series going forward. Essentially, Team Silent’s overall vision was that the formula of an outsider coming to Silent Hill, being confronted by a powerful cult behind the town and their own personal demons, would be gone forever, because it would become repetitious, predictable, and dull. Change was their prime objective here and henceforth. They believed the best way to communicate this intent and set audience expectations accordingly would be to forego the numbered titles and possibly the series title entirely, with the understanding that these new games are still set in the same universe. However, Konami was skeptical of basically every aspect of this plan, and most immediately believed the game would not sell without being marketed as a mainline entry in the series, thus imposing Silent Hill 4 into the title.
Masashi Tsuboyama has discussed that the conception for this game on every level of design started with The Room as the central thread, citing the dark Japanese novel Coin Locker Babies as inspiration for this idea, of being trapped in a single small space that is meant to be safe, but has only one exit, a gateway between reality and fearsome unreality. The single apartment room was designed as a hubworld in which the player can heal and access the only save point, but will over time degrade through hauntings and lose its security, beginning to drain health instead. The apartment is navigated with a first-person camera to further limit character perspective, thus inducing claustrophobia and increasing unease, the first but not last use of such a camera in this series. The series’ traditional flashlight and radio were replaced with a torch and stereo, which have significantly reduced and altered roles respectively, with the stereo’s static being used to identify hauntings within the apartment that must be expelled by burning Holy Candles or using Saint Medallions.
The aforementioned gateway out of the room manifests in disturbing holes that appear in the apartment’s walls, exits that lead into various Otherworld levels. The Otherworlds, more low-key in design than those of previous games, are navigated with the traditional third-person camera and a more restricted inventory of ten items max and breakable weapons, which proved controversial at the time, but was notably much higher than future title Silent Hill: Downpour’s limits of one breakable melee and one firearm, or two firearms. While the Otherworlds of The Room do include monsters more in the original tradition of Silent Hill and survival horror, their primary encounter is perhaps the game’s most notable new feature: Ghosts, physical counterparts to the hauntings within the apartment that cannot be killed, only temporarily obstructed by the aforementioned holy items, or pinned to/trapped inside their specific Otherworld by the powerful Swords of Obedience. The Swords are difficult to find and function less as typical combat items and more narrative devices to use with precision; given that there are ten distinct types of Ghost and only five total swords to use, the player must choose very carefully with them. Lastly among gameplay features is the extended escort mission in The Room’s second half, a common yet rarely well-liked feature for games of the time that is buoyed by several choices, namely that she is capable of aiding in combat and self-defense 13 and cannot die at any point prior to the final boss fight, although the preservation or loss of her health during the second half is a key influence on the game’s ending.
The Room tells the story of Henry Townshend, an isolated everyman living in Silent Hill’s neighbor city of Ashfield, who has recently been plagued by nightmares and one day finds himself mysteriously trapped inside his own apartment, Room 302, with windows that won’t open and a front door that is chained shut from the inside. Nobody can hear his cries for help, and while these apartment complex denizens do notice that he’s missing, they simply go on with their day. After five days of being trapped, a disturbing hole has opened in the bathroom wall of Room 302, and Henry, desperate for escape, crawls through it and ends up in a local subway station, where he he tries to help the flirtatious Cynthia Velasquez with escaping the subway, and encounters his first monster, a mangy, mangled dog with a proboscis, in parallel to previous dog monsters featured in the series. Henry ultimately witnesses Cynthia being attacked by a mysterious man and holds her in his arms as she dies, reading “16/21” carved into her chest with a knife. Upon returning to Room 302, Henry learns that Cynthia’s death has just occurred in real life and was not a past event. This pattern is established and continues for the first half of the game, Henry entering mundane-seeming worlds 14 based on Ashfield locales, meeting the corresponding victims, and witnessing their deaths at the hands of Walter Sullivan, a famed serial killer that died of suicide years earlier.
In the process of these experiences, Henry begins to encounter a manifestation of Walter Sullivan’s younger self and learn more of the killer’s background, a traumatic childhood involving parental abandonment and abusive indoctrination into Silent Hill’s cultish Order. His birth in Room 302 led to this strong connection after death, and he intends to enact the Order’s 21 Sacraments sacrificial ritual in order to fully awaken the building that is his home, with Walter’s suicide rendering himself as one of the sacrifices, and Henry targeted as his 21st and final victim. Henry and the player alike come to understand that these Otherworlds and their monsters are products of Walter’s mind, much like how James encountered Eddie and Angela’s Otherworlds in Silent Hill 2. With Walter as the nigh-exclusive source of this story’s angst and horror, Henry proves to be the most mundane and untroubled protagonist in the series, along with the first game’s Harry Mason. Henry’s exploration of the apartment Otherworld brings him in contact with his neighbor Eileen Galvin, who he must rescue in order to stave of the Sacraments’ completion and his own death. He must fend off the hauntings that have begun to intrude on Room 302 and create a gateway hole on his own to reach the hospital Otherworld where he can find Eileen. It’s in this level that we encounter what is widely regarded as the most haunting and memorable part of the game.
Henceforth from her rescue, Eileen will accompany Henry for the rest of the game, as he must protect her as effectively as possible to continue delaying the Sacraments, while the two return to each of the previous Otherworlds, accessing new areas and solving new puzzles to get closer to facing Walter directly. During these return visits, each of the most recent murder victims manifest as extremely dangerous, unkillable Ghosts, with Cynthia’s ghost design being strongly modeled after the onryo of Japanese folklore, a crawling spirit with long black hair over her face that was familiarized in the West by films like The Ring and The Grudge. The ghosts will continue to pursue and harm Henry and Eileen across each of the Otherworlds unless they are trapped in their respective levels by the Order’s ceremonial swords. After accomplishing everything in their return visits and exploring a Room 302 of the Past, Henry and Eileen finally enter a gaping abyss in Room 302 where they must keep Eileen alive, defeat Walter Sullivan’s monstrous true form and purify Ashfield of its hauntings permanently. If the player succeeds in all variables, they experience the Good Ending, in which Henry and Eileen leave South Ashfield Heights behind, recover in the city hospital, and find a new home together. Although there are alternate endings (Eileen is alive but still possessed, the apartment is safe but she has died, and Henry and Eileen succumb to the Sacraments) there is, for the first and only time, no joke ending, a smart instinct on the developers’ parts as part of their intended new direction for the series, given the diminishing returns these endings experience after this, due to the repetitive usage of the aliens and dog from the first two installments.
I can’t really make the case that this story reaches the same heights as the second or third games, and while my opinion of the game as a whole has elevated over time, I understand the 2004 audience that was confused and disappointed by this game, as my initial feelings (playing years later) were similar. Ghosts in Silent Hill was and is a shocking thing! The combination of a separate and distinct flavor of supernatural, something more adherent to older and more traditional Japanese folklore involving restless spirits, (tipping its hand to the West with the onryo design), with the more modern, psychological, Jacob’s Ladder and House of Leaves style of past games, is a strange yet fascinating choice. There’s a cynical case to be made for merely chasing contemporary Hollywood trends with those aforementioned remakes of onryo films, but I see more to it than that. Avoiding Silent Hill as a setting altogether allows for this genre shift to prevent an active retcon of what Silent Hill as a concept and entity signifies, while also expanding that meaning through what influence the town has on the people and world around it. Building a bridge between the past and present of Japanese horror is compelling not just as a fan of onryo and other ghost stories, (Kuroneko from 1968 and the post-modern House from 1977 are particular recommendations of mine) but for the potential of exploring the implications of how our interests and fears change over time.
The premise alone of The Room represents an integration between an extremely modern fear and an ancient one. The first is the claustrophobia and isolation of cramped urban space, where one is surrounded by others while remaining unseen and unheard, the vast emotional distance between parties casting communication asunder and leaving you to reach out in vain, unable to speak or be spoken to, help or be helped. Parts of these ideas are clearly present throughout the story in Henry’s relationships with the other victims. Take that urban disaffection manifest and converge it with the second fear, a physical space being soaked with the pain and loneliness of the dead that must be absolved and exorcised, and potent ideas are born: the beauty of victims, the hurt and the lonely, connecting with and supporting each other across generations, the horror and tragedy of Walter Sullivan turning his suffering against others that are just as helpless as he was, and recognizing how the same experiences of pain and isolation evolve with our surroundings and broader society.
The revisiting of transformed spaces, the familiar continually less familiar and more dangerous, is also relevant to these ideas, even while in the minds of a gaming audience it can be difficult to look past the typical implications of reused environments, and that’s not the only aspect where game production realities affect the conceptual potential of this story. The cast of The Room is overstuffed and underdeveloped, eight characters struggling to carry as much emotional and thematic weight as a smaller group like James, Maria, Angela, and Eddie. The emphasis on combat gameplay, (and connected expectation of boss battles as part of story structure), an attempt to respond to and appease multiple outside forces in the series’ fans and Konami execs, and one quickly recognized as a mistake not to be repeated, additionally obstructs the ability to further develop Walter and other characters and maybe more importantly, being true to this story’s folkloric influences through resolution based in non-violence, communication, and human connection. The Room is an ambitious project let down by its execution enough for its potential resonance to be missed entirely.
Team Silent believed in change for the better for their series, and with Silent Hill 4: The Room, they shot for the moon and overextended themselves, sadly landing at around “decent and creepy, but not as compelling as its predecessors”. 15 Its performance, following three major hits in a row, followed suit, with mixed-to-positive reception, a wide variety of opinions on its various changes, and poor financial turnout, leaving Konami skeptical of Team Silent’s experimental instincts and broader capacity for repeat performance, and holding the developers responsible for turning the ship back around. The next several years following The Room’s release would prove to be both very busy and intensely complex for Silent Hill as a series, with three games developed and released within a four year period, none of which would ultimately involved any remaining Team Silent developers. Only composer Akira Yamaoka would remain with the franchise going forward, only he would survive a shocking turn of events involving Silent Hill’s acclaimed key personnel that would take years for the public to fully understand.
Silent Hill: Homecoming (2008)
Although official announcements from Konami would go unseen for some time, for reasons that will soon become clear, Masashi Tsuboyama first informally announced the next Silent Hill game in August 2004, in the lead-up to The Room’s Western release. It would go on to be discussed a number of times, by Tsuboyama alongside Akira Yamaoka later on in 2004, then with Yamaoka and Akihiro Imamura in April 2005, Yamaoka alone in 2006, and lastly Tsuboyama by himself as recently as May 1st 2007. The latter three occurred significantly after the disappointment of The Room’s performance had set in, and the final Tsuboyama interview was only weeks away from the game’s first official reveal. It was clear that a brief hiatus would occur to enable both active response to the new game’s reception and the incorporation of next-gen console hardware. Some clear designs and commonalities between these three interviews are clear: These remaining leaders of Team Silent not only expected to develop this game, but also already began preliminary conception for it. They intended to respond to some of Konami’s and fans’ issues with The Room, such as putting more effort into the Otherworld, but the calls for more combat were disregarded after finding that The Room’s use of action had not worked out, diminishing the game’s atmosphere, and was overall not well-received. They wanted to continually increase focus on puzzles over combat and otherwise further update the gameplay and narrative. Most interestingly, they wanted to emphasize the idea of ‘daylight horror’, active spaces of normality, reality and innocence being subverted through intrusive rot and unreality.
Masashi Tsuboyama circa 2004
Even though this work had already begun on it, what started under the title Silent Hill V and became Homecoming would go on to be first revealed at E3 2007 and released in September 2008, similar to the substantial production difficulties and conflicts of vision on the next game in the series, which still managed to release almost a year before Homecoming. What happened with the first version of the game? Where did all those years of work go? And what happened to other Team Silent leaders after they completed work on Silent Hill 3?
In December 2006, Konami US producer William Oertel interviewed with Play Magazine regarding the PlayStation Portable title he was very involved with, Silent Hill: Origins, which went on to release in November 2007, five months after the Silent Hill V reveal. Oertel stated that the studio he was working with had been assigned the game due to greater familiarity with the hardware (and perhaps the disdain Masashi Tsuboyama had displayed for the handheld console years earlier?). Team Silent had been consulted on the game’s story, but at Oertel’s word, they were busy with their own project in Japan and thus could not be involved further. Now it’s May 2007, fans have grown increasingly anxious with continual lack of news from Konami, and Tsuboyama is asked directly regarding the game and these public concerns. He speaks vaguely about the game and provides this central statement, as printed by Dengeki PlayStation magazine: “Konami are yet to release an official statement regarding Silent Hill 5 which means we cannot comment on progress until we are given the OK.” Weeks later, the game is presented at E3 bearing no resemblance to what Team Silent has been described, and its developer is announced as California-based studio The Collective, which then became Double Helix Games after a merger later that same year.
At what point did development on Team Silent’s game halt, and public relations work begin? We can’t know for sure, but a February 2008 interview with one of the final game’s writers can provide some insight. He describes a story break and outline done by other developers as having already occurred by the time the two writers were brought on board, and says that the process of him and his partner expanding on this outline “began almost two years ago”. This suggests that A. Team Silent’s game was canceled fairly early in development, B. Konami had already approached these Western developers and begun working with them far before Masashi Tsuboyama’s clearly troubled statement or when they officially stopped presenting the game as a Team Silent production to the public, and thus, C. the long radio silence was likely a tactical decision based in anticipating a backlash from the original developers’ absence from the project. These details are further corroborated by later comments made by artist Kenzie LaMar, a Collective/Double Helix employee, in casual and later deleted conversation with fans. LaMar was the first person to describe Team Silent as deliberately disbanded, stating that Konami had lost faith in Silent Hill as a series, wanted it to change in their own ways. Thus, Team Silent’s project is abruptly canceled in early 2005, 16 unexpectedly thrusting this project on the unprepared and inexperienced Double Helix developers, who could not resist the changes Konami wanted like Team Silent had.
Konami saw that Silent Hill’s greatest sales audience was in the United States, and believed that the best response to this and their recent disappointment in Team Silent was to transfer development of the franchise wholly to the USA, despite the unique and compelling fusion between Japanese perspective and cultural Americana represented by the first four games. The theory of a fully American Silent Hill did not ultimately last very long, with three of the four main titles, all but Homecoming, ultimately developed in Europe with contributions from American producers. Konami eased this national transition by announcing a handheld spin-off title, Silent Hill: Origins, as the first game in the series developed outside Japan and the series’ original developer, an announcement which once again was presented with William Oertel’s word that Team Silent was actively working on a second Silent Hill game. Takayoshi Sato once claimed that when he argued Silent Hill needed to be rooted in the West to connect to the West, Konami higher ups said, “A good game sells, no matter the culture, no matter where it’s developed.” If they ever believed that, the profitable but declining sales for Silent Hill 3 and The Room had quickly disabused them of the notion, and with it any lingering fondness for the notoriously independent leaders in Team Silent, who were separated from each other, assigned to various mobile projects, 17 and ultimately fired or left of their own accord in time. Only Akira Yamaoka chose, or was allowed to, to still collaborate with new developers chosen by Konami.
As for what changes Konami desired that partly led to these behind-the-scenes difficulties, there is still only speculation based on the evidence available. It is on record that the Team Silent in place for V, led by Tsuboyama, wanted to walk back the emphasis on and development of the combat system, and Homecoming famously hinged its marketing on the new ‘dynamic combat system’ built for next-generation Silent Hill. This system involves, among other features, fluid chains/combos of attacks, precision-based dodging, light and heavy attacks and counter-attacks, fluid targeting and target-changing, and distinct finishing moves for each weapon. This major contradiction of the series’ spiritual and psychological horror ethos was promised to be narratively ‘justified’ by the protagonist’s combat training as a Gulf War veteran, the argument of how the game’s atmosphere would be damaged by this system being broadly dismissed, subtextually or not, out of the belief that it would reach new audiences. Keep all of that in mind for later. Another notable component of the final game is the visual design borrowing heavily from the 2006 film adaptation of Silent Hill (1999) by Christophe Gans, which feels less creatively organic and more derived from Konami synergy that will be discussed further in the next entry. This visual influence is most present in the use of cinematics for Otherworld transitions, in which the top layer of player’s surroundings tears away piece by piece, revealing the industrial textures traditional to the most familiar version of the Otherworld. This is the first time that the transitions are observed in real-time during gameplay rather than occurring behind loading screens.
I do not intend to discuss non-game entries in this franchise at length and thus leave you with the following from a famous Christophe Gans interview regarding the change of Harry Mason to Rose da Silva for his film: “Harry had so many feminine qualities from the start, it just felt natural. He’s so quiet and emotional, and chasing after his daughter like that, would a man really do that?”
A figure new to our catalogue of Silent Hill key personnel, one that is inaccurately but nonetheless strongly associated with Double Helix’s game, is Tomm Hulett, who was hired by Konami US shortly after his college graduation in 2003. He soon became one of the key figures of Western development for the Silent Hill series. Although he has consistently been controversial among fans, he as an individual and his role in the series are more complicated than is often recognized. The simultaneous developments of Origins and Homecoming were his first opportunities with the series, and as a young employee with relatively little influence, he quickly made a name for himself for better or worse. Coming on right as full production started following preliminary work as described above by Patrick Doody, Hulett objected to the inclusion of Pyramid Head suggested by Konami, resulting in his transfer to Climax UK. It’s fair to say that most fans of the series similarly objected to Pyramid Head’s inclusion by principle of him being specific to James Sunderland’s mind and no others, at least potentially more willing to support him being replaced by Pyramid Head wanna-be’s like Origins’ Butcher and Downpour’s Bogeyman. When fellow producer on Origins William Oertel left the company in 2008, Hulett by necessity moved back to Homecoming for its final months of development, where he provided continuity editing and wrote some in-game documents. The most notable describes Silent Hill 3’s detective Douglas Cartland exposing and definitively shutting down the Order, allowing Hulett and future developers the opportunity to attempt to move forward the series’ narrative without its now infamous cult. This is similarly a creative choice likely to be supported by much of the series’ audience and believable for him to take credit for given his vocal, perhaps excessive, disinterest in the series’ religious themes.
Homecoming opens with a brief nightmare sequence involving a hospital under wartime artillery fire, featuring cruel killings of patients and a young man’s efforts to fetch his little brother a Robbie the Rabbit doll. Alex Shepherd wakes up from this in the passenger seat of an 18-wheeler truck driven by Travis Grady, protagonist of Climax UK’s Silent Hill: Origins. Travis delivers Alex to his hometown of Shepherd’s Glen, another community neighboring Silent Hill, and bids farewell to the soldier returning from war. Alex finds his hometown different from what he remembers, covered in a thick fog, streets in disrepair, and seemingly deserted. He runs into Judge Holloway, mother of Alex’s childhood friend, who is very surprised to see him and encourages him to visit his mother. The audience learns that Alex’s ancestors founded the town along with three other families, the Holloways, the Bartletts, and the Fitches. Alex finds his childhood home and is disturbed by his discoveries, seeing his mother in a near-catatonic state of despair over his missing younger brother, being reminded of his troubled relationship with his parents. He takes a gun from his mother for her safety before having several more encounters with locals, including his friend Elle Holloway and town mechanic Curtis Ackers. The sound of a siren knocks Alex out and sends him to nightmarish Silent Hill, where he chases after his younger brother, deals with numerous monsters including a placid Pyramid Head, and finally meeting town mayor Sam Bartlett.
In a hotel’s greenhouse and garden, Alex attempts to interrogate Mayor Bartlett about the recent disappearances, which include the mayor’s own son, but he resists and tosses the watch Alex presents into a hole in the garden. From the hole rises a massive tree crossed with a hanging corpse, Sepulcher, which crushes the pleading mayor to death and pulls Alex into its hole upon its defeat. Back in Shepherd’s Glen, Alex works with police deputy Wheeler and Elle to continue his investigation, leading him to the suicidally depressed Dr. Fitch, whose clinic is overrun with bizarre dolls, and also decontextualized monstrous sexy nurses modeled after those featured in Christophe Gans’ 2006 film. Dr. Fitch is soon slain by a massive porcelain doll named after his missing daughter Scarlet, and the ensuing boss battle became one of the game’s key sequences used in promotional material. Alex’s investigation leads him through town hall and back to his childhood home, discovering that his brother Joshua was chosen by his father and the cult from Silent Hill. The Order attacks Alex and abducts his mother, leaving him to navigate an Otherworld version of his house by solving puzzles related to each of his parents’ guilt. He leaves for Silent Hill with Wheeler and Elle, then exploring a prison until finally discovering his mother trapped in a crucifix machine slowly killing her. Alex is forced to choose whether to kill her before the torture device does. In the prison’s Otherworld he saves Judge Holloway from a massive centipede made of corpses known as Asphyxia, before realizing that the Judge is in fact the leader of a revival of the Order within his town.
Much occurs in short order: Alex speaks with his father one last time, who apologizes for their treatment of Alex, having always loved him but needing to keep their distance because he’d been chosen for sacrifice over his brother; Alex chooses whether or not to forgive his father before he dies before learning the whole truth from Judge Holloway as she tortures him. Shepherd’s Glen was founded by four families wishing to emancipate themselves from Silent Hill and the Order, which they were granted on the condition that they each sacrifice one child from the family every fifty years, to appease the Order and keep Silent Hill’s dangers out of their town forever. The pact was broken when young Alex accidentally killed his brother Joshua in a boating accident, and his parents couldn’t bear to lose both their children. As the town succumbed to Silent Hill’s horrific world, the Judge led its citizens in embracing the Order’s beliefs to keep themselves safe while punishing the nonbelievers and those responsible for these events, the Shepherds, who institutionalized Alex in a mental hospital far away to keep him safe from the Order. Alex’s time as a soldier was merely a cover story. All these discoveries lead Alex into the final events inside the Silent Hill’s church and his family’s tomb, choosing to save Wheeler and Elle’s lives and then defeat the monstrous Amnion, a drowned corpse suspended on massive mechanical legs, a manifestation of Alex’s guilt over his brother’s death.
Upon Amnion’s death, its belly is sliced open to reveal Joshua’s corpse, with which Alex speaks to apologize and finally take responsibility for his actions, walking away after leaving the sacred ring they fought over as tribute. There are four major endings, along with the first of several one-note riffs on the original UFO ending, that are determined by three major predesigned choices rather than broader behavioral patterns: the mercy killing of the mother, the forgiveness of the father, and the saving of Deputy Wheeler (Elle’s rescue being non-optional). With all three positive choices, Alex and Elle simply leave the towns, ready to move on with their lives, kind of like Henry and Eileen in The Room. With all negative choices, Alex is recruited to be a new Pyramid Head in a scene I have to stop discussing to remain remotely objective about. If the player only mercy kills Alex’s mother, this inexplicably results in everything being the dream of a young Alex who is promptly murdered by his father to preserve the Order’s pact. Lastly, if the player forgives his father and saves Wheeler but does not kill his mother, Alex never left the mental hospital and is pressured by his father, and for some reason the deputy, to accept his reality with electroshock therapy. Even with the overt and perhaps overly literal homage to one of Silent Hill’s original key influences, the film Jacob’s Ladder, it’s difficult to see any of these beyond the very brief but functional Good Ending as particularly well-conceived.
Homecoming is a game with baseline functionality and competence, which is worth acknowledging and also very easily obscured by its spectacularly misconceived A. overall narrative/writing and B. general existence as an entry in a venerated and complex survival horror series, and nowhere is that more apparent than in its definitive plot twist. Not the predictable mystery about child sacrifices, the part where the heart of the game’s marketing, and general ethos as a soft reboot, is completely undermined by the sheer power of Alex’s denial being so great that he can will into existence for himself the reflexes and athleticism of a war veteran, after spending half of his life in a mental hospital. The difference in the twists of Silent Hill 2 and Homecoming is that James’ denial only affects himself, while Alex’s denial is sustaining the entire premise of the gameplay experience. Nothing else can really be added to that.
The monsters of Homecoming generally fall into one of two categories: generic cannon fodder, and plot-based. The latter tend to feel like visual first drafts, but at least have distinct, if repetitive, thematic conceits behind them. The first category covers the aforementioned nurses, Lurkers, which are basically mermen, another entry in the series’ long list of dog monsters, but this time it’s just skinless, two different monsters that riff on Silent Hill 2’s Lying Figure to varying extents, Scyther, roach-esque bug monsters like the first two games’, and let’s say Pyramid Head for good measure. That leaves the second with the four boss monsters, previously described and pictured, and an outlier miniboss called the Siam, my personal favorite. Bearing some resemblance to past monsters, namely 2’s Abstract Daddy and 3’s Closer, the Siam still manages to be distinctive and fully realized in its design, and more broadly thematic than the extremely specific boss monsters, but still tangibly connected to the narrative in the way that the generic creatures are not. Two figures are fused together at the back, wrapped in leather straps, and held up by massive, bloodied club-arms, heavy enough to force it to move in a quadripedal ape-like manner. Most affectingly, smaller, thinner arms and wrists from each figure are tightly intertwined in front of the face to create a distinct mandibular appearance. What’s communicated is a manifestation of codependent abuse relevant to Alex’s parents as a relationship, to the various parent-child relationships in the game, and perhaps most compellingly, speaks to a wider variety of characters throughout the series, from Dahlia and Alessa to James and Mary.
The premise that Homecoming operated on turned out to be as sustainable externally as it was internally. Critical reception was on par with Konami’s step-child The Room and averted catastrophe Origins (more on that…right now!), redesigned gameplay served more to alienate core audiences than attract new buyers, and overall it was another mild success for a company that had been banking on its next blockbuster.
Silent Hill: Origins (2007)
Konami had flirted with the possibilities of both a remake of and a prequel to the original Silent Hill, and both would ultimately come to pass, but the prequel, known alternately as Origins and Zero in the West and East respectively, and henceforth as Origins, would be greenlit first, as part of a 2006 synergized promotional plan involving the Universal Media Disc/PSP release The Silent Hill Experience, which featured interviews, famous game footage (the first two joke endings), digital comics, twenty music tracks, as well as the then-upcoming Silent Hill film by Christophe Gans, and Origins’ unveiling at E3 2006.
The game presented at that conference would significantly differ from the final product, certainly an increasingly familiar experience for this franchise. The debut trailer for Origins, as produced by Climax Group Los Angeles, features a confused and strangely playful tone. The gameplay alongside this trailer promised yet another action-oriented approach, this time borrowing Resident Evil 4’s influential over the shoulder third-person camera (which alternates with the traditional fixed cameras), and presenting many new objects used as weapons in a fashion reminiscent of the system employed in Capcom’s soon-to-release Dead Rising. Having led development on the final version of the game, Sam Barlow would go on to famously describe the original game by saying, “It was bizarre. It was supposed to be a dark comedy and, at some point, someone said Scrubs was [the inspiration].”
Climax Group was an English game development company founded in 1999 and consisting of several interconnected, quasi-independent studios, including Portsmouth-based Climax, Syrox Developments in Kingston, and the Climax LA studio opened later in California. Most of these studios were bought out or shut down around the same time in the mid-2000s, leaving Climax Action (or Climax UK) in Portsmouth, and Climax LA in Santa Monica, both of which would ultimately work on Origins. Climax LA struggled with the PSP’s engine, and the tonal and narrative conception was questioned by many. Ultimately, Climax LA was shut down altogether and development was transferred to Climax Action in Portsmouth. With release delayed to late 2007 shortly before the transfer, Sam Barlow operated under orders from Konami to complete the game on the inherited budget and schedule, completely rewriting the script and redesigning Origins’ monsters and levels in only a week. Hiroyuki Owaku provided brief creative consultation for Climax UK and for it received another Special Thanks credit, marking him as the longest-lasting Team Silent member after Akira Yamaoka. The only known elements of Climax LA’s original version of the game to be retained are Travis Grady as the protagonist, the Butcher monster design, and the previously advertised weapon variety, all employed in a story set seven years before Harry Mason’s original visit to Silent Hill.
While attempting to take a detour through Silent Hill to complete a delivery, protagonist Travis Grady accidentally crashes his truck while trying not to hit young Alessa Gillespie. He pursues the child and saves her from a burning building before finally passing out. Being a prequel tied directly into the first game’s narrative around the Order, Travis wakes up to a Silent Hill more populated than usual, encountering Dr. Michael Kaufmann and nurse Lisa Garland at Alchemilla Hospital. As he continues to chase after Alessa, he starts to encounter and fend off monsters that borrow heavily from Silent Hill 2’s design palette. Lisa Garland explains to Travis that the fire he saw was at Cedar Grove Sanitarium, where Alessa died from her burns. After witnessing a hulking Butcher monster attack and kill other monsters, Travis reaches the sanitorium, where he confronts Dahlia. His exploration of the sanitorium and anger at Dahlia’s mistreatment of her daughter reawakens repressed memories of his mother, who was sent to a mental hospital after attempting to kill Travis as a child. He must conquer his traumatic fear of his mother, represented by a boss monster, in order to escape the sanitorium. During his journey, Travis continues to collect pieces of the Flauros pyramid, the item Harry uses in his final battle with Alessa in the first Silent Hill. Arriving at Artaud Theatre, Travis speaks with Lisa once more and faces off with the manifestation of Alessa’s traumatic associations with the theatre, namely her fear of the character Caliban in The Tempest.
Travis begins the final leg of his journey upon discovering a key to the Riverside Motel, reminding him of the time he and his father lived in the motel after his mother’s admission to the sanitorium. He passes through Andy’s Books and a General Store, in which he accesses health and ammo resources as well as a machine gun. After reaching the motel, Travis endures numerous monsters, puzzles, and Otherworld transitions, before finally confronting the Butcher and slaying it with its own cleaver, conquering his anger issues and fear of himself. Upon attaining the key to the room where he and his father stayed, he is finally faced with the final traumatic memory: discovering his father’s body, hanging dead by suicide. He defeats the incarnation of this pain, the Sad Daddy, but is left visibly shaken and upset afterward, struggling to keep himself together. He rages at Alessa upon her arrival, and wakes up in the hospital basement, where he finally completes construction of the Flauros, which in turn fully awakens Alessa’s powers. She transforms Silent Hill into a burning nightmare and pushes Travis towards Dahlia’s antique shop where she and the Order attempt to perform another ritual on her body. Travis must defeat a stereotypically demonic entity contained within the Flauros to save Alessa’s soul and halt the Order’s actions. The game only has two main endings branching off from this point, dependent on how violent Travis was throughout the game. If he did not kill too many monsters, Travis will find himself back in the real world on the outskirts of Silent Hill, happily driving off in his truck while seeing that his aiding Alessa resulted in the creation of Cheryl Mason. A more deadly Travis wakes up to find himself restrained in Alchemilla Hospital, discovering that his childhood trauma resulted in him going on a killing spree that included his father and a woman he believed was his mother, hallucinating his victims as monsters to rationalize his actions, and marking himself as a person of interest for the Order.
Final boss battles are rarely the strongest part of this series, being something born of established ideas about game structure rather than anything organic to the games themselves, but the Alessa’s Nightmare battle is still a notable low point for the series. This is resonant in both taking the Biblical influence on a creature design like the Incubus and lowering it to a Saturday morning cartoon’s idea of a demon, and in the general sense that the game’s climax feels cobbled-together and nonsensical, difficult to follow and inorganic to what came before. Even while conceding the understanding that these ideas were put together in only a week and my previous statement that the end bosses are almost never these games’ peaks, this sequence is nonetheless well-representative of the broader flaws in Origins’ story and still undermines what is ninety percent a functional and coherent, if only that, narrative.
Despite the albatross around its neck that is the wholly unnecessary prequel framework, this story has some correct artistic instincts for the series, namely a greater emphasis on character and trauma over the mystery and plot that often define later entries in this series. Travis’ protective attachment to Alessa as a fellow victim of parental abuse is a meaningful thread to include, and it even builds on what was previously discussed with The Room regarding victims connecting and supporting each other as a potent theme for this series, but it’s let down by the overly simplistic narrative characterized by its rushed nature. Travis’ interaction with Alessa in one-sided right up until the last moments of the game, and his personal story never expands beyond single details like “attacked by his mother” and “found his father dead”. All of the space taken up old characters like Lisa Garland and Michael Kaufmann could easily be better spent elsewhere, and even the Dahlia/Alessa dynamic might be better off decontextualized from the increasingly belabored but repetitive cult mythos. The story once again starts from good points but is never allowed to flesh them out to the point where any real arc, character, or attachment is created, only the skeleton of them.
But enough about what one particularly long-winded and opinionated young fan thinks: how was Origins’ overall reception upon release? Quite frankly, it’s pretty similar to what I have to say. The changes made since the first reveal of the game are definitely for the better. The gameplay is fine, but does not move the series forward, being unrefined and overly familiar, with the additions like quick time event grapples and fistfight attacks being redundancies. The story is overly simplistic, gains little from the prequel status and heavy continuity with the 1999 game, and overall the game was acceptable, but more of an accomplishment for the PSP’s catalogue than Silent Hill as a series. Described by one writer as an unapologetic homage to the first three titles, Origins is ultimately so intensely familiar and dependent on its predecessors that it makes one wonder what exactly does Konami think of as change, and what did moving away from Team Silent accomplish other than punishing insubordination?
The PlayStation 2 port of the game released only a few months later answers none of these questions, as it is generally seen as a mistaken attempt to get more money out of a game that was truly built only for handheld, with the graphics, controls, and narrative length not translating well to to console. With decent critical response and decent financial performance within expectations for the PSP marketplace, Konami was happy enough with the game. At Sam Barlow’s own admission, a Silent Hill prequel was a misconceived idea from the start. Starting there and then adding the experience of inheriting another developer’s troubled production that they needed to fix, his team did what they could. They saw it as such, and looked forward to an opportunity to improve on both the development experience and their product.
That is ultimately the most key element to understanding Konami’s satisfaction with Origins. When they had to delay it, and then Climax LA closed down, it truly felt like the game was in a catastrophic tailspin that could not be recovered from. Sam Barlow looked at the game build that was handed to him in Portsmouth and told higher-ups that if it was released as is, it would be an unmitigated disaster and significantly damage the Silent Hill brand. The product put out by Barlow and Climax UK, when examined in a vacuum solely on its own merits, is rather middling, and its reception largely bears that out, but that alone was the pulling out of the tailspin that Konami needed at that time. Decent was what was needed, decent was not disaster. Autumn 2007 was an unstable period, coming only a few months after Silent Hill V/Homecoming had finally debuted, and even with fan outcry over Team Silent being unceremoniously dropped, Konami could look at that game’s impending release as an opportunity for further success built on momentum started by Origins. Perhaps now that leaning on the familiar had helped a troubled production survive out of the gate, Konami would feel more free to allow some real newness and some real change. What the company would get by collaborating again with Climax UK is definitely to some extent real change, but whether it would succeed for it, and more particularly succeed in Konami’s eyes, by building the attention and financial gains of the 2006 film and Origins, is another matter entirely.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (2009)
Coming off the release of Silent Hill: Origins and delays on Silent Hill V, Konami wanted another Silent Hill project that could keep their momentum going while Homecoming finished production. Needing a plan for the direction of this new entry, Konami turned to the studio and writer/lead designer that had helped to salvage Origins’ release, Sam Barlow and Climax UK. Several pitches from different sources competed with each other. Konami executives believed that another game should be produced for the PSP and that 2009, as the ten-year anniversary of the original Silent Hill‘s release, would make a great target year for a remake of the game. Konami US producer William Oertel had a vision for a first-person shooter spin-off entry based out of the Nintendo Wii, entitled Brahms PD, for which Sam Barlow contributed the idea of personalizing the game’s psychological horror through a personality profile conducted by an in-game police psychiatrist.
Konami’s dissatisfaction with the Brahms PD pitch opened a door for Climax Studios to take elements from each of these ideas and build the final, successful pitch. Climax took the Wii hardware and Brahms PD’s personality profile and incorporated them into a new concept, Silent Hill: Cold Heart, which would employ a dynamic subzero climate survival system in which the player would scavenge to keep themselves warm and alive, in addition to navigating Silent Hill by solving puzzles and fighting monsters. Although the full-blown survival mechanics ultimately weren’t included due to programming difficulties, Climax would be able to remain devoted to their icy winter aesthetic 18 to limit player visibility and enhance the atmosphere just as the fog of games past had. However, one more element from all these discussions would be needed to make Climax’s combination of radical redesign ideas palatable to Konami exec: Cold Heart would transition from focusing on troubled college student Jessica, to the unique retelling of Harry and Cheryl Mason’s story that was Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.
Sam Barlow and his developers at Climax created what had the potential to be a perfect balance between the familiar and the new with their game, a project that was equally exciting for corporate and creative alike. The remake component was a concession necessary to accept and take advantage of, helping to get their foot in the door and move development forward faster compared to all the recent shot down pitches. However, not everyone involved was equally willing to compromise, namely William Oertel at Konami US. Mourning his unrealized genre shift for the series, he was left uninterested and dissatisfied with the direction the project had taken, and departed both it and the company entirely in 2008. This left room for his coworker, Tomm Hulett, to take on a larger role as the primary 19 US producer of Silent Hill, with great enthusiasm for the ideas in Shattered Memories. It was Hulett that encouraged Barlow and Climax in both their design choices, such as the expanded exploration and, more controversially, a complete removal of combat, and also in their narrative choice, the hope that they need not be committed to a straight translation of Team Silent’s 1999 story.
Barlow and Climax had a vision for reintegrating the original story from Cold Heart into Shattered Memories, by redefining Harry and Cheryl Mason’s relationship and positions, making her the true protagonist on whom the choices made by her father, and the player, would have a significant impact. The narrative canonizes the first game’s famous dying dream car crash ending to invert the relationship dynamic, an adult Cheryl confronting her perceptions of her father through a constructed reimagining of him saving her as a child in Silent Hill. As the hidden subject of the game’s starting psych profile and interstitial psychologist sequences, Cheryl’s role in gameplay is through the interactivity system that builds on what came before in tracking player data and adjusting the character narrative accordingly. Cheryl would be the hidden subject of these interstitial psychologist sequences, struggling with grief over her father’s death, reflecting back on the potential traumatic consequences of the choices Harry made leading up to his death through fantasized flashbacks to his time in Silent Hill.
Just as James’ latent behavior in Silent Hill 2, like examining Angela’s knife, lingering on certain locations, and failing to protect himself or very actively protecting Maria, can determine his leaning towards the suicide and Maria endings, Harry can through gameplay linger on sexual imagery, indulge in substance abuse, or act self-centered, and thusly influence Cheryl and in turn the game’s ending. The town scenes in Shattered Memories portray a much calmer and more communal Silent Hill, even more so than the one with a working hospital and police force from Harry and Cheryl’s first story, and thus in accordance with the compelling but more low-key deadbeat dad and reconciling with grief levels of drama and darkness to the game, rather than the degree of, say, sexually frustrated spouse murder.
Development on Shattered Memories had started with an expectation from Konami of a combat system as was traditional to the series, or even an increased emphasis like in William Oertel’s proposed game or the most recent entries. In both the designer’s and many players’ eyes, a game where one avoided combat wherever possible was more true to the spirit of the series and original games than the dynamic and action-heavy system of the soon-to-release Homecoming, or the machine gun sequence in Climax’s Origins that Sam Barlow specifically cited as one he did not want to repeat. Barlow strongly believed that removing combat from Shattered Memories would be an essential element for attracting the non-core audience among Wii owners, pointing to his own partner as someone who saw picking up a weapon and having to start fighting as a typical and boring part of how video games work.
The recent competing title Resident Evil 4 had smash-hit success with its fast-paced, intense action gameplay, and the successes of Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Outlast‘s avoidance gameplay were years away, giving Climax’s game the potential of standing out and innovating within the horror genre. The removal of previously designed combat encounters and implementation of an evasion system, specialized, cinematic Nightmare Otherworld sequences, entirely based around running and hiding from packs of a single kind of monster20 called Raw Shocks, occurred during a time of confusion and distraction immediately following Oertel’s departure. The removal of a greater variety of monster designs, a choice born of both artistic design in befitting the story’s lower-key dramatics, and practical necessity in having to reuse assets to ensure that the Otherworld chases functioned consistently and ran at high power with limited resources. Once the power vacuum that provided Barlow and his this opportunity was gone, Konami higher-ups did express concern that they were making “a game where you just walk around and nothing happens”, but nobody wanted a repeat of the delay and complete reboot that Origins went through.
The one aspect that united all of those disparate individuals and perspectives across Konami US, Konami Japan, and Climax Studios in the UK, was the belief that the newly released Nintendo Wii hardware, with its popular motion controls system that brought new, casual audiences into gaming, was a perfect way for Silent Hill as a series to reach new and large audiences. Like Silicon Knights with Eternal Darkness and Capcom’s multiple Resident Evil titles before them, all released on the Gamecube, Konami and Climax Studios were perhaps overestimating the audience overlap between Wii owners and survival horror fans. By the time that Shattered Memories was announced in February 2009 and closing in on release later that year, sales projections had helped Konami to realize this, to understand that much of Silent Hill’s core audience did not own a Wii and wouldn’t purchase one for the game. This led to the greenlighting of the previously canceled PlayStation 2 and PSP ports of Shattered Memories, which consumed much of the last months of the game’s development and were seen as a sad creative compromise at Climax, due to the loss of the motion control emphasis, but they were what ultimately pulled the game ahead into roughly breaking even on costs.
The three year blitz of consecutive major Silent Hill releases, unplanned though it was, did not turn out well for Konami overall, with poor sales and critical reception, and ended with a particular thud in Shattered Memories’ release in December 2009. Despite receiving better critical reception than its two predecessors and ultimately breaking even, its financial performance was the worst of the three and a very unsatisfying result for Konami after years of investment in both Climax and Silent Hill. Regarding the game’s performance, Sam Barlow points to Konami’s choice to promote it towards the core audience rather than the casual audience the game was meant to reach, but remain proud of what they accomplished with the game, hopeful of it reaching a wider audience in time. Such a performance led Konami and Climax Studios to part ways after four years of cooperation, leaving Silent Hill without a creative leader once more, in need of a plan for the future that Konami did not yet have. Although the loss of Climax Studios as a recurring presence was a major development in its own right, it paled in comparison to the news that struck the same month as Shattered Memories’ release: composer Akira Yamaoka, last remnant of the original Team Silent, was leaving Silent Hill and Konami for good, in favor of Suda51’s development studio Grasshopper Manufacture.
Silent Hill: Downpour (2012)
With Konami coming off multiple poorly selling entries in the franchise in a row, along with the blow to Silent Hill’s public image that was Akira Yamaoka’s 2009 departure from the series, and lastly a continuing overall trend of questionable decision-making carrying the company into the 2010s games industry, Silent Hill as a series needed a sizable success to once again cement its position as one of Konami’s, and horror’s, most major and venerated franchises. Having neither reason to still believe that the series’ audience could grow once more, nor a firm creative guide beyond the limited presence of producer Tomm Hulett, who would leave the company in 2013, Silent Hill was increasingly less valuable and more unimportant to Konami, even as its importance among critics and the series’ core audience remained. Unwilling to invest the same level of resources that had gone into either the series’ high water mark, Silent Hill 2, or the 2006-2009 release blitz, Konami turned to a small, cheap developer that it could chew up and spit out just like Team Silent, Climax, and Double Helix. This studio would be responsible for the final completed, original entry in the Silent Hill canon, Silent Hill: Downpour, which would be revealed with its debut trailer at San Francisco in April 2010.
In 2009, independent European game developer Kuju Entertainment founded a subsidiary developer studio in Brno, Czech Republic, that became known as Vatra Games, co-founded by several retiring developers from 2K Czech. Vatra Games started by developing the 2.5d action game sequel to 1985’s Rush’n Attack, Rush’n Attack: Ex-Patriot, for Kuju and Konami, before in turn being contracted for the next Silent Hill release by Konami during Rush’n Attack’s development. Among mainstream games media, there were brief rumors, based on unrelated promotional media, that Vatra would be turning Silent Hill into a first-person shooter franchise, which were quickly laid to rest by Vatra and Konami alike. Despite this early PR scuffle, exact details about this new entry remained scant in the first months after that initial announcement, with Konami’s 2010 E3 presentation simply referring to it as Silent Hill 8, providing very vague descriptions and little footage, and the presentation overall quickly became infamous for its numerous errors and ill-received stunts, going down long-term as one of the ‘worst’ moments in E3 history and completely overshadowing any enthusiasm from the Silent Hill and Metal Gear Solid fanbases for their respective new series entries.
It would be difficult to possibly match up to the long-term reputation of the E3 press conference, but this would be far from the last roadbump during Silent Hill: Downpour’s promotional cycle. The developers rather famously made open criticism of the recent previous series entry Silent Hill: Homecoming in comparison to their own project, essentially promising that they would not attempt to incompetently imitate the twist from Silent Hill 2 like Homecoming does with its Alex Shepherd character. Although Tomm Hulett was falsely credited for this comment by some fans, it still held consequences for Vatra. This statement was not friendly to the PR narrative that Konami had consistently attempted to maintain in face of all adversity, that all of the Western iterations of Silent Hill were valuable equally to each other and to their Japanese predecessors. This snafu thus likely played a role, albeit a very small one relative to financial matters and Konami’s overall culture of disregard for its employees, in the summer 2012 contract termination between Kuju and Vatra Games, only a few months after Downpour’s release, and Vatra’s subsequent bankruptcy declaration shortly after.
The Czech developers of Vatra Games had several central concepts for the narrative of Downpour with which they began development. The first was an order from Konami on-high for a self-contained story disconnected from any of the cult elements of the series’ backstory, based on general fan outcry and the compared public receptions of Homecomingand Shattered Memories. From there, Vatra developed an idea of its own accord, that they wanted to focus on the ambiguity of a criminal protagonist, believing that was an effective subversion of the established everyman with a dark past character type used throughout the series. As an extension of this, they chose rainwater as the main visual motif of this character’s monsters and Otherworld, with the water representing both the water that the hero’s son drowned in and the water of the prison showers in which the hero would commit his true original sin.
Players control Murphy Pendleton, a convict who opens the game arranging a deal with his prison guard in order to attack another inmate in the showers. The game cuts quickly from this to Murphy’s transfer into another prison, which is supervised by Anne Cunningham, a particularly antagonistic corrections officer with an interest in Murphy. Murphy’s transfer bus proceeds to crash and leave both Murphy and Anne wandering the wilderness outside Silent Hill. Murphy’s encounter with Anne is the first of several scripted moments in which the player has the opportunity to present Murphy as a more or less compassionate person based on his treatment of others. This player choice system leads to a rather controversial conclusion that will be discussed at greater length later on.
The most significant element of personal inspiration for Vatra’s developers led to what is possibly the single-most acclaimed element of Downpour overall, for its sense of singular personality and vision: the environmental design for the Devil’s Pit national park and aerial tram, an early level in the game modeled heavily on the Propast Macocha or Stepmother Abyss, a haunting gorge in central Czech named for a local fairy tale and known as a tragically popular suicide site akin to the Aokigahara forest in Japan. In a game featuring almost exclusively bipedal monsters with slightly messed up faces, wearing prison uniforms or raincoats, and…
What makes the Devil’s Pit such a clear standout feature is the sense of purpose that comes with said singular vision. It expands the environmental palette of the Silent Hill series, previously known exclusively for small-town urban environments and industrial nightmares like the Labyrinth, into an overgrown and cavernous area of rural wilderness, incorporating a key piece of Americana in the process: the National Parks. It smoothly integrates these unique visual aspects into key components of atmosphere for Silent Hill and for survival horror more generally: evocative imagery that contributes to a continually mounting dread, and an utter sense of isolation. What this design brings to that is an entirely new form of danger present, separate entirely from the presence of monsters, in navigating a precarious wilderness where you might never be found. That’s a real-life fear that integrates wonderfully with the state of fear that Silent Hill creates. Finally, there’s the aspect of what it provides for the ‘meta’ of Silent Hill as a series. The Devil’s Pit is a natural environment that is just as visually off-putting, just as surreal and uncomfortable, as rusted and fog-ridden city streets, and feels like an organic extension of them, contributes to the primal quality of Silent Hill as an entity and a force of nature and not just a place that can be entered and exited. All of this is true progression of Silent Hill as a horror series rather than the regression it often suffered.
Murphy’s navigation to and through the Devil’s Pit gives many opportunities for encounters with various characters, including an aloof and mysterious mailman, a fellow prisoner, and a troubled tour guide. After a theme park esque roller-coaster ride through mines and another confrontation with Anne, Murphy enters Silent Hill proper and, while continuing to fend off various monsters, confronts his own past: he deliberately put himself into prison to get closer to Patrick Napier and administer personal justice to the man that drowned his son. Officer Sewell, the corrupt guard that helped Murphy with this plan, then used it to blackmail him into murdering someone else within the prison, who turns out to be not a fellow convict, but another guard, Coleridge, who is Anne’s father and was going to testify against Sewell.
The Wheelman spectre that has been haunting Murphy inside Silent Hill represents the consequences of Murphy’s actions and desire for vengeance through Coleridge’s weakened state after the attack. Anne had arranged for Murphy’s transfer into her prison and had been planning to murder him in retaliation for her father’s fate. This final battle between Murphy and Anne transforms him into both predator and prey, and more particularly into the Bogeyman, a raincoat and gas-mask clad, hammer-wielding behemoth. This entity fits within the series’ trend of imitators to the throne of Pyramid Head, and within that, it borrows heavily from the design of the killer in Deadly Premonition. As the predator to Anne’s misbegotten prey, Murphy is given one last moral choice within this sequence, whether or not to spare and forgive a woman marred by vengeance just as Murphy was.
It is now that we reach the culmination of the moral system that Vatra designed and how Downpour’s narrative collapses around said system: if Murphy consistently acts compassionate within Silent Hill, the nature of his past actions changes, with the attacks on both his son’s killer and the innocent guard being retconned into the actions of the apparent all-encompassing evil that is Officer Sewell. In spite of the developers’ claims towards an interest in a more complex protagonist, they designed possibly the most morally simplistic narrative path in Silent Hill history, using a multiple choice past to remove any sense that the protagonist could change or desire to change. A narrative like The Room’s demonstrates that the protagonist need not be the source of a Silent Hill story’s drama, but the choice this game’s writers made simply contradicts the earlier narrative without any meaningful or suitable substitution. It undermines a large part of what is most compelling about this series, sacrificing satisfying narrative and coherent or complex character arc in favor of bland thriller theatrics and extended undefined mystery, of all things paralleling the series Dexter, from which Vatra recruited its new composer for Silent Hill, Daniel Licht.
Although Downpour would rarely be regarded as the worst of the Western Silent Hill entries upon its March 2012 release, it did make fresh mistakes even while learning from past ones, and it would not be the shot in the arm either audiences or Konami had hoped for. With yet more losses in tow, the company would leave yet another small studio in the dust, and its continuing struggle to grasp its cult classic series would leave it marching both forward and backward into new difficulties, and ever so briefly, it stumbled into acclaim one more time.
The Silent Hill HD Collection was released the same month and year as Downpour, March 2012. Although its announcement in summer 2011 was wonderfully exciting for old and new audiences alike in newfound access to the most beloved games in the series, particularly with Silent Hill 3 having been exclusive to the PS2 up to that point, versus Silent Hill 2’s Xbox release, it soon became marred by its own controversies and difficulties. The problems started with the news that Konami had never preserved the source code of either game, resulting in unfinished beta builds being the foundations for the ports, handed off to the inexperienced Hijinx studios, unprepared for the previously removed severe glitches compounding with the new technical difficulties of emulating to Xbox 360 and PS3 hardware.
I won’t catalogue every single technical problem these ports faced. Suffice to say that at launch, they were frequently unplayable due to crashes caused by simple actions or failures to load environments and audio. On top of these were major changes that typically came without any specific explanation that nonetheless significantly affected any effective recreation of the games’ experience. These included removal of Akira Yamaoka’s music, stretching of FMV cutscenes and shrinking of the pivotal Room 312 videotape, muddy dulling of the games’ lighting, and perhaps most infamously, removal of the famous fog effects, which exposes unfinished, never meant to be seen environments and substantially detracts from the atmosphere.
Lastly, there is the matter of the HD Collection’s voice acting, which was effectively the culmination not only of years’ worth of cost-cutting measures on Konami’s part, but also the heightening tensions within the games industry regarding unions for voice actors, which has only escalated further in recent years due to the difference of treatment towards motion-captured SAG-Aftra/Hollywood actors, and video game voice actors. Konami had consistently produced prior ports and re-releases of their games, most notably Silent Hill 2 due to its particular acclaim and popularity, without the voice cast being made aware or provided compensation for the reuse of their performances. Upon learning of the HD Collection’s production and appointment of Mary Elizabeth McGlynn as redub director, James’ voice actor Guy Cihi gathered support from fans and the other voice cast members alike, leading to negotiations with Konami for the inclusion of the original performances for Silent Hill 2, while still only the redub cast is provided for Silent Hill 3.
The Silent Hill HD Collection was a botched opportunity for Konami and fans alike, unable to recreate the artistic or financial success of other high-profile rereleases such as Okami, Shadow of the Colossus, and so on. 2012 could’ve been the year Silent Hill’s position in the games industry changed for the better, but instead, it was overall one of its worst, with two failed major releases instead of one. Konami would need a hail mary to turn around the series’ image before year’s end, and against all odds they accomplished this, but it took new blood and new directions to accomplish this reversal-of-fortunes.
PT/Silent Hills (2012-2014)
In September 2012, six months after the release of Downpour (and the same month that Vatra Games declared bankruptcy), it was announced that Konami’s president had contacted Hideo Kojima and asked him to make the next Silent Hill game. Kojima was intensely busy with the development of Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes and MGS V: The Phantom Pain, which had started in early 2012 before the games were officially announced just a few weeks prior to the Silent Hill news. Kojima’s comments at the time indicated that he would loan out the Fox engine built for the new MGS games to this new Silent Hill title, and that he would serve in a limited producer role similar to his position in Konami’s Lords of Shadow reboot of the Castlevania series. Hideo Kojima would continue to work on The Phantom Pain and its prologue release for the next two-to-three years, under increasing strain in his relationship with his long-time publisher. In the meantime, complete radio silence had ensued for Silent Hill as a series and for this new project in particular, barring the unrelated October 2012 releases of the film Silent Hill: Revelation and the handheld title Silent Hill: Book of Memories.
On August 12th, 2014, the free demo P.T. was released on the PlayStation Network. It had been several months after MGS:Ground Zeroes’ release and almost two years since the initial news of a new Silent Hill release, and a demo for a new horror mystery game from new developers 7780s Studio was quietly announced at the Gamescom trade fair. P.T. followed a character in first-person perspective as they navigated a small hallway with a bathroom and staircase, the latter of which leads back into the corridor in a seemingly endless loop. Unable to defend themselves, the player must evade a hostile entity while solving various cryptic and complex puzzles, with each puzzle resetting the hallway for new clues to be discovered. When the player successfully escapes the building they’re trapped in, a brief cutscene/trailer ensues, revealing that the player character is portrayed through motion capture by Walking Dead actor Norman Reedus, and that the player has completed a Playable Teaser for Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro’s Silent Hills.
The public response to this event was truly rapturous. There were several aspects to the successful reception. P.T. itself had so quickly become widely acclaimed for its effective but simplistic design, going on to win multiple awards later that year. What P.T. represented for Silent Hill as a series, in terms of potential narrative and gameplay innovations, was intensely exciting for both long-time series fans and new fans hooked by P.T.’s effective viral marketing quality. And after such a long wait since the initial news, it was simply exciting to know that the game was still happening, and that was only amplified by the sudden information that, despite Kojima’s previous comments, he would in fact be the (Co)-Director of this game, with his recent creative cohort and acclaimed genre filmmaker Guillermo del Toro along for the ride.
P.T. was conceived by Hideo Kojima and his team of programmers as a way to transcend conventional games marketing of releasing screenshots and trailers, demonstrating, in as direct and gameplay-focused a fashion as possible, to audiences what the experience of Silent Hills would be. The framework of an independent game production complete with nonexistent studio, although parallel to the earlier and far more transparent mystery of “Joakim Mogren” and his “Moby Dick Studio”, accomplished the access of players without negotiating the barriers of expectations and preconceived notions that would inherently arrive if players went in knowing they were experiencing the next Silent Hill game. It was eventually confirmed that the content of P.T. was not itself ‘canonical’ to Silent Hills, despite the shared lead actor of Norman Reedus, it was merely a narrative self-contained to the demo that Silent Hills was intended to expand on with new narrative and gameplay elements fueled by further resources.
Silent Hills was clearly a very exciting promise amidst the gaming industry and media professionals overall as well, as indicated by the additional talent quickly attracted to and officially attached to the game in its short time in the spotlight. These figures include legendary Japanese horror artist Junji Ito, Epic Games’ Cliff Bleszinski, who ultimately declined the invitation, and even two former Team Silent members, monster designer Masahiro Ito and composer Akira Yamaoka, clearly enthused by the artistic promise of the game despite all the time since their departures from Konami. In discussing the game upon its revelation, Hideo Kojima firmly commented that the game’s emphasis on atmosphere and mystery over both combat and graphic violence was in response to what he felt were the mistakes of recent horror games (and possibly other Silent Hill titles). Although players had surprised the Silent Hills team with being able to finish P.T. within the first 24 hours of release, its puzzles having been intended to require at least a week to complete as part of the viral marketing campaign, the developers were firm in their intent to continue emphasis on complex puzzle-solving for the main game. Kojima Productions’ recent development of Death Stranding has clearly demonstrated the continued interest in averting the reliance on violence and combat gameplay across the games industry.
The public would comfortably ride the wave of excitement without much further info from August 2014 into spring of 2015, while a tragedy was brewing behind the scenes at Konami. More and more money was sunk into the production of The Phantom Pain, ultimately surpassing $80 million; Konami expected their flagship blockbuster franchise to be able to pull themselves out of a hole that they were digging deeper in order to invest in MGSV in a way they hadn’t invested in a project in a long time, if ever; and so they imposed harsh expectations upon Hideo Kojima regarding what had to be included in the game and when it needed to be completed by. The tensions between artistic ambition, single-minded creator, and profit-oriented corporation finally snapped, and everything fell apart at once. Konami’s new CEO Hideki Hayakawa decided that its future could no longer be in console gaming, but in the mobile gaming market they had increasingly focused on for the last decade, and they lost their longest-lasting professional relationship in the process. Hideo Kojima and Kojima Productions would depart Konami upon The Phantom Pain’s mandated September 1st launch, and those names would be completely scrubbed from documentation in a corporate restructuring that also delisted Konami from the New York Stock Exchange. Silent Hills’ cancelation would be announced first by Guillermo del Toro before being confirmed by Konami, and shortly after, P.T. was pulled permanently from the PlayStation store. 21 With the cancellation, Konami stated that Silent Hill would continue even as Silent Hills did not, but such a promise could not help feeling empty when paired with an abrupt declaration that what seemed like the series’ best opportunity in years would be prematurely shut down.
And that’s where, for now, Silent Hill’s legacy has ended, a rebirth left unfinished, abandoned by a parent company that forever misunderstood it, the perpetual mythologizing by its audience only expanded further by this ignominious end punctuated by a disappeared demo and lingering what-could-have-beens.
Despite the briefly held vision Team Silent circa SH3/Room 302 had for the direction the series, spin-offs have ultimately been a non-starter, a minor output necessitating a brief overview that will largely exclude non-interactive media and for which the most high-profile member is the demo we’ve already discussed so extensively.
I never had the chance to play P.T. firsthand while it was available and with the time spent on this article, have not had the time to recently view Let’s Plays of it. I still would like to provide some thematic commentary on it, and luckily for us, Polygon’s Jenna Stoeber just last week released a wonderful video on P.T., which includes a framework of its relationship to both the original Silent Hill games and the unreleased Silent Hills.
Silent Hill Book of Memories: Independent developer WayForward Technologies, known for the Shantae series and The Mummy Demastered among many others, has been attached to two different Silent Hill projects: The first was a DS project canceled after only a single-room prototype demo had been developed, and the second was Silent Hill: Book of Memories, a light RPG hack-and-slash game released for the PlayStation Vita in October 2012. Played from a top-down perspective with five different stat-based, leveling up character classes (bookworm, jock, goth, preppy, and rocker), Book of Memories allows players to explore dungeons and battle the series’ most iconic monsters in a light-gun arcade style fashion, without any of that pesky psychology, atmosphere, or symbolism. Konami US producer Tomm Hulett enjoyed his involvement in the project, and past WayForward collaboration Contra 4, so much that it led to his joining WayForward in early 2013.
Silent Hill: The Arcade is the stylistic forefather to Book of Memories, being an actual light gun rail shooter arcade game released summer 2007 in Japan and Europe, in which two players control college students that travel through Silent Hill’s most famous locales (Brookhaven Hospital, Pyramid Head’s Labyrinth) and battling some of its iconic monsters, including Pyramid Head, the Split Worm boss and Insane Cancer from 3, and Nurses, along with a number of monsters original to the games’ thin narrative, which involves the ghost of a young girl who died traumatically and is now a floating tentacle head.
Silent Hill: The Escape is a mobile game that released shortly after Origins in 2007 for Japan and in January 2009 for the Western market. The player navigates ten levels in first-person perspective while they explore, defeat monsters, and search for a key that will unlock the next level. Perhaps most notably, each completed playthrough of the game unlocks a new player character, including two different humans, an alien from the joke endings’ timeline, and Robbie the Rabbit. Released first in the West in 2007 and after The Escape in Japan was Silent Hill: Orphan, a point-and-click puzzle game with a more elaborate narrative involving Alessa from Silent Hill and Silent Hill 3.
When Dennis Dyack’s Silicon Knights development company closed down following its legal battle with Epic Games, it revealed a number of canceled in development titles whose game code were destroyed alongside that of Too Human and X-Men: Destiny, due to their copying and stealing of Unreal Engine 3 code. Among those was Silent Hill: The Box, which briefly began development until the publishing deal with Konami fell through due to Silicon Knights’ financial difficulties during the court case with Epic. Little to no detail about this game is known.
Origins’ Climax Studios had originally pitched a PlayStation 3 exclusive mainline entry in the series subtitled Broken Covenant, set in an Arizona riff on the anomalous Silent Hill town and starring the character of Father Hector Santos, for whom water would be a major gameplay motif used to perform holy sacraments against monsters.
Following the public disclosure of Hideo Kojima’s departure from Konami and the cancellation of Silent Hills, Metal Gear Online and MGSV‘s Kojima Productions Los Angeles22 made several project pitches for several of Konami’s major series (Contra, MGS, Bomberman), and Silent Hill, in an attempt to keep itself useful in the face of its sister studio’s severance, but all of these failed in the face of Konami’s new vision for the future. There are no further details of this Silent Hill game’s pitch.
Konami’s 2008 DS title New International Track and Field features Pyramid Head rendered as a cartoon mascot competing in various athletic events against other major Konami-owned characters, including Frogger, Simon Belmont, Solid Snake, Evil Rose from Rumble Roses, and Sparkster.
In the months immediately prior to and after Konami and Hideo Kojima parting ways, additional information and incidents released or occurred, that painted a more complete and more disturbing portrait of the culture at Konami, most notably with two separate reports published by Japanese business publication The Nikkei, one in August 2015 and one in June 2017. The website cites the success of mobile hit Dragon Collection, on which CEO Hayakawa had worked and he had deemed an inspiration for Konami’s new business model, as a wide-reaching negative influence on the company. The articles describe a toxic corporate culture that: publicly shames employees for long lunch breaks, judges developers’ usefulness and cooperation and forces them into menial tasks including factory work and security based on that, deprived health insurance and internet access to Kojima Productions employees while they were still there, and deliberately obstructs former employees from accessing new jobs.
Such knowledge has made Konami increasingly infamous amongst consumers and other members of the industry alike. Their reputation was only more damaged by very public confrontations that occurred after their 2016 announcement of Metal Gear Survive, where Konami attempted to use Hideo Kojima’s comments on the game to deny him back-pay based on contract violation, and they barred him from participating in awards ceremonies that involved The Phantom Pain. Survive would go on to release in February 2018, met with largely negative reception and such poor sales that Konami chose not to acknowledge it in their 2018 earnings report from just a few months ago.
This performance was credited not only to Konami’s poor image and decision-making, but also profiteering decisions within the game itself such as the increasingly hotly debated matter of microtransactions. Metal Gear Survive was one of two major console releases for Konami in the past two years, the other being the March 2017 Nintendo Switch launch title Super Bomberman R. Selling approximately 40,000 copies in its first week of release and more than a million by August 2018, the game surpassed all expectations as well as the total sales of every 21st century release of the series. This has left audiences to speculate whether such a performance might inspire Konami to invest more into revivals for series like Castlevania and Silent Hill, despite the attitudes of chairman Kagemasa Kozumi and CEO Hideki Hayakawa.
Whether or not Silent Hill ever lives again in a developer’s studio or a publisher’s office, it will always live on in the indelible memories left upon audiences, other games, and the industry as a whole. It carries a legacy not only of radical design, original ideas, and the independent creative spirits to match them, but also false starts, stagnation, and strong personalities at every angle. Controversial decisions and artists languishing in exile. Silent Hill is its own story, and it’s many other stories: happiness and unhappiness, illness and trauma, men and women, Konami’s, and the story of horror itself, microcosm. Peace.
Thanks so much for your reading and your patience, everyone.
I referred to the following sources based on each game and unreservedly recommend them for more information: (Full source list forthcoming)
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ay_RAkE7bUY – Silent Hills 2014 teaser