Experienced Points: What Made Silent Hill 2 Great and Why the Devs Don’t Get It

By Shamus
on Aug 26, 2014
Filed under:
Column

Poor Silent Hill. Fans keep hoping the Silent Hill 2 lightning will strike twice, but all the industry trends are against it. The need for ongoing iconic main characters. The need for “fun, action-friendly combat” that looks good in trailers. The aversion to puzzles in an “action” game. The push to make players feel empowered. The need for an ongoing story with friendly supporting characters. The trend of making the monsters bigger and badder. The need to spell everything out for the player.

All of this goes runs directly counter to the design of a game where the protagonist is something of an enigma, isolated and alone in a deeply alienating world of slow-paced exploration, reflection, and unraveling of mysteries. A game where the monsters and the protagonist should be unique and the story should stand on its own. In a world of Zombieland-style stories, nobody want to make a Twilight Zone.

My column this week is a list of the things that they Keep. Getting. Wrong. with Silent Hill.

It’s frustrating. The premise of Silent Hill 2 is fantastic. It’s an idea that could be taken in a dozen different directions: People suffering from some kind of inner torment are drawn to a town, and are sucked into this alternate dimension where they will make peace with their inner demons, or be killed by them. A cop that accidentally shot his partner. (The world is filled with prison imagery.) A doctor that made a wrong call that killed a kid. (Medical themes.) A Booker DeWitt type person who got religion but felt like they still needed to pay for their past crimes. (Religious themes!) Someone who was the only one to make it out of a collapsed mine and now suffers from survivor’s guilt. (This is too easy.) A guy who was cold and verbally abusive to his wife, and then she killed herself. (And OF COURSE she was pregnant, for bonus trauma and guilt.)

But no. Let’s make a game about a stupid cult and beating up recycled versions of the Silent Hill 2 monsters.

The sad thing is that I think this is one of those areas where indies can’t solve the problem. Making something like Silent Hill 2 requires graphics, cutscenes, voice acting, and a large-ish gameworld. Maybe with some creativity you can cut a few corners. (Maybe set the whole game in a single house and limit the speaking parts to one or two people.) But to do this right you need a decent mid-tier budget of a couple of million bucks, and small scrappy indie teams have trouble getting that kind of funding. There have been some good scary games (Amnesia comes to mind) but they are very rare, and so countless ideas are left unexplored.

It wouldn’t bother me so much if there were alternatives. Once in a while we get a survival horror game (Penumbra, Amnesia, Outlast) but nobody is really working on psychological horror.

Pity.

Enjoyed this post? Please share!



A Hundred!13113 comments. Quick! Add another to see if this message changes!

From the Archives:

  1. Dev Null says:

    Making the game harder makes it less scary
    Do not put quicktime events in your game

    Quoted for truth, the latter being a perfect example of how to screw up the former.

    Quicktime events are designed to be done over-and-over, until you memorize the pattern of Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right’s that will get you through it. They’re arbitrary strings of controller-twitches for you to learn, and the only way for you to learn them is to fail at them. Every time this happens, you are pulled out of the story and dumped without ceremony back in front of a keyboard. Failure and restarting – which is pretty much how most QT events work – is just as bad a failure state as death and reloading, which you discuss in the article.

    • MrGuy says:

      I wonder if an interesting take on this in survival horror games would be the opposite approach – getting killed doesn’t send you back, it sends you forward.

      For example, there’s a scene where you’re running through an abandoned hospital being pursued by creepy laughing children and bloody doctors. The goal of the scene is to get to the pediatric surgery ward and learn something about yourself, and the success state is to get there, see a disturbing scene, faint, and come to in a deserted alley to begin the search for the next clue to why you’re here.

      Rather than getting caught and dying in the hospital force you to do the hospital over, if you die, you just wake up in the deserted alley. The hospital is gone. The “punishment” for death isn’t having to do it again, it’s being denied closure.

      Of course, this wouldn’t work at all with a DIAS or QTE approach. But it’s a way to incorporate death without having it be a “do over.”

      • syal says:

        Closure and fear are kind of opposing forces so using one to drive the other wouldn’t work I don’t think.

        I think death in a horror game should remove the monster or monsters that killed you, and move it/them further into the game. Creepy child kills you in the hospital? You start over in the hospital and this time the kid isn’t there. Then you get to the desert and creepy child attacks you again. Or maybe it doesn’t come back until you get to the abandoned sauna five levels later.

        The atmosphere isn’t broken by death or difficulty, it’s broken by turning the levels and monsters into puzzles that have to be solved before progressing.

        • Kana says:

          I wonder how much you could toy with that. Say you die to creepy kid and the game decides to scale it back a bit, removing the kid in the process. So the kid is gone, but now you start hearing it’s voice files. Around a corner. Behind your character. Maybe add in some shadowplay.

          Think it might make it scarier, or detract from it? Also running the risk of when the kid does come back, you expect the fake and die again. Probably have to be used really sparingly.

          • Zombie says:

            If it did it around where you died, I’d probably be creeped out by the fact that I’m on edge about it sounding like its going to attack me. If it went on for five minutes and your way past the spot where it killed you, I’d be more frustrated than angry because it would distract from trying to find the next threat.

            • syal says:

              I personally would use it as a jumpscare-type thing. When an enemy disappears, it will suddenly reappear sometime in the future with no warnings whatsoever.

              Maybe make an early fight where death is mandatory so people find out that’s how the mechanic works. That way you get to worry about those guys forever.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Thats not true.Thats what bad quick time events are.Good quick time events are a single button press at the correct moment that slightly change the outcome.A melee finisher,a dialogue interrupt,a stealth take down,those are good quick time events because they are simple,consistent(they require you to push the same button in every part of the game),and dont force you to repeat the section if you fail.A good quick time events rewards you for doing it right,not punish you for doing it wrong.

      Sadly,most games opt to do bad quick time events.

      • Hitch says:

        “Having the same button every time is too simple. We need to randomly change the input each time so the player has to stare at the part of the screen that will show the prompt, ignoring the cool action scene we’re creating, or they’ll miss the 1/2 second window of opportunity to push the ‘don’t fail’ button.”

        That’s the way modern developers see QT events.

        • Tom says:

          Oh god, I’m having flashbacks to Fahrenheit.

          • Packbat says:

            I may be one of the few people who really enjoyed the Fahrenheit QTEs (although I was technically playing Indigo Prophecy). The way that I had to do the controller gesture over and over and over again to keep the claustrophobic detective from panicking while she was trying to find data in the police archives felt right to me – I, playing the game, was trying to keep myself calm so that I wouldn’t screw up and lose out.

            That said … the second-most-powerful storytelling moment in the game for me was the mission I failed. ROT-13ing the spoiler: va gur synfuonpx, V bayl sbhaq guerr bs gur sbhe xvqf va gur jnerubhfr ba sver. When I replayed the game and won at the mission, I felt no payoff – it was just a thing that happened, instead of a story.

    • Zak McKracken says:

      I know I’m pretty much alone in this but I think QT events can be pretty good, especially in dangerous situations.
      “Gaaah, get the key in the lock! faster! No, the other way! Arrrgh, why don’t it fit?, Wrong key!…” I think this type of panic can be conveyed through quick-time events.
      That means, of course: If you
      1)don’t over-do them. They need to be reserved for some situations. If you’re actually supposed to move something up, then left, don’t make it a QT event, just play it like normal. Only if there’s something to do that doesn’t map naturally to the controller/keyboard/mouse. Also, they can’t require so many butten-presses that the player completely loses sight of what’s going on in the game
      2) be somewhat consistent with which type of action goes with which button.
      3) Ideally: Try to keep it “in the game”, i.e. don’t show the hints in one corner of the screen but rather wherever the player should be looking anyway.

      I loved (some of) the quicktime events in Fahrenheit, e.g. the one where you know someone’s coming up the corridor and you quickly need to decide where to hide the evidence. Depending on how you do, it’ll be easier to find or not. Didn’t like some of the other QT events in the same game, though, especially towards the end but that game’s later chapters have other problems as well.

      • Thomas says:

        You’d need to make them more related to whats happening for it even to be _considerable_ though. Mash x to open lock is a very different experience for hit X Y Square Triangle to allow the cutscene to continue.

        In terms of more good QTEs, following on from Fahrenheit in Heavy Rain the fight sequences would have very obvious connections to reality, would let you choose between multiple decisions and wouldn’t insta fail but instead change the action if you fail/succeed. So you might get an arrow pointing down a grocery isle and an isle for running on top of the grocery isle and choose between them. If you fail, he stumbles and the enemy gets closer but he keeps running (this isn’t a horror game thing though).

        I think you could make a good horror game around QTEs. There’s a nice element where when you’re panicked QTEs become a lot harder. I cannot imagine them in a Silent Hill game though because they inherently draw attention to the fact you’re playing a game

        • MadTinkerer says:

          For more good examples of QTEs, see Telltale’s The Walking Dead. Josh broke a few of them, but to a not-insane player, most of TWD’s QTEs reinforced the intended tension instead of ruining it.

          • Flock Of Panthers says:

            Yeah, I was going to say Walking Dead too.

            Particularly, I’m thinking more of doing tricky things while remaining in control [s1e1, load the shotgun] rather than the cutsceney ones [the school band teacher].

            Not that it wasn’t effective, but the cutsceney ones tended to kill me 2-3 times before I figured them out, the ‘ingame’ ones just had me panicked and tense.

    • Daimbert says:

      I liked the ones in the Marvel: Ultimate Alliance series. The key to press was chosen at random, and you had to succeed at them to damage the boss … but if you failed, you didn’t die … you just didn’t damage the boss and so had to do it again. While fighting other creatures and maybe getting your party killed. Other than the fact that they ended up over-doing them, it was a neat way to do it and give you cool things to watch while doing so.

      It wouldn’t be hard to modify this for horror, where the suspense isn’t from “If I miss this, I lose and have to do it over” but is instead “If I don’t manage to kill him this time, I’m out of health if he hits me!”, and thus a general building of suspense like any other boss fight, but one that doesn’t require actual combat, but instead requires you to pull off moves or the like to have something else happen.

      • The Rocketeer says:

        The real problem is that quicktime BS is very gamey and contrived, and even done “right,” they remind you very sharply that you’re just playing a game.

        If you design a quicktime event that solves all the problems of quicktime events, you’ve designed something else entirely.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Not true.In cases where you have a hud,or dialogue,quick time events that are present throughout the entire game are not pulling you out of it.Mass effect dialogue interrupts are an example of that.Tom braiders executions are also that(though that game has bad qtes aplenty in other areas,and those are crap).

    • Kingmob says:

      I really enjoy the QT events in the latest Teltale games. They are not instant failure and sometimes downright impossible to do (like mashing the button real fast to resist someone in a fight). It serves to pull you in the game, with the occasional failure to keep you on your toes so to speak.

      If you don’t know if you are supposed to fail or not, mashing the button real fast and getting close to pushing the guy of, is a very effective way of letting you feel the tension and desperation that the character must be feeling. Often you can take a few hits as well, you don’t have to dodge each, but you can’t get hit by too many. There’s no health bar, no indicators, it flows naturally.

      It tells me it is not the mechanics, it is how you use them. There’s no reason Silent Hill couldn’t do something similar.

  2. MrGuy says:

    The problem, as I see it, is this: Psychologically interesting games are a niche. Mainstream studios spend too much on any given game to want to make one that only appeals to a small niche of players.

    Consequently, the only ones interested in exploring these games are indie studios. They have limited resources and budgets, and generally produce at least somewhat flawed games (especially from a gameplay perspective).

    However, sometimes if the indie is very lucky, their game will become a cult hit. It will have cache. Its characters, monsters, and style will become known quantities.

    AAA studios will notice that the indie studio has a hit on its hands, and one of them will buy the indie studio. They’ll say all the right things about wanting to leave the indie with its independent spirit.

    But then, for the next game, the AAA studio won’t put its money where its mouth is. Because now, the game isn’t just a game. It’s *IP*! It’s OUR IP. It’s VALUABLE IP. And because we paid so much for it, we need to make sure we get as much milage out of it as we can.

    It will want to make the game more ACCESSIBLE, which means toning down the niche elements in favor of more familiar gaming tropes (e.g. replacing the personal introspection with a “you saved the world!” power fantasy).

    Remember those monsters that were so scary last time? People LOVED them! Let’s make sure we keep them in. And that end boss? Fantastic! Let’s have a dozen of them! Our fans want them!

    And those controls that were so awkward? Let’s replace them with amazing handling controls from our current AAA shooters. Hey, since we’re already using the engine, why not add a few guns? We really need to make the combat “better” – in that last game, it felt your character had never swung a crowbar before! Let’s fix that.

    We LOVED the story in the last game! We love it so much that we really don’t want to stray too far from it.

    But you know, that whole slow explatoratory discovery of the story aspect feels too challenging – too many players might rush right by it to get to the combat. Let’s make it less exploratory and use more cutscenes to make sure the players didn’t miss anything.

    But we don’t want to take the discovery completely out of the game! We know how much fans of the original loved exploring the world. So, while we’ve decided to take away the STORY rewards for exploration, we can add something like a collectable! See, they’re hidden all over the world, and if you get them all, you get, like, an unstoppable gun or something. I dunno – we’ll figure it out.

    And so on. And so on.

    Silent Hill is a victim of its own initial success. And you can’t put that back in the bottle. It’s not just a game franchise, it’s IP. You’ll never have a AAA studio turn it’s valuable mass-market IP into a niche game.

    Clarity edits

  3. Alan says:

    Does Anna qualify as psychological horror? I was reminded of it when you said “Maybe set the whole game in a single house and limit the speaking parts to one or two people,” which is what Anna does. No combat. You’re unlikely to die (well, until death is a reasonable ending to the story), but it managed to consistently creep me out and occasionally scare me anyway.

    “So it is completely insane to take this pristine interface and throw gaudy flashing colored Sony or Microsoft-branded icons over it. Please stop doing that.”

    I’m guessing you’re talking about achievements? I’m torn on them. I find them amusing, and I’m glad Sony and Microsoft’s platforms require them. On the other hand, it can hurt immersion. What I want is a sort of middle ground, where a game can say at start, “For maximum immersion we recommend delaying seeing your achievements until the next time you’re at the main menu. When do you want to see achievements? Ⓐ delayed (recommended); Ⓑ immediately.” Only having a global setting is really awful.

  4. Wide And Nerdy says:

    I guess I’m part of the problem because I don’t understand why anyone would ever want to immerse themselves in an experience like this. I have enough dark scary thoughts to contend with without asking for more. i buy games specifically to drown that stuff out.

    • MrGuy says:

      Whiskey’s cheaper.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      No,youre not part of the problem.Unless you think that just because you wouldnt play such a game,no one should.

    • Alan says:

      For me it’s similar to the thrill of a roller coaster or dread of a good horror story or movie. One can play with the emotions, but they’re easier to compartmentalize and put away when you’re done. It can even be a relief from real-world issues because they represent fears that I can be completely done with, unlike being afraid that, say, I won’t have the savings to retire.

      Of course, your mileage may vary. Human minds are far to weird for one size to fit all.

      (Edit: And what Daemian said: you’re certainly not part of the problem!)

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        “For me it’s similar to the thrill of a roller coaster or dread of a good horror story or movie. ”

        Wait,a GOOD horror movie?I dont understand what you mean by that.

        • Not a fan of the Twilight Zone or Outer Limits?

          I’d also say that horror is very hard to do “properly” in the current day and age as it’s so closely related to gory special effects, which very often isn’t where horror is rooted. Yes, Freddy Krueger slashing you to bits is scary, but the horror is that sleeping makes one vulnerable to malevolence.

          Horror is also hard to pull off just because of the marketplace’s expectations. I think The Exorcist III is an excellent slow-boil horror movie, but I’m sure it wouldn’t please most audiences who want to see bodies ripped asunder. Games probably suffer from the same problem as always: Combat is easy to simulate, emotions aren’t, and there’s where things often go wrong.

          • MadTinkerer says:

            As a minor nitpick, I wouldn’t put most Outer Limits and Twilight Zone stories in horror (maybe “suspense” or “thriller” in the classic sense?). Many of them are, but Outer Limits in particular is mostly non-horrific sci fi, and most Twilight Zone is non-horrific drama-with-a-twist.

            Otherwise, also a good point.

            • I was listening to a published author grumbling about the apparently random sorting of some novels into horror, thriller, suspense, etc. categories. I suppose a story about spies trying to stop a bio-terror attack is what most would call a thriller, but if the toxin is released and it turns people into monsters, are we now in the horror category? Was the story suspenseful up to that point? It’s a problem to pigeon-hole some of this.

              But yeah, those shows were cross-category with a heavy emphasis on speculative fiction and/or fantasy. I generally call them “horror” since they usually involve a twist ending that (for lack of a better term) horrifies.

              One example: In the New Outer Limits, we get a sci-fi story setup where there’s this base on the moon that was built by a saurian alien race we’ve become buddies with. In this base is some tech that Earth says is vital to our long-term survival that the aliens are seeing if we’re ready for: A long-range transporter. A human technician is being trained and supervised by the aliens to put humans into a kind of stasis and then beam them off to the saurian’s planet for a visit. The aliens go on and on about how important it is that “the equation must be balanced” when operating the machine. So a woman gets into the device, something goes wrong, and they pull her out. She’s traumatized but otherwise okay. The aliens investigate. It turns out, the transporter worked as it was supposed to, in that the woman showed up on the saurian homeworld. What went wrong was the part that was supposed to kill the original of the woman, making the copy that arrived on the saurian planet the only version of her that existed. In other words, the equation had to be balanced. The woman had to die, or mankind wouldn’t get the transporter tech. The show became about the horror of having to basically murder someone for a technology that, when operated correctly, will continue to kill people without their knowledge, copying them when they “arrive” somewhere.

          • syal says:

            I consider Black Swan to be a well-done horror movie.

            Freaked me out, anyway.

        • MadTinkerer says:

          Now, now. Saying that is like saying “Wait, a GOOD sports movie? I dont understand what you mean by that.”. There are plenty of good examples of films in every genre, mostly out of sheer numbers.

          Just because shlocky, cheap, badly-produced, badly written, formulaic nonsense is passed off for “horror” (or Uwe Boll style tax exploitation) on a regular basis, that doesn’t mean that Psycho is not a masterpiece of cinema. For example.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            @ps238principal
            Tv shows arent movies.

            @MadTinkerer
            While I was joking,what you say is part of my point actually,when you have to go back 50 years to fish out a great one.I do know of good horror movies,Ive watched them.But it seems that they are decades apart.

            • TV shows and movies are both narrative devices, and I did mention a movie title up there (The Exorcist III). I like my horror to have an actual story to it so I have a reason to care about what’s going on. Some other good horror movies (in my opinion) are:

              Frailty
              The Sixth Sense
              Poltergeist
              The Others

              A lot of sci-fi films I’ve seen would also fall into the horror category, in part. I’m thinking stuff like Robocop (the original), Imposter, and Logan’s Run.

              • Daemian Lucifer says:

                “TV shows and movies are both narrative devices”

                But extremely different narrative devices.

                The others and sixth sense are horror?I never thought of them like that.

                • Ghosts and supernatural monsters (vampires, demons, zombies, that sort of thing) generally go into horror (and are the only kind of horror movies I like, actually). An American Ghost Story and Haunter are two I’ve seen recently (thanks to the PT Spoiler Warning getting me in the mood for it) that I thought were quite well-done (both on Netflix in case you’re wondering).

                  Horror is a bit of a subjective genre, but I generally put… ghost/monster movies, torture porn, psychological thrillers (Black Swan), serial killers, and cult movies (movies involving cults, not cult classics).

                  I’ll agree that there’s a ton of not-so-good ones out there, but it makes finding the good ones even sweeter. Part of the problem is that you’ve got very different goals with the various types, so many times people will do a ghost story with a torture porn goal, for example. To me, a good (and scary) ghost story is as much about the unknown as it is about jump-scares. But I cut my teeth on Lovecraft and way too many ghost story anthologies before I was ever allowed to watch a horror movie, so I’m likely coming at it from an odd angle.

            • Ingvar M says:

              I would classify (say) “Twelve Monkeys” (IMDB) qualifies as horror. That’s admittedly going back 20 years. I could probably come up with more recent examples, but that’s one that I would not hesitate to class as “horror” no matter what the official classification might be.

              • Daemian Lucifer says:

                @Everyone above:

                If your story has monsters,its not automatically horror.If it has scary themes(what if nuclear war happens),its not automatically horror.If it has some scary scenes,its not automatically horror.For a story to be horror,it has to have fear as its central theme.

                Alien is horror,ET is not,even though both feature extra terrestrials.Saw 1 is horror,looper is not,even though both have a guy losing his foot in a pretty horrific fashion.

  5. Would you enjoy a non-death “frustration” mechanic of some kind, such as, say, if a monster “kills” you, you wake up in a randomish location and some of the puzzle-solving stuff you’ve painstakingly acquired gets removed and hidden somewhere else? I might find that interesting because you’d have the “I just finally got the key that I think will unlock that Mysterious Door but I really REALLY need to avoid these monsters successfully because I don’t have enough resources left to fight them and I really want to unlock that door because I’m SURE there’s something useful behind it . . .”

    That sort of thing used to really contribute to the times when I was super-scared in the old first-person dungeon crawler and shooter type games. “Help I’m confused and lost and I’m running out of juice and I really hope I figured out how to open that damn door finally because otherwise I have no clue where to go next . . .”

    Confusion and (a variety of) failure is more scary than death in video games, IMO.

    • syal says:

      That mechanic is absolutely not for everybody.

      Like, I’ve deleted entire save files in response to that sort of thing.

    • Trix2000 says:

      Maybe more like something along the lines we saw in PT – where death doesn’t actually penalize you (much) but DOES ramp up on the scary or mind-bending aspects (like how there it advanced the game). That would theoretically give you that much more incentive not to die, since OH GOD IT GOT WOOOOOORSE.

      Of course, thinking about it that sounds like it’d be difficult to design/get right. But then I’m not much of a horror fan myself.

  6. Daemian Lucifer says:

    There are ways to make a game dias,but still enjoyable.For example,instead of death forcing you to reload the previous checkpoint,make it so that the monster delivering the finishing blow disappears,and you “wake up” after a bit,losing part of your sanity/soul.This way,you would get to the end whether you die 0 or 1000 times,and the only difference would be the type of ending you get,based on how many times you died.

    • The Rocketeer says:

      That seems like a different route to the same problem: gating the story behind combat difficulty. You’d have to alter the setting so that would make sense, and you’d still end up with the same problem, ie, players trying not to get the shit ending frustrated with an unbalanced game. In a game that’s more about the combat, that’s fine: to the victor go the spoils.

      In a psychological horror game, it makes more sense for things to depend on the player’s understanding of the setting and how they respond to things.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        It doesnt have to be a shit ending.One thing that needs to die:Alternate endings meaning a good and a bad ending.

        For example,spec ops:the line has four endings,none of which is particularly better than the others.

        Also,the game doesnt have to focus on combat in order to have you still die to enemies.Failing stealth* can steal lead to combat,and death.

        *And before someone goes on to say how mandatory stealth is bad,yadda yadda,again,it depends on how you implement stealth,not the concept on its own.

        • The Rocketeer says:

          On one hand, having a better ending result from playing poorly and finding out less about what’s going on is sort of counterintuitive, but it sort of makes sense in a horror context.

          I mean, if you don’t want to get dragged into the occult, don’t become a lore-steeped slayer of monsters.

          I did like how in the Fatal Frame series the “bad” endings tended to be the canon endings. At least in the first two; I don’t know how the third officially shook out.

          Although, one thing I don’t like about horror endings is when the next installment tends to undo anything good that did happen in the prior installment, either because they can’t figure out how else to continue the story (if you can’t, then don’t) or for cheap drama (R.I.P. Harry Mason).

    • Wolf says:

      Probably not the direction your point was going, but games like Super Meat Boy and Hotline Miami are good because they are deliberately designed around quick dias gameplay.

  7. The Rocketeer says:

    “It’s an idea that could be takes in a dozen different directions: People suffering from some kind of inner torment are drawn to a town, and are sucked into this alternate dimension where they will make peace with their inner demons, or be killed by them.”

    But I think that’s part of the myopia that the series has been suffering from. The town didn’t call James there; he and Mary had a specific connection to the town. The idea that people just inevitably end up there if they have some non-specific personal demons to contend with is ascribing way, way too much agency or will to the town, a sort of Dantean ironic Hell.

    And Silent Hill 2 itself should be enough to discount this. Silent Hill 2 is about guilt, yes, but don’t let that alone weigh too heavily on your impression of the town or its nature. James and Eddie both have something to feel guilty about, but what about Angela? She killed her father after years of sexual abuse, and at the end, she believes that her suffering was all deserved and wanders away into her own personal hell, never to be seen again. So if you want to frame the town as some sort of cosmic judge, only do so with the understanding that its standards are utterly alien and unspeakably harsh.

    But I can’t accept that: Silent Hill doesn’t attract people, let alone based on some inscrutable concept of punishment or desert. Silent Hill simply latches onto the darkness in people’s hearts and thrives one it, like a moth or a deap-sea creature gravitating towards a light source. It’s an animal compulsion with no more intelligence or complexity than whatever is feeding it. And frankly, to try and make it otherwise is to make it lesser than it is. To make Silent Hill some sort of God, or some sort of Hell on Earth, is to lower it into a form that is more recognizable, and therefore more palatable. But Silent Hill is at its most terrible and horrifying when it is simply indifferent and alien.

    Reducing Silent Hill to an engine of guilt and punishment is why we get games like Homecoming and Downpour, which felt like they just had to go that route because, hey, Silent Hill 2 did it and there’s nothing else Silent Hill can be about.

    Furthermore, I think there’s a lingering injustice the games to Silent Hill 2’s fore and aft have had to endure in its shadow. I think the first and third games get shortchanged. Yes, the second one was better. But that doesn’t mean that they didn’t do things that were worth paying attention to.

    The one thing that people come back to in illustrating why they like SH2 more is saying the other games are about “dumb cult stuff.” But the very first game made a point of lampshading and subverting this: yes, the cult part of it was stupid, and they stupided themselves to death. In Silent Hill, the only ‘cult’ we see is a small group of people who agree to keep a conspiracy under wraps so that Dahlia Gillespie can use her own daughter to give birth to a god that would grant them some kind of non-specific power. But they didn’t have any real reverence or belief system; they just knew that the supernatural nature of the town was real, and wanted to exploit it for personal gain.

    But the only person who actually knew what was going on was Dahlia, who knew that the whole scheme would do nothing except set up a beacon for the strongest, most dangerous spirits they could draw, and that’s exactly what she wanted. Why? Because she was a fucking lunatic. Silent Hill demonstrated exactly what it should have: that no one sane or reasonable could ever revere Silent Hill, that no one could ever control the kind of power that lived there, and that the town grants absolutely zero deference of any kind to the people that stumble in, regardless of how those people regard it in turn. Kaufman was no priest. Dahlia was no prophet. Alessa was no Messiah. Samael was no God. There’s only the town, and it is dark and indifferent and the best you can hope form alive or dead, is escape.

    It was Silent Hill 2, actually, that started moving away from that, with its references to the town’s place in Native American culture, and the trappings of a more formal belief system that would predicate Pyramid Head’s appearance, and (though of debatable congruity) the presence of a ritual that James at least believes can bring Mary back from the dead.

    Silent Hill 3 was, truly, guiltiest in regards to actually granting the “dumb cult stuff” the specter of credence. Granted, anything that people do in Silent Hill can be written off as the actions of people who simply have no idea what they’re getting into, to include the formation of religions regarding the Otherworld there, but the appearance of beings like Valtiel who seem to have some kind of sophisticated agenda seems to legitimize them. Silent Hill 3 made its more religious iconography work, though; ultimately, Silent Hill 3 is a story about religious concepts: mortal suffering in the presence of assumed divine benevolence, sin and wrath, forgiveness and absolution, the desire in mortal hearts for a loving creator and Providence… and, of course, life, death, and resurrection. Silent Hill 3 deliberately emphasizes its quasi-Christian influences both for the purposes of informing the characters of Heather and Claudia, and to answer the question of how any organized religious endeavor in Silent Hill would work. And the answer is the same as it was ion the first game: it could not. Your efforts are wasted. To understand the first thing about the town is to understand that any reverence of it can only benefit the deluded or mad, and any structured endeavor to worship it could only be predicated on short-sighted opportunism and exploitation.

    So if you think the cult stuff in Silent Hill is stupid, then the early series is very quick to agree with you. Homecoming and Origin can’t really be forgiven. And Silent Hill 4 was… odd in this respect, as it was in every respect. But there it is.

    • Shamus says:

      “Silent Hill doesn’t attract people, let alone based on some inscrutable concept of punishment or desert.”

      Not quite what I was going for. The pilgrimage is just a plot contrivance. I mean, if you’re in a Silent Hill game then you end up in the Silent Hill town. You can justify it however you like. Someone having nightmares about the town. Someone just passing through gets sucked in. Someone visits looking for answers about their past. Whatever.

      And I don’t think the town should be any kind of a cosmic judge. It’s just a thing that happens to you. More a force of nature than a judge.

      Silent Hill 4 was indeed odd. I didn’t hate it, but I’d heard it wasn’t originally designed to be a SH title and the SH name was added on late in development. I don’t know if it’s true, but it felt true. I really liked the first half or so.

      • The Rocketeer says:

        I tend to hear that Silent Hill 4 was originally a spin-off that simply became the next entry in the series, or an unrelated title that was folded in somewhere along the line. It doesn’t really make a material difference I guess.

        I do appreciate Silent Hill 4 for what it was trying to do. In fact, I’d say that a lot of what it does in regards to horror is very innovative and some of the best in the series. But of course we both know that how the game actually played and what it did to the world of Silent Hill was not really worth it.

        I just want the people making Silent Hill games to know that there’s room for a lot more in the setting than “slowly discover your tragic backstory then get an ending based on whether you were a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ person.” The things you see there don’t even have to be rooted in the mind of the person you play as; it wasn’t in the very first game, and in SH2, when you meet up with the others, you’re drawn into their own world.

        So yes, Silent Hill stories are inevitably going to be about tragedy, and broken minds. But so is any horror story. The idea that Silent Hill games are about the personal journey of the player character into their own dark history has got to go. It’s not a bad idea, in itself- it’s a great idea! But until the people in charge of the series are bold enough to do something different, this framework is always going to be used to remodel Silent Hill 2, the Entry by Which All Others Must be Judged. And that’s not speculation, that’s four uninspired games down the drain.

        The first four games each told stories about different kinds of internal struggles, and the fact that one of them dominates the conversation has been used for years to make the series, and the town, only about that one thing. And I know that that shouldn’t really reflect on the larger nature of the setting, or what it theoretically can do, but here we are, a decade since anything interesting happened there.

        This is the one, lonely hope that putting it in the hands of Del Toro and Kojima gives me: if there’s a chance for the next entry to break away and do its own thing irrespective or expectations or tradition, who better than those two to do it?

      • JackTheStripper says:

        SH4 was made by Team Silent minus a few lead creators.

    • Abnaxis says:

      You make very good points about the first three installments. (Un)fortunately, those are the only three I’ve played, and it’s been SO LONG since then I might be forgetting something, but this is my take on it.

      A central conceit of the Silent Hill games is the shadow world. That dark, bloody dimension with blood smeared on the walls, rusty hooks hanging from grim steel grates and other-worldly horrors doing inscrutable things. It’s a place that’s completely recognizable, yet so alien it instills a feeling of unease just by being there.

      To me, that uneasy feeling from the shadow world comes from a feeling of regret, isolation, and mourning. The smeared blood and torture implements strewn everywhere, as well as the degradation seen among them, suggests profound suffering inflicted long ago, that continues through the present day. Further, the utter lack of living creatures, even plants, instills a fundamental sense of isolation.

      That sort of world works very well, if you plot and your themes are centered around the mistakes of the past. That’s why I think the first two games worked well as psychological horror games, although the first suffered because it took a lot of it’s game design from Resident Evil, and that hurt the execution (there were WAYYYY too many monsters).

      In the first, you’re exploring a world destroyed by the greed and shortsightedness of some power hungry people who let a lunatic perform a heinous act in hopes of mystical voodoo, which can never be taken back. Here, the world represents the endless pain, the empty shell of a mind once consumed by ambition now looking back and consuming itself with regret.

      In the second one, you play a grieving husband who comes to the town out of desperate guilt and pain related to his loved one’s death. Now, I think what happened here, is the developers just pretty much copy-pasted the aesthetics from the first game, and that just really lent itself well to a man surviving with guilt over his loved one’s death. The agony, the isolation, and the regret of the setting all feed into this theme, and it just *works*. Yes, the different people visiting the world see different things, but it’s really just lucky coincidence that James’s harried back-story aligned with the Silent Hill world already established.

      In SH3, the writing departs from this. The setting stops largely stops being a tool for conveying central themes, and starts working more toward spectacle. I agree, that the game does delve into those concepts you mention, but that puts it out of alignment with the images portrayed in the other world. When I played, the other world was no longer a place I dreaded to go because it made me uneasy, it was a place I dreaded to go because it was scary. It was less psychological, and more spectacle. It’s a dark place with scary bloody rabbit mascots, but it’s not a place where I go and feel an utter, crushing, lonely despair.

      I think Silent Hill 2 was a lucky hit, that we probably won’t ever see it’s like again. This is because, of all the installments, it’s the one where all the elements were in alignment. The setting, the plot, the themes, the design, and the gameplay all worked toward the same ultimate message. Doing that again requires you to either A) follow the same set pattern established by 2, which would become boring and predictable (not scary), or B) seriously do some redesign on the shadow world, which is THE staple of Silent Hill.

      I think Silent Hill worked well for a couple games, but I don’t think it lends itself to a huge series. At least, not one that keeps repeatedly going back to the same shadow world as the first one, which is the only thing anyone is interested in making. I’m just going to count myself lucky I could enjoy the first game, and sigh when yet another publisher spends millions to make another ill-conceived SH game.

  8. Spammy says:

    And then there’s Shattered Memories, the gaiden game. Loved by me and my friend, not loved by a lot of people from what I gather.

    I’ve always been real fuzzy on what constitutes psychological horror as opposed to non-psychological horror. I always thought of Shattered Memories as psychological horror. When I played it, I was under a constant feeling of unease.

    Not because there were dogs or sexy faceless nurses. Not because the walls were rust and spikes. Not because everything was frozen and featureless screaming monsters were running around.

    I was constantly uneasy in Shattered Memories because I felt like at every step I was seeing the worst of people’s lives. Their darkest moments, their worst problems. Abusive parents. Sadly foolish, deadly teenage dares. Broken relationships. It was a dark, cold game assaulting you with all the mundane horrors you try to put out of your mind.

    It’s also nothing like any other Silent Hill game. So if you do want Silent Hill 2 but not, you’re going to hate Shattered Memories.

    • MrGuy says:

      I’m sure this is one of those arguments that’s different to each person, but to me the classic example is the difference between Alien and Aliens.

      Both have a similar presence (bad-ass near-unstoppable creatures from outer space!), and even the same heroine. But one (Alien) is psychological horror, and one (Aliens) isn’t.

      Alien is about tension. It’s about being trapped with something you’re nearly powerless against. It’s about feeling trapped. It’s about feeling alone It’s about not knowing where the creature is. Like Jaws, the creature is conspicuous by its absence – it’s more often a few blinking lights on a proximity sensor than on screen. It’s about not knowing what will happen next. There’s really only one fight, it’s at the end, and it’s not about a badass battle with awesome weapons. Ripley doesn’t win because she’s the smartest, the strongest, or the chosen one. She wins because she’s resourceful and lucky.

      Aliens is different. It’s suspensful, but when you cart in a planeload of space marines, you’ve gone from fighting an unfightable foe to a “who will be the victor?” battle. You’ve gone from one creature to many. There’s tension, but it’s from the ticking clock of the damaged reactor. The dots on the motion detectors lose their punch when the aliens have so much screen time. You no longer have the unstoppable enemy to be feared when Ripley voluntarily goes to the creatures lair (you do get a nice “leave no one behind!” message, but that’s not the same for psychological horror). Heck, the bad guy isn’t even the creature any more – it’s Paul Reiser (not my first choice for mastermind villain…) It’s a completely different feel, and it’s much more an adrenaline rush than a scream inducer.

      I like both movies. And I get you couldn’t have done Alien “again” with a slightly different cast and setup and pull it off – you needed to do something very different, and James Cameron did it pretty well. But it’s a major shift in where the tension comes from.

      • syal says:

        Basic difference between standard horror and psychological horror: standard horror is being attacked by a werewolf when you only have a flashlight and a stick. Psychological horror is preparing to fight a werewolf when you only have a flashlight and a stick.

        One is threat-driven, the other is imagination-driven.

    • The Rocketeer says:

      I liked Shattered Memories a lot! I thought it was brave. It not only did something very different from the rest of the series, but it even did so at the expense of those games’ conceits- and it did so while conforming spiritually to the things that made the series good! That’s a winner in my book.

      Also, I liked seeing more of Heather. I was always sad that Heather got overlooked as a character, because her game had the audacity to exist in the same series as its predecessor. Even if it was very different, I was still glad to see more of her.

      Even if it means we once again get to see Harry killed off for the sake of her personal drama. Oh Harry, we hardly knew ye.

      Don’t let anyone tell you that Shattered Memories isn’t for fans of “the real Silent Hill games.” I am a grognard of the series, or no one is, and I give it my recommendation.

  9. I have never played Silent Hill 2, so I may be completely off about this…

    Is it possible that “The Path” is sort of a spiritual stepsister to Silent Hill 2?

    I certainly found it to be creepy and psychologically unsettling!

  10. TMC_Sherpa says:

    To be fair Shamus, they did blow up a different death star in two out of the three Star Wars movies and they turned out alright.

    • Thomas says:

      And the plot to the new films might contain the heroes trying to thwart a solar system destroying superweapon. So then we’d have yet another Star Wars film that repeats the same climax, just this time with ‘higher’ stakes

      • Dragomok says:

        Wow. The funny thing is – AFAIK – that’s just recycling Expanded Universe. And I have a vague feeling that this single plot was used more than once.

        • Chauzuvoy says:

          It got to the point where the Expanded Universe actually joked about it. Claiming that the empire’s solution to any problem would be to make some kind of superweapon, call it the (destructive word) + (celestial object), invest a frankly horrific amount of time and resources into its construction, and then have it utterly fail and be destroyed because they forgot about some tiny detail that renders the entire thing vulnerable in some dramatic but unfortunate way.

          • Daimbert says:

            I just read the novel that contained that again, and while I might look up the actual quote later, it’s made even better by the fact that:

            1) It’s said by Han Solo.
            2) In full Han Solo snark mode.
            3) To an Imperial Commander.
            4) Who commented that the latest enemy they’re facing — an extra-galactic threat — would have been settled by the Empire easily as opposed to the trouble the New Republic was having with it.
            5) Over dinner.

            • Daimbert says:

              If anyone is still paying attention, here’s the full quote. It’s from “Destiny’s Way” by Walter Jon Williams, in the “New Jedi Order” mega series:

              “That’s not what the Empire would have done, Commander, ” Han said. “What the Empire would have done was build a supercolossal Yuuzhan Vong-killing battle machine. They would have called it the Nova Colossus or the Galaxy Destructor or the Nostril of Palpatine [reference to the “Eye of Palpatine”] or something equally grandiose. They would have spent billions of credits, employed thousands of contractors and subcontractors, and equipped it with the latest in death-dealing technology. And you know what would have happened? It wouldn’t have worked. They’d forget to bolt down a metal plate over an access hatch leading to the main reactors, or some other mistake, and a hotshot enemy pilot would drop a bomb down there and blow the whole thing up. Now that’s what the Empire would have done.”

    • Retsam says:

      “Two out of three original Star Wars movies agree, blowing up a big death star is a great climax.”

  11. MrGuy says:

    What I think Shamus (and may Silent Hill fans) really want is Arkahm, MA (H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional town, not the Batman asylum named for it). A thoroughly weird place where a host of different frightening things keep happening to a changing cast of people, never the same but all grouped around a similar theme. Keep changing the stories and the characters, but don’t mess with the formula. Hint at the evil, always leaving something ambiguous to build off next time.

    What the devs did was take Arkham and turn the story into an escalating war of humanity against the Shoggoths and the Old Ones, eventually ending in the death of Cthulu, only to learn that Cthulu was only one of a whole race of baddies….

    • This in no way invalidates your point, but Lovecraft horror is in a way an odd comparison to make. Modern horror is mainly about the internal–the horror is driven ultimately by what people do, to each other, to themselves. Child abuse is a big theme, whether blatant or coded.

      Lovecraft’s horror is nearly the opposite. It’s mostly about fear of the outside, about the idea that there could be stuff even worse than anything we might do to each other, stuff so bad we can’t even understand it, so alien that we can’t assimilate it, so big we are insignificant relative to it. Now that we’re actually in the process of warping the planet’s climate, killing the oceans etc, the idea of humanity itself as small and vulnerable, a horror of our limitations rather than our capabilities, has lost a certain resonance. You don’t see a lot of Lovecraftian horror any more.

  12. Zak McKracken says:

    The problem I see with “non-punishing” games:
    So the game manages to let you identify with the protagonist and you’ve been running away and hiding from monsters that have you properly scared but you somehow mess up, and one of them gets to you.

    And … now? If you somehow “die” and have to start some section of the game over, it might become repetitive which kills the suspense. Agreed.
    But if you realize at this point that the monster can’t really hinder your progress and effectively only says “boo” and lets you get on, you won’t be scared of it anymore, either.

    So I guess the thing to do is to make failure look a realistic prospect but happen very seldom. But still make it a “punishment” of some sorts. The first one might need to be solved by adapting the enemy AI or whatever difficulty there may be to the player, so everyone’s measured and only punished if they drop well below their usual level. The second one? I feel this must be something that sets the player back. Either repeat some part of the game, be forced to take the long way, or maybe be handicapped for some time (which the game AI could accomodate by making things imperceptibly easier, but not too much or it will be found out). It’d look pretty stupid if the player decided to just see what happens if they do nothing, and nothing bad happens.

    • Thomas says:

      It’s trying to walk that fine line where the player dies, but rarely dies multiple times to the same event. I think it’s an area where enemies you have to run away from and procedural generation thrive. If success is just running away from the enemy then ‘succeeding’ is still giving power to the enemy. And if you have some sort of random element in deploying your threats then you don’t end up memorising passages of play and you have to stay on alert for a threat that might kill you.

      You’d still need to balance that so the player dies but never dies 5 times in a row (possibly cheat to do that? If it’s randomly generated in some way people might not notice), but I think there’s more margin for error

      • Kagato says:

        Ooh — a roguelike horror game. I can imagine the possibilities.

        Let’s say the game is set in the traditional cursed mansion. It’s 3D first person, but world generation similar to Rogue Legacy. For each game, a unique floor plan is generated. Monsters don’t kill you and make you start over from scratch; instead, you’re transported back to an earlier room in the mansion, with some important inventory items missing. As you explore, you find the layout has been changed in subtle ways. Rooms and doors have shifted, their contents altered…

        Each “death” is like awakening from a nightmare, only to find the real world slightly more nightmarish each time. I’m picturing you get a hand-drawn map of the rooms you’ve explored, like in Gone Home, but after a reset it’s darkened and smudged, and when you encounter a changed room it gets rubbed out and redrawn. After a repeated loops your map becomes barely legible, with rooms drawn over and over with increasing frantic pencil strokes.

        The progression through the game, and the nature of the unfolding world could be driven by the things you encounter.

        You could find various items to ward off specific monsters. Maybe in a theoretically perfect playthrough, where you find the items exactly when you need them, the mansion would merely be unnerving, with spooky lighting and sounds and half-glimpsed scary things. But if you don’t (and you won’t), each time you encounter a horror and get reset, the nightmare deepens; the monsters get scarier, and rooms lead to more terrible things…

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          I think Yahtzee tried something like that.Dont know if he finished it though.

        • Dragomok says:

          Isn’t that what Darkwood is trying to do (but with open world)? (Disclaimer: everything I know about the game comes from an hour long Let’s Play.)

          The game probably doesn’t have that “deaths drive you insane” mechanic (yet?), but since it’s in Alpha/Early Access, you can ask around on it’s forum and/or wait-and-see.

    • Klay F. says:

      Its partly this reason that I reject the idea that a horror game can’t be hard. Outlast is the perfect example of this: Immersion is shattered over its knee the moment you realize the “threats” aren’t really threats at all. This is pretty much par for the course with every horror game where you can’t fight back.

      • Zak McKracken says:

        Even for the ones where you can fight back: Different players have different skills, so some will find something unbeatably hard that others won’t. Which means that no matter how the difficulty is adjusted, the really good players will just march through and possibly enjoy the athmosphere, the weak ones will lose immersion after the umptienth death and hate the game for it, and the ones in between will die the “right” amount of times (which is again is a variable amount for each player) and be properly frightened because for them the threat is realistic.

        This means talking in absolute terms about “hard” or “easy” has the problem that each person has a different scale for these things, and thus the “hard but not too hard” level is something else entirely for each person.

        I could imagine that opposed to non-horror games, giving the player a difficulty slider may help but could reduce immersion as well because the threat of the monster will be less if you know that you could turn its threat potential down immediately. Also, a one-dimensional slider might be too coarse because player ability is not one-dimensional either (A is good at the jumping-and-running bit, B at the aiming-and-shooting, C at strategy…).
        So … I think it’s really hard for a game to find that “challenging yet not frustrating” sweet spot. One way to make that mark easier to hit is to make things look more difficult than they are but then that needs to be well hidden or else it works against immersion, too.

  13. JackTheStripper says:

    Ok, I’m gonna have to call you out a couple of mistakes here, Shamus.

    1) “Nobody cares about the stupid cult”

    All but one game out of the 4 created by the original team (Team Silent) were about the cult:

    – Silent Hill 1. Cult tries to revive a god using a physic girl’s powers and a ritual which goes bad and shit hits the fan.

    – Silent Hill 3. Remnants of the cult hunt down the reincarnation of the girl from the first ritual to finish the job they started.

    – Silent Hill 4. Guy who was raised in the cult does a different ritual (21 Sacramanets) to revive his mother.

    You can include the cult and make a great Silent Hill. Likewise, you can include it and still make an awful Silent Hill (e.g. Origins and Homecoming).

    2) “Silent Hill isn’t about monsters, it’s about inner demons […] This idea is so brilliant that I really can’t believe that nobody else has copied it.”

    They have though; Downpour and Homecoming did:

    – Downpour. Guy who may or may not have killed a cop to maybe kill the other guy who may or may not have killed his son is drawn to Silent Hill to atone for the sins he may or may not have committed. Everyone else in the game either alludes to or outright confesses to having committed some sin or crime.

    – Homecoming. Cult that splits from the SH cult funds another town and performs a ritual of killing sons and daughters to stave off punishment from their religion (about the cult, I know, but not the next part). Protagonist guy is selected to be sacrificed but he accidentally drowns his brother. Mysterious powers engulf the protagonist’s town and force him to recall what happened that day and atone for it. Almost everyone else involved in the rituals are also affected and punished by the mysterious powers.

    – Shattered Memories. Girl goes to psychiatrist to remember and deal with her father’s death. Entire game is invalidated as never happening and only being a dream or representation of memories.

    So yeah, the idea of facing your inner demons has been tried a few times as well.

    • The Rocketeer says:

      Yeah, that was something that bothered me about the article; Shamus says the town was “created” by the cult’s meddling in the first game, but it had pretty clearly always existed. In Silent Hill 2, it’s stated that Native Americans had known about the place since time immemorial and avoided it entirely.

      And the whole “facing inner demons” schtick has been the reflex action of the series ever since they realized they started farming the game out to other devs.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      “All but one game out of the 4 created by the original team (Team Silent) were about the cult:”

      And which one of those four is being praised as the best one?Yeah,he isnt wrong,nobody cares about the cult.

      “So yeah, the idea of facing your inner demons has been tried a few times as well.”

      I may be wrong here,but the three games youve mentioned still have enemies that resemble those from other silent hill games.And if you are battling inner demons,youd expect to fight stuff unique to you,not some that have been thought up by others.

      • JackTheStripper says:

        Yes, SH2 is praised as the best and I agree, but it’s not because the cult wasn’t a big part of it, it was because the story was way more emotional (dead wife who he loved sent him a letter), centered almost entirely around the protagonist, and has a great plot twist near the end. That doesn’t mean that having the cult invariably makes it bad though. SH3 and SH1 were still great games. SH1 was the one that hooked me on the series and SH3 being an encore of SH1 was glorious to me. SH4 had its problems, but I still enjoyed it very much.

        Anyway, my point is that Shamus is putting too much blame on something very superficial. He’s saying a lousy Silent Hill game’s story isn’t good because of an element in it, that’s like saying other games aren’t good because the protagonist doesn’t have a dead wife. Worse though, the games that incorporated that what which he marked as the problem are still great games (games from the original team, I mean, not the rest).

        And about the monsters in the latter (bad) games resembling SH2 monsters, that’s not exactly correct. They did try the exact same story idea of the town bringing demons related to the protagonist’s thoughts, so they supposedly have different monsters (and to some degree, they do). The problem is that in their attempt to stay with the monster design style from previous games (not only SH2) they simply ended up rehashing a lot previous designs in with their new bland creations.

        • Flock Of Panthers says:

          “Yes, SH2 is praised as the best and I agree, but it’s not because the cult wasn’t a big part of it, it was because the story was way more emotional (dead wife who he loved sent him a letter), centered almost entirely around the protagonist, and has a great plot twist near the end.”

          I don’t know, but that sounds like a list of features that you can do because it isn’t about the cult [i]again[/i]?
          Like, the hook is new and not about the cult; the focus is on a protagonist and their issues, but not on the cult; and there’s a good twist that isn’t easy to do with a visible trope like a cult.

          Haven’t played the game, just enjoying the discussion.

          • JackTheStripper says:

            Silent Hill 3 did just that and included cult. The only reason I think that people didn’t like it as much is because the story is a sequel to the first game, and I don’t know how many people bothered with the original at that point. Gameplay-wise, SH3 had a lot more things to do, unlock and see, and way more replayability.

    • straymute says:

      That was the trouble I had with this article. Some of the recent games in the series actually sound more in line with what Shamus wants than SH2 was. I mean looking at the combat thing specifically the team silent games are some of the more combat heavy games in the series, especially 2 and 3. In Downpour for example the apartments were very open and had a lot of optional exploration and sidequest, whereas in SH2 to it was a slog through narrow corridors and monsters.

      There was no real rhythm to it in SH2 either, or really in most of SH3 also. You went through 3 or 4 apartment buildings right after the other and they were all the exact same thing. You were actually a much more capable fighter in SH2 & SH3 vs Downpour too. The games were much more generous with ammunition and weaponry, so you could have Heather running around with a katana, uzi, shotgun, pistol, and a decent amount of ammo for everything.

      With the way the animations worked once you got the first hit on an enemy you basically won. Most enemies could not break out of the cycle of hit>damage animation>hit. Combat was basically safe and you could go into each encounter knowing the enemy was no real threat to you.

      If you want sparse combat, with a slow rhythm, and an enfeebled main character I don’t think you actually want Silent hill 2.

  14. Daimbert says:

    One problem is this, which I think is the reason why I’ve never finished Silent Hill 2: a good psychological thriller shouldn’t really have combat at all, except in the sense of the character fighting their inner demons. Silent Hill has always focused a bit much on intricate combat to really work as a psychological thriller, as the combat elements are always an important part of the game and don’t add to the psychological part of the game at all. Thus, a lot of your complaints are about them keeping part of the game and, indeed, making it playable (or not).

    As examples of alternatives, Fatal Frame’s camera adds to the scary elements, with a relatively simple combat through it that can really freak you out, as you drop into first-person mode to try to take the picture and realize that you can’t see it anymore. The style of combat adds to the horror, even enhanced.

    Or, you can take a tack like Missing: Since January and Evidence: The Last Ritual did and have no actual combat at all, but they certainly freaked me out.

    Ultimately, I think the games have to follow more of a model where, in general, combat is to be avoided and usually doesn’t work out well, in favour of running away and hiding, like you saw in Clocktower 3 or Haunting Ground. It’s hard to really feel scared when you have a ton of effective weapons, and making them ineffective makes the game frustrating, not scary.

    • Abnaxis says:

      The problem with the “ineffective weapons,” though, is that it makes other aspects–like puzzles, locked doors, etc.–REALLY frustrating and mood-killing. I might read a note in a room that’s an anagram of something, then slowly, carefully sneak past monsters full of tension and nervousness, then come to a computer that needs a password. Crap, I bet that anagram has the password, what was it again? Again, sneak past the monster twice, over the hills, through the woods. OK, got. Wait, it’s not working. Damn it. Look it up in FAQ. Turns out, it’s the guy’s dog’s name, written on a collar. It’s randomly generated, so now I need to sneak back again…

      It’s about this time I decide to say “@#!* IT!” and decide to just kill the damn thing, I don’t care if I only have a rusty butter knife it’s not scary any more it’s annoying. So now I save scrum my way to victory so I can freely move and solve these damn plot doors already.

      I used to love that Silent Hill games had separate difficulty sliders for combat and puzzles. I would crank the difficulty slider all the way down so I could experience the environment and the story, and not be hindered by the “always a not-scary monster in the street” syndrome.

      • Daimbert says:

        The problem with the “ineffective weapons,” though, is that it makes other aspects–like puzzles, locked doors, etc.–REALLY frustrating and mood-killing.

        Which is indeed why I said that making the weapons ineffective makes the game frustrating, not scary [grin].

        What you want is to have the combat reduced so that most of the time when you’re walking around you won’t face anything, but you might face something at any time. Thus, going back is tense, but not frustrating. Fatal Frame, IMO, was excellent at this, since the ghosts were sparse, you had a weapon that was useful but which added to the tension of the game, and didn’t have a massive array of weapons that would make a Space Marine weep with envy. It’s also the game that freaked me out the most, partly because of that, partly because of the sound, and partly because I didn’t run at all so it really felt like you were creeping around the mansion.

  15. Persona 4 went fairly far down the “personal demons” route. You may at least find it interesting to read about. Wikipedia is spoileriffic, so I recommend this link as covering what you’d be in interested in without being quite so heavy on the spoilers.

    Also, sometimes you read something like that, and if you actually play the game, discover that it was some sort of horrible overanalysis. Not in this case… that’s a pretty straightforward reading of the game’s text.

  16. Otters34 says:

    I for one would give a lot to experience something as downright subtle and intricate as Silent Hill 2 again, where the inner evils and dark secrets of a seemingly(kinda) ordinary person is brought to the surface in a hideous morality play that only makes sense with key pieces of a puzzle.

    It’s especially poignant because I first heard about it from here. The idea of something LIKE THAT, something that chilling and heart-rending(the easily-overlooked part of Angela’s tragedy, that now that her rapist monster of a father is dead it’s impossible for him to give her anything but pain for the rest of her life, is downright horrifying when first realized), is something I’d gladly shell out some hard-earned bucks for despite how much I loathe modern horror stories.

    But it’ll never happen.

    And it won’t be for the reasons given above, the ‘inner demons’ schtick isn’t just a tired and repetitive conceit, but an atrociously misused and stupidly superficial understanding of what made that game’s story great. The “No, player character, you are the demons” thing has gotten totally out of hand and as much a part of the Silent Hill ‘brand’ as spear-carrying bastiches with geometry on their heads and grubby nurses. And a tense, close personal story is wholly at odds with modern game development standards.

    The things that made the game amazing are the things that make any video game story amazing: compelling, well-drawn characters, a visually interesting and thematically-relevant environment with elements of music, sound design, visual art and NPCs that reinforce the central concepts in an unobvious way, and ways to interact with it that make the story feel like something the player’s engaging with and not just doing an overly-elaborate version of ‘press A to continue’. That you have to DO things to get the various endings that aren’t telegraphed is frankly something that more games should do.

    But it’s hard to do that right, cripplingly expensive too. So instead of fighting the technology and struggling with the writing and art to make something as good as that, they copy the most obvious, recognizable parts. That’s what makes such good ideas die as ‘person goes to place that forces them to confront a dark side of themselves’ from overuse, while that overuse squanders resources and time and audience interest.

    And as a final note, it will NEVER not be murder. That’s the most damning part of it all. If they make something thematically and tonally similar to Silent Hill 2, no matter how good it is people will just watch for the signs of why the main character murdered somebody else.

  17. Starker says:

    I wouldn’t count the indies out, personally. Arguably, Lone Survivor has more of a Silent Hill vibe than the later Silent Hill titles even.

  18. Talby says:

    While I am huge fan of Kojima and Metal Gear, I have no idea if he’s the right man to make a Silent Hill game. It’s pretty radically different from the kind of stuff he usually does, and his games outside of the Metal Gear series can be kind of a mixed bag. I’m a bit worried Konami is just throwing Kojima at the Silent Hill franchise because he’s a rockstar in the gaming world and they want to revitalize it, but don’t really know how.

    Also, what’s up with it being called Silent Hills, with an S at the end? Kojima did the same thing with the latest Metal Gear Solid, calling it Ground Zeroes, instead of just Ground Zero which would seem to make more sense. It’s just kinda strange.

  19. Hamilcar says:

    ALRIGHT, ALRIGHT, SHAMUS!!! I’LL PLAY SILENT HILL 2 ALREADY!!!!…sheesh…

  20. The paragraph that starts this blog post off had me tilting my head. Industry trends? Shamus, what you described in that paragraph is literally EVERY era of the videogame industry since I started playing them as a child back in the mid ’80s.

    • Shamus says:

      It’s a matter of degrees. Look at the original System Shock:

      “fun, action-friendly combat” Ha ha. No.
      “That looks good in trailers.” Trailers weren’t even a thing in 1994.
      “The aversion to puzzles in an “action” game.” System Shock was full of puzzles, both immediate (open this keypad) and large-scale. (How to I reach this locked area via these goofy lifts?)

      Yes, these trends have existed for a long time. But things seemed to reach some kind of tipping point in 2004, and the environment that gave us Silent Hill 2 no longer exists.

      • Point still stands that action schlock with wide demographic appeal taking priority over intellectual niche is hardly a recent development. That said…Chris talked about this kinda thing in one of his early vids, referring to EA releasing a bunch of new IPs ’round ’07 I believe and alluding that they were motivated to find out what new properties could be successfully franchised. My guess is that companies reached a ceiling of risk/reward for the expense of that kind of exploratory, and the ‘tipping point’ would be development budgets for the HD era. Least that’s how I figure it.

      • Sure, but look at Galaxians. No puzzles there, just constant shooting! ;)
        I’ll admit there weren’t a lot of trailers for it.

      • Veloxyll says:

        Since we’ve opened the System Shock can of worms, I’m also going to throw in a comment about enemy design. And those damn monkeys.

        The monkeys were one of the weaker enemies in the game, but because of well used sound design, they were the only enemy I can think of where I accidentally panic fired an incendiary grenade at them. While on Deck 5 and more than capable of using a far more reasonable weapon for the job.

        SS2, and Silent Hill for that matter, are games that were not afraid to let you hear the enemies before you saw them. And get disproportionately scared about their actual threat in SS2’s case.
        The gruesomeness of enemies visual appearance doesn’t have to be turned up to 11 to make the player scared of them.

  21. Dreadjaws says:

    I think the real problem here are the publishers, who keep thinking every game should be changed to make it more appealing to broader audiences. Resident Evil was never an actually scary franchise, but it had an interesting and creepy atmosphere (specially in the GC remake of the first game) and it was an exploration/survival game that forced you to count your ammo and items and understand that you were just a normal person, not capable of defeating every enemy out there, and being alone helped the tension.

    Now the series is a strictly linear co-op focused action franchise in which every playable character is a swift one-man army, and the game suffers from excess of QTEs and “cinematic” cutscenes. And, of course, the Silent Hill series suffers from the same. Even if the developers are interested in returning to the franchise’s roots, they don’t have the choice but to follow the orders of the people with the money.

    And now, when the new consoles are out and they will worry a lot about graphics, the rest of the game is bound to suffer. Yeah, there’s great talent in this new game, and those guys will probably get a bit more freedom than regular developers, but whatever story and characters they cook up will be slave to the game’s mechanics, and I don’t foresee the publishers giving them many options there.

  22. Cybron says:

    I think it’s kind of sad that the most interesting horror games I’ve played in years are little RPG Maker style games. They’re not even terribly scary, but at least they’re interesting.

  23. Vect says:

    “People suffering from some kind of inner torment are drawn to a town, and are sucked into this alternate dimension where they will make peace with their inner demons, or be killed by them. ”

    That actually reminds me a lot of Persona 4, though rather than a town, the game uses a special world inside a TV channel where you confront your literal inner demons. Simply defeating them isn’t enough and it is necessary to accept that part of you to turn that inner demon into the titular Persona. Essentially a “be yourself” moral.

    Of course, it also means that the villain gains the same power by gladly embracing his depraved nature.

  24. Fabrimuch says:

    Actually, I don’t think retreading the Silent Hill 2 idea of a personal hell would be a good idea. That plot about an amnesiac hero who discovers the town’s nightmares are a manifestation of his own guilty subconscious mind is the kind of plot that can only really work once. If Silent Hill seems hopeless now, imagine how the series would look if all the games used the same the plot.

    This is actually the reason why I hated Origins and Homecoming. The devs wanted to copy the Silent Hill 2 that everyone celebrates, but also use the cult, so we ended up with two half-assed cliched stories for the price of one.

    And there’s another thing, all the games have been about exploring the psyche of some character in one way or another. The first game was Alessa’s, which is why a lot of the monsters have a basis in her depressing childhood: the monster children were her schoolmates who bullied her, the giant lizard was the class mascot (IIRC), the nurses were the ones that tended to her in the hospital, the moth was there because she collected dead insect, etc.

    Silent Hill 2 was James’s, that’s well established.

    Silent Hill 3 was a mix of Heather’s, Claudia’s and the god forming inside Heather’s womb. There’s also a lot of sexual imagery in that game, and most of it relates to unwanted teen pregnancies, which reflects what is going on inside Heather’s body.

    Silent Hill 4 was an exploration of Sullivan’s mind and his life within the cult.

    Silent Hill Origins was unholy combination of Alessa’s and Travis’s mind. A lot of the monsters are related to violence and undeath because the bad ending reveals Travis was actually a serial killer.

    Silent Hill Homecoming is ostensibly about Alex’s mind, but in reality it’s about recycling previous monsters because they were iconic rather than because they made any sense (why are the sexy nurses and Pyramid Head there when his story is one about a neglectful family and his crime was accidentally killing his brother? Sex doesn’t factor anywhere!!).

    And Shattered Memories was about Cheryl coming to terms with who his dead father really was. Harry is a manifestation created by the town much like Maria was in 2, and the monsters represent young Cheryl. If you look carefully, they never actually attack him, the just hug him close, and when he dies they pat his head.

    – – –

    Silent Hill has always been about exploring someone’s psyche, but making it exclusively about people who have commited a crime and have to be punished for it seems overly reductionist. The cult was always an excuse to allow us into the mind of a character different from the one you played as, and I agree it should never become the main focus of the series. But, as Shattered Memories shows, you can make interesting stories about exploring the tortured mind of some character without ripping off James Sunderland. A few that come to mind are a gay person who’s internalized his religion’s homophobic views and is conflicted about it; or the pain of a Sonic fan every time a new game is released.

    • Fabrimuch says:

      Another thing I forgot to mention is that the devs released a book explaining the design decisions of the first three games, called “The Book of Lost Memories”. It never made it out of Japan, but a group of fans scanned it and translated it into English, so you can read it here. Very interesting stuff.

Leave a Reply

Comments are moderated and may not be posted immediately. Required fields are marked *

*
*

Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun.

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darth_Vader">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>