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.
A Star is Born
Remember the superhero MMO from 2009? Neither does anyone else. It was dumb. So dumb I was compelled to write this.
Why I Hated Resident Evil 4
Ever wonder how seemingly sane people can hate popular games? It can happen!
Games and the Fear of Death
Why killing you might be the least scary thing a game can do.
Starcraft 2: Rush Analysis
I write a program to simulate different strategies in Starcraft 2, to see how they compare.
The Best of 2011
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2011.