Double Helix and Silent Hill

By Shamus
on Jul 29, 2009
Filed under:
Video Games

Ugo interviewed the team from Double Helix about their botched controls in Silent Hill: Homecoming.

We specifically called the mode invert aim and not invert camera to differentiate its function from the normal invert we see in games. We made a decision during development to support invert aim and not invert camera.

I still can’t imagine the rationale for this. This wasn’t an accidental oversight, this was a design decision. A decision to give an option that makes no sense and is useless to both invert and standard style gamers. Why would anyone want to invert the controls sometimes?

Unfortunately none of the team nor any of our test group actually had a preference for playing with an inverted camera, so the issue of its omission never came up. Given the furor on the net it appears this was the incorrect choice to make and one that I will apologize for.

This is exactly the sort of thing that ought to come out in testing. I know I make fun of Valve and their obsessive-compulsive testing loop, where they will take an already awesome game and work on it for months and months just to make it slightly more awesome. But Double Helix seems to have gone to the opposite extreme. The camera inversion, the difficulty spikes, the unclear and frustrating dodge mechanic, the game-killing three-nurse fight, the game-killing mechanic of a foe that can only be killed by bullets: All of these are things that would have been easily smoothed over with some very straightforward tweaks to gameplay. Just a couple more weeks in the oven would have translated into vast improvements to gameplay.

Double Helix is an odd developer, and I’m still not sure what to make of them. One of their current projects is the tie-in game for the upcoming G. I. Joe movie. The movie itself looks to be an awful bastardization, and movie games usually drop the quality meter a few points beyond that. This does not inspire confidence. (The movie looks less like an adaptation done with caution and love – Spider-Man and X-Men spring to mind – and more an adaptation done with greed and contempt for the source material – like LXG or Transformers.)

I’m not sure what to make of these guys. During their interview with The Escapist, I got the impression that they weren’t really Silent Hill fans. They didn’t hate it, but they weren’t passionate about the series either. Like the G. I. Joe game, they were given some IP and sent off to see what they could do with it. That’s not a crime, but it’s not exactly the kind of daring artistic endeavor that will excite the fan base. Or anyone else.

The thing is, I want these guys to succeed. Unlike Yahtzee, I don’t think the franchise needs to die. Silent Hill is traditionally not hampered by the need for canon-clogging continuity. Each game can take the premise (twisted other-reality ghost town) and do something fresh with it. There’s no reason you can’t just keep making them. This is in contrast to something like Resident Evil, where each new game adds to the rancid heap of nonsense and stretches the limits of disbelief as the Umbrella Corporation engages in ever-more destructive and unprofitable enterprises for no other reason than they need to make monsters for you to shoot. Double Helix doesn’t have this problem with Silent Hill. They have everything they need to make the thing work. Aside from enthusiasm.

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20525 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.

From the Archives:

  1. Factoid says:

    I would bet that if you went through the credits at the end of homecoming and looked at the list of “Game Testers”, assuming there is one, you’d notice that most of them are probably elsewhere connected to the project. Maybe as programmers, QA, artists, etc…

    If you look at a larger studio’s tester list, like Epic for example, they have like 40 names on the list that never appear anywhere else in the credits.

    It’s tough to say, though, because there are no real standards for game credits, unlike in the movie industry where it’s set in stone who must be credited. If testing is outsourced it might not be credited at all, or under a company name. If it’s done by volunteers or focus groups those are not employees and thus may not be credited either.

    Crediting standards is becoming a somewhat contentious issue in the industry. Lots of people don’t get credited who should, meanwhile the guy at Microsoft whose only job is spell-checking game Achievements gets their name up there.

  2. SireCh says:

    The evil-corporation has always bothered me. The usual “let’s build this gigantic underground complex where we can do mostly evil things, I’m sure nobody will notice” plot is ever so common in movies or games that you don’t question it anymore. Why invest huge sums in producing zombies, when you can invest in the financial markets and get bailed out when needed? Goldman Sachs would kick Umbrella’s ass.

  3. Andrey says:

    On absolutely unrelated note, I actually enjoyed LXG the movie a lot, and it is a quite smart and fun. I definitely had a feeling that authors enjoyed what they were doing, even if it has almost zero relation to the comic (which I actually like less, mostly due to the art direction).

  4. Spiral says:

    Everytime I see Silent Hill: Homecoming on sale, I think about buying it, then I remember your rant about the three nurse fight about half an hour away from a save point, then I think better of it.

    I’d love to take the Japanese horror idea and feeling and mix it with polished and friendly US game mechanics, and make a Silent Hill game. Not sure if that will ever happen. Either it will end up too Japanese, the controls and difficulty level stilted, or end up getting so americanized that it lacks the things that made the franchise interesting.

  5. MadTinkerer says:

    Having just finished my first student game last semester, I can testify to the importance of testing. We had one semester to make a game, but we had a three-week Beta testing period scheduled towards the end (for two-year projects, this would be the equivalent of a six to eight month Beta).

    Unfortunately, due to a technical issue the nearly-complete game took almost an hour to load, so the testing period was mostly spent trying to figure out how to fix it. (Solution: Tell the game NOT to load up the giant Wav files* we were using for music until each level is loaded.) Long story short, we ended up only having one week left to test it.

    As a result, when the game works, it works fine. There are only a couple of annoying bugs left, and it’s not too hard for players to figure out what to do. However, on some high-end computers it won’t load up at all.

    Anyway, the game is Steam City Chronicles.

    *Were were using mp3s, but a compatibility issue forced us to go with wavs.

  6. Telas says:

    Two totally disparate notes:

    Don’t bad movies make for good videogames (and vice versa)? See: Van Helsing…

    As our own culture socializes more and more through media than through actual, real-life interaction, will we start to believe in media tropes (such as Evil Corporations)? Will this become a self-fulfilling prophecy as those who go to work in corporate offices assume that some level of bastardy is expected?

  7. Rutskarn says:

    Yeah. Sometimes, you get the sense that a developer just isn’t quite right for a certain project. Honestly, crappy movie tie-ins sound about like this studio’s speed.

    Out of curiosity: if you could pick one modern game company to hand the Silent Hill license to, who would you pick?

  8. IncredibleGeek says:

    What if Valve made a first-person Silent Hill game?..

  9. Spiral says:

    I would not be in favor of first person Silent Hill. Most of Silent Hill you end up using melee weapons, and I can’t stand FPS melee – I never feel like I have a good indication of how close I am and how much swing range my weapon has. Also FPS tends to make developers drift towards making things more shooty.

    I do appreciate the quality Valve puts in their games though. If we could get that quality in a non-FPS…

  10. IncredibleGeek says:

    I recently finished playing Dark Messiah, a first-person fantasy game built with the Source engine. The melee combat was excellent and convincing. I also have been playing Zeno clash, /another/ first-person melee game built with the Source engine, also with a great feel. Mount and Blade managed to create an excellent feel for first person melee as well.

    Basically, I believe the combat wouldn’t be an issue.

    Personally, first-person will always be more immerisive and scary than third-person. When I think of “scary” games, I never think of third-person; Thief, Undying, FEAR… Dead Space wasn’t scary, Resident Evil isn’t scary, and the Silent Hill games didn’t “scare” me like a first-person game can.

    And then there’s the controls system. I really like to control my movements, not those of some 2-ton tank shoved into a man’s body. I know it’s supposed to heighten the fear factor, but it only ever comes off as frustrating. The “I just wanna turn around, dammit!” moments are just too common in “traditional” survival-horror.

    It could be good for the genre to try something new, considering how it’s taken the path of adventure games already.

  11. Rutskarn says:

    Incredible: Yeah, if they toned down the bootery, that system just might jive.

    It’d also help if they attached the mechanics to a story and set of characters that didn’t consume my organs in a churning, bilious rage.

  12. Daemian Lucifer says:

    You dont have to be passionate about a game in order to make it a good game.Just take a look at…er…just like…that…one game that was good…from…some developer…errr………

  13. Nazgul says:

    “Given the furor on the net it appears this was the incorrect choice to make and one that I will apologize for.”

    To me, this absolutely sounds like they still do not truly understand the issue.

    Even if you don’t have a tester that inverts the aim/camera(!) I agree that it makes no sense to come to use the “sometimes” solution. You’d think they’d have at least defaulted to a traditional invert, based on the fact that most every other game must have a good reason for having it.

    I think the partial-invert and lack of testing are evidence of poor decision-making. Since they still don’t seem to understand why their decision was an absurd choice, I’d be pessimistic of future offerings as well.

  14. B.J. says:

    This sounds like yet another case of making a game they wanted to play as opposed to a game that would actually sell.

    It’s a very common story.

  15. Malkara says:

    Is it a bug that it says 1212 comments instead of 12? :P

  16. SolkaTruesilver says:

    @IncredibleGeek:

    Have you ever played Vampire : Bloodlines? The Hotel level, even on 3rd person, is probably one of my scariest moment of gaming. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time.

  17. OddlucK says:

    Personally, I think the G.I. Joe movie looks to be a lot of fun! Of course, I thought the same of the Transformers movies. Loved them both. :D

    Oh, yeah. The game thing. Ummm… development is good and there’s not a whole lot more I can add to what’s already been said.

    So, give G.I. Joe a try, I propose. (The trick will probably be, as it was with the TF movies, to distance yourself from thoughts of the original and enjoy it for the adrenaline ride it looks to be.) ( Standard caveats apply.)

  18. GTB says:

    Silent hill 2 was one of the three games that made me purchase a ps2 after years of being console-less. (the others were twisted metal black and soul reaver) And i’m a huge fan of the series.

    Im not sure I want to play this one, all of my friends who have say it’s pretty terrible, and that is heartbreaking to a giant fanboy like myself.

  19. Martin Annadale says:

    First person horror games rule. Thief 1 and System Shock 2 was way scarier than Resident Evil and Dead Space for me. The over the shoulder view of Dead Space and clunky controls seems like a cheap way to increase the tension. System Shock 2 had very standard and usable fps controls, and you could jump around and run just like you could in a more action-oriented fps, but the limited ammunition, powerful enemies and sneaky mechanic made the whole experience tense and scary even after many (and I really mean many) a play through.

  20. Steve says:

    Check out Youtube for the animated GI Joe episodes. I believe all the GI Joe action at the moment is due to a reboot of the whole shebang by Hasbro or whoever it is owns it these days. Anyway, the animations are pretty good, the plot having been written by Warren Ellis, so they have given me some kind of hope for the film, though I have no idea if the animations or the film are in any way related.

  21. JKjoker says:

    This is just a good example of the very wrong things about game developments these days

    on one side you have a group of developers that somehow think they “know better” than every other dev and gamer before them and try reinventing the wheel wasting precious time and resources in something that should be a standard already

    on the other side you have the trend of releasing untested betas and then “we’ll patch it later”, but of course that includes the big IF : “if we are successful enough to justify investing in a patch” (which rarely happens, even if copies are selling pretty well), they seem oblivious to the fact that they are limiting/killing their chances of success by not polishing it to an acceptable state

    but hey, if we lose 50%+ of our sales during an economic recession following an abrupt fall in game quality and exponential increase in games similarity to the point that they could only be called “clones” (wait, didn’t this happen already), the only reason has to be the pirates… right ?

  22. Daki says:

    The pirates are just a symptom of it. Most(non-newbies) that I’ve talked to are just trying a game out to see if it is worth buying.
    EDIT(I’m a member of demonoid.)

  23. Daimbert says:

    Having never watch the G.I. Joe cartoons or read the comics, and having seen the initial trailers, I had no interest in seeing that movie. Then I saw this picture:

    http://www.imdb.com/media/rm572950528/tt1046173

    Okay, now I have a LITTLE interest [grin].

    Although I generally hate it when someone makes a remake and you have to ignore the originals to enjoy the remake. Since liking the originals is generally the reason I and many others WANT to see the movie, ignoring the originals can’t help but leave a sour taste in our mouths.

    The worst example of this was the “Get Smart” movie. Was it a good “Get Smart” movie? No, it was barely related to it and had a totally different and inferior premise and feel. Was it a good spy spoof movie? No, Spy Hard and Johnny English, for example, did that better. Was it a decent spy movie? Well, actually, yeah. There wasn’t any more humour in it than you’d have seen in a Roger Moore Bond film. Unfortunately, I want AT LEAST a spy spoof if I go see “Get Smart”, not a spy movie.

  24. recon says:

    On the topic of Silent Hill, Shattered Memories looks like it’s going to be interesting. Ignoring the whole “profiling” gimmick for the moment, the design decision to take out combat seemd interesting, to say the least. If done right, it may be revolutionary for the genre. Done poorly, however, it’ll probably lead to monster clusterfuck every chase scene.

    I guess we’ll have to wait for the release to see how it will turn out.

  25. Miral says:

    Developers really need to get better options for control customisation. I was recently playing Saints Row 2 (PC) and had all manner of trouble with the controls.

    I have a PS2-style gamepad. The game accepts input simultaneously from both the gamepad and the keyboard/mouse. I found that the best combination of input was gamepad for character movement, gamepad for camera movement, but mouse for aiming. Unfortunately, my gamepad reflexes are tuned for inverted control, and my mouse reflexes are tuned for non-inverted control, and the game didn’t offer any options to invert one but not the other.

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