Diecast Unplugged #4: Bad News and Lost Time

By Shamus Posted Monday Feb 22, 2021

Filed under: Diecast 62 comments

Paul is still on the road. I was going to line up a guest, but then I just… didn’t. So instead we’re getting another one of these things. It’s a random list of short unrelated topics. None of these are long enough to carry a post, but if we shove them all together then maybe that somehow adds up to worthwhile content.

Or maybe not. Look, I don’t know what the rules are here. All I know is that I need #content for the Content Gods. So let’s get to appeasing…

Pulled in too many directions at once

We have two weeks of my Star Wars™ Jedi: Fallen Order™ EA™ retrospective left. If I was on top of things, then I’d already have the next retrospective in the proofing & polishing stage. Instead I’ve barely started.  The last couple of months just vanished and I’m not even sure where all the time went. I didn’t even get a video done in those months! What was I doing the whole time?!

I guess I decided to cover Watch Dogs: Legion for my next retrospective, simply because the game is still fresh in my mind. On the other hand, I’d really like to cover Prey 2017 at some point this year. But it’s been four years since I played the main campaign of Prey. I’d need to play the game through a couple of times and then let it simmer for a few weeks before I could even start writing.

(A lot of people think I can just write this stuff off the top of my head. That’s flattering, but the truth is that analysis takes a lot of time. I’ll know right away that a game is bothering me, but it takes time to figure out the why and how.)

Aside from that, I’m torn between “the thing I need to work on” versus “The project I can’t stop thinking about.” I’ve said in the past that I really loved the gameplay of HuniePop, but I wasn’t really comfortable with the whole “naked anime girls” thing. I really want gameplay in the same style, but with some other premise or theme. The release of HuniePop 2 has me thinking about the genre again. I have a bunch of ideas how I could modify the game to lean into the “puzzle game” feel that I like so much.

Yes, I suppose I could start a programming series. But this would be less about technology and more about gameplay mechanics. That might be good, but like I said: I really need to get a new retrospective out the door. Also, the match-3 genre is heavily art-focused. Strip away the art, and you’ve just got a big grid of colors. I’m not sure if we’d be able to stomach weeks and weeks of ghastly 2D programmer art. One or two posts might not be so bad, but after a month or two of MS Paint-level art and one of us will wind up going crazy. If not you, then me.

Bad News

The story began five years ago. Some random abusive asshole left an angry message on his ex-girlfriend’s phone. He was upset about being dumped / having a restraining order filed against him. Something like that.

So he told her, “Look for me on the news tonight. This is all your fault!” Next he jumped in his car, driving on Route 8, going from Slippery Rock to Butler. This is a two-lane highway, and is infamous for being winding and hilly. At night, the road is very dark.

A woman named H was driving home after a long day of work, heading north. Dumb Selfish Asshole was heading south. He got going real fast, and then deliberately drove into the oncoming lane as soon as he saw some headlights. With a combined relative speed over 100Mph, both drivers died on impact.

While I’d normally have compassion for someone in enough pain to kill themselves, the sheer self-absorbed idiocy of choosing a manner of suicide that requires you to kill one or more strangers just fills me with boundless rage.

H was a mother of 3 daughters, the youngest of which was still preschool aged. This was a shocking and traumatic event for all of them.

This left H’s husband J as a single father. The problem was that J had a lot of health problems. He had advanced diabetes, serious heart problems, and numerous additional complications from those things. He wasn’t up to the physical stress of taking care of the girls, so he hired my wife Heather as a nanny.

So Heather has been working for the family for the last 4.5 years or so. Back in January, J contracted COVID-19. He wound up in intensive care, then a ventilator. In the end, his body just wasn’t up for the fight. He died last week.

So now these three girls are orphans. They have other family to take care of them so they’ll be fine in the end, but I can’t imagine what it must be like to lose both of your parents to chaos like this.

So let’s wrap up this post by answering a mailbag question. This is supposed to be a question for the podcast, but I strongly suspect Paul wouldn’t have much to say about it. So it’s better to answer now.

Silent hill + Remedy

Dear Shamus and Paul,

I read an opinion piece this week suggesting that only Remedy Entertainment has the design sensibilities to make a truly great Silent Hill game.

I thought this was interesting because of your professed love for both Slient Hill 2 and Remedy’s storytelling. I know they knocked it out of the park with respect to gameplay in Control but I don’t think I’ve seen them do something similar to SH style gameplay.

What would you think if this was surprised announced?

All the best,

Wow. That article is quite a rollercoaster. I went in strongly disagreeing with the title, but the author Andy Kelly made some points I really agreed with. And then it all fell apart because of my general ongoing gripes regarding Remedy.

Obviously for this thought experiment to work we need to ignore the fact that Remedy prefers to work on in-house IPs, and they’re probably in the middle of making something else right now. Let’s just set those concerns aside and go through this article a bit at a time:

There’s no point giving Silent Hill to a developer who’s just gonna fill it with zombie nurses, groan-worthy Pyramid Head and Robbie the Rabbit cameos, and upturned wheelchairs lying around every corner. Since Team Silent’s closure, and Silent Hill being outsourced to western developers, the series has (with some exceptions) been too reliant on clunky references to—or failed attempts to replicate—moments from the original games.

Okay. I strongly agree. This is indeed an ongoing problem. As I’ve explained in the past, Silent Hill 2 is generally seen as the high water mark of the series. In that game you play as James Sunderland. If you want to know the story, then check out this post from the first year of this blog, way back in 2006.

In that game, the hospital level had quasi-sexy nurses. Big tits. Exposed legs. But they were unsettling in their movements and appearance. More importantly, they were a manifestation unique to James. The hospital isn’t supposed to be the “sexy nurse level”. He was seeing sexy nurses because of problems unique to his past and his particular personality problems.

But then came a never-ending parade of bungling tone-deaf developers who didn’t understand this nuance, so they just make the hospital a standard location that everyone visits, like Silent Hill is a theme park. And they put sexy nurses in there because they thought the nurses were for sexy cheesecake fanservice funtimes, and not a deeply disturbing look into the confusion and neurosis that James was working through.

(Aside: Can we get a remaster of THIS game? Please? Heck, I don’t even need a remaster. I’ll take whatever you got. Just start SELLING the stupid thing again. There was a PC port years ago, but it’s out of print and you can’t buy it anywhere these days. Used copies are going for collector’s prices. Considering all the worthless remasters we get these days, it’s crazy that nobody’s willing to take this legendary and in-demand title and put it up on Steam. Who’s in charge of this mess?Oh right. It’s Konami. Silent Hill 2 isn’t a Pachinko machine, so they don’t give a shit about it.)

Almost every aspect of the game has been cargo-culted like this. Everyone keeps copying the surface-level details while being oblivious to the nuance and thematic stuff that made Silent Hill 2 such a mesmerizing experience.

When you play one of its games, there’s no mistaking which team is behind it. And I feel like [Remedy] would approach Silent Hill in the same way MachineGames did with Wolfenstein, taking an established, beloved series and imprinting its own idiosyncratic personality onto it in an exciting way.

My problem with this is that I don’t think MachineGames did a great job with the Wolfenstein games. Sure, The New Order was pretty good. But Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus flopped on gameplay, bungled the technology, performed horribly on environmental design, and got lost up its own ass in terms of storytelling. The cutscenes were obnoxious, terribly paced, and horribly self-indulgent on the part of the writer.

Part of what makes Silent Hill so scary is how strange it is. These games (well, the good ones anyway) present their settings, characters, and stories in an abstract, offbeat way, with the woozy half-awake feel of a restless nightmare. The town shifts and distorts around you, and the laws of space, physics, and time are stretched and twisted by the evil forces that control it.

This is something Remedy is very good at, whether it’s Alan Wake’s trippy dream sequences, the nightmarish funhouse level from Max Payne 2, or most of all, Control’s mind-bending setting. Towards the end of the original Silent Hill you’re lost in a place called Nowhere: a bizarre, unsettling labyrinth made up of rooms and corridors from places you explored earlier in the game.

I agree that Remedy is a good fit in terms of setting, mood, and art style. However, I strongly disagree that the developer would be a good fit for Silent Hill. While they might nail the atmosphere, the gameplay designer at Remedy is the exact opposite of what this franchise needs. Remedy games are driven by a senseless, monomaniacal drive to have a tedious protracted gunfight in every. single. fucking. room. The constant combat smothers so much of the fantastic work the storyteller is doing. Control and Alan Wake were both undermined by the designer’s habit of taking a spooky, slow-burn story and turning it into Max Payne.

The Silent Hill series has been bedeviled by moronic designers that want to turn it into a stupid shooter. Remedy would doubtless repeat this mistake, and would probably even go further than previous teams.

But if you could find Mr. ALL SHOOTING ALL THE TIME PEWPEWPEW! and lock him in a closet for a couple of yearsDon’t forget to feed him! I’m pretty sure he eats bullets., then Remedy could certainly make a really interesting Silent Hill game.

I’d certainly play it.



[1] Oh right. It’s Konami. Silent Hill 2 isn’t a Pachinko machine, so they don’t give a shit about it.

[2] Don’t forget to feed him! I’m pretty sure he eats bullets.

From The Archives:

62 thoughts on “Diecast Unplugged #4: Bad News and Lost Time

  1. MerryWeathers says:

    Oh right. It’s Konami. Silent Hill 2 isn’t a Pachinko machine, so they don’t give a shit about it.

    I think they actually did turn it into a Pachinko machine a while back.

    They also did remaster the game but we all know how that turned out.

    1. The+Puzzler says:

      We don’t all know how that turned out. I’d forgotten it completely.

      A Google search suggests that’s the Silent Hill HD Collection, which was apparently released on PS3 & 360 in 2012. It received “mixed or average” reviews. The updated visuals were a point of contention among reviewers: some wrote that the loss of fog in Silent Hill 2 revealed previously hidden textures and technical limitations of the game to its detriment.

      1. Syal says:

        There’s a Wha Happun on it.

      2. RFS-81 says:

        The source code of the release version was lost and the team for the HD release had to start from an older, unfinished version. No wonder it turned out bad. I get taping over old TV series, but that was just stupid. Disk space is cheap!

      3. Chris says:

        There were a million issues since the sourcecode was lost so they had to reverse engineer it. But the devs that were doing it were horrible, I can write pages on how bad it is, but to give you a taste, they used comic sans on a sign of a ranch and somehow thought that was a good idea.

  2. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    What utterly disqualifies Remedy from making a good Silent Hill game is that SH games have depth. There is a lot of layers of abstraction and meaning beneath the environment and the characters. Remedy’s characters and storytelling are just tropes. It’s not a bad thing at all, tropes are tools, but they couldn’t write a character like James and Heather to save their lives.

    For me the studio who came the closest to make a proper SH game is Red Candle Games, the makers of Detention, because it’s pretty much an excellent Silent Hill games that just happens to not have the license or have anything to do with the eponymous town. But the mood, the creepy giving way to the horror, the personal horror and the tragic and flawed but understandable characters are all there. Turns out, that’s what was important.

    1. Shufflecat says:

      In terms of story, there’s actually a lot more going on in Alan Wake & Control that it looks. The problem is that “meat” is buried deep in the collectable pages/audiologs, and has to be pieced together from blink-and-you’ll miss it details buried amidst fluff. You have to be REALLY paying attention, and have a good memory for incidental details to find it, otherwise the only story you get is “there are monsters, and you must shoot them all”.

      And, as you say, the characters themselves aren’t much to grab onto. Alan is a pastiche of middle-aged writer tropes, arguable overtly as a meta-reference to said tropes, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that’s all he is. Jessie’s got even less. There’s actually an implied “holy shit!” plot-twist reason why Jessie’s kind of just a sketch of a character… but 95% of players probably missed it because it’s buried deep and spread out among the skippable details. And again: just because there’s a story reason for her being that way, doesn’t really forgive tying the player to an undeveloped character for a dozen or more hours.

      There’s definitely people in the Remedy team who’d be a great fit for Silent Hill… but they’d need help, and they’d need to shed some people who’re holding them back. Remedy as it exists isn’t entirely up to it.

      Basically, whoever handles their scenario and worldbuilding writing would be great for Silent Hill, but is currently suffocated under whoever it is who handles the gameplay design and plot-beat writing.

  3. Daimbert says:

    (A lot of people think I can just write this stuff off the top of my head. That’s flattering, but the truth is that analysis takes a lot of time. I’ll know right away that a game is bothering me, but it takes time to figure out the why and how.)

    I feel your pain with being pulled in too many directions at once. I have way too many things that I want to do. It was bad before things started to lockdown, and I actually have less time since the lockdown.

    I DO tend to write my analysis posts on my blog mostly off the top of my head, but there are two caveats with that. The first is that mine are generally far shorter than yours and far less detailed, which counts even for the philosophical posts. The second is that the reason my blog exists is to get my mind to shut up about things, so I think out what I think about the things long before I sit down to write, whenever I’m not actually doing something else. It turns out that you can do a lot of thinking in hour+ long walks [grin].

    There was a PC port years ago, but it’s out of print and you can’t buy it anywhere these days. Used copies are going for collector’s prices.

    Hmmm, maybe I should try to sell my PS2 copy [grin].

    I played the game and kinda liked it, but it’s not really my style of survival horror. I liked Fatal Frame a lot better.

    As a note, what did you think or did you ever play Shattered Memories? I never got into the game, but it seemed to have a more Clocktowerish vibe to it and so wouldn’t be a shooter-fest. And the framing device of a psychological assessment was an interesting one (reused in “Tender Loving Care” which dropped it right when it would have mattered most).

  4. Lino says:

    “the thing I need to work on” verses

    Should be “versus”.

    So sad about those kids Heather used to babysit :/ Here’s to hoping this is just a low point before their lives turn around for the better!

  5. bobbert says:

    The more I think about it, the more the idea of an MSpaint HoneyPop makes me smile.

    1. chukg says:

      Why not a Silent Hill themed one?

  6. Lawgnome says:

    Is there truly anyone that can make a good SH game? I’m inclined to think that fan expectations make that impossible at this point.

    Everyone has their own thoughts as to what makes a good SH game at this point, so there is not likely to be a consensus among fans. Should it involve the cult? Should SH be a force on its own? Is SH malevolent? Is SH a spooky therapist? Should the story involve old characters or only brand new ones?

    There are plenty of studios that can make a good spooky game with some depth. But how do you make a good SH game when no one knows exactly what makes a good SH game and not just a good game that has the SH name?

    Developer after developer have made attempts at “the next SH”, including those that actually made SH games, and invariably they all try to mimic aspects of SH2 (poor SH 1 and 3 get ignored, despite being the originator and a brilliant follow up, respectively). Heck, I remember reading an article where the SH: Homecoming dev talked about monster design and indicated that one of the monsters was representative of the main character’s sexual feelings…in a game (mostly) about finding his brother.

    1. Daimbert says:

      I think that the idea that you need to latch onto the definitive Silent Hill feel as per Silent Hill 2 is part of the problem. Speaking as a minor fan of the series, I think that there are some things that pretty much all fans agree are unique about the Silent Hill series. The first is the town itself. The second is that the horror is more personal and psychological than you’d find in other survival horror series like Resident Evil. The reason, I think, that Shamus is so disappointed with the more shooty entries in the series is that the shooty parts break the atmosphere of those personal and psychological aspects too much. So a lot of the things that the other games have tried to do and those specific world elements could be altered and played with without making it a huge disappointment as long as it captured the FEEL of Silent Hill 2.

      That being said, capturing that feel might itself be difficult. But I think not living up to those expectations will be forgiven if the feel and atmosphere is maintained.

      1. Syal says:

        For 2 and 3 at least, another big thing is the surrealness of the cutscenes; people have unnatural animations and speak with strange inflections. Part of the reason why people disliked the new voice cast; they sounded more natural, and the surreal charm was gone.

        1. Daimbert says:

          The only thing that I’ve actually used from Shattered Memories is the soundtrack — to be honest, that was one of the main reasons I bought the game — and the opening track cover of “Always On My Mind” is something that you could use to show someone that surrealness. I’ve heard the Willie Nelson version AND the Pet Shop Boys version, and even with those in the back of my mind — and perhaps BECAUSE those are in the back of my mind — the song is still amazingly creepy and surreal.

        2. Shufflecat says:

          I’ve seen two lets plays of the remastered edition of SH3, and both times the voice acting was seriously peeving me. Not because of any difference in naturalness in the delivery (IMO only Douglas seems more natural in the remastered version), but because in several cases it actually changes the personality of the character.

          Heather is mostly a lateral transition. Both voice performers do an OK enough job, but I still prefer OG Heather as IMO she sounds more like an actual teenager than nu-Heather, and she does the tonal twists of snark and sarcasm better. Though I suppose the former may actually be argued in nu-Heather’s favor, given info found later in the plot. As with Douglas below, OG Heather has a more distinctive-sounding voice, while nu-Heather sounds more “generic lady”.

          Claudia gets hit HARD by the downgrade stick. OG-Claudia comes across as a lost soul fanatic who genuinely believes she’s doing everyone a solid. Nu-Claudia is full-tilt cartoon mustache-twirling “because I’m EEEeevilLL!”.

          Vincent loses his weird ambiguity. OG Vincent sounds like someone to overcompensate their way past their own social awkwardness, and you’re always on-edge around him because it’s hard to tell if he’s actually on on your side and just awkward, or is legit creepin’. If he’s serious, or just has a shitty sense of humor. Nu-Vincent projects more natural casual confidence, which conflicts with the content of the lines he says, making him sound like he’s more badly written than OG Vincent, even though the actual words are the same. The difference is not one of naturalness, but of tone.

          Nu-Douglas, as mentioned, does sound noticeably more natural in his delivery, but he also sounds more generic. As in the sound of his vocal cords/mouth. Some people just have more distinctive, characterful sounding voices than others, independent of delivery.

  7. Ninety-Three says:

    Control and Alan Wake were both undermined by the designer’s habit of taking a spooky, slow-burn story and turning it into Max Payne.

    I love Remedy (well, I loved Alan Wake in a way that generated enough goodwill to have me optimistically buying every Remedy game since then) and share your disdain for the absolute slog they make of their gameplay, but I want to defend Alan Wake here a bit. The slog kind of worked in Alan Wake in a way it didn’t in Quantum Break or Control because Alan Wake had a bit of a survival horror atmosphere. You fight things way too often to be scared of “Oh no, the monster’s gonna get me”, but the ammo supply and generally oppressive atmosphere always had me thinking at the back of my mind “Oh no, am I going to run out of ammo?” I think I only did run out once in my entire playthrough, but good horror design is all about making the player fear death without the tedium of actually killing them and forcing them to try again stupid. I could imagine a Remedy Silent Hill that isn’t quite faithful to the original but leans more into the Resident Evil “you have six bullets and twelve zombies” style of horror.

    That said, I really doubt Remedy would make such a game. The arc of Alan Wake -> Quantum Break -> Control is that of a studio which really wants to make shooters-with-superpowers, Bioshock without the immersive sim parts. Even if you locked Mr. PEWPEWPEW in a closet to preserve the game’s pacing, it doesn’t feel like anyone at the studio wants to make a core gameplay loop other than shooting dudes. Look at the AWE DLC for Control: it’s a spooky-themed tie-in to Alan Wake that tries to play with some of the same light/darkness mechanics but it’s just more Control: shoot a zillion rooms full of dudes, occasionally use a light-themed can opener to open the next door. God help you if you try to use telekinesis to carry your can openers between “puzzles”, then the game will throw a fit like railroading DM and just despawn the can opener without explanation. Except the one time it forgets to and you’re able to bring a flashlight into the final bossfight but it doesn’t do anything because he’s only scripted to respond to the fixed sources of light in the boss arena.

    Throughout it you’re stalked by a supposed-to-be-scary invincible boss monster that lurks in the darkness, but it’s so badly tuned for horror that rather than being scared I decided to test my grenade launcher against it and survived despite walking into the darkness to fight an unkillable grue. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, it doesn’t even tell a story. I don’t mean that they ruin their slow-paced story with a bunch of gunfights, I mean that Alan Wake calls you up on the magic telephone, tells you to go to a place, and then the game just forgets to have a story and makes you spend four hours killing monsters until you kill the boss monster and the DLC ends. It’s never clear why that was important to do (the game goes out of its way to establish that all these monsters were locked up before you broke the seal to wade in and kill them) or why Alan Wake was involved.

    If Remedy made a Silent Hill game, I would for the second time break my promise to stop buying their badly-paced mediocre shooters, play it, and be very disappointed when it turned out to be another badly-paced mediocre shooter.

    1. Geebs says:

      I really liked Alan Wake and actually rather enjoyed Quantum Break (the timey-wimey graphical effects are amazing and the shooting is fairly solid), but Control left me completely cold on both a story* and gameplay basis. And that was before the cruddy musical number** and the awful, awful slog of the last hour.

      * guy(s) find $thing. Guy(s) get killed by $thing in humorous or ironic fashion.
      **Poets of the Fall are basically Theory of a Deadman without the hooks.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        Control seems like it was inspired by the X-files genre in general and SCP in particular, but they really messed up the theming of it. That genre is always brave/foolish human investigators trying to figure out the spooky happenings and there’s a real sense of Us (humanity) vs The Mysterious Other. Control leaned too hard into action and ended up being about Our Supersoldier vs Their Endless Waves of Supersoldiers and with the central problem being “boy there sure are a lot of waves of supersoldiers here” there wasn’t much room for mystery/investigation. The plot had no grand arc, just a series of disconnected events in which you go to the next room to find the Hotline, to turn on the power, to get the keycard, to open the door, to have a mental breakdown and wake up magically teleported to the final encounter where you are allowed to turn off the supersoldier faucet.

      2. unit3000-21 says:

        “Poets of the Fall are basically Theory of a Deadman without the hooks”

        Yeah, I don’t get it – are they friends with someone at Remedy? Why put such a lame band in nearly all of your games?

    2. Echo+Tango says:

      I actually wouldn’t mind a game with a light-based can-opener, if it was done well. That is, the light mechanics would have to be central to the game, and pretty deep. There’s lots of room for a depressing world full of nightmares, with a game that’s based on lights. Batteries, mirrors, shadows, prisms – all things that could be used for resource-management, puzzles and foreboding dread, and combined with a variety of combat and monsters. I’m imagining a world with safe-zones like Left 4 Dead crossed with the blood-barriers in the Demon Knight film, filled with just as many undead demons. :)

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Just…give it it a deeper story and set of mechanics than Alan Wake :|

      2. Fizban says:

        The oppressiveness of Metroid Prime 2 stuck with me hard when I was a kid, took years (and the Trilogy Wii release) to go back and finish it. And it doesn’t even have a bunch of cool mechanics- just the fact that sometimes you look at a portal to the dark world and know you’re gonna have to go in there, sprinting from tiny puddle of light to tiny puddle of light, sometimes having to rely entirely on temporary fields that you have to manually re-ignite constantly, even the permanent lights can be fouled by enemy attacks, and your best weapon against them has limited ammo and is also the cleaning solution needed if they manage to douse your light. In-between those lights is filled with an inky blackness that visibly clings to your limbs and visor, and damages you just slowly enough to make sprinting between fields possible- and quickly enough that getting lost or disoriented can leave you mostly or completely dead.

        I realized playing Subnautica that this actually pings all the same triggers as the basic “air-breathing land-lubbers have to go underwater” horror. MP2 is not a horror game at all, but heck if their atmosphere didn’t manage to nope me right out for years.

        The point being that if you think of a light vs darkness horror game functioning like water and limited oxygen and fragile submarines when it comes to function and flow, that’d be some good shit.

    3. Shufflecat says:

      …but good horror design is all about making the player fear death…

      Actually I think this exact assumption is the root of what causes most horror games to fail. There are lots of types of horror that aren’t related or reducible to the fear of death, and the fear of death is actually the least workable form of horror in an interactive media, since it’s inherently self sabotaging.

      The problem is generations of slashers and man-eating monster films have kind of trained pop-culture to think that’s the definition of horror: the axe-man choppeth, the monster has big teeth. So when people try to make a horror game, they keep doggedly chasing this idea that cracking the code on how to balance death vs. frustration is the key, when they should been trying to find ways to scare people without the threat of death.

      Tell them to base the horror in something other than the threat of death, and they’ll look at you like you’ve just asked them what sky tastes like. Because that hammer is the only tool they even know exists. But in many of the best horror movies fear of death is just sauce: part of the atmosphere rather than the main motivator. The Thing taunts you with questions about what really happens to “you” when the monster assimilates and duplicates you. The Shining isn’t about Jack with an axe, it’s about how and why the Overlook was able to twist him to that point. Alien is rape metaphors all the way down. Eyes Without a Face is about a woman trying to deny that being passively complicit with a monster makes you a monster too. The Exorcist is about the fear of losing a child to catastrophic mental illness. Rosemary’s Baby is about being an abuse victim when everyone around you is passively or actively complicit with the abuser. Dead Ringers is about co-dependency spiraling out of control in isolation.

      This what made Silent Hill 2 work. It was never about the threat of death. When you meet Angela and later Eddie, you get a hint something’s calling people here for reasons other than happy knife time. And the moment James first starts talking to Maria, you start to realize something much deeper and stranger and more messed up than just pain and monsters is going on.

      Successfully basing horror movies in the threat of death is easy, because it’s a linear, non-interactive media. The protagonists never dies until or unless they’re supposed to, at the right moment, for the right purpose. In a passive media that doesn’t take death off the table, but in an interactive media it does. That’s why grinding gears when it comes to designing horror games is so common: this specific genre element works completely differently when it’s interactive, so it’s particularly damaged by the “making games like movies” problem that’s still endemic in games in general.

      I don’t think horror is actually harder to do in games than it is in movies, but I do think that the “easy button” for making successful horror movies doesn’t work when making games, an a lot of the failed horror games out there failed because they were trying to smash that easy button the same way novice and hack filmmakers have been for a century.

      1. Syal says:

        I also want to throw in The Babadook on the pile of good horror movies, that one’s about the stress of parenting a difficult child.

        Slasher movies have a certain visceral charm, but the creepiest stories I can think of are about transformations. Silent Hill 2 is about James’ dead wife breaking the rules of death, 3 is about Heather becoming something outside of her control.

      2. Sleeping Dragon says:

        Yeah, the sentiment of “after I died a couple of times I was no longer scared” is very common in horror games criticism. I feel like this is part of why Layers of Fear and Observer were received so favourably, because they toy with character and player perception though most of the time there actually isn’t any immediate threat of death (Observer stealth sections notwithstanding). On the other hand we have Supermassive, who are bordering on interactive movies trying to recapture that “fear of death” atmosphere by borrowing things like multiple protagonists from the slasher genre, just like in a 90 minute movie you know someone needs to survive till at least the final scene but you don’t know who.

        1. Shufflecat says:

          Those are the “Dark Pictures” Anthology guys, right? Yeah, I think that’s a pretty good solution, actually. Makes the consequences permanent, but without stopping the story.

      3. Philadelphus says:

        Apparently more people are afraid of public speaking than dying*, so maybe you could have a horror game where you try to avoid being thrust on stage in front of a bunch of people and forced to perform? (Like, actual humans to make it actually scary, not NPCs—maybe it could be a multiplayer game where the other players are periodically the audience?)

        *Or so everything I’ve ever read on getting over fear of public speaking opens with.

        1. Lino says:

          (Like, actual humans to make it actually scary, not NPCs—maybe it could be a multiplayer game where the other players are periodically the audience?)

          Yet another great game idea which is impossible thanks to the number of idiots out there on the Internet. Seriously – abusing voice chat is such a problem in online games, that most modern multiplayer titles intentionally don’t have voice chat. And it’s such a shame, too – even as a non-horror fan, I’d play (or at least watch) a game like that. But people being people, I just don’t see how something like that wouldn’t backfire…

          1. Sleeping Dragon says:

            There was that stand-up game/app some time ago, only heard about it so don’t remember the name but it essentially simulated speaking to an audience from the stage with actual people as audience. From what I’ve heard it went predictably poorly. Of course it was addressed to people who actually want to get out there on stage and I imagine even if someone took a shot at this kind of thing using VR there is always going to be an additional degree of separation in the digital experience compared to real life.

      4. Daimbert says:

        I think that nature of games, though, makes things a little more difficult here. Horror movies in general build the fear off of some kind of threat where if the protagonist fails to deal with it something horrific will happen. As you noted, they can have the protagonist overcome the major threats by fiat any time they want, and so there’s no threat of the movie ending because the protagonist made the wrong choice. Games, on the other hand, are built around an interactive protagonist. If the game makes it so that they always succeed no matter what, the player will figure it out and not be scared. If the game tries to remove the fail state, then there’s no threat for the protagonist to oppose. But if there is a fail state — as we generally expect in games — then we hit a “Game Over” screen and then the common response to such a thing in games is what causes the problem: reload and try again. And if they tried to make it so that any loss resulted in a permanent game over, then the player would restart the game which would still kill the fear but also be far more annoying. They could try making it be about an overall threat that you could lose to like in adventure games, but then you still need gameplay elements and to make it more than someone simply wandering around seeing things those elements have to at least present a bit of a challenge, at which point if a player can’t overcome them then you replace fear with frustration.

        All of these things hold regardless of whether the threat is actual death, or losing your mind, or losing your soul, or being transformed into a hideous creature, or losing your loved one to evil/corruption/a sacrifice or whatever. In both the horror and game genres, the threat must be horrific and permanent. And then the player reloads the game and tries again, killing the atmosphere and the mood. You can try to make these things not happen if the player makes a mistake, but then once the player figures that out the entire game is ruined.

        1. Shufflecat says:

          True. Pretty much any story game is vulnerable to this. People ruin dating sims the exact same way. Give people a mappable system, and they’ll try to save-scum or walkthrough checklist their way to a pre-selected “victory”, instead of engaging with the fiction on it’s own level.

          I’m not sure there’s a design answer, other than the single-file autosave thing so people can’t reload, only restart from scratch. It’s a human nature thing to try to game systems to get the outcome you want, so when presented with a literal game system, well… humans gonna human.

          You can promote the idea of role-playing, or playing for the journey instead of the destination, but no matter how successful you are at that, I feel like you’re always going to have at least 1/3 of the audience who just can’t look at a “game” that way.

          1. Daimbert says:

            It’s the idea of Bad Ends: there’s one good ending that everyone needs to strive for and achieve, and if not you didn’t finish the game. For dating sims, for at least a number of the fans you can build it out as exploring the world and seeing what character you end up with, but for RPGs and survival horror games the concept is so broad and serious that you can’t just get to whatever ending you can get to. You can’t get any kind of good ending if the world ends, after all [grin].

        2. Shirdal says:

          While every media has to maintain the illusion it is going for, I agree that the inherent nature of games poses some unique problems. At the same time, that same nature also gives games a unique advantage, particularly when it comes to horror. While mileage may vary from person to person, being put in the driver’s seat of the horror protagonist can make the horror experience much more intense. I believe the same idea holds true for any genre. Being in control can change our experience in a very meaningful way over being a passive observer.

          I do think, however, that failure states in horror games should be avoided. Not that they shouldn’t exist at all, but that it they should be difficult to get to, so that the player feels on the verge of “death” without actually crossing it too often, if at all. The more the player has to “try again”, the greater the risk of having the illusion broken. I still hold Amnesia: The Dark Descent to this day as one of the best examples of how to do this right, as the game is designed to almost but not quite get you.

    4. Shufflecat says:

      And as if that wasn’t bad enough, it doesn’t even tell a story. I don’t mean that they ruin their slow-paced story with a bunch of gunfights, I mean that Alan Wake calls you up on the magic telephone, tells you to go to a place, and then the game just forgets to have a story and makes you spend four hours killing monsters until you kill the boss monster and the DLC ends. It’s never clear why that was important to do (the game goes out of its way to establish that all these monsters were locked up before you broke the seal to wade in and kill them) or why Alan Wake was involved.

      Actually it does, and it’s kind of a huge plot twist for the base game. BUT it does so obliquely, by burying stuff in the documents and Hotline audiologs, which hook back both into the events in AW, and similarly “buried” story details in the Control base game.

      Basically it recontextualizes the base game as having been a full Alan Wake sequel the whole time, not just another story in the same world. And in the process sets up a hook for a further sequel.

      Alan created the Hiss, and set it loose on the bureau. He may have also created Jessie, Dylan, and Polaris/Hedron as well. The events of Control were written into existence by Alan as a way of retooling the Bureau into a weapon against the Darkness.

      Like in AW, he’s having to surreptitiously use the Darkness’s own power against it while under it’s watchful eye. So he can’t just ask the bureau for help, or the Darkness would know. And besides: the old bureau under Trench’s directorship would fuck things up, because Trench was a massive control freak. So he writes an event that will break the whole bureau down and force a bottom-up rebuild under new management (whom he may have actually even created for this). Then once the new bureau is over the hump and on it’s feet, he releases the Hartman monster to call their attention to the Darkness.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        God damnit. I slogged through most of the codex entries in the base game before deciding that they were boring filler with no bearing on the plot, then continued that habit into the DLC, which apparently hid its entire plot in the screens the game trained me not to bother looking at.

        1. Shufflecat says:

          Oh, don’t get me wrong: most of it really is just droning fluff, so that’s totally understandable. That’s why I say “buried”.

          The way the game chooses to deliver it’s story is a legit major flaw. Both Control and Alan Wake have this same problem.

          Something like Destiny or COD can get away with this kind of delivery because everyone knows the gameplay is the real point, and is well made enough to keep people engaged, so story is legit optional.

          Remedy REALLY should be doing the opposite though. Their gameplay hasn’t risen above “workmanlike” since Max Payne 2. Depending on who you ask it’s generally either “shit”, or “adequate, but uncreative”. They keep burying their greatest strength (worldbuilding and story concepts) in favor of their greatest weakness (mechanics).

  8. Zekiel says:

    That story about Heather’s client fills me with anger too. That is an unbelievably selfish way to go. Really sorry for those kids.

    A vote here for a Prey series! (When you can) I’ve just started a replay and am remembering what an incredible game it is. Being set entirely in one huge location (even split up by loading screens) is what makes it so good, I think. And the dedication to detail (eg every single crew member has a name and a corpse) is amazing.

  9. Addie says:

    Hey Shamus. Sounds like you, me, and about half the rest of the world have just become a bit unmotivated to start new things during lockdown. (I’ve certainly had a fair few days where I’ve decided that everything is shit and I just can’t be bothered doing anything – fortunately it’s always passed, and I’m hoping that the world is about to turn a corner now that all of the vaccines are starting to roll out.) But I enjoy reading your random thoughts on things just as much as I enjoy your long-form stuff, and I’m sure it’s not just me who’d be pleased to read them while you take your time considering what big topic to approach next.

    My heart goes out to the family that Heather was working for; that kind of thing puts everything else in the world into perspective. Hope the girls are doing okay.

  10. Pax says:

    I mean, I think you’re right that Remedy couldn’t do a proper Silent Hill game, but man, would I love to take Jesse Faden out of the concrete labyrinth of the Oldest House and into the field to do some psychic combat at an altered world event like Silent Hill.

  11. Christopher+Wolf says:

    I hope the kids are alright and Heather is all right. That has to be stressful.

  12. Dreadjaws says:

    Aside from that, I’m torn between “the thing I need to work on” versus “The project I can’t stop thinking about.” I’ve said in the past that I really loved the gameplay of HuniePop, but I wasn’t really comfortable with the whole “naked anime girls” thing. I really want gameplay in the same style, but with some other premise or theme. The release of HuniePop 2 has me thinking about the genre again. I have a bunch of ideas how I could modify the game to lean into the “puzzle game” feel that I like so much.

    Speaking of which, whatever happened to Pseudoku? If you have trouble getting people into it, try adding some anime tiddies to it.

    Wow. That article is quite a rollercoaster. I went in strongly disagreeing with the title, but the author Andy Kelly made some points I really agreed with. And then it all fell apart because of my general ongoing gripes regarding Remedy.

    Yeah, I already know I’m going to disagree with it. My gripes with Remedy are far stronger than yours. I thought Alan Wake was insutingly bad and I could only stomach a couple of hours of Control before I got bored out of my mind (hmm, now that I realize it, it looks like every Remedy game I try to play I end up abandoning at the two hour mark). And the gameplay is likely the problem (well, not in Alan Wake, where the gameplay was merely one of many, many problems). I can never find their shooting exciting. I don’t know what is about it. I know it’s a beloved developer, but I’ve never liked any of their games.

    Still, there might be some hope in the Silent Hill front.

    1. Shufflecat says:

      The stories in both Alan Wake and Control are very much a case of “it gets better 10 hours in” syndrome. They take a long time to build up what’s really going on, one tiny easily-missed detail at a time, and what they present in the mean time is pretty paper-thin and shallow, and to a certain extent designed to mislead. They start out with a blanket of very conventional weirdness that they eventually gradually start pulling back to reveal a more creative weirdness underneath. Control also commits the sin of putting a HUGE plot twist for the main game in one of the DLCs instead of the main game.

      So if you’ve only played an hour or two of each… the story you’re having a bad reaction to very likely isn’t the actual story.

      Both have gameplay issues, but Control’s gameplay gets much better as you level up and gain new abilities. In the beginning it feels like an ordinary-but-kinda-jank conventional 3rd person shooter, but by the time you’re halfway in, it starts to feel increasingly like 3rd-person Doom with a gravity gun. Alan Wake… NGL: gameplay-wise if you’ve played the first couple hours, you’ve played the whole game.

      That’s not to say I’m recommending you try again, or that your feelings are invalid. I hate the “it gets good X hours in” thing: it means everything before that was a waste of both the player and the devs time. As a corollary, I think the “you can’t have a valid opinion if you didn’t finish the game” thing is just as dumb. If the game either fails to hold one’s interest or actively turns one off sufficiently to make one quit before one gets to the good part, that’s an indictment in it’s own right, and a legit, arguably catastrophic, flaw.

      I enjoyed both games, but I’m not going to pretend they’re not at least 1/3 jank. I enjoy them kinda the same way I enjoy David Lynch’s Dune, or Michael Mann’s The Keep. They’re not quite as flawed as those… but it is the same kind of thing.

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        To add to this, while it will be a case of varying mileage all the way down I feel like while Remedy can spin up an interesting story they then fail to use what they’ve established to its fullest or deliver on resolutions. I’m not expecting all the answer laid out necessarily but from what I’ve experienced (Alan Wake and Quantum Break) they toy with the ideas and then kinda wrap things up with a bit of an ass pull without exploring the implications and nuances.

        1. Shufflecat says:

          Oh, yeah. Control is the same way. The actual ending is weirdly abrupt, and feels more like the build-up to a 3rd act that never comes. And the DLC expansions that happen after the main game is wrapped up don’t address this, so they end up feeling like branches off the main story rather than continuations.

          And the sucky thing is it’s kind of obvious why, and it’s not a great reason. The main story feels unfinished because the real third act is actually the twist reveal in the AWE DLC… which they couldn’t incorporate into the main game storyline like they needed to BECAUSE they were planning to sell it as an expansion. Shot themselves square in the foot. And the main story ends with the main threat unresolved because they still needed mook enemies for the DLCs, and didn’t want to or couldn’t afford to make entirely new ones. Which in turn creates setting issues for the AWE DLC story, because the big reveal there would make so much more sense if it came after the bureau had rebuilt from the Hiss invasion rather than while the invasion was still ongoing and the bureau was still in a shambles.

          Like I say: there’s cool stuff in there, but the delivery is jank.

          1. Shufflecat says:

            Okay. The edit window elapsed so forgive this being a reply instead of an edit.

            Imagine the original Star Wars: A New Hope.

            Imagine if the movie ended when the Falcon lands on Yavin after escaping the Death Star.

            Lea says thanks. Han takes his money, and the move ends right there. Oh, and the whole “death star can blow up planets” thing was never mentioned. We never saw Alderan got blown up, we never saw the Imperial board meeting, etc. As far as we know, the Death Star is just a big mobile base, dangerous only because of it’s ability to support lots of smaller ships/fighters. Our heroes are heroes because they successfully rescued the princess and escaped the Empire, nothing more. The Empire’s still out there. In fact there are fighters skirmishing in the sky as the movie fades out.

            You walk out of the theater thinking that was fun, but it felt too simple, and kind of unsatisfying. Like the story needed something more, but you’re not sure what.

            That’s sorta like how Control ends.

            Now six months or whatever after Star Wars, the Holiday Special airs, and instead of Wookie Christmas, it’s the Death Star showing up at Yavin. There is no briefing. Everyone hustles into orbit to attack. We hear brief background snippets of imperial comms chatter, in which we get the very first and only mention of the fact the Death Star can blow up planets. Luke is beset by Vader long before he makes it to the Death Star. But surprise: Han shows up, having had a change of heart, and knocks Vader spinning away. Aaaaaaand roll credits.

            The battle is still happening. The Death Star looms over the Rebellion, suddenly and bizarrely recontextualized. But Vader’s been shown what for, so story’s done: turn off the TV.

            That’s sorta the relationship the DLC for Control has to the main game.

  13. Drathnoxis says:

    Speaking of programming posts, what happened to your System Shock level generator series? It felt like it just suddenly stopped, is it finished, or abandoned? It was really interesting and I would have liked to see more.

  14. Gordon says:

    I would love something like Prey, but without the monsters. I don’t really do creepy scary, for me the monsters (and super natural stuff) were the worst part of Prey, Stalker, Death Stranding and Metro.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I cannot for the life of me think of any FPS or even third-person 3D games, where you’re stranded or fixing technology stuff, without some kind of monsters or spooky things. Factorio (with aliens disabled) is 2.5D top-down, and In Other Waters is a lot more like a point-and-click adventure with limited puzzling-out of how to fix stuff (you basically take the only open paths, and use whatever new widgets and aliens you come across). Now I want a game like this! ^^;

      1. Gordon says:

        Oh, lets add Subnautica too the list, incidentally, at least so far, the sequel is way less scary.

        I don’t mind the monsters in Satisfactory… aside from the spider things they are not so creepy and are visible and amenable to direct solutions and / or bypassing / running away.

    2. CloverMan-88 says:

      Ad this point in my life I’ve killed enough things in video games, that I really enjoy different gameplay loops, so I second that wholeheardly. That’s one of the reasons I loved Death Stranding so much – yes, there is some combat, but it’s far, far from the main activities of the game. Even though, you could swap them with STALKER style anomalies and I’d probably enjoy the game even more.

  15. Alberek says:

    I really DON’T want for remedy to make games about Silent Hill if that’s going to drive them away from any crazy new IP they can make.
    Alan Wake is really cool game, even when it has a lot of problems and the gameplay is a bit dull… it’s the Alone in the Dark that we never had.
    Control is SCP… but with Remedy’s own spin… but beyond that, it is also a “new weird” game, something we need to grow away from the lovecraftian narratives that are a bit stale at this point.
    There are plenty of “Silent Hill” games already, the best of them don’t even have the name Silent Hill.

  16. RFS-81 says:

    It’s ridiculous how expensive SH2 is. It doesn’t feel that long ago that I got it for 40 Euro on ebay, but it has to be a decade now, give or take. I feel old.

    Anyway, to play a modern version of SH2:
    1) Pirate Silent Hill 2: Director’s Cut.
    2) Install the Enhanced Edition mod.
    3) Buy the HD release to calm your conscience (if necessary).

    I liked Nerrel’s video on it.

  17. BlueHorus says:

    The thing that mde Silent Hill 2 stand out for me was the way it wasn’t necessarily trying to scare you. There weren’t that many jumpscares, the enemies were slow-moving, there’s a radio that warns you when they’re nearby, the world seems to function on dream-logic so death doesn’t seem to stick anyway…might just be me, but I found it much more creepy that scary.

    Compared to the (few) other horror games I’ve played that always seemed to be trying to directly scare the player, Silent Hill 2 was much more about the characters in the story: a lot of the atmoshpere cam from a palpable sense of just how unhappy everyone was (including the monsters!).

    Could another studio do that? Maybe. but a lot of tedious combat would definitely NOT help.

  18. WaveofKittens says:

    The Chinese Room might be a good choice in terms of story, but since they don’t seem to “do” gameplay, well……

    Icepick Lodge would likely be a better fit. And they are not absolutely married to making difficult games, as clearly shown by Knock-Knock.

  19. RFS-81 says:

    So… I actually don’t know if the Silent Hill series even should continue. Whether it’s a sequel or a reboot, it’s going to be all about “lore”, either piling on more of it, or reimagining what exists. And lore isn’t what makes Silent Hill great. But without it, why even call it Silent Hill?

    Also, what should the mechanics be for a modern Silent Hill game? The fighting mechanics were never good. Killing the player breaks their immersion. Make the controls less clunky, and you risk making the player feel too powerful. You could go for some walking-simulator-like thing but The Medium tried it and was generally considered boring. Maybe make it a stealth game? But that’s not what the series is known for.

    1. Shirdal says:

      Completely in agreement here.

      The whole Silent Hill franchise is so polluted with “bad” games by now that they outnumber the “good” ones, and I feel like all the goodwill towards them has run out. I for one automatically expect any Silent Hill game to be a bad one, or at least one I won’t care for. So what value does the franchise have other than nostalgia?

      We don’t need “Silent Hill” to tell horror stories like the one in Silent Hill 2. The particulars of that setting hardly contributed anything to that game. It may as well have been set in a random town called “Quiet Meadows” and still be just as good.

    2. Shufflecat says:

      This is a really good point. There’s a sort of consumerist instinct that if a game or movie or whatever was good, that means it rightly should get a sequel. And another. And another. And a prequel trilogy. And a EU. And an official wiki. And 3 competing fan wikis. Whatever amount of MOAR is needed for Sturgeon’s Law poisoning to finally add up to a fatal dose. That is the only right and proper way for a good work to ever actually end.

      Fuck that. Good stories should be able to be stand-alone self-contained works if that’s how their written, or if that’s what suits the story best.

      God, the amount of cool stuff that’s been ruined by franchising and out of control fanwank in my lifetime is disheartening. There’s almost nothing left of the stuff I was a fan of as a kid or in my twenties, and it gets legit harder to get excited about new things as I get older now because it’s proven to be such a reliable cycle. Past couple years I’ve started swinging around hard onto the “Death of The Author” and “No Single Canon” trains simply because the only way to preserve interest is by building headcanons.

  20. Gautsu says:

    Not necessarily on topic, but it’s not looking good for Bloodlines 2

  21. Trevor says:

    Do Prey! That game was great. Also I feel like your writing on games you really enjoy is much better than your writing on games that you like but have some issues with.

  22. Paul Spooner says:

    That bad news is so tragic. Orphaned over a period of five years by self destructive malevolence and pandemic. I’m tempted to make a AAA gaming reference joke, or even joke about how I’m tempted, but none of it feels right. Our condolences to the children, for what it’s worth.
    Stern and playful. That’s how my 9 year old daughter describes your tone on the Diecast. Looking forward to doing the next episode with you in a few days. It will be good to get back to something resembling a routine.

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