Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is almost upon us. On March 4 the re-imagining of the classic original game will be hitting stores in the UK so we caught up with the guys at development house Climax to find out how the new game became such a departure from the original and why the Wii was the console of choice. Read on for part one of our in-depth interview with lead designer and writer Sam Barlow and game director Mark Simmons.
Q: I rather feel like I should start out by asking you a bunch of questions to psychologically profile you...
SB:Well, we've already done that! Mark insisted that we go and have a couple of sessions with a psychiatrist when we started the game...
Q: Are you serious?
Q: And how was that?
SB: [to Mark] Well, you didn't come in the next day, did you? You were crying, in fetal position!
It was really freaky, actually. Obviously we went without any reason to go to a psychiatrist, but the guy we went to see was quite adamant that it would be a genuine thing - that we'd go and be properly analysed. So when I went it, it was a like an hour of him basically digging to try and find something to talk about. So I went there in feeling very happy about my life, and I got about four fifths of the way through and he said, "Well, you seem very balanced and there's nothing wrong with you. You seem very happy." I started to feel guilty, like I was wasting his time, so I was really reaching. I was like, "Well, how about this?" and threw some stuff out there. I think his exact phrase was "now the monsters are out of the closet!". Then he looked at his watch and said okay, that's all for today. So I was booted out feeling terrible, like my life sucked. So in the second session we had something to talk about.
Q: I guess that's the thing - he wants repeat business.
SB: I'd have definitely given him repeat business if he didn't cost so much money.
MS: Yeah. He was on the project budget, so we had to be measured about how much of his services we used!
Q: It's interesting, because I'm sure there have been occasions where a project budget was used after the release of game... Congrats on the game. What were your thoughts going into this game? As a remake, it's fairly drastic in its overhauling...
SB: Obviously we'd done Silent Hill Origins for Konami, which in many ways was kind of a remake. We certainly tried to deliver a game that the had same feel, the same gameplay as Silent Hill 1 - even to the point to tweaking the way the enemy encounters worked. I think in the first game the enemies were a bit more ferocious than in later ones. So we really tried with that game to deliver something that felt like Silent Hill 1. Obviously it was a prequel, so a lot of the characters and story elements were very similar, and the locations. There's also been the movie, which was an attempt to kind of iron out the crinkles in the dialogue and to Hollywood it up a little bit. So there had been a lot of going over that original game in a straight way.
We internally had a lot of ideas about what we wanted to do with a horror game. We'd done everything by the rules, very much by the survival horror template with Origins. We felt like we wanted to do something a bit more progressive, and we had lots of ideas about what that would be. And when the Wii came out, that seemed like a great opportunity, a great excuse to talk about addressing a wider audience, about throwing out some of the gamier stuff. Breaking down the barriers to immersion, and what have you. And so a lot of things sort of came together. We were in discussions with Konami about doing something with the first game, and we knew we didn't want to do so something as obvious as just update the graphics, add in pointer controls for shooting, that kind of thing. And the more we talked about it with Konami, the more we talked about story elements and gameplay elements and what we could do with the Wii, and how. Essentially you could streamline the experience: what could you focus on, what was different about Silent Hill?
And the three pillars we came up with were, it's about atmosphere, it's about storytelling, and it's this kind of unique feeling of a Silent Hill game - the psychological elements, and things like that. So we wanted to make a game that was focused on those things, and we started to think about how we could leverage the Wii to focus on those things. What could we do with the storytelling - how could we make that interactive, how could we immerse players in the story and make it personal to the player. And so I think when we submitted our proposals to Konami, which were so radical as a whole - we were changing pretty much everything - they kind of looked at it and realised that there were some great ideas there, that it was a breath of fresh air... and they went with it. I think maybe if we had done something less radical it would have been more contentious, because you'd have just been looking at the things we were changing in isolation. But because the package made sense as a cohesive whole, they kind of just went with it and really liked those ideas.
MS: Nothing gets a developer more excited than the chance to do radical innovations. You speak to everybody in the games industry working in development, and their ideas are what excites them. And you don't always get the opportunity to do that because obviously the industry is very focused on making a profit, and is quite risk averse. If you're suggesting something that's radically different to other games, there's a risk associated with that. I think the team had an opportunity to think about the game before we went to Konami with a firm proposal on how we'd go about it, and by then we'd generated so much internal excitement and enthusiasm about the changes we were going to do that I think we went into the discussions with a lot of passion. Maybe that's what won them over.
SB: Just the idea that we've taken.... It's ostensibly a remake, and we've taken the rough kernel of the story and the ideas and stuff, and then done our own personal take on it. That happens a lot in movies and comics - you have reboots. It really helped that Battlestar Galactica was in everyone's mind, because you could point to that as an example. For me it's things like... I always got told off for this being too old a reference, which makes me feel really old, but Cronenberg's The Fly. That's absolutely a Cronenberg movie, and it's him being inspired by the original idea. So for us, we'd done Origins, and to some extent that was a kind of homage to the Japanese take on Silent Hill. It was very much treading in their footsteps, aping what they do best. What was so great about the early Silent Hills was that they were really personal, interesting games. The team members that contributed to those games created something very personal and interesting. They were games that you came away from and you remembered them. A lot of video games, you get to the end and finish it, and a year later you can't remember what happened in it. Whereas the Silent Hill games leave an indelible impression.