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 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 the thoughts of lead designer and writer Sam Barlow and game director Mark Simmons, as they discuss the challenges in bringing their ideas to life. If you missed part one of our interview, you can find it here.
Q: You mentioned the risk of innovating in the first place, but also with the Wii. You guys have had great reviews in the States so far. Everyone seems to love the game, and rightly so, as it's fantastic, but there have been a lot of very good games coming out for the Wii lately, a lot of mature games, which just haven't sold. I was talking to someone at EA about Dead Space Extraction - a great game, but hardly sold anything. Does that concern you? Not necessarily in terms of this game, but just generally for the Wii? If you make a game, you knock it out the park, it's mature, it's grown up, and then nobody buys it. How does that make you feel?
Mark Simmons: I suppose for us, it's other people's jobs to analyse the market and where to place the games, and what platforms to put games out on. But certainly from our perspective, this game has always been targeted to appeal not just to gamers. I think that right from the start we felt strongly that this could apply to non-gamers, the fans, gamers who maybe have gone off survival horror and are looking for something different and female players that just don't play games at all, maybe at Christmas decided they were interested in this particular game. Certainly a lot of anecdotal evidence from the forums is that families are playing this game together, they're seeing what personality the game is giving each person and how the game's changing differently for each of the family that's played it. It being a very family focused story I think has resonated between them. According to some of the forum comments, we've pulled families back together and made men cry playing the game.
Q: It seems that graphically, atmospherically, everything about this game, from the point of view of a Wii owner, this is exactly the kind of game I'd want on the console. It's just a bit disconcerting that a lot of publishers seem to be turning away from the Wii, despite the fact it's got this massive user-base. I'm just curious as to whether you still feel optimistic about it as a platform?
Sam Barlow: We love the Wii. I wish there were more games like Shattered Memories on the Wii. I personally love the Wii controls. I remember playing through Zelda when the Wii launched, and just the fact that you could sit back on the sofa and hold your hands apart and relax, meant that I could sit and play it for 70 hours and not get a hunchback. It just made the whole thing more relaxing. I think motion controls have a place. More natural interfaces, point and click stuff on the Wii, it's just a much nicer way to control things than having to tap through menus and stuff.
In terms of how well people sell games on Wii, I don't want to speak ill of other people's games, but no matter what the quality of Dead Space, it was a rail shooter. If you put a rail shooter out on 360 or PS3 you'd expect it to do no sales at all. So why should it be different on the Wii? I think there's almost an expectation that Wii owners should be grateful for stuff, and lap it up, but if you look at games where people have ummed and ahhed about why they haven't sold on Wii, there's a big question mark over whether they would have sold on the 360 or PS3.
MS: Wii's almost suffered from its own success. It was this huge bubble of newness to the games industry. Looking at some of the stats I was reading the other day, it's almost three times as many games being released on the Wii platform in a year than on each other platform. You've got the Wii user-base getting inundated with lots and lots of games, and the vast majority of those are shovelware, or lacking in quality and depth. I think there's kind of a bit of a backlash against that, the perception that that's what the Wii platform is about. I think maybe that initial boom, wont bust, but it'll come back to something that's more realistic and reasonable, and we'll return to a more realistic, sensible approach to that platform. At the end of the day, there are so many Wiis in the world, it's going to be silly not to make games for the platform. We felt off the bat that if you put a quality game out there, surely it's going to sell as there are that many consoles in people's homes. I don't know, time will tell. I suppose the success of Natal and the PlayStation's own version of the Wii controller is going to be interesting to see as well.
SB: I think there's definitely an antagonism towards the Wii amongst gamers. I think A, because to some extent Nintendo has abandoned its initial audience in favour of the new market they've created, which makes people feel bad. And then there's just a general suspicion about motion controls. I think that the fact that all the platforms are going to have motion controls - you're going to have Natal or the Gem wand or whatever it's called - on the systems will mean that it's something that's going to stay. We'll just kind of get used to it. Certainly seeing some of the people that are more skeptical about these things, play this game and see what we've done, you can't ignore the fact that it does add something to the game. These kind of controls, these elements do add something to it.
I think we always from the start wanted to do it right. Our approach was that we as hardcore gamers wanted an element of precision out of the controls, so we didn't want woolliness from our Wii controls, which I think is one of the biggest negatives that people see when they play Wii games. So from the start, we said, you know, if our core control scheme is going to be based around using the Wii remote, with our flashlight mechanic, that control scheme has to be as good or better than a traditional scheme. So we have this beautiful control scheme, where you can look around quite fluidly, and you're fully in control, and it feels one to one. I hate playing twin-stick games on the 360 now that involve flashlights. I'm used to being able to just look around, and it's very natural and intuitive.
We put this game in the hands on non-gamers or non-traditional gamers, and they get the controls very quickly, whereas I've yet been able to get my girlfriend to play an FPS. She's always looking at the floor, the walls, the ceilings. We looked at Wii games we thought were strong. We like the idea you see in some games where there are frequent, little physical interactions with the world, so in our game, a lot of it is spent exploring, absorbing story information, looking around, enjoying the shadows cast on everything. We wanted to give you things to do that would make the world more real to you. These aren't necessarily challenges or puzzles, but just making you unlock doors, open cupboards and drawers using the Wii-mote. That kind of swapping between third-person and first-person makes it more real to you, makes you more immersed in the world. When we created those sequences we always said the Wii-mote controls have to still be precise. So most of our Wii-mote interactions are kind of driven with pointer controls, so there's a direct one-to-one relationship between what you're doing and what's happening on-screen. There's not much gesture stuff.
Q: Apart from throwing off the monsters, which feels very intuitive.
SB: Again, that's quite a simple and focused interaction. You know when you need to do it: they're on you. You very much thrust them off in the way you would do. It's not a case of, you're using some complicated device and you're given an arcane symbol to wave your Wii Remote through the air. We always wanted to have a very focused and precision element to the Wii controls, but they always give you something extra. These frequent little physical interactions you have in the world, they just draw you in. When you're doing those in first-person your brain's thinking like you're actually there doing those things. It just gives everything that extra little layer of making you feel as though you're walking around the world.
Q: How difficult was it to implement the system whereby the game changes depending on choices you make? How much does that system continue to be used later on in the game?
MS: That's one of the things that I really want to get across. It's not just the therapy tests that evaluate your personality. They do, but literally, there's constant measuring of what you're doing in the game. What's interesting to you is being measured constantly. The micro-decisions you're making in gameplay, the directions you're going. Things you look at, things you don't look at.
SB: Does he read something? Does he read it all? Does he go this way? Does he follow this route? Does he spend more time here? Is he calling this person? Is he listening to this phone call? Is he hanging up? I think coming up with the system and writing the system was maybe the most challenging part, but we have a nice system where ultimately every little thing you do in the game or piece of content you can interact with can be assigned a little personality score. This is all added into a very classical psychometric profile of your personality that can then be mapped onto research. Every piece of content in the game is constantly asking questions of this profile that's been built up. It's very hard to say, this, this and this will create this because you can get there a hundred different ways. Essentially most items of content in the game will have multiple versions, or elements of them that can change.
MS: There are lots of subtle, more minor things in the game that we didn't expect people to get. We imagined people would analyse the game and find them. It's been a balancing nightmare. Our aim was to tweak the game to get the right personality for each person.
SB: I think the really neat thing is that at the end of the game you get a report of your personality, and I haven't seen anyone who's played the game say it was wrong.
MS: A couple of people have said it's given them an insight into their personality.
SB: That kind of seals the deal. It's a subtle thing. It doesn't suddenly add an entirely new element to it, but it creates a richer experience.
Q: How would you feel about taking on Silent Hill 2 if you were to do a sequel and do you think you'd take a similar approach? What would you take from this game?
SB: I think there's so much in this game. The thing you'd definitely take is the approach we took, which was story first. The aim is to create an experience where the player interacts with the story in a way that only video games can do. Every element in the game has to make sense within the story, the symbols and imagery and stuff. That approach would be a big take away from it.
MS: You wouldn't need to use the story framing mechanic of the therapist to have psychological profiling in your game engine, because so much of the stuff is based on the player's actions. It's easily platform independent. It could easily be applied to, say, a re-imagining of the Silent Hill 2 story without needing to force in a psychoanalyst.
Q: Are you interested in Heavy Rain?
MS: We've been keeping close eyes on it throughout the whole production, because it is so story focused. It is really interesting, what they're trying to do. Whether they pull it off or not is obviously everybody's big question.
Q: Thanks for your time guys.
If you missed it, you can find part one of our interview here. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is due for release on Wii on March 4. It will also be released on PlayStation 2 and PSP.