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INTERVIEW: Tomm Hulett on Silent Hill Downpour PART 1

INTERVIEW: Tomm Hulett on Silent Hill Downpour PART 1

With Silent Hill: Downpour releasing early in Australia this week, MCV speak to Associate Producer Tomm Hulett.

Is the new moniker ‘Downpour’ an push towards a new line within the Silent Hill brand? Why no numerical change for this new title?

Silent Hill Downpour stands alone as a self contained narrative, similar to how Silent Hill 2 was.  It does not intersect throughout a larger plotline, as SH, SH3, Origins, and Homecoming did.  It emphasizes the greater phenomena of the town of Silent Hill by expanding into a region of Silent Hill southeast of Toluca Lake, an area where gamers have never been able to explore until now.

Silent Hill has remained staunchly in the psychological thriller category of horror games, rather than slowly shifting towards a more action-driven focus as some other franchises have. Does the abandonment of the psychological thriller genre give Silent Hill more breathing room to explore new style of scares and new ways of telling stories?

The main premise behind Silent Hill has always been that the town itself, draws upon an inner darkness that is contained within the protagonist(s) who end up there.  So it’s natural that it would uncover difficult subject matter along the way.  This was always the original intent of the creators, as it lends itself very well to deep psychological investigation, and self evaluation.

Do you see a delineation between action-horror or shock-horror games and the slower-paced games which aim to convey dread over a long term? If so, how would you say the ‘horror’ landscape has shifted in this generation of consoles?

A little of both really.  One of the key goals we set out on very early in pre-production was to go back through all the previous Silent Hill games and take a hard look at what worked well, and what didn’t work so well.  During that process, we identified some key elements from every previous Silent Hill game, and tried to pay homage to those that worked well, in our own Downpour sort of way.   So for the savvy fans, they may pick up on some of the subtle nods to the previous games.  However, Silent Hill Downpour stands on its own with a very strong storyline, and a large amount of the focus is being brought back to the town itself and how the manifestations of individual people’s inner demons are reflected by it.

Survival Horror is in an interesting spot these days.  I think the genre was lucky, to an extent, when it started out.  A lot of horror elements “clicked” such as clunky combat, confusing cameras, and so on.  However, shoddy gameplay can’t be a feature forever, and so everyone fixed the combat—resulting in action games with creepier monsters.  If Horror games are going to be “scary” in the future, it’s going to take careful game design to do it.  It can be hard to convince people to spend money/time on “scare design” since it doesn’t show very much progress until it’s final and working perfectly… but it’s vital.  If you have tense, frightening gameplay happening naturally, and then some carefully orchestrated designed-scares… you would have a very memorable horror game.  Hopefully that’s the direction the genre is headed.

Is there pressure on the Silent Hill brand to broaden its appeal by using shock-value horror over longer-term fear?

 I think Silent Hill has established it’s own unique subcategory of “Psychological Horror” within the Horror genre.  Silent Hill was a pioneer in 1999, and still remains true to it’s roots with Silent Hill Downpour.   While many other games have gone the route of more action oriented game design, attempting to appeal to more mainstream audiences, we’ve taken a very careful approach to the pacing of Downpour to make sure it maintains that original ‘slow-burn’ and keeping the player off guard with less predictability.

I wouldn’t say Silent Hill gets away with anymore than numerous television shows, movies, or books.  If anything, I believe videogames are scrutinized even harder because of the inherent misconception that all videogames are made for kids, while clearly many (such as Silent Hill) are intended specifically for mature audiences.

Does the appearance of stronger narrative-driven titles like Alan Wake alter the way you go about creating a Silent Hill game? (ie does it pave the way for stronger narrative focus in other games within the genre or does it exist in its own niche?)

Downpour is what you might call a “traditional” Silent Hill.  We don’t experiment with the formula like Shattered Memories – instead going back to all the core elements of the older games.  That said, we aren’t confining ourselves to outdated mechanics just for the sake of tradition.  So, rather than creating a game out of fixed cameras because the first 4 games did it, Downpour has a modern player-controlled camera… most of the time.  At key moments, we’ll employ fixed cameras for dramatic effect, to set up a scare, or to basically enhance the atmosphere.  The best way to think of Downpour compared to the classics is that we retain the fundamentals, enhance them with modern gameplay, and employ traditional “SH quirks” at key moments.  Hopefully this is the perfect balance so veteran fans have the SH they love, and newcomers have a low barrier of entry to join the rest of us in our favourite scary town.

MCV also asked one question of Devin Shatsky, a Producer at Konami on Silent Hill: Downpour…

One of the most interesting aspects of SH games is the way in which they play with videogame rules. For example, being trapped in an apartment in The Room, the therapy session at the beginning of Shattered Memories or the long sequence in SH 2 when the player walks down a long path, expecting something to jump out at them – but nothing does. Are there any moments in Downpour which are equally challenging? 

Internally, we refer to those as WTF moments.  And yes, we definitely have moments of this nature in Silent Hill Downpour.  Obviously, I won’t specificially describe any of those here, because it would spoil “the fun” for a lot of players.   A lot of design focus was put into keeping the player on their toes, and trying to keep things unpredictable.

Thank you both for your time.


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