Silent Hill 15th Anniversary Retrospective
Onward through the fog.
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Silent Hill, a series famous for its mysterious atmosphere and frightening imagery, is a major property for Konami. The success of the Silent Hill games has inspired comics, novels, and a handful of movies. However, when the original was in development, almost no one outside of Team Silent (the group of developers who designed Silent Hill 1-4 at Konami) had any confidence in its success. As the story goes, Team Silent was composed of artists and programmers who had failed at other projects, and Silent Hill was their last chance for redemption. Konami wanted a game that would appeal to Western audiences and, one would assume, fans of Resident Evil, the hit PlayStation survival horror game that was released the same year that Silent Hill went into development.
One of the younger devs on the team, Takayoshi Sato, didn't start out as a leader on Team Silent, but he became one through sheer perseverance and skill. After a few months of rocky development, he ironed out the game's inconsistent plot, created all of the character models and a majority of the environmental assets, and single-handedly crafted every CG cutscene during late nights, when he could harvest the rendering power from PCs of coworkers who had gone home for the day. His dedication is evident in the final product, which delivered a storyline that kept players guessing, and a town that was riddled with horrors and, of course, copious amounts of fog.
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Silent Hill was a hit, and Sato went on to lead development on many aspects of Silent Hill 2, considered by many to be the high point for the series. Sato's influence may not have been broadcast back in '96, but seemingly everything that players love about the original Silent Hill can be traced back to him. Sato is no longer working for Konami, and it's rumored that Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima is considering working on future games in the series, but it will always be Sato's baby.
What do GameSpot editors remember about Sato's seminal work, which had its 15th anniversary earlier this year?
Kevin Van Ord
I grew up in a rural Pennsylvania town with a sizable mental hospital and periodic bouts of fog. I've often said it's the kind of place that's good to grow up in but difficult to return to, and Silent Hill has always represented the nightmares I had as a small-town kid finding my way in a place where I never felt I belonged.
I knew there must be awful things lurking behind the local motel's doors. I'm sure I heard the telltale signs of vague evildoings when the sun went down. Adults warned me not to cross the state hospital's grounds, lest the patients there do something unspeakable. When my mother's religious friends warned me of the satanic rituals that the rock-and-roll-listening locals were performing, my imagination concocted ideas of pentagrams covered with blood splatters and the entrails of sacrificial lambs. Years later, Silent Hill brought to my screen these horrors with its uncanny way of turning mundane locations--diners, playgrounds, churches--into dens of demonic scheming.
Silent Hill also marked the first time I was so aware of audio design. The game famously dealt with the PlayStation hardware's limitations by filling the town of Silent Hill with darkness and fog, and alerted you to the presence of enemies with the sounds of static emanating from your radio. Protagonist Harry Mason wasn't a combat veteran; he was just a regular guy caught in irregular circumstances. Harry's vulnerability meant that every combat encounter represented actual peril, so that disturbing static would cause me to panic. I couldn't see the danger, but I knew it was close, and so I ran, hoping to reach safety and not come face-to-face with more rabid dogs.
Silent Hill and its subsequent installments--Silent Hill 3 in particular--stayed with me because they capitalized on the fears that adults had instilled within me. Even now when I return to my hometown, I stay in at night. I have no idea what wickedness might be occurring in the shadowed alleyways and abandoned elementary schools.
For all the terror, drama, and excitement of the Silent Hill franchise, one of my most vivid memories comes not from the game itself, but from a disastrous late-night gaming session with friends. We had been taking turns playing the original Silent Hill for a few hours with all the lights off and the door closed. The game was still new back then, and everything scared us. Every time we opened a new door it would trigger a small panic attack as we anticipated being ambushed on the other side.
Every time we opened a new door it would trigger a small panic attack as we anticipated being ambushed on the other side.
During this particular session, we were pretty far in the game and feeling stressed. We didn’t know it at the time, but the floatstinger boss--basically a giant moth creature--was coming up next. I excused myself to use the restroom, but I could hear my friends freaking out as they played. When I returned, they were looking very guilty. Come to find out, they had exhausted all our health kits and handgun bullets while fighting "some crazy monkey enemy that was jumping all over the screen."
Worse yet, they had just saved over our only save file. Normally this would be a minor setback, but this particular save point before the floatstinger prevents any backtracking. You have to go straight to the boss. And we tried for hours to beat that boss, but with no health items and only melee weapons, it was impossible. We would die in one hit, and since the floatstinger can fly, it's not meant to be fought with a freaking lead pipe or a small axe. In the end, the game beat us, and we had to start over. I guess the lesson here is to always try to keep a cool head, and an extra save file.
Fear is a four-letter word. But so is love, and it is embarrassing to confess that I was first driven to the Silent Hill games because of a high school crush. You see, young me had overheard the person in question talk about a scary game by the name of Silent Hill. According to him, the game had been so frightening that he never made it past the 10-minute mark. Eager to prove something, I threw myself into Silent Hill at the first opportunity, and proceeded to fumble with sweaty palms through one of my first survival horror experiences.
Not only were monsters difficult to kill, but the game was littered with puzzles of varying difficulty that stumped my younger self. I loved the Silent Hill games for their ability to challenge multiple facets of myself. Still, I repeatedly told myself that I was not afraid, and in a strange depiction of the saying "fake it until you make it," the lie became the truth. Today, hosting GameSpot's regular live show House of Horrors, I am still in the habit of berating myself to hold steadfast in the face of the most horrifying games.
As for the high school crush, I would later brag to him about journeying through the Silent Hill games without fear.
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