The pressure must have been immense for Double Helix, the American studio tasked with creating the next "Silent Hill" game.
"Silent Hill" fans are rabid, obsessed with the series' intricate plot nuances and typically resistant to change (see: the formula-altering "Silent Hill: The Room").
It's with this mentality that Jason Allen, lead designer at Double Helix, went into approaching the development of "Silent Hill: Homecoming." Reception to "Homecoming" has been mixed from fans and series newcomers.
After finishing "Homecoming," I sent Allen a series of questions that I came up while playing through the game. Why not change "Silent Hill"'s archaic approach to puzzles? How did they choose Pyramid Head's appearance? Did they spend too much time making the game feel like the old "Silent Hill" games?
Read on for his answers. [SOME SPOILERS ABOUT THE GAME'S VILLAINS FOLLOW...]
MTV Multiplayer: Do you feel like you've satisfied hardcore "Silent Hill" fans with "Homecoming"? They're a very picky bunch, often to a fault.
Jason Allen, Lead Designer: I firmly believe we’ve shown the fans that we can craft a "Silent Hill" experience that’s at least as compelling as some of the previous games, and especially given this is our first outing, I feel we’ve made a great product we are all proud of.
"Konami stipulated that we must preserve the essence of 'Silent Hill' whilst modernizing certain features"
MTV Multiplayer: What would you say was your greatest success with "Homecoming"? And now with the always-lovely hindsight as your ally, what could you have improved upon?
Allen: Taking over any franchise is always going to be fraught with challenges, and the team faced many during the development of "Homecoming." The greatest success we had with "Homecoming" was the improvements to the combat system and capturing the essence of the "Silent Hill" universe. As with any creative endeavor there are always things to improve upon. I would have liked to have spent more time with the puzzles and also made some changes to way the levels flow, but generally the team is proud of our efforts.
MTV Multiplayer: When I played through "Homecoming," it felt very Japanese in design. You really couldn't tell it was developed here in America. Was that intentional?
Allen: Obtaining a Japanese feel was very much our intent. There are a large number of games in the horror genre on the market; "Silent Hill" has always had a unique ambiance that has separated the game from the competitors. We felt it was of crucial importance that we maintained this aesthetic difference by concentrating on the Japanese elements of the game.
MTV Multiplayer: To follow up on that, the Japanese design of "Homecoming" sometimes confused me. The very "Silent Hill"-style puzzles (i.e. two stone slabs to be brought together across a map), tapping a button to interact with everything in the environment to receive text descriptions. Did you ever feel compelled to break free of these conventions and put more of a spin on the traditional "Silent Hill" formula?
Allen: "Silent Hill" has been intrinsically linked with Konami’s Team Silent since the first game – with the notable exception of "Origins." As a new developer for the series it was important that we demonstrate we understood those unique qualities of a "Silent Hill" game before potentially breaking free of conventions and creating something new. Konami stipulated that we must preserve the essence of "Silent Hill" whilst modernizing certain features.
MTV Multiplayer: One of the central criticisms I've read from hardcore fans was the use of Pyramid Head in such a literal sense. From what I understand, he (it?) was more metaphorical in the previous "Silent Hill" games. Would you say that's fair?
Allen: We were interested in exploring the nature of Pyramid Head. Placing him within "Homecoming" wasn’t a decision that was taken lightly. If we could not create a consistent reasoning for his presence then we would not put him in at all. In "Silent Hill 2" Pyramid Head represented James’s desire for punishment, but you could say that all creatures in "Silent Hill" are some form of emotional manifestation. In "Homecoming" we tried to maintain that same resonance. In "Homecoming" he was the embodiment of a myth [that] parents started to keep the children out of trouble. On another level he’s also the accretion of the activities going on in the town of Shepherd’s Glen.
"Trying something too radical for our first outing would not be the way to go. We needed to show that we knew how to recreate a classical experience"
MTV Multiplayer: I'm a fan of the "Silent Hill" movie -- well, outside of the ending, but that's debatable! From start to finish, "Homecoming" seemed to take a lot from the visual design of the film, especially in terms of the world "transformations" and nurse design. Is that true?
Allen: In comparison to the previous games, the transformation in the movie was truly visually engaging; it was also the most up-to-date representation of a shift to a hell-state. We felt that using this style of metamorphosis would ensure continuity for the game and draw a connection between the two Medias. Regardless of individual opinion about the movie, they did a great job on character and set design, we felt it was in our best interest to show those potential game players a connection to the movie, when they may not have played any of the previous games.
MTV Multiplayer: If you were given another crack at a "Silent Hill" game, what would you do differently? What would you experiment with? Would your second try be more radical?
Allen: Personally, I feel there is a huge difference between playing a game and enjoying it; to trying to recreate a game. The whole team learned so much during the development of "Homecoming" that we can easily see areas that we’d like to improve upon. To refine the "Silent Hill" recipe – as it were. I also believe that as a new developer for the series, trying something too radical for our first outing would not be the way to go. We needed to show that we knew how to recreate a classical experience – before we looked at a more extensive evolution.
MTV Multiplayer: If not through "Silent Hill," will you return to horror again? Double Helix certainly has the scares part down. I think people would be excited to hear that.
Allen: I’d love to return to horror again. We learn so much during the crafting process, we want to capitalize on the experience and turn out something even more spectacular – a true benchmark for the genre. I believe this team certainly has the capability to do that, and I believe whatever games leave this studio next will be a true representation of just how much talent we have here at Double Helix.