Silent Hill: Downpour Interview with Producer Tomm Hulett

In addition to getting my grubby hands on playable versions of Silent Hill: Downpour and Silent Hill: Book of Memories, I had a chance to sit down with series producer Tomm Hulett at Konami’s Silent Hill preview event in San Francisco in early December. Here’s what he had to say, about the game, Akira Yamaoka, new Silent Hill 3 voice acting, and more.

GameFront: Will the town in Silent Hill: Downpour have locations people will recognize?

Tomm Hulett: This game takes place in the southeast edge of Toluca lake, which is a new area, but players will seee streets that may connect, or mention of locations. There will be a location they can encounter, but it won’t be the hospital or the school or something major like that.

GF: You’re going to have some players who are more familiar with the setting, and some who haven’t. How does the process of making a “scary” game change when you have players who are expecting to be scared?

TH: It’s interesting, because different things scare different people. Silent Hill’s a cool universe to be in, because there are so many possibilities to explore, and depending on the main character, things will change, so that enables us to choose a new character and new things for him to do.

It’s actually interesting working with the developer, because we’ll have a really cool idea of something that will scare the player – “we can hit ‘em this way, we can hit ‘em with this” – and then the programmer for that level will be like “well, that’s not scary at all,” because to him, it’s not scary. It’s this back and forth of finding the best atmospheric moment that most people can agree is kinda scary, so it can make it in the game, and hopefully scares people in the end.

GF: You mentioned the character. In past games, that’s been important to the scares – these phobias that are particular to a character. I got the impression that it’s continuing this time around – we have a water…

TH: Water factors into the story. I wouldn’t say he [Murphy, the protagonist] is afraid of water – he would go swimming – but somewhere in his past there’s something that has to do with water, and that’s manifested in the game. For example, when it rains in the game, the harder it rains, the more creatures there will be. He’ll need to seek shelter.

GF: How was the decision made to go with water? Was it a technical development that enabled you to render it really well?

TH: Lemme think back. Silent Hill, in the past, has done a lot of rust. That’s been this running theme, so a lot of people think that’s all it can be – this rusty world. Silent Hill 2 was different – it was a little water-based. But we looked at what sort of worlds we could have, and what the character’s story was about. We figured that out. I think the story stuff came before the tech stuff. We ended up having good tech stuff, but I think it was really: “Let’s make this game ‘water.’ Now what can we do with water?” And they [the developers] were like “oh, we can do this great thing.”

GF: What would you say you’re doing this time around to attract people who have never played a Silent Hill game before?

TH: We’re making it easier to play. The old games, which people like, are from the early days of survival horror. They’re a little bit clunky with the controls, and combat is weird. I hear from a lot of fans that they try to convince their friends to play Silent Hill 2, and their friends just aren’t interested. Well, one of the reasons is that the controls are hard to get into. If you’re playing all these modern games that are easy to control and intuitive, you don’t want to go back to these clunky games — it’s just not worth it. So, we’ve kept the emphasis on not empowering the player – you don’t have a huge arsenal of weapons, and you’re not going to feel like Superman; you’re not going to want to fight every creature you see. But then, when you are in combat, it’s fluid – the character does what you want him to when you want him to do it.

Playing it is a fun experience, which isn’t to say that you should seek out combat – you will die if you get outnumbered, and the creatures are going to try to kill you. But, making the user experience more natural, I think, should attract a lot of new players.

GF: My next question was about whether there were things that you didn’t like about previous Silent Hill games that you were looking forward to getting an opportunity to fix. Would you say that clunky control scheme is one of those problems?

TH: Combat’s always been a problem, throughout the whole series. I’ve played them from the start, as a gamer – before I worked for Konami – and I was willing to look past it, but not everyone is. Homecoming came out, and I was not too involved with that project, but they chose to go overboard with the combat, and say “look! Combat, combat, combat!” Then, the old users were dissatisfied. I’ve heard from a lot of people who started playing the series with Homecoming, and they like it – they think it’s a pretty fun game. But if you ask old time fans, they just hate it – they think it’s not what Silent Hill’s about. Hopefully we hit the right balance, and we tweaked it properly.

GF: So what is Silent Hill about? What are the strengths of the series, the things that you really wanted to emphasize to celebrate the franchise?

TH: First would be psychological horror. It’s not about dogs jumping through windows. It’s about hearing a creature, thinking he’s after you, turning the corner and seeing some body that he’s probably killed. But you never see the creature. You just see the results. This kind of horror is crucial to Silent Hill. It’s one of the few games that provides it. I think its important to keep providing it.

The second element is a character-driven plot. The plot ties into the main character’s psychology, and who they are, so you get to learn about a character from a different perspective than another game. It’s not a lot of him telling you about himself. You see it, and you kind of extrapolate that back, and decide for yourself what it all means.

(continue reading for more on Downpour, Akira, and the HD Collection voice acting controversy)

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