Silent Hill: Downpour Interview with Producer Tomm Hulett
GF: Were you influenced by any other contemporary games or contemporary horror movies? Things that have become popular in between the time that the last Silent Hill came out and when you started working on Downpour?
TH: Yes and no. This [project] has been going on for many years. The first Dead Space, we played. That really resonated with a lot of people, and it’s really scary, so we looked at what they did that was scary.
Then, a lot of movies that we see. Even not necessarily horror movies. Shutter Island – there were some cool things we thought of when we saw that. Probably three years ago? Any movie or game that came out then probably influenced us at least a little. We were checking it out.
GF: One of the things about Downpour that’s been most interesting to me is that the world is going to be more open – you’re not just going to find the key to go to the next section. What informed that decision?
TH: One of my favorite things about Silent Hill 1 and 2 is that you had these moments in the town, and you got to look around and explore. The game’s called “Silent Hill,” and you get to explore Silent Hill, and it’s fun. There wasn’t a lot to do, really, because the doors were locked, or just painted on. You’d find a health drink, and that was the extent of it. But you still felt like “cool, I’m in this town!”
And then that went away. I don’t know why. So I wanted to bring that back, and have a town. And then we looked at what we could put in the town. It couldn’t be a static hub-world with nothing to do. We added side-quests. We added buildings you can go in and just look around – you might just find a note, or a weapon. But the player can feel like “I’m in this town, looking around.” It exists.
The side-quests are optional – they won’t tie into the main story, but they’ll give you info on the town, or some other interesting story. There’s plenty there for players to explore and see. Hopefully it brings back the feeling from the first games.
GF: Will the side-quests affect the endings? Multiple endings have been a big thing in past games. Can you gives us any hints as to the kinds of things players will do to affect the endings?
TH: We will have multiple endings. The player’s playstyle will factor in – how much combat they’re doing. They’re a few choices that they make in the story, directly, that will affect the ending. And…certain side-quests may affect the ending. Not all of them. You shouldn’t feel like you have to do everything, just to see all the different endings.
GF: I’ve seen rumors that Pyramid Head will not be making an appearance…
TH: He will not be making an appearance.
GF: Was that a choice you made to sort of establish your own take on the canon?
TH: Pyramid Head is really cool, and he’s become sort of the iconic creature. But in Silent Hill 2, if you follow the story – he doesn’t really belong outside of Silent Hill 2. He’s really personal for James. You can take that so far. You can say “oh, he’s cool, so use him anyway.” Or “stick to the canon and don’t use him.”
We really wanted to establish our own game. Homecoming used Pyramid Head, not very effectively, I don’t think. So we just wanted to go “look, we’re making our own game. We’re not making your nostalgic for Pyramid Head.”
GF: You guys have the Silent Hill HD Collection in there [the adjacent demo room]. It seemed like, when the first trailers for that came out, people were upset by the new voice acting…
TH: Sometimes I overestimate people’s ability to look at…pre-alpha stuff. In my view, I knew fans would be apprehensive about the new voices, so I thought “let’s get them out there, as soon as possible. so people can get used to them.” We were always hoping for a dual voice mode, which we have in Silent Hill 2, but not in Silent Hill 3…
GF: Sorry, could you just clarify what you mean by a “dual voice mode?”
TH: So we have new voices because we wanted to do a 5.1 audio mix, since it’s HD. The old voices are all stereo, so we can’t just re-use the old voice files. So we re-recorded all the voices, but at the same time, wanting to provide the perfect experience for fans, we pursued getting the rights to use the original voices for a stereo mix if fans wanted it. We do have that for Silent Hill 2, in the end. Unfortunately, because of a weird technical thing, we can’t do it for Silent Hill 3, so Silent Hill 3 has new voices only. 2 is new and old.
I knew fans would have a problem with the new voices, and be apprehensive just because of nostalgia, so I wanted to show them in the [HD collection trailer]. [The voices] hadn’t been mixed into the game yet, they hadn’t been balanced perfectly – there’s a lot that goes into putting the voice into a game, it’s not just putting in a .WAV file.
In this case, it was just putting in a .WAV file, just to show: this is the scene. A lot of people jumped on it as being final quality, and thought “this is going to be terrible!” So, to them, I would say “we have original voice work for Silent Hill 2.” Also, I’m super particular about voice acting. It drives me crazy when there’s bad voice acting. The new voices are good – I promise. But I can understand.
GF: Continuing on the theme of fan outrage, there’s been a lot said about Akira Yamaoka not being involved. Can you talk about why that decision was made?
TH: I’d love for him to be involved. Unfortunately, he left Konami, and…can’t do the music for the new games.
GF: So it’s just kind of a legal…
TH: It’s a Japanese business politics sort of thing. We’d like for him to be there, but he’s not. So we took seriously finding a replacement, because you can’t throw in just any old sound guy. So we found Dan Licht, who does the music on Dexter. He was actually our top choice, so we were fortunate that he was willing to jump in.
GF: What made him your top choice? What about him appealed to you?
TH: Well, I didn’t watch Dexter at the time, but a lot of the other guys did, and they thought he might be good. His agents sent us sound samples, and they sound like Silent Hill. We said “please do it.”
Now, watching Dexter because of that, there are scenes in Dexter that sound like Silent Hill music. It’s a really good fit. He’s done some really cool stuff. Some of it sounds like classic Silent Hill. Obviously, we didn’t ask him to impersonate Akira, so some of it’s different. But it all sounds cohesive. If someone didn’t follow the politics of “oh, Akira left,” I don’t think they would notice that it sounded different.
GF: Was Daniel Licht familiar with the Silent Hill games before he got the job?
TH: He was vaguely familiar – he knew of them. He does play some games. He got into them once he got on the project, and really likes Akira’s music, too. He thought it was cool, the way it used atmosphere, and how it wasn’t like a normal game.
GF: Last question: past installments of Silent Hill games have not shied away from controversy. There’s been a lot of content that can be sexual, there’s children involved, there’s violence towards children. Would you say that Downpour is also going to push the envelope, in terms of controversial content?
TH: Yeah, there are certainly things in Downpour that players will have to process before they decide how they feel about the game. We definitely didn’t censor it.
GF: What’s that process like of sort of putting content like that in a game? What sort of things do you have to keep in mind?
TH: Our approach here was really to write the story that we felt was the game’s story. Then you say “ok, this scene might be a problem – how do we present it the right way?” Japan and Germany and America have different standards of what you can show, and what would be OK, and what would be cut. So we tried to approach it that way from the very beginning. On Homecoming, we had to do separate versions for content, and it was just a big problem. Hopefully, we present things in a way so that psychologically, it has a big impact, even if it’s not showing you every gory detail.