After years of speculation, it was finally announced on October’s Silent Hill Transmission livestream that the Silent Hill series will get a multi-project reboot. While the showcase revealed several games and even a new movie, it began with the news that the first title in the return of the series would be a full remake of Silent Hill 2 by Bloober Team, the Polish studio known for games like Layers of Fear and The Medium.
IGN Japan had the opportunity to interview not only Silent Hill series producer Motoi Okamoto, but also Silent Hill 2 concept artist Masahiro Ito and composer Akira Yamaoka, both of whom have a deep involvement in the series. Not only did Ito and Yamaoka work on the original, they are involved in the remake as well.
You can watch part of the interview in video form, and read on for even more detail, as the developers discuss the future of the Silent Hill series, game remakes, working with Bloober Team, and memories from making the original Silent Hill 2.
Why start with a Silent Hill 2 remake?
IGN: How did you decide on the direction and concept of the Silent Hill series reboot? Why start with Silent Hill 2, rather than Silent Hill? We’d love to hear your reasoning.
Okamoto: “The Silent Hill series had been dormant for quite a while. Konami as a company wanted to bring it back, and lots of people working here wanted to make Silent Hill games. The only thing was that everyone had different ideas of what Silent Hill is and why they loved it, making it difficult to coalesce around a single direction.
“I joined Konami during this time and was asked if I could make something work. I agreed to bring everything together and took charge of the project, eventually getting everyone to go in the same direction.
“During that period of dormancy, though, lots of indie horror games had come out, some of which were influenced by Silent Hill. If we wanted to revive Silent Hill in that environment, we needed to firmly redefine its identity as a brand, sharpening it and differentiating it so that it stood out.
“When we thought about what Silent Hill’s identity is, we came to the conclusion that it’s the true psychological horror of the series. And when you ask people what true psychological horror is, just about everyone will tell you Silent Hill 2.
“We decided that if the brand’s identity is true psychological horror, we needed to start by remaking Silent Hill 2. There were of course some people inside the company who thought it would be better to start with 1, but I wanted to start this project with something that symbolizes this identity.”
IGN: You announced that you’ll be working with many different indie studios on multiple games, including Bloober Team, who will be working on the Silent Hill 2 remake. This collaboration with indies felt like a theme of the announcement broadcast.
Okamoto: “That’s correct. There’s only so much we can do ourselves, which means we need to work with lots of different indie creators if we want to make lots of different Silent Hills. That’s why we made moves to work together with people around the world who want to make Silent Hill games and approached Bloober Team, as well as Anapurna Interactive and No Code.
“Unfortunately, there are some projects that never actually got off the ground. Still, I think the number of projects we have will only continue to grow. The fact we were reviving Silent Hill was a secret until now, so we couldn’t exactly go out and yell, ‘Hey, everyone! Bring us your Silent Hill projects!’ We can do that now, so if creators from around the world who love Silent Hill bring us their pitches, I promise to look through every one of them. We’re all ears.”
IGN: What’s your impression of Bloober Team?
Okamoto: “I get the sense that they take their work very seriously, and that they believe videogames to be art even more than we thought. Japanese people are so shy when it comes to declaring videogames as art, you know? But I feel like they truly believe that. That’s exactly why they treat Silent Hill’s artistic sound and visuals with so much respect.”
A modern game that respects the original
IGN: Judging by the trailer, the visual quality of the remake looks like it will be incredibly high. Do you get a feel for how Bloober Team works when it comes to that?
Okamoto: “To begin with, Bloober Team is amazingly talented at creating environments. You can really experience what James is feeling just by walking through the foggy town. I think they’re excellent at making backgrounds, environments and atmosphere. On top of that, they’re putting a lot of attention into combat in order to make the gameplay that much deeper. I see them as very hard workers who are full of love for Silent Hill.”
Ito: “Personally, I’m very satisfied with the quality of the town and the atmosphere of the Silent Hill 2 they’re making. I really get the feeling that they respect the original while still making sure to arrange things in their own way. In particular, we had strong demands about the motif of fog when first starting on this remake, and they were sure to depict it just as we wanted. I believe from the bottom of my heart that they’re making something incredible.”
Yamaoka: “I’ve played Bloober Team’s games myself, and as game developers we can tell just how much they love Silent Hill. It’s more than just love, too. I sense a strong respect for the title, and they exceed my expectations. I think that when it’s done, the game will be one made with real thought about how to bring it back in this day and age.”
IGN: There seemed to be Japanese voice acting in the Japanese trailer for this remake. What can you tell us about the Japanese and English voice options?
Okamoto: “While I don’t believe we’ve implemented Japanese voicing in Silent Hill until now, we’d like to do so for the first time here. Our hope is that doing so will make Japanese players feel an even stronger sense of familiarity with Silent Hill 2. English voicing will also be present, as it has always been. We’re working with actors and using performance capture.”
IGN: The protagonist, James, seems incredibly expressive in the trailer. I believe the original used motion capture, but not facial capture. So you’re using performance capture this time around?
Okamoto: “Yes. We’re using performance capture to record the actors’ bodies, facial expressions and voices all at the same time, incorporating their raw expressions and performances into the game. This has made possible a level of detailed emotional expression that wasn’t possible when making the original. Though the trailer does go out of its way to feature many bombastic scenes, the game as a whole is also full of moments with more subtle performances.”
IGN: James looked older to me in the trailer. Is that correct?
Okamoto: “After speaking with Mr. Ito, we decided to raise James’s age in the game a bit. This is in part because fans from 20 years ago are older now, and because the average age of people who play videogames has risen too. We want to depict a James who is more mature and has had to suffer through more in his life, and to do that we raised his age, though only by a bit. If he looks older to you, it’s not your imagination.”
Ito: “To add to what Mr. Okamoto just said, I personally feel like it’s also our way of emphasizing that this is a remake.”
Okamoto: “You couldn’t depict skin in a nuanced way during the PS2 era. Everyone ended up looking younger, or at least had smooth skin. Now that we’re in the age of the PS4 and PS5, we’re able to better show someone’s exact age, whether that’s someone elderly, someone middle-aged, someone in their thirties, and so on. That’s why we decided to go with a more convincing sense of age.”
A new kind of fear for the 4K generation
IGN: What kind of new elements have you added in the Silent Hill 2 remake? Is there anything aside from graphical changes you can tell us about?
Okamoto: “One thing that I can say is that unlike the original Silent Hill 2, the remake uses a more immersive camera. We really hope that players will get to experience its atmosphere, which will stir up lots of different emotions, as well as the game’s combat that’s even more fun than before.
IGN: How did you change your approach when it comes to monster AI and the variety of different enemies?
Ito: “First off, we’re improving the combat design, something that received a lot of feedback in the original. Doing so would be difficult without changing the way the monsters move and act, so we’ve tried to respect the original designs while adding combat that’s fun and new to the remake as we improve a number of enemies.”
Okamoto: “We’re remaking enemy AI from the ground up to be designed in a way that will allow players to enjoy the combat. Bloober Team’s love for the original is strong, so they’re not going to simply add new enemies. They are looking at fine details that can help make combat fun, though, which means changing AI or small design elements. It might look the same, but it’s different when you look closely. They really did a good job all throughout the game.”
Ito: “I think that the remake has ended up as a more interesting experience than the original.”
IGN: Some fans are worried that the visuals will have advanced too much and look so pretty that the game will be less scary. What are you doing to faithfully recreate the original’s unique atmosphere?
Okamoto: “I think that in the original, there were places where players used their imagination to compensate for the graphical limitations at the time. I hope they take a close look at all of the remake’s completed visuals, though. Bloober Team is excellent at recreating the atmosphere of the original, so I think you’ll be able to feel its horror even more than the original once you walk through the game with a controller in your hands. Thanks to the latest technology and Bloober Team’s efforts, we’ve embodied the atmosphere of details that players used to have to imagine, and I think that should be clear once you start walking around the game’s spaces.”
Ito: “There is the issue of everything being a step brighter spoiling the fear of darkness, an issue that’s come up often not just for this remake but since the time of the PS4 in general.
“I don’t know at this point how fans will ultimately react when it comes to this issue once the remake is finished and released. If fans play it and get to enjoy the game experience in ways completely different from the original, though, I think that’s a positive outcome too. Part of me would like players to wait for the remake’s release and not worry too much about it.”
Okamoto: “The fear players projected onto the dark screens of the original using their imagination have been replaced with fears they can actually walk through and experience on a large 4K screen. I hope they’ll play the game themselves and see that there’s a kind of fear you can only experience in such a detailed world. That’s what the 4K graphics and PS5 are there for. We really want you to enjoy the 4K streets of Silent Hill 2.”
Looking back on the original Silent Hill 2
IGN: I’d like to hear from Mr. Ito and Mr. Yamaoka about what it was like while making the original Silent Hill 2. What was the starting point for the original? For example, could you share any stories about why wasn’t it connected to 1, or why it became what you could call a literary title?
Ito: “While I can’t speak for the entire team at the time, I personally wouldn’t be able to say that I set out to make Silent Hill 2 something you could call a ‘literary’ title. As far as how the game came about, though, the main production team responsible for making the first Silent Hill had been taken off of development for 2.
“We found ourselves asking if the team that remained could make an authentic sequel to 1 without the members who depicted the core images of its world. After a lot of brainstorming about the idea of making 2 a spinoff but still a sequel, we ended up with the game it became.
“One story from when we were brainstorming and it felt like the game could go in any number of directions involves the film Lost Highway by director David Lynch. It’s a classic example of a film that’s difficult to understand with just one viewing, and a key part of its story is the way the protagonist changes partway through. There was a period when we were strongly influenced by that to have a twist where the protagonist suddenly switches mid-game.
“Ultimately, we decided to just focus the story on the character of James, as players may have had a difficult time understanding the game if we had gone with that idea. Also, not only were there very few members left on the team at that point, there were also issues of budget and development time. We were slow to start researching the PS2 development kit as well, which meant we couldn’t establish a testing period we could use to improve the game’s combat design. There were times when we barely had any effective methods at our disposal, but we decided to focus on story after a lot of thought, which is why the game turned out the way it did.
“We thought that if we were going to focus on story, we needed to do something that would stand out a little, which is why we made the decision for the protagonist to… well, it’s not the official ending, but we showed him committing suicide, something rarely seen in videogames at the time.”
IGN: Mr. Yamaoka, when you looked back on making the original during Silent Hill Transmission, you mentioned hearing that the game was influenced by Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and wondering what you were going to be making. Going back through old interviews, there are mentions of being influenced by Kunio Yanagita’s Tono Monogatari and Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris. I mean this in a positive way, but it’s almost like you were making a video game not meant to be pure entertainment.
Yamaoka: “There was a feeling among the development team that we were going to challenge ourselves to make something never before seen in videogames. The team happened to contain a lot of members who approached things in ways you wouldn’t expect from game developers, including the kind of movies and novels they’d experienced, Crime and Punishment included. We all loved works that you could consider literary, as you put it, or minor. When all of that energy was added and multiplied together, though, it turned into something major, resulting in the work it became.”
Smashing Silent Hill’s music to pieces
IGN: It seems as though you were greatly influenced by themes and concepts alien to video games at the time, including their sound design and music.
Yamaoka: “Yes, absolutely. There’s a phrase I love, ‘Don’t do something like your life depends on it; do it like you’re trying to kill it.’ You’ll just get tired out if you do something like your life depends on it. I’ve loved videogames even before the first Silent Hill, but I hated the way that music and sound in videogames was so single-sided, or by the book. I always wanted to find an opportunity to smash game music to pieces, or to ‘kill it,’ and I feel like I worked on the first Silent Hill as though I was trying to kill videogame music. Looking back, though, there were times when I really did smash it to pieces a little too much.
“Thanks to the reset that was the first Silent Hill, I was able to come to a personal interpretation of what music is in videogames by the time I started working on 2, and could approach it with a calmer state of mind. When I look back and consider what sound design is in videogames as a whole, as well as when I think about the unique music and sound design you can only hear in Silent Hill, I think that Silent Hill 2 plays a major part in that.
“Mr. Okamoto mentioned ‘true psychological horror’ earlier… I see that as a kind of originality, not just horror that’s satisfied with scaring people. I was able to get a bird’s-eye view of what resonates and hits home with lots of people, and learned that you need more than just individuality. That’s become foundational to the work I’ve made until now and who I am as a creator. It’s why I continue to feel like Silent Hill 2 made me who I am.”
IGN: I’d like to ask about the music piece Theme of Laura. It’s become a standout work even among your many famous pieces, but why Laura, and not James or Mary?
Yamaoka: (Laughs) “The reason for that is because the first cutscene to be finished back then was Laura’s. To be honest, it got that title because Laura was the first character I saw, not so much because I set out to write a theme song for her.
“Theme of Laura is actually based on Japanese folk songs and old children’s songs. I wanted people around the world to appreciate it, and so I started thinking about what I could do that people outside of Japan could not. I ended up concluding that I needed to incorporate a Japanese kind of originality and mentality, as well as the kind of native environment in which Japanese people are raised.
“Of course, presenting people outside of Japan with something like that as-is would be like suddenly placing an unfamiliar food like natto (fermented soybeans) in front of them. Calling it rock-style would undersell it, but that’s why it sounds the way it does. Add a little bit of ketchup or Worcestershire sauce and people might enjoy it. Even people who don’t know anything about Japanese culture or folk songs could eat it and think, ‘What is this? It’s tasty,’ or ‘I’ve never had anything that tastes like this before’. I think that’s the essence of Laura’s theme, and I think people say it’s so memorable because it has a sensibility foreign to non-Japanese people in places. That piece got assigned to the character of Laura, and that’s how it became Theme of Laura.”
Unlikely yet timeless creature design
IGN: Mr. Ito, were you strongly influenced by the concept of the game too? For example, you didn’t use standard creature designs with features like horns and antennae. Could you tell us about your aesthetic that presents beauty even within the disgusting and grotesque?
Ito: “My aesthetic…? Well, I didn’t really go into the game trying to kill it.”
Ito: “My understanding of Silent Hill 2’s story is that it’s about James, a man with trauma, going on a psychological journey through its town. James himself is the reason why he’s traveling through it and why he feels his life is in danger after encountering Pyramid Head and other monsters along the way.
“When I thought about James, I didn’t see him as a character who could possibly be well-versed in what monsters look like, given the trajectory of his life. He just didn’t seem like someone who loved creatures with antennae and horns. In that case, the monsters would have to take the form of what he’d seen and heard until the present moment. That’s why I felt it wouldn’t really be right to use stereotypical creature designs when depicting the person James is.
“There were a few other reasons I designed Pyramid Head to look that way, though. At the time, the primary source of information about videogames was magazines. When I thought about the kind of game Silent Hill 2 would be, I did feel concerned that it may be hard to get the attention of magazine readers through screenshots. So if I’m being honest, that’s one of the reasons I designed a creature with such a bizarre yet simply shaped head and a human silhouette.”
IGN: I understand that you supervised the cutscene where Pyramid Head appears in the original. Was this something you wanted to place a particular focus on, in part to present the character’s design?
Ito: “I think the original Silent Hill 2 was first shown to the media at Tokyo Game Show, and we really didn’t want to lead old fans who still had the world of the first game in mind in a strange direction when they saw the trailer for 2. We were trying to tell them that 2 is completely different from 1, and so we intentionally put in those scenes of Pyramid Head torturing a creature with legs on both ends of its body.”
The future of the Silent Hill series
IGN: Finally, what does the future hold for the Silent Hill series? What kind of vision do you have for it?
Ito: “I hope it will be something diverse, the way it was when going from the first Silent Hill to the second. I think it’ll become something that players aren’t even able to imagine, and I strongly hope for that to be the case.”
Yamaoka: “Bloober Team, developers in Poland, are remaking this game that was first created with uniquely Japanese sensibilities. They love Silent Hill, a Japanese horror title, and deeply understand it. When they bring it back, I think that it’ll have a slightly different taste by their hands while strongly retaining the sensibilities of the original game. Though society and our living environment and situations have changed since we first picked up a controller 20 years ago, I think they’re going to make a Silent Hill 2 that matches our present day perfectly.
“I’m a fan of Silent Hill myself, and I want the series to keep on going. So while I’m someone who first started making Silent Hill 20 years ago, I’ve also been a fan ever since those days. I want this title to continue on for the next 30, 40, 50 or even 100 years. Not to mention that I also personally collect the figures of characters that Mr. Ito creates (laughs).”
Okamoto: “We’ve announced a number of new titles in addition to this remake. I knew from the start of the project that just a single remake would not be enough for players to consider it a series revival. There were unfortunately some projects that never got started, but we’ve been talking with many creators and are still having lots of discussions about what to do going forward.
“I’m happy to see players reacting to Silent Hill f, which is a Japanese-style horror game, with even stronger interested than I’d expected. The future of Silent Hill will only continue. I think what’s important about the series is that it’s unique, highly artistic and original, and I’d like to continue focusing on that.”
Koji Fukuyama is a freelance writer for IGN Japan. This article was translated by Ko Ransom.
Silent Hill 2 images ©Konami Digital Entertainment