Experienced Points

Experienced Points
What Made Silent Hill 2 Great and Why the Devs Don't Get It

Shamus Young | 26 Aug 2014 15:00
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James Sunderland - Silent Hill 2

Making the game harder makes it less scary

I know this is hard for game designers to wrap their heads around because it's so counter-intuitive, but frequent deaths are the last thing you want in a psychological horror game. If I'm immersed in a game, I can be scared of demons and monsters and unseen threats. I can experience fear of death and harm. If I'm not immersed in a game, then all I'm afraid of is losing my progress and going back to the last checkpoint. I've been scared in games where it's impossible for you to die, and I've been bored and annoyed by games that were murderously difficult.

In a game that's trying to scare you, death is a failure state for both the player and the storyteller. You're ejected from the experience, and instead of worrying about all the spooky stuff you instead worry about how long it's going to take you to get back to the point where you died. Before you were afraid of death, but now you're just afraid of losing progress and wasting your time.

I'm not suggesting that they remove combat from the game or make the player invincible. I just want developers to wrap their heads around this idea and stop trying to scare me by making the game harder. (This is particularly true at the end, when the difficulty ramps up and stomps all over the climax the narrative has been building towards.)

This isn't a brawler. Stop trying to make the combat "more fun"

Here players are sandwiched between two bad ideas:

1) The controls are "supposed" to be clunky and awkward. That makes the game "more scary".

2) The controls are clunky and awkward, therefore we need to update them to be more action-y and fun.

We lose either way. The controls don't need to be clunky, but you should never, ever "fix" them by making the player feel empowered. If I want to play as a badass, I have a thousand games to choose from. I am not here to kick ass and chew bubble gum. I'm here to be scared because I'm a regular person and these are monsters and oh no get it away from me get it away oh shit!


The mechanics in Silent Hill 2 were what they needed to be: Serviceable. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter if the game has tank controls, or first person, or fixed camera views, or whatever. I'm not against changing the combat, as long as we keep sight of what we're trying to accomplish. The game should have a slow rhythm that goes something like this: Suspense. Dread. Panic. Combat. Release. Repeat.

To this end, combat should be rare. I can't stay afraid of a monster if I kick its ass a hundred times an hour. I get desensitized and the whole thing turns into a version of Doom with terrible gameplay. In Silent Hill 2, there were many stretches where you might go for ten or fifteen minutes without actually fighting a monster.

You can do whatever you like with the combat. Just remember that it's not supposed to be "fun" to fight the monsters. Make sure the player doesn't feel strong, and that they spend most of their time anticipating fights instead of having them.

Do not put quicktime events in your game

Silent Hill has always had the most minimalist interface: No health bar. No on-screen map or compass. No icons for weapons and ammo counts. It's just you and the game world. Sometimes it's little inconvenient for the player if they want to know where they are or how much health they have, but the benefit is that we get a clean view, free of video game contrivances.

So it is completely insane to take this pristine interface and throw gaudy flashing colored Sony or Microsoft-branded icons over it. Please stop doing that.

Wrapping up

Like I said, it's too early to say if this game will be good or not. Del Toro and Kojima are as auteur as they come, and I doubt either one has signed on just to imitate a thirteen year old video game. I'm sure they have their own ideas that they want to work on, because otherwise they wouldn't be bothering. You don't hire names like this and ask them to copy what's already been done. So regardless of how it turns out, we're probably not going to see the likes of Silent Hill 2 this time around. I'm willing to bet this will end up being another one of those "pretty good, but still nothing like Silent Hill 2" games.

Shamus Young is a programmer, critic, comic, and crank. You can read more of his work here.

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