It's been nearly three long years since Konami blessed us with a Silent Hill title, and almost four since the last 'proper' game in the series was released (The Room was only given the Silent Hill brand as an afterthought). You could say it's been a pretty lean time for survival horror junkies, so we're inclined to grab hold of any scrap of information that we can get about one of our all-time favourite series.
Almost a year ago, Konami first revealed that it was releasing an all-new Silent Hill game exclusively for the PSP, and pencilled it in for a Winter 2006 release. But then a rather underwhelming public demo at Leipzig left us in no doubt that the project was still some way off being released. And so it has proved. In fact, this exclusive chat with the game's producer William Oertel reveals that development of the game has been switched to Climax's Portsmouth studio, and that the team is going all out to make sure it matches the quality of any of the previous games in the series. A tall order indeed.
But with confirmation forthcoming about the game's release this year, it shouldn't be long before we get to put Oertel's claims to the test. In the meantime, check out this new and exclusive interview, and check back for the latest news on this long-awaited addition to the series.
Eurogamer: How close is the game to completion and when are you hoping to release it?
William Oertel: We are looking to release the game this year. Assigning a percentage to completeness is very difficult, as there are so many details we want to put into the game. However, looking at the recently released screenshots and videos, we feel pretty good about the graphical quality of the game.
Eurogamer: Originally Origins was due for a 'winter 2006' release, but clearly that didn't happen. What's been the reason for the delay?
William Oertel: Game development isn't an exact science, and sometimes you need to go back and adjust some things. In this case, it has been for the best. It was decided that moving development to Climax' Portsmouth office would be best for the game, and that introduced delays. We also reviewed our plans for the game and made some modifications. The end result is that we have a tighter, more focused game that will provide fans with the experience they want...a Silent Hill experience.
Eurogamer: This is the first Silent Hill game to be handled outside of Konami's Tokyo studio. What has the feedback been like from KECT about the project, and has it been a challenge to stay true to their vision?
William Oertel: It's been very challenging to take a step in the shoes worn by Team Silent. From the beginning, thinking of the initial ideas, to how far do we try something new and different, how much do we remain consistent with what's been established in previous games - this is not an easy game to develop. It forces one to think, "What does it mean to be a Silent Hill game?" That process of thinking just can't be copied or emulated - it has to be well thought out and the game has to deliver on many, many levels.
Eurogamer: The story and soundtrack was written by the Tokyo team (or so we're told) - so how much creative control has Climax had over the project?
William Oertel: I'm responsible for the overall vision of the project. I came up with the initial idea, and through my discussions with Climax, it was adjusted accordingly to fit the resources we had in place. A game like this is really a team effort, though, and so many ideas, big and small, get incorporated at many different parts of the process. The creative team at Climax is wonderful. They are huge fans and they know what they're doing. The game is a reflection of all of our passion for Silent Hill.
I love the music of Silent Hill, and so one thing from the beginning I knew I wanted was to have a soundtrack and have Akira compose it. It's very hard to imagine a Silent Hill game without his music, and I've been fortunate that he was available to compose the music. It just feels right.
Eurogamer: Silent Hill isn't perhaps the most obvious handheld game. How have you made it work for playing on the move? Is it by necessity a more bite-sized type of game?
William Oertel: This is a tough thing to balance, since the experience of playing this kind of game doesn't necessarily fall in line with being "bite-sized." We've focused on making it a good Silent Hill game, within the constraints of a handheld, such as control, screen size and audio. From there, we will do some adjustments as necessary. However, we always planned for this to be a "proper" game in the series. Fans would expect nothing less, since it's been a long enough wait for the next game!
Handheld offers some interesting gaming options, though. I personally think it would be cool to play this game somewhere outside of your comfort zone. Plus, the nature of the handheld translates into a very defined, single-player experience. No sitting in the living room on a big screen with friends. It's just you and the game...very personal.
Eurogamer: When the game got its first public showing at Leipzig last August, it wasn't much more than a tech demo. How representative of the final game was that demo?
William Oertel: As mentioned earlier, making games isn't an exact science. At the time of that demo, we were following a certain plan. However, circumstances arise that require us to review the situation and make necessary changes, and we did. What's been recently released is the culmination of the work from that point.
Eurogamer: The plan appears to be to take Silent Hill in a more combat oriented direction at the expense of the more cerebral puzzling that we're used to. Is there a risk of alienating your loyal audience to try and steer the brand towards action? How can you keep the long term fans happy while attracting a new audience?
William Oertel: First and foremost, it's a Silent Hill game. That's not defined by how much action or how many puzzles there are. It will have the right and necessary amount of various elements to deliver the suspenseful and enjoyable experience fans deserve. There are puzzles, of course, necessary to solve in order to advance. We looked at how combat was handled in previous games, and we take this opportunity to try to improve on it. I am a believer in innovation, and so we study where we've been and tell ourselves, "How do we make it better?"
However, you ask a great question about keeping the loyal audience happy while trying new things. This is a terribly difficult balance to achieve. In many ways, games that are successful become victims to that success, refusing to change for the sake of continuing the past traditions, even if those traditions are no longer relevant. Change is inevitable. The question is to what degree. As I'm fond of saying, Silent Hill is an exercise in subtlety, and therefore the changes seen in this game, compared to previous games, reflect that.
Eurogamer: As the name implies, Origins gives fans a bit of background on the Silent Hill mythos by going back to events before the first game. How much insight are we going to get into what's causing all this strange activity around Silent Hill? We're lead to believe the story is very complex...
William Oertel: The story is similar in complexity to what fans expect from a Silent Hill game. The insight into the town will be revealed through the interactions between the different characters, like Dr. Kaufmann, Dahlia, Lisa and, of course, Alessa. Fans of the first game will get a chance to revisit these people and better understand their actions that lead to the original Silent Hill. Visiting Silent Hill also has an effect on those that pass through it, and so Travis will also have his own unique experiences.
It's been a lot of work and a great joy to have an opportunity to We're just all very excited to be creating a new chapter in the Silent Hill series!
Eurogamer: Does the game have much in the way of secrets, bonus modes, and even multiplayer modes?
William Oertel: No multiplayer, but in keeping with tradition, there are multiple endings. We have other ideas as well, but not ready to discuss yet.
Eurogamer: How long would you estimate the game takes to play through?
William Oertel: We're estimating 8-10 hours, but of course depends on how much you look around, explore and want to see the different endings.