The best Silent Hill games have always been about psychological terror, the emotions that haunt and wrack the protagonists with guilt and regret. Yes, thrills abound and there are horrific monsters, but it's the mental anguish that overwhelms players and keeps us going back to the city in a murky haze that is nebulous as the morality of those within (even if I do hate their bathrooms). With the news of a brand new Silent Hill directed by Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro starring Norman Reedus upon us and some incredible footage to boot, I wanted to reflect on 7 thoughts I've had on the strangeness of Silent Hill.
Silent Hill Isn't All That Silent
There is rarely any silence in Silent Hill. Any room I enter, any hill I run past, any empty street I dash down, I hear cackling, screams, metal screeches, babies crying, and hell's soundtrack in full stereo. Akira Yamaoka is the supreme conductor of terror. Some have suggested the name, Silent Hill, came from the Japanese prefecture, Shizuoka, whose literal translation into English was either Quiet or Silent Hill. The fact that the city of Atami, located within the prefecture, was used as geographic reference for the developers, further adds credence to the idea. Coincidentally, the first town in Pokemon Gold and Silver for the Gameboy Color was called "Silent Hills," but presumably changed as the first SH was released during its production. Within the lore of the Native Americans in the game who resided near the Toluca Lake area, Silent Hill was first known as the "Place of Silenced Spirits." The hills don't have eyes. They have loud mouths who are crying out for attention.
The Metal Gear Solid Connection
Silent Hill pays tribute to many works of literature, whether in its storyline or in its street names (like Bradbury, Koontz, and Bachman Street). But I was surprised to find out that Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park, Rising Sun, and Disclosure, was also an influence, as indicated by the existence of Crichton Street. Crichton Street is home to the Konami Burger in Central Silent Hill. It also happens to have several boxes outside full of MSG, or monosodium glutamate. Oddly enough, these boxes resemble the boxes Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid hides in within Shadow Moses Island. Some players have speculated this was a subtle nod to Kojima years before he would take the helm of Silent Hill. I think what really happened was Konami Burger had a corporate deal to provide all the catering and food for Shadow Moses, and then the boxes were retrofitted for military use. MSG-doused fries and strange burgers were served at every meal to the Genome soldiers, which would explain in part why Johnny Sasaki was in the bathroom all the time.
Why are Cults in Gaming Always Evil?
Why is the Order so evil? Why do they want to impose their will upon everyone else? Why do they want to bring about the Apocalypse and have everyone else die miserably so they can hide away in Paradise? Why do they think this woman goddess, who looks like a hideous monster and demands human sacrifices, will bring them peace? Wasn't it this very goddess, who according to their beliefs, took away their immortality? Can't they worship their religion privately without imposing Armageddon on the rest of us? Why does this supreme goddess get her ass so easily kicked by Heather Mason? Why does Pyramid Head's sword remind me of Cloud's sword from Final Fantasy 7? What is it about Native American burial sites that spurs murder and violence in The Shining and Silent Hill? With so much fog around them, are they concerned about global warming and climate change at all?
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Silent Hill Would Make For A Strange Duo
Silent Hill has had a lot of influences including Jacob's Ladder, the films of David Lynch, Alfred Hitchcock, Stephen King's The Mist, Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, and more. But it's the creepy art parallels between Silent Hill and Kindergarten Cop that have tripped me out. Seriously. (I suspect it's most likely that the Japanese developers used footage from Kindergarten Cop as reference footage for a typical American school in modeling Silent Hill's own schools). Schwarzenegger has tried his hand at action, drama, and comedy, but never horror. At least, the closest he came was Predator, but that was more of an action flick. Obviously, a Silent Hill featuring Arnold would go against everything that makes the series what it is. But how many times can you feature an everyday main character finding someone they've lost before it gets repetitive? Homecoming tried to mix it up with a combat veteran, and Downpour brought 3D and rain into the mix. But I'm very curious what kind of role Norman Reedus is going to play; more Walking Dead, Predator, Silent Hill, or Kindergarten Cop?
Those Killer Babies From Silent Hill 1 Still Scare the Crap Out of Me.
I had nightmares about those killer babies AKA Grey Children with knives in the school of the first Silent Hill. Even being low polygonal models, the combination of limited sight and noisy radio crackle coupled with ghost children brandishing blades was enough to strike terror and make me wish daytime would come ASAP. It was the same with the Pyramid Heads in Silent Hill 2, which, I'd later learn, were subconscious projections by James Sunderland created by his guilt and his desire to be punished for his crimes (which were then given further shape by what knowledge he had of the past executioners in Silent Hill). That's why others don't see the monsters James or Harry do, often running freely about. In that context, the opening menu where you select the difficulty level is a psychological test about your own perceptions of yourself. Hard= masochistic. Beginner = clearer conscience meaning less likely to die of self-inflicted wounds from the psyche. Which did you pick?
Silent Hill 4: The Room Made Me Scared of my Apartment
The Room was probably one of the biggest departures in the series, not even taking place in the titular Silent Hill for most of the game. The mundanity of being stuck in that apartment in first person view was pretty scary as I'd look out the peephole and wonder what was going on outside. I got so immersed, I found myself getting nervous in real life when I'd hear real neighbors passing by. Part 4 was originally developed as a new direction in the series with portals opening up in his bathroom. I spent much of my time running away from serial killer Walter Sullivan's unkillable victims. Walter Sullivan believed the physical Room to be his mother and wanted to resurrect god by killing 21 people including Henry Townshend. While the game wasn't perfect, I appreciated their attempt at innovating and changing the series formula. It also made me scared to leave my room so that I had to order pizza three days straight until I found I was stuck inside and couldn't leave until I wrote this list about my strangest thoughts concerning Silent Hill.
Who's Really Running the Show?
According to the secret ending of Silent Hill 2, Mira is the Shiba Inu who's really running all the evil machinations going on within Silent Hill. Yes, all this time, you thought you were in control, but it was Mira pulling the strings. Did he write that letter to James Sunderland using his doggy paws? It's also interesting to note that every new Silent Hill game has had a new director. Keiichirō Toyama, who created and the directed the first Silent Hill, left Team Silent to make the Siren series. Masashi Tsuboyama then directed the second one, Kazuhide Nakazawa the third one, and Suguru Murakoshi, part 4. After that, different studios developed each of the new iterations and it's no wonder they all feel different as each sequel has had someone new at the helm (with the exception of Shattered Memories which was a remake of the first one and directed by Mark Simmons who also directed Origins). Even with the same premise and same city as background, interpretation often leads to vastly different results. I can't wait to see what Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro brew next.
Peter Tieryas once shared an office with Sato Takayoshi, character designer and CGI director of Silent Hill 2, at EA where they worked on a James Bond game together. He tweets at @TieryasXu and blogs at tieryas.wordpress.com