Silent Hill – 1999 Developer Interview

Silent Hill - 1999 Developer Interview

This vintage Silent Hill interview with director Keiichiro Toyama, designer Takayoshi Sato, and sound director Akira Yamaoka comes from the GSLA, a Japanese archive of interviews from older print sources. Although short, it contains several intriguing musings from Toyama on how realism and dreams informed the setting. Sato and Yamaoka also expound on this theme in the domains of CG and sound design, respectively.

Keiichiro Toyama - Director

Toyama: What is it that sets Silent Hill apart from other games? If I had to answer that question in a nutshell, it would be the atmosphere, which I suppose is vague and ambiguous. However, if you play the game, I think you will understand. Silent Hill is an orthodox game with no outlandish or innovative gameplay mechanics, but it is suffused with a unique atmosphere and mood, not only in its appearance, but also in the story and sound. Today I'd like to talk about where that feeling comes from, and where it leads to as well.

In magazines, they would often write prominent copy taglines about Silent Hill like "the dread of light and darkness" and "unseen fear", but these kind of things are fairly obvious from the fact that much of the gameplay involves the dark, so I don't feel the need to talk about that much. What I was more concerned with was the world that arises from within that darkness… what spectacles might we observe there?

At the beginning of the project, our challenge was to differentiate Silent Hill from other games. We asked ourselves, what is the unique core of this game? The possibilities were endless. The team was in agreement that the solution was to create a setting that gave a sense of reality rather than your stereotypical game setting (I'll save those details for another time), but we were also concerned about the "standard" of the game's presentation. You see, although we say that we want to create a sense of reality, it's impossible to reach the level of true, unrestricted freedom. There's also the danger that the realistic elements will simply end up being a burden on the player. In other words, the question for us was: how could we express a sense of realism while also maintaining a certain universal "video game" quality, and where do we set the boundaries?

The more one includes realistic elements in their game, the more the remaining game elements stand out in sharp relief. Think about it: in a game, you don't know whether time is flowing or not, shooting things doesn't destroy them, you don't get hungry, you don't have to go to the bathroom… of course, you can say "it's just a game" and be done with it, but when you consider the unique undulation of emotions--from anxiety, to fear, to relief--that games can stimulate, I think the atmosphere is closer to what we experience when sleeping, in dreams and nightmares. And adventure games are the equivalent of someone else's dreams. We settled on the interpretation that what you would see and feel in this game, would all be like a reconstruction of fragments of memory.

While the famous fog of Silent Hill had a practical reason (the PS1 draw distance), it meshes perfectly with Toyama's ideas about adventure games as "someone else's dreams."

Therefore, in Silent Hill, there are no modern weapons or creatures, no spaceships or heroes. Instead we opted for nostalgic streets that trigger a feeling of deja vu, (seemingly) normal people, and strange ugly monsters. That way of thinking became a whole methodology that extended to every aspect of the game, including the story and direction. Usually adventure games will employ a so-called "cinematic" presentation, but in this game the player gathers fragments which they then try to piece together in their mind, and I imagined this to feel like a dream, in the way dreams resemble a connected chain of unrelated fragments. 1

Anyway, if you take all the above and store that away in some corner of your mind, you may discover some interesting things.

Takayoshi Sato - Character Designer, CG Creator

Sato: The primary role of CG in games, the starting point, is to imbue the unique worldview and imaginary characters with a richer sense of presence. And once the fictional world and characters have been created, we want the greater realism to be an invitation to the player to partake in this simulated experience. This is where CG comes from, isn't it? However, no matter how much CG evolves, and how perfectly it can reproduce the dream space, it is still nothing more than a deceptive picture; no matter how brightly the colored laser beams are, or how realistically the hero's cape flutters in the wind, it all is still nothing more than a physical simulation.

Human beings have created a variety of media. Be it a painting or a movie, each has its own value. Even if they are all expressing the same motif of reality, there are as many points of view as there are media, and as many ways of expression as there are creators of those media. CG is still a newborn, yet it too takes the shared reality we all experience but depicts it with a perspective all its own. I believe the time for such CG to blossom will come soon.

A collection of the original Silent Hill FMV scenes.

In Silent Hill the main character is an ordinary citizen, and the town where the film takes place was once an ordinary town. There are almost no fictional entities for us to "bring to life" as CG artists. So we decided to take relatively untouched parts of everyday, ordinary things and transform them into CG. That was the theme of the CG production, and Silent Hill provided an ideal setting for it. Of course, as an artform CG itself is not yet old enough to have a standard "the way it should be," but we've put Silent Hill together in a way that will make the player feel a sense of discomfort and unease if viewed through the lens of CG that has come up to now.

Akira Yamaoka - Sound Director

Yamaoka: For Silent Hill, the first thing I wanted to avoid was the "revered creator", and what is created by those who revere the creator. This was my first concern. To make something like that would be the height of embarrassment and insincerity… peppering the work with ostentatious eccentricities and making something unbearably pretentious, that was another thing I was determined to avoid. Of course, being a slave to hackneyed traditions wasn't an option either.

There is no background music in Silent Hill. I tried to depict the sounds that would be heard in the world of Silent Hill if it existed, using the art of conveying sound through air vibrations. The stereotypical sounds that are often described as "game music" do not apply to Silent Hill at all. I also avoided trying to make "cinematic" music as I felt it would sound too intentional.

I also tried to to think about how people would interact with Silent Hill as a PlayStation game. To that end, my sound design is like a blade sunk into Silent Hill, carving out a space to make it unique from all others.

An excellent analysis and deeper look at some of the musical techniques Yamaoka used to create Silent Hill's sonic landscape.

If you've enjoyed reading this interview and would like to be able to vote each month on what I translate, please consider supporting me on Patreon! I can't do it without your help!

  1. He's talking figuratively here about fragments, not about the actual "six fragments" puzzle in the game--though one can imagine that was derived from this broader inspiration.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *