In the first part of our massive E3 Silent Hill: Book of Memories interview with WayForward director Adam Tierny and Konami producer Tomm Hulett, we talked about the game's narrative premise, survival horror gameplay, and dungeon-crawling enhancements. We learned how WayForward plans to keep it scary, how players will cooperate, and why they're in Silent Hill in the first place.
In part two, we'll be delving deeper into the game's character creation, the inclusion of familiar Silent Hill enemies, and plans for future gameplay support. There's plenty more juicy details about this hitherto unexplored game, so keep reading!
How does the character creation work? Is it just visual appearance, or are there character classes and stat fiddling? Will there be in-depth physical tweaks, or more a mix-and-match of pre-set body parts?
Tierny: There's a light class system. Basically, characters are broken down into everyday school archetypes: jock, bookworm, rocker, goth, and preppy. Selecting each of these changes your appearance, but it also changes what types of artifact slots you have. You can assign any artifact to any slot, but if you assign an artifact to a slot with the same stat, you get a boost. So the bookworm begins with more mental stats (Mind, Intelligence) while the jock begins with more physical ones (Strength, Agility).
Once you pick a class, you can customize your character's gender, face, hair style, hair color, outfit, skin tone, and accessories. Accessories are purchased from the in-game shops and range from traditional fare, like eyeglasses, to crazier, more fan-service items, like Robbie masks and Princess Heart earmuffs. And yes, for the people that have asked online, you can give yourself a "Pyramid Head." You're also able to name your character whatever you want, and that name is then pulled into all story components throughout the game. As Tomm said, you're playing YOU.
Hulett: Silent Hill is all about STORY, right? So the customization does cater further in that direction. This isn’t the difference between Male and Female Shepherd, for example. Every single class has its own unique voice, so you’ll actually feel like yourself in Silent Hill rather than just your gender with different clothes. And if you choose a name that’s already used in-game ... then the game will change and use an alternate name for that NPC. I think I really annoyed WayForward with the length I tried to cater to the player here, but hopefully it pays off after the unforeseen amount of work it took to fit 10 different character voices in and out of every possible scenario.
The different class personalities really shine in multiplayer, though. Similar to the online Metal Gear titles (among others), we have some pre-recorded communication messages that you can trigger to speak to one another (voice chat is supported as well, but some people are shy). Every single class has 40+ messages that communicate the same ideas, but in uniquely flavored ways. I worked at Atlus doing localization before I came to Konami, so it was nice to stretch those old muscles again.
Tierny: For the record, WayForward wasn't annoyed, heh. But it was certainly a big undertaking. And this is coming from the studio that wrote 19 different versions of the game script on Aliens: Infestation, and over 300 pages of dialogue on Batman: The Brave and the Bold. But you can't deny how critical story and script is to a series like Silent Hill. Even in a more action-focused entry like this one, we knew that it was essential to have that component as developed (and as organic) as everything else in the game.
Early images and artwork reveal a lot of references to older titles, with monsters like Nurses, Air Screamers, and even Pyramid Head being shown. Is the game going to be one big fan-service ride? Also, will there be any narrative justification for the inclusion of creatures specifically tailored to existing characters (such as the creatures of SH2 being inventions of James' mind) or are we going to just put such questions from our minds and roll with it?
Hulett: The long, canon answer is: yes, there is a plot explanation for why you are encountering creatures from past SH games (though it shouldn’t be such a wild concept. Walter Sullivan saw “the red devil” when he committed suicide, which is the time he became one with the forces of the town, but I digress).
The short, “go away, kid” answer is: this is YOU in Silent Hill, right? What kind of monsters do you think of when Silent Hill is mentioned? Nurses, Air Screamers, and Pyramid Head of course!
Joking aside, though, it’s worth mentioning our bosses are all-new creations that tie in specifically to Book of Memories' unique storyline. We’re keeping them under wraps for now, but they are definitely memorable.
Tierny: We decided to pick roughly two creatures from each of the previous SH titles, and those were selected based on a mix of which were memorable and expected (Nurses, Pyramid Head) and which had mechanics that would work well with the other enemies (Air Screamer, Needler). That said, the gameplay in Book of Memories isn't a carbon copy of any of the previous titles, so we evolved and adjusted the behaviors of each enemy, mixing what the fans loved about them with what would work best for the game.
The perfect example of this is the Butcher, from SH: Origins. In that game, he essentially served as a Pyramid Head replacement: slow-moving, powerful, methodical. But we already had Pyramid Head in this game, so we needed to give Butcher a new identity. We decided to turn him into our 'fast heavy.' So our Butcher has the same strength and power as Pyramid Head, but he's far quicker and more aggressive. He has some of his original attacks (like lifting the player up and stabbing them in the stomach) and he's got brand new ones that fit this style of game (like cleaver-tossing and a ground-slam).
It's a little more 'gamey' but taking into consideration the camera perspective, speedier world exploration, and multiplayer aspects, that's exactly what was needed. It was fun to find that balance with each enemy between the new and old. The end result is a fun blend of enemy behaviors that all complement each other well. You might be in a room where a Needler is backing you into a corner, while an Air Screamer circles the perimeter, a Ghost materializes from behind you, and a Straight Jacket vomits acid balls at you from across the room.
And our bosses (each brand new to this game, as Tomm mentioned) are pretty awesome. I've worked on a lot of cool boss battles at WayForward (it's one of the things we're known for) and the seven bosses in this game are the ones I've been most proud of. I can't wait to see the fan reactions.
Also, just because I'm a huge fan of him -- any chance of seeing Valtiel?
Tierny: Definitely! I'm a total Valtiel fanboy as well (someone PLEASE buy me the KonamiStyle statue!) Since his role in SH3 seemed to be caretaker of the Otherworld, we kept that theme going, making Val our 'quest giver' of sorts: assigning players missions at the start of each zone, and delivering a reward at the end (don't worry, he still doesn't talk.) Completing Valtiel's missions is the only way to unlock certain weapons and artifacts, and they're typically some of the coolest in the game.
What's the overall tone and theme of Book of Memories? Are you going for psychosexual depression a'la Silent Hill 2, or more of a straight up cultist/mythology vibe like SH1 and 3?
Hulett: The game has both actually. The core storyline is more psychological, as seen in SH2 and Downpour. But there’s plenty of lore relating to the cult and the town’s history as well. SH fans of any stripe will find a lot to obsess over and debate. I would say the feel of the game trends a bit more youthful (so maybe something like SH3), since our player is aged roughly at “college” age, but that doesn’t mean it’s a lighter game. The SMT series, after all, is plenty dark.
Tierny: My favorite character in the entire series is Heather Mason (Tomm can attest to my unhealthy obsession), and I found the characters in Book of Memories to be pretty reminiscent of Heather in their tone and reaction to the Hell around them.
Daniel Licht is providing the main score. Is it going to be similar to his excellent work on Downpour?
Tierny: I LOVE what Dan came up with for our game's soundtrack. This is the first time we (WayForward) worked with him, and the soundtrack he composed really impressed me. There are some similarities between the scores of this game and Downpour, but overall I'd say that Downpour's score was a quieter, more traditional SH soundtrack, while this soundtrack is a little more rocking.
Guitars tend to drive most songs, which works really well as the players are pretty constantly moving around. There are seven different worlds in this game, and Dan essentially created a completely unique musical style for each. My favorite of the bunch are the tracks associated with Blood World, which are absolutely haunting and yet very epic at the same time.
Hulett: I’m really psyched about the soundtrack, and I’ve had it playing in my car nonstop for a few weeks. I would actually disagree with Adam and say this is MORE what fans were expecting from the score that Downpour deviated from. While Murphy’s journey trended a bit more cinematic (which fit for that game), Book of Memories is more rough, crunchy, and “gamey”, which places it in a place more familiar to fans of Yamaoka’s work on the series.
Since Licht doesn’t really do video games (until Silent Hill obviously) I was a little worried, but he jumped right in and understood the game and the sound it needed. Adam and I were in the same room when Dan delivered his first track, and we were both blown away. (And, for the curious audiophiles out there, it’s available now! To Amazon!)
How long is the game going to run, and are there plans for post-game content such as DLC?
Tierny: I'm not exaggerating when I say that it's genuinely endless. Every element in the game (missions, enemies, challenges, puzzles, layouts, weapons, items) is programmatically constructed and distributed to ensure endless gameplay possibilities. Here's a perfect example of what that means: there are around 15 standard enemies in the game, each of which has its own checklist entry. But each of those enemies has 3 potential alignments (Blood, Light, and Steel). On top of that, there are rarity attributes that apply to any enemy, such as "combustible" (they explode when dying), "corrosive" (they wear down weapon durability much more quickly), and "dark" (completely silhouetted, and they kill your flashlight). There are 8 rare-type attributes. AND any individual enemy can have up to any two of those attributes at once. 8 rare-types, multiplied against the remaining 7 rare-types (plus the possibility of no rare-types) equals 45 rare-type combinations. So doing some quick math, we have 15 x 3 x 45, which gives us around 2,025 different enemies in this game. Now take that mentality and apply it to everything else in the game and you can see where the endless experience comes from.
That said, we framed the first 21 zones a little more traditionally, with an ending when you complete them. Even though each zone's layout and contents are randomized, you're progressing through 3 zones in each world type, followed by a boss battle. Playing through the first 21 zones of the game the first time through will probably take players around 15-20 hours, depending on skill and grinding. Then from zone 22 on, the game is completely randomized, and continues getting harder and harder the deeper you travel.
We also put great emphasis on providing players with both long-term and short-term secondary goals. The titular Book of Memories can be accessed anytime by pressing the Start button, and inside players will find a Pokédex-like catalog of every enemy (complete with rare-type checklists), every weapon, every artifact, and every story element they've encountered or acquired in the game. 100%ing each of these checklists earns the player a Trophy, and beyond that we have over 50 Trophies that offer players a wide variety of fun and challenging gameplay objectives (aka 'the Dead Rising achievements model').
Hulett: We do have some DLC planned for shortly after release. If the game sells well enough there of course can be more, and we have a huge wish-list of things to include, from really awesome series nods to crazier fanservice. But we need YOUR support! Do you want to fight Fukuro as Kid Dracula? Only YOU can make it happen!
Tierny: SEXY BEAM SHUPPATSU!
Book of Memories is a controversial game, and fans have already reacted quite venomously to it since it was announced. Was that daunting for you, to create a game for such a protective fanbase? Do you fear many fans writing the game off, and did you feel you had to be incredibly careful with the universe when contributing to it?
Tierny: Haha, I think Tomm's used to it by now.
Hulett: It’s practically a running theme in my career. When I localized SMT games fans were CONVINCED they would be censored. When we announced Contra 4 fans were CONVINCED it would be some kind of disaster. When I revived Rocket Knight fans were CONVINCED it would be terrible. And here we are, my fifth original Silent Hill -- we know how that goes. It’s like I feed off the hate. I of course went down my list of Silent Hill dos and don’ts during our initial kickoff meetings, and tried to impress on the development team what Silent Hill “meant”, and what made it tick. I’m the living breathing series bible -- it’s what I’m paid to do.
At the end of the day, I’m obsessed with lore. I was the kid on the playground discussing Mega Man backstory, the guy fitting the “Celda” debate into his college papers, and the nerdy friend who wouldn’t shut up until you spent an hour with him on MGS conjecture. I get the fanbase (any fanbase, really) and the last thing I want to do is betray what they love about whatever series it is.
At the same time, I’m slowly adjusting to the fact that these games HAVE to evolve or they will die, and as a hopeless fanboy -- I don’t want my favorite games to die. For the fans just outraged at the very thought of Book of Memories I want to remind them: the original SH ended with a blooper reel where Dahlia’s “actress” ran up and kissed the camera. That’s right there, at the origin of the entire franchise. I know Silent Hill is serious business, but that doesn’t mean it has to be SRS BSNS all the time.
Tierny: As for WayForward, this is our first Silent Hill title (obviously), although we've been dying to work on this franchise for some time. We actually came pretty close to developing a Silent Hill game on Nintendo DS that, sadly, was not meant to be (although a demo exists). Silent Hill is my favorite gaming franchise of all time, and Silent Hill 2 is one of my top personal games. So we were very excited (and honored) to be given the chance to work on this series by Konami. At the same time, we were well aware early on of the fire we would be stepping into with some of the more hardcore fans. I remember in one of our earliest meetings, Tomm told me, "Prepare to be hated." But you can't really argue with fanatics that say, "I love this series so much, I hope they never make another one." What can you say to someone like that? They've already made up their minds before they even saw the game.
I think what we came up with is going to please the majority of SH fans. No, it's not the same experience as Silent Hill 2, but then again what is? What we made is the most engaging Silent Hill game we could imagine. This is exactly the kind of portable, multiplayer Silent Hill experience that I (as a hardcore SH fan) would want to play. And accomplishing that required thinking very carefully about what a game like this needed, and not remaining beholden to what the earlier SH games did or didn't do. Everything that's in this game is here because it works well for this gameplay experience, and I personally feel that Book of Memories features some of the tightest, most enjoyable gameplay in the series so far (something that WayForward fans have come to expect). It's not your typical Silent Hill game, but it's not trying to be, and it's not replacing more traditional SH experiences like Downpour. Book of Memories is Konami and WayForward trying something new in the Silent Hill universe, and we're extremely pleased with the end result.
Finally, I heard something about the Konami code. Any clues on that?
Tierny: Well, it IS a Konami game.
Hulett: Let’s just leave that as a dangling carrot for rabid fans.