AMA with Tomm Hulett (Reddit)

Date published: 2016.08.16
Source: Reddit, Silent Hill Community

shronkeykong: You've talked before about an idea you've always had for a Silent Hill game, but you were never able to bring it to fruition. If you're comfortable with it, could you tell us what that idea was?

Tomm: I think what you're referring to is the rough concept I had after playing SH2 (back then, college, I thought maybe I should write it as a novel and see if Konami would publish it). So I continued to develop it further and further when opportunities to pitch new story concepts (SH Wii, Downpour, BoM). I wanted a story with a bunch of younger characters, probably college aged, going to SH. Because when you hear the concept you think "dumb slasher film" and that's incongruous with SH. So it'd sort of deconstruct that idea in a SH context. I spoof this in BoM's joke ending but there's still a few seeds of what I was actually trying to do with it if you really look.

shronkeykong: Which Silent Hill game has your favorite soundtrack and why?

Tomm: This is difficult to really pin down. I have a real soft spot for SH2 (Love Psalm, right?) but in a lot of ways, especially having worked on the games with him, it feels like a rough draft of what Yamaoka really wanted to do. SH3 seems to strike that balance--ambient, some rock-inspired ambient, and then the vocals. However, I like the vocal songs in SH4 the best (not counting games i worked on, because those vocals often have themes close to my heart and what we were trying to do at the time so that's not fair to judge). I guess that averages me to SH3 as my favorite? Those were the 3 I listened to most while working on the games (given how hard SH1 is to listen to just as a soundtrack, probably not surprising). Sorry for the non-answer.

shronkeykong: Of the Silent Hill games you worked on, is there a particular story or gameplay moment that you are proud of? Why?

Tomm: I'm proud of SH:SM as a whole. I know many feel like it was just a marketing gimmick but I really like the reimagining aspect of it, and how that plays with expectations. I really like what Climax was able to accomplish without combat, and just having a world to explore (which is now a lot more common). I'm proud of many of our sidequests in Downpour. We worked with the team a ton and tried to get them to buy in on "making it weird and scary" and once those sidequests started going in they had really great ideas. The theater quest, the gramaphone, etc. I'm also proud of the dynamic story notes in BoM, which Twin Perfect delved into a great deal in their recent documentary. I'm happy this actually worked! (Though TP hated the story, they said this gameplay system was the best part of the game). I spent a lot of time in the Czech Republic (Downpour) at night, in my hotel, trying to map out this system and run simulations to make sure it could work. So it's good that paid off in some way.

shronkeykong: Was Konami particularly restrictive in what you and the various teams you worked with could and could not do with the Silent Hill license? Connected to that, were there any times that the powers that be at Konami wouldn't allow you to implement ideas that you think could have worked very well for the series?

Tomm: That depends on what you mean by "Konami". "Konami" as a corporate entity generally did not interfere, with some exceptions (BoM's genre shift for example). However, "Konami" as in the department I worked in, with EP's, Producers like Devin, etc. - we were the group making most decisions, and everyone's voices factor in. So even if I said "This is what should happen in an SH game. This is the SH style." if others disagreed (or just though it'd be better to go in a different direction), then that might happen. My group had a great deal of freedom, really, but it's important to not equate that to any one person having 'all the power'. We had a lot of discussions and a lot of decisions went my way, and a lot of decisions didn't. That's ordinary in any creative business. Then there is how much freedom our group would give to the developers - which was also generally a lot of freedom. If you want creative people to make good passionate stuff, you can't just dictate every detail of their work. Even if you did, they might never come around to your way of thinking and that would reflect in their work. "Konami" the corporate entity wanted a successful Silent Hill franchise. "Konami" the on-the-ground people wanted to make the best game possible, and I personally was trying to do that in the context of the series as a whole (what is appropriate, what would be new and exciting, etc).

shronkeykong: Downpour's monster designs got some flak for being less adventurous in design than other monsters in the series. Do you agree with this criticism? Was there a particular reason for this design choice?

Tomm: We went through a lot of revisions for Downpour's monsters, and I think the reaction has been fair. I can't really dive into it further than that, but see the previous answer for some insight.

shronkeykong: If the Silent Hill series does continue, what direction would you personally like to see it go in?

Tomm: I would like to see it really achieve the self-contained style that the development team hinted at in some SH2 interviews. So each game can be its own interesting premise, and doesn't need to tie in (directly, in a plot heavy way) to the other games. There should be some overall rules and themes, and subtle callbacks, but each plot should be its own beast. This is what we were trying to do with Downpour (and SH2 and SH4 did it, basically), and I personally think it's the best direction for a long and healthy SH franchise. Imagine if the movies had just told their own stories in the SH world!

RaceCarGrin: Which Silent Hill game that you worked on do you feel the biggest connection to, or are the most proud of?

Tomm: I kind of said this above, but I obviously have a connection to all the games I worked on. So if I'm averaging it to the "biggest connection" I guess that would mean SH:SM. We were going for something really different (and I'd been pitching a Wii Silent Hill since I started at Konami), and I fought really hard internally to protect Climax's vision, and it actually came through in the end product. That's really exciting. I know it's a divisive game but the people who like it seem to REALLY like it, and that's satisfying.

pyramidbread: What would have Silent Hill: Cold Heart have been like?

Tomm: A combination of SM and my younger kids concept, because that's what it was. Early demos from various developers took my (current version of) original idea and added to it / shifted it around. They stuck to my winter theme though. Then the Producer took it to Climax and developed it secretly. When he left and I saw it again, it was the pitch for SH:SM

syboxez: What do you think is your best work outside of the SH series?

Tomm: Just like SH games, there's something I love about all my games, whether it's accomplishing a major goal or just improving on a thing that was weaker in my earlier games. So I'll come up with criteria to choose best: most complete / cohesive. In this regard, I think both Contra 4 and Goosebumps fit the bill, and they couldn't be more opposite. Contra 4 is a balls-to-the-wall classic-style arcade action game with huge bosses and really captures the feel of the original games in the series. Goosebumps is a point-and-click Adventure game similar to classics like Shadowgate, based on the children's novels and recent film (but it's a prequel!). It's entirely reading and puzzle solving. So if anyone is trying to judge me on my best work, pick the one that appeals to you

syboxez: Do you think any of your Silent Hill games would have been better received/liked if they didn't have the SH name attached to them (for example, Silent Hill Downpour would just be called Downpour)?

People ask this a lot (or say it as their opinion) and I don't agree. The games would be entirely different if they weren't in Silent Hill. It's especially stated a lot regarding SH:SM, "This would have been a lot better if it weren't tied to SH" - except in my opinion it wouldn't even exist. The whole point of SHSM is that it follows Harry's same journey, with all the details shuffled. If it were just called "Shattered Memories" for example, there's no significance to meeting Dahlia in the Balkan. There's no context to finding Dahlia above the Green Lion shop. It wouldn't need to end at Lakeside Amusement Park. So what does that Shattered Memories look like? The case would be the same for Downpour, etc. to different degrees.

NomadExile: What part of the lore of Silent Hill is his favorite, and what does he think could be done to expand on it? His favorite monster. What were some unrealized story points he wanted to implement? And ask him what his favorite food is. I mean why not?

Tomm: Lore - I really like where the overall power of Silent Hill leads its non-cult storylines. Stuff like SH2, SH4, etc. These are interesting and (as stated above) where I think the "meat" of an evergreen SH lies. I think each one could lend small bits to the overall story (the way SH2 did but less so), and that'd be great.

Monster - It's hard to pick. The Closer is a nice classic Ito-style monster. Very iconic in my mind. Twin Victims is a favorite, even if they're scarier in the E3 trailer than they were in the actual game. Just such a uniquely bizarre monster. I think the classic Gray Children are the scariest to me personally. Air Screamers are great because WTF a pteradactyl! All that said, nothing makes you jump like a Larval Stalker in the corner of a bathroom.

Unrealized Story Points - I'm sad that some Downpour elements ended up being obfuscated, with DJ Ricks being a major victim. We put some of this in the Anne's Story comic but people still have questions (incidentally, the DLC for BoM covers DJ Ricks and the "main reality" version of Michelle from SHSM). Originally Ricks was a much bigger player. And of course Howard's stuff (which I will touch on in a later answer). Along those lines, there's a scene in Downpour's ending that either doesn't show up (I don't remember) or doesn't show up on as many branches as it's supposed to, and that confuses Murphy's motivations in some endings. Same deal, one of the SHSM endings only shows up half as often as it's supposed to because of a bug we found too late to fix.

Food - Katsu Ramen from here:

creepyditalini: Were there any other future plans in mind for the series after Downpour's release prior to the release of PT?

Tomm: We'd prepared some concepts (including one I was SUPER SUPER IN LOVE WITH) to continue the series, but no, BoM was the final officially-slated Silent Hill. Also, I found out about PT the same time as everyone else.

creepyditalini: Were we ever going to play as a female character again?

Tomm: This is something I supported whenever we were discussing a new game (and one reason Anne was originally playable). But very few people believed me when I said that Silent Hill (and horror in general!) has an enormous female fanbase. I tried to have Katie ("Rocker Female") lead the marketing for Book of Memories for this reason, even though you could play as either gender (she's on the EU cover!)

ciarandevlin182s: Didn't feel daunting stepping up to the plate of such a big franchise? I believe downpour to be a great game and great silent Hill story. That's what it is, just another story from silent Hill! Tomm should stick to his guns. Konami could have helped so much more but he should be proud of what he helped create.

Tomm: Thanks. Of course it was daunting stepping up to the franchise. Be aware I was never "the man in charge of Silent Hill" as I've explained above. Whether I was assisting or Producing, I did my best to be an advocate in the interest of the SH series and its fans. This did not mean "ask what the fans want and do that", but make decisions I felt fans would especially enjoy, or would enhance their experience with Silent Hill.

ZeRobster: I always thought that the later entries had some good ideas that work fine but not in the context of the Silent Hill series. If given the opportunity, would you produce/direct a brand new horror ip?

Tomm: I would! But not for a while. I did Direct a Goosebumps title last year (available now for Steam, XBLA, PSN, and 3DS!). It's not really similar to Silent Hill, but I did apply a lot of the lessons and theories I picked up on those foggy streets.

ZeRobster: If so, what would it look like in terms of story, aesthetics, gameplay mechanics, etc.?

Tomm: As for a future, non-Goosebumps game, I don't know yet. I'd have to decide when the mood struck me. How would I best express the themes or core gameplay of the idea? etc.

yani324: About the hd remake of silent hill , is there was any thoughts to insert silent hill 4 and was it possible?

Tomm: Konami wanted to focus on the 2 most popular entries in the series (SH2 and 3). As to "was it possible" - was it possible to put SH2 and 3 into HD Collection?

yani324: Really liked the latest silent hill downpour is this game consider a succses in terms of profit?

Tomm: As far as I remember, Downpour was a success. I don't recall if I ever saw any numbers or anything. That is generally a different department.

Tanshaydar: At what point you became part of Silent Hill: Homecoming?

Tomm: I came on right as full development started. After I made a big stink about removing Pyramid Head, I was put mainly on Origins and Contra 4. I was brought on at the end again when the previous Producer left.

Tanshaydar: Did you write for SH:H's script, or edit it?

Tomm: I made edits early on but think they were ignored. When we were stitching it together at the end, I removed a few things counter to canon and wrote a few notes (the one mentioning Douglas Cartland and a Hotel review)

Tanshaydar: Why was the SH:H DLC idea scrapped (playing the prequel with Adam Shepherd)?

Tomm: There was never DLC planned for Homecoming discussed at Konami.

Tanshaydar: At what point Konami started to feel insecure about the SH:H's state?

Tomm: I'm not sure what this is referring to so I can't really comment.

Tanshaydar: Was Silent Hill name ever important for Konami, or was it just a way to generate revenue?

Tomm: Silent Hill is as important to "Konami" as any of their franchises. Silent Hill was very important to the group I belonged to at Konami because it was our premier franchise (while Japan had MGS, etc).

Tanshaydar: Do you think it would be better to give the SH:H team more time and room?

Tomm: That was the opposite problem that Homecoming actually had. It went very late and the team wanted more guidance early on to avoid wasted effort.

Tanshaydar: Do you think Downpour is better than Homecoming?

Tomm: Yes, I was happier with it.

Tanshaydar: Do you think Downpour had original ideas, or was it a mashup from previous games?

Tomm: We certainly thought it had original ideas (that fit into the SH universe). I don't think it had "mashed up ideas" any more than anything else takes the influences of its creators (any of the original SH titles could be called a "mashup of ideas" from American horror films)

Tanshaydar: Why was important to have Sect of the Holy Way sign in Downpour?

Tomm: If you mean plot wise, because we wanted to express this game still took place in the same continuity as the previous games. If you mean visual icons and such hidden about - many of those were put in by Vatra late in development so I can't speak to their appropriateness one way or another.

Tanshaydar: Do you regret saying "This is not Homecoming" about Downpour?

Tomm: No? Why would I? (I don't remember saying it). But Downpour was a) a different game, b) not combat focused, and c) better, imo. So...?

A couple posts later various users, the same original user adds this on (this happened before Tomm came into the thread, by the way).

Don't worry Your tone is not offending. I actually kinda expected a comment like that. I still don't trust him and I still don't take his word, but wouldn't it be the right thing to do to hear him out? I have my own opinions and beliefs, but I am not a fanatic. In the end I may be wrong, I am only an ordinary human being. And I actually want to hear him out now that he is not affiliated with Silent Hill IP or Konami, there is a chance he can say something different. Also, this way I can make sure I keep my civil. I think that's the most important thing at my end.

Tomm: If you are implying I would (or was doing so in the past) lie just to make my games look good, I assure you that isn't the case. I always strive to be honest in my interviews.

If you're judging off TP videos where they quote me one way and then bend over backwards to prove I was lying, I disagree.

Every game ever made is a complete mess until the final month or so of development, when it's all stitched together nicely. But people do marketing for months (years!) before that! How can they honestly speak to the final product--they can't. But nobody is trying to make a mediocre game. Everyone is working to accomplsih the vision and plan for a great experience, and sometimes games fall short.

But you can't expect people to say in an interview: "Oh well, the combat isn't coming together and I'm really freaked out about it. Let's all cross our fingers!" A) That's a crappy thing to say for the team, etc. B) they would be fired C) Consumers would lose faith in the product and nothing would ever sell, because D) Every single game would have this type of response

Seriously. Every game you've ever loved was a mess for 90% of its development. That's how games are made.

Tanshaydar: Thanks a lot Mr. Hulett! I know I am one of those people who bash you based on their own information, but at least I believed that hearing you out would be right thing to do; and thank you for proving me right! There are still things we disagree upon, I expected that much (personal taste, conflicting info etc.). However, at least you earned my respect and I will review my opinion on the things; and I guess this is something, right? Thanks for taking your time, and I sincerely wish good luck with your upcoming projects!

DefinitelyHomura: What was the decision process like behind the choices for the Silent Hill HD Collection redub voices? There was a lot of depth to the original acting where the way the actors carried their words held a lot of weight and said a lot about the characters themselves, their state of mind, deeper implications behind the words, etc etc. Not to mention they just plain sounded like real people and carefully chosen by Team Silent in order to make sure they fit perfectly. Having listened to the redubs for Silent Hill 2 (admittedly I haven't listened to 3's since I haven't finished it yet and I'm playing a PC copy), it felt like a lot of that weight was ultimately missing and they sound more like cliche, hollow characters, especially in Eddie's case. Is there perhaps something behind the scenes I'm just not noticing, or was it more of a circumstancial, by the numbers redub?

Tomm: My answer to this has to be limited because I have talked to people behind the original recording and I have a lot of private information that colors my response. Please understand.

We took great care in choosing actors we felt embodied the characters as they were originally portrayed or intended, and the actors involved all cared a great deal about their performances (some were familiar with the franchise as players, like Troy, others didn't know SH and Mary and I explained what a big deal this was--and also that they would be hated forever for doing it ) It was not a "by the numbers" redub.

As for the original voices being "so much better forever and ever" I think much of it is just familiarity. We heard those voices for a long, long time before HDC came around, and the new voices sounded weird to me at first too. But we had to separate ourselves from the movies we were so used to seeing over and over again, and really see the characters themselves, with their motivations, fears, weaknesses, etc.

That's how we approached it. YMMV, quite obviously

Following this, user doglookedatmewrong responds to the above with this:

doglookedatmewrong: Tomm, I really respect you doing this AMA, and I do not mean this disrespectfully, but this is the one thing I just don't understand how you could justify. Isn't this like redubbing a classic film (especially when I these voice actors were doing motion capture), would feel comfortable redubbing The Seventh Seal, for example? I suppose my point is, if you love SH2 as a great work of art (which I believe you do), why would you change it so drastically? Is it just to fit your personal experience of the work? With that said, I am really glad you are able to make games you enjoy, and that you are able to work with perhaps less stressful licenses. Best of luck, and thank you for participating in this.

Tomm: Because management said we would be rerecording the original voices, so I volunteered to handle it. At the time I was not assigned to the project at all (busy with BoM). With my background from Atlus and track record with VO I thought I could ensure that a drastic change would be handled as appropriately as possible.

SpyVSHorse: How involved was Konami corporate with defining both the budget, but also the story and style of games you made?

Tomm: Obviously corporate dictates the budget and schedule - that's what they do! Story was really up to the smaller Konami group I was in (I should have called it "Team Silence" this entire time just for clarity sake. Damn). As for game style - that was never really a question until BoM, but in that case Corporate dictated the genre shift to dungeon crawler. In SH:SM's case, that was Climax's clever response to Corporate wanting a remake.

SpyVSHorse: How much creative freedom did you have to play within the defined boundaries?

Tomm: My group had a lot of freedom (as previously described). I personally could suggest or argue anything I wanted, but it was all subject to our group as a whole (and when I'm talking about this group I'm partially talking about Marketing, etc. as well).

SpyVSHorse: With Vatra games closed, Double Helix acquired, and Climax becoming a port house, it seems like as a Silent Hill developer is a defining moment in their studios. Why were these firms selected? Who else was considered?

Tomm: I don't really know why any given developer was chosen, ultimately. That was also a corporate decision. (The one time I did have a say, we chose WayForward because of the Contra 4 relationship). I do know we considered several other developers throughout but I can't say who.

SpyVSHorse: What was the best idea that never made it into the final game?

Tomm: The Dolls in Downpour originally worked entirely differently. Originally you'd find a doll in a room (you'd see the physical doll, and the invisible one would be roaming around). If you ignored it, the Doll would follow to the next room (you'd see the doll again), and so on. Dolls were put in adjacent rooms so they'd gang up on you, and if you ignored them for too long you'd die. (I designed this version, can you tell?) When this behavior didn't make it into Downpour, I was really disappointed. We intended to put them into BoM with this behavior as DLC, but there was only ever one DLC pack made... ah well.

SpyVSHorse: If you could take back one choice you or someone on the team made for Silent Hill, what would it be?

Tomm: I supported the idea of a passive threat in the "normal" world of SH:SM, so the player would have some amount of tension even in the "safe" world. Climax argued that it didn't fit into their vision, so I didn't push the issue. Since the main complaint was "I'm only in danger during the frozen scenes!" I often wonder if the idea would have improved the game or not.

SpyVSHorse: Now that Howard Blackwood (aka the mailman) is likely only to live in pachinko machines, what was the original vision and need for the character?

Tomm: I can't say anything about Howard, other than he was intended to return for future games. Maybe he still will. Or maybe he'll Pull the Lever!

SpyVSHorse: What is the business of games like from the inside of producing them?

Tomm: It's pretty complex and not as fun as it might seem from the outside! Managing the creativity of the team against budget and schedule realities is difficult, but then you have to advocate your product to marketing, corporate, etc. Of course there are plenty of fun parts, but I much prefer Directing. I'm more creative than corporate.

SpyVSHorse: I feel the reviews of your games are incorrectly low, tainted by nostalgia for the past series entries. In retrospect, how would you rate your Silent Hill games?

Tomm: Thanks. I'm not going to rate them because I think scores can be subjective, and I wouldn't want somebody from one of my teams to see a number and feel like I didn't appreciate their work. I guess I'll put them in my order of personal preference, from lowest to favorite: HC, O, BoM, D, SM.

SpyVSHorse: There is a group who believes your responsible for everything wrong in Silent Hill. Why do you think they act this way? How do you live with their decade of slander?

Tomm: I think they act this way because I was the person in the most SH interviews. So if you're pissed off... you want to know who's responsible. So if you look for SH interviews, there I am! And if people don't know how large a team is, or what role a publisher plays, or what an Associate Producer does... it's easy to assume that guy on camera (or in print) is to blame. And if youtube or a message board points to a guy as the one at fault, it's easy to blame him too. I live with it via understanding friends and family who will listen to me recount/complain/grumble/sigh/whine.

SpyVSHorse: What would your advice be to Silent Hill fans?

Tomm: Advice: if SH does come back (hopefully it does!) approach it with an open mind. It WILL NOT be like the original games. Nothing will. Just hope it's creepy and atmospheric and unsettling and powerful and meaningful. If it hits those goals, it's a good Silent Hill game.

SpyVSHorse: Is Silent Hill dead?

Tomm: I hope not!

SpyVSHorse: What do you do now? How many people scream at you on YouTube videos because of it?

Tomm: I'm a Director at WayForward. Very few people scream at me on YouTube videos until they see the credits of my game during a blind let's play and then they tend to comment.

chemiro: How much of Origins did you work on? Were you part of the development when it was in the hands of Climax LA or after it was in Climax UK's? In a post mordem article with Edge magazine Sam Barlow described Origins initial concept as a "bizarre" dark comedy inspired by Scrubs! I was wondering if you had a hand in the new direction of the game? If so what sort of changes did you recommend?

Tomm: I came onto Origins right as Climax UK was turning in their first concept of the new version. I learned about the Climax US version from Sam, so that was the first I'd heard of it. My role was mainly to play what Climax delivered and offer feedback. It was a very quick development cycle. I think I suggested places to add / refer to the Butcher.

chemiro: What are some of your best moments/memories working on the franchise?

Tomm: Voice recording is always a great experience on any project, so I remember those times. It's great to hear the characters finally saying lines you've been reading/seeing for months or years. And Silent Hill has really intense scenes so that was always very powerful (all of Angela's lines for HDC, especially). My core memories are the people I got to meet and the places I went. Climax is great, and I miss all those guys. Vatra, and experiencing the Czech Republic, was fantastic. I'll never forget working late hours at their office, then working on BoM in my hotel room or having conference calls with WF (where it was daytime). When SH: Revelations 3D was happening, I got to take a ride on their flaming Lakeside Carousel at 3am in Canada in winter. That was surreal, and the movie premier is likely the only time I'll get to walk a red carpet. I guess you could sum up my favorite moments as any time some aspect of Silent Hill was part of my real tangible world. Very surreal, and really special.

chemiro: Given the hatred you receive from some of the fans, even years after your departure, do you ever regret getting involved in the series?

Tomm: No, of course not. It was a huge honor to work on Silent Hill.

Peter_Wicher: If you were given a blank check to make a new Silent Hill game, what type of game would it be?

Tomm: I... don't know. I haven't thought of this in a long time. Maybe I'd try to make the unused SH concept to follow Downpour that I hinted at above?

If not, I'd probably want to explore the themes of BoM (making choices, how those affect others and ourselves) in a traditional SH framework. Possibly with an older protagonist - maybe a mom with adult children. How does that sound?

Peter_Wicher: The same user then says: Sounds interesting! A follow up question would be: What kind of gameplay would you like to see in this hypothetical game? Third person action? First person exploration? A combo? Something else entirely?

Tomm: Would all depend! I would steer toward classic SH but I do think SH4's first person segments did really cool stuff.