Interview with Keiichiro Toyama (PSM)

Date published: 1999.03
Source: PSM #19, March 1999

PSM: In your opinion, how does Silent Hill differentiate itself from other games in the horror genre?

KT: It will be easy to outline Silent Hill's characteristics if we look into the two main concepts that we focused on from the start. One is that the game was supposed have a "modern American novel" type of atmosphere. A traditional town in the countryside is the setting for the game, where it creates the weirdness and the eeriness in the ordinary world.

That was one of the themes of the game. Another point is on the technical side. Using the light and the dark effects to create a life-like atmosphere, using full polygons. The darkness is the key element to the game, and we have created a completely new light source engine specifically for this title.

PSM: What is the inspiration for the supernatural powers that exist in Silent Hill? Does any of it stem from real life folklore or legend?

KT: To tell you the truth, and this might be not such an interesting answer, but all of Silent Hill was made up. Some of the names have some cult backgrounds or the sort, but what the team was most inspired by were the cult movies from the 70's and the 80’s and maybe the Science Fiction movies from the 50's, more than the modern horror novels, actually. There are some cult icons that appear in the game, but those were just some added points to build a frightening feeling.

PSM: How much of the game is action? How much is puzzle? Story?

KT: We try not to incline too much on one aspect, such as action elements etc. The action part of the game is really just something to create the horror, so it won’t get too difficult.

PSM: How are you using mood to enhance gameplay?

KT: I can certainly point out that the rmusic is an important factor. It’s not like a Hollywood movie-style orchestra, but it’s more close to noise than anything else. It matches the hysteric mood. When combined with the game's graphics, they create the total horror.

PSM: Do you really die at the beginning of the game?

KT: You think that you die, only to know that it was actually a dream. Nothing more continues... I guess that the sample version was a little difficult to understand, so in the product version, we have added some text that explains the situation a little more. It does not explain exactly why it happened, but if you play the game along, you’ll be able to find out.

PSM: Have you had to limit yourselves in regards to the amount of gore or horror in the game? Is there anything that had to be taken out stuff that was too shocking?

KT: The half-transparent, small character enemies used to appear more distinctively, and also allowed you to attack them. You feel that something is near, and you brace yourself to attack, but when you find that it’s a small nonresistant enemy, you feel a little relieved. We tried to put those kinds of ups and downs in the battle itself, but after some discussion, we felt that attacking a nonresistant enemy was not such a good idea. That's why it’s like that in the current version.

PSM: What do you think the advantage of using pre-rendered FMV is over in-game cinemas?

KT: The first impression and the amount of information is one. The characters in this game are very ordinary. They're not dressed in outfits or costumes, so in the actual game, the player cannot see the facial expressions or the face itself. That's why the FMV will certainly give the audience "the first impression" to the players, and when the in-game demo starts, it allows you to imagine the character's facial expressions, etc., more clearly. We understand that there is quite a difference in the appearance of the characters in the FMV versus the game itself, but since the entire world is polygons, too, we had to limit it. Well, we would definitely like to solve that in the next one... if we have one.

PSM: We have heard that one person handled all of the game's FMV. Is this true?

KT: That’s very true. His name is Takayoshi Sato, and he also did the character design as well. He joined the team as a freshmen, and had no knowledge or experience in CG modeling. He was doing the models and the motions at the start of the project, but since his CG work was fabulous, we decided to let him concentrate on the CGs only. Since then, he "lives" in the R&D building, devoting all of his time to creating the CGs for the past two years.

PSM: Why did you choose a small US town for the setting of the game? Is there a real Silent Hill?

KT: If you like modern horror novels, it would be easy to understand, but it's the situation that you can't miss. In this game, the modern horror novel atmosphere was the hook, so we decided to choose a small U.S. town for the setting. Of course, Silent Hill really does not exist, and we have not allocated a certain place or time in the game. We deliberately did not use an actual place, since it might cause inconsistency with the real thing. However, with the name Silent Hill, we got a hint from a real place in Japan.

PSM: Why did you create such an ordinary main character rather than using a tough "commando" type?

KT: Again because the modern horror essence was the key to the game. The main character is not a hero, nor is he a i strong willed person. He has and keeps his morals, but he is really just a plain, normal person. His motions, such as swinging around his items and trying to catch his breath after running, falling on climbing the stairs, etc. are not very cool or heroic, but after a while, it would be easier for a player to project himself or herself to the main character.

PSM: Have you had any nightmares resulting from creating this game?

KT: When we were doing research for this game, one of our programmers had a nightmare that he was attacked and eaten by a zombie. When you experience a nightmare that you think can be used in the game, you usually turn out thinking to yourself, "Gee... what was I so frightened about?" and mostly it cannot be used. By the way, "Nightmares" is an important theme of Silent Hill, too.

PSM: How did you go about designing the game's puzzles? Are they all logical or are some of them more abstract?

KT: Most of the puzzles are abstract, since logical puzzles could be too simple, and difficult to expand. We have adjusted the scenario and the plot to make room for creative puzzles. Actually, the story itself is a puzzle, so we want you to imagine a lot of stuff when you first clear the game.

PSM: How are you encouraging the player to play the game again once they have beaten it the first time?

KT: I think that after clearing the game once, you're still left with many things unsolved. But when you play over and over again, the pieces of the puzzle come together, and you'll feel it makes the whole Silent Hill world come together. Also, there are things that change when you play the second time around, so I hope that players can discover that stuff, too.

PSM: Could you see Silent Hill becoming a series of games? Or how about a movie?

KT: Right now, there are no specific plans for a sequel, but when we get some good feed back after the game is released, maybe it can be a series. If it can be done on a new platform, the depth of the game will surely expand. We think that we did pretty good job with the PlayStation, so we don't have any interest in creating something on the same platform. And making it a movie... I think that the scale of that is so different, I can't even imagine it.

PSM: What in your opinion is the finest point of the game? What part are you most proud of?

KT: I can say the overall visuals. Very natural movements of the people in the CG movies, and it was not just pursuing the most beautiful graphics. The edges to the atmosphere, the dark image of the whole background, and also the human-like movements. I think that including a realistic world doesn not give a "game like" image at all.

PSM: What do you think is the scariest part of the game?

KT: It's not the system or the scenario, but the fear that naturally grows within you. Darkness is purely a fear to the human, and we tried to implement that element as much as possible. Also, you cannot predict what kind of attack that the creatures will make from the way they look. We thought that if you could not being able to distinguish friends or foe would create the most fear.

PSM: What was the biggest challenge in creating Silent Hill?

KT: Deciding to create a town in full polygon. Even though it was technically possible, considering the work load, it was bit of a dangerous challenge. At the end, because of the time frame, we had to cut some parts of the map. Frankly, that's the reason why the town at the beginning is so large! Other than that, the team itself was brand new, so everything was a challenge to us.

PSM: What do the real-time environments allow you to do that couldn't be done in pre-rendered environments?

KT: The fog, which was THE visual effect, the darkness, and camera that runs across the town were all of the things that couldn't have been done in pre-rendered environments. We thought that it would be difficult to best our competition by using only pre-renders. One of the priorities was to make the most of using the real time polygons. As a result, even though the feel may be similar, I think that we created quite a different game.

PSM: Is there anything that you wish you could have done, but had to leave out due to time constraints or lack of technology?

KT: Tons of things... I wanted to make the backgrounds more realistic. Breaking glass, bullet holes, able to go over the walls, etc. We wanted to make it as real as it can be, but there were some limitations to the hardware. I think that if we are going to do a sequel, all of our wishes can be done in the new platforms. Also, since we focused on the story plot, we couldn't focus too deep into each character's background. And again, if there is a sequel, we would create that part separately.

PSM: Are there any secrets hidden in the game?

KT: If you're talking about secret modes, and hidden items, yes, there are some in the game. I would like the people to play and find out about it, though. Please think that everything that you can predict is in the game. Also, there are things that go beyond your imagination.

PSM: Can you tell us about one secret or little feature in the game that only the developers would know about?

KT: There are weapons that appear in the classic horror movies, so I hope that you enjoy that part. At first, you may find the battles to be difficult, but if you switch your light off, the enemies will not be able to see you as much as when you have the light on. The enemies are also sound conscious, and follow noises, so if you keep that in mind, you'll be able to find your way through the game. More tips and hints? If you walk sideways, you won't make any noise, and the longer you're in the attack position, the more damage the enemy does to you.