E3 2001: Interview with Akihiro Imamura (Computer and Video Games)
Date published: 2001.05.23
James Sanderland is having a very bad day. Itis not every day you wake up in the morning to a letter from your dead wife asking you to meet her at the town where you first met. Itis also not every day youid be stupid enough to go along with her request. Especially if the town was called Silent Hill.
When the first images of Silent Hill 2 were shown to the press last year, the reaction was one of instant disgust. A mud-covered nurse with no face was seen staggering, zombie-like through filthy corridors as Sanderland battled with his love for his wife and the fact that the entire contents of hell were bearing down on him from the fog.It's all bad, or good, depending on your point of view. We got the chance to sit down with producer of the Konami title Akihiro Imamura - who confirmed the title for the launch of Xbox - at E3 and chew the fat over what is undeniably the deepest, most adventurous game currently in the works. Just don't bring the kids; these guys are going places that really are less than pleasant…
[CVG's questions are bolded up; there were several other journalists in the interview]
Question: First of all, we saw the videos and the SCEA conference, the Silent Hill video, and I think the reaction from most of the people was that it was quite hardcore, it was quite dark and disturbing imagery, perhaps more so than a lot of games seen on PS2. Was that your aim? To go for something that was quite extreme, to get an extreme reaction from the player?
Akihiro Imamura: The movie you saw during the press conference was quite old, but the latest one we have we are showing in our booth. Please take a look because we are always trying to seek the best quality in terms of visuals and gameplay.
Question: It seems that it's quite a disturbing game, obviously the horror element is strong, but were you really striving to offer something that is more horrific than anything seen before?
Akihiro Imamura: Well, thanks to you people we are getting very good comments, a really favourable comment on Silent Hill 2. But it was our concept to make Silent Hill 2 more innovative, so in order to do that we had to seek a reality in the visuals when creating the Silent Hill 2 world. This is the result you are seeing.
CVG: How important do you think it is that horror is represented in video games? To take gaming as a whole, how important is it for horror to be a part of it?
Akihiro Imamura: One meaning of entertainment is stimulation and this kind of horror feeling is something that you don't get in your daily life.
CVG: What do you think you can offer with horror in a videogame that can't be offered with horror in a movie?
Akihiro Imamura: The game medium is different from film in that you have interactivity. You will feel as if you're in a scene. For example, your main character is in the game. You know something is there but don't know what it is and you get scared. You tend to feel the fear; I'm pretty sure that you will feel much more intensity than you would by watching a movie.
Question: What do you think is more important in Silent Hill - the atmosphere or the action, the things you have to do? Is the focus on gameplay or atmosphere?
Akihiro Imamura: That's really a difficult question to answer because the two aspects must come together to appear real. In order to make Silent Hill 2 work we need to be focusing on making the characters real by having high-quality textures, and at the same time we must improve the gameplay so people will feel, even though its really horrific, we must make them want to play the game over and over.
CVG: Can you explain what the agenda was when making the sound for the game?
Akihiro Imamura: Even though people tend to think Silent Hill is a game of darkness, I wanted to approach it from a different direction. I wanted to seek in Silent Hill 2 insanity and love - love is also a theme of this game.
Question: This is a question about both sound and storyline. How are you trying to achieve an effect that is greater and more affecting than just a shock, horror game - something that is perhaps more psychological?
Akihiro Imamura: In terms of scenario, we're not really planning to make it really simple where you just beat up bad guys - not like that. I'm trying to make it more about character and emotion, rather than just hitting each other. Then this is about a cool scenario, and at the same time not only trying to create a creepy, spooky atmosphere, but also trying to make the game from a psychological point of view.
CVG: Would you describe the plot line in the game as a tragedy? Mixing insanity and love sounds quite deep.
Akihiro Imamura: OK, for insanity: this is a basic theme for a horror action game and for love… The plot is that the main character, James, receives a letter from his deceased wife, and he goes to Silent Hill, and so this would be a theme of love.
CVG: The CG style in the game is obviously very important to lead the player into the story. Can you explain the influences you had when actually constructing the visual style of the game?
Akihiro Imamura: Movies are a great reference for us. We watch movies and we think, "What can we do with the CG artwork? How can we incorporate the feeling of these films?
CVG: Are there any specific films that have influenced the team on the way the game actually looks?
Akihiro Imamura: The CGI director gets influenced by Russian film maker Tarkofski… Ah, I don't remember his first name. For other key members of Silent Hill 2, they get influenced from movies made by David Lynch, in terms of creating atmosphere very well.
CVG: Can we talk about Xbox briefly? Silent Hill X has been confirmed as a game that's currently in production - can you tell us something about how development is going at the moment and when we can expect to see the game released?
Akihiro Imamura: We are planning to release it as one of the launch title for Xbox, so development is in progress. We just began working on the Xbox version and it will basically be a conversion from the PlayStation 2 version. We'll be having Xbox exclusive contents.
CVG: Can you tell me specifically what the extras are?
Akihiro Imamura: There will be a new added scenario.
Question: It seems like the vast majority of Xbox titles can't keep a decent frame-rate. Did you have any problems with Silent Hill, changing the code from one machine to another?
Akihiro Imamura: No, we have a good frame-rate. We're doing our best to try and keep the same frame-rate on Xbox as on PlayStation 2. We'll do what we can.