Interview with Akihiro Imamura (IGN)

Date published: 2001.08.17
Source: IGN

When people think about Silent Hill and Silent Hill 2, they probably most often envision some madly, grinning game programmers and designers devilishly thinking up ways to scare the pants off people. But what are the people like who make the games? At some level, the folks at KCET are certainly in the business of creating fear in the people who play their games. But not just any fear, and certainly not the kind created from shock. No, these guys are into a more maddening, deeper-seated, grotesque fear.

Among other team members, KCET Producer Akihito Imamura is working on delivering the kind of fear in Silent Hill 2 that unseats people slowly, unsettling them with claustrophobic atmospheres and dark, unlit places sometimes simply accompanied by deadening silence. This is a different kind of fear than games such as Resident Evil are trying to create, and from what we can tell, it worked extremely well in Silent Hill 1 and even better in Silent Hill 2. We spoke with Imamura-san about his game, and asked him just what makes Silent Hill 2 fun, frightening, and distinct.

IGNPS2: What kind of response did you receive from gamers, critics, and others when you made the first PlayStation Silent Hill? What kind of response resonated the most for you? You know, what comments and criticisms sunk in the deepest?

Akihito Imamura: I remember receiving fast and direct reactions through the Internet. I was happy to see that the first PlayStation Silent Hill became a hot topic on various videogame websites and many people talked about the content and strategies on bulletin boards.

IGNPS2: With the comments you received, which ones did you use to change and/or improve Silent Hill 2?

Akihito Imamura: I never thought of changing a particular place by reading a specific comment, however, I considered all the comments and used them as a reference as to which parts we should keep and modify Silent Hill 2.

IGNPS2: So what kinds of changes did you plan on making in your own mind, before you read all of the comments?

Imamura-san takes a moment from his busy schedule on Silent Hill 2.

Akihito Imamura: In this PlayStation 2 Silent Hill 2, I was thinking of creating a game world by utilizing the full performance of PS2 hardware along with great atmosphere.

IGNPS2: Some of our readers don't know that much about Silent Hill 2. What is the basic premise behind the game and how is it similar and how is it different from the first game?

Akihito Imamura: Just as in the previous Silent Hill, this game is an action adventure game based upon horror. Although it is "2," this is not a continued story of "1." This is a story of a completely different man. The main character comes to the town of Silent Hill in search of the truth of a letter that he received from his wife, who had died three years ago. In the town, he goes through adventures while fighting against unidentified monsters, meeting other visitors, and solving scattered riddles. Both in 1 and 2, the mysterious power of Silent Hill will drag the characters into a nightmare.

IGNPS2: From what I have seen to far of Silent Hill 2, the kinds of images and scenes in the game appear graphically intense, often macabre, even violent in nature. What is your opinion about violence in videogames, and what kinds of messages are you trying to send to the potential buyers of Silent Hill 2?

Akihito Imamura: Intense graphics used in this game are an indispensable element in surging fear. Although this is my personal opinion about violence in videogames, fictional violence can be a reasonable stimulus to sensible adults. However, releasing the urge of violence is an action only permitted in a fictional world.

IGNPS2: How much did you struggle with the camera angles in Silent Hill 2, and what is the philosophy or principle the way in which the game seen via the camera?

Akihito Imamura: If we were to make the camera angles as per request from the creators, the gameplay would be difficult. On the other hand, if we were to prioritize the gameplay, the camera angles would not look good. We had to struggle a lot to maintain the balance between these two points. If we wanted to make the game image closer to that of movies, we must keep in mind that a game picture is the picture that is being seen through a camera. Silent Hill 2 incorporates many picture effects, which happen just because you are seeing it through a camera. We would like to incorporate this technique more in the future titles.

Imamura-san and Sato-san stand below a huge public poster of Silent Hill 2.

IGNPS2: What are the best technical aspects about working with the PlayStation 2?

Akihito Imamura: The best aspect is that it draws translucency fast. Thanks to this aspect, SH2 creates beautiful fog and shadow. A point which we are less happy about is that the memory amount is low. The memory amount is too low to place high-quality character models and textures. We had to go through extra struggles to obtain these images.

IGNPS2: What other kinds of special effects have you found work best for Silent Hill 2? As you have mentioned the fog effects have been the most interesting to me.

Akihito Imamura: Although the fog is fantastic, the shadows of monsters lighted by the main character's flashlight is the best. Since it is a spot light, the shadow on the wall gets bigger as a monster approaches you and your fear will surge. Besides this point, we have a noise-filter effect to realize a cinematic feeling. We are sure that these points make the game's impression better.

IGNPS2: What was it that got you hooked with videogames? Was there a specific moment, or system?

Akihito Imamura: I remember a time when I first touched a videogame when I was 6 years old. I was very surprised. Looking back now, I suppose it was because it was the first interactive play. The first time I fell in love with videogames was when I was in middle school; when I got NES for the first time. After that, I played many arcade and console games. Recently, I really love to play on-line games. Perhaps, we might have met somewhere on-line before.

IGNPS2: Lastly, let's talk a little about fear in games. The first Silent Hill was creepy, eerie, and scary in a totally different way than Capcom's Resident Evil. What kind of fear effect are you aiming to generate in people who play Silent Hill 2?

Akihito Imamura: I am aiming to create fear which gets deep into human instinct. Not making the fear by surprise, but by creating a feeling of anxiety, I would like to surge the fear little by little in the player.

IGNPS2: Yes, well it's working. Thanks so much for your time. I wish you the best of luck with Silent Hill 2.

Akihito Imamura: Thank you very much.