Interview with Takayoshi Sato (IGN)

Date published: 2001.08.17
Source: IGN

With the billowing survival-horror genre reaching a zenith in the last three years, many developers have tried to capture the slow-paced feel and scary shockorama tactics that have made Resident Evil the blockbuster franchise it is today. Everyone has tried its hands with the formula, and honestly, with the exception of Konami's Silent Hill series and maybe, possibly, the new Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare, none have come even close.

It's not just a formula that can be copied. It's not just a kind of game that can mass-produced. With Resident Evil, it was brash and inventive, even if it borrowed heavily from the original Alone in the Dark. It was spooky, scary, and surprisingly, even when predictable, it worked. Yes, despite a clunky control scheme and fixed camera angles that drove many gamers crazy, it succeeded beyond Capcom's wildest imaginations.

The creators of Silent Hill certainly liked the ideas behind Resident Evil, but Konami's KCET team went for a different kind of scare, for a different take on the horror-adventure concept, and it too found something, or rather, created something that has its own look, feel, and essence, separating it from the pack.

With Silent Hill 2, the game has come a long way from its brooding first chapter. It's darker, truly more disturbing, and it delivers an astonishingly claustrophobic feeling that is unmatched in any other game I have played. More than any other aspect, however, Silent Hill 2's look has undergone an incredible transformation. It was dark before, and yes, it's still dark. But now, with the more powerful PS2, it's also more realistic looking. And it's also covered with an incredible amount of grit and dirt – and a level of detail that's just remarkable. That's not even mentioning the nightmarish creature design, and the realistic looking human character design.

One of the more influential members of Silent Hill 2's look is CG and character artist Takayoshi Sato, who worked on the first game, and whom IGN met and interviewed at E3 this last May. We spoke with Sato late last week, and asked him about the what kinds of ideas helped to create the rough-edged Silent Hill 2.

IGNPS2: What were the influences behind the creation of the art style in Silent Hill 2?

Takayoshi Sato: We looked at movies like Adrian Lyne's Jacob's Ladder, and movies from David Lynch. Of course, Hitchcock, David Fincher, and David Cronenberg, too. Painters like Francis Bacon, Andrew Wyeth, and Rembrandt were very influential, too.

IGNPS2: What other videogames, if any, have influenced the creation of Silent Hill 2?

Sato: Silent Hill 1 and Alone in the Dark. At the beginning of the project we looked at Tomb Raider, to study how to make 3D worlds.

IGNPS2: Obviously, now that you're using a more powerful system for Silent Hill 2, you are able to create more realistic looking objects and characters. But in what other ways do you feel that Silent Hill 2 is different than Silent Hill 1 in regard to their look and style?

Sato: Making Silent Hill, we just thought about making something horrific first, and then worked on the plot. Generally, we'd make the scary environments first, and then make a story to fit into those environments. So, when making Silent Hill 2, we already knew roughly what the environment was going to look like, so we could build the entire story before designing the game. We think that this makes the town of Silent Hill a more realistic place overall.

IGNPS2: What kinds of research or training went into creating such realistic human faces?

Sato: We made plenty of quick sketches of human faces ¿ that's the best way to catch the motion of musculature and feelings, too. It's not a scientific method ¿ like in Shrek and Final Fantasy ¿ we didn't have that kind of money. We also captured faces of characters from movies, and of course I brought my team here to the United States to do research. After we collected snapshots of different emotions, I made the CG models so that they could express those emotions.

IGNPS2: Some of the images in Silent Hill 2 are macabre, twisted, and extremely dark. What kind of fear, and/or feelings, are the images meant to convey?

Sato: We're trying to combine horror and a dramatic story. Obviously, we want to scare the player, but we'd also like it if the player were to cry at some of the more emotional scenes.

IGNPS2: What is the origin of the "creatures/monsters" in Silent Hill 2? In other words, from what part of your everyday existence have you created these creatures?

Sato: Although I did not design the monsters (Ito Masahiro did those in Japan), the team's consensus on the monster's look was that of soured flesh.

IGNPS2: In regard to the Silent Hill town, what was your overall goal in developing its look, feel, and overall sensibility?

Sato: We wanted to make a small, rural, town in America. So, there are buildings and rooms that you can enter with nothing in them, which is very much like reality.

IGNPS2: Many people wonder how artists bring these kinds of characters to life in a videogame. Would you give us some detail as to the kinds of processes and techniques that are used to bring the monsters and characters from the paper-and-pen stage to the moving, animated characters on the videogame screen?

Sato: First we drew plenty of sketches. For the characters, we drew profiles from all angles to familiarize ourselves with the shapes of their skulls. Then we made wireframe models ¿ each one is about 6,000 polygons ¿ and added textures. We used motion capture to get the character's movements, then imported the data into SoftImage, which is a 3D rendering package. We then used this data to animate our own models. After we've mapped out the movements, we fix any animation problems, and create the lighting and place the cameras. After all of that, we render the scene.

IGNPS2: How do you like working with the PS2 in regard to textures?

Sato: I'm not involved with the programming, so textures aren't a factor.

IGNPS2: Well then, are you surprised at how powerful the system is, or troubled by how difficult it is to fit the textures in the worlds you have created?

Sato: For my work on the CG movies, I didn't have to worry about that sort of thing, because they're pre-rendered.

IGNPS2: OK, my bad. It seems like eye, lip, and other facial movement has been difficult for many artists and animators to overcome in videogames. How much has technology helped to create better, more realistic human features, and how much is due to your own craft?

Sato: We used the same technology and software to develop those animations as we did in the first Silent Hill. A lot of the things we couldn't do in the first Silent Hill were really due to time limitations, not technology limitations.

IGNPS2: Also, what about hair in videogames? Hair seems to be one of the most troubling, thorn-in-the-side aspects to creating a real person. What can be done about the bad hair days in videogames?

Sato: I don't have any special technique, just my own skills as an artist. Most people approach hair as being single strands, but if you look at a statue or drawing you'll see that the hair has its own shape and mass. I don't think it's a technological problem.

IGNPS2: What other aspects of Silent Hill 2 did you think are important in discussing in regard to the artistic style?

Sato: Most people working for game companies are game freaks, but the Silent Hill team are artists and programmers first – mainly artists. Silent Hill 2 is not a typical game because most of our staff didn't grow up playing games. Because of this, we hope to provide the gamer with a different sort of game.

Thanks for your time and effort in this interview, we're looking forward to the game!