Interview with Akira Yamaoka and Masashi Tsuboyama (Kikizo)

Date published: 2004.09.06
Source: Kikizo

With Silent Hill 4: The Room hitting North American retailers tomorrow and a UK release following later this month, we thought it might be a good idea to sneak around to Konami's office and lock ourselves in a room with the creators of the venerable series from Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo.

Akira Yamaoka is the Producer of the series and also the man responsible for Silent Hill's incredible sound. Masahi Tsuboyama is the game's Chief Designer, and while both are passionate about the huge Konami franchise, they speak openly about it and broadly about Konami's other endeavours.

The Silent Hill series has come a long way from its genre-pushing origins, and in fact the two creators specifically admit that Silent Hill 2 is their personal favourite, while stressing that Silent Hill 5 is likely to go in another new direction. But with the promise of a movie spin-off on the horizon, and next gen development supposedly underway, it seems there's a lot of fright left in these guys.

Kikizo: Thank you for your time today guys, could you start by introducing yourselves and explain what your roles are at Konami?

Akira Yamaoka: My name is Akira Yamaoka. I am here in London for the Olympic Team match! And I am also the Producer and Sound Director for Silent Hill. Ha ha, sorry, it's just that this lady in the elevator asked me if we were an Olympic Team members which was kind of funny, so I just though I'd include that! [laughs]

Akira Yamaoka, Silent Hill Producer & Sound Creator

Masashi Tsuboyama: I am Masashi Tsuboyama, I have been involved since the first Silent Hill title and for Silent Hill 4 I am the Chief Designer on the game. I am responsible for all the design elements and also the opening trailer.

Kikizo: One of the first things I wanted to ask was about the origins of the concept for Silent Hill 4, the idea of this apartment with a tunnel to an alternate world of horrors - what inspired this idea?

Tsuboyama: We wanted to make a sequel after Silent Hill 3 and you could say that was the initial concept, but upon that we needed to implement a lot of new flavour to the sequel, otherwise it would have been the same old Silent Hill. So for that, we created "The Room" as the concept for the game, so that we could use to represent the contrast between the normal and the abnormal life which changes suddenly. For the scenario we got our general influence from a book called Coin Locker Babies, which was written by a Japanese writer called Ryu Murakami. It talks about a baby abandoned in a coin locker. That was the general background.

Kikizo: The Room is obviously different from previous games in the series - much more psychological being enclosed in one room - will this kind of thing continue in future Silent Hill games?

Masahi Tsuboyama, Silent Hill Chief Designer

Tsuboyama: No, we won't keep this trend for the following sequels.

Kikizo: Fair enough. But the Silent Hill franchise has come quite a long way since it launched in 1999, with a movie on the way and so on, so where do you think the franchise is really going next?

Yamaoka: We know that there are fans out there in Japan, the US and Europe, and we mainly think about these fans are going to expect, and what they will enjoy for the next thing coming up. We will certainly be going somewhere different to where we've gone this time, and we'll think about some other theme or style. It might not be a horror title, it could be something different; it could have different tensions. We will try and come up with whatever we think can be most enjoyable for the users.

Kikizo: The series has always been more psychological as opposed to things jumping out at you and getting you, do you think this will be the future for the series or the horror genre in general?

Tsuboyama: We have to admit that to create psychological-based game is actually quite difficult. A lot of thinking has to go into the game design when dealing with psychological horror, and at the same time I think the action element is more directly appealing to the users and it's more of the "fun part" because you get the reaction right away, but for the psychological part it doesn't work like that, you need to look at details really closely in order to get the desired effect. So we try and keep the psychological element in the games, for the future as well, by implementing a lot of subtle expressions and details.

Kikizo: How would you describe the level of violence in the game - obviously the horror is one aspect but violence is different - and is it a bit of a sales tool or more of a creative statement?

Yamaoka: We could say it's both sides, but it's more the creative side. You may call it the level of violence, but we don't think it is that violent. It's just a set of expressions and when dealing with a horror title it needs to be expressed that way.

Kikizo: Has there ever been anything in the games that you'd want to include but couldn't because it might restrict what audiences it might appeal to and who could play it?

Tsuboyama: We implemented almost everything we wanted to include in the game, however some of the creatures couldn't be included; there was this creature that had two heads with one body, which is ethically not well accepted to the public, so we didn't let it to the final game.

Kikizo: Talking about the gameplay of Silent Hill 4, obviously you explore environments, find clues, solve puzzles, collect items and so on, but how do you keep this formula interesting, especially when there are many similar products on the market?

Tsuboyama: There are so many elements we have to deal with when developing the titles, as you mention, and therefore a lot of people are involved when developing the game, and each one is assigned to something. And each person will come up with their own ideas, so when we first collaborate to put it all together, that first piece is not organised yet. So we line up each item and make it one big chunk, and then start adjusting the rhythms or the flow, or the difficulty, to improve the balance for the final game.

Kikizo: What's your favourite game of the series, and why?

Yamaoka: Silent Hill 2 was our favourite because that title had something other titles didn't have at the time, and this had our pure original sense or something even more than just a horror title, not just a bunch of monsters you have to fight, but with more complex scenarios you have to deal with. Action wise, perhaps it wasn't that satisfactory, but overall, that was our favourite.

Kikizo: What is the psychological impact of the main NPC in the game when things start happening to her?

Tsuboyama: I don't think the game can be complete without the role of non playable characters, it's like a human relationship, you need to have a person to get influence from or to give influence to, it works that way in the game as well. For example we have a woman character who asks "this is a dream, right?" when something bad happens to her in the other world, and when the player comes back to the real life in the game, he hears those words again, so its another psychological effect.

Kikizo: Would you say that Silent Hill 4 is the scariest game around?

Yamaoka: Honestly we don't think Silent Hill 4 is the scariest title in the horror genre of the market, because we don't intend to scare the player, but to express the psychological element, by letting them know we have that peculiar Silent Hill scenario. So for it isn't really intended to be the scariest game ever.

Kikizo: Do you think the industry will continue to produce more complex games like Metal Gear Solid 3 and the new Grand Theft Auto, or will it all become simpler like Satoru Iwata is advocating with the new Nintendo home console?

Yamaoka: Games in the future will definitely be more complex. For example the movie was derived from theatres and plays, and now the movie industry is huge. Gaming cannot try and imitate what movies have done so far, but the advantage we have is that we can include interactivity and movies cannot, and there are a lot of more increasingly complex titles as we play to this advantage. Games are going to be more cooperative with movies as well, which we've seen a lot of already, but I think it will go beyond just us making the game of a movie or them making the movie of a game; we'll both be involved in the creative processes of each other's industries more in future, and the games will keep getting more sophisticated as a result.

Kikizo: What are your impressions of next generation consoles from what you've seen of them so far?

Yamaoka: Speaking of PSP, for our taste, it's kind of a so-so feeling we have. For their PR, they say you can put it around your neck to take it around but we wonder who's going to do that, I don't think anyone is going to. As for the Nintendo DS, because of the two screens and the touch panel it is quite interesting ideas-wise, but at the same time it is really tricky if you're dealing with content that is not suited to the two screens, that would be a pointless game, that's for sure. But if the software is designed with the hardware's strengths in mind, then we will see some really good games I think.

For the next generations consoles, such as PS3 and Xbox 2, or Xenon, we currently don't have much information about what it can do, but as far as we hear internally, there is a lot of stuff you can do based on the specification of these consoles, so we're excited about the potential. We can't predict which is going to be the best next generation console, so we have to analyse what to do based on the potential of each of the new machines.

Kikizo: Thanks for your time again today and good luck with the launch of the game overseas, and all your future projects.

Both: Thank you very much.