Interview with William Oertel (Play Magazine)

Date published: 2006.12.01
Source: Play Magazine

Play: I'm personally really excited about this game, as it's the first time we'll be able to see the Silent Hill world through different eyes, so to speak. How did this project come about?

Oertel: Well, it came about because my boss said he wanted to do it (laughs). I was already working on Silent Hill Experience, which was a PSP multimedia title. I wasn't sure what the plans in Japan were for future versions of Silent Hill, but my boss was really positive about handheld platforms and felt this was a good idea. I knew it was doable – we showed the playable back at Leipzig, and I felt that alleviated a lot of concerns as to whether it was possible to do Silent Hill on a portable. Whether the graphical fidelity is there, the atmosphere and so on.

Play: Why was Climax selected for the actual development?

Oertel: They have PSP experience. When we made the selection last year, PSP was still relatively new, and there weren't a lot of developers with experience on the platform. They had the experience, and were close by our offices, which made for easy management.

Play: I'm curios how much input Team Silent has on this game. Did they set a story down in stone, or leave wiggle room for original contributions?

Oertel: The scenario wasn't written by Team Silent. We talked with Akira Yamaoka about the story, but it was very much hands off. They gave us a lot of leeway.

Play: Would you say it was collaborative?

Oertel: Somewhat. Team Silent is working on their own project in Japan, so the story was really left to us to come up with. We talked about whether we'd do a sequel or a prequel... in fact, the original idea was to do a remake of Silent Hill 1. But when we looked at how much work that would be – redoing all the graphics from scratch – we decided to do something that updated the history of the series rather than repeating it.

Play: Did Team Silent have any changes or specific requests once they reviewed your story? Anything to tie in with future games, perhaps?

Oertel: No, not really... which makes it a lot harder, when nobody's giving you direction, saying "this is what it has to be". The guidelines for us to follow are basically what Japan expects, which is somewhat nebulous - "we want a good Silent Hill game!".

Play: I've read earlier interviews with you, where you've said Origins is going to explain some of the ongoing series mysteries

Oertel: Well, we're sort of erring on the side of mystery. We're not going to explain everything. For some people, it might not even be a whole lot. It's enough to tie the story into Silent Hill 1, but we do leave a lot of open questions.

Play: Do you mean questions regarding 1 and the later series, or within Origins?

Oertel: The plot of this game. We don't explain things a lot of people are probably hoping to have explained. I think it's one of the joys of Silent Hill, to be able to discuss it, write about it in forums, talk about it with friends.

Play: With this game being a prequel, does it start at a point in time when Silent Hill was a "normal" town? Will we see its transformation into nightmare?

Oertel: At this point...there's already fog (laughs). So no, it's not a normal town. It's not quite yet where Silent Hill 1 is at, but it's not a happy town yet.

Play: Will the ending of 0rigins lead directly into the story of 1?

Oertel: Yeah. There's a definite connection.

Play: I haven't played the game yet (Ed. Note - it wasn't on the show floor), but at least judging by the trailers it seems that Origins will be more action-heavy than previous Silent Hills. Is the control scheme substantially different?

Oertel: It's sort of by necessity. On the PSP you have more limited controls - just the one analog nub and two shoulder buttons. Still, I wouldn't say it's a run-'n'-gun.

Play: So it's not, say, Resident Evil 4.

Oertel: Hmm...there's just so many ideas out there now, whatever you do it's going to seem like you're copying something. There are only so many control schemes and so many camera angles, so it's bound to look like something that's come out in the past. Because of the small screen we had to bring the camera in closer, just to be able to see what's in front of you (laughs). In terms of the action elements...when you use a firearm, you can't move the character around. You're not going to be running down a hallway, pistol in each hand, Matrix-style.

Play: What about the controversial laser sight we saw in some early screenshots?

Oertel: The laser is gone (laughs). That was an early development thing, and I don't thik it worked to well. We've found another way of doing the aiming.

Play: Given the slightly more action-oriented feel of Origins, are we going to be seeing new weapon classes?

Oertel: We announced most of the weapons back at Leipzig - we have a .44 Magnum, a nine millimeter, and a shotgun - those are the ranged weapons. For melee there's a shovel, piple and sledgehammer.

Play: I noticed in the trailer that Travis seemed to be able to switch between weapons on the fly.

Oertel: That's a preliminary thing. As to wether you'll be able to change weapons like that in the final, I can't say. One of the things about Silent Hill I hear from some people is that the control feels dated. We're trying to take some of the more cumbersome elements and bring them up to date.

Play: Any of the more off-the-wall bonus weapons the series is known for?

Oertel: We talk about it. It's kind of on the fence, depending on how much time we have.

Play: Can you tell us a little more about the barricade system we've heard about? Does it become necessary to block off access to enemies to proceed?

Oertel: That was the original plan...that enemies would chase after you and you'd have to trap them in other rooms to be able to proceed. It was almost going to be a kind of puzzle element. It proved to be very difficult to implement. The design would have taken a lot of time, so that part is no longer in the game. It would have been a nice feature to have, but we just ran out of time. It was either...we could have a great barricade game, or a great Silent Hill game (laughs).

Play: Has that changed the game design at all? Will monsters still follow you into adjacent rooms?

Oertel: In the same area, of course, but not into the next load.

Play: Will 0rigins retain the classic flashlight/radio combination?

Oertel: The flashlight yes, the radio will have some modifications. There will be the static, but we'll also have a visual indicator of some sort. I think we have to, since it's a handheld game.

Play: How about the inventory system? Will it be more in line with the system from 1-3, or more like 4's?

Oertel: It's still under dicussion. You're not going to have chests or anything. You'll never have to leave items somewhere and go back and get them. However it turns out, all your stuff will always be available to you.

Play: There's all this talk about a more actiony Silent Hill, but will the mindbendingly difficult puzzles the series is known for make an appearance?

Oertel: The puzzles will definitely be there. There was a general feeling that the puzzles were getting easier and easier as the series progressed, and that the action was coming to the forefront. But our goal with this game was to also take the puzzles back to a more classic Silent Hill level of difficulty. The goal is to have puzzles that aren't simplistic and tie in to the game's plot.

Play: Will there be multiple puzzle difficulty levels as in past games?

Oertel: Good question...that's one of the many details we're still discussing. It's not that we don't want to do it, but again it's one of those things that's a question of time. This game has to be such high quality, so unfortunately it forces you to make hard choices about what you can and can't include.

Play: At least from what I've seen, it does look surprisingly of the best-looking games on PSP, I'd say.

Oertel: Thank you. We're really with the way it's come out looking. The feel is not a problem, but the hardest thing about this game is the pacing. It's a combination of all these elements...the sound, the music, the visuals, enemy placement, puzzles, and storline development. I think that's what made especially Silent Hill 2 so powerful...its pacing. That's what I think about a lot.

Play: Would you say then that the primary inspiration for Origins is Silent Hill 2?

Oertel: Well, obviously it's a new character and a new story, and the story mostly ties in with 1. But I love the psychological aspects of 2, in terms of what the character was facing. We've tried to embody those elements within the character of this game. A few of the monsters from 2 and 1 are also sort of foreshadowed.

Play: That's something I was curious about. I know you've been talking about attempting to posit devolved forms of creatures from later in the series. Are the monster designs from Japan?

Oertel: No. We did them all. One of the ideas was definitely to look at the monsters from later games, and attempt to integrate elements of them. One of the most obvious references we have is a straitjacketed monster inspired by Silent Hill 2, and there are a few others. The rest of the monster design primarily came from the story.

Play: We haven't seen any bosses yet in the promotional materials. Can you tell us a little bit about them?

Oertel: We have three main bosses...but I can't say anything about them (laughs). They're tied directly to the story.

Play: Can you elaborate a little on the story for us? We don't really know anything yet.

Oertel: Hmm... I can only talk about it the most general terms. You play a truck driver coming in to Silent Hill. I'd prefer for people to experience the story through the game and form their own opinions. The goal is to present it really well.

Play: Since the game is tied in closely with 1, will we see the return of familiar locales from that game?

Oertel: Yes. If you picture the map of the town, it;s like a rectangle...let's say we have one street here, a part of Old Silent Hill people have seen from the first game. Adjacent to that are areas we've never seen...somewhere been two thirds to four fifths of the areas are new.

Play: Will Travis travel to the Toluca Lake district of Silent Hill, or is the game mostly in the old town?

Oertel: It's all Old Silent Hill.

Play: Everything in the trailers so far looks very classically Silent Hill. What are some of the new areas we'll be seeing?

Oertel: We have Alchemilla Hospital from Silent Hill 1, but also a hotel, a theater, a meat-packing plant, a mental institution...and another area I can't talk about (laughs).

Play: Will all these areas have classic "normal" and "nightmare" versions?

Oertel: There are different states for each area. That'll be in there.

Play: Let's talk about the soudtrack. I heard Akira Yamaoka (Ed. Note – original series composer) was involved.

Oertel: Yeah, he wrote the whole soundtrack – all 15 songs. Akira's a huge part of Silent Hill. His music features so prominently. It's almost not video game music, in some respects. He delivers so much emotion, feeling and texture. You can really feel what the characters are experiencing through his music. Of the 15 tracks, four are vocal songs.

Play: Handheld platforms don't really lend themselves to lengthy, ongoing adventures like Silent Hill. How are you working on balancing the sort of moment-to-moment gameplay handhelds are known for, versus a home game that's generally played for a few hours at a time?

Oertel: One of the hard things is that we can't be everything to everyone. Every moment in the game may not really be facilitated to short bursts of play. We've strived to make most of it digestible within short timeframes by adding logical break points, but some things will take more time. There's no magic pill, unfortunately.

Play: It's been a great interview, but our time is up. Any final words for the fans?

Oertel: We've looked really hard at the previous games and are committed to making a faithful Silent Hill. There will be some changes that people will have to accept, but everyone's goal is to have a complete Silent Hill experience for the PSP.