Interview with Jason Allen (

Date published: 2008.05.15
Source: The combat system appears much more action oriented this time around, can we expect the same creepy atmosphere?

Jason Allen: The Silent Hill series is all about narrative, exploration and atmosphere; even though this has been developed outside of Japan with an entirely new team (with the notable exception of Akira Yamaoka), we are still creating a Silent Hill game. Foremost in our design philosophy for this title has been a strong desire to maintain the trademark atmosphere of the game. If we were to change that part of the experience - in my mind - it would cease to be Silent Hill. For a lot of western horrors, the key components are gore, shock and brutality. Atmosphere in Silent Hill is much more about dread, loss of identity and a sense of the futility of struggle; it hits you in an entirely different manner and in some respects is much more frightening to behold. So in a roundabout way, yes, you can expect the same creepy atmosphere. Why did you feel that the combat system needed to be changed?

Jason Allen: The way I perceive things, there's a fine line between presenting a protagonist as an 'everyman' who's not particularly skilled in combat on the one hand; and making the player feel frustrated by an inability to deal with situations we've created for them to enjoy on the other. I believe - and this is the approach the combat scripting team utilized - that you can still create situations where the player feels barely able to fight the manifestations they encounter - maintaining the everyman fiction - without making them also feel frustrated through a poor combat system. Fluidity of controls and logical progression of attacks, dodges and counters with well balanced scenarios are the way to achieve these results. Part of our mandate when being asked to create the next installment in the series was to make it more appealing to a broader audience; this was one of the areas we felt could be improved without sacrificing the essence of why it was designed this way in the first place. Puzzles have played a big part in the previous Silent Hill's, can you talk about anything unique or different about the way the puzzles work?

Jason Allen: The main focus for the puzzles within Silent Hill Homecoming has been to ensure the transition between navigation to puzzle mode occurs in the most seamless way possible. Every time we transition the player from one mode to another - in any game - there is every possibility that we'll be reminding them their experience is nothing more than an artifice. If we want the player to suspend their disbelief, to feel at-one with their avatar, we must make every effort to ensure all game systems are contextually part of the whole experience, and that each transition is as invisible as possible. We've tried to remain true to this philosophy for the puzzles within Silent Hill: Homecoming. While a lot of people are anticipating the release of Silent Hill: Homecoming, a lot of fans are still sceptical about the changes. Can you talk about your efforts to accommodate for some of the series' new, much needed changes, but keep the "Silent Hill feeling" alive?

Jason Allen: To be given the opportunity to take over an existing franchise that is as well received as Silent Hill is something of a privilege. We all have been, from the very beginning of the project, acutely aware of just how precious this game is to the hearts of its many fans. As I mentioned previously, with any new iteration of a franchise you have to walk a fine line. The publishers give a certain amount of freedom to develop the game, but it's never total. The reason the game is popular is because it contains certain consistent thematic elements; those elements need to remain if the game is to be true to its origins. So, during the major design phase of the game, the team was always trying to balance the need for new content within the confines of the game's existing thematic architecture. For example, when dealing with pickups, notes, interest points and maps, we tried to remain true to existing style. The font is almost the same; the coloring of letters is the same, and the sounds are consistent from previous games. We wanted to ensure that all those who'd played the game previously instantly felt at home when picking up Silent Hill: Homecoming. Will difficulty settings return for both the game and puzzles?

Jason Allen: We do have difficulty settings, affecting just gameplay. Puzzles have a single difficulty level only. What did you set out to do in Silent Hill: Homecoming when you took on the project? What are you hoping fans will take away from the experience?

Jason Allen: In essence I set out to make a game that would appeal to those people who'd never played the series before; that would stand on its own merit and yet would feel like coming home for the existing fans of the series. I hope the fans will see that even though it's had a western developer, we understand the essence of the game; that the magic is still there. Can you talk about the general atmosphere of the game? Apart from fear, what are you trying to make the player feel?

Jason Allen: In any narrative driven game, you are always trying to make the player identify with their avatar. To blur the lines between where the player ends and where their gameworld construct begins. If we manage to do that and in a seamless way, it feels as though the character's journey becomes your journey. Fear, I believe, is only part of what makes Silent Hill's narratives interesting. Most narrative-driven games still tend to use very black and white characters. The hero is clearly good and the enemy is clearly bad. Though these help define boundaries in the game, they bear little resemblance to everyday life. The characters in Silent Hill, however, have always been believable, flawed personas with something to hide. When we share their journey, to some extent, we share their plight. How we unfold this narrative throughout the course of the player's journey and the settings we use to support the storytelling to a very large extent, creates the atmosphere of the game. The environment, the sound, and the information we uncover to the characters we meet; all these elements are designed to create the mood necessary for our protagonist at that particular juncture in their character arc. We want the player to feel the same discovery that Alex feels as he makes his journey. All journeys in life are fraught with 'ups and down', wrong turns and misjudgments, we've tried to inject the same believable elements into Silent Hill: Homecoming. When making Homecoming, are you aiming to create a game more accessible to new comers who might not know what Silent Hill is about, or is this for the fans?

Jason Allen: As I mentioned previously, this game - in many respects - has a foot in both camps. We've attempted to create an experience that is on the one hand familiar to previously experienced visitors and on the other, palatable to newcomers as a place they'd enjoy visiting again. I don't believe that a new player would have to play the older games to understand the Silent Hill paradigm; obviously there is a rich history and newcomers would enjoy playing the older games, but I believe they can gain the 'Silent Hill' experience from playing Homecoming. Now there is a new battle system, will events such as boss battles have anything new added to them, or will we be standing in the corner just shooting like previous games?

Jason Allen: Any good boss design uses the lessons learnt from fighting the regular "Soldier' class characters and applying those to a more structured boss scenario. It should reinforce those techniques you've already become familiar with using and also perhaps attempt to - periodically - wrong-foot the player for extra fun. It is also important that the player can 'read' the cues given during the combat sequence to uncover patterns of behavior, and ultimately.weaknesses. I feel the boss encounters the player will experience in Homecoming should be some of the most exciting of the entire series. Apart from the obvious, how will the "Objectives" system help the player? Can we assume that Homecoming will be a less linear experience than the others?

Jason Allen: Silent Hill games are a journey of discovery. Objectives, I believe, should simply serve as a reminder of where the player is currently going and what tasks they need to be performing. The general progression of the game should be enough for the player to understand their journey. However, in the Silent Hill universe, nothing is obvious. Objectives therefore serve to help the 'stuck' player without ruining the act of discovery. The player understands they have to go somewhere, perhaps meet someone or perform some activity, but not necessarily why. Understanding is therefore a player-centric task and I'm very keen not to remove that element of discovery from their journey.

Silent Hill: Homecoming is not a free form game, nor is it a completely linear experience. The best description would be one of 'Managed' exploration. There are areas within the game that act like Hubs, allowing the player to go and explore certain areas in any order; there are also some areas in the game that must be completed in order to progress. A big frustration with Silent Hill 4 was the limited inventory. Can you comment on the Inventory system in Homecoming?

Jason Allen: The inventory in Silent Hill: Homecoming has been specifically created with three purposes in mind 1) Ease of access; 2) At-a-glance understanding of exactly what you hold; 3) Providing enough space for all the items you need on a level-by-level basis. We've standardized key and item usage throughout the game so the player is not confused about the purposes of each item. Our goal was for the player to quickly gain an intuitive grasp of how objects can be manipulated and used in the gameworld. I believe a good design becomes a 'second-nature' activity within a short space of time, no longer requiring the player to think about how to use or examine an object, but to simply act; in essence, removing one more barrier to immersion.