Interview with Thomas Hulett (Play.tm)
Date published: 2008.09.17
The gaming landscape has changed since the world last played a brand new Silent Hill experience, a fact Konami seem all-too aware of. To find out where the company plan on taking the survival-horror series next, we cornered associate producer Thomas Hulett to dish the dirt on Silent Hill: Homecoming.
Play.tm: How does this Silent Hill carry on from previous games in the series?
Thomas Hulett: Well, erm, if you've played the whole series... the first three are similar; they say what they want to say; four went in a different direction... how succesful that is is open to debate. So, with Homecoming, we want to continue to see where the series can go and expand. I think it has a lot of potential as a horror franchise, it doesn't need to be confined to these set things, we just need to find what the core element the game needs is.
Play.tm: Given the name, is there an element here of going back to the series' roots?
Thomas Hulett: Not neccesarily the roots. Basically, it hasn't been on a console in a number of years... I think its 2003 or 2004, when the fourth game came out. So going to consoles, especially the next-gen, we're looking to see what a next-gen Silent Hill will look like. The first game was on PS1, the others were on PS2, so with this game we're sort of saying here's a Silent Hill on a par with everything else you're playing. We're returning to Silent Hill in general, really.
Play.tm: Why are you revisiting the series now?
Thomas Hulett: Well, survival horror is an important space. With Resident Evil and Silent Hill we defined what that genre is, so we really think Silent Hill is still important... we needed to move forward. While Resident Evil has moved into action with a couple of scares, we want silent Hill to uphold the psychological horror; the building dread, and a more cerebral sort of horror. So that's one thing I really think needs to be said with the series, the style of scare has to be the same.
Play.tm: A more deliberate approach, that's more cerebral... how will this be bourne out in the gameplay?
Thomas Hulett: A lot of the game is about atmosphere. Its a combination of the graphics, the sound, the music, the story. It all has to add up into this paranoid experience. So you're always on edge while you play. So, beyond just improving the graphics, and the sound... with the combat improvements we've made we didn't want it to be like "oh, I've got these new moves, I can beat this guy senseless", we want the monsters to be scarier, harder. You're not just scared from the point of view that this is scary, you're scared because these monsters can come and kill you. You can run-away if you like, but if you choose to stay and fight, you're going to need to learn the combat system. If you screw up the monsters will come and make you pay. This is an important fear element.
Play.tm: How has the combat system changed from past titles?
Thomas Hulett: In past titles it was really a single button affair. Monsters would come up and you'd basically hit the attack button a couple of times and they would fall over. What we really thought, with games moving forward and getting more complicated, that this really isn't the way to do things anymore. So, we added two different attack buttons - a fast weak attack and a slow strong attack. You can intermix them for combos, and there's also a dodge button, to help you evade an enemy attack. And then, if you miss a dodge, you get new attacks. You need to learn what you can do, and monsters will require certain styles. We also added finishing moves to reward players that learn the combat system. There's a wide variety, each monster has its own finishing moves depending on the weapon you're using.
Play.tm: Homecoming is singleplayer only. Would you consider a multiplayer mode in the future, perhaps?
Thomas Hulett: Its always an interesting idea. Like, if you got this working with multiple people how cool would that be... but its a matter of 'how would that work'. Because I don't think you could do it as an add-on. A two-player mode. It would have to be a multiplayer Silent Hill to ensure it worked really well.
Play.tm: Like Metal Gear Online?
Thomas Hulett: Right. I'd be open to that idea. But it hasn't come up yet.
Play.tm: Any differences between the game's launch formats?
Thomas Hulett: There are no specific differences. Obviously, the Xbox has achievements, the PS3 has rumble support. There's no amazing Sixaxis thing. Get whichever version is for your favourite console, there's no advantage to any particular release.
Play.tm: In a crowded genre..do you look at the competition... or does Silent Hill tread its own path?
Thomas Hulett: We always have to look at the competition, to see where they're going and think how we can be different; see if they're doing something similar, or better. We need to up our game. What I've noticed with a lot of the survival horror games coming out is that the focus is on violence, 'Saw'-type, in movie terms. SH is more cerebral. So its important we keep SH different, we have our own style and this is where we belong.
Play.tm: Story is important, then I guess. What have you done differently on this front?
Thomas Hulett: You've always met a lot of characters in the SH series. You'd meet them, we'd have a cut-scene, and so on. We wanted to flesh them out. Create real people. I meet my mom in the game, there's a cut-scene, she tells me what I need to do, furthering the plot, but at the end of the cut-scene she's still sat there. So I can go up to her and talk again, for players who want that, I can flesh out the story with dialogue. You can ask questions... really flesh out the story. There's no 20 minute cut-scene. Its an optional way to bolster the characters.
Play.tm: Does the story have an 'ending'?
Thomas Hulett: It has a proper ending! This story concludes in the game.
Play.tm: Are you setting up stuff that might continue later in the series?
Thomas Hulett: The interesting thing about the SH games is that each game focusses upon a certain character's psychology. So in that way they're all stand-alone titles. That said, there are always questions raised, elements in the background that we draw from... and add to. Two games later maybe it'll reference what happens here... its possible.
If you've played the previous games there's winks and nods you'll pick up on, but it is a stand-alone title. All you need to know is that there's a scary town [chuckles].
Play.tm: How long is the singleplayer experience?
Thomas Hulett: I'm not sure how long one play through is... there are more areas to explore. It should be a couple of hours longer, with secret items, multiple endings, and so on. You'll play it over again.
Play.tm: Will there be trophies on the PS3?
Thomas Hulett: I don't believe so.
Play.tm: Any DLC plans?
Thomas Hulett: We considered it early on, but for now we've decided against it.
Play.tm: What has the advent of next-gen consoles allowed you to do with regard to creating ambience?
Thomas Hulett: The sound design has always been a crucial element of the series. And the next-gen consoles really provide amazing depth of sound. There's monsters with 40 sounds going at once. It adds a textured experience to the sound design.
Play.tm: When is Silent Hill: Homecoming out?
Thomas Hulett: November in Europe on all platforms. It comes out in October in the US... I think Japan is after Europe, actually!
Play.tm: Thanks for your time, Thomas.