Broken Silence: The Year of Silence

2012 is the Year of Silence. This is the year that Silent Hill becomes bigger than ever. Three (four if you split the HD Collection) Silent Hill games, and one movie are on the way to Silent Hill fans. Three of these releases come in March while the film’s release will be in either the Spring or Fall.

Fans new and old have something to look forward to this year. The foggy town of Silent Hill has never been this inviting. Since we’re just two months away from the start of this Year of Silence, let’s go over what to expect.

Silent Hill HD Collection

The first thing to arrive is the Silent HD Collection. Konami have gone back to the past to re-release both Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3 for modern consoles. Both games include new voiceovers, 5.1 surround sound audio, and retouched textures. Unfortunately, only Silent Hill 2 contains an option to revert to the original voiceovers that fans experienced back in 2001. When the game was originally announced, the original voiceovers were not part of the package. But just last November, Konami producer Tomm Hulett announced that Silent Hill 2 HD will indeed contain both the new voiceovers (staring Mary Elizabeth McGylln as Mary/Maria and Troy Baker as James Sunderland) as well the old.

The months that followed the Silent Hill HD Collection announcement were filled with public displays of disagreement between the original voiceactor of James Sunderland, Guy Cihi and Konami. Cihi’s Facebook page became a haven for old and new fans to leave their respects and learn his side of the dispute. Cihi stated that his likeness, voice, and motion capture within the re-release—as well as past localizations–were not contractually covered by Konami. Therefore, he felt that they had no right to re-use them. Silent Hill 2 is a decade old game, and yet the issues between employee and employer seemed fresh as ever.

With his Facebook page and a legion of fans showing their support, Guy spoke out on his issues with Konami regarding residuals for his motion capture and voice. I personally spoke out against these claims because it’s not typical—in at least America—for videogame voice actors to get residuals for a re-release. In my talks with two prolific voiceactors, Troy Baker and D.C. Douglas (D.C via email), they both told me the same.

The only way a voiceactor on a game can get residuals is if their performance is used in a new product. A sequel or a title under a new name qualifies for residuals; a re-release would not. But, the game was made over a decade ago in Japan. The rules there or perhaps the rules in that time period may have been different from what’s standard practice today–that can be argued very easily, and I am open to any possibility. So, it’s hard to be sure about all of this, because the amount of time that passed was so large and none of us were there all those years ago. Regardless, things ended up working out for the better.

With the help of the series’ voice and motion capture director, Jeremy Blaustein, the cast behind the production of Silent Hill 2 came out to speak and organize to preserve the original performances. Monica Taylor Horgan (the wonderful voiceactress of Mary Sunderland/Maria) and Donna Burke (Angela Orosko) became present among the fanbase to let it be known that they have signed newly created documents to pass over their original performances to Konami for re-use in the Silent Hill HD Collection. After this, the ball was in Guy Cihi, and Dave Schaufele’s (Eddie Dombroswki) court. The two had been friends since the production of Silent Hill 2, and on September 29th, 2011, the two signed the documents together allowing for their performances to be re-used in the Collection.

After a lot of drama, the Silent Hill HD Collection became much more valued among some fans. To me, Silent Hill 2’s voiceacting was hit or miss. Some performances were OK, others breathtaking, and some were downright bad. But, they were classic. Having them preserved and carried into another release for posterity felt right. Unfortunately, the same did not happen with Silent Hill 3.

On November 22nd, Tomm Hulett announced that while the HD version of Silent Hill 2 will officially contain the original voiceovers as an option, Silent Hill 3 could not be given the same treatment because of “technical and logistical “ problems. Many fans, including myself, were saddened by this news. Despite enjoying the new voiceovers after playing through a large portion of the HD version of Silent Hill 3 for my preview, I would have enjoyed having the option.

In an effort to continue to reach key people behind the Silent Hill series, I managed to hold an interview with Clifford Rippel: Father Vincent in Silent Hill 3. In my interview, he stated that he was also approached to sign a document allowing for his performance to be reused in the HD Collection. Clifford signed and sent his document forward to Konami but mentioned some concern about the remaining cast. We can assume that Donna Burke also signed away her performance as Claudia when she backed the Silent Hill 2 voiceovers, but there was still Heather Morris and others remaining who needed to sign.

On November 21st, 2011, the cast of Silent Hill 2 and Konami producers Tomm Hullet and Devin Shatsky had a casual meeting to smooth over the past. At this pizza and beer party in Los Angeles, Guy Cihi learned that Heather Morris, the voice actress for Heather in Silent Hill 3, could not be found. Because of this, she could not sign any documents allowing for her performance to be re-used in the HD Collection. Cihi announced this on his Facebook page. This put fans on a “witch hunt” for Heather Morris–it was not pretty. I loved her performance and still prefer it to the new one, but I did not agree with a mass of hungry fans looking to invade her privacy. Thankfully, it did not last long when The Gaming Liberty held an interview with her. In that interview, Heather stated that she was not contacted for the HD Collection and had just heard of it recently.

This is pretty unfortunate for many fans to hear. Perhaps Heather was simply found too late into production of the title and nothing more could be done. The game was expected to drop in January but was suddenly delayed until March 6th. No reasoning was given, but I’m not betting on it having to do with any more voiceover stuff. We’re probably looking at optimization time, and polish along with a strategic release schedule.

Let’s get away from what happened before the game, and let’s discuss the actual game! The Silent Hill HD Collection in my eyes is a treat. During my visit to Konami in September, I got to play Silent Hill 3 HD almost until completion. In my time, I noticed that the game’s texture work was great. Silent Hill 3 was always a pretty game, but seeing it touched up was really exciting. Yes, you can argue that a little texture work is minimal, but for a game this old, it does wonders for me. Other HD Collections on the market don’t always contain a lot of work to the game’s textures. Even Konami’s own Metal Gear Solid HD Collection lacked a lot of texture work in Metal Gear Solid 2. For that game, the focus was Metal Gear Solid 3 and Peace Walker. Both looked fantastic when given a full and proper HD treatment.

Capcom’s HD ports of Resident Evil Code Veronica X and Resident Evil 4 did not wow me. Code Veronica contains beautiful new lighting, but the majority of the textures are still dated back to the year 2000 when the game first released on the Dreamcast. Claire’s own jacket is a clear indicator on how much was overlooked when it came to bringing this game to the HD era. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a classic game and I’m so glad that I can play it on my Xbox 360, but after playing other HD Collections with more work put into them, I was left a bit disappointed. Don’t get me started on Resident Evil 4 “HD”. I really want that, but since I’ve gone through it numerous times, there’s nothing for me to gain if it looks the same.

The Silent Hill HD Collection is a gift for fans like me. I have a PS2, and my Xbox 360 can emulate Silent Hill 2 and 4 but not without errors. Texture and sound issues, save data corruption…it’s just a hassle. Having two fantastic games on my modern console without any hiccups, improved visuals, and improved sound is great. I’m looking forward to donning my Astro A40 headset and locking myself in a Silent Hill dungeon. Eating? Nope. I’ll live off of fear like Dr. Doom.

Having heard the voiceovers for both games in the Collection, I think I’ll be more than pleased. Troy Baker seems to add a new depth to the character of James that has never been seen before. He may sound a bit gruffer, but looking at James’ as a person, I would see him as being a bit more gruff than he was portrayed in the original release. Guy Cihi’s performance gave James’ a lighter personality; a fragile one. I think Troy Baker will make it a bit more Hollywood, but also reach new emotional levels. I’ve always felt bad for James’ but some of his lines should make you want to feel terrible. Only Monica’s performance in the original release did that for me. I’m hoping Troy Baker’s James can hit some points that should make me feel miserable and sympathetic. Of course I have always been sympathetic to James’ terrible ordeal, but I want a new performance to sell it to me better.

I still have some reservations when it comes to Mary Elizabeth McGylnn’s portrayal of Mary. Her Maria is fine with me, because the character is sultry and seductive but her portrayal of Mary is a bit too deep, in my opinion. I need to see if her personality switch comes through clearly when I play the game.

As for Heather’s new voice, I think she’s really good. I still prefer Heather Morris’ voice because it’s classic and sounds a bit more fragile to me, but the new performance is well acted. I have no complaints when it comes to the rest of the cast. There are many improvements throughout and some near-identical recreations of characters. It would certainly be a plus to have the option to switch voiceovers with both games, but the exclusion won’t hurt too much. I’ll still own my original copies regardless–my original signed copies!

I know, where’s Silent Hill 4? I share your feelings. A lot of fans dislike Silent Hill 4. Not because it’s Western made, because it’s not, but because it was different. I personally love Walter Sullivan’s story. It’s depressing, sad, and actually scary. Silent Hill 4 scares me the most out of all the games–it’s just disturbing to me. I also like the game’s focus on more Japanese horror rather than imitating American horror themes. That gave it some uniqueness.

The reason we are not seeing Silent Hill 4 in this HD Collection seems to be simple demand. Silent Hill 2 and 3 are better received than Silent Hill 4, so it was not added to the Collection. Konami producer Tomm Hulett has said that the success of the current Silent Hill HD Collection might influence the production of another. If that’s the case, consider my vote for that with a purchase. The prospect of getting most of the Silent Hill games on one platform is convenient and exciting. Give me a sequel HD Collection with Silent Hill 4, Silent Hill Origins with Peace Walker-like improvements, and Silent Hill Shattered Memories.

The best thing I can think of with any HD Collection, especially this one, is the ability to introduce friends to the series I love. It’s hard to convince a friend of yours to bust out their dusty PS2 and play a standard def game. Lame, yes, but some people can be that unwilling these days. With the Silent Hill HD Collection, I hope to bring a few of my friends into the foggy world I love so much. Any issues with voiceovers will be no concern to them. I think both games speak for themselves because of the stories. These games are special experiences and the chance to relive them in a small, new way is exciting.

The Silent Hill HD Collection releases March 6th, 2012. It’s the start of the Year of Silence and it couldn’t have started off any better.

 

Silent Hill: Downpour

The second Silent Hill release is the long awaited canonical sequel to the series: Silent Hill: Downpour. Downpour continues the trend of an element-based Otherworld by introducing a protagonist that has issues with water. Murphy Pendleton is a convict that gets sucked into Silent Hill mid-prison transfer. Downpour looks to be the worthy next gen entry into the series that Homecoming failed to be.

Silent Hill: Downpour has a lot on its shoulders. It’s the next entry in a series that some would consider to be on its last legs—despite Shattered Memories getting a lot of critical acclaim—and because it has lost long time series composer Akira Yamaoka. To the more sensitive long-time fans, Akira’s departure from Konami made the game look even less appealing. Downpour will be the first entry in the main series to be without the trip-hop and industrial score that has become a series staple for so many years. Akira was considered the last remaining member of Team Silent that has stood with the series. Seeing Akira leave was the nail in the coffin for some fans.

But the absence of Akira Yamaoka does not mean that Downpour will be cutting corners with its sound and score. Seasoned composer Dan Licht known for horror projects such as: Dexter, Hellraiser 4, and Thinner, will be continuing where Akira left off. At first I was a bit worried about this change, but after a sample track from Dan was released, my worries were eased. Dan seems right for the job. He adds a new feel to the series, but stays true by using familiar instruments and themes. Series vocalist Mary Elizabeth McGlynn is also returning for a few tracks as well, which is fantastic in itself.

Despite Downpour going for a really good composer for its soundtrack, Konami sanctioned Nu Metal band Korn to do one track for the game. Fans got a taste of the song when the TGS 2011 trailer was released. I’m not a fan of Korn at all, but the song was OK. I think what upset people more than what the song sounds like is who it’s by. I agree, Korn and Silent Hill don’t mix. It doesn’t really seem appropriate, but I get it. This is simple marketing by getting a well known—but not very relevant anymore—band to do a song for a game as to garner interest among people. It didn’t go over well with many fans. I don’t like the choice, but it’s not like Korn did the entire soundtrack. Konami chose Dan Licht, a great composer, for that job and used Korn’s track for one trailer which is the game’s attract mode. The Korn song did not affect the gameplay, the story, nor the atmosphere; the song remains in the main menu and won’t hurt anything.

Silent Hill: Downpour will be borrowing working mechanics from throughout the series. The biggest of all is the exploration of the town. We haven’t been able to do this since Silent Hill and Silent Hill 2. Walking around a foggy town looking for secrets is just fun and unnerving. I’m so glad that the current team did this. With the inclusion of side-missions, this expands the exploration even further and gives it new life.

Survival mechanics have also been redone as to make the game more about…survival. Murphy can only hold two weapons at a time, and they won’t last forever. Enemies are very brutal; the game borrows from Shattered Memories by suggesting that you run rather than fight. I’ve worried about the combat for some time now, but I think they might have been able to tweak it enough. The delay will certainly make it better.

Having a personalized Otherworld hearkens back to Silent Hill 2. We’ve heard those very same remarks from the devs of Homecoming, but I don’t think many of them understood that too well–they borrowed most of the enemies and environments from the Silent Hill movie after-all. But I think Downpor knows what it’s doing. Murphy’s Otherworld will be wet, open, and hopefully scary.

When I went to preview the game back in September, I was left impressed. There’s no reason for me to want Downpour to fail. I like the concept, I like the gameplay, and I like the team. Producers Tomm Hulett and Devin Shatsky are nice guys, and I hope the game does well for them, for fans, and for me. Along with Vatra, Brian Gomez, Tomm, and Devin have jokingly called themselves Team Silence. I like this.

The original games were created by a group of people—several, not all—that stood together to make follow up entries in the series. Even though not every person in Team Silent were around for every title, there were those who returned to explore more ideas that could be brought to the foggy town. If Downpour succeeds and become a favorite game of mine, I hope to see Tomm, Devin, Tom Waltz, Brian Gomez, and members of Vatra return so that they can perfect their ideas for the next game. A new “team” would be great if all goes well. But of course, this all depends on the success of Downpour. It needs to wow fans and critics. I’m in the category that think it will.

 

Silent Hill: Book of Memories

Silent Hill: Book of Memories is the current black sheep among the Silent Hill releases. Book of Memories is the 3rd and last Silent Hill game to release in March. This top-down brawler contains RPG elements, multiplayer, and simple graphics. It has been largely criticized by fans who see it as an abomination to the series name. Why? Mostly because a lot fans heavily disagree with the Silent Hill series changing up the gameplay with a spin-off title. Book of Memories wouldn’t even be the first spin-off in the series to do that. In fact, it looks to be the highest quality spin-off that the series has ever seen. Its brethren are: Silent Hill The Arcade (a rail shooter), the Play Novel (text based choose your own adventure) and the two FPS cell phone games The Escape and Orphan.

The fans biggest fears are the drastic changes in gameplay which some believe will prevent the game from carrying over the series’ iconic atmosphere, story, and tension. The biggest worry in this department being the inclusion of multi-player–even I find myself wondering how the game will continue to be creepy and disturbing when accompanied by a few friends. I’m gonna try it all, because I look forward to getting a Vita and making use of it, but I can see myself trying to preserve that feeling of tension by limiting a lot of my game time to singleplayer and 2 player co-op. That might change as well if I suddenly find myself having loads of fun with multiplayer.

Due to the nature of its story, which revolves around people going into the town’s past with a book that can rewrite history, some fans fear that the game will hurt canon by trying to retcon things. Homecoming brought back Pyramid Head despite his purpose of existence being tied to James Sunderland in Silent Hill 2.

The isometric camera view also brings about comparisons to game such as Hunter the Reckoning and Diablo. These similarities have upset some fans who expected another handheld game like Origins. I really enjoyed Origins, but it’s not exactly portable friendly. It would be really hard to enjoy a traditional 3rd person survival horror experience while traveling. Origins would be best enjoyed under the covers with headphones. This is not to say that Book of Memories is going to have no ambiance or tension, but it appears to be more friendly for on-the-go gaming.

The isometric view and gameplay style is understandable given Wayforward as developer and the Vita being the game’s platform of choice. It’s a handheld title. It makes sense for it to be a bit more accessible. Book of Memories is attempting to cater to a handheld market, so its gameplay has been created for it. I can also see this as Konami’s way of toying with multiplayer in the series without causing as much of a fit with fans if it were to be included in a big release like Downpour.

I can see Book of Memories being a fine and enjoyable experience regardless of the Silent Hill name, but that may not be enough for some fans. If it has a decent story to back it, then even more of a reason why it should be a respectable title in the series. Silent Hill is about story first and foremost. The gameplay change doesn’t really offend me as a fan because of this.

I want this game to be good. Why wouldn’t I?! I love the series to death, why hope for an entry to suck? Silent Hill isn’t going to become an isometric brawler. This is a spin-off with a canon story. Downpour is evidence against these worries. It’s OK to give the game a chance; it might be good. Of course we will have to wait until March 27th to see if it is, but let’s be positive. You don’t see Resident Evil fans cutting themselves in the shower because Resident Evil Gaiden exists.

All I’m saying is that the game deserves a chance. It’s not what we expected from a Silent Hill game, but it might deliver on many aspects that makes the series great.

 

Silent Hill: Revelation 3D

Silent Hill Revelation 3D is the second Silent Hill film, and it is set to release later this year. It’s the 4th part of the Year of Silence.

The production of Revelation started off very rocky. The film was originally going to be written by Roger Avary, the same screenwriter of the first film, but due to an accident on his behalf because of drunk driving, Avary was imprisoned for vehicular manslaughter. He still attempted to finish the screenplay for the second film because he was under furlough and could work, but he was later sent to Ventura County Jail because of his upset Tweeting about the facility he had to stay in. This prevented Avary from working on the script and he was pulled out of the project.

In November 2010, Michael J. Bassett was announced as the screenwriter and director for Silent Hill Revelation. Bassett was extremely open with the Silent Hill fanbase via his blog and asked for casting suggestions for the roles of Heather and Claudia. He wasn’t able to divulge much over the course of production, but he was nice enough to talk to fans in the comments of his blog to some extent. Bassett appears to be a gamer and understands the fanbase pretty well. He has said that he was a fan of the Silent Hill series before getting the job, so I really hope he does something special with this film. Silent Hill 3 is right up there on my list of all-time favorite games and a movie adaptation is really exciting.

Bassett will be connecting the end of the first film, which left Rose and Sharron in the fog world, to Revelation. How he will do this is still a mystery. The film will follow the plot of Silent Hill 3 so some connectivity is needed. Heather Mason (played by Adelaide Clemens) and her father Harry Mason (Sean Bean), who was formerly named Christopher De Silva, have been on the run from the a cult from Silent Hill by the name of The Order. This is the very same cult from the games, and not the odd witch hunting cult from the first movie. A small town with multiple cults? Sounds like Hollywood.

It appears that Revelation will follow the source material much closer than the first film did. This is good news already. The cast is pretty good, too. Claudia is being played by Carrie-Anne Moss; Radha Mitchel is returning as Rose; Sean Bean is Harry Mason just like he should have always been; Malcom McDowell is playing Leonard; and even Douglas is in the film.

I don’t know what to expect from Adelaide as Heather so I’m waiting on that, and Kit Harrington as Vincent still rubs me the wrong way. Not because of the actor, but because his role in the film appears different from the game. I am dreading some type of teen romance thing within Silent Hill. The last thing we need is for a bunch of angsty teens to start dressing up as Dark Alessa and hope James Sunderland comes along with his own special type of tender love.

3D being in the film is going to be strange. I’m not a big fan of 3D because it’s just another gimmick, and most films don’t really need it for them to be better. Maybe the Otherworld will benefit from the effect. I’m just not looking forward to shit being thrown at the camera as if I was watching a 70’s slasher flick. But then again, Bassett seems like a bright guy. I don’t think he would be so tacky.

The entire score of the film will see the return of Akira Yamaoka. Akira, as well as Jeff Danna, will be composing an entirely new score for this film, unlike the first film which contained mixes of previous songs from the series. Jeff Danna worked on the first Silent Hill film, but now he will be accompanied by the father of Silent Hill’s trip-hop and industrial score. The last score by Akira was for Grasshopper’s Shadow of the Damned and Lollipop Chainsaw. The last time he has worked on a Silent Hill game was with Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. Here’s hoping that after a long break Akira can jump back into this foggy series stronger than ever.

We’re still waiting on a trailer for the film, and I hope it comes soon. One of the things I loved about the first film was the visuals. The town and Otherworld looked great. I hope to see the team from the first film take it to the next level for this sequel. Please oh please let Valtiel get some valve-turning spotlights!

2012 is the Year of Silence. Three videogame releases and one movie will hopefully please us fans of this long running series. Silent Hill is a deep and rich universe that I hope will continue to stay that way. This year may seem a little odd because it’s absolute packed full of Silent Hill media, but hopefully it ends up propelling the series back to its rightful throne as king of survival horror. Maybe we will even get whispers of Silent Hill 9 by year’s end. If Downpour does well at retail, I certainly hope it won’t be the last.

               
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