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CC06: Silent Hill Origins - The William Oertel Interview

ince its initial announcement, Silent Hill: Origins has been shrouded in a fog of mystery. Many thought it was a remake of the original Silent Hill on PlayStation. Others thought it was a tie-in to the recently released feature film. As more and more info on the game is released, the anticipation grows in true Silent Hill fashion. William Oertel, the producer of Silent Hill: Origins was nice enough to give us a thorough run-down of the PSP’s first true survival horror title and what it entails.

Game Informer: A lot of Silent Hill fans are assuming that Origins is going to be remake of the first game...

William Oertel: Silent Hill: Origins is going to be a prequel to Silent Hill One. It’s not a remake. I know that a lot of people were clamoring for a remake or they were thinking it was going to be a remake. The idea there was, "Why put all the time and effort into something that everyone already knows?" Yeah, you get nice graphics but people are going to play it and be like, "Well, it looks nice and the voice work is better but I already know how it ends." My personal creative preference would be to not to tell the same story but to take the story to a different angle.

GI: Can you set up the storyline for Origins?

Oertel: You play as a character named Travis O’Grady and he is a truck driver. He has his own set of issues and the town, of course, has its own complex and they sort of join. So he’s going to go through the town but he just want to get out. But as he does go through the town, like all Silent Hill characters, they learn more about themselves. They find out what their problems are and things like how they became the way they are. At the same time, the events that are happening in the town are intertwining with his desire to get out of the town. So that’s the kind of story it is as it weaves together. At the end, there are connections to Silent Hill One, but we don’t want to explain why all of these things happened.

GI: How will gameplay be affected by the move from PS2 to PSP?

Oertel:It’s going to be different than One, Two, Three, and Four because it is a big PSP game. It’s going to feel similar to One in terms of the structure. You’re going to have this town that you want to go in, that you’re obviously going to want to walk around in. So when you’re going around, you will find clue to help you to know where to go next. So with each of those pieces, you will move on to another and eventually get to the end.

Bringing this to the PSP, you know, forces us to rethink a lot of the things that are part of Silent Hill. Because you have a small screen, you can’t pull that camera so far back like you can in the other Silent Hill games. So we had to bring it forward. That combined with the character being more physical, it creates a bit more of an action-oriented experience but it's not a run and gun game. It’s going to feel like past Silent Hill games. It’s going to be responsive. That’s what we’re focusing on is to make sure the controllability and the playability felt very modern. If you’re trying to move a character and you can’t control him very well, that will accentuate the frustration of playing it so we wanted to eliminate that.

One thing that we added was some new interactive elements. Let’s say you come across a monster for the first time and he’s going to assault you. At key moments, its going to change, the game doesn’t follow the same control scheme anymore. You’re going to have to do button presses and movements to avoid or react to the monster that is attacking you. That’s going to lead into custom animations, custom camera angles and custom actions that you’re not going to see throughout the game. So there will be a sequence to a monster attacking you and you will have to move to the side then run over here and pop one in the back of his head and then run over here. You know, little scripted sequences that you have control over that if you don’t initiate the right sequence, you’re going to die or something else is going to happen. So that’s one thing that is a bit different.

Even with puzzles, you can’t view them from this angle. So even the puzzles will come up on screen and you can then see them very clearly. You kind of take it for granted on a console because you have a big TV. You don’t take them out of the experience; you leave them in the game world and initiate the puzzle and the action from there. You can’t really do that here. To see the puzzles and the action, you need to bring it up on screen. All of the things kind of forced us to rethink a Silent Hill game in a different perspective. We will see how the ideas pan out. Right now they feel pretty good. The ultimate test comes down to when people play it, they either like it or they don’t like it. If they like it, then it will be something that we can build upon for future products on the PSP or other platforms.

GI: So that’s kind of like the knife fight in Resident Evil 4 where you see the buttons pop up on screen or do you just memorize certain actions?

Oertel: Good question. Yeah, there will be button queues on screen, a lot like God of War actually. Yeah, God of War is an example we use a lot, but it is in the context of Silent Hill. It’s that build that makes you feel kind of scared.

GI: So why did you choose the PSP for Origins and not a PlayStation home console like all of the other games in the series?

Oertel: Well, in terms of the PSP only, we had looked at what was out there for the PSP and who was covering survival horror. No one is covering survival horror and we see it as an opportunity. Konami has always been very innovative at bringing new properties and new games. The Silent Hill Experience and Metal Gear Solid Digital Graphic Novel are great examples of that. Things are just different and no one else is doing it. Bringing this major franchise the PSP will have people saying, "Wow, how are you going to do that?" I think there are some serious limitations and we are scratching our heads wondering what if you play in the day time, how do you see what’s on screen or how do we adjust the coloring? Do we go dark or what? Some of these things are hard decisions and we’re going to just have to make them. But then there are some things like the bringing in the camera for the action that we are forced to do that is actually good for the franchise.

On the portability side, another analogy I’m going to use is when you’re listening to music at home on your big speakers, that feels different than when you are listening with your headphones. You know, I get lost in music. I will be driving in my car and put my headphones on… and I know I shouldn’t, but I do and I will just pass my exit, just skip it. You know, "Oh god, that was my exit right there." I get lost in thought. In college, you could do that a lot, just sitting there listening to music, you forget about school. You sit there on a bench and just zone out. You know, not drug induced. Stay off of drugs. (laughs)

But that’s the analogy when people play this with the headphones. You can already get lost in music but now you can get lost in visuals. The goal for us is to create a compelling story, a compelling environment, and character that is going to make you want to get lost in it. If we have things in there that are going to break up the suspension, we are going to lose users.

GI: So are you going to have like a  slip of paper in the game box saying: “For the best experience, use headphones!”

Oertel: (laughs) I think they will already know that with many PSP games, they will get the most out of it with headphones. Silent Hill has always had sound and music be so important. This is not going to be any different. We didn’t want to cheap out on this or that. We have a full soundtrack for the game. Akira [Yamaoka] just finished composing it. We are treating it like a full game. An expensive game and big too. I was looking at the maps and damn, this game is huge. You have the town and other environments with multi-floor and multi-room buildings. It’s going to be a big, long game. And that’s what people wanted. The goal now is to just get it all done in time.

GI: I’m sure you guys get asked this a lot, but what is the general consensus of the movie?

Oertel: Well, you know, fans loved it and critics panned it. I liked it a lot. I thought it was hard enough to bring something like this to film. I think Christophe [Gans] did a great job on how he did the visuals and the sound. You know, conveying certain ideas from the games. I look at that and I say wow, I want to do that next. I want to do it like that, I want to build on that. There are some great characters in there that I would loved to do something with. But I don’t want to break the history of the past games.
There’s a timeline, there’s a history. We can't manipulate that. But we can add certain elements. Why not integrate them, why not put them in? If there is an area that is plausible that we can put it in and it brings a tighter connection with the movie and the games. Then you invest more time into playing the games and watching the movie and reading the comic. You're going to reach Silent Hill nirvana.

So yeah, I liked the movie. And Akira was involved right from the beginning. That’s all of his music in there and he saw early clips and I saw early clips. And Christophe is a huge Silent Hill fan. You sit there and go whoa. You don’t think he’s going to be as into the property. He’s played them all and he took pieces from each of the games and put them into the movie.


Silent Hill Origins Exclusive Hands-On
4/20/2007 6:16:43 PM
You know you’re going to be in Silent Hill when a game opens up with a warning screen that says, “Some parts of this game may be considered cruel and violent.” Uh-huh. It’s Silent Hill! I think that’s a little obvious!
 
Silent Hill Origins Hands-On Preview And Media
8/24/2006 2:22:09 AM
While we spent the last few days in San Francisco for Konami’s Summer BBQ, our minds were on another town -- Silent Hill. Up until this point, all we really knew about Silent Hill Origins was that it took place before the first game. Before we got to get some actual playtime with the game, we were treated to a brand new spooky trailer full of gameplay footage and fancy fly-throughs.
 
CC06: Silent Hill Origins - The William Oertel Interview
7/24/2006 8:23:54 PM
William Oertel, the producer of Silent Hill: Origins was nice enough to give us a thorough run-down of the PSP’s first true survival horror title and what it entails.
 
Comic-Con 2006 Wrap-up
7/24/2006 6:37:42 PM
Another Comic-Con has come and gone, and while Bryan is on his way home reading all of the free comics he got, and doing the Barbie and Ken thing to his new action figures on the plane, we’re delivering our final batch of interviews.  We run the gamut from Death, Jr. to Sam & Max, to Silent Hill. See what all of these comic-related franchises have coming to a console near you…


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