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GDC 2005: Akira Yamaoka Interview

t this year's Game Developers Conference, Game Informer Online Managing Editor got a chance to sit down with Akira Yamaoka, the producer of the past two Silent Hill titles from Konami, to ask him about his past work as well as what his future holds.  Special thanks go to Kei Hiroki, Konami's International Product Manager - North American Business Department for Computer and Video Games Division, for providing translation for the interview.

Akira Yamaoka and Kei Hiroki relax at this year's GDC

Game Informer: So, what’s going to be the focus of your speech at the Game Developers Conference?


Akira Yamaoka: Silent Hill is developed in Japan, but its taste in horror really isn’t Japanese, so we’re here to explain that sort of difference.  But deep inside the game, there’s a little bit of Japanese horror elements and I plan on explaining some of those during my speech.


GI: Why do you think some of the best horror games come out of Japan?  Do you think that’s been influenced by the number of great horror films from that country?


AY: Yes, I think we do get quite a bit of influence from Japanese horror films.  There are two types of games: highly interactive and others that aren’t very complicated or interactive.   Due to the evolution in hardware, we’re able to make more complex and interactive titles.  So with that new freedom, we’re able to get more in-depth into the subconscious of characters and elaborate more freely with storylines.  So, we’re now able to not only terrify gamers not just with shock and surprises, but also in terms of storyline thanks to the more powerful hardware we’re working with.


GI: What inspires you to create some of the more disturbing content in the Silent Hill titles?


AY: Actually, that’s what I’m going to talk about today during my speech!  Scenes and creatures in the games are very Japanese, and the developers, along with myself, probably get our influence from childhood.  It’s very influenced by Japanese culture and environments.


GI: Do you ever get scared of your own creations?


AY: Not really, but I try to.  I’ve been making this game for so long that you sort of get numb to the more scary scenes.


GI: How has the transition been in becoming the producer of Silent Hill 4?


AY: Actually, I was the producer of Silent Hill 3, but before that I was taking care of sound design.  As a producer, it’s quite a bit harder.  Besides just having to work on the sound, I have to take care of things like game concepts and the entire creation of the game.  It’s very tiring and a lot of work.


GI: What kind of soundstage do you use when creating the sound for the games?  Do you create a lot of the sound yourself?


AY: Every sound and every line of sound that is in the game is done by me.  And, I make all my own sound effects, too.


GI: What would be a good example of a weird sound device that you used to make a sound effect in a Silent Hill game that a normal gamer would probably not expect was used?


AY: I really don’t have one particular part that’s very interesting, but I don’t think of sound as a whole as something as simple as music or a sound effect.  I think of it as a medium for the users to interact with the world in which they’re playing. 


GI: Not that Silent Hill 4 has been on the market for some time, are you happy with its performance?


AY: There are parts that I’m happy with, but then again there are still parts that I’m not satisfied with.


GI: Silent Hill 4 introduced the first-person perspective to the Silent Hill series.  Are you happy with how that feature turned out, and would you like to use it again in the future?


AY: Well, by using the first person view, we could tap into the atmosphere you get with that perspective, and arguably, can’t get anywhere else.  Especially in Silent Hill 4, the first person view really helped relay a claustrophobic atmosphere.  As far as the future, there’s a possibility that we could use it again.

GI: Looking back at Silent Hill 4, is there anything that you maybe would liked to have changed or added before it was released?


AY: I feel that the characters in Silent Hill 4 are a little weak and that if I had time, I would have created stronger characters for the gamer to relate to.


GI: Silent Hill 4 was more than just a survival horror game, thanks to its heavy psychological overtones.  Do you think this is the new direction that horror games are headed, and if so, what kind of advantages will it hold over traditional survival horror titles?


AY: Yes, in Silent Hill 4, the psychological aspect was a very big part of the gaming experience.  In the future I think the genre will change.  With the evolution of hardware, I can put more emotion into the story to make it more complex.  Everything will be more interwoven and complex.


GI: Hypothetically, if and when Silent Hill makes the jump to next-gen, any ideas on what you’d like to implement in those games?  Also, are there any features from previous installments, or maybe those that didn’t make it into the games, that you’d maybe like to include in a next-gen version?


AY: Basically, the freedom that we’ll get will be technical, such as more freedom with graphics, load times, and available data.  Sort of like how games changed from PSone to PS2, and now from PS2 to PS3, or maybe even with Xbox to Xenon.  There’s going to be a whole lot of new things that we’ll be able to do and it’s kind of hard to name anything in particular.  But, there will be plenty of new things we’ll be able to do.


GI: What are you working on now?  Can you give your fans a hint at what may be taking up your time now?


AY: At this point, I really can’t say much.  But, I can say that my Silent Hill team is working on future projects.


GI: Would you ever like to bring the Silent Hill series to the PSP or the DS?


AY: I’ve thought about it, but I think it might be a little too difficult to get that feeling of fear and terror that I’d like it to have.


GI: With the current batch of consoles nearing the end of their lifecycles and the next-gen consoles just around the corner, what excites you the most about this next-generation of hardware?


AY: I have high expectations for the graphics engine, as well as the increase in memory.  But, the thing I’m most looking forward to is the graphics.


GI: What about Microsoft’s announcement about the “HD era,” with its hi-definition capabilities and 16:9 display?  Does that sort of thing interest you?


AY: Well, using hi-definition and the 16:9 display, we’ll be able to give more to the gamers.  I’m really looking forward to being able to do that.


GI: Would you ever like to make a game that isn’t scary?


AY: Yes, I would.  There are a lot of different game types in this industry and I don’t necessarily want to always stay in the horror genre.  So, I’d like to try other sides at some point.


GI: Do you play a lot of games?


AY: Yes, I do.


GI: What current favorites do you have right now


AY: Actually, I’m playing Resident Evil 4; it’s a great game.   

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