I’ve got a gaming confession to make: I’ve never played a Silent Hill game. Never really had much of an interest in the series, even… until now. Silent Hill: Book of Memories is a Survival Horror Action-RPG coming to PS Vita later this month. Like chocolate and peanut butter, this is a mashup I can get into. After sampling the game at PAX Prime, I met up with the game’s producer, Tomm Hewlett, in San Francisco to find out how Konami plans to please fans of both genres.
Jeff Rubenstein, PlayStation.Blog Social Media Manager: How do you adapt an incredibly scary survival horror series into this action/RPG format? Why did you choose this genre?
Tomm Hewlett, Game Producer: We heard about PS Vita, and we really wanted to make a Silent Hill that was specially suited for that. We really wanted to experiment with multiplayer. Survival horror is a very particular genre, but with PS Vita’s online capabilities, it just made sense to do multiplayer here. So we started to experiment with different gameplay styles, what was kind of compelling, and through a long random assortment of events and demos, we came across a dungeon crawler, action/RPG thing which is really compelling with multiple players. Phantasy Star Online does it, and Diablo of course. So then we can kind of mess with it; if I’m with my friends and we get separated, that’s a classic horror trope right there. It’s not a totally different genre that doesn’t make any sense, it’s just sort of a new angle on Silent Hill.
PSB: An important part of Action-RPGs is leveling up and gaining new abilities. What’s your philosophy with that in this game?
TH: It was an odd tightrope to walk, because RPGs are entirely about leveling. If you can’t pass a thing, level up some more. Now you can pass that thing. With Silent Hill we thought – did we want to do that? Or do we wanna keep that fear of if you’re in this situation, you’re always screwed? So when you level up, you can add stat points and build your character however you want. You can equip things and sort of create the ideal build for your character. But then, weapons can break. So this isn’t like the “Gilded Dragon Sword” in Diablo that you want to hold onto. You know that I have a sweet sword, but you know it’s going to break. So do you hold onto it for the bosses, or Pyramid Head if I walk into a room with him? Or do I just use it and have an easy three rooms and now it’s gone.
So we’ve kind of – I hope – found the ideal way to balance building a character: they are getting stronger, getting more moves, more capable. But at the same time you’re not gonna become this empowered demigod and the whole game is your oyster.
PSB: Yeah, power can be the antithesis of horror. Talk about this world that we’re in.
TH: We have seven different environments. Through the initial 21 stages of the game, at the end of which you’ll get an ending, they’re structured so that you’ll get three of each in a row. After that it’s endless, a mix and match of anything. Silent Hill has had many different “other worlds” – it’s had the fiery, rusty one, it’s had water in Downpour. This kind of lets us bring them all back, so players can play it again without being stuck there for 100 hours. It also ties into the story in specific ways.
PSB: If you get an ending after 21 stages, how does the endless part of the game work?
TH: The cool thing about our premise is that you have this book and you’re rewriting your life. So why should I have to re-roll the character when I beat the game, just to try something new? I should just be able to re-write this book. So that’s how we built the game. You’re not going to have all the story elements just by beating the game once. You’ll have a reason to keep playing: unlock everything, find every monster, and so on. The levels will start to randomize and the game will become crazy, and the enemies will keep scaling. I think the furthest our testers have gotten is zone 340, so that’s a challenge to any players out there.
PSB: How does the multiplayer work? Is it cooperative?
TH: It’s co-op by design, but people will find ways to compete and find all the items. It’s important to note that when playing single player or multiplayer, you’re using the same character, so you’re not losing out by choosing one over the other. You can swap back and forth between them as much as you want. Basically, one player is the host, everyone else joins their game. Things you find in your friend’s game will add to your collection, your database of stuff. You can split up, you can all stay in one room. Difficulty will scale up depending on the level of all the players. If you’re a low-level guy in your friend’s game and he’s trying to level you up, you don’t wanna break off from him because you’re going to get trapped and you’re pretty much screwed at that point.
PSB: What do you think is the single most unique aspect about Silent Hill: Book of Memories?
TH: With Silent Hill, the games loosely tie into each other, but you don’t see a direct sequel. By the time someone’s escaped Silent Hill – if they even escape – their story is told. So you don’t get something like with Final Fantasy: “Here’s every single Final Fantasy character hanging out in this rhythm game!” You can’t do that with Silent Hill, normally, but with Book of Memories, you kind of can. So you can finally see these old creatures you’ve loved, and see them interact with creatures from other games. And the story will tie in with other games. So it works as a greatest hits celebration, and an introduction to everything.
I’ve enjoyed my time thus far with Silent Hill: Book of Memories, and look forward to taking it with me on the go beginning October 16th. The Action-RPG elements are familiar, with an aesthetic that I find very creepy, though not nearly as scary as a traditional Silent Hill game would be. Well, at least that’s what I’m told. Now I’m interested in finding out for myself.