Video Game History: The Silent Hill Series [Pt. 2]
I’d like to start this article by giving thanks to all those who took the time to read through the majestic longness that was Video Game History: The Silent Hill Series [Pt. 1]. I know some of the information may have seemed a little superfluous to those of you who have played the games before, but I feel like it’s important to establish what the franchise as a whole represents before we actually dig into the meat of the individual games themselves.
I have received a question or two in regards what sources I’m drawing my information from for this retrospective. Everything I will be stating will be derived from as official sources as I can get, whether that be developer interviews (the description of Team Silent and their various roles came from an interview with Akira Yamaoka during the release of Silent Hill 4: The Room, for instance), the Book of Lost Memories/Another Crimson Tome (two official plot/character/setting analysis books released by Team Silent for the first 4 games [they’re in Japanese, but you can go to translatedmemories.com to find the English versions]), or company press releases.
That said, I have no intention to cite every piece of information I throw out there. This series is being made for educational purposes only (no one is profiting through ad revenue or soliciting donations) and this series is in no way, shape, or form a ‘wiki’. I do acknowledge the fact that there is a Silent Hill wiki, but because it is edited by fans, many of the pages are filled with their theories and speculation (something I deliberately wanted to evade). With that in mind, I WILL indicate in-text if anything that I’m writing is my personal opinion or theory.
Moving forward, the focus of this part of the video game series retrospective is the original Silent Hill. As always, spoilers and in-depth analysis will be prevalent, so if you haven’t played the first entry in the Silent Hill series, I seriously suggest you do so before reading this article.
SILENT HILL (Sony PlayStation, 1999):
“The fear of blood tends to create fear for the flesh.”
Before we delve into the fantastical wonderfulness of this PlayStation classic, I’d like to briefly touch on what set Silent Hill apart from its contemporaries. While the establishing franchises of the Survival Horror genre (Alone in the Dark, Clock Tower, and Resident Evil) were predicated on sudden shocks and supernatural thrills, Silent Hill offered the promise of a sudden shock that would never actually occur. All of your instincts would tell you to be on edge because your environment would suggest that something bad is about to happen, unaware of Silent Hill’s ‘slow-burn’ pace. The game spends so much time setting up its environment and immersing you in it, that you ARE exposed to a ‘pay-off’ it actually feels pretty disturbing (aided by the fact that the title’s imagery was far more intense than anything else on the market at the time).
As I mentioned in the first part of this series, Silent Hill was created by Team Silent (a development group within Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo, mostly composed of individuals who had previously failed on other projects). Konami wanted a massively successful game in the United States and had envisioned a ‘Hollywood-esque’ style in order to appeal to wider audiences. Unfortunately, little support outside of this general direction was given to the development team and Team Silent soon found it hard to move forward. Series Sound Designer Akira Yamaoka maintains that Konami soon lost faith in the project and the development team found themselves to be outsiders within KCET itself.
Tired of development guidelines and frustrated with their standing within the company, Team Silent would eventually decide to subvert Konami’s requests in order to produce a truly unique horror title. What was at one point a last chance for a team of supposed “failures” soon became a labour of love by a group of creative individuals who just stopped giving a sh*t about what others thought. It is for this reason that we received one of the most unique and brazen games the PlayStation had ever seen.
The title’s Lead Artist Takayoshi Sato had at one point estimated the game’s budget at roughly $3-5 million (US) as they ran a lean development cycle and took advantage of the system’s known limitations. Their focus had become more oriented towards making a ‘masterpiece’ and opted for a story-oriented title with strong symbolism, narrative, and characters over the cheap-scare ‘fun house’ style of more successful Survival Horror franchises at the time. Once the game was finished its development cycle, Konami (still unsure about the game’s viability) demonstrated it at the 1998 Electronic Entertainment Expo, where Silent Hill’s presentation had an intensely positive reaction from the audience. This unexpected response prompted Konami to add personnel and a stronger PR campaign to the project. Suddenly, Silent Hill was a big deal.
The development group smartly used the PlayStation’s shortcomings to its advantage, masking a limited draw distance with thick fog or pure darkness. Because this forced the player to become heavily reliant on a flash light, map, and radio, it amplified the feeling of overwhelming isolation and the difficulties that come along with being lost in a foreign environment.
The audio was also designed to present this environment in a more nefarious light. Much of the horror comes from harsh and unsettlingly loud sound effects, but moments of silence add to the suspense and allow the horrific and isolated atmosphere to take over.
Like other survival horror titles of the time, Silent Hill utilized a fixed third-person view and implemented tank-like controls to compensate for the lack of a second control stick. Unlike other survival horror titles, the camera in Silent Hill would occasionally switch to strange angles for dramatic effect in select areas. This may seem to some like a minor element of the game’s design, but it emphasised the notion that the town was the one in control.
Because your playable character, Harry Mason, isn’t a commando, he was specifically designed to be mostly-terrible in a fight. Harry can use melee weapons or firearms (you’ll stick to firearms if you’re smart), but because he’s just a regular guy with little experience in fighting he can’t take too many blows from enemies and has mostly-terrible aim. You’re response to this might be to run from most combat situations, but Harry also isn’t a jogger and will slow down to catch his breath after a short time. Regardless of whether you’re a fan of fight or flight, you’ll find yourself heavily relying on your radio, the power button on your flash light, and the options/inventory menu (which is the only place that displays your health).
Because the game was designed around exploration, it takes advantage of a sandbox environment (one of the few titles on the PlayStation that chose to do so). You have to locate and collect tourist maps of each area, that you would then alter with your trusty red marker. These maps are accessible from the options/inventory screen, but can only be used when you have a source of light - making navigation a legitimate challenge at times - made harder with puzzles requiring unique actionable items.
The puzzles are, in my humble opinion, the coolest aspect of what makes Silent Hill what it is. Instead of just looking for a handle to insert into a chain crank, you would either have to use the most arbitrary of items (balls, chocolate milk, horseshoes, candle wax, etc.) in your inventory in combination to find new items and progress OR figure out a grotesque and usually disturbing puzzle-box challenge that often foreshadowed upcoming events. These puzzles are a staple of the franchise and easily my favourite aspect of the game’s design.
The tourist town of Silent Hill, Maine is home to a mysterious cult dedicated to a demon god. The cult uses the highly-addictive drug PTV (made from the indigenous White Claudia) to draw in visitors and initiate them, creating a drug ring and substantial income for those involved. The most fanatical of those involved have a higher-goal than profiteering - to bring about the birth of the demon god who will destroy the world and bring about an “eternal paradise.”
Dahlia Gillespie, the leader of the Holy Woman sect of the cult, has a daughter with psychic abilities (Alessa) whom the cult impregnates with the seed of the god via immolation Alessa, good natured as she is, opposes this plan and the stress of this incident coupled with her psychic powers forces her soul to split down the middle (thus halting the god’s birth and the cult’s plans) as the Gillespie house burns to the ground with her inside. She nearly dies, but the cult uses black magic to sustain her until she is able to give birth. Dr. Michael Kaufmann, leader of the PTV drug ring and the director of Alchemilla Hospital, assigns Lisa Garland to attend to Alessa in the basement of the hospital (keeping her there under the influence of PTV).
Harry Mason and his wife find the other half of Alessa’s soul in the form of a baby, whom they name Cheryl. Seven years later, Cheryl is drawn to Silent Hill due to a magical spell used by the cult to reunite the two halves. Harry, now a single father, brings Cheryl to Silent Hill for a vacation and is thrown into a car accident after almost hitting a little girl crossing the street (an astral projection of Alessa). Harry awakens to find that he is alone and sets out to find his daughter in Silent Hill. Alessa begins attempting to counter act the demonic forces in Silent Hill by using the Seal of the Metatron, inadvertently projecting the nightmare world she has been living in on the town.
Dahlia, understanding that Alessa is likely protecting Harry from most of the horrors of Silent Hill, begins to use him to get to Alessa’s other half. She tricks Harry into believing that Alessa’s astral projection is spreading the “Mark of Samael” and that this Mark is the cause of the Otherworld, when in actuality this mark is warding evil. Dahlia “assists” Harry by giving him the ‘Flauros’ (supposedly able to trap creatures of great power) and guiding him through the town.
Upon catching up with Alessa’s astral projection, Harry uses the Flauros on her to break her protection. Dahlia takes Alessa to be reunited with the other half of her soul and ultimately birth the cult’s god. When Harry finally catches up with them, it is too late and Alessa has been made whole (meaning Cheryl is gone forever). It is at this moment that Kaufmann, who has always cared more about the cult’s financial gains, appears to oppose the birth of the god by using an ‘Aglaophotis’ (a red liquid used to “drive out evil”). The Aglaophotis forces the expedited birth of the the god, whom Harry must then kill.
What happens next is dependant mostly upon what you did throughout the game. It is speculated that the ‘cannon’ ending is either the Good or Good+ ending due to the events of Silent Hill 3 (the game’s direct sequel). Some people like to think that the only one in-cannon is Good+ resulting in Harry defeating the god, receiving a new child, and leaving the town with police officer Cybil Bennet (whom you interact with several times with during the story), but there is no proof that Good+ is exclusively cannon. Director Keiichiro Toyama has said that he PREFERS the Good+ ending, but that ‘Good’ was intended to be the actual ending (so really, who knows?).
Silent Hill happens to feature multiple endings based on your number of play-throughs, whether you were able to save Cybil, whether chose to help Kaufmann after seeing him at Annie’s bar, or if you use the Channeling Stones. Below is each game ending (with the video’s respective owners):
Good+ (Complete Kaufmann Side Quest & Save Cybil)
Note: If you get this ending, Cybil will replace your wife in the intro movie.
In order to create their masterpiece, Team Silent needed a strong cast to propel their zany and mostly-unrealistic plot. While many Silent Hill titles have casts ranging from “amazing” to “so-so,” I would say that the original cast is one of the strongest as all principle characters maintain a well defined and important role. I’ve already detailed each principle character’s role in the plot synopsis above, so this section will actually be more geared towards their subtle characteristics and what their influences were.
Harry Mason - Harry was originally to be called ‘Humbert’ as a reference to the dutiful father in Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita. ‘Harry’ was actually the nickname of the one who named him. His character is that of a Writer and doting father, but he is also awkward and clumsy (perhaps, slightly out of shape as well). He lost his wife (Jodie, according to the novelization) to a terminal illness when Cheryl was about three years of age and she has since been the central focus of his life. He is an overprotective father (according to the novelization, he keeps a gun in his glove compartment because he’s afraid of murderers, rapists, and pedophiles), but has a heart of gold and can be very trusting.
Cheryl Mason - Cheryl Mason was originally to be called ‘Dolores’ for the same reason why Harry was to be called ‘Humbert’, unfortunately this was met with opposition by the localization staff due to how common it was and her name was changed to Cheryl to reference actress Sheryl Lee. Despite being the adopted daughter of Harry Mason, she is loved as though they share the same blood. She lost her mother at a young age and vaguely remembers her as a result. At the age of seven, noticing that Harry was still grieving over the death of her mother, Cheryl (likely under the influence of the cult’s spell) suggests that they go to Silent Hill for a vacation - prompting the events of the game.
Alessa Gillespie - Alessa’s original name was Asia, based on actress Asia Argento. Alessa is one of the least understood characters in the games (perhaps that’s what happens when you base four video games off her story). She is meant to be empathetic as she is a victim of circumstance, but she also takes action to actively fight the demonic world being created by her nightmares. She wants to stop the cult and in many ways can been seen as a hero of this title.
Dahlia Gillespie - Dahlia’s original name was Daria, based on actress Daria Nicolodi (Asia Argento’s mother). Cold, manipulative, and power hungry, Dahlia Gillespie is likely the worst humanity has to offer. She willingly sacrifices her only daughter out of some fanatical belief in a pain-inducing god. In the end, she get’s what she deserves, but it doesn’t change the fact that she helped unleash the craziness of Silent Hill. Also, on a personal level, it still kills me that she was made to be a sympathetic character in the Silent Hill feature film.
Dr. Michael Kaufmann - Michael Kaufmann’s name is a combination of Troma Studios producers Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufmann. Also, in German “Kaufmann” means businessman (possibly a callback to his money-oriented place in the cult). Sure, Kaufmann is an antagonist and in some respects a pretty terribly human being, but you can tell he isn’t quite as bonkers as Dahlia. With Dr.K, it’s all about money; he never wanted Silent Hill to get this crazy and now regrets the cult’s actions.
Lisa Garland - Lisa Garland was named after an actress named Lisa who plays a nurse and murderer in the film Sanguelia and actress Judy Garland who lost her way in the dreamland of The Wizard of Oz. She’s also my favorite character in Silent Hill. In many respects, Lisa is a walking tragedy. She’s constantly harassed by the horrors of the town, without realizing that she herself has been dead for a while. Worse still, before she died, she was forced into a drug addiction by the cult and had to care for seemingly dead girl for years. PRO TIP: If you like the Lisa character, get the Good/Good+ ending so that she can get some closure.
Cybil Bennett - Cybil Bennet’s last name is an allusion to a real-life policewoman who was a murderer, whereas Cybil is an allusion to model Sybil Buck and action star Sybil Danning. Her character is strong willed and compassionate. She’s made out to be something of a love interest for Harry, but whether she and Harry hook up after the events of the game is up to the imagination. We never learn much about her backstory, but the Silent Hill: Play Novel reveals that she was witness to her parent’s death at a young age and it prompted her to go into law enforcement. Whether you actually save her or not in-game, she is a great character and strong female lead.
As they are in most Silent Hill titles, the Order’s role in this title is to usher in the end times by birthing their god and preparing for paradise. All of the sects praise and worship entities of the Otherworld (seen as demons to outsiders), but not all sects go about the god’s rebirth in the same manner or hold the same belief system. The sect featured in this game is known as the ‘Sect of the Holy Woman.’
The Sect of the Holy Woman is centred around priestess Dahlia Gillespie. The sect was under the belief that God would return to Earth one day and that all should await her coming faithfully. Dahlia had attempting to hasten God’s rebirth by using an immolation ritual - using her psychic daughter Alessa as a sacrifice. We know that this Sect includes Dahlia Gillespie, Claudia Wolf (Silent Hill 3), Vincent Smith (Silent Hill 3), Dr. Michael Kaufmann, and Leonard Wolf (Silent Hill 3). That said, there are clearly other people who have identified with Dahlia’s beliefs and aren’t featured as principles in the Silent Hill games.
This sect maintains a romanticized version of the God’s rebirth, believing that once God has come, she will remove all pain from the world in order to usher the faithful to paradise (in actuality, it would be hell on earth). Members like Vincent and Kaufmann aren’t interested in these beliefs, but others like Claudia and Dahlia belief that the pain of an innocent can bring about a “new dawn.”
As I’ve mentioned before, Silent Hill creatures are wicked because they give you insight into the the characters they’re based on. The first Silent Hill features a nightmare world based on Alessa’s tormented mind and the creatures are no different; every single one of them are inspired by her.
The Air Screamer is based on an illustration in one of Alessa’s favorite books - The Lost World (by Arthur Conan Doyle), which features a Pteranodon with human-like appendages.
The Bloodsucker is suppose to represent Alessa’s hatred of leeches, worms, snakes, and creepy-crawlies.
The Floatstinger is designed to be akin to some of the insects in Alessa’s bug collection (the same could be said about the Creepers you see early on in the game).
Because Alessa was seen as a ‘witch’ by her classmates for her psychic powers, the way she views them is distorted and disturbing. The ridicule they inflicted led to Alessa’s mind creating the ‘grey child.’
This one is pretty straightforward. Alessa has a strong dislike of dogs.
The Hanged Scratcher is one of the more annoying creatures in the game, but it represents something pretty simple: a cricket. This can obviously be attributed to Alessa’s bug collection, but some have speculated that its appearance also represents the cult members who abducted Alessa.
The mumbler is interesting because it apparently is a collage of all of the small, menacing animals from the fairy tales that Alessa used to read.
To Alessa, the negative influence of her mother’s cult is everywhere. She sees all health professionals as grotesque beings for two reasons: (1) most of the hospital staff did actually belong to the Order, and (2) her real body had been trapped in the bowels of Alchemilla Hospital. It’s been speculated that Lisa Garland did not appear as a Puppet Nurse because she was kind to Alessa and was a victim of addiction.
The Romper represents Alessa’s distrust of older people and fear of stranger adults.
The split head is the nightmarish representation of a “great lizard” that appears in one of Alessa’s fairytale novels from the Elementary School. What’s interesting is that the prose of the note you find detailing this creature suggests that Alessa pictured the noises the boiler room to actually be this thing.
The most striking thing about the way Incubus looks its similarity to Baphomet (a piece of occult imagery). In actuality, this is a mental image of how Dahlia see’s the cult’s god.
The colours of the menu vary depending on the level of difficulty you’re on.
Harry’s wife is named ‘Jodie.’ What she died from remains unknown.
If you go to Levin Street and examine the dog house before engaging the Goaners, Harry will say, “Probably a dog house, though I’m not sure as there are no dogs around.” right as dogs are jumping into the frame.
In The Book of Lost Memories, Alessa is known as ‘The Empress’ due to her complete control over the town.
The diner you wake up in - Cafe 5to2 - is a reference to the film Natural Born Killers.
The teachers mentioned in the memos at Midwich Elementary School are named after members of rockband Sonic Youth.
The Flauros is supposedly inspired by Hellraier’s puzzle box.
There is speculation over how Lisa Garland actually died, but Team Silent Artist Masahiro Ito recently said over twitter that the development team believed her to have actually died from White Claudia overdose.
Because of a glitch, you can avoid fighting Cybil when she’s possessed at the amusement park by using the Aglaophotis on a larval stalker anywhere in the park before the battle.
OTHER THINGS TO CHECK OUT:
Silent Hill: Play Novel:
Silent Hill: Play Novel was an visual novel adaptation of the original Silent Hill and the only title in the franchise to appear on a Nintendo console until the release of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories for the Nintendo Wii. The main difference between this title and the original game is that it was an interactive visual book with occasional choices leading to new storyline variants. As you might imagine, it wasn’t something Konami was interested in releasing outside of Japan.
The game features two main scenarios - Harry Mason & Cybil Bennett. There were also four additional scenarios available for download in Japan, where you can play as a Cheryl’s neighbour ’Andy’. There are puzzle sequences and multiple endings, but the main narration is mostly static and consistent with the original PlayStation game.
Silent Hill Perfect Navigation:
Silent Hill Perfect Navigation is an official walkthrough by Team Silent released only in Japan with plot analysis, character bios, concept art, and a creature guide. It’s damned near impossible to find, but the contents have been thrown on line by the fine folks at shshatteredmemories.com. The artwork alone is worth looking into.
Silent Hill: The Novel
Yes, there is actually a novelization of the game. It’s super hard to find, but it gives more background on the characters and provides some cool insights into the setting of the game. It was originally written by Sadamu Yamashita (with illustrations by the magnificent Masahiro Ito), but has since been obtained and translated into english by ‘Lady Ducky.’
Here is an exert:
Harry Mason walked into the fog.
His footsteps were unsteady as he was still feeling the shock of the accident. His Jeep had broken through a guardrail and was now lying at the bottom of a ravine. Harry recalled the shadow that had dashed out into the road. Just as he was about to plow through the small, child-like figure, he completely lost control of the wheel, like the vehicle was an iron horse that refused to follow the driver’ reigns. Tires screeching, the jeep had collided with the guardrail as if it was moving on its own accord.
It was hard to remember anything else after that. By the time he had come to his senses, the engine was stalling and the Jeep wouldn’t budge.
“Cheryl!” Harry called out through the vision-obscuring mist. His daughter had disappeared from the car. It was unlikely that she had thrown out by the impact of the crash as the passenger door was left wide open. Not only that, but he was positive she’d been wearing her seatbelt properly. He yelled again, but there was no reply. He searched around the area of the wreck, but found nothing. Harry was beginning to panic, his body burning with parental concern for his daughter.
Suffice to say, I recommend reading the rest of it if you are a fan.
Alright. That’s all I have to say about the first Silent Hill game. I know, I know - it took forever to read this bastard, but really, that in itself stands as a testiment to the level of detail the team poured into this title.
If you haven’t played the game before (in which case, I have no idea why you’ve decided to read thus far) or you haven’t played it in quite a while, I would highly recommend going back and picking this gem up. You can get it off the PSN for a stupidly cheap price and while it most definitely controls like ass and looks so-so on a good day, I doubt you’ll find another PlayStation Survival Horror title that has as much to offer.
Thank you for reading, I hope you check back in a few days for the third part of this series (where we’ll be delving into Silent Hill 2), and I’ll happily leave you with the Good+ ending theme, “Tears of…” by Akira Yamaoka: