Video Game History: The Silent Hill Series [Pt. 3]
Allow me to begin part three by saying that today we will be covering Silent Hill 2. Confused? Apparently, you aren’t the only one. The goal of this series is to cover the games in such a way that you could go without flying through tons of wiki pages or scouring the internet for obscure interviews and press releases. As such, I felt it necessary to detail some of what the universal franchise themes are in Video Game History: The Silent Hill Series [Pt. 1], leaving me to only start covering the games with the original Silent Hill (and its related media, like the Silent Hill Play Novel) in the incredibly scroll-worthy Video Game History: The Silent Hill Series [Pt. 2].
I’d really like to thank everyone who took the time to read through the majestic longness of these two articles. Seeing people comment, like, and reblog this content makes all of the research and writing worth it. Make no mistake, there is no community as passionate and intense as the Silent Hill community.
For those of you who were hoping for a quick-read, I hate to say that I have let you down. Silent Hill 2 boast so much symbolism and subtle elements that I can’t help but go into a long diatribe over its various elements.
Grab yourself a coffee, slap yourself in the face a couple times, and prepare to ingest a monstrous amount of words. Hopefully, if I’ve done my job right, you may even learn a couple cool things about Silent Hill. Now, prepare for spoilers.
SILENT HILL 2 (Sony PlayStation 2, 2001):
“In my restless dreams, I see that town.”
Last time, we started by discussing what set Silent Hill apart from its contemporaries (Alone in the Dark, Clock Tower, and Resident Evil). Today, we’re going to start with what set Silent Hill 2 apart from Silent Hill.
Unlike most fan’s initial expectations, Silent Hill 2 wasn’t a direct sequel to Silent Hill. In fact, in many ways, it’s actually a departure. While it maintained the atmospheric, ‘slow-burn’ style of horror delivery, the atmosphere itself was more depressing and morose than it was hellish and horrific. The cast changed, the Order was completely cut from the main narrative, and the setting was actually shifted to a different area of the town. This can mostly be attributed to the development team realizing that the best thing to expand on after the release of Silent Hill was the town itself.
Developed - again - by Team Silent (KCET), Silent Hill 2 was conceived shortly after the surprisingly strong reception of Silent Hill. As I had indicated in previously, Team Silent had originally planned Silent Hill as their ‘last hurrah,’ deliberately going against Konami’s wishes with their development trajectory and potentially costing Konami millions of dollars in the process. The outpour of success for Silent Hill lead to Team Silent becoming more established within KCET, several members deciding to prolong their tenure with Konami, and more creative freedom with their next title.
The story was initially conceived by Takayoshi Sato. Sato was originally a low-ranking member of the animation team before he made his mark with the CGI direction in Silent Hill. Because real emotions and expressions had to be conveyed in CGI models, Sato became a stronger part of the story and scenario development process. In many respects, Silent Hill 2’s narrative is his baby.
Inspired by the novel Crime and Punishment, Sato first worked with individual members of Team Silent to develop scenarios and then with Hiroyuki Owaku to develop the script and principle dialogue.
The art style drew on a ton of different influences, from the works of directors David Cronenberg, David Fincher, David Lynch, and Alfred Hitchcock, to painters Francis Bacon, Rembrandt, and Andrew Wyeth and the type of psychological horror the team dug in Jacob’s Ladder, Stephen King novels, and Twin Peaks.
At one point, Sato estimated the game’s budget to be $7-10 million (US) (twice that of the original title). This can be partially be attributed to the series heading to a brand new platform (PlayStation 2) and requiring a brand new game engine. Unlike the first Silent Hill, it was estimated by Producer Akihiro Imamura that about 50 people worked on this game - the original members of the team who worked on Silent Hill and the rest being outside teams at KCET.
Producer Akihiro Imamura maintains that he read as many fan and industry comments on the first Silent Hill as he could and used them to improve the overall quality of Silent Hill 2. Many of the complaints levied at the game were in relation to the lack of visibility and environment design. Thankfully, the PlayStation 2 allowed the team to create improved fog and shadow effects, intricate environments, highly detailed characters, and stronger sound design.
Like the original, Silent Hill utilized a fixed third-person view and implemented tank-like controls to move the character. Some people are of the mind that this control scheme was crucial to the series, but that view is short-sighted and usually thrust forward by Team Silent fanboys. In truth, this control system is incredibly inhibited and really stops you from being able to view and enjoy the environments of Silent Hill. I would concede that combat is more scary and frantic, but this can be more attributed to your terrible controls than it can be intelligent enemy AI.
Series Sound Director Akira Yamaoka wanted to surprise the player by exposing them to different sounds at odd times to create an unsettling environment. The sheer number of sound effects were pretty impressive too - over fifty types of sounds were used, ranging from screams (in various pitches) to footsteps on broken glass. To contrast all of the disturbing sounds, Yamaoka also incorporated dead silence at certain times to ensure that the player never felt settled in their environment.
When designing principle characters, Sato and his CGI team sketched human faces with different expressions. To gain a better sense of how the game’s characters would look, they drew the character profiles with highly detailed facial structures at various angles before creating the wire-frame models and texturing. The character models themselves still hold up today as character designs were gorgeous and each model consisted of over 6,000 polygons.
The creatures of the town where designed by Masahiro Ito with disturbing imagery in mind. Conceptually, he wanted all of them to feature ‘soured flesh,’ but many also featured elements of humanity coupled with a lack of a face. All of this was done as a means of subtly conveying something to the protagonist. I will be getting into the symbology of each creature later on.
The puzzles - again - are smart, well conceived, and don’t undermine the atmosphere or what is happening in the plot. In fact, I’d make the point that the puzzles in Silent Hill 2 are even more fitting than those in the original. Also, there are four different difficulty levels for puzzles to challenge gamers of all types.
I know the purists out there will only accept that there is ONE story going on in Silent Hill 2, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t separate ‘Letter from Silent Haven’ from ‘Born From a Wish.’ To provide a little context, Letter From Silent Heaven is the main plot of Silent Hill whereas Born From a Wish is a sub-scenario that NA audiences saw released in Silent Hill: Restless Dreams (Xbox). I had a very different impression of Maria before I had played Born From a Wish and I would suggest any fans of the game to sit down and play it if they can (it is available in the HD Collection).
1. Letter From Silent Heaven:
Silent Hill 2 wasn’t actually a continuation of the plot of Silent Hill, so much as it was a focus on the state of the town after the events of the first game. That’s not to say that the plot completely ignores that land’s previous inhabitants or the Order though - at several points, you will find notes or news paper clippings that provide a bit of background information on what Silent Hill has been through in the past. What’s interesting about this information is that it also acts as a means of foreshadowing the big revelation of Silent Hill 2 (like the news paper clipping about Thomas Orosco and Walter Sullivan).
The land was one considered to be a sacred place for the Native Americans tribes of the area. Later the town was settled as a Penal Colony featuring a Prison and Hospital (built due to a plage that had broke out). Soon after, the first signs of the Order appeared. After the town was turned into a tourism hotspot, a succession of mysterious accidents tainted the area’s reputation as a resort area. It is because of the town’s dark history that the great spiritual power the natives once saw in the area became perverted. The Order then chose to commence their sacrifice on Alessa, and the power that existed was warped to a maleficent force that drew on the influence of the cult’s god and forced those with darkness in their hearts to gravitate towards the town.
James Sunderland, our protagonist, is one of these people to be drawn to the town. James’ wife Mary was sick with a mysterious disease and sent home from the hospital after doctors deemed her untreatable. James could no longer take care of her while she died slowly (she was verbally abusive towards him, due to the strain of her illness) nor could he stand the burden that the illness inflicted on his life and relationship with her, so he suffocated her. Later, after suppressing this horrible memory, he receives a letter from Mary calling him to Silent Hill [seen in the picture above]. Funnily enough, we find out later in the game that this letter never actually existed (subtly hinted at by the letter’s fading from your inventory screen as the game progresses).
James goes looking for Mary, thinking that she has been dead for three years (when really, she was told at the onset of the illness that she had three years to live). He realizes the insanity behind his actions, but needs to confront his past - specifically, how Mary died and the circumstances surrounding her death. James’ subconscious, with the help of the towns power, manifests itself in the forms of creatures, environments, and the random encounters he has with others whom have darkness in their hearts.
James subconsciously desires to punish himself for the death of his wife and the two biggest outcomes of this desire are the ‘Red Pyramid Thing’ (colloquially known as Pyramid Head) and Maria. The Red Pyramid Thing stalks James throughout the game in the form of what JAMES thinks an executioner would have looked like in the prison camp of Silent Hill’s past (I’ll explain why this is an important point later when do the creature analysis). James also watches Maria die repeatedly as part of his punishment. It is not until the end of the game that he realizes what the Red Pyramid Thing and Maria are and is able to finally accept the truth of his actions.
Throughout the game, James encounters a couple other people who appear to have been similarly damaged and were called to the town. Angela Orosco, lead a life of physical and sexual abuse from her father. After stabbing him to death, she fled to Silent Hill where she is currently trapped in a nightmare of eternal flame. She constantly seeks out her “Momma” while seen in-game, possibly because she wrongly believes her mother to love her OR because she is of the belief that if she kills her mother as well, her pain will finally be over. Eddie Dombrowski is a shy guy who has always had a dream of playing on the school football team, but was ridiculed for being overweight. Overtime, the anger in him grew and he eventually sought revenge by shooting a football player in the knee and killing his dog. Eddie’s dash from the police led him to Silent Hill, where he started to go nuts - eventually becoming a minor antagonist.
Then there’s Laura. Unlike James, Angela, and Eddie, Laura is the only one in town who is truly innocent and isn’t subject to the horrors of Silent Hill. Before Mary’s death, Laura and Mary grew very close in the hospital. At one point, Mary had even wanted to adopt Laura. She is important to James’ arc as she is the one to shed light on the circumstances surrounding Mary’s life before her death; had it not been for her kinship with Mary, James wouldn’t have questioned the fabricated backstory his mind had created about how Mary actually died. After watching a video tape found in the Lakeside Hotel, James realizes that Mary actually died by his hands. It’s at this point where your behaviour throughout the game will dictate which ending you receive.
2. Born From a Wish
Born From a Wish is the game’s subscenario in wich Maria is the protagonist. Technically, it details Maria’s inception up until the point where she meets with James in Rosewater Park. In it, she “wakes up” alone and frightened in Heaven’s Night club. She begins wandering the streets of Silent Hill until she eventually enters Baldwin Mansion (an area that wasn’t accessible in Letters From Silent Haven), where she meets the voice of Ernest Baldwin. Ernest speaks in monotone and pushes her to use the ‘white liquid’ to bring his dead daughter back to life. Maria doesn’t object to this insanity, assuring him that she “doesn’t mind fighting for an impossible cause.”
While exploring the house, she finds a teddy bear in a child’s room and comments that Laura would love the toy (demonstrating that her and Mary share some of the same memories). Once Maria brings the ‘white liquid’ back to Ernest, he reveals that she isn’t what she believes herself to be and that she should beware of a man named James. Maria begins to remember aspects about James that she rightfully shouldn’t and recognizes that he killed his wife (but also remembers that underneath James is a kind person).
When Maria actually has the opportunity to open the door to where Ernest is, she finds the room to be empty. Disappointed from not finding another human being, Maria leaves the mansion and considers suicide as she now recognizes that she isn’t human herself. She decides to go to Rosewater Park and follow her fate, hoping that James will accept her as she is and stay with her. Unfortunately, if he does so, he will be damned.
As I had previously mentioned, I had a very different understanding of Maria before I had played Born From a Wish. This campaign presents her as a real, sentient being with her own fears and desires. She isn’t spurred into action during Letters From Silent Heaven because she is just another creature devised by the town; she does what she does because she legitimately wants James to love her, in spite of both of their faults.
Silent Hill 2 doesn’t officially have a cannon ending. The game was designed so that any of the game’s endings could be considered plausible depending on the player’s actions and interpretations of the story. The final version of the game has a total of six possible endings; three of which can be achieved on the first play-through and the other three can be enables by acquiring new items on replays.
Leave Ending (James makes peace with Mary, leaves town with Laura)
A lot of people like to cite the “In Water” ending as cannon, based on the picture on Henry Townshend’s wall in Silent Hill 4: The Room. Upon examination of this object, two things are suggested, (1) that no one knows about the circumstances surrounding Mary’s death, and (2) James was never heard from again. If you want to take that to mean that he killed himself in the lake after the events of Silent Hill 2 I suppose I can’t really stop you, but in my humble opinion it doesn’t make a ton of sense in context. If James HAD actually faced his guilt head-on and developed the courage to survive the events of Silent Hill 2, I don’t think he would have suddenly become suicidal immediately after. If anything, he probably would have wanted to cut ties with everyone he knew and start over fresh somewhere far, far away - something that could actually be affirmed by the picture in Henry’s apartment. There again, this is only my opinion.
My favorite ending is actually the Dog Ending. How can you NOT love the idea of a Shiba Inu pulling all of the strings?
With a plot drenched in symbolism and subtle nuances, Team Silent needed a strong cast of complex characters to properly communicate the themes of the narrative. While Silent Hill 2 isn’t actually my favorite Silent Hill game, it definitely features my favorite cast. Everyone has a well defined role to play and they all mirror different aspects of James. I’ve already detailed each principle character’s role in the plot synopsis above, so this section will be more geared towards their subtle characteristics and what their influences were.
James Sunderland - When the plot was first being developed for Silent Hill 2, James was actually a character with two personality - ‘Joseph’ and ‘James.’ The name ‘Joseph’ was borrowed from the name of a man suspected of being Jack the Ripper. To the same effect, Sunderland is a reference to the term ‘sunder,’ which means “to break” - an allusion to his shattered mental state. James’ character echoes this, but that does not make him a bad person. Near the end of his and Mary’s time together, he was feeling used and abused, not to mention sexually frustrated and unable to lead a life of his own. In many respects, he was a victim of disease himself. The passionate romance that made his life worth living was gone and the only way out he saw was to release Mary from her bonds.
Mary Sherpherd-Sunderland - Mary’s name was taken from ‘Jack the Ripper’ victim Mary Jane Kelly (who was living with Joseph Barnett at time of death). While their love was strong, Mary did not adjust to her illness well and lashed out at James often. Repressing the notion that he killed her, James went to Silent Hill to seek her out (all the while, she was actually in the car with him - according to the novelization and Masahiro Ito).
Maria - Much like James, in the original plot the lead female also had dual personalities, ‘Mary’ and ‘Maria.’ Maria is the rebirth of Mary, as symbolized by the her similar appearance and the butterfly tattoo on her abdomen, but in many ways she deviates from what Mary was. Unlike Mary, Maria is over-sexualized, attitudinal, cold, and judgemental. She acts this way because she knows what James did to Mary and while she is a representation of the town, she also exists as a sentient being (hence me considering her to be a ‘character’ and not a ‘monster’).
Angela Orosco - Her name is taken from the character Angela Bennet from the film, ‘The Net.’ In the film, Angela has her character’s life essentially wiped off the record and spends the rest of the the film’s runtime trying to get it back and reunite with her mother. Angela (the Silent Hill 2 character) was sexually abused as a young girl by her father (and by her brother, according to the novelization), and it is indicated that she took revenge before looking for her mother in Silent Hill. Though we never see her die in-game, Masahiro Ito did say recently that she did die (though he can’t remember how). She has a sad story, but in the end chose her own fate.
Eddie Dombrowski - Eddie was originally named after Eddie Murphy as he was supposed to be a very cheerful character, but they changed his personality pretty radically. Eddie has been ridiculed his entire life and was called to the town after he decided to take revenge. In Silent Hill, Eddie is constantly seen in the vicinity of brutally murdered bodies (likely how he sees creatures of the town) and has gone into a downward spiral, eventually accepting his actions as a “good” thing. His character is the only one with a defined fate.
Laura - Laura’s name is taken from the true-life tale, ‘No Language But a Cry’ by Richardo D’Ambrosio, the story of a young girl’s search of happiness while trying to overcome the scars of abuse. Like the Laura of the book, Silent Hill 2’s Laura spent a majority of her time as a child in the hospital. In it, she met Mary and was there for her whenever James wouldn’t visit. It is because of her innocence that James finally breaks into his repressed memories.
The creatures you fight, people you meet, and places you go in Silent Hill, tend to have something to do with someone’s psyche. Because James had spend so much time in and out of the hospital with Mary before killing her and repressing it, he actually spends a majority of the game at Brookhaven Hospital and Toluca Prison. His mind is actively trying to punish him and the town is more than willing to help. The same can be said about how Angela, Eddie, and Laura see the town.
Late in the game, James runs into Angela as she is ascending an ablaze staircase. He comments, “It’s hot as hell in here.” Angela’s response is, “You see it too? For me, it’s always like this.” I would cite this as proof that Angela’s Silent Hill is one of fire and brimstone, presumably because she believes she belongs in hell.
Eddie on the other hand is always seen in the vicinity of food: at the apartment building, in the bowling alley, in the prison’s cafeteria, and in the Labyrinth’s deep freeze. His weight has been the bane of his existence and in Silent Hill there are constant reminders.
Finally, Laura is an innocent and isn’t exposed to any horrors while in Silent Hill. She runs around, plays games, and draws pictures because she doesn’t see this place as unsafe and isn’t being pursued by any creatures.
The Order isn’t on prominent display in this game, but that doesn’t stop the effects of their activities from being felt. Because of their terrible activities over the years, Silent Hill has been perverted to the point where the town itself is now in full control. Outside of this set up, the Sect of the Holy Mother and the Sect of Valtiel are also highlighted over the course of the game.
The Sect of the Holy Mother (which I will be covering in a bit more detail when we get to Silent Hill 4: The Room) knew a ritual for the resurrection of the dead, which James may find during the game and presumably use during the ‘Maria’ ending.
The Sect of Valtiel (another sect I’ll be covering when we get to Silent Hill 4: The Room) was a well known sect of the order that worshiped Valtiel and would complete executions using a red, pointed hood in his honor. This is where many people believe James got the inspiration for the Red Pyramid Thing. Others have tried to argue that ‘Misty Day, Remains of the Judgement’ proves that Pyramid Heads existed before James, but with everything else James sees being a fabrication created by the town (and his mind), we can’t even say that the painting itself is real.
You never really realize how messed up James is until you examine the creatures his mind has created. Unlike those in the original Silent Hill, the creatures in this game are bear much more adult themes (sex, rape, violence, murder, etc.).
The Abstract Daddy is a representation of the sexual abuse Angela Orosco suffered at the hands of her father. It is in the shape of a man towering over his daughter’s bed and the “mouth” resembles that of a vaginal orifice.
Bubble Head Nurse:
This one is pretty straightforward; James spent a lot of time in the hospital with Mary and was sexually deprived due to her illness. The nurses have no face because of James’ guilt.
This creature represents the way James saw Mary at the worst of her illness. Notice that the structure is laid out like that of a bed and that the protruding lips have soured like that of someone with a terminal illness.
The lying figure is supposed to represent James’ inner anguish. In terms of design, it looks similar to that of a mental patient trapped in a straightjacket made of flesh. Clearly, James isn’t quite right in the head.
These creatures represent feelings of overwhelming, incomprehensible anguish and it is for this reason why they are forced to hang to the floor - never allowed to come above ground. Interestingly enough, the Madarins bear a strong resemblance to the Closers in Silent Hill 3 (that will f*ck you up, above ground).
The Mannequin represents James’ natural urges and inclinations (apparently James is a leg man). It is for this reason that the Red Pyramid Thing, which is an avatar of James’ mind, rapes and abuses them.
Mary (Final Boss):
Mary’s appearance represents James’ conflicted feelings towards Mary in her final days. She is laid-out similarly to that of a Flesh Lips as she was confined to a bed. Interestingly, in contrast to Maria’s butterfly (rebirth) imagery, Mary attacks with large, black moths (which represent death in many cultures).
Red Pyramid Thing (Pyramid Head):
The most disputed creature in Silent Hill history. Allow me to start by saying that the way this creature looks, acts, and moves is all based on James’ mind. In the previous visit to the region, he and Mary learned of the Vatiel Sect executioners of the town’s past and this creatures took on an appearance similar, but not exactly the same, to that of those executioners.
This creature rapes, murders, and abuses, because those are all things that James has thought of or done. He was created by the town, like Maria, to mess with James. However, unlike Maria, this creature’s place was to punish James until he confronted his issues.
The first Red Pyramid Thing represents the guilt James feels for killing Mary. Notice that after he kills Eddie (another human being) he encounters two of these creatures. That said, once James doesn’t need them anymore, they both commit suicide. They are PURELY created from James’ mind, something the has been confirmed by Masahiro Ito, so it makes NO SENSE why they would show up later in the series as The Butcher or The Bogeyman (and even less sense in the context of the feature film).
According to Masahiro Ito, Mary is actually in the back seat of James’ car during the ‘In Water’ Ending.
The jacket James wears in Silent Hill 2 is actually based on the same one Jacob Singer wore in Jacob’s Ladder (a homage, as this film was one of the game’s biggest influences).
The dog Mira from the ‘Dog’ Ending doesn’t like Eddie because he killed a dog. When Eddie’s visage is seen during the Ending credits, Mira growls.
The streets, locations, and buildings in Silent Hill were all named after real writers and locations.
In the CGI sequence where James was talking to Maria through the bars, the scene was deliberately laid out so that James would look like he was the one incarcerated.
In room 205 of the Wood Side Apartments, Mary’s outfit doesn’t cast a shadow - only the pole it sits on does.
If you call the Lakeview Hotel in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, the voicemail message will end with, “Make the Lakeview Hotel your ‘special place.’”
OTHER THINGS TO CHECK OUT:
Ducky’s English Translations: Silent Hill 2 Novelization
The same translator that tackled the novelization of the original Silent Hill (Ducky) has since translated all of the Silent Hill 2 Novelization. Because the novel was partially conceived by Team Silent, it adds a bit of insight and backgound into various characters and settings.
Here’s an exert:
“It looks kinda like milk.”
Laura’s face stretched into a smile. She began to laugh as her bright, enamel-white teeth peeked from behind her small lips. The town was shrouded in a thick fog that blurred everything into white, as if she were in some sort of magical land. Sometimes Laura liked to think that some scatterbrained god had carelessly dropped his cup and spilled his morning milk all over the place. The mysterious atmosphere could be a sign that there were fairies or something hiding out there. The thought made Laura’s heart tremble with excitement. Although usually precocious, the eight-year-old girl jokingly began to hop and skip along, her skirt fluttering behind her. Slowly and smoothly, the fog flowed and drifted though the air.
“Come on, hurry up! I’m gonna leave you behind!” Laura shouted over and over again, calling out to her easygoing friend.
She and her companion were here because they were on a journey to find their friends…
Only he was fat and a bit thickheaded. Sometimes all he did was mope around and he always seemed to be scowling. But Laura didn’t care too much. More importantly, she wanted to see that person again soon. The person who gave her that letter….
This is probably one of my favourite comedic videos based on the series. When the HD Collection was announced and everyone was freaking out about new voices, this was the fist video to take a stab at the ridiculousness of the situation.
It was created by Youtuber Shesellsshershells, who also happens to have a ton of other hilarious Silent Hill related content. Definitely check out his stuff.
Those of you wondering where I got my facts on characters, creatures, and symbolism, should definitely check out translatedmemories.com. The site contains official in-depth guides created by Team Silent themselves and is an interesting read for any Silent Hill fan.
Alright. That’s all I have to say about Silent Hill 2. I know, I know - it took even longer to read this part than it did the last one, but really, that 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. It’s available on PC, PS2, Xbox (with Born From a Wish), and now on PS3 & Xbox 360 via the HD Collection (although, I would only recommend this version as a last resort as it is glitchy as hell and has terrible fog effects).
Thank you again for reading, I hope you check back in a few days for the fourth part of this series (where we’ll be delving into Silent Hill 3), and I’ll happily leave you with the ‘Leave’ ending theme, “Overdose Delusion” by Akira Yamaoka: