Oertel, William (Silent Hill Origins)

Interview with Silent Hill Origins producer William OertelPrevious to Comic Con actually starting, I received a call at work one day from a rep at Konami asking if I’d be interested in chatting with the producer of both The Silent Hill Experience and the upcoming Silent Hill Origins prequel game, William Oertel. Kind of a no-brainer if you ask me, so of course I agreed double quick.

Of course, an inability to actually write things down correctly meant I was wandering the halls of the Con while they were waiting for me (I thought it was Saturday, you see, not Friday), but it worked itself out, and I got a chance to chat with William about the very unique Experience UMD as well as the concept behind the next game, Origins, which will also be PSP-only. Dig it!

Johnny Butane: So tell me about the idea behind The Silent Hill Experience

William Oertel: Well, we knew the movie was going to come out and a lot of people would want to know more about the mythos behind Silent Hill but not necessarily want to run out and pick up the games. So we thought we would put together a product that would serve as a snapshot of Silent Hill: the music, the videos, interviews with the people that made the games, that sort of thing.

So in this we have five comics from IDW, the Dying Inside series, which features the panels from the comics set to music from the game, but then we also created a new digital comic called The Hunger, which follows a journalist who wants to make the big time so he follows a story to Silent Hill and finds that the story relates to how the town became what you see in the first game. We wanted to do that because Silent Hill: Origins is a prequel to the first game, so we’re trying to focus on the history of the town and try it from different angles.

The Silent Hill ExperienceSo on the comics side we have about two hours of content. From there you can check out the trailers for the film as well as the four games, interviews with Christophe Gans about the film, or with Aikira Yamaoka, the producer of the series as well as its composer. Along with just a general discussion, we also asked him to pick his top 20 favorite songs from the series and put them on here and talk about each one of them specifically.

Finally, we have thee bonus items, videos that are special on this which were previously only available on a very rare DVD from Japan.

JB: I’ve heard of that DVD; it’s almost impossible to find these days…

WO: It is, and this is the first time the U.S. has gotten to see them. The videos are a great example of how versatile this product is; there’s one that is just the giant rabbits from the funhouse doing all sorts of freaky stuff, but you can take that and make a music video with it and it still manages to creep you out, the imagery is just so strong.

This is a series that’s not just about the visuals, either, but about characters who have issues like everyday people, characters you really care about and feel for, and when the music is put on top of that can really understand the feelings that are at the heart of the games; loneliness, betrayal and anger. It’s a very powerful series.

The Silent Hill ExperienceJB: Just out of curiosity, are the alternate game endings on there, as well?

WO: We have the UFO and dog ending from the first game, yeah.

JB: That’s great! So in short, Experience is a collection of SH stuff you can’t really find anywhere else.

WO: That was the idea, yeah. We wanted to create something that would be desirable to the fans of the series, fans who have spent years playing these games, as well as appeal to people who are just curious to know more about the mythos. It asks a lot of questions, but it will help those who want to know those answers get started in finding them.

JB: How is it doing with the public so far?

WO: It’s gotten a lot of great feedback, but you know it’s a hard product to really convey the message about….

JB: I can see that, since it’s neither a game or a movie…

WO: Right, it’s just a collection of rare and unique materials from the series, about six hours total, actually, and the great thing about it is you can go to any specific part at any time, keep it with you and bring it out whenever you’re in the mood for something Silent Hill related but don’t have a console around, you know?

JB: Sounds very cool! So tell me about Origins.

Silent Hill OriginsWO: Origins is the next game in the series, which will be out the last quarter of 2007. The main character is a truck driver who is running his normal route and finds himself in Silent Hill. Call it caught, trapped, pushed or pulled in; it’s just the right time for him to be there.

It’s a prequel to the first game, so there are some elements of that game, but it’s not a tell-all that will reveal too much about what you eventually find out in Silent Hill 1. It’s more about the story of this character; you have to find out what’s wrong with him and at the same time the town around him, and how they relate to one another.

JB: Why did you decide to do a straight PSP game instead of the traditional console?

WO: When you think about the PSP, you don’t really think about horror. It’s got a good lineup of games so far, but there are a lot of fans waiting for a horror game to come to the handheld, and this seemed like the really big chance. We’re just trying to recreate the experience of the last four games for ourselves, and it forced us to really look at the series and see what worked the best, then we had to figure out how to modify to work on the PSP.

It still captures the Silent Hill theme as it is specific to this character and the events in the town, and the way we see it is that it’s a great way to continue the story of Silent Hill without totally reinventing it.

JB: So why did you decide to do a prequel and not Silent Hill 5?

WO: My personal thought on that was that I wanted to do something that would leverage people’s experience with the game to date. If we did something brand-new, we would have to layout a lot of the story, educate new users and create new layers, and it was a big enough task bringing the thing to the PSP. If I could put it into the context of the existing games, using locations fans already know (as well as some new ones), characters they’re familiar with and so on, it saves us time to focus on the challenge of bringing the game to a much smaller screen.

JB: That was one thing I was going to ask about; part of what makes Silent Hill what it is the sound, the setting you play it in. With a PSP you have a lot more mobility and less chance of being scared because, say, you’re playing it on the bus. How did you get around that when you were making Origins?

Silent Hill OriginsWO: Well, it wasn’t easy, that’s for sure. We designed everything with a very visual idea in mind so there’s always something going on onscreen, but ideally when you play the PSP you’ll be playing it with headphones, which I think will help people get lost in the game easier, in terms of the mood and the setting.

When I’m at home and I’ve got the big stereo system, it’s nice because it’s around me and enveloping me, but with the PSP it’s a lot more intimate and it’s easier to get sucked into that world. We have the audio, the visual, and hopefully we’ve done a good enough job with the story that fans are going to get really involved in it.

That was really the whole idea; to use the advantages of the PSP to make playing a Silent Hill game a totally unique experience again.

JB: What else can you tell me about the story of the game? Timeline-wise I’ve heard that this truck driver shows up right as the town starts to go bad…

WO: Well, I can’t say too much obviously, but he’s coming in before 1, so the town is not entirely corrupted yet, but there will be some really great visuals as it goes bad, the kind of stuff that will put the PSP’s hardware to the test.

JB: My wife and I have a PSP and to be honest, we don’t really use it that much because of it’s lack of horror titles, do you think this will fill that gap in for PSP owners who feel the same?

Silent Hill OriginsWO: Definitely. There’s a big, gapping hole in the PSP lineup, and no one else out there is really stepping forward to fill it. There’s a lot of talk out there from fans now who are on the fence about how they feel about it, especially the main character…

JB: It’s really the first time there’s been a SH lead with any sort of defined personality, though. The other games all had pretty basic male/female figures in distress, but this guy seems like he’s got an interesting story…

WO: Excellent point, yeah. The characters in 1, 2, and 4 have been very… how do I put it…

JB: I’ve always found them a bit generic, actually.

WO: Well, they all had an interesting enough backstory, but they were all really good looking, they all had great hair (laughs), so we wanted to do something very different.

JB: Right, and from what I’ve read the Origins character seems like he’s a lot more realistic; he sees a monster and he just wants to kick it’s ass, he doesn’t really care where it came from…

WO: Right, that is the sort of guy we wanted to put at the forefront. If you think about it a truck driver is basically homeless; the road is his home, and since that’s where he came from, how has that affected him? Then you have to see where he goes from there as a character, the transformation, there’s a definite arc to him throughout Origins. We injected some humor into it, so fans will say, “I know where this guy is coming from”, but at the same time help them see the pain that drives him. A truck drive hurts too, he just has to get in touch with it more than the other SH characters did!

Silent Hill OriginsJB: Do you think there will be anything from the film used for future games?

WO: Definitely, Gans had some great ideas with the film and he did a fantastic job. With the games we have to be consumed with the history of the franchise, we’re not going to make any sudden change. To bring stuff from the movie into the game, it will be more along the lines of if we can do it, we will do it. There are some great moments that Gans created in the film that we really want to make sure we can duplicate, or at least get somewhere close to, with future games.

JB: How do you think the fans are going to react to Origins?

WO: Well, hopefully they’ll enjoy it as much as we do; my only fear is that we might have been too subtle at times. We wanted to make sure we had nods in it to other games and moments. We had to walk a fine line between going over the top and pulling back too much, so I hope we hit a good balance.

Not too bad, eh? Though I know a lot of fans are still wondering why the Silent Hill franchise is moving to the PSP, at least for now, it’s pretty clear from my chat with him that the team behind it have a true love for the series. William and I chatted about the movie more as well, and we’re on the same page about pretty much all of it, so I have confidence that they’re on the right track with Origins.

The game’s not due out for quite a while yet — Konami’s site has it listed as winter of 2007 — so hopefully we’ll be getting more and more info about it together as the release date approaches. Stick around!

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Jon Condit