Exclusive Interview: Devin Shatsky Talks Silent Hill: Downpour, Shattered Memories and HD Collection
Silent Hill is one of the most beloved gaming franchises ever, and March 2012 will see the release of three different Silent Hill games in one month! It's almost too much for fans to handle, but we're going to go ahead and give you even more goodness!
Dread Central recently sat down with Producer Devin Shatsky for an interview about some of the upcoming and newly released games in the Silent Hill series.
Devin Shatsky has been in the video game industry for over 15 years, and he has lent his talent to well over 25 different titles during that span. Just a few of the titles Devin has worked on include The Suffering, Area 51, Silent Hill Shattered Memories and, of course, Silent Hill Downpour (review here). He was also an important part in the recreation of the Silent Hill HD Collection which is scheduled to release on March 20, 2012.
AMANDA: First off, we have to ask you about your new game Silent Hill Downpour. The game stars a new protagonist named Murphy Pendleton. What ultimately made the team choose to go in this direction for the game's main character, and was Murphy inspired by any other character in gaming or another form of media?
DEVIN: From the onset of preproduction on Downpour, we knew we wanted to create a character type that was new to the Silent Hill franchise. In the past games, you typically had a protagonist that seemed like an “everyman” (or woman) who the player would naturally assume is a decent person. Even if they found out the complete opposite by the end of the game (such as in SH2) that the character’s done something very despicable in their past… for most of the game, players are sympathetic to him. With Murphy (in Downpour) we decided upon a prison inmate. We want the player to be changing their opinion of Murphy frequently as they play the game, and really struggling… do I like this person? Or is he a bad guy? This creates a new kind of uncertainty.
AMANDA: Silent Hill Downpour strays from many gameplay mechanics the game has relied on over the years. What ultimately made the team attempt a more action oriented game with a limited arsenal of weapons?
DEVIN: With our combat and weapons system, we wanted to lean toward a more realistic approach with Downpour. This would allow us to play upon a more natural sense of dread, by disempowering the player. It always bothered me in games when the protagonist has a “magic pocket” where they can carry a massive arsenal of weaponry. So with Downpour, we decided that Murphy should only be able to arm himself with what he can carry in his hands. With the exception of firearms, which Murphy can hold one in his waistband, while simultaneously carrying a melee weapon in his hands. Firearms and ammo are precious in Downpour, there isn’t a whole lot of guns just laying around the environments, so when the player stumbles across one they should hold onto it. As far as “a more action oriented approach”, Downpour is actually paced to a much slower burn than say Homecoming for example, so I would definitely not qualify Downpour as more action oriented than past SH games. We focused a lot of energy on atmosphere, and the feeling of isolation, as opposed to combat and action.
AMANDA: In the game, Murphy occasionally has to quickly escape the dreaded Otherworld before being consumed by a deadly ball of energy. Where did the inspiration for the Otherworld come from?
DEVIN: It came from Shattered Memories, as you know that game had no actual combat as all the enemies were invincible. Instead we relied on playing upon the players fears of being chased and killed, with nightmare sequences where they would have to run away or hide from creatures. Fans really enjoyed that experience, but we quickly found out that a good majority of them still wanted combat as well. So with Downpour, we wanted to give them elements of both.
AMANDA: Well, the Silent Hill series is well known for its inclusion of ingenious puzzle design. How difficult is it to create so many unique puzzles for each game? How does puzzle design rank in difficulty when compared to designing other parts of the game?
DEVIN: It’s very difficult, we utilized focus testing for many of our puzzle designs to find out which were too hard, too easy, unintuitive, etc. So ultimately we decided upon implementing the classic difficulty level option that fans were familiar with from the original Silent Hill games. This was received very well by the core fans and mainstream as well. Those who want to delve into more difficult puzzles and use their brain more during gameplay can select the hard difficulty setting, or those who want a less cerebral experience have the option of easy or normal puzzles.
AMANDA: Silent Hill Downpour will be the eighth major installment to the Silent Hill series. So when it is all said and done, what do you hope will be the lasting impact that Silent Hill Downpour leaves on the series?
DEVIN: Ultimately , I hope that Silent Hill Downpour can just be appreciated on it’s own merits, and not held against the ultimate nostalgic comparisons to the original SH games. As you mentioned, it’s the 8th installment, so we’re in a bit of a catch 22 where if we branch out too far and make something totally unique (ala Shattered Memories), some of the more vocal diehard fans complain that “this isn’t Silent Hill!”. On the flipside, if we try to emulate the experience of the original games too closely, we get dinged for being antiquated, or not innovative enough for the mainstream fans. We know we can never please everyone, but hopefully with Downpour we can please a good amount of old and new fans alike.
AMANDA: This month will see three different Silent Hill releases in consecutive weeks in a wonderful marketing campaign designed by Konami. How long were these releases planned in this fashion, and was there any pressure to finish you games in time? Also, have you ever been involved in a more important promotion than this one in your career?
DEVIN: Hahaha, “pressure”? No never, of course not… there’s never any pressure in software development, not sure where you would get that idea. Truth be told, this marketing campaign was derived out of the unfortunate slippage of Downpour's original release date , which was originally supposed to be October of 2011. I think it could potentially be a blessing in disguise though, as there were some extremely heavy hitters that shipped during that original launch window, so it’s nice that we have a chance to shine in a much less crowded space. I’ve been producing games for over a decade now, and I can say I’ve never experienced a fanbase as vocal and rabid as the Silent Hill fans, so the importance level is extremely high. As I mentioned above, there’s no way we’ll ever please everyone, but I think the more open-minded fans will be very happy with Downpour.
AMANDA: You've been a major contributor to the gaming industry for a long time even dating back to your time with Midway in the late 1990s early 2000s. What would you say was your favorite project to be a part of during your career and why?
DEVIN: This may not be the most politically correct answer, but my favorite project I ever worked on was the NHL Hitz series. Along with the horror genre, I’ve always been a big fan of sports games as well. And while I’m not a seriously die-hard Hockey fan, I think the sport lends itself very well to an over-the-top, arcade style, video game such as NHL Hitz. I mean who wouldn’t love checking someone over the boards and through the plexiglass, shattering it into the crowd. Not to mention, it was my first foray into production, and not only did I learn a lot, but it was also really fun to work on. As a developer, I also got to have my own character implemented into one of the secret teams. So to this day, I still have the occasional random person come up to me at E3 (or other events) and say they remember me in NHL Hitz.
Silent Hill Downpour definitely comes in at a close second though. It’s been a very interesting experience dealing first hand with the Silent Hill fanbase, and while it’s been filled with challenges, I’ve really enjoyed working on this title a lot.
AMANDA: There is always plenty of interesting new things to talk about in the gaming universe. This year alone will see the release of two major consoles in the Playstation Vita and Wii U. Of course, there is always complaints, murmurs and rumors to go along with the good news. In your opinion, what is the state of the gaming world?
DEVIN: It’s a very interesting time in the industry right now. With the influx of social gaming, there seems to be a significant branching of strategic direction by many companies. Many of which are taking great lengths to solidify themselves within the social space, while a few others continue to push forward in the console market and are having great success with less competition. As a whole, there seems to be a much more careful approach to console game publishing now, with fewer (but bigger budget) titles being released. I think ultimately that is a good thing for the consumer, because it provides a greater emphasis on quality vs. quantity. Whereas in the social space, it seems to be the opposite. There are a ton of companies trying to find that next “Farmville” and cash in on the more mainstream audience with less costly game development budgets. It should be really interesting to see how the game industry evolves over the next few years with the next generation of consoles on the horizon, and the introduction of the Apple TV.
AMANDA: I'm going to go ahead and assume that the Silent Hill series is your favorite gaming franchise, but I want you to tell me what games you're currently playing in your free time that are not named Silent Hill. Also, what are some of your favorite non-Silent Hill games of all-time?
DEVIN: I think my favorite non-Silent Hill game of all time is Red Dead Redemption. I’m a sucker for Westerns, and Red Dead hit the mark on the open world game design, the beautiful art style, and the magnificent audio. I’m currently playing NBA 2K12, Batman Arkham City, Gears of War 3, and I’ve got Mass Effect 3 at the top of my ‘next game’ list, once I get the time to fully throw myself into it.
AMANDA: I know you're a busy man, but what do you when you're not creating or playing video games? Do you have any other projects you're currently working on that you'd like to tell us about?
DEVIN: When I’m not working, I’m spending time with my family. I’m also an avid reader; I love to read horror and sci-fi novels. I try to play golf at least once a month, and I’m a huge fan of Yoga. Currently at work, I’m focused solely on wrapping up Silent Hill Book of Memories for the Playstation Vita, and doing interviews for SH Downpour and HD Collection. That pretty much consumes all of my time.
Dread Central would like to thank Devin Shatsky and Konami for their time and attention in bringing you this great interview.
Silent Hill Downpour was released on March 13, 2012, as the first game in Konami's promotion featuring three consecutive weeks of great games. The game follows new protagonist Murphy Pendleton as a strange series of events lands him in the cursed town of Silent Hill. The game will feature many firsts for the series, as the teams behind the game are constantly working hard to bring the fans a new and entertaining experience every time they pick up a new Silent Hill game.
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