Chronic In Game: Silent Hill, when technical limitations become a force
Like every Wednesday, find In Game today, your chronicle that lingers on a sequence or a scene of a game in order to explain the springs, whether they relate to its narration or its mechanics. For this twenty-fourth issue, we focus on the first Silent Hill and the way it bypasses the technical limitations of the PS1. And the strongest thing is that the whole thing increases the anxiety and became cult afterwards.
When we talk about survival horror, and we often mention two names: Resident Evil, and of course, Silent Hill. The first episode was released in 1999 on PS1 and participated in building a whole genre, based on psychological fear. And for this founding component, we follow the adventures of Harry, an ordinary man in search of his daughter Cheryl, lost after a car accident. The rest, you already know it! The accident took place near Silent Hill, a mysterious city where monsters, occult rites, and fog reign. It’s also this mist that jumps out at you from the first moments of play. When Harry gets out of the car, he finds himself in the middle of a crossroads, lost in the middle of nowhere.
And if the fog is there, it is not by chance! Thanks to him, the PS1 manages to turn a real little open world, without ending up on the kneecaps. Indeed, the thick pea puree is above all a misery mask that camouflages the appearance of the decor. The proof in pictures: clever little ones removed the fog to see what it really was. And for the interior of buildings or night scenes, it’s the same thing, except that it is darkness that hides what appears. The illusion is perfect: Silent Hill gives the impression of being in one piece despite the power of PS1. But that’s not the only purpose of fog.
As Akira Yamaoka, composer and sound designer of all Silent Hill except the last one put it, the other role of this mist is to be “the main element around which the game develops”. Indeed, before knowing the title on the tips of the fingers, the player will be completely disoriented by the smoke screen, which will put his imagination to the test. “What is hidden at the end of this alley? Are we going in the right direction? What is that noise? ”These are the kinds of questions we often ask ourselves, even when looking at the map. The mist adds tension and participates in the horrible and claustrophobic atmosphere of Silent Hill.
It even became a signature element of the series, which we find in the most recent episodes. And if the PS2 and PS3 were not right about this fog, it is simply because the combination works, and that it naturally inspires worry and fear. Keiichiro Toyama, who made the first Silent Hill, cites David Lynch as his main inspiration. And in Twin Peaks for example, the famous director did not go with his hand on the pea puree …
Note that the fog is not the only element that makes the game more enjoyable while enhancing the atmosphere. It’s also the effect of a filter that gives noise to the image, which has also become a recurring gimmick in Silent Hill. It was originally used to camouflage unsightly polygons, but unfortunately is less visible with the HD versions of the games.
If at the time, you had to be tricky to get around the technical limitations of the PS1, there is something else that can cause fear without mobilizing a lot of resources: the soundscape. We were talking about it earlier, it is to Akira Yamaoka that we owe the sound design of Silent Hill. His work has been called “twisted familiarity” by Keith Stuart, a British journalist. And I find the expression particularly well chosen. Indeed, Yamaoka relies on everyday noises to inspire anxiety: like jail, squeaks, bells or even clocks.
Not to mention the famous interference noise that Harry’s radio emits to announce the arrival of the monsters. Besides, if it is sometimes difficult to spot a monster in the fog, the radio makes the fighting less frustrating, by limiting the deaths by surprise attack. Good after, it remains a warning sign of danger, and therefore something scary. Especially since, like fog, interference noise is synonymous with fear because it has been used as such in the past.. This is especially what we hear when approaching ghosts in Poltergeist, directed by Tobe Hooper in 1982.
In fact, it is really this combination of fog and sound-design that makes the atmosphere of Silent Hill so special. But there is still a little find that works wonders. I was saying earlier that the fog makes the player’s imagination work because he’s constantly trying to find out what’s beyond. And it’s also something that manages to do the buildings that we visit, be it the Midwich School or the Alchemilla Hospital. More precisely in these buildings, it is the doors that are important. There are everywhere, all the time: some are of course open, but there are especially many that are closed.
Silent Hill fans are well aware of the phrases “The lock is broken” “This door is blocked” or “This door cannot be opened”. Even if these doors are closed, they are indicated black on white on the map of the places, which gives them a proper existence. And when the player begins his exploration, he has absolutely no idea which doors are closed and which are open. At first glance, a building may seem like a very long time to explore, while the visit will actually end quickly. But that, no way of knowing in advance.
So there you have it, it’s by these kinds of tricks that Silent Hill manages to reconcile its ambitions with the low power of the PS1. And even 20 years later, the title is still as scary.
Through Indee, Journalist jeuxvideo.com MP