RPGamer Feature - Silent Hill: Book of Memories Interview with Adam Tierney and Tomm Hulett
Silent Hill: Book of Memories
Developer: WayForward Technologies
Publisher: Konami Digital Entertainment
Release Date: 10.16.2012

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It's been a big year for fans of Silent Hill. With the release of Silent Hill: Downpour, the bundling of two classics in the HD Collection, and the upcoming cinematic release of Silent Hill: Revelation 3D, you might think that we had seen the last of the franchise for a while. However, WayForward Technologies and Konami Digital Entertainment have been hard at work in developing something new to the Silent Hill universe: a dungeon crawler with plenty of fanservice and potentially hundreds of hours worth of gameplay. RPGamer recently had the opportunity to chat with WayForward's Adam Tierney and Konami's Tomm Hulett about this upcoming PlayStation Vita release.

Trent Seely (RPGamer): Greetings Adam and Tomm, and thank you for taking the time out to chat with us about Silent Hill: Book of Memories.

The series is no stranger to spin-offs and twists to the traditional survival horror formula, but I doubt many gamers expected an entry to be planned as a dungeon crawler. How did you come to settle on this gameplay style?
Tomm Hulett (Producer): We wanted to make a Silent Hill game created specifically for the strengths of the Vita platform, so things like portability and multiplayer took on extreme importance. Players needed to be able to drop in, get a satisfying experience, and then jump out in short bursts — maybe if they're playing in the car with a friend driving, or on the bus, or something like that. This also meant we had to rely less on the slow build horror the franchise is known for and take that atmosphere into a more action-y gameplay style so those short bursts would be satisfying and meaningful to players. Through experimentation with different storylines and tech prototypes, we settled on something with a little action, a little RPG, and a little randomness — a dungeon crawler.

All that said, I play my Vita and 3DS games at home, on the couch, and sometimes in the dark with headphones on, so Book of Memories is just as ideal for that situation. The gameplay is not segmented into "mission" fragments, so you won't feel like youíre being shortchanged if you game in two hour sessions (which is more likely the case if youíre taking advantage of multiplayer).

Adam Tierney (Director): The structure of the game, an endless dungeon crawler with a focus on multiplayer and RPG stats, was already established when WayForward came aboard. From there, it was mostly about working with Konami to plan out a game that worked within that structure, but also felt true to the Silent Hill series at large. A lot of the more diehard fans have been surprised or even shocked by the game at first glance, but once you get a chance to sit down and really put some time into the game you get a better sense of all the layers and how it ties into the series. It's not, as some people have assumed, an unrelated dungeon crawler that has the Silent Hill name tossed on it. The game was always firmly rooted in the world and sensibilities of Silent Hill, and we're starting to see people come around to that idea — especially since the demo's been released.

TS: The term 'dungeon crawler' is a bit loaded. We all love hack n' slash titles, but WayForward is known for bringing some pretty deep, non-traditional gameplay to the table. How does Book of Memories differentiate itself from other dungeon crawlers on the market?
AT: Since this game was a genre shift for the Silent Hill series, we knew that this would be the first dungeon crawler for many fans. So, our focus was on making something very accessible to those unfamiliar with these types of games, while at the same time ensuring it was well tied into Silent Hill. I don't mean to imply that the game is shallow, because there are many, many systems with a great amount of depth to them, but in typical Silent Hill fashion many of those are not immediately apparent. I think it's a game that someone new to the genre can dive into and enjoy without having mastered Diablo, previously. It's hopefully less overwhelming than some of the more established RPGs and dungeon crawlers might be for someone unfamiliar with those types of games.

TH: This is Silent Hill, so there's a bit more emphasis on story than your typical roguelikes (NetHack, Mystery Dungeon, etc.).

TS: The series has always done a great job at making you uncomfortably conscious of your limited inventory and inducing feelings of guilt after the use of every bullet. These feelings are usually compounded when you find yourself frantically trying to beat creatures away with a blunt object. Considering the loot-based genre of Book of Memories, how did you decide how best to handle limited ammunition versus melee combat?
AT: Everything's still pretty limited. The demo doesn't give the best impression of this, because those first two zones are all about learning the ropes of gameplay. So there's an abundance of weapons, ammo, and items, and not too many enemies or hazards. As gamers get deeper into the game, though — especially if they speed through and don't adequately level up — they'll have to rely much more on item conservation to survive. You can purchase backpack upgrades, which allow you to bank weapons and store more of each item, but we never wanted players to feel overly-comfortable with their resources. The average player will find themselves down to their fists pretty regularly, I think.

TH: I find — if I play through quickly — I'm running out of weapons by Zone 3. Of course you can purchase bigger backpacks to hold more stuff, but the enemies scale up in difficulty as well so sooner or later players will be forced to make tough decisions. Iím actually eager to hop into some multiplayer games and see how players are dividing responsibilities, weapons, and such.

TS: Unlike other Silent Hill titles where weíre thrust into the role of a character with an established personality and backstory, Book of Memories allows the creation of a player character. What is the creation system like and how does it affect the narrative?
TH: Something else we wanted to accomplish — since the Vita is a very 'personal' console, being portable and everything — was to make this the player's journey through Silent Hill. When they turn on the Vita, they should feel like they are descending into the Nightmare world. Obviously, the place to start with this concept is allowing them to create their in-game avatar. Beyond that, the plot is written to echo events that should be familiar to players, so they can immerse themselves in the characters they've created. Multiplayer should feel like experiencing the nightmare with people they know, which makes the plot ramifications unsettling.

AT: How you create your character has subtle effects on gameplay. For one, the class you select will determine not just your appearance, but your character's voice as well — during all cinematics and gameplay. Each character has 18 VO call-outs (triggered with the D-Pad) that players can use during gameplay to communicate with one another ("you go ahead," "give me some ammo," "yes," "no" — that kind of stuff). The game has full VOIP audio communication as well, but these VO clips are a great way for players to 'stay in character' and also allow players that don't speak the same language to coordinate their efforts.

TH: Random note I haven't seen people notice from the demo: the dialogue is recorded in every language the game's been localized for. Not just subtitles here; new actors for every language.

TS: With a title like 'Book of Memories,' one has to assume that the book is pretty central to the game's events. Share with us how the book factors into the story and gameplay and how the idea for it came about.
TH: The Book was a convenient hub/explanation for a lot of the gameplay systems we were designing. The Book of Lost Memories is a big part of Silent Hill lore, so I decided that there must be a Book of Memories itself — which became our tentative title, but stuck and eventually became official. Many of our initial plot ideas sprang from this concept. Eventually, we settled on the one that seemed most compelling: what if it was a literal book of memories; a person's life story. Writing in [the book] may actually change history and therein the present. How would that affect a life? A reality?

From that story premise we designed an entire story system, which gives the players hints as to how they are changing reality and allows canny players the ability to alter and change events — altering even story elements they've already seen/collected. Our entire story system is malleable and while it's fine to play through once and get an ending, completionist gamers (none of them in the RPG set, amirite?) will want to crack this system wide open and solve every single ending requirement. Almost as if they were "rewriting" a Book of Memories of their very own.

AT: I love how married the story and the gameplay are in this game, which I think most players won't immediately realize. As you play through each zone, you collect a bunch of notes that tie back into what's being affected in the real world. However, what you're doing in the game is actually determining which notes you're receiving. Once you figure out the parameters for affecting that, you can effectively decide what types of notes you want to collect and that in turn affect the story, the endings, and your character's entire world. These aren't overly abstract conditions either (like some of the ending parameters in Silent Hill 2). As Tomm mentioned, if you're observant, you'll find all the information you need to control your outcomes right in the game.

TS: Most dungeon crawlers feature an economy system. What can we expect to see in Book of Memories in terms of stores and currency? How were these balanced to support multiplayer?
AT: The game's currency are memories — specifically 'Memory Residue' or MR. Thematically, it's a substance that's left over when memories are changed through the book. Functionally, it's our game's gold. Players can earn MR by finding it on the ground, in drawers, clearing a room of all enemies, and solving puzzles without using the hint system.

There's a shop room in each zone where players can purchase weapons, items, outfit accessories, and upgrades by spending the MR they've collected. They can also unload those same items to gain MR back from Howard [the ominous postman seen in Silent Hill: Downpour and Silent Hill: Past Life], although at a reduced rate, of course.

The items in Howard's shop range from cheap and readily-available, to pricey and rare (only found in specific zones). Since MR is reset along with everything else each time a zone is restarted, players can grind to build up their funds if they've got their eye on something specific. We wanted to provide players with a lot of options for what they want to do in the game and what their gameplay focus is.

TS: From what we've seen so far, it's clear that we'll be seeing many of the important creatures in the series, but will any of the franchise's principle characters being making a cameo?
TH: While your direct interactions with existing characters are limited (examples include Howard and Valtiel, as previously revealed), more will definitely tie into the storyline/lore you discover. Every single game is accounted for — some in surprising ways. There are plenty of cameos and if you have a favorite element within the Silent Hill universe itís likely in Book of Memories somewhere.

TS: WayForward has a history of interesting boss fights. What can gamers expect from Book of Memories' major enemy encounters? Any boss fights you are particularly proud of?
AT: Oh yeah, the bosses in this game are pretty WayForward-y, which is to say they're big, epic, and pattern-based. I'm very proud of how they came out. They provide a nice variety of gameplay styles, working well for both single and multiplayer, and each boss really has their own distinct personality. My favorites are probably the Blood Guardian (because she feels purely Silent Hill in design) and the Light Guardian (which is a pretty unique, bizarre battle).

TH: ...which is appropriate, given Blood and Light as two of the 'big' elements featured in the game. It's also worth noting the opportunities that arise by using pre-existing Silent Hill monsters outside of their games' boundaries. Sure, Pyramid Head is scary on his own in Silent Hill 2ís context, but Book of Memories allows you to wander into a room and get flanked by three Pyramid Head. Alternatively, you could have a Silent Hill 4 ghost barreling down a hallway at you, causing you to run face-first into a schism horde. Fun stuff.

AT: Each of those enemies features a nice blend of nostalgia (to how they behaved in the previous games) and new gameplay adjustments that work well for a game in this perspective. The Insane Cancers, for example, stumble around ground-slamming, and even regain their health while lying on the ground (as they did on Silent Hill 3), but now when they die they explode — simply because having an enemy that explodes upon death works great to catch players off guard when they're battling a dozen enemies in a cramped room. I really love what some of the enemies have evolved into for this game, like the Butcher who stops being a slow alternate Pyramid Head and is actually much faster, angrier, and aggressive in our game.

TS: One great thing about dungeon crawlers is their level of replay value. How much content can gamers expect once they've completed the main narrative and how is that handled in multiple playthroughs?
AT: Konami asked WayForward to give them an "endless" game and we did our damnedest. The game never actually 'ends' and I think there's probably a good 50+ hours of objectives, gameplay, and introduction of elements to keep gamers interested (before you've really seen and experienced everything).

The game's also got a robust checklist system for each of the key elements: enemies, artifacts, weapons, story notes, TV broadcasts, and special rooms. As you encounter, use, or kill each of these, they're ticked off on your checklists (which are tied into the game's trophies). The Bestiary checklist in particular is like this wonderful, evil version of a Pokťdex and it'll take gamers ages to completely fill it. The game has a few dozen enemies and bosses. Those are then multiplied by the three alignments (Blood, Light, Steel) and then each of the standard enemies can have up to two different rarity modifiers. So for example, you might encounter a "Dark Combustible Blood Nurse" and that'll have its own checkboxes in the Bestiary.

Speaking of trophies, the game has a ton of them, with a good variety of both short and long term goals. There are over 50 trophies in the base game. Dead Rising was hugely influential in how they were able to extend gameplay (enjoyably, not artificially) through clever and fun trophies, and we took a very similar approach with Book of Memories.

TH: ...and then obviously the story notes need to be manipulated all sorts of ways if you want to experience every ending (and there are several). There is plenty to see and do in Book of Memories, and we're hoping the multiplayer catches on so everyone can do it together.

TS: Talk a little on the RPG aspects of the game.
AT: Book of Memories is a full-featured RPG, although everything is run thematically through the Silent Hill filter. Your character has six different stats: strength, dexterity, agility, intelligence, mind, and vitality. You begin at LVL 1 with each of these stats, and as you destroy creatures and accomplish tasks in the game, you earn EXP. When your EXP meter fills up, your character levels up, and you're able to allocate two stat points to any of those categories.

The stats in this game affect the obvious (like your damage and resistance to damage), as well as other unique features (like trap spring time, running speed, and dodge distance). All weapons in the game fall into one of three categories — melee, projectile, and wildcard — which are enhanced by different stats. So players that love swinging blades, for example, will end up feeding more points into their DEX than their AGI or INT. These stats also feed into the likelihood of critical strikes and breaking through enemy shields.

Weapons are leveled up through use, which can be checked on from the Weapons page of the book. As your character levels up, the maximum LVL for each weapon is increased as well. Weapons are also appropriate to particular character levels, based on the zones they debut in. So even if you're clever enough to hop into your buddy's Zone 50 game and snatch a few Great Knives for yourself, you'll end up missing enemies quite a bit if you're not adequately leveled yourself to use that weapon.

We also have 'artifacts' in the game, which is basically our armor system. These are odd little trinkets that your character stuffs in their pockets and they protect them or affect their stats (like talismans). You begin the game with two artifact slots, but as your character levels up you'll eventually have up to eight. Each artifact affects up to three stats, and not always positively (so equipping a particular item might increase your VIT but reduce your STR and DEX).

The type of character the player selects (jock, bookworm, goth, etc.) affects what type of slots you have available. Each slot has one of the six stats labeled atop it. Any artifact can go into any slot, but when you place an artifact in a slot that shares one of its stats, that stat effect will get a boost. It's sort of like a class system; the jock's initial stats favor STR and DEX, while the bookworms favor MND and INT.

And of course, everything in the game — all enemies, hazards, challenges, and bosses — scale based on zone depth. So as you travel deeper into the dungeon, everything gets more powerful and harder to kill. It's on the player to make sure they've adequately leveled up their character to take on those challenges. Like any RPG, if you rush through the game too quickly you'll have a much tougher time down the line (even with basic enemies).

There are a lot of additional state-related elements on top of this, like the alignment system, which compares your current alignment (essentially morality) against the enemies around you, to affect their damage and health values. There's also an elemental system to all worlds and weapons, making particular weapons more effective in certain areas. Also, at the start of the game you select a charm, which acts like a sort of permanent artifact.

Everything in the game was constructed to allow players to tackle each zone using the play style they prefer and discover what approach works best for them and their friends.

TS: What have been the pros and cons for developing for PlayStation Vita? How challenging was creating a portable game with four-player cooperative play?
AT: It was daunting, for sure. Most of the games WayForward has produced have been single-player experiences, so creating something that worked for up to four players with any blend of local and online, but would also feel great as a single-player game, was definitely a challenge. But the game was always planned with that focus, so we kept it in mind as we made every decision on the game and it worked out well.

All data is saved to the character, so when players team up, they retain their accomplishments, stats, and possessions, whether they want to stick together, play with a different group, or play by themselves later on.

Many of our systems (such as how death works and the Karma Abilities) have a strong multiplayer focus. Although you can take advantage of these systems while playing solo, when you play with your buddies there's incentive to assist one another and each take a different 'role' for the group (the healer, the tank, etc.).

TS: A lot of the atmosphere usually present in Silent Hill titles comes from not knowing exactly what is going on at all times. Where Book of Memories features a top-down isometric view, what have you done to crank up the suspense?
TH: Well, the first order of business was to ensure the Silent Hill atmosphere was intact. Since we clearly can't have the player wandering down a hallway with creepy noises and no monsters for 10 minutes to preface a big scare, we at least have to nail the ambiance so players feel they truly are in the Silent Hill world. If we achieve that, it allows us to tweak the other details (like the camera, the gameplay, etc.) and take Book of Memories places that Silent Hill hasn't traditionally gone.

AT: With a greater focus on action and a faster pace, the player is certainly more empowered in Book of Memories than they typically are in Silent Hill titles, but that's due to the fact that you're playing these zones in your dreams (and we are very different people in our dreams).

To keep the suspense and fear, we put a great deal of focus on enemy subtleties. Even though you can more easily see most (not all) enemies, that doesn't mean you'll immediately have them figured out. There are many strange intricacies to each enemy, so players will still have that sense of unease and frustration when dealing with them. It's also a frequently dark game and you can only see enemies within your narrow flashlight beam, although enemies can always see you (and will sometimes become more hostile when you have your light turned on).

The game also provides a far more aggressive experience. In previous Silent Hill games, you we're typically battling one or two enemies at a time in a tight hallway, but this is a dungeon-crawler, so you might be swarmed by a dozen enemies at once, all behaving in very different and complementary ways to keep things challenging and unpredictable. When you're locked in a challenge room, wailing away on Pyramid Head with a pipe that's about to break and a sliver of health left, that can be terrifying. Even if you make it out of that room, you still need to find a library or complete a puzzle to save your progress — otherwise everything you've accomplished since the last checkpoint is lost. It's certainly a different kind of fear and apprehension, but it's just as real and compelling.

TH: I've had some less-enthused gamers on my blog telling me that dungeon crawlers aren't scary, but they're wrong. The experience Adam just described is terrifying, especially in today's auto-save world where progress is never lost.

AT: This is potentially a very mean, heartbreaking game — just as any good Silent Hill should be.

TS: One of my favorite aspects of the Silent Hill series, which has been somewhat downplayed in recent entries, has been the iconic puzzles. What kind of mindbenders should gamers expect from Book of Memories? Some of the earlier stages featured relatively simple puzzles at the end in order to progress. How diverse are these?
TH: Puzzles are a critical Silent Hill element.

AT: Early in development, we researched the puzzles from every previous Silent Hill game, and boiled them down to what we felt were the basic underlying systems. We didn't want any puzzles in this game to be canned, where you could say, "Oh, I saw that one three zones back." So we constructed an organic puzzle system that has a variety of pieces, modifiers, quantities, and boards, which builds each puzzle randomly per zone. There's also an abstract, semi-helpful clue note that can be found in each zone, similar to the piano puzzle from the first Silent Hill. With the puzzles, we wanted to embrace the programmatic structure of everything else in the game, but also keep them feeling very true to previous Silent Hill puzzles.

TH: As I've mentioned, the story system itself is a giant puzzle. There are subtle clues woven into various notes you'll pick up that may seem harmless (a movie ticket stub, a note from Mom, etc.), but actually contain crucial information if you want to understand what the game is judging in that zone. Then, as you change it, the story becomes different and you have to deal with the person you just hurt or helped! It's the biggest most complex puzzle in the series.

AT: Yeah, there are a tremendous amount [of puzzles] in this game where I think players will say, "Oh, I didn't realize this affected that, and that changed this over here," and so on. There are a lot of structural intricacies and dependencies that gamers might not pick up on until they're several hours into the game. I can't wait to see the FAQs.

TS: Which Silent Hill title is your favorite and what elements do you think have been carried over into Book of Memories?
AT: As a complete product I still like Silent Hill 2 best, but I really love many of the individual elements from Silent Hill 3 and Shattered Memories. Heather is my favorite Silent Hill protagonist and many of our game's characters have the same young spirit that she did.

As far as what's been carried over into Book of Memories from the previous games, for me, the most critical thing was the flow and feel of everything. Even though Book of Memories is more action-focused and faster-paced than any previous Silent Hill game, we wanted each element in the game to be handled in a way that felt true to the series. The way camera transitions, how your character dies, the framing of everything. It was important for there to be a particular finesse and presentation to everything to keep it in the realm of Silent Hill.

TH: Rather than parrot Adam's Silent Hill 2 answer, I'll say that I really loved working on Shattered Memories and its complicated profile system. The sad part is that everything about it was so "behind the scenes" that people never really got to appreciate the work and intricacies that went into it. It seems like "just stare at ladies and you'll get the pervert ending," but the game is so much bigger than that!

I'm very proud of our story system in Book of Memories. Players who rush through will get a similar experience to Shattered Memories, feeling like the story was tailored to their actions. However, actually cracking that system open and figuring it out is the equivalent of decoding Shattered Memories in order to write a completionist FAQ (though we provide plenty of clues, of course). It's exciting to have a system like that, and inviting players to discover it on their own and "cheat" the game. Hopefully, people get really into it.

AT: Shattered Memories in particular was a very daring game, I felt. It tried many new things and set aside certain elements that gamers thought were absolutely critical to the series (like combat), but the game didn't end up lacking for them at all. Book of Memories is the next Silent Hill experiment.

TS: Any final words?
TH: There is so much fan service in this game that longtime fans won't know what to do with themselves. It truly is a celebration of 13 years of the best horror series around.

AT: This is a different kind of Silent Hill, but it's still very true to the series under the hood. Don't judge a book by its cover. Download the demo, give it a try, and see what you think.

RPGamer would like to thank Adam Tierney, Tomm Hulett, and the crew at Konami Digital Entertainment for helping to conduct this interview. Silent Hill: Book of Memories will be released October 16, 2012 — check out the official website for further details and media.

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