Silent Hills: Hideo Kojima’s Great Horror Game That May Never Be

With Hideo Kojima's future at Konami no longer viable, what will happen to Silent Hills, his great horror game to be?

Editor’s Note: Hideo Kojima’s future with the Silent Hill franchise is in question after this week’s news break that the developer would be leaving Konami after a fallout.

Although he will finish Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, it is not clear whether he will move forward with Silent Hills, which was supposed to be his next game with Kojima Productions (which has ceased to exist as of yesterday). We thought we’d once again feature this essay from last August in order to a) discuss what makes Kojima so unique, and b) show you what a shame it would be to end this game’s development. Enjoy.

Hideo Kojima needs no introduction in the video game world. 

The video game auteur has been making his very own style of video games for a very long time. What might seem like a straight stealth-action military simulator at first is really an exercise in genre-mixing. With Kojima, you get action, scifi, western, and a large dose of horror. In fact, some might say that Kojima has been contributing to the horror genre for years. But that’s something I’ll discuss in a few minutes.

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Creator of the Metal Gear series, the stealth-action game franchise that stands as one of the best in history, Kojima is a respected artist in Japan and the Western world. 

Perhaps it’s Kojima’s loyalty to his creation that has earned him so much success. Since 1987, Kojima has been at the helm of Metal Gear — with only brief stints with other games, such as Zone of the Enders and Policenauts. He has directed all of the Metal Gear games on consoles and handhelds with the exception of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, The Twin Snakes, Acid, and the unofficial Snake’s Revenge

That’s 10 entries, including the upcoming Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain. Every single successful game in the series has benefited from Kojima’s close attention and loving care. Like a diligent parent — and it’s no wonder the Metal Gear games lean so heavily on the theme of fatherhood — Kojima only wants what’s best for his baby.

It’s no secret that Kojima is a helicopter parent. He has trouble leaving his baby in stranger’s hands. He tried to end the francise at several points, notably after MGS 2, MGS 3, and MGS 4. He called each installment the end of the story — the protagonists even have their walking off into the sunset moment at the end of each game. He made a fitting end out of all of them, but still the series has continued. As long as Metal Gear continues to make zillions of dollars for Konami, the story will never end.

Kojima even tried stepping down as director after MGS 3, handing responsibility to Shuyo Murata — his co-writer on past installments — but after much public outcry (which included death threats), Kojima was basically forced to return for MGS 4 in 2008. In 2010, he created Peacewalker, the game that truly moved the series forward in terms of gameplay, and now he’s back yet again with The Phantom Pain, the game he says he was born to make. Unsurprisingly, it will also be his last Metal Gear game.

Can there ever be a BIG Metal Gear game without Kojima? I think we’re going to find out very soon. 

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Roll your eyes, sure, but then take a deep breath. For the first time since MGS 4, it’s a distinct possibility that Kojima will once and for all leave the series behind.

I say this with trepidation and almost-certainty, thanks to Gamescom 2014 and a little demo called The P.T.that mysteriously appeared on the PSN during the convention.

The P.T., which stands for “playable teaser,” revealed itself as a promo for the next Silent Hill game, titled Silent Hills, helmed by (you guessed it) Hideo Kojima, along with Guillermo del Toro, and starring Norman Reedus. This undoubtedly is the sign that Kojima is finally ready for move on.

It’s hard to decide which is the more glaring name in the credits. While I’ve decided to focus on Kojima’s involvement in the project, I won’t ignore his partner. Guillermo del Toro has been trying to make a game for a while. Insane, his debut video game project, has hit a pretty big wall after THQ closed its doors in 2013. Looking at early promos from Insane, one thing is clear: the guy wants to make a survival horror game. It’s a match made in heaven, really. 

Pan’s Labyrinth does it for me, and it’s not far from what Silent Hill is all about, so cheers to del Toro and what he does best. I do think Kojima will carry most of the weight during production, but del Toro can write a wickedly fun dark fantasy narrative that will at once horrify and mesmerize. His work with CGI is also legendary. And if you can’t give the guy a Silent Hill movie (why would he want one), let him make the new game. This is going to be one sexy-looking Silent Hill game. Also, expect a faun or two.

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Not much to say about Reedus except that he’s a horror superstar. Give him any sharp weapon, and he’ll look good. His blue collar style on the show and in real life gives him the traditional everyman look that is a requirement for a Silent Hill protagonist. And he’s a video game veteran. He reprised his role as Daryl Dixon for The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, a first-person shooter based on the TV series. But I’m pretty sure everyone wants to forget that game. 

Ever since finishing work on the Fox Engine (Konami’s brand-new game engine), Kojima has been teasing his involvement with the next Silent Hill game.

In 2012, Kojima told Eurogamer that Konami had offered him the job:

“In the past I’ve mentioned Silent Hill in interviews, and as a result of that the president of Konami rung me up and said he’d like me to make the next Silent Hill,” Kojima revealed today.

“Honestly, I’m kind of a scaredy-cat when it comes to horror movies, so I’m not confident I can do it. At the same time, there’s a certain type of horror that only people who are scared of can create, so maybe it’s something I can do.

“That said, I think Silent Hill has a certain atmosphere. I think it has to continue, and I’d love to help it continue, and if I can help by supervising or lending the technology of the Fox Engine, then I’d love to participate in that respect.”

With such big names attached to Silent Hills — the last few installments have been handed to smaller studios — this is the equivalent of an established comic book getting a new, all-star creative team. This is Grant Morrison taking over X-Menand hitting fans with his New X-Men run.

The Fox Engine will lend the series a new flavor, and Kojima and del Toro’s specific visions of what horror is — Kojima has, up until this point, focused on the psychological and supernatural, while del Toro has given us plenty of monsters to keep us up at night — will bring a new age of maturity to a series that has focused too closely on the cheap scare of late. 

Although del Toro’s horror resume pretty much speaks for itself, Kojima’s horror work might not be as apparent. But that’s because the video game auteur has never made a straight horror game. Genre-mixing has always been Metal Gear‘s strong suit — action, science fiction, horror, and western molded together to create the Kojima signature experience. He’s basically the Tarantino of video games, the video game Haruki Murakami of Japan.

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Add to that list: the next master of video game horror.

Like Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil), Keiichiro Toyama (Silent Hill), and Frederick Raynal (Alone in the Dark) before him, Kojima takes a step into the dark, menacing hallway. If The P.T., which takes place in a haunted house full of cryptic messages and paranormal activity, is any indication, Kojima will add survival horror classicist to his resume.

The survival horror genre has been pretty polarized in terms of execution lately. You have the Resident Evil approach — a larger focus on action than horror — and the Amnesia approach — no combat, just run and hide. Silent Hill has tried to be both of these games at different points in its later life. Konami seemed to have forgotten the days of Team Silent, when both approaches were married to create the perfect balance of psychological horror, puzzle-solving, and monster-killing. 

The P.T. presents a game that takes the genre back to basics: tension, environmental horror, and puzzle-solving. And at the forefront of Kojima’s vision, pure desperation to survive. 

The MG series has allowed him a lot of time for practice. Kojima has been pushing the limits of what he can do with a military simulator for years, and horror has always been a big part of his design.

If you’ve ever fought a boss in a MG game, you’re familiar with Kojima’s use of psychological and environmental horror — the peak of the stealth-action experience. Oh, did you finish sneaking past an entire enemy battalion through an area with little cover? Here’s a small cabin with a crazy laughing, shape-shifting octopus girl to scare the shit out of you. 

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Laughing Octopus preys on you by blending into your surroundings, striking when you least expect it. Her shrill cackle echoes through the long cabin hallways.

The Beauty and the Beast Corps, which also includes Screaming Mantis — who uses mind control on the battlefield — aren’t the only monstrous enemies in the series. 

MGS 3 amplifies the horror of the jungle — Snake has to fight his way past soldiers, booby traps, and wild animals already — by throwing in a rogue group of Franken-soldiers into the wild. With bosses such as The End, The Fear, The Fury, The Pain, and The Sorrow — the last of which is spirirt of a deceased medium — Snake stumbles deeper into the rabbit hole (like the little girl who crawls deeper into the world of Pan’s Labyrinth— Jesus, ever think about how many works of horror/fantasy Alice in Wonderland has inspired?)

Metal Gear seems to exist on two planes — the real world and the supernatural — seamlessly switching back and forth like Silent Hill‘s Otherworld.

Toyama’s original design for Silent Hill was cyclical — a sharp change between fog and shadow when the clock hit 12, shoving you into the most unfavorable situations level after level. Kojima’s design for Silent Hills isn’t that different.

The demo traps us in a house that seems to change on a whim, forcing you through an endless loop of the same two hallways. Through some combination of puzzle-solving and luck(?), the hallways change. Since its arrival last week, no one has really been able to pinpoint how the demo works. This Kotaku article compiles all the fan theories. And this one discusses the connections between The P.T. and the series

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You begin the demo in a room and slowly make your way through the house — a door opens behind you, a phone rings, a television turns itself on, a creature waits for you on the other end of the hallway, a ghost follows you around the house. You step into the Otherworld, the hallways turns blue, green, red. What looks like an aborted baby talks to you from a bathroom sink.

But the house isn’t as alarming as the rules of the demo. Playing The P.T. is stepping into the unknown and never experiencing the same thing twice. But at the end of the little game, it is always the same outcome: the screen fades and you’re back in the same room where you started the demo. And you can go through the house again, only this time you hear the soft footsteps of a ghost behind you, then she’s breathing on your neck — and again, this time you wake up in the room, but all the lights have turned red — and again, this time you’re not accosted at all, but you walk around in circles for an hour because nothing you do will cue the next sequence in the game. Then the in-game phone rings. You pick up. And then —

Again. Tumbling deeper down the rabbit hole. 

Games have spent days playing the demo and discussing it in forums, as an entire community dissects all of the demo’s secrets and patterns. What they’ve discovered is that there is NO obvious pattern — or at least no one has been clever enough to figure it out. 

And so this is perhaps Kojima’s grand design for his brand of horror: collective obsession. Much like the everyman protagonists of past Silent Hill games have searched for their loved ones, so do we search for the answer to The P.T.

Kojima revealed during Gamescom that some instances in the game can only be cued by streaming the demo on Twitch, and that the community would have to work together to solve the puzzles thereafter. How’s that for fostering collective obsession?

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And so far, it’s worked.

Like the town of Silent Hill, Kojima plays a game with the audience, leading us in whichever direction he sees fit, until we learn the lesson he’s set out for us. Until then, we’ll all still be wondering about Silent Hills. I can’t help but be excited about what he will do with the series.