Learning the Lay of the Land – Silent Hill 2 by Mike Drucker and Boss Fight Books

I’ve known about Silent Hill’s existence for a solid chunk of my life, but I’ve never really given the series the time of day. It’s lived sort of on the periphery of my gaming awareness. I know about the Pyramid Head and the Bubble Head Nurse enemies because they were slapped on tee shirts. I also remember seeing ads with a frozen girl on a swing in Nintendo Power for Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.

I even completely forgot that Playable Teaser, aka PT, on the PS4 was actually a demo/concept for Silent Hills until Mike Drucker mentioned it near the end of his book calling PT “the second-best game in the entire series.” I guess I’ve played one of the best (and hardest to acquire) Silent Hill games then!

When Boss Fight Books put out a call for review copy requests , I decided to reach out. I’ve never played a full-blown Silent Hill game. I’ve also never reviewed a book before. So I decided to take out 1 1/2 birds with 1 stone (or is it two birds with half a stone?) and review Silent Hill 2 by Mike Drucker.

I was drawn specifically toward this book because of the contrast between the subject matter and the author himself. Mike Drucker is a writer and comedian and the idea of him writing about a horror video game is naturally enticing. I imagine that juxtaposition was a solid hook in the pitch: It certainly sunk its hook me in.

Small side tangent, my first memory of Mike Drucker was this tweet. It made me chuckle so much that I decided to make it the first quote in a note on my phone where I’d store favorite, well, quotes. I liked the tweet so much that I didn’t double check his name. Sorry Mike.

I was expecting a lighter jaunt through Silent Hill 2, where jokes and japes would guide me through a game and series I really knew nothing about. Maybe I should have retained what the back cover said,

“With an in-depth and highly personal study of its tragic cast of characters, and a critical examination of developer Konami’s world design and uneven marketing strategy, Drucker examines how Silent Hill 2 forces its players to grapple with the fact that very real-world terrors of trauma, abuse, shame, and guilt are far more threatening than any pyramid-headed monster could ever be.”

Drucker’s exploration of Silent Hill 2 is poignant. More than just cutting through the layers of fog that surround the game design, its characters, and reception, Drucker shares with us his own life experiences, giving Silent Hill 2 a tangible nature I never would have had from a YouTube breakdown or some forum post. It’s Drucker’s personal story and connection to the game that elevates my understanding of Silent Hill 2.

Konami’s team clearly had a bold vision of putting the story “on the stick,” an element of game design I am clearly fond of. What Silent Hill 2 did nearly 20 years ago is still talked about; not just in the context of the game itself and its apparently abysmal “remaster,” but also when games today strive to be more than reaching a flag or being the last character flossing on the map.

It sounds like the team used the new power of the PS2 not to make mind-blowing realistic graphics or a sweet, huge open haunted house, but used the computational power to restrain the player and rob the main character, James, of any sort of power.

“…Sacrificing gameplay for the sake of atmosphere During the opening of Silent Hill 2, you do… well, nothing. The ’survival’ part of ‘survival horror’ doesn’t start until later in the game than you’d expect.”

Silent Hill 2, however, takes its time. To Tsuboyama, creating a sense of place within the town of Silent Hill was far more important than emphasizing the dangers inherent in it. Not to mention that walking a long path through fog until you find yourself in a graveyard is a pretty strong symbol for death.”

I can’t help but compare what Silent Hill 2 goes for emotionally through the controller to what Naughty Dog attempted with The Last of Us Part II. These games sound like they weren’t inherently designed around being “fun” to play. They use gameplay to elevate engagement to serve the story.

“If we’re going to tell this story, we have to go there. We have to make you feel uncomfortable,” he explains. “We don’t use the word ‘fun’ but it needs to be engaging. If you care about this character, and there are stakes, you are engaged. I don’t want you to willy-nilly commit these acts. I want you to feel these moments.” Neil Druckmann in an interview with Variety, June 13, 2018

I’m not here to say gameplay first vs story immersion first is fight worth even having. They serve two entirely different purposes and audiences. A game like Resogun or Forza Horizon 3 have little to no plot, but they are some of my absolute favorite gameplay focused games. I love the way Nakey Jakey describes it in his video on Naughty Dog’s “outdated” game design: Goopy Goblin Gamer Brain. For some, gameplay is the king. For others, gameplay is the medium for the message. Drucker’s exploration of the world and characters of Silent Hill 2 guided me through a town I had only heard of in passing as if I grew up in it all along.

Drucker also showed restraint throughout the book. There is a tight focus on the Silent Hill 2 from its development to its reception and legacy. He analyzes the game and character design and how it makes the audience tick all these years later. I learned not just about what drew James, Maria, Eddie, and Angela to the demented town, but what has kept fans returning to for nearly two decades.

Silent Hill 2 (the book) is engaging and fascinating. Whether you have played Silent Hill 2 or any Silent Hill game, Drucker makes you feel like you know each layer that makes up the little American town. His writing has peaked my interests into the world of Silent Hill more than some frozen little girl advert or even Hideo Kojima himself ever has. Now when I go into my retro game stores, I am keeping my eyes peeled for Silent Hill 2 and not that HD collection. Why did Drucker have to write about such an expensive game?

Meet the one-man studio behind Cyber Shadow – PlayStation.Blog

Meet the one-man studio behind Cyber Shadow by Aarne “MekaSkull” Hunziker for the PlayStation Blog

I used photos of myself as a reference for drawings and animations, but I couldn’t (allegedly) run like a real ninja, so the animation ended up looking pretty stiff. My training project wasn’t just for training anymore. It was shaping into a game with slashing in addition to jumping.

This brief origin story for Cyber Shadow totally reminds me of The Making of Prince of Persia Journals 1985-1993 by Jordan Mechner. Early on in the book (and the game’s development) Mechner bought a camera to record his brother and other actors on film that he could then breakdown frame-by-frame and hand animate characters in Prince of Persia.

October 15, 1986

Bought a camera at Whole Earth. It was more expensive than I’d anticipated — $250 with the lens —but it’s a good camera, and I imagine I’ll find some use for it even after the game’s done.

I shot my first roll of film (David turning around) and had it developed at the local one-hour photo shop; I think this will work. The real problem, obviosuly, will be going from a sheaf og snapshots to the 280 x 192 Apple screen, and the loss of accuracy entailed therein. It almost makes me want to do it in double hi-res. – Page 40

October 25, 1986

Yesterday I implemented the running animation. Next I’ll do the jumping…then the stopping…then the “jumping from a stopped position”…oh boy, this is great! – Page 44

It is wonderful to see that nearly 35 years later, video game developers are still using the same techniques to capture the authenticity of real, human movement.

My other favorite tidbit from this blog post was that the game will run at 120fps on PS5 (and presumably on Xbox Series consoles). How cool is it that a game inspired by the 8-bit consoles of yore can run at 120fps?! Merging the new with the old can really be quite exciting.

Stuck in Cairo: A Story From The Development Of Rockstar’s Agent – Game Informer

Stuck in Cairo: A Story From The Development Of Rockstar’s Agent by Blake Hester for Game Informer

During the development of Rockstar’s now long-missing spy game Agent, Rockstar San Diego project leader Luis Gigliotti had to do something far outside his typical job description: Call the United States Embassy in Cairo, Egypt. He needed help. A small team of artists – his fellow coworkers at Rockstar – were being held under house arrest in Cairo. Not only that, but the Egyptian authorities were also trying to pin the group with false charges of shooting pornography – a crime in the country. He needed assistance in getting them home safe.

“And I’ll never forget, whoever it was on the call from the Embassy just literally said, ‘Are you guys stupid?'” Gigliotti tells me in a recent interview. “‘Whatever possessed you to think this was a good idea?'”

While Agent has become a consistent joke and reference between my friends and myself, I am fascinated whenever a story about its development comes to light. Last year, Hester wrote a brilliant look inside the mysterious game’s rocky, early development for Polygon. Now at Game Informer, Hester has written up a smaller, but equally unique story about a one-off trip to Egypt to gather reference data for the dev team. Rock solid reporting all around that I find far too rare in the video game industry.

Always fun to think that somewhere out there, Rockstar has a build of this game for the PS3.

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury Looks Oh So Good

A Bigger Badder Bowser – Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury Trailer

Super Mario 3D World is another one of those wonderful Wii U games that not enough people played, for obvious reasons. It was a game I poured tons of hours into trying to complete it to 100% (stupid Champion’s Road). When it was announced as the next Wii U game to be ported to the Switch, I was already sold, additional content or not.

Then Nintendo pulled back the curtain on Bowser’s Fury.

Holy smokes! It’s a wacky 3D World, Sunshine, Odyssey fusion. It seems like Bowser waking up from his black, inky slumber is even a bit reminiscent of the blood moon in Breath of the Wild. This expansion seems more meaty than I originally expected, but I can’t imagine it being too substantial. Maybe a few hours of gameplay instead of a handful of levels that I originally expected. It is interesting to see Nintendo taking the gameplay, assets, and design of 3D World and actually making an open 3D environment to explore.

Once this releases next month, the only 3D Mario games missing on the Switch will be Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Super Mario 3D Land. I am eager to dig back into one of my favorite Wii U games.