It’s been a bit of a whirlwhind month in the game-o-sphere, what with Metal Gear Solid head honcho Hideo Kojima apparently parting ways with Konami for as-yet mysterious reasons. I’ve spent the last several weeks becoming increasingly uneasy over what this means for Silent Hills, the Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro backed entry in the Greatest Horror Franchise Ever.
Well, after a steady trickle of ominous signs and portents, the project was officially canned yesterday. As the internet’s premier Silent Hill scholar and expert, I feel it’s my duty to ramble for a bit about what this means for the franchise.
First off, I want to address the reaction to the news from the community at large. I’ve always been alternately fascinated by and frustrated at how mythologies are built around certain developers and publishers, as gamers cherry-pick certain actions or the outward results of largely mysterious internal business arrangements and slot them into an unfolding narrative. Konami has been garnering quite a bit of ill-will lately over perceived mis-handling of their games and an increasing focus on their more-profitable gambling ventures, and that ill-will turned to anger when news of the split between Kojima and the company became known, fueled by strange rumors of Kojima Studios staff members having restrictions placed on their communications.
The narrative people are trying to build is one of a draconian corporation stamping all over one of their greatest and longest-held assets, with some people casting the Silent Hills cancellation as some sort of spiteful middle finger at Kojima. The thing is, we don’t actually have any idea what’s going on between Kojima and his bosses. His departure from the company was likely an instant death-knell for the project, and until we know more about the circumstances surrounding that departure we can’t treat this as anything more than an unfortunate but unavoidable consequence of changing circumstances.
And then there’s the reaction to Silent Hills itself. I can understand the outpouring of frustration and grief at the news, I really can, but at the same time let’s keep in mind we’re mourning the loss of a game that by all indications never actually entered development. A whole lot of people built Silent Hills up in their mind as a second coming for the franchise, a glorious return to form after years of short-sighted bungling. And it might have been that, but it might just as easily have not.
At the same time, I think there were legitimate reasons to be hopeful. The fact that Konami were willing to give the series to their rockstar developer and let him rope in Hollywood talent shows that they were clearly prepared to put some money and resources behind the franchise, a welcome change from their habit over the last few installments of handing Silent Hill off to small, untested developers who obviously didn’t have any idea what to do with it. At the very least we would have seen industry veterans making a Silent Hill title with a decent budget and working with the kind of publicity and visibility that having popular entertainment figures involved can bring. Would that have resulted in a better game? There’s no way to tell, but at least it would have been a change from the circumstances that gave us Homecoming and Downpour.
There’s been a perception that after Silent Hill 4 Konami had no idea what to do with the franchise and didn’t value it any more. Certainly, it’s hard to look at the fiasco that was the HD collection or the way Downpour and Book of Memories were shoved out onto the market with zero fanfare or marketing or the PC versions of the Team Silent entries being allowed to vanish down the memory hole and come to any other conclusion. Silent Hills represented a reversal of that attitude, and that’s primarily what made me excited about it. Happily, that’s also the easiest part of this whole mess to salvage.
The release of PT saw a massive upswell of interest in Silent Hill- all of a sudden the franchise was relevant and exciting again. People were talking about it. I sincerely hope Konami remember that going forward. Their statement announcing the cancellation claimed that they intend to make new entries in the franchise, and I believe they’re sincere about that. After Metal Gear and Pro Evolution Soccer (which appears to be dormant for the first time in years) Silent Hill is the only well-known IP they have left, so unless they’re planning on getting out of videogames entirely they have to do something with it. But what?
I can imagine a future where Konami decides to play it safe and jump into the rapidly-expanding world of mobile horror, and I couldn’t really blame them for that. Without Kojima’s name to draw interest there’s probably a legitimate fear that a full console release is going to be a risky investment. But I kind of hope we get something that delivers on the promises Silent Hills made: a big-budget spectacular that treats Silent Hill like the gaming classic it is, and not like an also-ran that nobody cares about any more.
And in the meantime it sure seems to me that releasing the PC ports of games 2-4 on Steam, nicely rejiggered to work with modern hardware and monitors, would be a cheap and easy to way to both put a bandaid on the Silent Hills-shaped hole in gamers hearts and simultaneously gauge interest in the series going forward. Just saying.