What makes a game fun (and is fun even important)?

Since playing Silent Hill 2 for the first time, it slowly became my favorite game of all time. I would be lying though, if I said I thought it was fun. When I think of fun, I think of something exciting or thrilling, like skydiving. Silent Hill 2 is not a game I would consider thrilling, or even exciting; the gameplay taken on its own merits is merely tolerable. The majority of the game consists of simply walking or running around an area in search of keys required to progress, with the occasional enemy encounter to break the tension. I would not call the walking uninteresting; the atmosphere created through art and sound design makes the areas fascinating to traverse, but when I think of games where traversing the environment is fun, games such as Super Mario 64, and Sonic come to mind. In those games, players have access to different movement abilities, as well as the ability to move at high speeds with no stamina restrictions; this combination combined with skilled execution makes the movement fun. Silent Hill 2 has no special movement abilities, such as a jump. James walks at a realistic speed, which causes traversing the environment to take plenty of time and his only extra movement ability is a sprint that is gated by a low stamina pool. This limited mobility makes the game less fun, but also makes it more interesting. Forcing the player to slow down is vital to immersing the player in an atmosphere of dread that a horror game should have; its difficult to create a tense atmosphere when players are able to blast through levels as fast as the game can load them. Giving up fun sounds like a bad idea when making a game, but the idea that all games need to be fun is misguided. Schindler’s List is a great movie, but fun is absolutely not the word to describe it. Silent Hill 2 sets out to deliver an emotional story blanketed by a depressing, oppressive atmosphere; fun would be in opposition to both of these goals. Basically, every game should focus on being interesting, fun should only be a focus if it is in service of making the game the best it can be.

You are just nitpicking/ Rose colored goggles: Arguments that need to die

There are a few common complaints I frequently see leveraged at analytical pieces, whether it be a text post or a video, that cause me no end of frustration.

The first of these is “You are just nitpicking”. The word nitpicking is already a stupid sounding word that annoys me to hear, but the sentiment behind this complaint is that “You are complaining about something small that did not bother me, so your point does not matter”, which is a close minded attitude that makes me wonder why someone would bother consuming an analysis that they obviously have no desire to understand. It is perfectly reasonable that a small detail that bothered someone may not affect someone else, but to state that small details do not matter is completely ridiculous. The saying “The devil is in the details” exists for a reason; not paying close attention to the details will likely lead to your project falling apart. This obviously applies to projects such as buildings or bridges, but this saying also applies to creative work as well. Imagine if your favorite big budget, action blockbuster used slow piano music in every intense scene. That might be a cool touch once, but the contrast would quickly get old when your dumb action movie (dumb is not a bad thing) does not deliver on the coolest scenes possible (the main draw of the movie). Or imagine if you were playing a slow horror game like Silent Hill or Resident Evil, but all the music was replaced with the hardest core death metal imaginable. The crazy music would get you amped up, which would completely destroy the unnerving atmosphere of those kinds of games. This might sound obvious, but my point is that details matter, and details even smaller than this are important. In Silent Hill 2, opening the inventory or the map causes the screen to fade to black, then fade in from black with the inventory open. These fade transitions between the main game and the inventory did not exist in this demo, however, which causes opening menus to become rather jarring as the screen instantly snaps between completely different images. This is such a small thing to add, but it completely changes the experience of using the inventory screen; this is the kind of thing that shows how the small details do matter.

My other complaint about people’s complaints is the use of the classic “You have rose colored goggles” in response to anyone saying that an older something or other is better than the new version. I think this one mostly applies to video games, or at least I have never seen it used in discussion of movies or books. I suppose that the reason for this is because the technological difference between video games now and twenty years ago is far greater than the same amount of time in any other medium; i.e. movies twenty years ago were still in color, still had pretty good cg effects, etc. On paper, I agree with the idea that older stuff is not inherently superior to newer stuff, but this “nostalgia blindness” argument annoys me because it seems to imply that older can never be better, an idea I disagree with.

Anyway, neither of these are good arguments. Idiots use them in place of actual criticism; do not be an idiot.

Silent Hill 2- Rambling observations as I play through the game again. Part 2: The Grey Mile

(Any pictures I add to this post will come from the following gameplay. This footage is nothing spectacular, and is not a prerequisite to understanding these posts. If there is ever a point that I am making that requires this gameplay in order to understand, I will include a timestamp so that you can skip the unimportant parts and get straight to the few seconds of relevant footage.)

 

Meeting Angela

After a quick pit stop at the first save point, continuing on the trail reveals that the save is only a few seconds away from a gate. Entering this gate brings us to a cemetery, where we meet a new character.

(Cutscene begins at 1 minute, ends at 3:30)

 

There is not much I want to say about this scene, but I find it odd that the first thing Angela does upon being startled is apologize for… nothing? The next thing that stands out to me about this scene is when Angels repeats the word ‘lost’. I think it is the way that the she drags out the “La” sound, and her mouth movements seem strange as well. Angela slipping and referring to her mother as Mama, is worth noting, but I’ll get to that much later.

The Grey Mile

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Anyway, we meet Angela and then continue onward, exiting the graveyard. Exiting the graveyard begins the longest stretch of uninterrupted play time in the entire game: six minutes and twenty seconds of pure walking. There are no distractions on this road save for the sound of footsteps behind James. There are no enemies to fight, alternate paths to take, items to collect or points to examine. Simply James, the fog, and unsettling music, and unexplained sound of grass being crunched underfoot. There is merely one gate that serves as a short load screen. After this gate, we continue walking until we reach we finally emerge on the streets of Silent Hill. This long walk encapsulates the philosophy behind every aspect of this game: Less is more. This philosophy will be demonstrated time and time again as the game continues, but this is the first major instance of it. The lack of interesting events and sights on this walk creates an atmosphere of uneasiness, as nothing overtly threatening ever happens, but the possibility of danger always exists just beyond the edge of the fog. The developers could have certainly made this walk more frightening by adding monsters or other threats, but straightforward horror is not what this game is about. It was certainly a risk to place this long stretch of absolutely nothing right at the start, but the atmosphere established by its inclusion was certainly worth it. This trek also serves to isolate the player: the walk takes so long that by the time you reach the town, it feels like you have entered a place cut off from the world at large. The path is also so long and tedious that it deters players from making a return trip; moving forward is the only real option.

Once on the streets, a dead end to the left prompts us to instead go to the right.

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This the first point of interest since leaving the graveyard nearly seven minutes ago (at walking speed), along with the shadowy figure in the fog that James notices at this point. Mystified by the shadowy figure in the fog, James decides to follow the trail of blood. From reaching the streets, to finding this blood mark, to reaching the shadowy figure takes another roughly three minutes and twenty five seconds. This, in turn, means that the walk that begins after leaving the graveyard takes just shy of ten minutes to complete, with only a single load screen and this clue on the ground near the end of the walk to break up the monotony.  This walk into town was a risk due to its lack of interesting gameplay, but what is lost in fun gameplay is made up for in an opressive, isolated atmosphere.

The Combat Sucks

Following the blood leads us past the next save point, which also has two health drinks placed near it. Past the save is the end of the long walk, where we encounter the shadowy figure seen near the blood mark.

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Faced with monster, James grabs a plank from some nearby debris, and gives the monster a few solid whacks.

Combat in this game sucks. James’ attacks have long wind ups, long recovery times, he has no interesting combos such as in a game like Devil May Cry, he doesn’t have a wide variety of attacks, and the tank controls just make the whole ordeal even less entertaining. A few guns will become available over the course of the game, but this is certainly no Resident Evil 4; the gunplay here sucks as much as the melee combat. The combat, however, is perfect. This is a slow, suspenseful horror game, so it makes perfect sense that the combat is not engaging and action packed; having high octane action would run counter to the atmosphere that makes the game so amazing.

With the monster defeated, James picks up a malfunctioning radio. which is dispensing some distorted, garbled speech. With the collection of the plank and the radio, I remembered to show off the letter from Mary, as well as her picture.

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With the monster dead, we are now faced for the first time since leaving the graveyard with a lack of direction on our next objective. James’ only guess as to what Mary meant by the ‘special place’ is Rosewater Park, so our only option is to head there. 20170513010350_1.jpg

(This map is from a later point, where I already reached the park. Hence the check mark on it)

Vachss Road, where we kill the monster, is a dead end; we have to turn around and head back to Lindsey Street. The most obvious path to the park from the start of Vachss Road is to just continue down Lindsey Street to Nathan Avenue, then continue on Nathan until you arrive at the park. There is one snag in this plan, however.vlcsnap-2017-05-13-01h18m49s654.png

The entire road has collapsed into a bottomless void, so we have to seek an alternate route. Nealey Street also intersects Nathan Avenue, but Nealey has similarly become impassable. The only other road that connects to Nathan Avenue (the road Rosewater Park, and hopefully Mary, is located at) is Munson Street. Katz Street and Saul Street both intersect Munson, but both are blocked off. With all the obvious routes blocked, the only option is to wander the streets searching for a clue. Saul street has an RV you can enter that contains a note sending you to Nealey’s Bar, which in turn contains a map directing you to Martin Street. Martin Street is only a short walk from where we killed the monster (Vachss Street), so you are quite likely to go down this road as soon as you being exploring. Martin Street is also hard to miss when looking at the map: It runs clean through Sanders and Katz, but ends in the middle of the town instead of continuing to Nathan. No other street on the map is such an obvious dead end, causing it to stand out. The shape of Martin Street, as well as its proximity to Vachss Street, ensure that players will take notice.

Whether you get the clue from the bar, or head straight to Martin Street like I did, you will encounter a corpse holding a key.

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The map tells us that there are two apartment buildings, Woodside and Blue Creek, but examining the key in the inventory screen will show a tag that says Woodside. With the key in hand, we head to apartments, pick up the map, and save the game.

Wandering the streets is not exactly a gold mine for content to analyze, but the apartments fortunately are. Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you next time.

Silent Hill 2- Rambling observations as I play through the game again. Part 1: The First 10 Minutes

(Any pictures I add to this post will come from the following gameplay. This footage is nothing spectacular, and is not a prerequisite to understanding this post. If there is ever a point that I am making that requires this gameplay in order to understand, I will include a timestamp so that you can skip the unimportant parts and get straight to the relevant footage.)

Performance Mods

In case you missed part 0 where I discuss the different versions of the game in too much detail, and then explain the mods I will be using for the game, I will quickly recap here. I will be playing the Director’s Cut (European PC) version of the game, with the Silent Hill 2 Widescreen Fix, Silent Hill 2 FMV Enhancement Pack, Xinput (adds support for modern controllers), Joy to Key (properly maps the buttons on the controller), and the Silent Hill 2 Fog Mod (restores the fog effects missing in the pc version). If you are interested in these mods, the links are in Part 0. With the technical issues solved, it is time to finally launch the game.

Introduction/ Spoiler Warning

Originally released in 2001 on the Playstation 2 by Konami, Silent Hill 2 immediately garnered critical praise, and would eventually prove to become a horror classic. In this series, I aim to analyse the things that make the game so fascinating and beloved; everything from individual camera angles to how the controls influence the atmosphere of the game. I intend to list complaints as they arise, however, I have only one minor complaint with this game; expect overwhelming praise from this moment onward. This series will cover the entire game from start to finish, so there will be spoilers for puzzle solutions, as well as for major plot details down the road. This game is best experienced with as little prior knowledge as possible, so turn back now if you have any interest in playing it unspoiled.

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Title Screen and Starting a New Game

Upon launching the game and progressing past the various company logos, we arrive at the title screen. Even as early as the title screen, Team Silent, the team within Konami that developed the game, has made in interesting choice: the title screen is primarily a black rectangle. Traditionally, a title screen would display an image that the developers feel encapsulates the game, which was the route they went for Silent Hill 1, as well as for Silent Hill 3 and 4 afterwords. Strangely, 2 is the only one that uses this black screen. Having a black title screen was quite common back when hardware was less advanced, but here it is clearly a stylistic choice. This title screen both does and does not perfectly represent the game: it gives new players no idea what the game will be like because the name Silent Hill 2 means nothing to them, whereas returning players will immediately understand what they are about to experience when they see this name. It is as if the developers are saying that nothing can capture the essence of Silent Hill 2 better than simply its simple title card. Or at least that is what I gathered, it is also quite possible that they just did not know what to place here; I like my version better though.

Regardless, choosing new game brings us to the option of Main Scenario “Letter From Silent Heaven”, or Sub Scenario “Born From A Wish”. The Born From A Wish side story was part of the new content added to later versions of the game, so for now we will stick with the main story. After choosing the main story, there are two more choices to make: Action difficulty, with the options Beginner, Easy, Normal and Hard; and Riddle difficulty, which ranges from Easy to Normal to Hard. For this series, I will be playing on Normal for both, as I feel they are the default options, and I feel they offer the best experience of the game. With the difficulty selected, the game begins.

Opening Cutscene (Begins at 2:01, ends at 2:57)

(This cutscene is so good, Konami content id’d it on my unlisted video)

From the opening cutscene, the atmosphere that pervades the entire game is established. Fading in from black, we are introduced to our currently unnamed protagonist; or rather, his reflection. This strange shot, combined with ethereal, otherworldly track that backs the scene, White Noiz, introduces an illusory, dreamlike atmosphere that perfectly mirrors the experience of players who are turning on the game for the first time, and have no idea what to expect. Our protagonist is clearly visible in this dark room, but his eyes are draped in shadow; this unusual lighting further lends to the unreal atmosphere

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He then puts his hand in front of his eyes, then pulls his hand downward. Personally, I thought this movement was a way of recomposing himself, of recentering after an exhausting ordeal. After staring into the grimy mirror for a few more seconds, he pulls away, leaning his head back and taking a deep breath as the light in the room brightens. In roughly 20 seconds, and without a single line of dialogue, we have already been immersed in the atmosphere of the game, dreamlike and otherworldly, as well as been introduced to our main character, an exhausted man steeling himself to begin a some unknown journey. The otherworldly atmosphere is reinforced in the next shot, where the room is revealed to be a poorly maintained restroom, the sort you would find on the highway; certainly an unusual place to begin a story. The camera is tilted roughly 45 degrees, placed on the opposite side of the room from our protagonist, with a urinal in the foreground as White Noiz continues to play. It then rotates slowly, as a single line of dialogue is spoken.

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This is an extremely bizzare way to begin what is supposed to be a serious game, but the fact it is so odd further lends to the otherworldly atmosphere. The first line of dialogue in the entire game is spoken in this scene, with our protagonist (James) asking “Mary… Could you really be in this town?” With one sentence, the plot of the game is made clear: our main character has traveled to a town with the intention of finding someone named Mary. However, the phrase “Could you really” indicates that this man searching for Mary is unsure if she is in town. This phrasing of this sentence also gives us insight into our main character: even though he is unsure if Mary will be in town, he shows up to anyway in the hopes that she will appear. With this, the first cutscene ends, and control is given to the player.

Control Scheme and Camera

With control granted to the player, the first thing newcomers will notice is the odd control scheme: Silent Hill 2 uses the “tank controls” setup. In a traditional control scheme, you press the direction you want to move; i.e. press left to move left relative to the angle of the camera, and press forward to move forward relative to the camera (forward meaning away from the camera). Tank controls differ in that pressing left rotates the player left, and pressing forward will move the character forward in the direction they are facing. This may disorient players unfamiliar with this type of control scheme, but is both an aesthetic necessity in order to augment the atmosphere (more on this later), as well as a technical necessity in order to work with the camera system. Many large areas of the game, such as the streets of the town that will appear shortly, use a traditional camera system in which the camera is centered behind the player. Many small areas, such as the interior of the bathroom, use fixed camera angles that can not be altered by the player. With a traditional control scheme, the directional controls change every time a new camera angle appears. To demonstrate how disorienting traditional controls with fixed angles can be, let’s examine the bathroom the game begins in.

(Angle 1 top left, Angle 2 top right, Angle 3 bottom left, Angle 4 bottom right)

The bathroom contains four seperate camera angles which change as you move from the front to the back of the room. It starts focused directly on the player, then moves near where the cutscene urinal shot as, then moves to the front of the room facing towards the back, then hovers over the urinals so that the player can see the back corner not viewable in angle 3. With traditional controls holding left on the first angle will move the player to angle 2, and where left changes its meaning: left will now move the player in front of the urinal, as opposed to the first shot where left would move the player to the back of the room. From angle 2, you must now hold down to move toward the camera, where it changes to angle 3. Once in angle 3, you must now hold forward to reach the back of the room. The constantly changing controls are not too cumbersome if you know why it is happening, but it can become a source of frustration quite easily. With tank controls, you simply turn the character left in angle 1, then hold forward to reach the back of the room; because forward always moves the player the direction they are facing, the differing angles have no effect on what direction the player moves.

The question, then, is why use a camera system that requires an uncommon control scheme in order to avoid frustration? Or in other words: Why could they not have just made the whole game use a normal camera, therefore allowing a traditional control scheme? The answer is simply that pre selected camera angles are more both more interesting and more useful for this kind of game, and examples of this come quite shortly. For now though, the only thing to do is head outside.

Second Cutscene Recap (Begins at 3:23, ends at 5:38)

Just in case the previous cutscene went over your head, this one serves as the formal introduction to the main plot of the game. Mary is revealed to be the wife of James, and the reason he is here is that she sent him a letter from beyond the grave, telling him to find her at their ‘special place’. He is skeptical of finding her here after her death three years prior to receiving the letter, but he is still hopeful that this letter might have some legitimacy to it. With this scene over, control is again granted to the player.

How the Design of the Parking Lot Guides the Player

Once in control, the player is naturally drawn to the car visible in the cutscene for a few reasons. It is the largest object in the frame, aside for the restroom off the right, and it is also located near the center of the frame, where the eye is naturally going to rest. Furthermore, the parking lot clearly ends on the right and extends offscreen to the left, encouraging players to explore the left side; this requires moving past the car. The car itself looks unusual: the door is open, and the car is parked sideways. Finally, the camera shifts to an overhead view when the player draws near the car, ensuring that they can not miss it:

vlcsnap-2017-05-06-19h58m18s843.pngNone of this exactly revolutionary, but it is this sort of thing that makes or breaks a game. Silent Hill 2 relies heavily on atmosphere to keep the player invested in the game, and anything that interrupts the flow of the player, such as missing crucial items or clues, risks damaging the atmosphere that keeps players interested. It is important to strike a fine balance, though, between not enough and too much direction, as too much direction can also damage the atmosphere; too much risks the player feeling like they are playing a computer program, rather than experiencing a story.

In case none of the visual clues guided you to the car, attempting to exit the area via the street to the right will cause James to state that there is no point going back on the road he came from, and stairs on the left will prompt him to state that there is a map in the car. This is apparently his car, as attempting to reexamine the car will cause James to state that there is nothing else worth taking; the only way he could know this is that it must be his car. His statement that there is nothing else worth taking is an interesting one, but I will leave it alone for now.

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Walking for Two and a Half Minutes

With the map collected, it is time to descend the stairs to the trail and begin walking. And by walking, I mean roughly two and a half minutes of uninterrupted walking. You could use the sprint button to get to the end of the trail faster, but I feel that the atmosphere in this game is strongest when it is not being sped through. This trail starts with the camera behind James, but as the player descends its winding slopes, it occasionally cuts to more sinister angles.vlcsnap-2017-05-06-21h04m39s552

To the right of the trail is a fog covered drop off, and to the left is a forest. The camera shifts to both of these sides and looks at James, giving the impression that James, and by extension the player, is being watched by an unseen entity. These sort of odd angles occur for the entire game, and lend to the unsettling atmosphere of the game in a way that using solely a traditional camera can not.

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These strange angles, coupled with the sound of what appears to be snarling dogs, lend an uneasy atmosphere to this long walk, without being outright threatening. This tension carries us to the first interruption in the trail, a well on the side of the path.

First Save

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Examining the well reveals a simple red square of paper at the bottom. James remarks that it gives him a weird feeling, and the screen flashes a blindingly bright red as it cuts to the save menu. I am not sure what the meaning of this red square is, but considering the purposeful manner that the first 2 rooms were constructed with, I imagine that there is a reason for the save point to look this way.

With the first save point available, I decided that it would be a good stopping point in order to prevent this post from becoming even more bloated than it already is. I hope that something I rambled on about here was of value to you; thanks for reading, and I hope to see you next time.

 

Silent Hill 2- Rambling observations as I play through the game again. Part 0: The trials of experiencing the game in the modern age

This post is focused on the best version of the game to play; as well as the mods I will be using for the PC version.

Produced by Konami’s Team Silent, Silent Hill 2 launched in North America on September 24, 2001 on the Sony Playstation 2. Between this date and February 28, 2003, the game would go on to be released in Japan and Europe on the Playstation 2, in all three regions on the Microsoft Xbox (featuring bonus content), in North America and Europe on the PC, with the bonus content only present on the European version, and rereleased on the Playstation 2 with the bonus content included. Silent Hill 2 was rereleased in 2012 for the Sony Playstation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360 as part of the Silent Hill HD Collection, which also contained Silent Hill 3.  This may sound daunting if you are interested in playing the game but do not know which version to play, but this list is luckily quite easy to trim down. The HD Collection is a disaster plagued by technical and performance issues; you would be better off playing a version that will not ruin your experience. The rereleased version of the game on Playstation 2, labeled Greatest Hits, is superior to the original release on PS2 (Greatest Hits contains the bonus content not present in the original). The Greatest Hits version on PS2 is equal to the Xbox version; these versions are perfectly fine if you wish to experience the game. However, I would be caution about recommending the European version of these games. One unfortunate aspect of playing games in Europe (at least before the era of the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360) is the difference in Hertz. Hertz (Hz) is the standard unit for measuring frequency, and is the key difference between NA and EU in the older days of gaming: NA games run at 60 Hz, while EU ran at only 50 Hz. This lowered refresh rate means that EU games run more slowly than their NA counterparts, offering an experience that suffers in quality. Some EU versions of games offered 60 Hz modes, but I have no what the European versions of Silent Hill 2 run at; this is why I can not recommend them. This problem does not extend to the PC version however, and the EU version of the PC edition (entitled Director’s Cut) proves equal to the NA version, as both contain the bonus content.               IN SUMMARY: Everyone should avoid the Silent Hill HD Collection on both consoles, Playstation 2 users should play the North American release of the Greatest Hits Edition, the North American Xbox version should be satisfactory for users of the console, and PC players should acquire which ever PC version they can get. Of these four versions, I would recommend the Director’s Cut version over the NA version, as most fan patches are designed with that version in mind, but the console versions are still fine if you are not willing to wade into the world of fan patches.

For this playthrough, I will be playing on the PC with the Director’s Cut version, with the Silent Hill 2 Widescreen Fix mod installed. This mod allows for custom resolutions, automatically sets the game to run on a single core (due to issues caused by using multiple cores), increases transition speed (reduces time required to open the map and move between rooms), and generally makes the port a more pleasant experience. I will also be using the official patch that Konami released for the game, which repairs a glitch experienced by some users where the sound would loop improperly. I will also be using XInput to give the game the ability to recognize my Xbox One controller, as well as Joy to Key to map the controller buttons in the same way as the console version. Finally, I will be using the Silent Hill 2 FMV Enhancement Pack, which replaces the FMVs with higher quality versions. It is unfortunate that so much effort is required to make the game playable, but I suppose the fact that it is possible to fix the 15 year old port at all is a plus. Konami, sadly, has never seen fit to create a modern release of the game outside of the ill fated HD collection. This leaves primarily pricey internet bids and less legal methods as the only way to acquire a functional version of the game, a true shame considering the masterpiece that this game is.

With the PC version of the game selected and the fixes installed, it is time to actually start the thing. Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you in the next part, where we start the thing.

Thanks to http://pcgamingwiki.com/wiki/Silent_Hill_2:_Director%27s_Cut for getting the game patched, as well as the following for creating the patches that make this game the best it can be:

Silent Hill Fog Fix: http://ps2wide.net/pc.html#sh2

Silent Hill 2 FMV Enhancement Pack: http://community.pcgamingwiki.com/files/file/874-silent-hill-2-fmv-enhancement-pack/

Silent Hill 2 Widescreen Fix: https://thirteenag.github.io/wfp#sh2

Silent Hill 2 Joy to Key Profile:

http://www.mediafire.com/file/ij268ji69vtmqoy/SH2profile.zip

Silent Hill Homecoming- First Playthrough Thoughts Part 4: In which the audio is almost as problematic as the crashing

After discovering that I am, in fact, a moron and that the game had not glitched out on me, I made my way through the rest of the Shepard residence. The backyard had me spooked, with the sound of a barking dog playing loud and clear, but with no dog in sight to produce the noise. I was pleased that the refrigerator also contained a health drink, as the fridge is exactly the place you would expect to find such an item; this logically placed item lends some believability to the game world. Connected to the kitchen is another room blocked off from the main entrance we used upon first arriving at the house. This room appears to have been used by the mother, probably for whatever hobbies she may have. This room is also missing a picture, and I am sure that there must be some lore related significance to the mother’s room being barred of from the rest of the house; I won’t know what this significance is, though, until I learn more about the goings on in the town.

After examining these rooms, heading back outside and through the gate in the fence is only way remaining to progress. Heading through this gate and down the street leads us to the cemetery. Within the cemetery, we find a man behind a fence, digging a grave. He is unreachable upon first discovering him, so we have to forget about him for now and progress through the zone. Upon dropping into the large crater near the gated off man, we are assaulted by a new type of enemy, a skinned dog. By new, I mean new to this game, as this enemy type has existed in the series since the first game. I am neutral on the return of this enemy, but the dog barking from the backyard was clever foreshadowing for this moment. At this point, I was trying to find a save point, as there was no save point between here and the hole from part 2, as least as far as I could tell.

It was at this point where the developers must have read my mind, because less than 60 seconds after I started worrying about my next save, I located one just a few rooms over. It was also at this point where I gave up on the game for a second time. As I attempted to walk the remaining 10 feet to the next save, the game randomly minimized. I have had this issue with steam games for months, where they will randomly minimize for no discernible reason. I have no idea if this is an issue with steam or with another program on my computer; the only thing I am sure of is that it is not a fault of any one game, as it happens to a wide selection of them. Unlike many other games however, this one is not built to be minimized. As I mentioned in the previous post, attempting to alt+tab the game causes it to crash, and the random minimization caused this crash to occur. Having the game crash so close to a save is almost comical, but the lack of any cure for the random minimization, at least that I can find, makes me hesitant to play the game further when I could lose all my progress at any second. Before completely giving up on a computer game due to poor performance, it is always a sound idea to visit http://pcgamingwiki.com/wiki/Home . Pcgamingwiki is a resource dedicated to listing all known fixes for badly running games, so I figured this would be the one place that would know how to prevent crashing when the game is alt+tabbed. Unfortunately, the page merely lists the issue at the top, indicating that there are no fixes. The page also lists the fix for some sounds only playing from the right speaker. I’d actually forgotten about this problem, but I first noticed it upon entering the Shepard house for the first time. When entering the house, Alex calls out “Hello?”. I had thought that there was someone in the living room off to the right of the front door saying Hello, but was just the audio glitching out. Being reminded of this issue was the final nail in the coffin; I slowly lost interest in playing the game when I realized I couldn’t be sure what was a glitch and what was a feature. I still want to experience this game, but I will hold off on doing so until I can play the console version. The PC version might be good enough for people who have played the game and know what it is supposed to be like, but for first time players such as myself, it is not the best way to experience the game.

I had planned to write until the end of the game, but it seems that idea has fallen through. I’ll be looking for a new game to cover, so in the mean time, thanks for reading, and I hope to see you next time.

Silent Hill Homecoming- First Playthrough Thoughts Part 3: Dying in the Nightmare, up until the point where the game became uncompletable, then crashes

Once killed by pyramid head in the Nightmare, Alex awakens in the passenger seat of a truck driven by Travis Grady. Travis is the protagonist of Silent Hill Origins, however I have not played it. It is an interesting cameo; although I am not sure what the point is. The point could be something entirely lost on me due to the fact I haven’t played Origins, which I suppose is fair enough. At any rate, Travis drops off Alex at the entrance to the town of Shepard’s Glen. According to the map, Toluca Lake borders the northeast section of the town, which would place Shepard’s Glen only miles away from Silent Hill, in turn explaining how the supernatural things that are about to happen, occur. As soon as I started traveling the street, I noticed I was still equipped with the dagger collected in the tutorial. It was at this point where I opened up my inventory, and noticed that the health pack and remaining health drink I had collected in the tutorial were still in my inventory. I don’t know if this is because they didn’t want to remove item from the player, or if this is meant to imply that the Nightmare is just as real as the rest of the game. Silent Hill games always take place in some sort of quasi-reality, but the line here is especially blurred.

Upon walking 20 feet down the street, we are interrupted by another cutscene. Judge Holland welcomes Alex back home, telling him something or other about his mother.  I accidentally skipped this scene the first time; I hit start with the intention of increasing the voice volume, as it seemed to have decreased after exiting the first level. This skipped the movie however, unlike the in-game scenes where start paused the game and opened the options menu as expected. Its always possible that the dialogue could become foreshadow future events, but otherwise it was dull .Down the street from where we meet Holland, we find Alex’s house, and make our way inside.

The inside of Alex’ house is so far the most interesting part of the game, and he offers insight into the various trinkets and pieces of furniture in the house. There are plenty of things that can not be examined, but the effort was clearly spent in making the house seem like a real place that actual people might live in, as opposed to simply a box to run through on the way to the next part of the game. Particularly, Joshua’s and Alex’ bedroom has plenty of flavor text.

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On the lower part of the bunkbed, we find the flashlight (which for some reason is not carried over from the Nightmare, unlike the healing items and the dagger). The decision to have the player recollect the flashlight was obviously done to facilitate the flashback in which Alex gives it to Joshua, in case Joshua suffers more nightmares.

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It looks like an inhaler.

I like the scene in theory, but the decision to carry over all of the player’s equipment, but not the flashlight, makes it harder discern what is real and what is not. Reality vs unreality has always been a concept in the series; however I find it more likely that the decision was made to recollect the flashlight as an excuse to show this scene, without thinking of the ramifications of this, rather than as a way to blur the line between reality and unreality.

Once we have obtained the flashlight, investigating the bookshelf reveals that there is apparently something odd about it. We are then presented with the first puzzle of the game, although the term puzzle applies somewhat loosely. The solution to the puzzle is simply to move all the books to the left of the screen, revealing a switch that causes the bookshelf to swing open, thereby revealing a secret room containing a hand drawn map of the house. Two other points of interest in the room are: the display case of bugs20170430150733_1

(Joshua is not the first child in a Hill game to have an affinity for bugs, but I am not quite sure if this is significant or not. Additionally, it reminds me of the puzzle from the Resident Evil Remake)

as well as the picture on the desk20170430150816_1

I am sure that this is significant in some sort of symoblic/thematic sense, but I will have to progress in the story to be sure. In addition to the picture that doesn’t have Alex in it, there are several missing pictures within the house:

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I hope we will return to the house later, and these pictures will be present to expand the themes and symbolism the series is known for.

After collecting the somewhat useless map, attempting to head down the stairs begins another cutscene, in which Alex notices a trail of water on the first floor.

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(I thought that this was blue slime when I first saw it; it did not register with me that this was water until we enter the basement.)

The trail of water leads from the basement to the living room, where Alex’ mother has appeared. She seems unwell, and Alex heads to the basement to find out what is going on in the house. The basement is flooded with thigh deep water, and Alex is attacked by a monster. Defeating the monster, players will find the water pump and the garage door remote. The pump requires fuel from the garage, so its time to head back outside. The second door in the basement is locked, containing some manor of secret hidden by Alex father. Outside, opening the garage door will free another monster to attack Alex. Once inside the garage, the steel pipe is plainly visible, serving as a new weapon for the player to take advantage of. I think. Currently, I haven’t actually been able to use it. When I first picked it up, I opened my inventory, only to discover the pipe was missing. I was willing to forgo the pipe due to the fact that I still had the knife to fall back on, but the fuel required to activate the pump is blocked behind a grate, requiring the pipe to pry open.

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Having encountered my first glitch of the game, I alt+tabbed out, in the hopes of finding answers on the internet. However, attempting to alt+tab the game causes it to crash, which meant my progress from the hole mentioned in the previous post, up to the Shepard garage had been lost. It is admittedly not a terribly long stretch of gameplay to have to redo, but it is certainly frustrating. My only guess as to why the pipe disappeared is that I opened the inventory too quickly, causing the opening of the inventory to interrupt the game placing it in. I tried to reproduce the glitch, and was successful on the first attempt to do so.

20170430151224_1(The yellow overlay of the inventory screen makes it difficult to discern, but Alex is currently standing in front of a workbench. The pipe is missing, as it was already collected; the inventory screen, however, only shows the Old Revolver in the center wheel, along with health to the left and healing items to the right.)

I see a few possibilities with this situation: 1) I have correctly identified the cause of the glitch 2) I have not correctly identified the cause, and merely was lucky a second time 3) The pipe is not supposed to be added to the inventory screen, and I have completely lost my marbles failing to figure out an extremely simple task (opening the grate). I believe option 1 is the correct choice, and that when I replay this part, not opening the menu too quickly will cause the pipe to appear in the inventory as expected.  I am not even mad that this happened because it is such a dumb problem that I never would have expected it. Hopefully the game doesn’t break like this in the future, but I guess I have jinxed it now. Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you next time.

Edit: Apparently it was option 3. There is a seperate weapon tab. I figured it would work the same way as every other Silent Hill game, weapons are added to the equipment tab. 

Silent Hill Homecoming- First Playthrough Thoughts Part 2: In which Skyrim fixes the map, up until the end of the Nightmare

After having rewatched the first Silent Hill movie, I was reminded of how bad things really get for this franchise; this inspired me to give Silent Hill Homecoming another spin.  Having dabbled a little bit in Skyrim modding after the death of my graphics card, I learned that lowering the resolution to 1280×720 drastically improved performance. Upon reinstalling this game, I preemptively lowered the resolution to increase performance, and discovered that the map was fixed (as shown in the previous post). With the sole technical issue of the game fixed, it was on to the remainder of the game. Shortly after the bathroom where we collect the dagger and defeat our first enemy, a rogue wheelchair rolls down a flight of stairs, acting as a pseudo jumpscare due to the speed with which it appears, and the loud clanging of metal that plays at it descends. I suppose that it makes for this kind of thing to happen, we are in a hospital after all, but I still don’t like it.

Speaking of being in a hosptial, the map states that we are, in fact, in Alchemilla Hospital; it does not look like the Alchemilla that I know. Initially, I thought they had reused the name, but not the layout.MTS_meriel-1292050-SHalchemillamaps

(Above, the map of the area as it appears in Silent Hill. Below is the Silent Hill Homecoming map once I changed the resolution of the game to allow it to display properly.

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It wasn’t until I was actually comparing the maps while writing this post that I realized they were supposed to be the same area. The most obvious difference is that the Homecoming map has been rotated 90 degrees, which completely stopped me from recognizing the similar layout, but that rotation only affects the map, not the actual level that we traverse. There are three things that make the area unrecognizable; the first is the updated graphics. Silent Hill released on the Playstation in 1998, with Homecoming releasing on the Xbox 360, the Playstation 3, and the PC in 2008.

I will be playing more Silent Hill 1 later, so here is where I will place the comparison between 1 and Homecoming’s graphics, if I get around to it

The second reason the area does not feel the same is another change made where, similar to the control scheme change, it is not immediately obvious that anything is different because the game works exactly how you would expect a modern game to work. Silent Hill Homecoming does away with the pre rendered camera angles used in small areas in the original games; it instead uses a modern style where the camera is always centered behind the player. In the originals, this modern style of camera was typically used in larger areas, such as the streets of the town or hallways where players have more freedom to maneuver. However, Alchemilla Hospital is comprised of many small rooms, each of which might only have a single camera angle in the first game. The freedom of the new camera means that we see each area almost exclusively through new angles, dramatically reducing the ability of the player to come to the realization that this is supposed to be the same place.

The third cause of the area’s unfamiliarity is the how you transition from room to room. In the first 4 games, doors were very solid boundaries between rooms; entering a door caused the game to enter a brief loading screen. This was likely a necessity in Silent Hill 1 in order to preserve the graphical quality of the game, but I have to wonder if it was as crucial to Silent Hill 2-4, as even the smallest rooms are still sectioned off with loading. I would imagine that having each room be handled separately was not quite as necessary with the increased power of the Playstation 2 over the Playstation 1, although I admit that I could be completely wrong on this point. I am not quite sure of the pros and cons of each style of game (Silent Hill 1-4’s world full of load screens, as opposed to Homecoming’s nearly seamless levels), as I somehow prefer the style of the previous games; however, I suppose it was inevitable that the load screens would disappear as the technology advanced from the 6th generation of consoles (Xbox, Gamecube, Playstation 2), to the 7th (Xbox 360, Wii, Playstation 3). I am not exactly sure what it is about the style with tons of load screens that I prefer over the seamless version, but perhaps I will figure it out as I ponder it during the remainder of the game.

An interesting type of door appears in this area, and is the first new thing this game brings to the series that I am quite positive about. 20170430113501_1

This door initially looks like a piece of leather with a seam in the center, and only reveals its true form after a quick time event in which you slice it down the center. As I stated, I prefer the load screens to the seamless nature of this installment, but this door is not something that would have been possible in the original games, due to the nature of fading to black to load. Instead of other doors in this level, where you can open them but choose not to walk through, you must walk up to this door and purposefully activate the prompt to pass through. Once you accept the the prompt, you are locked into the animation of squeezing through until you have cleared the gap. It is quite likely that this is some variety of living (or undead) creature, as the gums writhe slowly; this makes it even more unnerving to pass through, as there is always the possibility you could get chomped at any second. I’m thankful that this doesn’t happen during the 2 or 3 times you see these doors in this area, as the possibility that such a thing could happen is more terrifying than it actually happening.

Which is why it is so baffling that they go back on this idea immediately afterword.

20170430113259_1Silent Hill 2 Hole

The first picture is of Homecoming, the second is of Silent Hill 2. This new door type had earned back some of the favor that the game had lost, but it quickly squanders it by rehashing this moment from Silent Hill 2, but in a much worse manner. To explain how Silent Hill 2 did this moment better and what Homecoming dropped the ball on, I’ll have to spoil this small scene from 2. In this part of the game, James has collected a key to Room 202 of the apartment complex, and makes his way there, encountering the hole in the wall pictured above. This is the only room in the building currently available to us, so it is obvious that this strange hole is somehow related to our ability to progress in the zone. Faced with no other option, we must reach into this hole to grab the item that must exist inside to enable our progression. I have watched many people play this game for the first time on Twitch, and every single time, they mention how bad an idea this is. The camera slowly pulls in as James fumbles around for a second, then quickly zooms out as James pulls his hand out, confirming that the danger we suspect does, in fact, exist. However, he puts his hand back in after a second, retrieving the clock key that is required to advance. Crucially, the second attempt at retrieving the key is automated, as the scare would likely stop most players from attempting this again. Because this second attempt is controlled by the game, not the player, the game gets to have its cake and it eat too; the player recieves a small fright at no actual risk, and they guaranteed to progress past this point.

Silent Hill 2 Hole 2

This same scene scene in Homecoming suffers from a catch-22: Its either damned if they do the same thing, as there is no real point in rehashing the same concept exactly, or its damned if they don’t do the same thing, as what is currently in the game is not nearly as good.  When Alex reaches into the hole, he is also assaulted by some unknown entity. Whereas James quickly retracts his hand, then reaches back in, indicating only mild danger or a danger that has passed, Alex is in far more trouble. He is pulled up to the wall, shouting in pain as his arm is in danger of being torn off.  Clearly, the best way to represent this danger is by immediately starting a quick time event.

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Losing your arm is only worthy of mild grimace.

This silliness of this quick time event is highlighted by another unfortunate aspect of the PC version. I can only assume, as I have not played the console version, but I have to imagine that the button prompts were not numbers; the prompts likely displayed the actual buttons of the console being played. I am playing on a wired Xbone controller, so the number prompts don’t exactly help, but I don’t think they would be useful even on keyboard and mouse; I’ve never played a game primarily with the number pad. Strangely though, the buttons are color coordinated to the Xbox controller; the blue 3 matches the the blue X I am meant to be mashing. Due to the fact I couldn’t quickly identify the button I needed to mash, I ended up failing the quick time event, and Alex had his arm ripped off, resulting in a game over. This is where I learned that the game features checkpoints, as I started off right back in front of the hole, rather than at the previous save. I don’t like checkpoints that are too lenient, but I also don’t think dying here and being booted back to the previous save would be a much better experience. I think this scene could have almost been good, but the interactivity is what ruins it. Its a strange complaint that a game is interactive; I’m normally against having scenes in games that are not interactive, but I feel that this quick time event works against the oppressive atmosphere of the game.

Once we retrieve Robbie the Rabbit from the hole, we attempt to return it to Joshua, but he runs off for some reason. An interesting inclusion in this game is that of dialogue choices. I have no idea what effect this has on the game; I’m assuming minimal, but I guess I will find out in time. After Joshua runs away, we enter an elevator, and are killed by Pyramid Head. I did play a bit after this point, but I’ll save it for next time, as this one is getting quite long. Next time, I will talk about how the troll controls got me again, as well as the ill fated time I tried to collect the pipe. Thanks for reading, hope to see you next time.

Silent Hill Homecoming- First Playthrough Thoughts Part 1: Beginning up until the part where you kill the first enemy

I originally started this game back in december, so I have forgotten most of the finer details of the first 20 minutes; however I do recall the first moment when I realized this game might be a troubling experience. The initial gurney ride into the hospital at the start of the game had me interested: being strapped into a gurney was not something I had experienced in a game previously. It also reminded me of the beginning of the hospital scene from the movie Jacob’s Ladder, in which protagonist Jacob Singer is strapped to a gurney as he is wheeled into a demonic hospital. Team Silent, the original team behind the first 4 silent hill games, named Jacob’s Ladder as one of their inspirations for the games, and it would appear that the new team, Double Helix, has also been influenced by this movie. Unfortunately, inspiration doesn’t stop there, as the doctor carting us around is soon run through by Pyramid Head’s great knife. Although only his weapon is seen, it is obvious Pyramid Head has returned to the Silent Hill franchise. There is exactly zero justification for his inclusion in this game; the only reason for his presence is fanservice to those who played Silent Hill 2. Pyramid Head was a great part of Silent Hill 2, but he was created explicitly for that game, and his design is rife with symbolism and meaning that only functions in the context of his game. I supposed the argument could be made that he represents the same things here, but I find that highly doubtful considering the questionable design choices made later in this same level.

Between this scene, and the save point before the bathroom where we find the knife, I only recall two things. One, we find Joshua, the younger brother of protagonist Alex Shepard, behind a door that appears to be from a prison cell, although I have forgotten everything that happens in that scene. Second, there is a jumpscare. The setup for this jumpscare is that we need a code to enter into the numberpad on Joshua’s door, so that we can reach him. The first half of this code is written on an x-ray, so we must travel a few rooms over to where we can pick up the other half of the x-ray and complete the code. It is on the return journey to the backlit board where we found the first half that the ceiling hallway jarringly collapses. Jumpscares are the reason I avoid horror media like the plague, and their notable scarcity in the first 4 games is why they are the some only horror games I have played and enjoyed. The inclusion of a jumpscare here in the tutorial level of Homecoming is deeply worrying to me; it is as if the developer’s didn’t understand that Silent Hill was notable for is lack of jumpscares, instead frightening players by creating an unsettling atmosphere through strange sounds, disturbing visuals and odd background music. I suppose the one positive thing I have to say about this moment is that, even though the dev team completely missed the point, the ceiling collapse happens on the return trip when the player might feel safer traveling through familiar territory, rather than the initial journey in which the player will likely be more cautious of such threats.

One change to the game that I didn’t immediately catch was the change to the controls. The tank controls of the previous titles have been removed, in favor of a traditional control scheme. (Tank controls, for those unaware, is a control setup in which pressing left or right does not move the character to the side, but rather rotates them in the chosen direction, and pressing forward/backward always moves the character forward/backward in the direction they are facing.) I’m torn on this decision, because I feel like traditional controls do not at all work with the oppressive, heavy atmosphere of the Silent Hill franchise, but it would not make sense for our protagonist ,Alex Shepard, to utilize the tank controls of the first 3 games. The protagonists of the first 3 were all average people, which is reinforced by their awkard movements in the hellish environments they traverse. Alex, however, is a returning war veteran, so it would be more fitting of his charater to have the precise movements offered by a traditional, non tank control scheme. At the end of the day, I prefer the tank controls for this kind of game, but I won’t lose sleep over it, due to the way it is justified here.

It was at the first save point where I noticed the first technical issue of the game, as opposed to the design flaws that were quickly eating away at my faith in this being a worthy successor to the original games. I was playing the PC version, at 1920×1080 internal resolution to match the size of my screen. However, this caused the map to display improperly; it was zoomed in strangely, and most of it was cut off, rendering the map completely worthless.

(9 hours later edit: The map glitch, zoomed out and then in. Oddly enough, the

zoomed in version is actually the more useable one, as you can scroll it over to

see the rest of the area, whereas the zoomed out one does not scroll at all.)

(For reference, the map when it is functional)

My interest in this game was fading fast, and it only took until the very next room for it to die completely for the next 5 months. Even though my map was crap, there was only one door forward. The next room contained the first weapon of the game, the knife. At this point, the world transitioned to the Other World, and one of the stalls burst open, revealing more shamelessly repeated content a bubblehead nurse. The bubblehead nurse was, similar to Pyramid Head, a monster crafted specifically with the story and themes of Silent Hill 2 in mind, so its inclusion here is baffling for the same reasons. Faced with the first enemy, and armed with their first weapon, it is time for the player to come to terms with the awful combat. Unlike the previous Silent Hill games I have played (1-3) this one features a dodge roll technique, and places emphasis on combos and appropriately using light and heavy attacks. The combat in this game sucks. The combat in these games has always been rather poor, but it was fine because combat encounters were kept brief, and were typically very easy to overcome. Enemies generally never took many hits to go down, and the fact that the combat was very simple, consisting of only one attack button, meant that it never felt like an important part of the game. Enemy encounters were used to set the atmosphere of the level by controlling its pacing (players are not able to speed through the level as fast as they can discover it, as they risk sustaining damage) creating tension (players often are not able to see the monsters, only being aware of their presence by the static they cause the player’s radio to emit, forcing them to play carefully around the unseen threat) and relieving tension (monsters never respawn, meaning a room is safe once cleared). The upgraded? combat is certainly more tactical and energetic, but the frenzied nature of the new combat only serves to undermine the moody atmosphere of the game.

After I killed the first nurse, my desire to experience more of this game had been depleted, and I didn’t touch it again until today. (Currently 2:54 a.m. on April 30th, I picked the game back up about 6 hours ago, so the night of the 29th, a time span of roughly 5 months.) Now that I have got the experiences of 5 months ago out of the way, I would like to continue with what happened yesterday, but this one is getting long enough. In the next part, I will recount my tale from when I reloaded that first save point and defeated the first enemy again, the unfortunate design decisions surrounding the second glory hole in the Silent Hill series, and the ill fated tale of trying to collect the steel pipe. Thanks for reading, see you next time.