The Ghost of Silent Hills
On October 12th, 2019, after weeks of speculation, the once-beloved video game publisher Konami finally unveiled the newest addition to their much-beloved Silent Hill franchise…a slot machine.
This is just the latest example of Konami’s uninspired use of one of the most iconic horror franchises as of late. With the last true video game release (ignoring their themed pachinko machines) of Silent Hill being Silent Hill: Book of Memories which was released on the Playstation Vita in 2012, survival horror fans have now all but given up hope for Silent Hill’s grand return. But this hasn’t always been the case in 2014, there was a sliver of hope that Silent Hill will return with one of the most brilliant pieces of video game marketing…only for those hopes to be killed and yet left a legacy that is still felt to this day.
This is the death and legacy of P.T., video gaming’s very own ghost.
Before 2014, many gamers felt that AAA (a term to describe major video game releases) Survival Horror was essentially dead with games such as Resident Evil 6 and Dead Space 3 leaning towards action-oriented gameplay to appeal to the largest demographic, though this lead to these titles having less than stellar fanfare. However, survival horror was thriving in smaller studio releases and independent developers with titles such as Amnesia and Outlast proving horror within gaming is still desired amongst gamers. And with the disbanding of Silent Hill’s original developers Team Silent and the franchise going to several less experienced developers, Konami needed to breathe new life into their horror series.
Enter Hideo Kojima.
The Only Me is Me
Best known for his critically acclaimed tenure in the Metal Gear series, Konami approached the developer in 2012 to give his spin on the Silent Hill series. Even though his relationship with Konami was becoming much tenser due to the publisher’s interference with the development of his final entry in the Metal Gear series Metal Gear Solid The Phantom Pain, Kojima agreed to take on the project Silent Hills. But he wasn’t going to do it alone. Kojima brought on board acclaimed filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro to co-produce, legendary horror manga artist Junji Ito to design the game’s monsters, and Walking Dead actor Norman Reedus onto the project to star as its protagonist. Titled Silent Hills, Kojima hoped to make the game of the best in the franchise with an all-star horror team gaming has never seen. But first, they wanted to give the public a taste for what was in-stored for them.
In 2014, Kojima Productions (under the alias of fake game studio 7780s Studio) teased a game demo called P.T. (an initialism for “playable teaser”) at Sony’s conference at Gamescom and released it onto the PSN Store on August 12th, 2014. In the teaser, you played as an unnamed male protagonist (presumably going to be played by Norman Reedus) trapped in an ever looping hallway as a disturbing apparition named “Lisa” stalks the player. For a first for the series, the gameplay takes the player for a First-Person perspective to make the horror much more personal and intense. As the player continues to go through the looping hallway, the setting becomes more and more disturbing with images such as a talking fetus, a hanging refrigerator with a blood corpse inside, and the framed photos on the wall becoming eyeballs among other scary imagery.
The demo also teased a very dark and psychological story with the various apparitions and scares teasing a backstory of alcoholism, abuse, and familicide, themes very common to early entries of Silent Hill. And then people started to go deeper into the game.
Soon word spread fast about P.T. amongst gamers and it quickly became a viral hit with gamers and horror fans alike with over one million downloads in its first month of release. Many considered it one of the greatest horror video games of all time with many gaming critics hailing P.T. for its incredible use of atmosphere and cryptic gameplay. But as they played through the horrors of P.T., gamers realized the demo was filled with various complex puzzles that require some serious out of the box thinking (a trademark of Kojima’s gameplay style). And then the mystery of P.T. was solved as the world realized P.T. was actually Silent Hills as once the demo was solved, gamers were treated with a CG trailer featuring Norman Reedus.
Saying gamers were excited about the new title would be an understatement. With the games all-star talent, many felt that the Silent Hill franchise would finally return to its roots as some of gaming’s greatest horror experiences with Kojima wanting a more “genuine, thoughtful and permeating” type of horror for Silent Hills, something that was seriously lacking in the series after the departure of Team Silent. Kojima then revealed more details of Silent Hills via a new “concept movie” trailer for the game that featured some of Junji Ito’s various disturbing creature designs. While no details on the story or even a release date, fans were optimistic about Silent Hills. But sadly that’s not how the story ends.
The Hills Are Now Silent
In the last few months before the release of Metal Gear Solid V, tensions between Kojima and Konami was at an all-time high due to several factors such as more interference with the game’s development (such as adding microtransactions), Kojima wanting to end the Metal Gear series after Phantom Pain, a restructuring of Konami itself that removed Kojima as executive content officer, and removing his name entirely from the marketing of Metal Gear Solid V. This culminated with Kojima leaving Konami altogether in March 2015. And this spelled doom for Silent Hills and even P.T.
On April 25th, 2019, Konami announced that the “distribution period” for P.T. would expire on April 29th, 2015. Fearing this could mean the end for Silent Hills, Del Toro was asked that night after the announcement at a panel at the San Francisco International Film Festival on the status of the game, to which he responded: “You’ll have to go after Konami for those answers.” And only a few days later on April 27th, Konami formally announced that Silent Hills has been canceled in the following statement:
“Konami is committed to new Silent Hills titles, however the embryonic ‘Silent Hills’ with Del Toro and featuring the likeness of Norman Reedus will not continue.”
And the backlash to this cancelation was immense.
This wasn’t helped with Konami’s removal of P.T. from the PSN Store and even not allowing players to redownload the game if it was deleted from their console. This decision unintentional made Playstation 4 consoles with P.T. installed highly sought after on the secondhand market with some selling for hundreds of dollars. Konami even went as far as sending cease and desist letters to online sellers and there have been rumors of Konami deleting P.T. off people’s hard drives.
The removal of P.T. and the cancellation of Silent Hills created a PR nightmare for Konami. Many panned Konami’s decision to almost try to erase the existence of the game and with growing allegations of Konami’s mistreatment of its developers such as Kojima himself and lack of respect for its intellectual properties (including the announcement of a Silent Hill pachinko machine), Konami’s reputation as a respected game publisher was all but destroyed. But sometimes the dead can’t stay buried.
Enter The Survival-Horror…Again
With P.T. and Silent Hills’ almost mythic potential for horror gaming, several developers took this as an opportunity to fill the void Kojima and company left behind. Several independent developers such as an example Bloober Team released their first-person horror title Layers of Fear and its sequel as a spiritual successor to P.T. inspired by its haunting atmosphere for a first-person gaming experience. Others tried to make their own remakes of P.T. that were sadly stopped due to Konami’s legal team. And then Capcom threw its hat in the ring with the first look of the seventh entry of Silent Hill’s competition series, Resident Evil. During E3 2015, Capcom released a VR first-person demo of Resident Evil VII: Biohazard tiled “KI7CHEN” which many noticed it’s eerie similarities to P.T. despite Capcom’s instance it was not.
While many felt Capcom was simply trend-chasing P.T.’s hype, others felt this was a smart decision to fill a market void of survival horror amongst AAA publishers and developers. Either way it was a success for Capcom with Resident Evil VII becoming a critical and commercial success with both fans and critics alike with a Metacritic score 86 and selling 2.5 million copies days after release. It was very clear Kojima’s desire to reinvigorate horror in gaming managed to live on despite the cancelation of Silent Hills.
And despite his departure from Konami after his 30-year tenure with the publisher, Kojima managed to forge his own path. Taking several former Konami developers with him, Kojima founded his own gaming developer Kojima Productions and began a multi-game deal with Sony Interactive. He then released his first game under his studio titled Death Stranding on November 8th, 2019 for the Playstation 4 with even Norman Reedus and Del Toro returning to collaborate.
And so what can be learned about the death and legacy of P.T.?
Well for one it shows an ugly side of the AAA gaming industry on its mistreatment of its developers and how this stifles true artistry in video gaming. But one could also see it as a pyrrhic victory as well. Despite the absence of Silent Hill in the past few years, horror in gaming seems to be reinvigorated. Just this year Capcom released a complete remake of Resident Evil 2 to become a critical darling amongst players and is even being nominated for game of the year awards from several different publications.
And with the independent gaming scene more bold and experimental horror games will always be frequent and is unlikely to go away anytime soon. And despite his mistreatment at Konami, Hideo Kojima managed to free himself to make games he wants to make without corporate oversight and incompetence. But let’s not forget that P.T. itself was a truly masterful example of horror storytelling and would remain gaming’s biggest what-if.