Friday, January 25, 2013

Tomm Hulett Quits Konami, Silent Hill Fans Breath a Sigh of Relief

Yesterday, Rely on Horror announced that Silent Hill video game producer/developer Tomm Hulett had officially left Konami. But I don't think that he resigned. That's too nice of a word. It think that either he quit, or he was forced to quit by the company. And here's why.

There's been a lot of debate over who to blame for the entire "Silent Hill HD Collection" disaster, what with it's broken graphics, terrible sound replacement and the utterly strange controversy over the change of voice actors. With the release of "Silent Hill: Book of Memories," a line was drawn in the sand between those who are infallible fan boys that drool over anything that has Silent Hill in its title, and those who have been fans of the series since its inception and appreciated it for what it was and what it still has the potential to be: a really good survival horror franchise.

Unfortunately the past five Silent Hill games have been sub-par in both plot and story structure, as well as game play mechanics. Sure, they graphics are pretty, but that's about it. There's no substance, the games are as vapid as that blonde whats-her-face from "Sex and the City;" all glamour, no brains.

When you look at who developed the last five Silent Hill games, one name keeps popping up, that of the now infamous Tomm Hulett, who by the way has one of the most annoying names in gaming history. I mean come on, who in their right mind spells the name Tom with two M's? Seriously! Who does that? There should be an IE or a Y after those to M's otherwise, it's an utter butchery of the name Thomas that completely ignores the grammatical rules of the English language.

But my naming convention rant aside, there's something about that Tom with two Ms that never really sat right with me. I'm not sure if it was that smirk on his face when he talked in that video about "Silent Hill: Shattered Memories" and the "Silent Hill HD Collection," but the way he looked it was like the joke was on us. All I know is that for a lot of recent interviews, his body language was completely off. Just watch the video below of Tomm in an interview with Got

Watch how he wrings his hands ever so tightly together,  how he rolls his eyes at times, and how avoids eye-contact with his interviewer. Poor Tom with two Ms just doesn't look happy. In fact, he looks as though he is feeling quite ill, which is not like someone who is excited about a new game that is coming out.

While some may say that it's not fair to judge him and that SH fans are demonizing the man and that they are irrational fan boys that are either A. Weeaboos (i.e. total Japanophiles) or B. Obsessive Uncaring Jerks. I personally think that some of the blame has to fall on the man's shoulders. Why? Well, because he is the face of the games. He is the spokesperson, the one who raved about how good his versions of Silent Hill were going to be, and the one who quickly back-tracked when things turned out to be not-so-rosy once the games were released, and the one who started whining when people didn't like his sub-par video games.

A look at the man's track record is also a bit revealing. Tomm Hulett has been the game director of  a number of videos games that are so unremarkable that I haven't heard of some of them aside from "Rocket Knight." These games include "Robopon: Sun Version," "Steambot Chronicles" and "Trauma Center: Under the Knife." But there are a few games that he developed that are good such as "Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3" and "Silent Hill :Origins"- a PSP game that I felt was very close in tone and style to the first three Silent Hill games and one that I thoroughly enjoyed playing.

If only he could've managed to keep Climax Studios on to do the other Silent Hills games, then things would've turned out quite differently. But he didn't, and the games that followed are so bad they make me want to hide under my blankets and cry. Games such as "Silent Hill: Shattered Memories" which was supposed to be more of a psychological dive into the mind of the player, and ended up being a walking simulator where you had to run away from monsters and were completely unable to enjoy the hellish frozen landscape of the Otherworld.

If they had stuck with the psychological profiling of the player by changing the game based on what you looked at and focused on while playing, and eliminated the rushed chase scenes, it would've been a very good experimental horror game. But they didn't, and it's not. It's actually a very short game that can be beat within four hours of playing. Four hours. That's it. Yay. I'm glad I spent $60 on that one.

After Shattered Memories, in which the only good thing about the game was the soundtrack, there was "Silent Hill: Downpour" which ran with the idea from Shattered Memories, but instead of using ice, they used water- rain to be exact, and then turned the Otherworld into a strange Mario Brothers-esque nightmare realm where you have to jump from one abstract platform to another in order to escape a giant black hole that is chasing after you and sucking the landscape into its light distorting maw as it goes.

After Downpour, there was the heartbreakingly bad "Silent Hill HD Collection" and "Silent Hill: Book of Memories," which were actually being developed at the same time, even though they were released almost a year apart.

I don't care what people say, the HD Collection was a travesty that should never have been released and put on store shelves. NEVER. It's not the new voice acting (that's actually really good by the way) it's the fact that it was a broken game and they knew it was broken, but they put it out anyway. If they didn't have the money or time to put into creating the HD versions of "Silent Hill 2" and "Silent Hill 3," they just shouldn't have bothered with it. There's nothing worse than a half-assed version of a game, especially ones of those that are very dear and close to a lot of fans. Games like those need to be treated with kid gloves, not only because hard core fans can get really grumpy if you mess with their canonized video games, but because disappointing your main audience is the fastest way to alienate the people that would automatically buy a game with Silent Hill in the title.

As far as Book of Memories goes, the premise of creating a "Gauntlet" style hack-and-slash multiplayer game for a survival horror series just doesn't work very well. World of Darkness's "Hunter: The Reckoning" video game is a prime example of that. If you're really wondering, this video pretty much summarizes everything that is wrong with BoM in a nutshell.

Here's a mantra that Konami needs to start repeating while creating new games for its franchises: If it's not broke, don't fix it. If the formula works, keep it. If the setting is great, add to it, don't try to reinvent the wheel. That goes for the origin story of Silent Hill, and the game's aesthetics- its art, the way the town feels, the synth style music/soundtrack, and the way the Nightmare Realm or Otherworld is supposed to have this apocalyptic Industrial feel to it with it's rusted chain link fences and broken doors. A giant black hole trying to suck you in doesn't exactly scream Silent Hill to me. How about you?

While it may be said that Tom with two Ms was passionate about the Silent Hill series, he still messed with my waifu and the waifu of a lot of other SH fans when he decided to go a different route with the aesthetic design of the town, and its denizens. That's not to say that you can't have your own version of Silent Hill, it's just that once you get away from the survival horror aspects of the video game franchise, you lose what is at its heart; a video game that used the common fears of the Japanese people, mixed it with American horror stories, and created a monstrosity- a living town that devours the landscape and twists into a person's most darkest fears and desires.

And that my friends, is why Tomm Hulett's versions of Silent Hill are so bad. He strayed too far away from the dark festering heart of the demonic town and created sub-par, watered down versions of it, which may be his own personal version of hell on earth, but it's a pale comparison to the monstrosities that came before it.

Will the "resignation" of Tomm Hulett and his slinking away from the edge of the abyss and into the safe bosom of WayForward Technologies be the bell toll that's calling for the SH cultists to come out of the wood work and run away from the darkness before it swallows them whole? Or is it far too late for the franchise, and Konami, to redeem itself by creating a new Silent Hill game that is actually as scary as its predecessors?

Only time will tell on this one.

One can hope for the best. I'm not going to hold my breath in anticipation like a nervous school girl waiting for her prom date to pick her up in his dad's truck. No, I'll just sit back and wait a while, and listen for the unmistakable sound of metal screeching on metal as Pyramid Head drags his huge sword my way once again.

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  1. Good read. Even years later I still dislike these games as much as I did from day one. Such irreversible damage to a once beloved franchise. It also stings knowing that Silent Hills is but a distant memory. I mean good or bad, if the post SH4 games have a right to exist then surely does Kojima's project! God how I loathe Konami...

    Great post my friend. Though I have to disagree with you on HD's voice acting. I think it's horrid.

    1. It really kills me that Silent Hills was cancelled. It would've be a refreshing new start for the franchise.