Shadow of Phoenix

Chasing the Rabbit: Silent Hill Intro Stage Part 1

Posted: Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Info about the game

Silent Hill was released on the PlayStation in 1999. It was developed by Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo and published by Konami. The game takes place in a town called Silent Hill. A man named Harry Mason takes his daughter there for vacation, but something bad has happened to the town. Harry’s daughter Cheryl disappears upon arrival. He must journey through the town to find her, and learns what happened to the town along the way.

Why write about Silent Hill

I’ve always loved playing Silent Hill 1 through 4. I’m fascinated by the game mechanics, exploration, story presentation, characters, and everything that makes the game terrifying.  I’ve played these games so many times that I know them like the back of my hand.

The point to make about Silent Hill

I’ve always wanted to understand these games better. To do that I must understand the game mechanics first one stage of each game at a time. I recorded gameplay footage for each game. Then I edit down to the parts where I control the protagonist. I recreate the game mechanics by animating them with Blender. By seeing how the game plays without character models, detailed environments, sound effects, etc. I realize that the game mechanics are the core the game’s narrative. Other narrative elements such as cutscenes, character monologue, memos add to the game’s narrative that game mechanics can’t provide by itself.

How the point will be presented

First, I will present the game mechanics, and how the camera and controls are a part of the mechanics. Then explain how the other narrative elements contribute to the narrative of game mechanics. The other narrative elements are, in order, game manual and cutscenes, then the protagonist’s monologue, environment, sound effects and music. I will begin by focusing on the introductory stage of the first Silent Hill, and it will be divided into two parts.

Purpose of the introductory stage

The purpose of stage one in Silent Hill is to lead the player into the game world. The player must be invested in the game world, and forget about real life while they’re playing. Video games themselves are a temporary escape from real life stresses just like books and films. One unique feature of video games is interactivity. The player interacts with video games through game mechanics.

Leading the player

In stage one of Silent Hill, the game mechanics are a metaphor for Alice in Wonderland when Alice chases the rabbit.  By controlling the protagonist (Harry), the player must chase another character (his daughter Cheryl). Like Alice in Wonderland, the chase leads the player into a fantasy world or game world in this case. The game world is a town called Silent Hill.

Using Alice in Wonderful as metaphor

It is quite obvious that this part is a chase. All the player/Harry is doing is following Cheryl. As shown in the first video clip, Harry is running and nothing else. Editing the game footage down to the parts were the player controls Harry (no cutscenes), makes it easier to see the game mechanics as a narrative on its own. In this case, a chase sequence. Something else to note is the invisible barriers in this stage that make sure Harry stays on the right path. If Harry tries to go in a different direction than Cheryl (second video clip), Harry is prevented from going any further.

Demonstrating with my own animation

With my own animation, I can use simple objects allowing me to see how the game is played without makeup (character models, environment detail, etc.). I can also use a different point of view. The camera in the game follows Harry. I wanted the camera view in my animation to be top down in the same orientation as the game’s map. Now the game mechanics by itself become even more obvious. The blue circle (Harry) is chasing the pink circle (Cheryl), and the light gray is the street they run on while the dark gray represents the buildings.  At this point of view, it looks like they go down when they enter the alley like going down the rabbit hole.  I even use a brown circle for when they go through the gate because the gate serves as the entrance to the nightmare of Silent Hill.  Just like the rabbit hole served as an entrance to Wonderland.

Camera and controls add to game mechanics

In addition to the game mechanics of this stage are the camera and the controls. They provide the feeling of controlling Harry. In the video clip, I use the animation I created in Blender to give an outside view of how the camera shifts. The black cone is added to represent the camera. The controller shows the buttons the player must press to control Harry. The game footage shows when the camera changes angles. As the player controls Harry, the camera follows him from behind for he is following Cheryl. The only time a camera takes a different angle is when Cheryl turns in another direction, and it is in the form of a cutscene. The camera acts as a guide to where Harry should go. The camera following Harry also makes it easier for the player to control him. All the player has to do is press the up button for Harry to move forward while pressing the square button for him to run. The player doesn’t have to make a turn until Cheryl goes through the gate in the alley. Silent Hill borrows it’s controls from Resident Evil. The controls remain consistent no matter how the camera angle changes. In this part of stage 1, the player needs to be able to follow Cheryl without much difficulty. The camera and the controls make that possible.

Game mechanics need assistance

The chase is a guide/motivation for the player to enter the game world. In this part of the stage, the guide/motivation is Harry’s daughter. Game mechanics alone, however, is not enough to get a player invested in the game world. The player needs a reason to believe that the protagonist must chase the other character. That is where the game manual and cutscenes shown before stage one come in.

Game manual states characters, relationship and reason for being in town

There is a page in the game manual that states that Harry and his daughter Cheryl drive to Silent Hill for a vacation. I’ve already mentioned Harry and Cheryl as characters and their relationship.  For the first time player, however, they must be introduced to Harry and Cheryl before they play the game, and know the relationship between the two. This description tells the player the reason why Harry and Cheryl are in Silent Hill as well as the reason why Harry is willing to chase Cheryl when the player gains control of him. Playing as a man going after his daughter makes the player care about following her wherever she goes.

Cutscenes show how character get to events in stage one

It’s unusual for a man to be chasing his daughter as she runs from him in a town. Something has to lead to that. The opening cutscenes shows how that happens. The opening scenes shows all the characters each in different situations. For the subject of this post, the video clip has been edited to the footage of only Harry and Cheryl driving to Silent Hill. As Harry and Cheryl approach Silent Hill, a figure steps out in the road causing Harry to crash his jeep. When Harry wakes up, Cheryl is gone prompting him to search for her. He catches a glimpse of her and the chase (stage one) begins.

Other elements indicating danger

Now that we have a reason to care about Harry and Cheryl along with knowing how and why they got into the situation in stage one, the player needs obstacles to overcome as Harry chases Cheryl. Cheryl is running into danger. A scene of Harry’s monologue, the environment, the sound effects, and the music signal the coming danger of the town.  A scene shows Harry commenting how the town is not right. Both clips are the same scene. The first clip shows video with no sound while the second clip has sound without video. It is a better way of demonstrating how visuals and sound effect the scene. It should also be noted that the camera circles Harry during this scene. The camera circles him because he is examining his surroundings, and the player must rely on his description of what he sees. The player experiences Silent Hill through his point of view. The environment has no sign of a living person. It’s also foggy and snowing at an odd time of year. The sound effects are only that of Harry’s and Cheryl’s footsteps hitting the street during the chase indicating that they’re the only two people in town. The music, on the other hand, is an ambience of a strange, deep hum giving the impression that the town is alive in an unusual way.

Summary and what's next

Silent Hill is a worthwhile game to take the time to examine its narrative.  As we examine each game one stage at a time, we will see more evidence that game mechanics are the center of the narrative, and the other narrative elements are tools to compensate for what game mechanics can’t do alone. This first part of the first stage is a character (Cheryl) leading the protagonist (Harry) into the game world (nightmare of Silent Hill). That is the game mechanics, and the core narrative of this part of the game. The camera and controls work together to guide the player, and provide the feel of controlling Harry. The game manual gives the relationship between Harry and Cheryl, and answers why they’re in Silent Hill. The opening cutscenes show the event that leads to Harry chasing Cheryl. Lastly, the combination of Harry’s monologue, environment, sound effects, and music all indicate the danger of Silent Hill. In part two of stage one, the Alice chasing the rabbit game mechanic theme will continue. Although, it will be presented a little differently.

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