Shadow of Phoenix

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Going Down the Rabbit Hole: Silent Hill Intro Stage Part 2

Going Down the Rabbit Hole: Silent Hill Intro Stage Part 2

Posted: Tuesday, April 30, 2019


I will continue to discuss the game mechanics as the core narrative of Silent Hill with complementary narrative elements contributing to that core narrative. In part one, I focused on the first area of stage one where Harry chases his daughter Cheryl into an alley when they enter the town of Silent Hill. He chases her like Alice chases the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. Alice chasing the rabbit is used as a metaphor for the game mechanics in this stage. The complementary elements make up for what game mechanics can’t do such as providing character narrative and emphasizing the danger of the town. The character narrative has been established by the game manual and opening scenes as presented in part one. The game manual states Harry’s and Cheryl’s relationship as father and daughter along with their reason for being in Silent Hill. The opening scenes show the event that leads to Harry chasing Cheryl in the streets. The character narrative is not continued by any scenes in this part. The core narrative and complementary narrative remain constant, however they present changes that are happening in the town.   

Now in Part 2

Part two continues on the other side of the gate that Cheryl and Harry entered in the alley. Harry continues to chase Cheryl in an alley that seems to never end, however Cheryl can no longer be seen. It’s as if she has disappeared. Harry continues to run in the alley thinking he’s still chasing Cheryl based on the fact that she went through the gate to this alley. The place turns into a nightmare. Harry continues though, until he is attacked by monsters and he appears to die.

Core Narrative + Complementary Narrative = Ludonarrative Resonance

I’ve realized after writing part one that I’m throwing out so many different concepts, and not making clear connections between each one. I’ve created a mindmap specifically for what I will be talking about in this post on part two of the intro stage. I’m using one official term as well as creating my own terms to make better sense of this subject. Ludonarrative is an official term used by the video game community to refer to the narrative presented by the game mechanics and other narrative elements within the game. Silent Hill is an illustration of ludonarrative resonance because all narrative elements (each with its own role) work together in providing a cohesive narrative. As the mindmap shows, I will start referring to the game mechanics, camera, and controls as the core narrative. All three parts provide the how for a player interacting with the game. The other elements I will start calling the complementary narrative for they make up for what the core narrative can’t do on its own. Except for the term ludonarrative, these concepts I’m providing are not terms used by the video game industry or anyone involved in Silent Hill’s development. They are concepts I’ve created to convey my understanding of the game. I will start with the game mechanics of the core narrative.

Term for all narrative elements of a video game that work together to be cohesive

Game Mechanic: Alice in Wonderland Metaphor Continued

Term for all narrative elements of a video game that work together to be cohesive

The Alice in Wonderland metaphor as a game mechanic is continued in part two. Although, it is presented a little differently. This time Cheryl can’t be seen. She no longer serves as a visual guide of where Harry must go. As a result, the alley is a linear path that Harry has no choice but to follow until he reaches the end. When Harry reaches the end of the alley it’s actually a dead end. He is then attacked by monsters. With no way of defending himself and nowhere to run, he is powerless to stop the attack and appears to die.

The video clip is an animation I created of part two in Blender. The blue circle is still Harry. The gray path is when the town is in fog. The black path represents the darkness taking over. The red path is when the alley turns into the otherworld. I will explain each of these states of the town in a later section. Each time the blue circle hits an object, it imitates each time Harry sees something significant in the alley. I show what each object represents by playing a video overlay of the game footage of Harry seeing each one.

Game Mechanic’s Simple Interaction & its Effect on Player

Term for all narrative elements of a video game that work together to be cohesive

The game mechanic is how the player interacts with the game. In this part, the player follows a linear path believing that he/she is still chasing Cheryl. The photo shown below is taken from the animation I created for this part. It is not an exact copy of the path of the alley from the game. There is no map for the alley. As a result, I made a rough sketch of it, and turned it into this animation. Looking at the alley from a top down view, Harry is going further down the rabbit hole. Once the player reaches the dead end, monsters attack Harry, and the player cannot fight or run away creating a feeling of helplessness. That feeling turns into confusion when Harry seemingly dies and the screen goes black. Up to that point, the player is simply following a path, which is made to be disorienting by the camera.

Camera’s Uneasy Perspective

Term for all narrative elements of a video game that work together to be cohesive

The camera gives the player the perspective of how he/she interacts with the game. In this section, the camera takes on many different angles: above Harry, in front of him, behind him, closer to the ground, and combinations of each. At certain points it’s static, often times, to indicate an environment element. Other times, it’s dynamic to follow the path Harry passes through. I provide a video clip for each different camera position. The camera’s position changes constantly. Nine times in total. There are ten video clips because camera 6 is when Harry tries to return to where he came from but it’s now a dead end. I removed the audio from each video to make it easier to focus on the camera movement. Some of the video clips I added a slow down effect due to those cameras moving more with Harry. The slow down effect makes it more noticeable on how the camera is moving. 

When the town is foggy/snowing (cameras 1-4), the camera changes more drastically. It’s acting crazy to signal the player that the town of Silent Hill is going crazy. When the town goes dark (cameras 5-9), the camera stays above Harry (except for one time) to show the environment changing around him. The one time the camera is not above Harry when it’s dark (camera 7), it moves to the ground level because he is approaching something on the ground that’s out of place in the alley, and moves above him again as he approaches the object. I will explain more on how the environment adds to the narrative after I go over how Silent Hill’s controls are different from most video games of this time, and the feeling they provide to the player.

Camera 1

Camera 2

Camera 3 (half speed)

Camera 4 (half speed)

Camera 5

Camera 6 (half speed)

Camera 5 cont’d

Camera 7

Camera 8 (half speed)

Camera 9 (half speed)

Silent Hill’s Controls vs. Common 5th Console Gen Controls

Term for all narrative elements of a video game that work together to be cohesive

I will explain in more detail how Silent Hill’s controls stand out from most video games of this era since it’s control scheme is more obvious in this part than in part one. The 5th console generation is referred as the video game consoles of the mid to late 90’s: PlayStation, Nintendo 64, and Sega Saturn. Silent Hill is a horror game on the PlayStation that is also categorized in the action adventure genre. I will compare Silent Hill’s controls with three other action adventure games on the PlayStation: Resident Evil, Tomb Raider II, and Metal Gear Solid. Unfortunately, I do not own any action adventure games on the N64 or Saturn to compare them to Silent Hill.

As I stated in part one, Silent Hill borrows aspects of it’s control scheme from Resident Evil. Particularly what some call tank controls. The up button always makes Harry walk forward, the down button makes Harry walk backward, the left button turns Harry counterclockwise, and the right button turns Harry clockwise. The directional controls stay the same no matter what angle the camera takes. Unless the player has played Resident Evil, this control scheme can be difficult to become accustomed to. In Resident Evil, however, the camera is always at a static angle. It doesn’t move with the protagonist at any time like it can at certain points in Silent Hill. As shown in the video clip of Resident Evil, the perspective will be through a camera in one position as Jill walks by. When Jill reaches the invisible boundary for that particular camera, the perspective changes to another camera looking at Jill from a different angle. Due to the constant changes in camera perspectives, both Silent Hill’s and Resident Evil’s directional controls are independent from the camera. They stay consistent no matter what the camera does. Most other action adventure games of this era used a different form of controls making it difficult for many players to become accustomed to games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil.

Typically, video games during this time would use directional controls that are dependent on the camera. For example, Tomb Raider II has a camera that moves with the protagonist Lara Croft’s movements. It stays somewhere behind Lara. The controls are similar to Silent Hill and Resident Evil: up button moves Lara forward, down button makes her jump back, etc. The camera, on the other hand, does not change perspective. It always follows Lara. If she turns left or right, the camera will move left or right with her. 

In a game like Metal Gear Solid, Snake’s (protagonist’s) directional movements changes with the camera. The camera remains in a position above Snake. A sort of top down perspective. If the player presses the down button then Snake will face downward and walk in the downward direction. If the player presses the left button, Snake will face left and walk in the leftward direction. Many players seem to prefer a control scheme like this one. It would not work with a game like Silent Hill (or Resident Evil for that matter). I do not currently have game footage available, but Silent Hill 4 proves that a control scheme similar to Metal Gear Solid does not work well with a dynamic camera in the Silent Hill series.

Once again, the controls are independent of the camera in Silent Hill. Critics claim that they’re disorienting. Yes, they are disorienting at times, but that may be what the developers intended for the controls to be. Keep in mind that this console generation was the first with 3D graphics, and developers were experimenting with different controls. They didn’t know yet what type of controls worked best with a 3D world.

Silent Hill

Resident Evil

Tomb Raider II

Metal Gear Solid

Controls’ Uneasy Feeling

Term for all narrative elements of a video game that work together to be cohesive

If the game mechanics provide the interaction between the player and the game, and the camera provides the perspective to that interaction then the controls provide the feeling for that interaction. It specifically provides the player certain feelings of controlling Harry especially in relation to the camera. When the camera follows Harry like most of the first part, the player can comfortably control him as he/she presses the up button. Once that camera switches to the front of Harry, the player must still press the up button to keep him moving forward. The switch in camera position may make the player feel disoriented. The player may press the down button by habit from playing other video games, and Harry starts walking backwards. The camera and controls do not make it easy to control Harry at first. It gets easier the more it’s played.

Think of it as a way for the player being able to relate to Harry. Harry is thrust into a nightmare that seems to be out of control. At the beginning, he has no way of handling the nightmare, but he will adapt to it. The player will have the same experience as Harry. The controls are difficult for the player to handle at first, but he/she will adapt to the controls as the game progresses. Yes, it may be frustrating. Yes, the developers did not yet know what controls worked best for 3D games. It can be thought, however, that the controls create a certain feeling of controlling Harry as the camera takes certain positions. It cannot be known with 100% certainty that the developers intended for the controls to create certain feelings for the player. Although in thinking that it can create certain feelings, Silent Hill’s control scheme can be more appreciated as a narrative element. Now that the core narrative is out of the way, we can move to the complementary narrative.

The Other Narrative Elements

Term for all narrative elements of a video game that work together to be cohesive

This part has four elements that have a place in the complementary narrative. The environment at times acts as a visual storyteller that surrounds Harry. The audio (music/sound effects) gives the mood of the narrative. Protagonist monologue is Harry’s thoughts presented on screen through text. The cutscenes this time emphasize certain aspects of the nightmare, and Harry’s reaction to them. All four elements expose the experience of the nightmare for the first time. As promised, I will move on to discuss the environment providing narrative.

Environment: Visual Context of Horror

Term for all narrative elements of a video game that work together to be cohesive

The environment provides the visual context for the nightmare. One key aspect in the nightmare of Silent Hill is how the environment shifts: fog/snow, darkness, otherworld. Otherworld is a term used by Harry that he will explain later in the game. For lack of a better term, I will refer to that part of the nightmare as the otherworld.  The alley serves as an introduction to how the nightmare will be throughout the game. But why would the nightmare shift that way? It involves a character that has not been introduced yet. Although, I will say that I have noticed that the nightmare shifts are similar to a person’s cyclical states of consciousness. The fog state is like the town is in partial wakefulness. The darkness is the town falling asleep. The otherworld is the town immersed in a dream state. Then the cycle will start over as we will experience as the game goes on. Another vital characteristic about the nightmare is that something always triggers the nightmare to shift.

In part one, Harry is shown waking up to the foggy town after the car crash as shown in a cutscene. The town is still in the fog state when he chases Cheryl to the alley. When he goes through another gate in the alley, however the town shifts to darkness. The darkness transforms to the otherworld as he approaches a wheelchair and gurney oddly placed in an alley. Once again, they relate to a character not yet introduced. The otherworld state gets worse as he continues. He is then attacked by monsters and appears to die. As we will see in stage two, the nightmare cycle starts over. Before moving onto the audio, I’d like to point out an interesting detail.

At the end of part one, Harry enters the alley through a gate. There is a sign on the gate that says “Beware of Dog”. On the other side of the gate though (included in part two), there is an unrecognizable carcass on the ground. Silent Hill takes place in the United States. It is common in the US for people to use “Beware of Dog” signs on their properties to warn people that the owners have a dog that may act defensive towards them. While playing Silent Hill, a player will more likely see the “Beware of Dog”, and expect a defensive dog to attack Harry when he goes through the gate. The player will see that there is no dog but something more disturbing. The player is warned beforehand that something is about to happen, although it turns out to be something that he/she did not expect. This is an introduction to the method of how the player will be terrified throughout the game. Terrifying the player with the environment is only part of the narrative. Another part is the audio.

Beware of Dog sign

Audio: Mood of the Horror

Term for all narrative elements of a video game that work together to be cohesive

I’m going to describe the music and sound effects together. Neither one can be explained without the other. Both are effectively used to warn players of dangers, and increase the hellish mood. I will refer to them both as audio in this part. The audio coincides with the state of the environment. When the nightmare shifts, the audio shifts as well.  

Upon entering the gate in the alley while it’s still snow and fog, the same track (called “Summer Snow”) when Harry chases Cheryl to the alley is playing with a new sound of a siren. The siren signals that something bad is about to happen. That something bad is the darkness coming. Once it becomes dark, the siren dominates the “Summer Snow” track for the darkness now dominates the town. One new audio that comes up is when Harry approaches the wheelchair with the sounds of a wheelchair wheel spinning. Not only does seeing a wheelchair in an alley an odd occurrence, the sound for a wheelchair wheel spinning is out of place. It reinforces that there is something not right happening, and it’s getting worse the further Harry goes down the alley.

By the time the environment becomes grotesque, the track changes to “Welcome to Silent Hill” with louder volume, and the siren still going. The track gets louder with industrial instruments playing erratically because the environment has become erratic. Once the nightmare is at its worst, the monsters materialize out of nowhere, and Harry screams every time they attack him. His screams are horrifying for the fact that he is in pain when they attack him. The screen goes black when he dies, and the sirens fade with the black screen. This part of the nightmare is over…for now. Just like there are many details in the environment to visually signal to the player how dangerous this place will become. The audio also gives many details signaling to its dangers.

Now there is one more aspect about the audio I’d like to point out. In part one, both Harry’s and Cheryl’s footsteps can be heard hitting the pavement. In this part, only Harry’s footsteps are heard. It’s another indicator that Cheryl may have disappeared when she entered the gate in the alley. Even though Harry cannot see Cheryl anymore, he still chases after her. Cheryl will continue to act as a motivator for Harry until the end of the game. It’s his love for his daughter and wanting her to be safe that drives him to keep going no matter how hellish the nightmare becomes. That doesn’t mean that Harry isn’t disturbed by the nightmare he experiences. He just chooses to go through it despite his feelings of disturbance by the nightmare for the sake of his daughter. The player can have insight to his thoughts of the nightmare with on-screen text. I call this on-screen text the protagonist monologue.

Protagonist Monologue: Insight into Harry’s Thoughts on the Nightmare

Term for all narrative elements of a video game that work together to be cohesive

As soon as Harry goes through the “Beware of Dog” gate and if he tries to go back through the gate, an on-screen message will appear. Harry is silently telling the player that he must continue to follow Cheryl. This is the same area of the carcass. Even then Harry refuses to leave Cheryl in this place. In examining the carcass, Harry expresses his shock and confusion upon seeing it.

After the town goes dark and Harry tries to go back the way he came, he won’t get far. A dead end has formed out of nowhere. The text monologue will reveal Harry’s disbelief of what he’s seeing. Even if he attempts to leave the alley now, he’s too far into the nightmare to be able to escape.

As he goes further and the darkness transforms to the otherworld, he questions the wheelchair and gurney. He recognizes the bizarre occurrences surrounding him, but he can’t make logical sense of them. When the monsters come after him and he tries to run from them, another dead end has formed out of nowhere. He has no choice but to end the nightmare by letting the monsters attack him.

The protagonist monologue is a good way to allow the player to relate with Harry. Plus, there are times when the camera does not allow a clear view to the player of something that’s right in front of Harry. In doing so, the player must rely on his monologue to know what he sees. We will see more examples of this in later stages. In this stage, there are two more instances of Harry giving his thoughts of the nightmares that occur in cutscenes.

Cutscenes: Emphasizing Vital Features of the Nightmare with Harry’s Reaction

Term for all narrative elements of a video game that work together to be cohesive

There are only two cutscene in this part. One is to show the town changing from fog to darkness. Harry’s reaction is understandably confusion, and the only way he can see in the dark is by lighting a match he had in his pocket.

The second cutscene is at the end of the alley to show the most disturbing image thus far. A hanging human shaped body. Of course, Harry is shocked to see it. Both scenes show the point when the nightmare gets worse, and Harry’s response to the changes that happen in front of his eyes. I would like to note the body shown in the second scene as well as the monsters that attack Harry after the scene. 

The body has a head, two arms, two legs, and a torso. It has the basic shape of a human, yet it’s human shape is deformed. It lacks the features possessed by a human: eyes, hair, mouth, nose, etc. It’s appearance is disturbing because it’s ambiguously showing death. Death is an ongoing theme throughout the series used to shock the player. If a dead body is shown, it’s usually a misshapen human form and forces the player to allow his/her mind to contemplate the idea of death. The body positioning also invokes the theme of death. It’s in a crucifixion pose. Crucifixion was a common form of capital punishment used by the Roman Empire. It’s well known by most people playing Silent Hill. Crucifixion is also seen as a form of sacrifice by some religious beliefs particularly Christianity. Like the wheelchair and gurney in the alley, the fact that the body is in a crucified/sacrificial pose may refer to a character that was used as a sacrifice for a religious cause. 

There is also a possible sign that the person that was sacrificed was a child. The monsters that attack Harry are small like children. These monsters will appear again at a later stage, and I will mention these monsters in more detail at that time. For now, the fact that the monsters that materialize in the alley are child-like is an indicator that this nightmare is caused by someone’s childhood traumas. That is something we will find out over the course of the game.

Bringing it All Together & Stage 2

Term for all narrative elements of a video game that work together to be cohesive

That is more information than part one. Don’t worry. I will bring it all together. Silent Hill is a work of ludonarrative resonance. Each narrative element has its own role, and they all work together to create a harmonious narrative. I present it’s ludonarrative as the core narrative and complementary narrative. The core narrative contains the game mechanics, camera, and controls. All three have a role in the player’s interaction with the game. The complementary narrative have the environment and audio providing the horror context while the character portrayal is given by the protagonist monologue and cutscenes. All these components fill in the gaps of the core narrative. I created a mindmap comparing each component of the core narrative and complementary narrative of part one and part two. It is much easier to compare each one by showing than telling.

For stage two, I consider that to be when Harry traverses Old Silent Hill for the first time. He’s gone down the rabbit hole, and he’s now in Wonderland.