This is the second in our author-vs.-author Boss Fight Q&A series. Both Mike's book on Silent Hill 2 and Philip's book on Resident Evil are funding now on Kickstarter.
You’re known primarily for humor, but you’ve selected one of the most deadly serious titles in gaming history. What made you decide to write about Silent Hill 2? What do you think you bring to the conversation as a humorist?
Silent Hill as a franchise seems like it should be able to endlessly reinvent itself, but after the third game its star harshly fell and never quite recovered. Now it’s dead, at least for the time being. Why do you think it failed to keep an audience?
It's hard to say, because I am a fan of the series as a whole. Even bad Silent Hill is still fun in its own goofy way. Most forms of art, and especially games, require massive teams of people who all genuinely want it go well. Nobody wants to leave a project feeling like they disappointed their audience. But if I had one criticism of the series - and please keep in mind this comes from a Silent Hill 2 fanboy - it's that it became too enamored with its own iconography and lore. Lore is great, but when a horror series gets weighed down by its past, there can sometimes a split between introducing new, scary elements and fan service. For example, I love the Bubble Head Nurses in Silent Hill 2, but when they come back in the movies and on t-shirts and in games like Book of Memories, they feel like mascots rather than horrors. There's just a point where Freddy Krueger goes from haunting your dreams to being a vinyl figure on a shelf.
So I don't necessarily think Silent Hill failed to keep an audience - and there is still a very dedicated audience online - but I do think that some later entries lost the thread on what made the series so captivating in the first place. Sadly, games that did try to reinvent the series like Silent Hill: Shattered Memories were essentially buried by Konami. Show of hands - how many of you played Shattered Memories? Exactly. You're missing out. Konami's cancellation of Hideo Kojima's Silent Hills after the release of the incredible P.T. also likely left both the series and the fandom in suspended animation. Finally, Konami has unfortunately failed to make playing most Silent Hill games easy for modern audiences. Outside of the poorly-produced Silent Hill 2 HD Collection, there's just no easy way to play most of the series on modern machines or at all. Well, unless you emulate.
We each chose to write about survival horror games! What are your thoughts on how that genre has largely faded in the past couple of generations, with the emphasis shifting back to action?
I don't think horror games have largely faded, but I think they've split up into action games with horror elements like the Evil Within and smaller, more artistic horror experiences like Layers of Fear. I'm sure this theory doesn't hold up under even the slightest scrutiny. But for me, the genre didn't fade so much as I found the experiences I needed off the AAA path. Games like Corpse Party, Pathologic (1 and 2), Darkwood, and Stories Untold. These are off the top of my head, not a list of my favorite games, people who are ready to be mad at me. That said, many of those AAA action-horror games are great! Look at something like Bloodborne. It's action-based. It's an RPG. But the way the game unfolds, the way you try to figure out what exactly happened doesn't feel that far from what Silent Hill often tries to do with its environmental storytelling. And I'll say that playing Resident Evil VII in virtual reality is one of the scariest gaming experiences I've ever had.
What is the earliest piece of media (not necessarily horror) that you remember scaring the hell out of you? Walk us through every aspect of that childhood trauma!
Two things come to mind. First, I was terrified of horror movie VHS box art. Just the designs - especially of those late '80s, early '90s horror movie boxes, just felt mysterious and terrifying to me. I didn't get into horror until middle school, so as a child, I would just see boxes for movies like Child's Play and feel immense fear. Two, the Large Marge scene from Pee Wee's Big Adventure. Honestly, still scary.
How far did the final book land from what you envisioned? What changed during the writing process?
Hoo boy. As you know, these books aren't very long, so we don't have space to cover everything we want to talk about. I had to cut down chapters on the development and release of the game (although I do touch on it) because the developers themselves released a making-of documentary that's available on YouTube. My first draft was somewhere in the range of 65,000 words and I had to get it down to 30,000, so some topics just had to go. I care about these topics! I just put more emphasis on other subjects I felt like I'd seen a little less of in the ether. I'd also say that the earlier drafts were "funnier" in the sense they had more jokes, but upon re-reading, I felt like I was shoe horning them in a bit much, accidentally making the book a bit more cringey than fun. Who knows if I've succeeded making it less so. Probably not!
Mandatory question: What features and creatures would you encounter if you were to visit Silent Hill? (Or, perhaps, “when.” I have no idea what you’re planning to promote the book.)
What I like about Silent Hill 2 compared to other games in the series is that the horrors you face come directly from your own sins. Most of the other Silent Hill games may have put the horror on a cult, but Silent Hill 2 just wants its characters to feel bad for what they did. So I'd probably encounter a really sad, deteriorating city that made little sense and left me feeling lonely and isolated based on the sin of letting friendships and relationships fester until they died. As far as monsters? I think the ones that always disturb me the worst are the ones that have human forms but look wrapped in a sweaty sheet made of flesh. F that S.