Technical director, Climax Studios
What was the jump from PSP to Wii like?
At that time you could have walked into any studio and had a chance of finding a dev team trying to work out what to do with this strange new input device. We had a main character renowned for carrying a torch and a controller designed for pointing at things; it felt like a good fit. I was very proud of what we had achieved technically on PSP with Origins, but moving to a more powerful platform is always a great opportunity to explore new ideas and techniques.
What did it take to get so much out of Wii?
I’ve always got a kick out of pushing hardware as hard as I can. It was also very motivating to be working with a content team who took every new feature and really put the effort in to get some amazing results. I had previously enjoyed working on the NGC, and the similarity in hardware with Wii meant it was possible to jump in quickly and start exploring ideas.
The shadows cast by the Remote flashlight look great. Were they difficult to get right?
For Origins it was a big technical challenge just to get basic shadow-casting going on the PSP alongside the other elements in the scene; on SH:SM, things became more complex when we needed to cast shadows from semi-transparent objects and onto different kinds of surfaces. Wii’s non-core audience. “Combat didn’t fit the idea of selling a horror game to a broad demographic. For example, the point where my girlfriend would stop playing games was when she was asked to pick up a weapon and start fighting. It would conform to her idea of what a videogame was and she would become very, very bored.” Losing combat was controversial. Released before the avoidance-based gameplay of Amnesia: Dark Descent or Alien: Isolation, Shattered Memories’ ‘flight not fight’ approach was an anomaly. “Of all the pressures internally, in the publisher reviews the question would always be, ‘Are you trying to make a game where you just walk around and nothing happens?’ I was like, ‘No, but that’s a valid experience…’”
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories was originally slated for release on Wii, PSP and PlayStation 2. During development, with money being tight, Konami agreed to ditch the PS2 version, but it was resurrected after it became clear that the projected audience for this type of game on Wii simply wasn’t enough to drive sales. “Towards the end of development, just as were coming up to the end of production [in late 2009], it was decided Wii was not doing great. In order to make this project make [financial] sense, we needed a PS2 SKU, because in South America the PS2 was still huge and there was an audience for this kind of game out there and in a couple of other territories.”
Ultimately the PS2 version helped the game more or less break even; one estimate puts total units sold across all platforms at 440,000. However, it lacked the innovative motion-control features that made the Wii iteration so exciting. For a dev team that had tried so hard to innovate, it was a compromised version of their vision.
“It was a catch-22,” Barlow says. “Its problems, commercially, were that it was a Silent Hill game and it was on Wii. But if it hadn’t been a Silent Hill game and if it hadn’t been on Wii, it would never have existed the way it existed.” An exciting new platform and a franchise known for its rich narratives opened up possibilities that normally wouldn’t have been an option. “You can probably count on one hand the number of IPs where a publisher would let you say, ‘We want to tell a deep, meaningful, moving story.’”
The publishers’ other strategy didn’t help matters much. “In the end, Konami marketed it as a core gamer title,” Barlow says. It was exactly the opposite of what his team had been working towards. “It was very frustrating for us that we ended up with the same Metacritic on Shattered Memories as on Origins,” he continues. “Generally the negativity came from people who were opposed to playing a core game on Wii anyway. [It was] something that could have been negated by selling the game [differently].”
After Shattered Memories shipped, Barlow and his team moved onto Legacy Of Kain: Dead Sun, a PS4 launch title for Square Enix. “We took a lot of things we’d learned from Shattered Memories and were doing them on a much bigger scale, although more subtly,” Barlow says. Progressive and ambitious, the game was canned after the team had spent three years on it.
Barlow remains convinced that Shattered Memories’ attempt to grow a narrative and experience around individual players still offers exciting possibilities. “There’s an appetite for doing interesting story things and there’s a certain type of story-driven game indies can’t make: the kind with high production values and expensive mo-cap. Over the last year, publishers are suddenly much more interested in talking…”