Q&A

James Shar­man

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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…”

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