Behind The Games: Team Silent

With massive companies like EA eating up developers and spitting them out like they are nothing, it’s easy to forget that there are real people lying behind the games that we all so love and cherish with interesting stories that can often rival that of the games themselves. That’s what brings us to a new segment of Hardcore Gamer where we explore the stories behind the games and the people that helped to provide us with so many memories.

First up is Team Silent, the creators behind the first four Silent Hill games and whose time together despite being altogether brief (five years in total from 1999 to 2004), are one of the best teams ever put together in video game history. So what happened to Team Silent, just who were they and how did they come together and what tore them apart? Well read on to discover all that you need to know about these legendary developers.

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Team Silent was formed in 1999 by a variety of different employees of Konami who had become disenfranchised by the failure of the games that they had previously worked on and had agreed to work on one last game before moving on from Konami. Forming the core of the team were Akira Yamaoka, who was responsible for all the music found within the game (which every fan of Silent Hill can attest helped to add to the game’s terrifying atmosphere), Hiroyuki Owaku, who wrote/co-wrote every single one of the original series, and Masahiro Ito, who designed all the monsters within the game, including Pyramid Head himself. These were the only three people that worked on all four games in the original series and can be seen as the lifeblood of Team Silent. Coming together to release one last hurrah before disbanding, the success of the first game was a surprise to many members of the team who had expected it to be a farewell to Konami. As we all know, the first game was an immense hit and instant classic that terrified gamers everywhere upon release and with its success, work on a sequel begun with Producer Akihiro Imamura stating that, “Fortunately Silent Hill was a major hit for us” and just months after forming Team Silent, they had proved their value as one of the major developers for Konami.

It was only with Silent Hill 2 that the team really came together and this can be seen within the quality of the game itself. Whereas the first Silent Hill was an experiment that sought to discover what could be done by creating a game where there was mystery just ahead of you shrouded in fog, Team Silent made a conscious effort to include, “elements like a romantic story, love, human emotion, that can be part of horror”. Indeed, part of what caused the game to haunt players everywhere was its focus on emotional horror which, rather than giving the player cheap jump scares, affected them on an emotional level. The developers decided to go even further and use sound as a fear factor with Yamaoka stating that he had been, “making sounds that humans cannot hear, such as very high frequencies or very low frequencies and from this aspect we are creating fear.” Such innovation can be seen as the trademark of the developers who were constantly willing to push the boundaries of what could be done within a game. When we consider that Hideo Kojima (creator of the Metal Gear Solid Series) had worked with many of them on Snatcher, it comes as little surprise as to where this innovation originated from. Upon its release Silent Hill 2 was a commercial and critical success.

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Yet despite being the high point of the series, cracks were already starting to form within the team. Quite a few members had already left along with Silent Hill 1 director Keiichiro Toyama to work on the equally terrifying Siren franchise shortly before the sequel was released. Despite the success of the game and being given a higher budget for the third entry within the series, Team Silent downsized for Silent Hill 3 reducing the development team from fifty to around forty. Indeed Silent Hill 3 would serve as the last game in the series where the core three worked full time on any game in the series.

Deciding to go back to their roots, Silent Hill 3 can be seen as the combination of the team’s effort on the previous installments in the series, bringing back the cult whilst keeping the personal emotional horror to create what many consider to be the scariest entry in the franchise. The new director Kazuhide Nakazawa stated that the third game would be the culmination of, “people have been frustrated at their inability to do some of the things they wanted to in the earlier games”. Considering that the stuff of nightmares had been present in the previous games, Silent Hill 3 delivered some of the most terrifying moments ever put into games and caused people to have nightmares for years to come. Even today the graphics hold up well and the scares stand up even better considering just how tame many games have come. Whereas Silent Hill 2 can be considered representative of the team finally coming together, Silent Hill 3 can be seen as the moment when the team were best working together and were finally defined with a unique individual voice that shone through in their games. Like Silent Hill 2, the game was another huge success and it seemed that Team Silent were unstoppable releasing hit after hit, but this was soon to change with the development of Silent Hill 4.

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The simple truth of the matter is that Silent Hill 4 was intended by Team Silent to be the end of the franchise. The phrase, “bow out whilst you’re on top” is eternally true and it seems Team Silent realized this. Rather than churning out Silent Hill entries game after game, they wanted to branch off into different horizons and thus came up with a new game entitled Room 302 that would take an entirely new direction for the team including first person segments and having all enemies be invincible. Surely the team behind the enormously successful series would have the full support of Konami to create an exciting new game? It turns out no they wouldn’t. Instead Konami forced the developers to shoehorn Room 302 into the Silent Hill franchise despite the fact that in the history of all mediums, this has never worked out well.

The game itself was the first of the series to experience average reviews and only mild success and many people were disappointed by what they had received. The funny thing is that the entry is actually pretty good but one thing is obvious: this is not a Silent Hill game in any way other than a few awkward references to other entries in the series. Add in the fact that Masahiro Ito only partially worked on the game (contributing a few designs) and the game as a whole felt very much separated from the franchise in every way. Thanks to Konami, Team Silent had created somewhat of an anomaly with Silent Hill 4 in that it is a great Survival Horror game but an awful Silent Hill game.

Just as soon as they had come into existence, Team Silent was gone under very mysterious circumstances despite the fact that reports had been floating around ideas for a “true” new entry in the franchise by the team. For many years fans were puzzled at what had happened to them, only for the blunt truth to be released in 2010: Konami had got rid of them to hire Western developers to make the games so that they could bring in as much cash as possible out of the franchise. Team Silent was dumped so that Konami could make Silent Hill into a rail shooter with little shame of what they were doing to the franchise. To end the team like this was nothing less than an abomination and they deserved much better than what they got, although considering the critical and commercial receptions to later entries in the franchise, it looks like Team Silent may have had the last laugh. Still it stands as a sad fact that the developers who had helped to define a genre and added to the status of the PlayStation were dumped out like trash. Since breaking up, all members of the team have remained in good financial health with varying degrees of success. Hiroyuki Owaku and Masahiro Ito went on to release a digital comic based on the franchise released only in Japan and contributed enough to Silent Hill: Origins  to receive a “special thanks message”. Akira Yamaoka has had the most successful career since leaving, going on to contribute music to the other Silent Hill games and a whole host of other unrelated franchises before leaving Konami to work at Grasshopper Manufacture.

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As for the franchise, it continues to stroll along in its butchered form, although developers are respectful of Team Silent unlike Konami who show no regrets about dumping them in such a shameful manner. Although Team Silent have been gone for nearly a decade, the impact that they had on the industry and genre still reverberates today and the games that they made continue to grow in structure as time passes by. Disbanding the team served only to deprive gamers of a group of developers who were some of the best that the industry had ever seen and the untapped sea of potential for other games will forever remain unrealized as hopes for a reunion are pretty much nil. Still the story of Team Silent serves as a reminder of the best and worst of the industry but their legacy will forever remain untarnished.