How PT Silent Hills Revolutionized A Genre

<thrive_headline click tho-post-1697 tho-test-27>How PT Silent Hills Revolutionized A Genre</thrive_headline>

How PT Silent Hills Revolutionized A Genre

Posted by Lawrence Rennie

17 May, 2021


On August 12, 2014, a nondescript game demo made its way onto the PlayStation Network from an entirely unknown studio. Sitting in its own little shadowy corner of PSN, this title should not have meant much to many. But, after one player, merely testing out this neat little horror puzzler without any cause for suspicion, accidentally stumbled onto one of the greatest video game reveals of all time PT quickly sent the entire gaming world into a tailspin, and soon had every PlayStation user scrambling to download gaming mad-genius Hideo Kojima’s newest opus.  

An initialism for “Playable Teaser”, PT turned out to be a secret platform for one of gaming’s most regarded creative icons to make his own mic drop announcement for the return of one of gaming’s most iconic horror series, Silent Hill. Consisting of a series of short enigmatic puzzles, PT became the stuff of urban myth around the internet as the gaming community bandied together to crack Kojima’s latest venture. A mixture of crackpot and worthwhile theories were thrown around regarding what PT was doing and how to interpret it; forums rushed to pull together every piece of information they could find in hopes of deciphering the PT enigma; all sorts of rumours and myths filtered their way through communities—the way to “beat” PT was shrouded in the type of electrifying mystery that had everyone clamouring for a piece. 

It was a true “you just had to be there” type event within the gaming community, and the “sneak peek” result of everyone’s hard earned efforts was well worth the work.

But the resultant tease of Silent Hills—a fresh ninth Silent Hill sequel starring The Walking Dead star Norman Reedus with co-direction from Kojima along with renowned filmmaker Guillermo del Toro—would never go any further. Despite the overwhelming excitement expressed by all and the success to which PT held even just as a demo, a massive fallout between Kojima and his long-time parent publisher Konami meant that development on Silent Hills would be ultimately shut down and leave the game, now, to live only as something of myth forevermore. 

However, though Silent Hills was never to be, PT still left an overwhelming mark on the horror game genre in its passing. With the heightened realism of this short demo PT would come to be an important influence in redefining a new age of horror titles, as its style, iconography, themes and playstyle would go on to be emulated and built upon by so many games after. Within just (roughly) 90 minutes of the perfect horror experience PT would spark a new revolution upon its genre and make for, perhaps, one of the greatest horror games of all time. 

Effectiveness Within Simplicity

Aside from the great marketing ploy that PT no doubt was, it was also just an excellently executed horror game in its own right. If this playable tease was anything to go by then Silent Hills may well have been the best, most uneasy, terrifying horror property ever made. But for all its bluster the effectiveness of PT’s horror is in fact ingenious in quite how simple it actually is—at least conceptually.

PT takes place in one setting: a home—or to be more precise, one hallway. The demo works by continually repeating this same hallway with various changes that proliferate and heighten the horror every time you make your way through from one end to the doorway at the next. Now, it might be easy to assume that there is little to applaud about a simple hallway—it’s not exactly geometrically ambitious, after all—but so much of the way PT can scare you lies in the simplest of all simple additions: a corner.

With one turn in the hallway Kojima creates a system whereby dread and the psychological fear of the unseen and unknown is at its undeniable pinnacle. With one turn every pass through the hallway has its moment where the most dreaded corner has to be approached, and whatever horror may lay hidden just out of view around this most terrifying of right angles confronted. 

It is so simple and unassuming that it barely registers as an aspect of meticulous game design, and yet it forces out some of the most memorable horror moments in gaming. Who can forget the first time turning the corner—after a run of fairly unassuming repetitions—and freezing in horror at the sudden looming shadowy figure of Lisa standing in our path (only for her to then disappear with a click of the light!)?

With the design of the hallway too, PT, though a modern first-person game, borders on the same horror principles instilled by the fixed angle experience of the original Silent Hill games. Though players of course have free movement of their camera, the restrictive and simplistic geometry of the game’s environment reduces you essentially down to two viewpoints: down the first half of the corridor and the turn for the next. Like the original fixed angle games the horror and suspense therefore comes from what is lurking always just out of view. With fewer places to look, players are going to be forced to always confront what is just waiting for them; it allows for narrative information and scares to be drawn to naturally. 

Case in point: with the release of PT almost every Youtuber or streamer took their shot at the viral horror hit. Even though parts of PT are open to be slightly different from playthrough to playthrough, and given that players have distinct agency always, a quick scan through any number of “Let’s Play’s” will end up with the exact same scares. Players will always react to the bathroom door shutting scare; players will always freeze abruptly at the first shadowy sight of Lisa, the crashing of the lighting upholstery etc. The very small confines of PT means everything is naturally in view so scares can’t be missed—much like in a fixed angle system. One of the few things that players do sometimes miss is seeing Lisa watching from the balcony above as the light crashes to the floor because that requires both turning right around and looking up.

The repetitive mechanic of PT means that players will be seeing a lot from this hallway. But the beauty and genius of PT is that even within this most simple of settings, Kojima still gets so much mileage out of it and can keep upping the ante through every run. The question does however have to be begged whether a full Silent Hills game would be able to keep up the same intensity as this condensed scare package, but the simple brilliance and ingenuity of PT certainly makes it all the more tragic that we never got the chance to even see if he could try. 

Virality and the Great Puzzle of PT

As far as mic drop moments go you probably don’t get much better than the shock Silent Hills end teaser to PT—certainly, at least, not in gaming. PT was set up to be entirely unseeming. Kojima’s name was nowhere to be seen as the game instead was shown to be developed by 7780s Studios, an entirely made-up studio. The real face of the protagonist was hidden throughout, and the precise nature of the story was also entirely ambiguous. 

It was only with the first accidental completion and subsequent reveal of PT’s real identity as Silent Hills that then had the entire internet rushing to dig into every facet of this short demo. With the often incomprehensible yet brilliant nature of his other flagship series, Metal Gear Solid, Hideo Kojima has kind of hung around the game’s industry as its favoured “mad genius” artist, and the mechanism of PT only furthers that claim. 

Here was a game and trailer reveal that was unconventional in just about every way. Counter to any normal marketing strategy, no grand announcements were ever made of PT’s arrival—it was allowed to just slip in undetected until someone noticed. And the reveal of Silent Hills was no easy get either. The puzzles were extremely complex and required a lot of very meticulous digging to actually figure out (one puzzle wasn’t even within the actual game, but the pause screen instead). Halfway through the game PT would appear to “crash” too, but even this was part of the experience and a hidden source for more clues.

However, all this of course only added to the great mystique of PT and helped it spread further as internet forums had to gather information together. The gaming community took great delight in sharing titbits of clues and theories they had put together. Kojima’s unconventionality had worked once again, and the reward was all the sweeter for it. 

Ever determined to extract every detail out of everything we do, the gaming community was not ready to be done with PT even after its identity reveal. Much like the actual puzzle of the game, the story of PT itself was also in many ambiguously fragmented pieces that required a bit of work to put together. 

Throughout the game many partial stories are heard by radio, faded screams of memories, a talking bloody paper bag and a talking sink foetus. The overwhelming theme of PT, much like Silent Hill, is trauma and a cycle of violence and anguish. It is a theme that runs fairly deep within Japanese horror too with films like Ju-On/The Grudge homing in this cyclical trauma embedded in a particular period of Japanese culture/psyche. 

Within PT we get stories of familial murder, sexual abuse, random numbered messages spoken like a sleeper agent’s activation code, and even a supposed extract of the 1938 Swedish radio play of Orson Welles War of the Worlds. How do you piece all that together? Well, you can’t really. It is intended to be open ended though lines can certainly be drawn. As seen with the likes of Five Night at Freddy’s, if you give the gaming community an inch they will go a mile and search for every part of connective lore possible. Like the original Silent Hill games there is a parsing of trauma through the blurred doubling of reality and the nightmarish underworld. “The only me is me. Are you sure the only you is you?”, the game asks. The protagonist, like the player, is struggling to keep a hold of quite what is real and what might be nightmare. Are these heard atrocities fabled stories of the past, or are you a part of them? Is this your own personal hell for the things you’ve done, or were you its victim?

Unfortunately, once again we might never get the answer to these questions without a full Silent Hills to play. Instead, we can only chew on them as parts of urban myth and theory now. Though many games after would pick up the mantle left behind by PT and invoke its narrative strategy for themselves to great effect. 

If This Game Is So Great, Why Did It Never Get Made?

With how great PT evidently was it might seem baffling to see that Silent Hills was never made in the end. Here was a game that might as well have been a license to print money—and certainly would be now if anyone ever took up the mantle—although Silent Hills was also looking to be one hell of an expensive game to develop too. For one, in name stars alone Silent Hills was big: Norman Reedus was coming hot off The Walking Dead in its prime, Guillermo del Toro is one of cinema’s current masters and can demand a lot for his work, Kojima himself leading your game is not going to be cheap either, and, as if this game didn’t already sound creepy enough, the renowned Japanese horror manga artist Junji Ito was said to have been collaborating on the game too. 

That’s only your above the line talent too. The game from a development perspective looked expensive by itself. Part of PT’s effectiveness as a horrifying experience came from just how clearly highly polished it was. It’s photorealistic lighting system and art design brought players into a world that could feel all the more visceral, meaning when that ghostly visage did come flying at you it was all the more terrifying. 

Publishing behemoth Konami were perhaps hesitant. They weren’t willing to commit to Hideo Kojima’s full vision.

In fact, they were no longer quite willing to commit to Kojima at all. Despite all the Metal Gear director had done with them, behind the scenes things were getting messy between Kojima and Konami. The true nature of what went on is mostly unknown since Konami moved quickly to remove Kojima’s name from a lot of their properties, even going as far as to prohibit him from attending certain events as this underlying power struggle went on. 

When news came that Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain would be Kojima’s last work on the series, questions were raised on the future of Silent Hills and Kojima’s relationship with Konami altogether. Phantom Painfeatured some questionably left out content and a second half that felt like the pieced together work of a game that hadn’t quite got to finishing. With internal disputes reportedly going on at this time it wouldn’t be too wild a speculation to assume that the strained relationship between Kojima and Konami was damaging Phantom Pain. With what we know of Kojima and his wants to always push boundaries, something within Phantom Pain may have been too much for Konami and so they got to task cutting both him and the game off. Kojima later promoted his next game, Death Stranding, as a pointedly “complete game” would seem to confirm this. 

The first signs of trouble for Silent Hills came when PT was suddenly and inexplicably removed from the PlayStation Network. Shortly thereafter del Toro stated in a Q&A that Silent Hills was “not gonna happen”, only to then be shortly followed up by Norman Reedus too tweeting at being “bummed about” Silent Hills cancellation. The final dagger came as Konami officially confirmed the cancellation, stating:

“Konami is committed to new Silent Hill titles, however the embryonic ‘Silent Hills’ project developed with Guillermo del Toro and featuring the likeness of Norman Reedus will not be continued.

In terms of Kojima and Del Toro being involved, discussions on future Silent Hill projects are currently underway, and please stay tuned for further announcements.”

Little was heard of Kojima’s end however at this time—presumably because Konami was still doing all it legally could to keep his word out of the conversation. Konami at this time was allegedly looking to new, more steady ventures, particularly within the pachinko market as a strategy of less risk/more profit. Kojima’s mad scientist ways did not fit into this. 

Instead, Kojima had to move on, finding a new home with Sony to develop exclusive titles. The first of which being Death Stranding which brought back many of his Silent Hills collaborators. Reedus was given the protagonist role, and del Toro too featured as an in-game character. Sadly, however, Death Stranding, though unique in its own right, was not the shit-yourself horror that Silent Hills once promised to be.

PT and Silent Hills were instead committed to oblivion. Even with fan pressure and multiple fan remakes of PT Konami have continually been quick to shut down anything before it builds momentum—the message simple: Kojima’s work is gone. Despite the suggestion that Silent Hill would continue to exist in some form, we sit now seven years on with nothing still—though not for the want of constant rumour and speculation. Latest rumour has Layers of Fear developer Bloober Team working on a Silent Hill sequel as well as a “prominent Japanese developer” and a team at Sony. Though with so many of these rumours over the last half decade it is difficult to get too excited anymore—especially without Kojima returning. 

PT is Dead, Long Live PT

PT and Silent Hills might be dead properties now, but their spirit certainly lives on in so many horror games now. Such was the inspirational play and design of PT’s short demo that other studios have carried its torch forward still. 

It was clear that the short-lived tease of a game like PT now had audiences hungry for more to fill the hole left behind. And, so, other developers stepped up to replicate PT’s style. Allison Road was one of the first. A fan-based development with backing from Team17 as publisher, Allison Road was to be PT’s spiritual successor. Favouring a similar photo-realistic lighting style and the close-quarters housing environment of PT, Allison Road was an attempt to replicate the vision of what was lost in the Konami-Kojima fallout. However, perhaps sticking a little too close to the Silent Hills replication, Allison Road was also subsequently cancelled not long after its initial successful Alpha-build tease. 

With more success in the PT inspired realm is Bloober Team’s much lauded Layers of Fear. Layers of Fear took many aspects of PT and expanded them to great effect. For example, so much of Layers of Fear hinged on backgrounds and environments changing while out of sight—something which PT teased with the likes of wall messages appearing and disappearing on sight. Puzzles and scares alike were often  transmuted to the player via this simple mechanic. Even the environment of Layers of Fear offered some gratitude to PT with the protagonist being trapped in a house of their own nightmarish trauma. Corridors and simple homely rooms became beacons for close-quarters terror. 

The narrative style of Layers of Fear also took great influence from Kojima’s design, with a focus on fragmented parts of past trauma coming out in nightmarish visions. The blurred line between history and imagined trauma was at the centre of Layers of Fear as it was with PT. Layers of Fear rang in the new genre of horror titles that PT had begun to establish. No longer was horror about fighting off monsters and running from ghoulish beings. Instead, now the horror merely came from imagery and suggestion, rather than actual confrontation. So often with Layers of Fear there is actually very little danger to be had, and yet the game was terrifying and tense all the same. This was something that Kojima had opted for too with PT, favouring more traditional means of horror via torturous psychological terror and the suggestion of what could be waiting. The horror must unwrap with the story and what is happening to the character, rather than from cheap scares and confrontations. Unease is the flavour of these types of game, and it works all the better in the right hands. 

This is how The Park too took its PT-like inspiration. No combat or enemies, just deeply unsettling suggestion and a blurred distinction between reality and nightmarish underpass. In addition to Kojima’s work, The Park also went one step further to replicating one sequence of PT in part of its game. Towards the end of the game players find themselves in a theme park House of Horrors which then becomes an internal looping network of the protagonist’s home and memories. In this loop, like PT, the protagonist is reminded of traumatic experiences of familial abuse while the house continues to get more decrepit and nightmarish through each repetition.  

Once a competitor to the Silent Hill series, Resident Evil also went to the similar ground of PT for its series reboot in Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. Capcom released a teaser demo titled Beginning Hour that had all the makings of a PT like tease. Many comparisons were made between the two however Capcom were quick to disavow any notion that RE was ripping from Silent Hill. All the same, Beginning Hour and the first few hours of Biohazard were very PT adjacent. Traditionally a third person point and shoot, the tease of Biohazard had players in first-person and unable to ever fight. 

Instead, players had to navigate this nightmarish home and unravel its puzzles alone, always afraid of what might be waiting just around the corner. 

The new photo-realistic graphical style of RE was in line with the more realistic approach of PT too, as well as the viral strategy of its demo. Beginning Hour offered up only small clues to what was going on in this new REworld and took continual updates and deep searching from online communities to fully piece together, leading to wider interest and the same speculative theorising that was so adored with PT

More recently we’ve also had the likes of The Beast Inside and Visage—photo-realistic kickstarted games that owe plenty to PT and the vision of Silent Hills. These crowd sourced games shows that audiences are very much still hungry for something to fill the PT hole. Visage especially went for the PT spiritual successor ploy with its home setting, graphical, gameplay and thematic styles. SadSquare Studio made no bones about their objective with Visage having outwardly stated that their disappointment with Silent Hills’ cancellation drove them to create something in its place. 

Illusion Ray Studios’ The Beast Inside also made its nod to PT, as its Kickstarter campaign page states “we took the inspiration from our personal favourites [games], such as: Resident Evil 7, PT., Silent Hill, Amnesia, and Firewatch.” This is evident enough in both its photo-realistic graphical style and the narrative exploration of cyclical past traumas and violent actions.  

A Legacy to Continue

A generation of gaming audiences and developers alike have no doubt been touched by the excellence of PT, even in its very short tenure. Would a full release of Silent Hills have been quite as impactful? Who’s to say. 

But the gap left behind by PT has only whetted the appetite of the gaming world and driven many now to continue what Kojima could not. In just one short demo PT did more for a genre than many full games can ever lay claim to—and that may be its greatest legacy of all. 

It is of course a tragedy that Kojima and del Toro never got to complete their vision, and it is seeming unlikely that they ever will. But though Silent Hills might never get to “come back”—to pick upon the final words of PT’s final reveal—it certainly already brought its “new toys” for the whole of the gaming world to use and share forevermore.


About Author

Lawrence Rennie

Lawrence is a Scottish-born writer with a love of games and films that he fortunately turned into a career grumbling about online. When not firing away the hours buried in a game or film he also co-writes 'Mechastopheles', an original comic series published by the UK’s leading comic magazine 2000AD as a naturally born-grumpy Scot; however, he asks that you don’t ask him too much about it though! Lawrence’s other musings include podcasts, fitness, his cat, and one day developing his own screenplay.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments