Silent Hill creator discusses how he joined the game biz and why AAA horror is 'difficult' to fund

Keiichiro Toyama, director on games like Siren, Gravity Rush and the original Silent Hill, has been in the game business for a while. Not by design, mind you.

"I liked games ever since my student days," he told Famitsu magazine in an interview published this week, "but I never thought about connecting them to my work. That changed once a Sega rep held a job seminar at the art school I was going to. That was the first time I realized 'Whoa, I can join a game company once I graduate!' I wound up getting a few offers, and in the end, I chose to join Konami."

This was in 1994, when the original PlayStation was brand-new and Japan was still in the throes of a fighting game explosion. Toyama, meanwhile, was beginning to kindle an interest in horror, starting with the 3DO survival horror release Doctor Hauzer, but the games he was involved with (including International Track & Field in 1996) were not exactly scare-fests.

That changed once he had a chance to direct for the first time.

"I had just about wrapped up my training period as a designer when the company decided to form a team with younger company staffers," Toyama said. "This was right during the shift to 3D. Things went really fast after that. I wound up having my choice of a few different concept documents, and we ended up working on Silent Hill."

Not that Toyama had much real expertise with horror before that point. "I was really kind of a scaredy-cat," he laughed. "I never liked the really bloody shock-fest sort of horror film, so I was kind of at a loss when we started out. What I am a fan of is occult stuff and UFO stories and so on; that and I had watched a lot of David Lynch films. So it was really a matter of me taking what was on my shelves and taking the more horror-oriented aspects of what I found. So I really didn't think [Silent Hill] was that much of a horror game, and it was kind of a surprise to me when people told me it was scary after it came out!"

Soon after creating one of Konami's flagship console franchises, though, Toyama moved over to Sony Computer Entertainment in 1999.

"I felt like I had taken the director job a little too quickly," he said, "and I lost some of my confidence in the process. We had a lot of talented people on the staff, like [creature designer] Masahiro Ito, [cutscene director] Takayoshi Sato and [musician and later series producer] Akira Yamaoka, and to some extent, I felt like my design work was more getting in the way of their talents than anything else. So I moved to SCE with the intention of re-learning my job from the ground up."

This led to work like the Siren series (created alongside producer and writer Naoko Sato) and Gravity Rush, the innovative PS Vita title. Gravity Rush may seem like quite a jump from horror, but Toyama disagrees with that.

"That may seem so," he said, "but the way I thought about Siren and Gravity Rush are actually pretty similar. First you build a town, then you add an innocent bystander of sorts to it who gets involved in some major crisis. It's totally different graphics-wise, but in terms of building it up, they're identical -- something that I'll admit surprises a lot of people when I explain it."

These days, the Gravity Rush team is working on an as-yet-unnamed new title that Sony teased just a bit at the Tokyo Game Show this year. Toyama isn't able to talk much about that title yet, but when Famitsu asked what kind of game he wants to make the most, he brought up his horror roots.

"I've worked on horror for a long time," he replied, "so whenever I work on something different, I can't help but come up with new horror-oriented ideas. So I'd like to make another horror game someday, but the thing is, unlike in the past, I think it's become kind of hard to make horror games. To some extent, horror is a good match for the 'B' genre, in terms of taking advantage of low budgets for the maximum return and maximum quality. However, we're now in an environment where B-grade titles are simply being priced out of the retail-software market. I think making a pure horror AAA console title is going to be really difficult going into the future. Instead, if I have a chance to make something like Journey that you can complete in two or three hours, but still offers an intense horror experience, I'd love to try that."

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