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Silent Hill: Downpour

Crafting Atmosphere: Silent Hill: Downpour And The Czech Republic Influence
by Tim Turi on Jan 25, 2011 at 06:00 AM
Platform PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Publisher Konami
Developer Vatra Games
Rating Mature

Silent Hill: Downpour is being developed by Vatra Games, a new studio based in Brno, Czech Republic. The unique Central European environment has the team’s creative juices flowing. Mummified corpses beneath the streets, a huge cavern with a dark past, and a history of Soviet rule make up a portion of the inspiration they’re surrounded by. Needless to say, the country’s chaotic past has made an impact on the team, and they’re eager to share their enthusiasm for their environment.

“There’s a completely different vibe and atmosphere here,” says Brian Gomez, design director for Silent Hill: Downpour. “In fact, this place probably has far more in common with Silent Hill than anywhere I’d find in my native Los Angeles, definitely. Just the whole culture here, if you look at the history, it’s had a pretty turbulent history.

“Some of the stuff that these guys have told me just about their childhood growing up about the Soviet Regime preparing school kids as young as seven-years-old, how to throw hand grenades and defend their factories from the invading west, that’s a really heavy psychological burden to stick on a seven-year-old kid.”

The oppressive, militaristic reign of the Soviet Regime didn’t end until 1989 with the Velvet Revolution. As such, the general vibe I felt in the Czech Republic was sullen and apathetic. Understandable, considering the barbed wire and obstacles on the borders were lifted a mere 11 years ago. Add it to a history of being invaded over and over and you begin to imagine how it may feel to live in such a shaky country.

“Our whole team is made up of people with these backgrounds, so these guys have an affinity, an appreciation for the macabre that I just don’t think you’d find in sunny Los Angeles,” Gomez continues. “You’ve walked around the town, you’ve seen the dead mummies under the street. There’s a dungeon up on the hill. There’s stuff that you can look at around the town that’s clearly from World War II. There are relics and remnants from the Soviet regime.”

The mummies Gomez refers to are preserved monk corpses under the streets of Brno, in the Capuchin Crypt. When these men of faith died back in 17th century, they performed a funeral service using a coffin with a false bottom positioned over the crypt. After a ceremony, the body would fall into a mass grave - the result of poverty. Rosaries, robes, and flesh remained intact, resulting in a grim piece of history.

When I entered the crypts I was startled by the level of corpses’ preservation. It contained the remains of a woman who was buried alive, her expression and limbs contorted in desperate terror. In another room, rows of mummies lined the walls. Some still wore their signature robes and rosaries, and one who lived to the ripe old age of 50 lay with a cross in his arms. In the middle of the room sat a mound of miscellaneous bones – monks who could not be put back together again.

“The place has an atmosphere that you could cut with a knife,” Gomez says. “I think these guys, just growing up in it, and even myself being immersed in it, has helped us shape our Silent Hill. Our Silent Hill is not going to look like Eastern Europe, but there’s just this certain heaviness that we wouldn’t have gotten if at lunchtime we were going out to the beach.”

The most obvious inspiration for Silent Hill comes from a huge gorge called Propast Macocha. Literally translating to “Stepmother Abyss,” this sinkhole drops down nearly 138 meters into the earth. The name comes from an old Czech fairytale about an evil stepmother tossing an unwanted child into the chasm. Nearly 80 unfortunate souls have thrown themselves into the famous pit in acts of suicide. For visitors uninterested in taking the quick way down, a cable car runs from the top of the gorge to the bottom. Vatra’s version of this transportation can be found in Silent Hill: Downpour in the form of the “Devil’s Pit Aerial Tram,” the game’s second level. When visiting Macocha Gorge I encountered misty woods, foreboding caverns, and underground waterways – all prime locations for a Silent Hill game.

“I guess we have different points of view on certain things, and that can help us to give something different,” says lead designer Marek Berka, regarding his home country’s influence on the survival horror game. “Maybe it’s not noticeable or describable by words, but it will be there. We hope so.”

Be sure to read the entire Silent Hill: Downpour feature in issue #214 of Game Informer, the one with the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim cover.

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Silent Hill: Downpourcover

Silent Hill: Downpour

PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
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