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Silent Hill: The Terror Engine

Silent Hill is just, it's just this game that's so scary, it's on a different level. It's what hell would be like. You just need to play it, I'm telling you. If you've ever had a conversation like this, trying to explain the draw of a game like Silent Hill, you'll probably appreciate this book. If you're on the other side, and wondering why all these people get wide-eyed and silly when they talk about Silent Hill, this is also a book for you.

Silent Hill: The Terror Engine analyzes pretty much everything that makes up and surrounds the Silent Hill franchise. Even the fog, a familiar and recurring element of the game, is explained from a programming perspective (it was a way to limit the field of view and overcome the limited processing power of the Playstation 1). The franchise's history is related to other games that built the foundation for survival horror games. Alone in the Dark, Resident Evil, and even Haunted House (the Atari game branded as the first survival horror game by some), are all explored and compared to the methods that Silent Hill uses to invoke fear and unease.

Bernard Perron, the author, puts together several arguments, with sources from many other experts in the fields of horror, psychology, and entertainment. One of those arguments is that Silent Hill invokes a different kind of fear. To put it simply, Resident Evil relies a lot on the monsters jumping out, startling you. Silent Hill puts it all in your head, with fear and anxiety creeping into your mind bit by bit. There's a sense of dread that permeates the experience. It's difficult to describe how the game accomplishes this, but this book explores every way that it does. For example, it's about more than just scary monsters, it's about how those monsters are designed to trigger some uncomfortable feeling (monsters made of mis-shapen appendages, twisted flesh, faceless people). Perron backs up every assertion with tons of quotes from other experts, and a lot of personal experience. His description of swinging the controller around at arm's length, however, does denote a certain habit of a newbie gamer, but I forgive him.

One of my favorite parts of the book breaks down the similarities between the main characters of the individual games. The protagonists are never good with guns, they're never badass soldiers, never superheroes. They're ordinary, sometimes clumsy, awkward people. Therefore it's easier to relate to them, and hence, easier to relate to their fears. This book goes a lot further than that simple connection, and explains other reasons we can empathize with a video character. Generally, we can empathize because we see what the character is seeing, we don't necessarily have to delve into their innermost psyches to feel this.

Perron's writing style is very textbook-like, very academic. It may be a bit dry at times, especially when it expects you to be comfortable with terms like "procedural authorship" and very cerebral arguments. If this style deters you while reading the introduction, I'd advise that you read on. First, it gets better, and less like a textbook as it goes on. Second, the enlightened description of the industry, the games, and the development of the Silent Hill journey is just too good for the gamer and game fan to pass up. True, it's not an easy read, and you may have to re-read sections to get at the point that was being conveyed, but it is still fascinating to have aspects of this game broken down in such a thorough way. You'll have a lot of moments that will make you say "Yes! That's exactly what I was thinking about that part of the game!" You can take it in chunks, reflect, and discuss with friends. Overall, it's a great analytical look at the Silent Hill world.

-Fights with Fire, GameVortex Communications
AKA Christin Deville

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Novel The Survivors: Book 1 (Life After War) Novel On the Road: Book 2 (Life After War)

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