From Layers of Fear to Observer, from Blair Witch to The Medium, over the course of several years, Bloober Team has established itself as one of the most prominent developer of horror games in the industry. 2023, however, is promising to be perhaps the biggest year ever in studio’s history. Not only is Bloober Team ready to release a new Layers of Fear game, titled simply Layers of Fears, the Polish studio is also developing a full-fledged and ambitious remake of the legendary psychological horror title Silent Hill 2 in collaboration with Konami.
It’s safe to say that there’s no shortage of people who’re keeping a keen eye on Bloober Team and how it fares in the months to come, and sure enough, we’re in that group as well. Curious to learn more about the studio’s two upcoming games, the development processes of both titles, and more, we recently reached out to the developer with some of our most burning questions, and learned quite a bit in the process. Below, you can read our interview with Silent Hill 2 lead producer Maciej Głomb and Bloober Team’s head of production Kacper Michalski.
"We’ve come a long way to reach the point that we’re standing at now, progressing from the ill-fated release of Basement Crawl on PS4, dubbed as the platform’s worst game ever, to remaking a timeless psychological horror game."
Bloober Team has been making waves as a prominent developer of horror games for the better part of a decade now. How would you describe your journey from that point until now, starting on the ground floor and getting to the point where you’re remaking what’s possibly one of the most legendary horror games ever made?
Kacper Michalski (Head of Production, Bloober Team): We’ve come a long way to reach the point that we’re standing at now, progressing from the ill-fated release of Basement Crawl on PS4, dubbed as the platform’s worst game ever, to remaking a timeless psychological horror game. We may have stumbled, but our past mistakes and triumphs have made us wiser, more experienced, and more resilient than ever before! Our efforts are driven by the pledge that we’ve set a few years ago. A pledge of becoming the leaders of the horror genre and we’re steadily carrying it out. Our studio has expanded far and wide, we have top-notch specialists, and we have fans from all around the globe. Our studio is mature enough to say we’re confident about what comes next!
Bloober Team has often been quite open in how much of an influence Silent Hill has been on the games, but that was probably clearer than ever with The Medium, not only with its camera perspective, but also with Akira Yamaoka involved with the project. Internally, did you see The Medium as a sort of a bridge between your older titles and your work on Silent Hill itself? Was the development of The Medium influenced by the knowledge that you were also working on the Silent Hill 2 remake?
Maciej Głomb (Lead Producer, Silent Hill 2): As far as I know, we didn’t know we’d be working on the Silent Hill 2 remake until it was quite late in The Medium’s production, so it’s hard to say that we treated it as a “bridge” from the very beginning. The Medium has numerous surface-level resemblances to the classic Silent Hill 2. This might have been our developers’ subconscious projection of some sort of Konami’s iconic work onto our game, or it could have been deliberately planned out. I can’t tell, but I know some of the developers are ardent fans of the franchise’s second installment. It turned out that the very next thing we started was the remake, so I guess you could say that we’ve channeled Silent Hill’s energy hard enough to draw this project to us.
Talk us through the process of the remake getting greenlit. How did the initial collaboration with Konami come about? What about Bloober Team and your vision convinced Konami that you were the right team for this project?
Głomb: To my knowledge, Konami has indeed talked to other studios about the idea of remaking Silent Hill 2. In my opinion, rightfully so, because such a game should be taken care of by the most passionate developers, none else. The fact that they chose us was both a great distinction and a massive motivation boost. We have people who know the original game inside-out and I think Konami noticed that pretty quickly.
As you can imagine, when they approached us with the offer we hesitated for a while, considering the weight of the responsibility it comes with. At the same time, we couldn’t imagine anyone else doing the remake other than us; we were sure we will do everything in our power to give it the treatment it deserves. In hindsight, it was a good call.
"Silent Hill 2’s story is in our opinion the pillar of the original game and it was never our intention to alter it. Slight tweaks might be seen here or there but they were introduced to refresh aged content and make them more understandable for the new audience — we’re not dabbling with the established narrative core."
How closely are you collaborating with Konami for Silent Hill 2? What has the creative process of working with them been like? And how involved have Akira Yamaoka and Masahiro Ito been in the game’s development?
Głomb: As with every project, the beginning of production involves a lot of high-level discussions about the directions we want to take and, in the case of a remake, deciding which parts of the original we change or keep untouched. We’ve spent the first year or so working tightly with Konami and maintaining constant conversations. But if it wasn’t for the pandemic, we would have been able to sit in the same room and brainstorm ideas face-to-face. Konami was incredibly encouraging of our creative direction and strongly supported our vision for the game. Their trust in us gave birth to ownership over its development.
When it comes to Ito-san’s and Yamaoka-san’s involvement in the project, we fell out of our chairs knowing we have the original creators on board. They gave us a much-needed explanation of the many innuendos in the game that circulated on the internet for well over 20 years, and we’ll continue asking the OGs for their opinions on our shared gem. Besides, they’ve taken an active part in the development themselves — Ito-san provided us with concept art for locations and monsters while Yamaoka-san composed the music for the game.
What is Bloober Team and Konami’s approach to remaking Silent Hill 2? The game is obviously making some big changes with its camera perspective and gameplay, but should fans expect Silent Hill 2 to be the kind of remake that makes significant story changes, or are you more focusing on polishing the narrative with slight tweaks and improvements while keeping the core intact?
Głomb: The latter, no doubt. Silent Hill 2’s story is in our opinion the pillar of the original game and it was never our intention to alter it. Slight tweaks might be seen here or there but they were introduced to refresh aged content and make them more understandable for the new audience — we’re not dabbling with the established narrative core. Changes in the gameplay are noticeable at a glance, with the aforementioned switch to an over-the-shoulder perspective being the biggest one. It’s been over 20 years since the original title was released, thus it was natural that the gameplay needed an overhaul to keep things in line with modern expectations.
On the gameplay front, how heavily will Silent Hill 2 diverge from the original experience, especially given the significant gap between the launch of both games? I imagine the shift to an over-the-shoulder perspective and the resulting change in combat and exploration is bound to bring about big gameplay changes, but should fans also expect things along the lines of new puzzles, weapons, enemies, or gameplay sections and locations?
Głomb: Each thing that you mentioned has received a varied depth of change. The decision of adopting a new camera perspective resulted in alterations in the enemies’ AI, level design, and weapon mechanics among others. Old fans will feel a breath of fresh air in the new gameplay but, generally speaking, our intention from the beginning was to recreate the familiar, visceral atmosphere of the original Silent Hill 2. We still want to keep a healthy balance between puzzle-solving, combat, and narrative. Anything we introduce into the remake is firstly consulted with the OGs because we madly want the game to be as close as it can to the classic Silent Hill 2.
"We are aware of the Resident Evil 2 remake’s resounding success, and we are aware that the game is considered a benchmark on how to release a game anew after a long break. Our priority was always to create a prime game for our players and we will use all available means to do so."
The Silent Hill 2 remake is obviously making some big improvements where its visuals are concerned. Can you talk us through the process of ensuring that the game features state-of-the-art visuals and technology, while still being faithful to the original’s look and atmosphere? Atmosphere in particular is crucial to Silent Hill games, and the original Silent Hill 2 did have a very distinct and unique visual identity, so how does the remake ensure that it retains that?
Głomb: It’s safe to say that visuals were always Bloober Team’s upper hand and I’m sure this will continue to be the case with Silent Hill 2. We did a lot of groundwork with Ito-san at the beginning of the production to make sure that we are on the same page with our artistic vision for the game. Our 2D and 3D teams are the best ones in their fields of expertise so you can expect top-grade visual experience. We ran an early external test and it delivered positive feedback. Obviously, we still have a long way to go but I’m very optimistic going forward.
Did Bloober Team and Konami look at the recent Resident Evil remakes as a source of inspiration in any form?
Głomb: I cannot speak for Konami but, when it comes to Bloober Team, we definitely did! Resident Evil and Silent Hill franchises have been considered by many for years as sworn competitors. This statement might be somewhat rightful as both target a very similar player audience. At the same time, we are aware of the Resident Evil 2 remake’s resounding success, and we are aware that the game is considered a benchmark on how to release a game anew after a long break. Our priority was always to create a prime game for our players and we will use all available means to do so.
Should Silent Hill 2 prove to be successful, is there a chance that Bloober Team ends up working on additional Silent Hill projects?
Głomb: It still remains to be seen but, in my opinion, you should never say never!
Moving on from Silent Hill 2, that’s not the only game that Bloober Team has in production, of course, with Layers of Fears also currently in development. What is the scope and size of that project as compared to something like Silent Hill 2?
Michalski: It’s a smaller project than Silent Hill 2, but definitely a tremendous amount of work was put into the development. We’re co-developing it with Anshar Studios — our good partner — and I hope that players, especially fans of the original, will be delighted.
"Layers of Fears will be a crowning work of our journey with this franchise."
Layers of Fears has a very interesting premise, as it looks to connect the first two games with a reimagined and revised story structure. Can you talk more about that and how it takes shape in the game itself?
Michalski: You’re spot on, the upcoming game will be a crowning work of our journey with this franchise. We wanted to create an everlasting legacy for this series by merging the stories from Layers of Fear 1 and Layers of Fear 2 and topping them with new chapters that will complete the whole lore. Layers of Fears spans an overarching storyline about morally-torn artists and the veiled darkness residing in their minds.
How did the idea for this kind of a follow-up come about, as opposed to what many might call a more traditional sequel – a Layers of Fear 3, or something along those lines?
Michalski: We wanted to tell the story anew using the latest technologies. Now, we are a pretty mature studio and we can afford to do so. We realize that the first two installments could have left untold plots thus we want to cover them in the upcoming game. Similarly, if the gameplay could have used more diversity, we will implement it now. Layers of Fears is a complete world combining two apparently unrelated stories.
The Layers of Fear games have never really put a great deal of emphasis on combat. Will Layers of Fears continue to follow that structure, or should we expect some significant gameplay changes?
Michalski: Layers of Fears is all about the story and immersive atmosphere, less about action. However, we have introduced new gameplay elements to the latter. Players will be positively surprised.
Roughly how long will an average playthrough of Layers of Fears be?
Michalski: It’s too soon to give the game away but expect new juicy info in the near future.
"If we come up with a good idea on how to make a jump back to the universe of Observer or The Medium, then why not? Everything’s possible."
Looking back at other games in Bloober Team’s back catalog, would you say there’s a chance that individual games like Observer and The Medium end up getting sequels as well?
Michalski: Who knows. If we come up with a good idea on how to make a jump back to the universe of Observer or The Medium, then why not? Everything’s possible.