When P.T., the playable teaser for the then-forthcoming new Silent Hill game was released in August 2014, it immediately became the subject of gamer analysis, and remains that way even now. Rumors of a split between game-directing legend Hideo Kojima and company Konami had people on edge that Silent Hills would go bye-bye. Those fears were proved true yesterday when Konami confirmed that Silent Hills, which would have combined Kojima's talents with those of Guillermo del Toro and Walking Dead star Norman Reedus, was dead.
But despite the already thousands of comments mourning the game that never was, there's a heck of a silver lining for fans of quality games and lovers of the horror genre alike that no one seems to have acknowledged -- P.T. transformed the way games could scare us, and its existence cannot be negated. Even when the playable teaser is removed from Sony's online store later this week, Let's Plays will persist on YouTube, along with countless analyses as to why this thing scared us so effectively. All of the above can only aid game-makers going forward.
So, what did P.T. do, exactly? What did it prove, and what can anyone making horror fiction, interactive or otherwise, learn from it? The answer comes in looking at why it was so capable of sustaining the feeling of dread it created in everyone who played.
Even though there's plenty to analyze, the truth is that P.T. is, in most respects, brilliant due to its simplicity. In it, there is a hallway you must walk down, and when you make it to the door at the end of that hallway, it leads you to another that looks identical to it. Each loop can yield many possible results, but the basic mechanic remains the same. The inability to escape the loop, along with the inescapable, inevitable and unknowable horrors that await you each time you turn a corner, is sheer horror perfection.
The "game" is also ridiculously short. If you've played through once, you can literally fly through the experience in under half an hour. Even with all the puzzles and mysteries in the first playthrough intact upon first playing, you'll still likely only be in P.T.'s clutches for a movie length's worth of time. That's a good thing.
Looking at the once enormously popular horror gaming franchise Resident Evil, it's impossible not to notice how its fall from grace is directly in proportion with its decreased ability to scare. And many other horror mainstays have suffered similar fates -- the temptation to make a bigger game with more items, more battles, more everything must almost inevitably lead to a loss of scare. The longer you're playing in that same sandbox with the same gameplay mechanics, the faster the novelty wears off.
With P.T., there's no time to stop being scared. By the time you've gotten comfortable in one loop, the demo effortlessly peels back another horrifying dimension for the next one. Whether it's a suddenly slamming door, a crying baby, a blood-seeping refrigerator hanging from the rafters or a hulking figure waiting for you just down the hall, you never know what might happen next. And before you even have time to process everything that's happened, the demo is over.
To wit: Shorter seems to be better when it comes to horror. We've already seen game developer Scott Cawthon find similar success with his Five Nights at Freddy's series, the announcement of the fourth installment of which shut its own site down with the onslaught of excited traffic. The goal of that series is to keep an eye on the deadly animatronic beasts at a Fun-Time-Pizza-esque kid's place turned nightmare until 6 AM over the course of, well, five nights. The game mechanic boils down to watching cameras and closing doors at appropriate times, but the infinite possibilites of what can happen each night keep the simple structure unpredictable.
We've seen the anthology series V/H/S find similar success on the movie-making side of horror, too. Each story is so quick that you don't get a chance to let your guard down. Even the wildly popular new horror film It Follows utilizes the same principle of keeping its concept (an unknowable force following a defenseless protagonist) simple, and its length short at a brisk hour and a half.
These indie efforts make up a kind of movement happening within the horror genre, and at the forefront of all of that was the potential of Silent Hills. What separated P.T. from the pack was pedigree. Having Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro, two masters in their fields, involved meant more money, better graphics and a more polished product. P.T. was one of the first times the latest generation of videogame consoles felt like it was separating itself from what came before. P.T.'s hallway, simple though it was, seemed so lifelike and real that it made for an impeccably immersive experience. If you happen to have even a decent audio setup, the added layer of P.T.'s insanely terrifying soundscape yielded some next-level scares.
Now that Silent Hills is no more, there's a hole in the future landscape of horror, but it's one that's already being filled by new ideas that build off of what P.T. taught us. Not only will we get more indie gems like Five Nights at Freddy's and more mainstream, cinematic-style titles like Until Dawn, but bigger studios will inevitably see dollar signs now that Konami has seemingly decided to walk away from what was an all-but-guaranteed huge profit margin.
P.T.'s impact is inescapable, and that other high-profile horror creators both in gaming or otherwise will take a cue from Silent Hills is inevitable. So, in that way, much like every slasher, monster and horror lurking just beyond the shadows, Silent Hills will never really die; it will just mutate into something even scarier.