Crafting Atmosphere: Silent Hill: Downpour And The Czech Republic Influence

Posted on January 1, 2011

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.”

(Please visit the site to view this media)

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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Categories: Game News, Game Secrets


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