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  Greetings, Traipsers, and welcome back to Traipsing Through Silent Hill! Although I maliciously teased at the end of last post that we would be going through another slog-tastic stretch of gameplay, I thought I would take a slightly different approach to today’s update and veer ever-so-slightly away from the stumbling-around-drunkenly-in-the-dark that has served us so well and into one of my most often whined-about bugbears regarding this game: the dialogue.

  For a game that has a somewhat legendary place in the pantheon of video game storytelling, this entry is just rife with terrible dialogue and just plain bad writing. And while one can make any number of arguments to excuse the plot (Translation issues! Other games are garbage-ier!), it’s just that—an excuse. You’re not helping anything by being defensive. And as long as we have games that deftly weave story and gameplay (like, oh, I don’t know, the sequel to this very game), attempting to excuse these mistakes is just plain silly.

  Long story short, while normally it’s enough to just describe something as “bad” and leave it at that, I pride myself on being thorough when it comes to making games old enough to have a learner’s permit cry.

  For those of you less interested in this type of analysis, I have thought of you, too. Have an official Traipsing Through Silent Hill bingo card!

Click to make Big McLargeHuge!
Click to make Big McLargeHuge!

Have fun, you rascally scamps, and I’ll see you next time for red-hot gameplay action!

  For those of you who stuck around, let’s take a look at that recent cutscene as an example. Ignoring things like the fact that only massive convenience places Cybil and Harry at the same place at the same time on this town after a massive, reality altering event, this scene is just absolutely jam-packed with needless repetition, pertinent questions that are immediately retracted by the asking character, suppositions based on zero evidence, and pointless sentences revealing absolutely nothing in terms of whatever the plot of this game is supposed to be about.

  In short, it pretty much encapsulates many things that are wrong about the way the story is being told to us.

  But let’s take a look at this dialogue, without stage direction:

Just like the programmers. Oh, snap!
Just like the programmers. Oh, snap!

HARRY: Cybil!

CYBIL: Harry!

HARRY: How did you get back here?

CYBIL: I followed the sewer. Were you the one who cut the fence?

HARRY: Yeah. I'm glad you made it. I was worried about you.

CYBIL: You were worried!? Where did you disappear to? Never mind. I want to know what's going on here. What is with this town?

HARRY: This may sound really off the wall, but listen to me. You've got to believe me. I haven't gone crazy and I'm not fooling around. At first, I thought I was losing my mind. But now I know I'm not. It's not me. This whole town... it's being invaded by the Otherworld. A world of someone's nightmarish delusions come to life. Little by little, the invasion is spreading. Trying to swallow up everything in darkness. I think I'm finally beginning to understand what that lady as talking about.

CYBIL: Harry. Hold on a minute. I don't get it?

HARRY: Look, I don't understand it all myself. I guess I can't explain it.

CYBIL: Well, what's making this happen?

HARRY: I don't know that either. But I do know Cheryl is "there".

CYBIL: There?

HARRY: Under whoever created this darkness. Cheryl is somewhere and she needs my help.

CYBIL: Harry. This whole thing's been a major blow to you. You need to rest.

HARRY: Cybil, I…

DAHLIA: The demon is awakening! Spreading those wings.

HARRY: Dahlia Gillespie...

DAHLIA: Was it not as I said? I see it all now. Yes, everything. Hungry for sacrifice, the demon will swallow up the land. I knew this day would come. And what's more, the task is almost finished. There's only two left. To seal this town to the abyss, the mark of Samael. When it is completed, all is lost. Even in daytime, darkness will cover the sun. The dead will walk, and martyrs will burn in the fires of hell. Everyone will die.

HARRY: So what am I supposed to do? I've got to save Cheryl.

DAHLIA: It is simple. Stop the demon. The demon, the demon taking that child's form. Stop it before your daughter becomes a sacrifice. Before it is too late. Stop it. Stop it.

HARRY: What do I do?

DAHLIA: Go to the lighthouse on the lake, and to the center of the amusement park. Make haste. You are the only hope.

CYBIL: Look Harry. I really don't get what's going on. But if there's a chance we can save your daughter, I'm in. I'll check out the amusement park. You go to the lighthouse.

HARRY: Cybil… thanks.

DAHLIA: You will need to use it.

HARRY: Use what?

DAHLIA: The Flauros. Only with that can you stop it.

HARRY: What about Cybil?

Who will I stare at awkwardly if she dies?
Who will I stare at awkwardly if she dies?

  As you can see, we spend 426 words (ignoring dialogue tags) just kind of running in place. Outside of being given a new place to go, we aren’t really provided a whole lot in the way of plot revelation. Apparently the girl we’ve seen twice is a demon, which is new, but the vague “stop her because the seals are bad” has already been established.

  There are other major problems here, too. Cybil doesn’t really contribute much of anything. She just kind of exists to have Harry mansplain some bullshit that he almost immediately recants with a, “I don’t actually understand what I puked at you, but whatevs.” She does end up going to the amusement park, but I still question what she really does in this scene, you know? If you ever find yourself just giving a character something to do because the plot doesn’t really need them other than something special you just made up for them on the spot, that’s a bad sign.

  This scene is hard to really fix, because it is built on several fundamentally broken parts of the threadbare plot. Because the game is withholding pertinent information so the “twist” comes out of left field instead of organically seeding information to the player so they can solve a mystery, everything almost has to be contrived in order for it to work. I mean, in terms of raw logistics, Cybil shouldn’t even be here. Dahlia’s entrance makes just as little sense, considering that she enters the boat from the direction of the lighthouse—that is to say, the next dungeon gauntlet we’re going to be running through.

  I get that the developers needed to give the players something to go on, but this is so videogamey. Dahlia may as well walk in with a script in her hand and say, “Yo, we spent about a billion hours programming this coming dock segment, so get your ass to the lighthouse,” for how appropriate it is. In a game built around a clueless, agency-less character being bossed around by religious fanatics, it takes a special moment to highlight when it feels especially directive (that is to say, videogamey).

  What would work much better is altering the moment when Harry crossing into the nightmare reality. He could look up after the transition and see a red glow from the lighthouse. Remembering that Alessa is casting seals, he reasonably draws a conclusion that she just so happens to be doing that right at that moment. It wouldn’t be convenient—he was drawn into the nightmare because of Alessa’s activity. Further, it would show that Harry can actually fucking retain information that he learns—something this game really seems to have a hard time with. There’s no need for overwrought, pointless, we-are-in-a-videogame-here-we-are-talking-in-a-videogame dialogue.

  But, if we desperately needed this scene, like if the script writer was threatening suicide if it was cut or something, there’s a way it could have been trimmed and cleaned up so it wasn’t such a big pile of useless wankery. The things in red are what I added/altered in order to keep things moving in a way that won’t make people roll their eyes hard enough to rupture their optic nerves. Otherwise, my contribution to this part is almost entirely cutting unnecessary yakking:

I kept the name shrieking. It didn't feel right to leave it out.
I kept the name shrieking. It didn't feel right to leave it out.

CYBIL: Harry!

HARRY: Cybil! How did you get here?

CYBIL: The sewer. Where did you disappear to? Never mind. What is with this town?

HARRY: This may sound crazy, but listen to me. This whole town... it's being invaded by a world of someone's nightmarish delusions come to life. Little by little, the invasion is spreading

CYBIL: Hold on a minute. I don't get it. What's making this happen?

HARRY: I don't know, but I do know Cheryl is "there", under whoever created this darkness.

DAHLIA: The demon is awakening! Spreading those wings! Was it not as I said? Hungry for sacrifice, the demon will swallow up the land. And the task is almost finished. Two marks remain. When they are completed, all is lost. Darkness will cover the sun! The dead will walk, and martyrs will burn in the fires of hell!

HARRY: What am I supposed to do?

DAHLIA: Stop the demon taking that child's form before your daughter becomes a sacrifice! Go to the lighthouse and the amusement park. Make haste!

CYBIL: Harry, if there's a chance we can save your daughter, I'm in. I'll check out the amusement park, you go to the lighthouse.

HARRY: Cybil… thanks.

DAHLIA: You will need to use it.

HARRY: Use what?

DAHLIA: The Flauros. Only with that can you stop it.

HARRY: What about Cybil?

She... can take care of herself.
She... can take care of herself.

  Only 210 words were spent on this scene, which is less than half its original length. It still says everything it needs to without spending a moment longer doing so. Sure, you could argue that some personality is missing from it, but considering that said “personality” is “criminally stupid”, I don’t think there’s much harm in doing so. Besides, Dahlia got to keep two whole lines of apocalyptic imagery. It’s fine.

  And the terrible thing is that most cutscenes are like this. Everyone repeats themselves for a bit, says something ominous or stupid, and accomplishes nothing. Even when the repetition is kept to a minimum, it somehow manages to exacerbate every other problem this story has. For instance, here’s the god-awful script for the Green Lion scene:

Remember when she told us not to go blasting her by mistake? Ha, good times.
Remember when she told us not to go blasting her by mistake? Ha, good times.

CYBIL: Harry!

HARRY: Cybil?

CYBIL: I'm glad you're okay. I shouldn't've left you. Things are worse than I thought. It's nuts!

HARRY: What are you doing here? I thought you left town.

CYBIL: I saw you go in here, so I followed you. I couldn't get out. All the roads out of town are blocked. Cars have completely stopped running. The phones and radios are still out, too.

HARRY: What about my daughter? Did you see her?

CYBIL: I did see a girl.

HARRY: Was it Cheryl?

CYBIL: I only caught a glimpse of her through the fog. I went after her, but she vanished. I don't know about your daughter, but…

HARRY: And you just let her go!? Where was it?

CYBIL: On Bachman Road. She was heading towards the lake. Now don't get excited. It wasn't like she ran off exactly. There was no place for her to go. The road has been obliterated.

HARRY: What!? So then Cheryl…

CYBIL: It was like she was walking on thin air. What about you? Anything?

HARRY: Yeah… I met this bizarre woman. Her name’s Dahlia Gillespie. Do you know her?

CYBIL: Dahlia Gillespie? No. And?

HARRY: She said something about the town being devoured by darkness. Gibberish like that. Any idea what it means?

CYBIL: Darkness devouring the town? Must be on drugs. They sell ‘em to the tourists. The force still can't figure out who's behind it. None of our leads have panned out, and the investigation is stalled.

HARRY: What could drug trafficking have to do with all this?

CYBIL: I really don't know. But, maybe that's the darkness she was talking about. That's all I can think of. What's this?

HARRY: Just discovered it. Maybe there's something back there.

CYBIL: Let's have a look.

HARRY: Wait. We don't know what's back there. I'd better check it out first.

CYBIL: I'm a cop, I should go.

HARRY: No. I'm going.

CYBIL: Alright. I'll cover you from here. Be careful. If anything looks fishy, get back here on the double.

HARRY: Okay. Cybil?

CYBIL: Yeah?

HARRY: Do you know anything about… Well… like some other world… It's like some kind of bad dream…?

CYBIL: What are you talking about?

HARRY: I'm not quite sure. I try to make sense of it, but then my mind goes blank. Everything's dark there, and I hear sirens in the distance. I met this nurse… Lisa. It's like I was there, but not really. It's all a blur. Like some kind of hallucination, you know?

CYBIL: I have no idea what you're talking about, Harry.

HARRY: Oh... I was just wondering. Never mind.

CYBIL: Harry. You're tired.

HARRY: Yeah. Maybe…

If I had free reign over this project, things would have been so much cooler.
If I had free reign over this project, things would have been so much cooler.

  What the hell do we get out of this? I mean, we get a small piece of the “drugs” subplot which goes nowhere (you know, we actually learned more from the police station), adds nothing to the plot (Harry’s daughter is… erm… on drugs?), and serves to be the shittiest and laziest red herring possible (hope you’re not invested in this aspect of the plot!). I mean, seriously, there were only two ways that kind of plot line could have ended. First, Harry has been high as balls this entire time and has been murdering innocent people and animals on a warpath for whatever reason his deluded mind has made up. Second, the drug caused horrible mutations and Silent Hill is actually Resident Evil: Vaguely Supernatural Edition.

Drugs, T-Virus, same diff.
Drugs, T-Virus, same diff.

  I mean, they’re trying to link the drugs with the nightmare world, I guess, but why is it an issue here and now? Is it actually an issue? WHY DID YOU CRAM THIS PLOT POINT IN HERE!?

  On top of that, we spent 413 words not moving the main plot one fucking inch. How is that good writing? How is that good anything? This scene takes a significant amount of editing and revision to make it somewhat bearable and significantly less brain dead:

I mean, still partially brain dead. This is Silent Hill, after all.
I mean, still partially brain dead. This is Silent Hill, after all.

CYBIL: Harry!

HARRY: Cybil?

CYBIL: You're okay! We’re in a bad spot—we’re trapped here. The roads have caved in and cars, radios, and phones are all dead.

HARRY: Damn… any sign of my daughter?

CYBIL: Don't get excited, but I caught a glimpse of a girl through the fog. I went after her

HARRY: Where?

CYBIL: Heading south on Bachman Road, toward the lake. But, Harry… the road has been obliterated. If she was going that way, she either fell in or can fly.

HARRY: The lake…

CYBIL: What about you?

HARRY: I met a woman named Dahlia Gillespie. She said something about the town being devoured by darkness. Any idea what it means?

CYBIL: Darkness devouring the town? Sounds like the local color. Must’ve bought into cult nonsense they tell the tourists.

HARRY: Cult?

CYBIL: It’s nothing. What's this?

HARRY: Just discovered it.

CYBIL: Let's have a look.

HARRY: Wait. This tunnel was blocked from this side. That means someone left this place and could come in behind us.

CYBIL: You’re right. Damn… I’ll cover the door. Be careful.

HARRY: Right. Cybil?

CYBIL: Yeah?

HARRY: Do you know anything about… some other world… like some kind of bad dream?

CYBIL: What are you talking about?

HARRY: Never mind. I’m probably just tired.

CYBIL: Yeah.

Oh, hey, this kind of makes sense now.
Oh, hey, this kind of makes sense now.

  Once again, more than half the script’s weight is sloughed off, with my version clocking in at a mere 193 words.

  As you can see, I took a lot more liberty with Harry and Cybil’s dialogue, turning this scene from barely functional to at least somewhat workable. Harry doesn’t immediately jump down Cybil’s throat and both of them share a back and forth that is infinitely less stiff than before. They actually communicate like people in a bad situation rather than robots yelling whatever pseudo-plot-relevant claptrap springs to mind.

  Further, because I dropped the whole “DRUGS ARE BAD” subplot and replaced it with the cult, the player can actually begin to build up some basic idea of what’s really going on (even though, really, this should have been happening all the way back at Alchemilla). This also naturally leads to Harry knowing a bit more about what’s going on and having more of an interest in Lisa’s story about the cult’s activities from before the town became a resort community.

Always remember: someone thought that this line was a good idea.
Always remember: someone thought that this line was a good idea.

  I also went and created a reasonable rationale for why Harry goes through the tunnel first—someone must have slid the cabinet into place before leaving the antique store. That same someone could return and if they were dangerous, they could trap Cybil and Harry. It wasn’t that fucking hard and it would have made Harry seem like an intelligent fucking human being rather than spunk-brained moron he is.

  And, if you’ll notice, I actually had an instance of a character withdrawing his or her question when he realizes it makes him sound crazy—and it actually worked for the story. Instead of, say, a tough cop immediately relaxing over a person’s disappearance or patronizing a concerned father, Harry is doubting his own experience. That is infinitely more effective than having Cybil condescendingly dismiss Harry’s rambling about the nightmare reality.

  What I don’t understand is why absolutely no one on the development team caught this. I get that, in 1999, trying to artfully integrate a story into a game was a bit on the difficult side, but there is no excuse for the quite frankly insulting amount of repetition and sloppy introduction of plot elements that are quickly abandoned. And don’t tell me that it’s a translation issue, because that doesn’t matter—there would still be the same number of lines that repeat themselves or say absolutely nothing.

  On top of that, Metal Gear Solid was released a couple of months earlier by Konami, and the dialogue is infinitely more coherent. In fact, the plot is light-years ahead of Silent Hill in terms of both complexity and overall clarity. Different teams, yes, but come on.

  And we don’t even have to stick with Konami. Squaresoft released Final Fantasy VII in 1997! 1997! Sure, I don’t like the game or its self-indulgent-yet-simple story, but sweet lord Cthulhu, the amount of translation necessary to make it understandable gives Silent Hill’s brand of gibberish precisely zero excuses. We shouldn’t have 1996 Resident Evil-level word vomit in a 1999 horror game.

  Look, I do understand that there are limitations of the medium. But a second draft should never be too much to fucking ask.

  Well, that’s it for today, Traipsers! I hope you enjoyed this crash-course in dialogue and maybe, just maybe, learned something. If you’d like to see me re-write other scenes so they approach something close to coherence, let me know on Twitter or Facebook. Otherwise, I will see you next time in The Shortest and Shittiest Dungeon; For Real This Time!

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