The Silent Hill HD Collection is due to be released this fall for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. It will include Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3, re-rendered in high definition. In addition, all of the games’ voice acting will be redone. A lot of fans are not happy about that, which is unsurprising. Fans are never happy.
Guy Cihi is also unhappy. He was the voice and movement actor for Silent Hill 2 protagonist James Sunderland, and the inspiration for his design. Cihi has suggested that not only did Konami string him along in thinking he would be invited back to rejoice the character before discarding him altogether, they owe him money as well. Troy Baker, who has replaced Cihi, says he is owed nothing by Konami, and that he’s being a drama queen.
In the end, no one really knows what Cihi’s contract with Konami stipulated, but Silent Hill fans have rasied him up as a martyr regardless. A cadre of fans are boycotting the collection in support of the original cast, and many are wondering about the particulars of the production. For example, series Metal Gear Solid and Zone of the Enders are being rereleased in HD, but there is nothing suggesting their voice acting will be redone. What makes Silent Hill’s situation special?
The Internet-wide argument on whether or not Konami is acting like a bunch of jerks came to blows when Destructoid editor Jim Sterling labeled the new voice acting for Silent Hill 2 as “shitty”. Just as many readers have dissented as they have agreed, saying that the original voice acting was horrible to begin with.
Let’s pretend that no one on the Internet knows how to qualify an actor’s performance. And then let’s realize that we don’t have to pretend because it’s largely true.
Performances have more qualities than “good” or “bad”. Just like a musical score, an actor’s performance can have a certain tone or intensity that changes or contributes to a story. When one would typically describe a performance as being poor, what they tend to mean is that it’s inconsistent with the rest of the production.
In many stories, a performance that is confusing or unclear in its motivations could be described as poor. In Silent Hill 2, it fits perfectly. Throughout the game James fights horrible abominations and struggles to make sense of his situation and his surroundings. Whenever he encounters another human being, what should be a moment of relief is always shrouded with uncertainty and anxiety. Every character is damaged goods – a strange, asocial misfit who can only pretend to know how normally functioning people act. No one seems to know exactly where they are or what they’re doing or why, and if they do, their inflections are so unreadable or unnatural as to be impossible to tell. And when you start holding up James as the standard for normalcy in Silent Hill, things begin to fall apart.
These manic performances do as much to inform the story as the soundtrack, the visual design, or the gameplay, and they’re only possible because of the anxious amateur actors who worked so hard on their roles. Will the new voice acting ruin Silent Hill 2? No, but it will certainly change it. All of the new voice actors are professionals who have had a million other roles before and they will do their jobs by the book. And that will make the product different from what it used to be.
There’s actually a parallel to this situation in the world of theatre – the initial controversy surrounding the American Repertory Theater’s current production of Porgy and Bess. Composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim voiced his disgust when he found out that the A.R.T.’s production would rewrite the original opera to give the characters expanded histories and to have a newer, happier ending. Like Sterling, Sondheim took personal offense to the alterations and questioned the integrity of those making the changes.
When altering an established work, you’ve really got to ask: Who are you doing it for? The fans of the original, or a whole new audience? Silent Hill fans would have been happy enough with a high resolution release that would look good on their fancy new TVs. And if you’re trying to appeal to a new audience, why not make something new?