Silent Hill 2 is a game with almost mythological status in my mind. To me it's such a monumental work of art that I refuse to believe it was simply made by some regular people in an office block in downtown Tokyo. Obviously this is naive in the extreme, and deep down I know the reality. But it's still jarring pulling the Wizard of Oz's curtain back and seeing a game of such power, intensity, and beguiling beauty being created in a sterile office space that looks like a dreary accounting firm. This landmark horror game was made here? Surely not.
In this making of documentary we catch several glimpses of the Konami offices where Team Silent made horror history, and it's incredibly underwhelming. I don't know, maybe I was expecting something more atmospheric. A dark room lit by candles with Akira Yamaoka's music drifting spookily through the air. Not a bright, fluorescent maze of cubicles painted in shades of sickly hospital green. How the hell did these people get into the headspace to make a game like that here? I suppose it is a nightmare in its own blandly corporate way.
This discovery sent me down a rabbit hole. I suddenly became obsessed with seeing the beige Japanese offices where my favourite games were made, and each one was more unremarkable than the last. In a July, 1999 TV special about the making of Shenmue, we get a look at where Yu Suzuki's martial arts epic was made. A grey, featureless office haphazardly cluttered with giant CRT screens, monolithic Dreamcast development kits (I'd kill for one of those), and so many controllers. It's a fascinating snapshot of a moment in gaming history.
Resident Evil 4, Metal Gear Solid, Devil May Cry—all made in the same kind of boring, soulless office. According to a Japanese friend who works in the games industry, they haven't changed much at all either. Now they just have flat screen TVs instead of CRTs. The only archive footage I found that bucked the trend was of SNES-era Nintendo. These offices look bright, naturally lit, and there are even a few plants livening the place up. Maybe these were nicer offices reserved for the higher-ups. Still corporate, but with a touch more humanity.
Sometimes it's best not to know how the sausage is made. Now when I play Silent Hill 2, I imagine Team Silent sitting under those rows of dazzling fluorescent strip lights. Of course, it's not just Japanese studios. I've visited a lot of developers over the years—Bethesda Game Studios, Ubisoft Montréal, Modern Warfare-era Infinity Ward, Avalanche Studios, and Frontier Developments to name just a few—and it's the same story. Some are nicer than others, but in general, big games are made in places that do not in any way reflect the product being made.
This isn't a massive revelation, I know. But when you play and love games, sometimes you forget that it's an industry. You forget that incredible, transporting worlds like Skyrim, the Lands Between, Hyrule, Los Santos, or wherever else you enjoy spending time are the products of humans sitting at desks under bright lights. A lot of them are probably thinking about what to have for lunch or looking forward to getting home. Seeing behind the curtain does kill the magic, but sometimes it's nice to be reminded that people make games.
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