In almost every way, P.T. was a ruse. The developer, the name – all of that was intended to trick players into thinking they were playing a demo from a new independent studio trying their hand at making a horror game rather than the reveal of a new entry in one of the industry’s most popular horror franchises. In actuality, the teaser was made using Kojima Productions’ in-house Fox Engine, the same engine used on Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain. According to Kojima, the “quality” was actually downgraded to create an illusion of inexperience. “That was the most difficult thing thus far … if we raised the bar that high they’d think a big studio was behind it,” Kojima told Polygon in 2014.
Kojima’s games — especially by this point — are complex. They’re often systems-heavy and require a player to learn and operate within those systems before learning how to bend and break its rules. P.T. was kind of like that, but it was deceptively simple on its surface. Loading into the teaser, players woke up on a concrete floor facing a door. When they opened that door, they walked down a nondescript suburban hallway. At the end of the hallway was another door. Once opened, the player found themselves staring at the start of the hallway they’d just walked through. And then it happened again. And again. And again. Until they were able to figure out the game’s tricks.
Originally, Kojima said he thought it’d take players at least a week to discover the Silent Hills teaser waiting at the end of P.T. It took them a couple hours. But still, there were a lot of puzzles and mysteries to overcome in the game’s looping hallway, like requiring the player poke out the eyeball of a character in a picture, decipher a message scribbled on a wall, or find pieces of a torn-up photograph strewn throughout the level (the most devious of which was actually hidden in the pause menu). And even when the secret was out, the notoriety of P.T. and Silent Hills still spread. Talk of how scary the short demo was also helped built interest. As players walked ad nauseum around the hallway, they were stalked by a ghost named Lisa, who could occasionally be heard moving or crying. At one point, if you look up toward the ceiling, you’ll find her watching you from the second-floor banister. Take too long solving the game’s puzzles or spend too much time in one place and Lisa will appear right in front of your face, effectively killing the player. Jump-scare compilations became very popular for P.T.
And then of course there was the teaser at the end. Once the player frees themselves from the hallway loop, the camera pans around to show who they’d been in control of, and that that character was played by Norman Reedus. All the while, text flashes on screen revealing the game was being made by Kojima and del Toro. It ends with a fade to the name “Silent Hills” while the theme song from the series plays.
Once the cat was out of the bag, there was no stopping fan excitement for P.T. At the time, and this is still true today, Kojima’s name attached to anything was a huge deal. Especially in 2014, when The Phantom Pain was one of the most anticipated games of 2015. Del Toro and Reedus’ attachment amplified this excitement, and the fact that the Silent Hill series was getting such a star-studded team to work on a new entry pushed everything over the edge. Just over two weeks after releasing the demo, Konami announced it’d been downloaded more than one million times.
Kojima has an almost hyperbolic way of talking about his upcoming games (see: Strand Game), and Silent Hills was certainly no different. He spoke broadly about his ambitions with a survival horror game and talked about how he wanted it to be the scariest game ever made. He wanted to make a game that didn’t make players pee their pants, he said that after talking to del Toro he wanted to make a game that made players s— their pants — even if that meant it was too scary for some players.
“So be it. We don’t care,” Kojima told Polygon in 2014. “We are aiming for a game that will make you s— your pants. So please make sure you have a [change of clothes].” He even joked that the limited edition of Silent Hills would probably come with an extra pair of pants.
At the time, the reveal was surprising to the public, but Kojima’s interest in making a new Silent Hill game and Konami’s interest in allowing him to do that were a few years old by the time P.T. was released. Talking at the Eurogamer Expo in 2012, Kojima even said it was something he’d talked about with the president of Konami.
“In the past I’ve mentioned Silent Hill in interviews, and as a result of that the president of Konami rung me up and said he’d like me to make the next Silent Hill,” Kojima said.
“Honestly, I’m kind of a scaredy-cat when it comes to horror movies, so I’m not confident I can do it. At the same time, there’s a certain type of horror that only people who are scared of can create, so maybe it’s something I can do.
“That said, I think Silent Hill has a certain atmosphere. I think it has to continue, and I’d love to help it continue, and if I can help by supervising or lending the technology of the Fox Engine, then I’d love to participate in that respect.”
The game would show up one more time at the 2014 Tokyo Game Show, this time with a proper trailer, and by the end of the year Silent Hills was showing up on Most Anticipated games lists. P.T. even won a few awards, like Giant Bomb’s Best Horror Game of 2014 and Polygon’s 10th best Game of the Year.
The success and anticipation couldn’t stop the behind-the-scenes drama unfolding at Konami, though. And Silent Hills, whatever it was or wasn’t, was about to be nothing at all.
Creating A Panic
What was Silent Hills exactly? Realistically, probably some concepts and grand ideas. Not to say it wasn’t actively being worked on in some capacity, but at the time Kojima Productions was heads down on The Phantom Pain, which was released in September 2015. There’s nothing to indicate that the game was very far in development at all, or even playable beyond P.T. However, there were apparently lots of ideas.
“We had a great experience and had great story sessions with hundreds upon hundreds of designs,” Del Toro, who has been the most vocal about Silent Hills post-cancellation, told Bloody Disgusting in 2015. “Some of the stuff that we were designing for Silent Hills I’ve seen in games that came after, like The Last of Us, which makes me think we were not wrong, we were going in the right direction.”
“We were hoping to actually create some sort of panic with some of the devices we were talking about and it is really a shame that it’s not happening,” he added. “When you ask about how things operate, that makes no f—ing sense at all that that game is not happening.”
Silent Hills not happening is the product of being caught up in the crossfire of Kojima and Konami’s split. In March 2015, signs that there was trouble between the two parties started popping up on the internet. First, Konami removed Kojima’s name from then-upcoming Metal Gear Solid V’s box art and removed the Kojima Productions logo from its website. That same month, Kojima confirmed that The Phantom Pain would be his last Metal Gear game — a series he’d been making for Konami for more than 30 years. In return, the publisher said the series would continue.
In April 2015, while the workplace issues surrounding Kojima and Konami unfolded, with some reports citing the publisher was treating employees like “prisoners,” that it told Kojima he was “unfairly sullying the reputation of our company,” and forcing Kojima Productions to “disband,” del Toro and Reedus both unofficially announced the cancellation of the Silent Hills project. A few days later, ostensibly forced to respond as the story spread, Konami came out and announced the game was canceled — less than a year after its announcement. Two days later, it pulled P.T. from the PlayStation store, making it no longer available to anyone that didn’t already have it downloaded. In September 2015, a few weeks after it released The Phantom Pain, rumors circulated that Konami was abandoning all AAA game development aside from its Pro Evolution Soccer series. In December of the same year, after a drawn-out battle between the two parties, outlets began reporting that Kojima had finally left Konami.
Since then, a lot of what’s known about what Silent Hills was or would have been has come from del Toro, who has spoken frequently about the project and his disappointment that it was canceled. He also revealed that Junji Ito, the acclaimed horror manga author behind books such as “Tomie,” “Uzumaki,” and “The Enigma of Amigara Fault,” was attached to the project, though Ito has downplayed his own involvement in the project, saying it never even got far enough in development that he actually drew anything for Silent Hills.
“I came to a meeting and Del Toro hugged me,” Ito said in 2019. “It turns out Del Toro is a big gamer. Del Toro wanted the game to be in one location and keep the horror in the player’s face in that way. … Once the Silent Hills meeting was over, we went to karaoke. I didn’t hear anything after that. I heard that the plan got scrapped through outside sources. I have seen Kojima and Del Toro since. I never started designing monsters. Nothing exists. There are no roughs or sketches.”
Since the game’s cancellation, Del Toro has announced he’s done trying to make games (Silent Hills is the second game he worked on that was canceled. In 2012 he was working on a game called Insane with THQ and Volition). Konami tried with mixed success to release a new Metal Gear game, a survival game called Metal Gear Survive. And Kojima has gone on to form a new Kojima Productions, which released its first game in 2019, Death Stranding, starring Norman Reedus and featuring Guillermo Del Toro. No new Silent Hill games have been announced or released since Silent Hills’ cancellation.
Due to its mysterious nature and the fallout of Kojima and Konami, Silent Hills is destined to be one of those games people talk about forever, speculating on what could’ve been had things gone differently. Since its cancellation, P.T. has inspired indie games like Allison Road and been remade in Dreams. And Kojima has expressed interest in making a new horror game, one he says he has “revolutionary” ideas for — that will make people crap their pants.
“P.T. ended as just an experiment, but I would like to make another horror game someday,” Kojima said in 2019. “Something that uses a revolutionary method to create terror, that doesn’t just make you pee your pants, but crap them. I already have ideas in mind.”
Kojima has said little to nothing about what Silent Hills might have been after the game was canceled, but last year he did talk about the legacy of P.T. and why it’s so well-regarded. For him, P.T. was “special,” but denies wanting to make something like it ever again.
“P.T. is special. Human fear ultimately stems from the unknown,” Kojima said. “P.T. was an experiment in producing an effect in response to that nature. So, the reaction was as expected – if anything we could say that it was a great success as a teaser. P.T. was a mysterious game, created by a mysterious studio, with no previous announcement or information, so it used forbidden techniques to increase fear. It was a one-off thing, so we cannot reuse that method again.”
What Silent Hills was going to be, we may never know. Those secrets have remained closed from the public by the people that know for more than five years now. And while it may not have been anything concrete by the time it was shelved, just some loose ideas and grand visions on a computer or notebook somewhere, P.T. lives on as one of the best horror experiences in games, a legacy that far exceeds its short runtime.