The current state of Silent Hill is up for debate, but few would dispute the surreal brilliance of Silent Hill 2. Disturbing, sexual and profoundly scary, Silent Hill 2 seemed to completely realize the original promise of Silent Hill’s horrific ambitions.
Subsequent games have been varying degrees of quality, depending who you talk to--I'd argue Silent Hill: Shattered Memories was great--but Team Silent, now disbanded, seemed to reach Silent Hill’s pinnacle during its second ghostly visit.
It’s no surprise, then, that fans of Silent Hill 2 would be a rapturous bunch, as devoted fans are wont to do. Messing with nostalgia is a dangerous game, one Konami undertook themselves after revealing a high-definition collection of Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3 was in the works.
This version, however, would not feature the game’s original voice actors. This version, Konami said, would have brand-new voice actors. This version, fans reacted, would not be one they would blindly support.
Fans started reaching out to the voice actors from Silent Hill 2, many of whom who have remained engaged with the community since the game’s release on PlayStation 2 in 2001. Many don't work in games anymore.
Like so many things in life, the problems started with money.
After Konami released the first trailer of the new voice actors, the community was abuzz. "VOTE WITH YOUR WALLET" declared one comparison video. The reaction was profoundly negative, as it usually goes with changes to beloved history.
Guy Cihi, the voice behind Silent Hill 2 hero James Sunderland and both then and today more businessperson than actor, wrote an open letter to Konami on August 28 via Facebook. Cihi claimed Konami never negotiated the rights to use the acting outside of the original game, and he and the cast would be owed money if his contributions to Silent Hill 2 were used again.
The letter came just days after comments from Troy Baker in an interview with The Gaming Liberty. Baker is the new voice of James and a rising voice actor, having contributed to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Batman: Arkham City and others.
"The fact that he’s [Cihi] talking about residuals being in videogames shows you just how out of the loop he is because residuals don’t happen," he said. "They don’t exist. Don’t think for a second that I don’t wish that I had a fraction of a penny for every unit sold of Call of Duty: Black Ops or Modern Warfare 2 or Modern Warfare 3 that we’re finishing up right now. [...] Guy was the one who was outspoken about it and said that unless this happens he wouldn’t do it, so he forced Konami’s hands. So if anybody wants to blame anybody for why they chose new voices, they can go back to the original James."
The issue over residuals has been brought up in the past. The New York Times once profiled voice actor Michael Hollick, who gave life to Niko Bellic in Grand Theft Auto IV. Hollick revealed he was paid $100,000 for his duties on the game. GTA IV has sold more than six million copies since, but Hollick saw nothing past his original payment.
Cihi said he’d been contacted by Konami once to negotiate the release of the rights but never heard back with a written proposal, and simply assumed Konami simply decided to go the cheaper route of employing new actors. In his letter, Cihi announced he'd decided to waive his rights, hoping that would allow the original voices to now be included in the collection.
Konami did not answer my request for comment on the status of Silent Hill 2’s voice acting.
Several moments lead to Cihi's letter, he told me recently, including the fan reaction, and a realization that preserving Silent Hill 2’s legacy was more important than money, informed by a past experience with a business he co-founded in the 90s.
“I sold my shares in that business back to the other partners and I left to pursue other things,” he said. “Immediately after I left, they started systematically erasing me from company archives. Which was hard to do because I was literally everywhere. It was like in the old Soviet Union when they would 'disappear' people from group photos taken with Stalin. When I saw Konami had blurred my face and completely failed to mention me in the making of video, a switch flipped in my head and...I lost it.”
Cihi does not represent the entire Silent Hill 2 cast, however.
A fan video taped a panel at NDK 2011 featuring prominent voice actress (and Silent Hill singer) Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, where she explicitly said the original actors had no rights to residuals. She has reason to know; she directed the replacement voice actors for the high-definition version, and she actually took on the updated role of Mary and Maria. The video's been taken down, but according to her, Konami reached out to Cihi and based on his response, felt re-recording was necessary.
“I felt like he [Cihi] had some valid gripes but that maybe it was due to misunderstanding the VO [voice over] industry and the corporate structure at Konami regarding Silent Hill 2,” she told me. “Guy is a very smart, educated businessman--but that doesn't necessarily make him an expert in the narration/VO industry. Anytime a savvy businessman gets handed a waiver or contract and is asked to sign without knowing what it's concerning, it would raise concerns. But a phone call may have been a better option maybe.”
“I think everyone concerned wishes at this point that they had done things a little differently,” she said.
At least for fans, it looks like everything might turn out just fine in the end. Konami accepted Cihi’s offer, as did other cast members from Silent Hill 2. Cihi released a photo of himself and David Schaufele, who played Eddie, signing a rights waiver. Even though Konami did not release an official comment to me, Cihi specifically thanked Konami producer Tomm Hulett, who is working on the upcoming high-definition collection.
That's a good sign.
Cihi said he plans to meet up with Horgan, Schaufele, and Hulett for pizza and beer next month.
That's another good sign.
All this friction is driven by a connection people have to the material, a story of torment and discovery. And monsters. A decade later, Cihi and Horgan are still hearing from fans who were touched.
“I have a friend on Facebook now," said Horgan, describing her favorite memory with fans. "A young man with cystic fibrosis, who can't get close to people in his hospital because of protective clothing, etc. who relates more to Silent Hill and how Mary feels about being a burden to her family--than he does to people around him. Hearing from him, that was unforgettable, and being able to connect him with others out here that might feel the same.”
While Konami remains quiet, the likely scenario is the ability to switch between both sets of voices.
Silent Hill 3 is getting reworked voices, as well, but a reference by fansite Silent Haven suggests it may get the same treatment as Silent Hill 2. Konami's been silent. There's no set release date for the collection, but Konami had been aiming for this fall.