With Silent Hill 2, Bloober Team Is Entering a New ‘Phase’ of Its Existence as a Horror Developer
Eight years after Bloober Team formally became known as a horror game developer, the studio is preparing for another shift, though it’s admittedly a touch less radical. It wants its games to start competing with industry giants of horror and adjacent genres like Resident Evil, The Last of Us, and Hellblade, and it’s starting with the remake of Silent Hill 2.
Speaking to IGN at DICE Summit 2023, Bloober Team CEO Piotr Babieno says it wants to change the way it tells stories. He wants to move beyond games that lean on simple mechanics typically found in “walking simulator” games – a term that Babieno acknowledges still attracts undeserved derision from gaming audiences.
Instead, he wants Bloober to be making games with larger scopes and more complex and involved gameplay mechanics on the level of other giants in the horror genre. He wants Bloober to be known as the studio that defines the future of video game horror, especially as he observes more people turning to horror for catharsis amidst increasingly chaotic and terrifying real-world events.
“We still would like to make meaningful games, we still would like to keep our DNA to tell [stories] about things which are important to us,” he says. “However, not by environmental storytelling, but by full action, to have much more mass appeal. And I think that this is the reason why we have chosen Silent Hill.”
I ask Babieno if the studio’s remake of Silent Hill 2 means that Bloober will continue to carry forward the Silent Hill franchise on behalf of Konami with more titles in the future. He replies that Konami is interested in conversations with Bloober, and “I’m not going to say never,” but affirms Bloober is focused for now on Silent Hill 2 and its secret project with Private Division. What’s more, he makes a point to defend Konami a bit, noting that the publisher has been on the receiving end of plenty of audience ire in the years following incidents like Hideo Kojima’s controversial departure and related reports of a dehumanizing work culture, as well as an overall reduced number of releases in recent years, especially of its most beloved IP.
“Those people who are in charge of Konami Gaming right now, of course I can’t tell you all the details, but I believe that they do understand how gaming works,” Babieno says. “They came from companies which worked on many great projects, and I’m pretty sure that they are making great choices by choosing partners, by choosing projects…And I do understand that people are a little bit angry at Konami for the stuff which happened in the past, but I would like to say, give them the time, because they do know what they are doing.”
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With this shift in how it looks at horror, Babieno says Bloober Team is hoping to effectively launch a new “phase” in its studio life, of sorts. He calls it “Bloober 3.0,” and while he’s not throwing any launch parties or making any big announcements around it, he’s quietly hoping the effects will be visible as a significant shift in the way Bloober Team makes psychological horror games going forward.
Babieno explains this Bloober 3.0 idea first by going back to when he believes Bloober team first transitioned from “1.0” to “2.0”. He recalls that when the studio first started in 2008, it made “all possible mistakes.”
“I micromanaged at the beginning, I made a lot of mistakes by choice in projects,” he says. “And at the beginning we thought about our shareholders, and we tried to make them happy because they were investors in our company. We followed their needs.
“We awoke in 2014 when we launched Basement Crawl, which was the worst game on PlayStation for that time. And…it was the moment which changed us because we decided, if we would like to keep [making games], we need to focus on something that we will be part of, that we will feel we would like to give gamers.”
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Which is how Bloober Team ended up pivoting hard back into the horror genre it had originally been born from, having previously been a part of a studio called Nibris that worked on a number of canceled Nintendo DS and Wii horror games. The studio considered changing its name to something “darker and more meaningful” along with its portfolio shift, but opted to keep the name Bloober Team in an effort to own its history and mistakes.
And there was a culture shift too, Babieno says, specifically in how he himself worked. Babieno says he made an effort to quit micromanaging projects or even being involved as a producer, and instead took on more of a top-level leadership role giving overall guidance, providing resources, and endeavoring to trust the experts on the teams. He’s happy with how it’s gone so far, noting that studio attrition is extremely low and the company is vehemently avoiding layoffs amid a surge in redundancies industry-wide.
Bloober’s recent history has involved a number of different publishing and IP partners, which would seem to make it ripe for acquisition. But Babieno is adamant that while he has had a lot of conversations with potential partners, and while a dedicated horror studio is a desirable prospect, Bloober is not a studio interested in being acquired. He wants to remain independent, because he doesn’t want anyone else besides the members of Bloober Team defining what kinds of games the studio gets to make.
“If we will have someone who [acquires us], then perhaps one day they will make the decision, ‘Maybe we could put them on a [different] project,’ and I don’t want to. Those people who came to us from…other big studios in Poland and foreign countries, I think that they came because they would like to be part of the creative process. So my goal is to stay independent. We had a renewal of strategic options and we decided that as a company we would like to follow the path of independence.”
For Babieno, Bloober 3.0 is his vision of the long-term future. Focused on making psychological horror games conceived and crafted internally that get lots and lots of people talking and define the future of the genre. And most importantly, he wants to make games that cause players to think deeply about what they experienced long after they’ve set down the controller.
“Our idea is to make games which will make an impact on you, that you understand more not so much about our characters, not necessarily about the universe which we are creating, but about yourself,” he says. “Because those choices which we are offering in the game will allow you to understand better, ‘Am I [a certain kind of] person? Why did I make this choice and not the other? Is there something wrong with me?’ Those moral conflicts, which are in the best games, are not made by people more than once, maybe twice [in their real lives]. Usually never. But because we have the opportunity to check ourselves by playing games, we are able to understand ourselves and others better.”
The interviewee’s responses have been lightly edited for clarity.
Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.