James Sunderland’s haunted visage stares back at him from a grimy bathroom mirror in the opening of Silent Hill 2. A letter from Mary, his late wife, has just come in the mail — insisting she’s alive in the dilapidated ghost town of Silent Hill. “I’m alone there now,” writes Mary. “Waiting for you.” James knows the dead can’t put pen to paper, but even the faintest hint of his beloved’s presence is enough to make him brave the fog and eldritch horrors found within.
For the passionate team behind the Silent Hill 2: Enhanced Edition, facing huge challenges for love’s sake is all too relatable.
Silent Hill 2: Enhanced Edition is a fan orchestrated project to create an accessible, yet faithful update to the survival horror classic on modern PCs. From crisp, high-quality chords of Akira Yamoka’s famous soundtrack ripped straight off the PlayStation 2 disk, to remaking background scenery of Toluca Lake by consulting the same real-world locations used by the original developers: the Enhanced Edition team leaves few stones unturned. All this work was born from the simple desire to revisit a great game.
Born from a Wish
In high school pottery classes, the modder who chooses to go by Ratiocinator meticulously studied images of Silent Hill 2’s nightmarish, rust-caked otherworld while sculpting a life-size bust of James Sunderland. That feverish adoration for the foggy town never left Ratiocinator’s heart, and the itch to revisit the fog-filled locale must be scratched often. In 2017, however, Ratiocinator realized that playing an authentic version of Silent Hill 2 would prove difficult.
“I didn’t own a CRT TV anymore by then, and PS2 games don’t look good on HD displays,” explains Ratiocinator. “So I gave my PC copy a try, and immediately noticed the port had lots of issues.” So he started reaching out to modders about fixes.
Aero, who also prefers to go by his online tag, was one of the few modders working on Silent Hill 2 at the time. “I helped create a widescreen fix for Silent Hill 2 in 2016,” he said. “It wasn’t until [Ratiocinator] contacted me about things like the sluggish camera that I became aware of the various problems the PC version had, though.” Intrigued by Ratiocinator’s feedback, Aero started work on more fixes. Eventually the two realized they’d need someone with in-depth knowledge of the engine to address the biggest problems.
Team Silent, the studio responsible for Silent Hill 2, was keen on randomized solutions for the game’s puzzles — a decision Andrew Bondarenko found fascinating. “My interest in the randomization led to me documenting [Silent Hill 2’s] memory layout,” Bondarenko said. “With my knowledge, [Ratiocinator] asked if I could help fix the in-game camera, and I’ve been a regular on the project ever since.”
Even with Bondarenko’s help, though, rummaging through ancient code laden with multiple studio’s fingerprints from the PS2-to-PC porting process was challenging.
That’s where Elisha Riedlinger joined the growing team. He was already on a personal quest to get his favorite games, dating beyond even the Windows 3.1 days, running on modern PCs. And he had an aptitude for tinkering with d3d8to9: an open-source program that converts outdated DirectX 8 games to DirectX 9. That way they can run on Windows 10.
“The PC version of Silent Hill 2 uses DirectX 8 and [Ratiocinator], before I knew him, opened a ticket on the d3d8to9 issues page explaining some problems the game had when using this d3d8to9,” Riedlinger explained. “I took it upon myself to see if I could address these concerns.”
But as he spoke with Ratiocinator, Riedlinger knew he could do even more. “At this point in development, the method of improving Silent Hill 2 PC consisted of using separate tools concurrently to try and make one cohesive solution for the game,” says Riedlinger. He knew there was a better solution, diligently whittling away the need for separate applications, unifying them into the SH2 Enhancements module. The module’s simple summary calls it “A project designed to enhance Silent Hill 2 (SH2) graphics and audio for the PC.”
This development kicked the larger project into overdrive.
As Ratiocinator scouted more talented hands and shared their work with the community, it ceased being a personal endeavor. Thus Silent Hill 2: Enhanced Edition was born. Ratiocinator runs the website and social media pages for the project, gathering fan feedback, which is then shared with Aero, Bondarenko, Riedlinger, and other contributors. As they iron out kinks, new ones inevitably pop up. But ironically, there’s a ton of reference material on what-not-to-do while updating Silent Hill 2.
In 2012, the Silent Hill HD Collection arrived on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It’s still the only modern re-release of Silent Hill 2 by publisher Konami. I could barely contain my own delight at the time, sporting a shit-eating grin as the PS3 slurped up the disk — eyes turning misty when familiar logos came on screen. My heart shot through the floor, though, when I began to play. Redrawn textures made the once dirty streets look as if Pyramid Head hired a construction company to repave the roads, totally clashing with the tone. Bizarre overlapping audio glitches made James sound like Darth Vader while breathing. Worst of all, frequent stutters froze the game entirely: it was borderline unplayable.
“We often use the HD Collection as a benchmark for what-not-to-do while working,” Aero confirmed. “If we adjust fog effects, and it looks worse than the HD Collection, then you know something went wrong.” Silent Hill’s iconic fog, in truth, started as a clever artistic technique Team Silent used to mask the engine’s limited draw distance. The HD Collection notoriously removed most of the fog effects, revealing hideous, unfinished environments. While the vanilla PC port’s fog isn’t as weak as the HD Collection, it’s still significantly scaled back compared to the PS2 original. Aero, Riedlinger, and Nemesis2000 (another contributor) spend copious amounts of time poking the game’s innards to create wispy, ethereal fog more in line with the original development team’s vision.
Other times the Enhanced Edition team doesn’t just guess what Team Silent would do: they go right to the source. Masahiro Ito, the art director of Silent Hill 2, is active on Twitter and sometimes parts with exciting nuggets of information. For example, in the famous secret dog ending where James discovers Mira, a mischievous Shiba Inu, is controlling Silent Hill from a security terminal, the Enhanced Edition team noticed nothing displayed on her monitors.
“We asked Ito if Mira was supposed to be looking at blank monitors,” Ratiocinator added. “He said [Team Silent] didn’t want her looking at nothing, but they couldn’t add monitor footage due to limitations of the PS2.” When they nudged Ito further, inquiring what she was watching, he simply said: “I’ll leave that to your imagination.”
“So, we held a contest for fans to vote on what they’d like to see on these monitors,” stated Ratiocinator. “The winning vote was security camera style shots from pivotal moments in the story. It’s a fun joke ending, so we wanted to have fun with it while getting fellow fans involved.” With a wildly successful contest under their belt, fan praise (and attention) for the Enhanced Edition skyrocketed to new heights.
Not every artistic flex wins over fans, though. In one cutscene, a lampshade mysteriously floats in midair with no light bulb connecting the shade to the base. This graphical goof has been in every version of Silent Hill 2, including the PS2 original. So when the Enhanced Edition team added a bulb, some fans took this as meddling with Team Silent’s artistic vision. “While the PS2 version is the most authentic experience, it still exhibits multiple visual bugs and is generally limited by the platform’s hardware,” states Bondarenko. “We make improvements to the technical side that Team Silent would surely agree on while leaving the storytelling aspects untouched.”
But it’s all still a stab in the dark most of the time. With Team Silent disbanded ages ago, and Konami’s ongoing neglect of most of its lauded series, many believe the onus to preserve Silent Hill 2 falls on the shoulders of the Enhanced Edition team. “If Konami released a proper update for Silent Hill 2, then our work may not be needed,” Riedlinger offered. “It’s great to know that I can have some part in preserving this classic game.”
Though Ratiocinator feels carrying that mantle of responsibility is a bit much at times. “At the end of the day, this project is made by fans, for fans, and that simplicity is the way I like it.”
Sneers may be the go-to reaction whenever Skyrim ends up on yet more new hardware, but Silent Hill fans would kill for the luxury of port-contempt. For years, they’ve endured nothing but disappointment. Even still, they cling to hope of returning to a certain foggy town. Thanks to the team behind Silent Hill 2: Enhanced Edition, it seems they won’t be left waiting forever.