It was recently announced that Akira Yamaoka will be joining the video game development studio Grasshopper Manufacture. Akira Yamaoka is best known as one the main people behind the Silent Hill series. He left Konami at the end of last year after working there for about 16 years. Grasshopper Manufacture is the weird studio led by Suda51 and is responsible for games such as No More Heroes and Killer7, currently developing an as of yet unspecified horror game being produced by EA.
So, why is this such a big fucking deal? This unspecified horror game is being worked on by Shinji Mikami, the main man behind a little series called Resident Evil, Suda51 (who is probably insane) and Akira Yamaoka, the best composer and musician in the video game industry. That last claim is quite bold, but his work stands for itself. The last few Silent Hill titles may have not been must-play games, but the soundtracks are definitely a must-listen. These three men alone should be enough reason to pay attention to this project. I think Shinji Mikami’s importance is something that need not be elaborated on, and I don’t think I am the best one to explain Suda51, but I feel Akira Yamaoka’s genius could be explained at more length.
The thing that makes the Silent Hill series brilliant is the atmosphere. Of course a lot of this comes from the the visuals, but mostly it comes from the audio. Akira Yamaoka knows how to make music unsettling and downright creepy by using unusual methods. The strange choice of sounds and melodies makes the player uneasy on a subconscious level by giving them the feeling that something is fundamentally wrong. On top of that, he makes some really great non-scary music that seeps into Silent Hill generally in the form of rock songs with his frequent vocalist Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (probably best known for her career in voice acting, particularly as Major Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell).
After the announcement of his leaving Konami and before this one of him joining Grasshopper Manufacture, I wasn’t sure what he would do. As a director of multiple games in a successful franchise, he probably had a lot of options open to him. I think doing music for a new horror franchise is a good fit, and I am really looking forward to whatever this game ends up being. I also would have been completely happy if he had decided to just enter the music industry full time. His style (noting mainly the stuff done for Silent Hill – the stuff done for Konami’s Bemani games is something else entirely) would fit in well with other bizarre experimental groups such as Ulver, and is generally a style of music that is not exactly crowded with artists – at least, good ones. I await this new project with baited breath.