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An example of brilliant video game marketing: P.T.

ptLast week’s instance of the annual Gamescom trade show in Cologne, Germany was host to a dump truck of exciting announcements in the video game world. It was your standard fair of a deluge of video game promotional media: trailers, demos and screenshots. With so many games vying for everyone’s attention on these new game consoles, it’s often difficult to stand out. One “game,” however, took on a rarely seen approach by not showing itself at all, at least not directly. It was an outright deliberate attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of both the press and consumers alike. Such a brazen, ridiculous marketing angle managed to generate enormous amounts of buzz that spread virally across the Internet. It was brilliant: announce a game not by announcing it, but just letting it organically make its way into the public consciousness.

The Enigma

It all started at Sony’s press conference on Tuesday morning. Following a presentation for Konami’s hotly anticipated Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, a short teaser trailer revealed a thing called “P.T. This was a new “interactive teaser” for a horror game from 7780s Studio, a developer that no one had ever heard of before. The trailer was pretty barebones. There was a creepy talking bag, some gross cockroaches, and footage of supposedly real people freaking out and screaming in terror in reaction to being shown the game. It was pretty standard marketing tactics for a horror video game these days. What’s interesting is the trailer announced that the playable teaser was immediately made available as free demo on the PlayStation Network for any PlayStation 4 user to download and try out for themselves. The video challenged players to “decipher the enigma,” and little did people know how rewarding solving mystery would actually end up being.

The Truth

Mere hours after the interactive teaser was released on PSN, the truth was revealed. A player from the UK going by the name “Soapy Warpig” livestreamed her playthrough of P.T. on Twitch. She only had three people watching her channel at the time, but when the truth of P.T. came to light, her reaction rivaled those demonstrated in the original Gamescom trailer. Click here to watch her reaction on YouTube, but beware of some foul language!

Footage of the end of P.T. from Soapy Warpig’s stream went viral, and soon everyone knew that P.T. was actually a Playable Teaser for the next entry in the long-running Silent Hill horror franchise. To add to the insanity, the game is coming from celebrated game designer Hideo Kojima and popular film director Guillermo del Toro.

The Trickster

If you watch the footage, you can hear Soapy Warpig freak out upon seeing the name “Hideo Kojima,” and that name is a good enough reason for any gamer to get hysterical. Kojima, the man behind the Metal Gear game series, is what Internet users would feel comfortable calling a “masterful troll.” Kojima is not afraid of the unconventional when it comes to the marketing of his games. This man will outright lie to his fans just to get people talking. This is the guy who intentionally hid the main character of Metal Gear Solid 2 by using false footage in trailers prior to the game’s release. For another secret project, Kojima not only made up a bogus development studio, but also faked a human being by wearing a prosthetic mask to hide his identity while promoting a game with a phony title that ended up being Metal Gear Solid V. Even if some people may not be a fan of Kojima’s games, it’s hard to deny that the guy is a genius prankster. No one else would be able to get away with these kinds of stunts.

The surprise behind P.T. was actually discovered earlier than expected. “I personally expected this to take at least a week to be solved, and I was really surprised it was less than half a day,” said Kojima on the subject. “I wanted people to get together and cooperate, and there were different messages in different languages. I believe this was a success, since I wanted to create something that people from different countries could solve.”

The Game

The first thing you’ll notice upon playing P.T. is the incredible graphics technology. The game is running on the Fox Engine, the same engine powering the equally impressive Metal Gear Solid V. The first-person perspective allows you to appreciate just how gorgeous P.T. looks (well, as gorgeous as a horrific terror simulator can get). The lighting and shadow models are incredibly realistic, and the super-detailed dilapidated hallways littered with garbage and mold is a little unsettling with how real it looks. Kojima actually admits that they tried to intentionally to make the game look worse than it could be. In order to keep up the ruse, they wanted the game to look like it was made on a smaller indie game budget, so the final game could actually end up looking much better than what’s already shown.

The game’s tone is set off by a story of a grisly murder, narrated through snippets of dialogue coming from a radio. The spooky factor is set to 11, as you’ll encounter all sorts of chilling scenarios, like ghostly apparitions that are a little too into physical contact, shadowy figures that loom in the dark hallways, demonic possession, that weird talking bag from the trailer, and screaming bloody babies crying from the bathroom sink.

The game even employs fake glitches to catch you off your guard, similar to games like Eternal Darkness and Batman: Arkham Asylum. The game will fake crash or create intentional video game oddities to make you think something is actually wrong with the game.

The endlessly looping hallways of terror mixed with the deliberately obtuse puzzle elements either makes for a very scary or very frustrating experience. The demo was purposefully designed in such a way to keep the secrets locked within for as long as possible. “This is a very scary game and the last puzzle is difficult. This is intentional,” Kojima explained.

The ending of the demo, and therefore the ultimate revelation, seemed to have been come upon accidentally. Even after Soapy Warpig’s successful playthrough, players still couldn’t figure out the actual process for triggering the ending sequence. It came to the point that different communities online began to work together to come up with a collaborative solution to the game. Apparently, the key is to play the game with a microphone connected to the game controller and make noises into it to attract the ire of the in-game ghosts. A bizarre solution that seems fitting for a Kojima game.

Once the final puzzle is solved, the haunted hell house can finally be escape, treating the player to the now infamous ending sequence. In addition to Kojima, the end of the demo names film director Guillermo del Toro, known for works such as Pans Labyrinth, Hellboy, and Pacific Rim. It’s been known that del Toro has wanted to work on games in the past, but his projects kept falling through, so it’s exciting to know that we’ll finally get to witness his debut video game work.

Following the directorial name drops, the game’s is shown wandering an empty street. He steps out into the light and looks towards the camera, revealing that Norman Reedus of The Walking Dead will be providing the facial likeness, voice, and presumably motional capture for the character.

The title “Silent Hills,” is then plastered on the screen. Yes, “Hills” as in plural: another mystery that has yet to be solved. The phrase “Playable Teaser” can be read below the title, revealing the meaning of the name P.T. A list of Japanese names, presumably the development team, follows. This is particularly exciting for many fans, as the last Japanese-developed mainline Silent Hill game was Silent Hill 4 in 2004.

All these revelations past the title card come backed by the original Silent Hill musical theme by video game composer Akira Yamaoka, who is most famously known for creating the memorable soundtracks of the early Silent Hill games. Yamaoka has been very sly in response to questions about his involvement in this new game. It’s still unknown whether or not he will be part of this project, but he has expressed interest in continuing to work on the series, even after his departure from the company in 2009.

P.T. ultimately ends stating, “This game is a teaser. It has no direct relation to the main title.” This indicates that Silent Hills will likely be a very different game from P.T., but even so, P.T. has left its mark.

There is currently no information on a release date or definitive platforms (though teaser’s exclusivity to the PlayStation 4 makes that system a likely candidate). So, even after the major mysteries of P.T. have been solved, Silent Hills remains a different story.

Prior to loading up P.T., you’re treated with the tagline “Avoid playing if you have a heart condition.” This is probably wise advice, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before in horror media marketing. However, people are genuinely calling this small teaser one of the scariest games ever made.

When asked if the spookiness would be too much for some players, Kojima responded, “That’s why there’s a limit on how scary you can make a game, but in this case we’re ignoring that. If you don’t want to keep playing through the game, so be it we don’t care.” Kojima doesn’t want to make something so scary you’ll pee your pants. No, his words are much stronger. “We’re aiming for a game that will make you [soil] your pants.” He actually used language that was a bit harsher, but I’ll leave it at that for the sake of the readership!

By Alfredo Dizon, columnist

Young Title Company