Last night at the 90th Annual Academy Awards ceremony, cult director Guillermo del Toro was honored for his contributions to the industry. Del Toro took home the Oscar for Best Director, while his film, The Shape of Water, won Best Picture and Best Production Design. It was a great pair of wins for a director who is quirky craftsman who usually doesn't land in the mainstream.
It was also a marker of missed opportunities. The Shape of Water was originally pitched to Universal as a Creature of the Black Lagoon reboot for its Dark Universe. Universal passed on the film, for more action-oriented fare like The Mummy.
"I went to Universal and I said, "Can we do the movie from the point of view of the creature?" They didn’t go for it. I said, 'I think they should end up together.' They didn’t go for that, either," del Toro told Dark Horizons.
In hindsight, that didn't work out for them. The Mummy definitely made more money, but not enough to establish a cinematic universe. The Dark Universe was abandoned just prior to the launch of The Shape of Water, which went on to be an Oscar winner.
Those missed opportunities extend to our community as well. Guillermo del Toro has always been an avid lover of films, but the same is true for video games. The director has worn his love for video games on his sleeve.
"Video games are the comic books of our time," del Toro said back in 2011, during a Q&A session in Portland, OR. "It’s a medium that gains no respect among the intelligentsia. They say, 'Oh, video games…' And most people that complain about video games have never fucking played them. You will see that they are an art form and anyone saying differently is a little out of touch, because they are an art form."
Del Toro has tried to use that cachet and influence as a Hollywood director to make his own mark on the gaming industry multiple times. And for the most part, it's never worked out for him.
Del Toro's first shot at making a video game was a bit of a surprise. At the 2010 Spike Video Game Awards, he came onstage to profess his love for video games, only to turn around and announce his own. That title, InSane, was in development at Volition and scheduled to be published by THQ.
A brief trailer was shown at the Spike Video Game Awards, but further information popped up afterwards. InSane wasn't just one game, it was an entire planned trilogy. There were also more potential projects lukring on the fringes, with THQ having the rights to the games, but Del Toro retaining the right for any associated film projects.
"With this new series of video games, I want to take players to a place they have never seen before, where every single action makes them question their own senses of morality and reality," said Del Toro in a press release at the time.
But nothing happened. We received that single teaser trailer and then THQ, Volition, and del Toro went radio silent for two years. THQ stumbled and faltered, with huge layoffs and studio closures. Danny Bilson, the Executive Vice President in charge of the publisher's core games business, left the company and was replaced by Naughty Dog co-founder Jason Rubin as the new President in May of 2012. Four months later, THQ cancelled InSane, with the rights reverting entirely to del Toro.
Del Toro tried to keep the dream alive, telling Kotaku that he wasn't giving up on the project. But he was busy promoting Pacific Rim at the time and ultimately, there were no publishers willing to offer resources to making InSane a reality. So it never became one.
P.T. and Silent Hills: 2014-2015
At Gamescom 2014, Hideo Kojima announced P.T., an interactive demo for an upcoming horror title from 7780s Studio. It was available immediately on the PlayStation Store and with Kojima's name behind it, fans devoured the cryptic little horror experience. Eventually, those players mined the depths of everything P.T. had to offer, finally finishing the demo. Doing so unlocked a short teaser trailer which showed with P.T. was really all about: it was a playable teaser for a game called Silent Hills.
Silent Hills was a planned sequel in Konami's Silent Hill franchise, but with a unique cinematic bent. Del Toro had helped Kojima co-direct P.T. and was onboard to do the same for Silent Hills. The Walking Dead star Norman Reedus was on hand as the game's lead character.
This was a sure thing, right? Hideo Kojima was all publisher Konami had in terms of A-list talent, so there was no chance he was going anywhere. A month after release, P.T. was downloaded a million times, meaning there was significant buzz for Silent Hills. Capcom had slowly lost the feel of horror with the Resident Evil franchise, so there was nothing standing in the way of Kojima and del Toro's project.
In early 2015, there were rumors of problems with the development of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Backing up these rumors, Konami began slowly removing references to Kojima in marketing materials for Metal Gear Solid V. Kojima faithful staffers were leaving the publisher and Kojima himself was removed from the executive roll call.
This story would ultimately end with Kojima leaving Konami before 2015 closed out, but prior to that, Silent Hills had already been killed. Konami announced that it was going to delist P.T. on the PlayStation Store by the end of April. A few days before that happened, the publisher confirmed that it had cancelled Silent Hills completely. Another lost title in del Toro's gaming history.
He didn't take it well, vowing to not work on a game ever again.
"I have proven to be the albatross of video games," del Toro told Shacknews. "I joined THQ, and THQ goes broke. I join Kojima, and Kojima leaves Konami. I have decided, in order not to destroy anyone else’s life, I have decided I will never again get involved in video games. Otherwise, I’ll join someone and his house will explode, or something."
Death Stranding: Still Alive
You can't keep a good person down though. Kojima was no longer at Konami, but his time on the best-selling Metal Gear Solid franchise meant he could write his own ticket. The final day in Kojima's contract with Konami was December 15, 2015 and that also marked the day he founded Kojima Productions with the backing of Sony Computer Entertainment.
At Sony's 2016 Electronic Entertainment Expo press conference, we finally found out what Kojima Productions was working on: Death Stranding. Unshackled from Konami and the Metal Gear Solid franchise, Kojima went all in with a teaser trailer showing a naked Norman Reedus tethered to a baby and fever dream.
By the end of the year, Kojima Productions was ready to give another look at Death Stranding. At the 2016 Game Awards, a second teaser trailer was released, starring Hannibal and Casino Royale actor Mads Mikkelsen and… Guillermo del Toro? The release of the second trailer was accompanied by a tweet from del Toro, noting how he felt about Silent Hills' cancellation.
Konami cancelling SH after PT is one of the most moronic things I've ever witnessed.— Guillermo del Toro (@RealGDT) December 2, 2016
The director had already offered up his anger about the cancellation a few months earlier, during his promotional period for the gothic romance film Crimson Peak.
"Makes no fucking sense at all," the director said at the time. "We had a great experience and had great story sessions with hundreds upon hundreds of designs. Some of the stuff that we were designing for Silent Hills I've seen in games that came after, like The Last of Us, which makes me think we were not wrong, we were going in the right direction."
Del Toro isn't co-directing Death Stranding or consulting on the project at all. He's just working with his friend as one of the actors in the game, meaning he's technically stuck to his original statement of never working on a game again.
"It's been great as a friendship, and it's been great as a learning experience," del Toro told IGN in November. "In Death Stranding I'm just a puppet. I don't know what he's gonna make me do. He's supposedly going to show me the gameplay at some point in the next couple of weeks."
So, while del Toro is in a game, we're still not getting his unique directorial fingerprint on that game. His gaming career, like his film career, has been littered with interesting false starts and near misses. Del Toro has always been an intriguing cult film director since his debut with 1993's Cronos. Del Toro marked his path to the Academy limelight in 2007, with Pan's Labyrinth, which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Screenplay. And 11 years later, he's paid off that promise with two Oscar wins on a project that looked like a loss on paper.
Maybe now, with two Oscar wins behind him, Guillermo del Toro might finally get a chance to make a video game. I'm not holding my breath, but at the very least, there's some hope that at the end of a road that includes InSane, P.T., and Silent Hills, there's a great del Toro horror game.