Quantcast
Image: P.T. screencap

Saving 'P.T.'

Rollin Bishop

Konami wants the short horror game to disappear, but fans won't let it.

Image: P.T. screencap

On August 12th, 2014, the video game publisher Konami released a demo called P.T., which it referred to at the time as "the world's first interactive teaser," for the PlayStation 4.

P.T. was a mini-game from the genre best described as psychological horror. There was a dark and dingy hallway that never ended; a dead baby in a bathroom sink. The game artfully gave away just enough information to leave players wondering what terrible thing had occurred, and quivering over what might be around the next corner. After nine days of harrowing puzzle solving, the pieces finally came together to form a horrific whole. But it wasn't to last.

Konami ceased distribution of P.T. on April 29 and delisted it from the PlayStation 4's store. The company then went a step further and completely removed it from the download history of those who had already picked it up, which is an incredibly unusual occurrence. In a very real way, P.T. no longer exists.

At its core, P.T. was a looping hallway filled with psychological suspense. The combination of the enclosed setting, puzzle tidbits, creepy atmosphere, and supernatural tinge resonated with folks. Horror nerds loved it, but it wasn't until the end that they really understood what was going on. The final moments revealed that it was a playable teaser (hence the name) for a new game in the popular horror franchise Silent Hill named Silent Hills, with huge names attached. Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Solid), Guillermo del Toro (Pacific Rim), and Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead) were all involved.

Then Konami cancelled Silent Hills, and the horror novella of a game that was P.T. no longer served as a teaser for anything.

Those are the facts. Everything else is a bit murky. There'd been several months of confusion surrounding Hideo Kojima's role at the company, and whatever happened internally also saw the death knell of the previously announced title. There would be no Silent Hills, so what purpose did P.T. now serve?

Even so, nobody's particularly sure what made the publisher go to such lengths to get rid of it.

There remains one and only one way to play P.T. at the moment: on a PlayStation 4 that had downloaded it previously, but hadn't deleted it since. There's no commercially available way to even access the thing right now.

Delisting from a store like this is fairly common, though it most often crops up for games that license other properties from books, film, or television. Even then, they're still available to redownload. Really all "delisted" means is that you can't find it when you search the store. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is an example of a game that's been delisted.

"Sadly it was the first game in a long time that has made me feel anything close to fear."

Typically, downloads like this remain within a user's purchase history, which is the case with the Scott Pilgrim game, meaning any digitally purchased goods may be accessed and downloaded again if they are removed from the physical console for whatever reason at a later date. Konami went the extra distance for P.T., scrubbing it not only from the store but download histories. The argument goes that the teaser was free, meaning there was no transaction and no guarantee of permanence, so players shouldn't feel entitled to own it.

Thanks to this over-the-top effort by the publisher, the number of consoles with P.T. will dwindle as they die or players free up space, and eventually it will just be gone. The game already has a legacy, however.

First and foremost, P.T. now exists as a benchmark for passionate fans. "Sadly it was the first game in a long time that has made me feel anything close to fear," writes reddit user deadering. In the same thread, reddit user Metalcentraldialog laments the loss of the teaser due to its focus "on atmosphere and the concept of being helpless."

The game had such an impact that it inspired an unofficial sequel. Allison Road, built by a new London-based studio, takes heavy inspiration from P.T. without coming right out and saying it. Extreme photorealism, the environmental similarities of being mostly inside a house, and at least one quote directly from P.T. point heavily to the teaser as an influence. The studio even launched a Kickstarter, which saw the two compared even more. The team raised an impressive £145,959, or about $224,696, before being discovered by a games label and withdrawing its campaign.

"I do believe that P.T. will be playable in the future," said Steve Lin, preservationist and former general manager of GREE Canada, "whether it be because the winds change at Konami or the will of players who will make it happen in an unofficial capacity." He's certain that P.T. has been archived and shared already, though there's no way of installing it or running it on a new PlayStation 4.

For Lin and many like him, it's not about whether there's money to be made, which is certainly a factor for companies like Konami. "The goal of preservation is not to profit but to ensure there's accessibility for research or study in the future," he said.

Frank Cifaldi, Head of Restoration at Digital Eclipse as well as producer/designer on the recently released Mega Man Legacy Collection, is similarly optimistic. "I don't fear for its safety," Cifaldi said. "I believe that 10 years from now, if someone in the academic realm wanted to boot up P.T. and look at it—they could."

Both Lin and Cifaldi speculate that there's likely a rights issue or contractual obligation at the center of the mystery. Maybe, for example, in terminating its relationship with del Toro, Konami could no longer distribute the work that he's done. "There's probably some underlying actual reason that it's pulled," said Cifaldi, "but because our industry loves its damn secrecy so much we're just upsetting people instead of being open about it."

This kind of licensing dispute isn't new, but digital storefronts provide a new battleground for the old conflicts. The popular service Steam, for example, sells licenses to play games, and it could theoretically go away tomorrow with every single one of those. "On paper, it's no different than buying a CD," Cifaldi stresses. "You are buying a license to play that music indefinitely as long as you use that specific disc. It's really no different than that… except that you can't easily put your Steam game in your garage."

When asked whether they had any plans to preserve or archive the teaser themselves, a Konami PR spokesperson declined to comment.

As for what the public can do to prevent games like P.T. from disappearing entirely in the future? Well… It's complicated, and maybe not legal.

"I don't condone software piracy," Lin says carefully." "But the fact remains that there are games where the pirated version is the only one that still exists." Cifaldi takes a similar position, also noting the effect of piracy on video games preservation while admitting the constantly evolving complexity of the problem. "It's a weird situation that I don't really think there's an answer to."

All in Your Head is a series that takes a scientific look at all things spooky and scary. Follow along here.