Alone in the Dark (video game)
||This article's lead section may not adequately summarize key points of its contents. (September 2012)|
|Alone in the Dark|
Original cover art
|Distributor(s)||Interplay (North America)
Pony Canyon (Japan)
Franck Manzetti (layout)
Franck De Girolami
|Artist(s)||Didier Chanfray (3D models and animation)
Yaél Barroz and Jean-Marc Torroella (2D graphics)
Didier Chanfray (concept)
|Distribution||Floppy disks, CD-ROM|
Alone in the Dark is a critically acclaimed 1992 action-adventure horror video game originally designed by Frédérick Raynal and developed and published by Infogrames for the PC. In 1994, the game was ported for the 3DO by Krisalis.
Alone in the Dark is considered a breakthrough and influential title, being the first 3D game in the genre of survival horror. It has spawned four follow-up games as part of the series, as well as two movies loosely based on them.
Players choose between a male or female protagonist (Edward Carnby or Emily Hartwood respectively), and are then trapped inside the haunted mansion of Derceto. The player character starts in the attic (the place of Jeremy's suicide), having ascended to the top of the mansion without incident, and is tasked with finding a way out of the mansion while avoiding, outsmarting or defeating various supernatural enemies including slave zombies and giant bipedal rat-like creatures. Though able to kill most enemies with simply fists and feet, the player character can also find and utilise weapons.
Many opponents can be beaten by solving a particular puzzle rather than a straight fight - indeed, a significant number of opponents cannot be killed at all. Much of the game involves exploration and puzzle-solving, and optionally searching the house for clues to what happened before the player's arrival.
The player character can search any area, open and close doors, push certain objects, and pick up some items. Items in inventory can be used, opened, read, thrown, or put down, though not all of these options are offered for every item. Inventory is highly limited, and the player must often discard items to make room. It is possible to discard items that are needed to complete the game, but discarded items remain in play and can be retrieved later, even if the player character leaves the room. Available space in inventory is determined by weight, not number of items; for example, a player may discard a book and two knives yet still not be able to pick up the heavy statuette.
Unlike its sequels, and much of the survival horror genre, the game is partially non-linear. The player character is initially restricted to the attic and third floor, whose rooms are arranged such that they must be traversed in a linear order. Completing the puzzle at the end of the third floor grants the player character access to the first and second floors. The player can explore the rooms in this area in any order, and can also revisit the attic and third floor if desired. Upon completing a specific puzzle, the player gains access to the caverns beneath the mansion. The caverns are completely linear, and each challenge must be overcome as it is encountered.
In 1924, Jeremy Hartwood, a noted artist and owner of the Louisiana mansion Derceto (named after the Syrian deity), has committed suicide by hanging himself. His death appears suspicious yet seems to surprise nobody, for Derceto is widely reputed to be haunted by an evil power. The case is quickly dealt with by the police and soon forgotten by the public. The player assumes the role of either Edward Carnby - a private investigator who is sent to find a piano in the loft for an antique dealer - or Emily Hartwood, Jeremy's niece, who is also interested in finding the piano because she believes a secret drawer in it has a note in which Jeremy explains his suicide. Whether Carnby or Hartwood, the character goes to the mansion to investigate.
Upon entering the house, the doors mysteriously slam shut behind the player character. He or she continues up to the attic, but is attacked by monsters. The player character progresses back down through the house, fighting off various creatures and hazards in the house. The player character finds documents throughout the house indicating that Derceto was built by an occultist pirate named Ezechiel Pregzt, and that beneath the house are caverns that were used for dark rituals meant to increase Pregzt's fortunes and unnaturally extend his life. Pregzt was shot and Derceto was burned down by encamped Union soldiers during the American Civil War. However, Pregzt's spirit lived on, and his corpse was placed by his servants in an old tree in the caverns underneath Derceto. Jeremy Hartwood committed suicide to prevent his body being used as a host for Pregzt; so Pregzt now focuses on the player character.
The player character finds a passage into the underground caverns in Hartwood's study, and makes his or her way to the tree where Pregzt resides. The player character hurls a lighted lantern at the tree, then flees the collapsing cavern. Pregzt is consumed by the flames.
The story is heavily influenced by the works of Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft. The setting for the story is inspired by Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher". Grimoires found in the mansion's library include the Necronomicon and De Vermis Mysteriis, both taken from Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. Other Mythos references include books that feature the narrated history of Lord Boleskine, a direct reference to another Infogrames Cthulhu Mythos-based game, Shadow of the Comet, and the last name of player character Edward Carnby, a reference to John Carnby, a character in the mythos tale Return of the Sorcerer by Clark Ashton Smith. Several of the supernatural opponents are recognizable creatures from the Mythos, including Deep Ones, Nightgaunts and a Chthonian.
- Edward Carnby - A down-on-his-luck but respectable private investigator (to be reinvented as a paranormal investigator later in the Alone in the Dark series) who is sent to a Louisiana mansion to find an antique piano. As soon as Edward enters the house, the doors slam shut but the persistent Edward continues his search and battles several paranormal apparitions in the process.
- Emily Hartwood - A niece of Derceto's last owner. Alternative protagonist to Carnby, she goes on to become an actress and appears in the third game.
- Jeremy Hartwood - Last owner of Derceto mansion and professional artist. Horrified by nightmares, which were in fact Pregzt's attempts to possess him, he hanged himself in the loft. Jeremy's father, Howard Hartwood, bought Derceto's ruins in 1875, rebuilt it as it had been before fire, and later unearthed and explored its underground tunnels.
- Ezechiel Pregzt - Given the nickname "Bloody Ezech", he was reportedly the bloodiest pirate in all the seven seas. He would eventually give up his life as a pirate and build himself Derceto. There he was shot by Union troops in 1862. Now, his spirit lives underneath the Derceto Mansion, waiting to live again by possessing a living, human host and unleash darkness upon the world.
Development and release
In 1989, Frédérick Raynal, a staff programmer at Infogrames, was assigned to port the early 3D game Alpha Waves. Working on the game inspired him to begin programming a tool for the creation and animation of 3D characters, with help from Franck De Girolami. In 1991, Infogrames CEO Bruno Bonnell proposed a game in which the player would use matches to gain snapshot views of an otherwise completely dark environment. An aficionado of horror films such as Dawn of the Dead, Raynal saw in this proposal the opportunity to create a horror-based game, and was given permission to lead the project.
The game's working titles included In the Dark and Scream in the Dark (or Screams in the Dark). Following Raynal's basic vision for the game, Infogrames artistic director Didier Chanfray rendered a series of concept sketches using white chalk on black Canson paper. These sketches were used for an internal contest to pick the game's graphic artist, Yaël Barroz. By this time Raynal already had decided that the game would have story, since he felt computer graphics at the time were not advanced enough to be frightening on their own. He had also determined the game's setting:
A 1920s manor. I wanted a big enough house, where you would start in the attic so that you could completely explore it before finding the way out. The turn of the century allowed for weapons while avoiding the modern commodities that were too difficult to properly handle: electricity, for instance, would have caused atmosphere and consistency problems.
Initially he planned to create the game's backgrounds using scanned photos of an actual mansion built in the 1920s, but this idea proved too ambitious for the 3D rendering tools available, and the team had to use hand-drawn bitmaps instead. Items and characters in Alone in the Dark are three-dimensional, rendered upon a two-dimensional fixed background. Mixing polygons and 2D prerendered background images required a fixed camera angle, which designers used to their advantage to create dramatic scene setups appropriate for a horror-themed game. In September 1991, the team of Raynal, Chanfray, and Barroz presented an early playable version of Alone in the Dark - containing only a couple rooms - to Infogrames, who then green-lighted production of the game. The development team was expanded to include Franck De Girolami (programmer), Philippe Vachey (composer), Hubert Chardot (writer), and Franck Manzetti (designer).
The game briefly acquired the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game license, but was ultimately denied it when Chaosium determined that the game was too simple to do justice to the rules of the pen-and-paper game. The character Emily Hartwood was added because the conventional wisdom of the time was that a game would appeal to more female gamers if it had a female playable character. To maximize the player's anxiety and fear, the game was designed so that even such mundane actions as walking down a hall, opening a door, and reading a book could cause the player character to die. Though such deaths would only occur in select places, they would make the player feel unnerved whenever taking such actions.
During the game's production, Raynal and Barroz became romantically involved and conceived a child. Most of the production was marked with a spirit of optimism and creative enthusiasm, but the bug-testing phase wore out the team, especially Raynal. By the time it was released, he felt dissatisfied with almost every aspect of Alone in the Dark and felt certain that all of its flaws would be noticed by players.
Outside of Europe, Alone in the Dark was distributed by Interplay Entertainment in North America and by Pony Canyon in Japan. The game was ported to the 3DO by Krisalis in 1994. This version that is largely identical to the original, but uses an orchestrated version of the original soundtrack and adds voice acting to the character intros and documents.
Alone in the Dark was met with great critical acclaim. It has won many prestigious gaming industry awards, including the European Computer Trade Show 1993 awards for Best Graphics, Most Original Game and Best French Game of the year, and the Consumer Electronics Show 1993 award for Best Foreign Game.
In 1996, Computer Gaming World ranked it as the 88th best video game of all time, adding that it "showed that 3D action needn't get in the way of a tense, exciting story," also listing the game's Game Over cutscene among the 15 "best ways to die in computer gaming". In 2005, Game Informer put it on their list of top 25 most influential video games of all time. In 2009, Empire included Alone in the Dark on their list of 100 greatest video games of all time for its "ingenious approach coming closer than any game had before to photo-realism, and inspiring other developers to experiment with fresh approaches to presentation."
Alone in the Dark was supposed to be the first part of Infogrames' Call of Cthulhu series, and later of the Virtual Dreams series (the original French cover included the Virtual Dreams logo), but ended up starting its own franchise. The game was followed by four more games in the series: Alone in the Dark 2 (1993), Alone in the Dark 3 (1994), Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare (2001) and Alone in the Dark (2008), and inspired two live-action films Alone in the Dark and Alone in the Dark II. It is widely considered to be a forefather of the survival horror game genre, setting the standard for later rival popular survival horror games such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill.
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