Matt Chat 35: Alone in the Dark

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Just in time for Halloween--Matt Chat 35, Alone in the Dark!

For this video, I included footage from all three of the original Alone in the Dark games, plus the 3DO version. I also show Resident Evil: Director's Cut for PS1 and Alpha Waves for Atari ST. So quite a smorgasbord of clips for you!

Of course, this game is the very first chapter of Vintage Games, where we go into much greater detail about the game's role in videogame history. Enjoy, and have a happy Halloween!

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Bill Loguidice
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Bill's Response to Matt Chat 35

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Mark Vergeer
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Excellent video Matt!

Great pick for this survival horror game! The graphics haven't aged well. I guess because they went for polygons just because it was all new and exciting back then. And of course it did save memory and the polygons could have all sorts of positions and movements that were not pre-rendered.

LMAO at Bill's response.

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Calibrator
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They also used some textures

Which is a plus in my book but IMHO it indeed age poorly because of another reason: The animation and control is, let's put it diplomatically, "not exactly advanced".
Apart from the fact they didn't have motion capturing, yet, the way the characters move looks very awkward. I have the feeling that it plays like that, too.

We've come a long way since then, not only graphically.

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Bill Loguidice
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I recommend giving it a try!
Calibrator wrote:

Which is a plus in my book but IMHO it indeed age poorly because of another reason: The animation and control is, let's put it diplomatically, "not exactly advanced".
Apart from the fact they didn't have motion capturing, yet, the way the characters move looks very awkward. I have the feeling that it plays like that, too.

We've come a long way since then, not only graphically.

It is an awkward control system, which is often referred to today as "tank-like" controls. It's interesting to note though that the first several Resident Evil games, which came out several years later adopted the same type of control scheme. With all that said, it's very playable even though some - not all - of the animations look a bit weird.

Despite the graphics looking rough to our modern day eyes, I argue that it still creates a very scary atmosphere and experience, particularly when taken in its entirety. It was expertly designed and for that it deserves every praise. Again, it's no accident it was chosen to headline a chapter in Vintage Games. There were tons of scary games prior to it that really weren't scary, just horrifically themed. This was absolutely scary and a case can be made that this was ONLY possible by going to 3D/polygons. One can argue that Infocom's "The Lurking Horror" (1987) text adventure generated some good scares - especially when a rare version had sound effects (Amiga/Atari ST) - but it was naturally a very different thing from an action game, which is much harder to get the same effect from. You still see Alone in the Dark's influence regularly in today's major releases.

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Rowdy Rob
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The usual kudos, Matt. Well worth the two-week wait.

I recall watching my PC-owning friend playing "Alone in the Dark," and was definitely jealous, since I was an Amiga owner (like you, Matt!), up until the very late 90's. It was very cool, and from my perspective at the time, VERY innovative! What looks clunky now, graphically, was mindblowingly cool for the time! It really was a seriously cool game from a graphical perspective! It may not have looked "realistic," but that style of polygon graphics and animation was a relatively new phenomenon back then, and was "nokyersoxoff" amazing to virgin eyes!

Unfortunately, my friend spent most of his time wandering around aimlessly, and the game itself looked rather boring, barely above "Kings Quest" in the scare department. Unlike you (Matt), I WANT to be scared in a game. It would add a life-like thrill to a videogame. I say "would," because I can't say I've ever really been scared in a videogame. Perhaps it's just because I know it's a game, I dunno. I've definitely been startled in a videogame ("Rescue on Fractalus," "Doom 3," "Aliens vs. Predator," etc.), and I love it! It's like a great amusement park ride. (P.S. special props must be given to "Rescue on Fractalus," perhaps the first "jump-out-of-your-seat" scare game ever!). I must say, though, that only one "horror" movie ever creeped me out, and that was "Poltergeist." Perhaps I'm not so prone to "scary" stuff, although I would love to feel more fear in videogames.

I do have "Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare," and I played it for a while before I got stuck, then set it aside. It DID have a couple of "startle" scenes, which I liked. Oddly, despite the obviously-improved graphics, it seemed to play very much like the first game, for better or worse.

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Matt Barton
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There's definitely a

There's definitely a distinction between being shocked and being frightened. I also think there are differences between being afraid and being horrified. I don't believe that anyone can ever be TRULY driven to fear just by watching a movie, assuming they're not delusional or mentally ill. They can be scared, shocked, grossed out, or horrified, but I just have a hard time buying that they experience true fear in the sense that you fear for your life. The kind of fear I'm talking about is more of an instinct and the kind of thing that causes you to lose control of your bowels/bladder, freeze up, struggle to breathe, blackout, etc. If someone told me they had that kind of reaction to a movie, I'd think they had probably better turn off the tube!

I think of being shocked much like the "flinch response." You have that "oh!!" moment of surprise when something catches you off guard. I never liked this feeling. I agree with you that games are good at this kind of response. In my opinion it's a very easy thing to do. Heck, I can run up to most people and yell "BOO!!!" when their back is turned, or even take a quick step towards them, or act like I'm throwing something at them--you get the idea. I'm not really impressed, either, with the "shock jocks" who get off on suddenly saying something rude or inappropriate. The trouble with that is, you can only "shock" somebody with the same schtick only so many times. Once they come to expect it, it loses its effect.

So that leaves the last category, horror. Now, I think that horror is more of a mental activity that requires lots of imagination and dread that takes awhile to build up and really seep into you. Sometimes you are so horrified by a movie that you can have nightmares about it, or even get scared when you go back to your place and get ready for bed. Some people can't even turn the lights off! Now, in my opinion it takes a great horror author or director to really accomplish this. Gore or shock alone doesn't cut it. Instead, the movie (book, or game) has to stimulate your imagination to the point where you basically horrify yourself.

A great example of this happened in the original FEAR. I remember playing it and suddenly seeing a little girl go running past. It happened so quickly I wasn't even sure that I actually *saw* it; perhaps I only imagined it. It really creeped me out, and as I continued to play, I started to dread what was inevitably going to happen when I came across that girl again. I didn't know--but I kept imagining scenarios in my head that got increasingly ugly. In short, I did more to horrify myself than the game actually showed--just a quick movie of a girl running past--and the rest was all in my head. That's what a master of horror knows that an amateur just can't grasp--that you can horrify somebody far better by NOT showing things than by putting them on the screen, close-up, in photorealistic detail. Hell, I remember being horrified by Sauron in the Lord of the Rings books precisely because Tolkien never trotted him out for us to look at. The movies did that almost instantly, ruining the horror. Once you've SEEN it, it just isn't as horrific.

I'm rambling on a bit here, but my argument holds well when we talk about games. Indeed, a game with abstract graphics could very well be far more horrifying than another with full cinematic realism, simply because the latter might "spoil" the horror by indulging in too much showing. On the other hand, the game with "worse" graphics might (by necessity, perhaps) not show certain things, making it a lot more horrifying.

One more example--a movie that horrified me as a kid was the original Night of the Living Dead. However, it wasn't the movie itself, but rather the thoughts it stimulated. I kept thinking about what it would be like if the events in the movie happened in real life--the movie expertly insinuated those thoughts into my head, so I kept turning them over and over, and getting more and more scared in the process. The later movies were perhaps too "realistic," and never had that effect on me.

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Chris Kennedy
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My thoughts

I'll comment a bit on horror in a moment, but let me talk about the game first.

I remember seeing Alone in the Dark at a local computer shop back when the game was first released. I want to say that I saw it on CD-ROM, but it could be that CD-ROM had just become available at the time. Either way, I was impressed. I was mostly buying Sierra games at the time, so Alone in the Dark didn't really get much financial consideration. I would simply watch the gameplay while I was at the store. It was (still is) a Mom & Pop computer store, and that made the experience a lot more fun.

Alone in the Dark is one of those games that has atmosphere. Can I be bold and say that people shouldn't feel the need to make an excuse for the graphics? Better graphics are almost always associated with new computers or consoles - that is natural. All things considered, the graphics are irrelevant if the game is fun. People push for realism, camera rotation, better controls, etc. That makes sense, however let me say that I believe the graphics and presentation of Alone in the Dark are not primitive. They are a style.

Matt made a *great* point in his latest written response. It is something I believe in, myself - You can horrify someone by not showing them things. Make them aware of something and then let their mind do the rest. Alone in the Dark (and earlier Resident Evil games) did this quite well - the fixed camera view sets each little stage. Events take place on that stage. There are certainly scripted events in today's 3D games, but I would argue that the players ability to naturally bob and weave the camera along with their typical ability to just turn and run actually takes away from the desired effect. If you can look away from something that is supposed to scare you in a game, then the suspense is lost. If you see something on the screen that you have to move past and have no choice but to be forced to view what is shown on screen (fixed camera), then you feel a little more scared. Add to that "tank controls," and you now have a second factor that adds to the effect. If the gameplay becomes frustrating to the point of anger, then the effect is lost. If it creates just enough of a feeling of helplessness to add to your anxiety, then mission accomplished.

On the movie side of things (not to continue spinning a new thread), I would say that movies that are often based on real events or possible events are the ones that can really get you. Someone might watch The Exorcist nowadays and find some of the actions and effects cheesy. However if you are of a religion that believes that people can be possessed by demons, you may have some trouble sleeping over the next few nights!

I would say that any movie that can leave some lasting effects of fear on you simply due to your mind constantly turning things over is a good horror film. Otherwise, it was probably just one of those "shock" films.

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Catatonic
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I think horror games could

I think horror games could be insanely scary if you literally blinded the player & have no visuals at all.

Bill Loguidice
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Audio only gaming
Catatonic wrote:

I think horror games could be insanely scary if you literally blinded the player & have no visuals at all.

There have been a scant few audio-only games. I agree that it would make a worthwhile experiment in terror, particularly in conjunction with some force feedback. Control would have to be relatively simple though since you'd have to assume the player couldn't even see the controls.

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Catatonic
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boo
Bill Loguidice wrote:

There have been a scant few audio-only games. I agree that it would make a worthwhile experiment in terror, particularly in conjunction with some force feedback. Control would have to be relatively simple though since you'd have to assume the player couldn't even see the controls.

We need the technology to make it feel like someone is breathing on your neck or tapping you on the shoulder... ha.

Still, even without that, maybe some interesting things can happen just from psychological effects of sensory deprivation.

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