Today’s Art (21st January 2022)

This was a piece of cyberpunk digital art that I made when I was feeling slightly uninspired, but it turned out better than I’d expected it to πŸ™‚

As usual, this picture is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

2022 21st January Artwork City Flight

“City Flight” by C. A. Brown

Why Horror Game Protagonists Often Wear Bright Clothing

2022 Artwork Bright clothing in horror games article sketch

Well, for this article in the second season of my “Horror Videogames Series“, I thought that I’d talk about bright clothing in horror games and why it is so common.

Before I go any further, I should probably include a mild-moderate SPOILER warning for “Resident Evil” (1996/2002), “Silent Hill 2” (2001), “Remothered: Tormented Fathers” (2018), “Remothered: Broken Porcelain” (2020) and “Alisa” (2021).

Seriously, if you play any third-person perspective horror game, then there is a strong chance that the main character will be wearing at least some bright clothing:

Examples of bright clothing in horror games

Here are some examples of bright clothing in a variety of third-person perspective horror games. This type of costume design doesn’t appear in every horror game, but its surprisingly common.

But, although there are certainly horror games where the main character gets to wear cool-looking dark clothes, there are a number of reasons why horror game designers often choose to make their main characters wear white, pale blue etc… instead. Yes, some costume designs may also include gloomier elements, but there will often be at least some bright clothing. Why?

Firstly, there are the practical gameplay reasons. In a third-person perspective horror game, especially one with old-school tank controls, the player needs to know where the main character is at all times. These styles of costume design are a bit more “high-visibility”, especially given the gloomy lighting in many horror games, and this therefore probably helps with the gameplay in a subtle way.

Of course, horror game designers can do clever things with this. “Remothered: Broken Porcelain” (2021) is a stealth-based horror game. In the preceding game in the series – “Remothered: Tormented Fathers”Β  (2018) – the main character (Rosemary) wore a much more muted olive green suit (albeit with a white blouse) that blended into the backgrounds surprisingly well, giving the impression of stealthy camouflage. On the other hand, in “Remothered: Broken Porcelain”, the main character (Jennifer) wears a brighter outfit. This makes her stand out more… including, perhaps, to the villains she is trying to hide from. It’s a brilliant psychological trick that is designed to ramp up the suspense and tension even more.

Secondly, there is probably the fact that bright clothing seems to be a popular part of mainstream culture. Given that immersion is an important element of horror games, it makes sense that game designers might choose costume designs that make the main character look as “ordinary” as possible, to allow audience members to relate to them even more.

This also gives the impression that the main character is “out of their depth” too. Given how, with the exceptions of chefs, nurses, tennis players, martial arts, desert camo and high-visibility jackets, bright clothing isn’t typically associated with practicality. It’s a type of clothing that is traditionally associated with formal settings (eg: offices, weddings etc...) or relaxed settings (eg: leisure suits, sundresses etc..) than with dangerous situations. So, it is a very subtle way of unsettling the player.

Finally, there is probably a symbolic element to this too. Thanks to decades of Hollywood movies, audiences in many parts of the world typically associate brighter clothing with “good” characters. Yes, thankfully, this stupid trend has faded away over the past few decades – with “The Matrix” (1999) being an excellent example of a popular film where the “good guys” wear cool dark clothing – but the symbolism is still part of the popular imagination. So, this might be another reason why bright costume designs are so common for “good” horror game protagonists.

And this symbolism works both ways too. In horror games where you play as an “edgy”, anti-hero and/or morally-ambiguous character – such as “Silent Hill 2” (2001), “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines”Β  (2004), “The Cat Lady” (2012) and “Remothered: Tormented Fathers” (2018) – the costume design will often reflect this by having a gloomier or more muted palette.

Examples of morally-ambiguous characters in horror games

Here are some examples of morally-ambiguous characters in horror games. As you can see, they have at least slightly gloomier or more muted costume designs.

Yes, this symbolism is kind of corny – especially in “Resident Evil” (1996/2002), where the “shocking” twist that Albert Wesker is actually one of the villains is so blatantly telegraphed by the fact that he’s literally the only one of the main characters who wears dark clothing.

Wesker from ''Resident Evil'' (1996)

This is Albert Wesker from “Resident Evil” (1996). He’s an “obvious” villain character because of old-school Hollywood logic.

Still, horror games will often play with this symbolism in all sorts of clever ways – for example, Rosemary Reed from “Remothered: Tormented Fathers” (2018) has some brighter elements to her costume design, possibly symbolising that she is genuinely morally-ambiguous. A complicated character with mysterious motivations, who does bad things for “good” reasons etc…

Likewise, Jennifer from “Remothered: Broken Porcelain” (2020) is presented as something of a complicated “rebel” character… who wears the sort of bright clothing typically associated with “good” characters. However, this bright costume is quickly shown to be a formal uniform that has been imposed by stuffy – and ultimately evil – characters who are trying to “reform” her. This adds a subtle level of dystopian horror and social satire to this game.

Another example of this can also be seen in “Alisa” (2021), where Alisa begins the game wearing a gothic military uniform – but soon finds herself wearing a creepy “Victorian doll”-style pastel outfit when she awakens in the game’s horror mansion. It symbolises how the game’s villains are trying to change her into something she is not.

It taps into the death-like horror of the destruction of individuality (yes, the original costume is a uniform – but one that the main character has chosen to wear by joining a military). It’s a subtle detail, but the imposed bright clothing adds an extra note of horror to the game. This is further emphasised by how, when you get alternate costumes slightly later, the game outright states that the gothic military uniform has stat-boosting effects because of the confidence it instils in Alisa:

Costume description in ''Alisa'' (2021)

This is a screenshot from “Alisa” (2021), where Alisa points out that she feels more confident wearing this gloriously gothic/steampunk uniform.

Of course, these are all general trends and speculations. Still, bright clothing is surprisingly common in third-person perspective horror games for a combination of practical reasons, immersion and symbolism.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

How Horror Games Use Sound To Scare The Player

2022 Artwork Sound design in horror games article sketch

Well, for this article in the second season of my “Horror Videogames Series“, I thought that I’d talk about how horror games use sound to scare the player.

Yes, sound isn’t the “be all and end all” of horror games and it should just be one of many techniques that a horror game uses to frighten the player. Likewise, since relying too heavily on sound design can also create accessibility issues for some players, some games will also pair it with other things (like dialogue subtitles, visual cues etc...) and/or ensure that it isn’t essential to gameplay. Yes, this varies wildly – especially in older games – but horror games can sometimes be played without sound. Still, as a “bonus” way of making a horror game scarier, sound plays a surprisingly important role.

This was something I ended up thinking after figuring out how to make a small amount of progress with an especially terrifying early part of a stealth-horror game called “Remothered: Broken Porcelain” (2020). In order to feel courageous enough to play aggressively in the way that the game requires in this part, I instinctively found myself removing my headphones and just playing the game in complete silence. You’d be surprised at the difference it can make to the scariness of this game.

Like with the previous game in the series, the villains in this game telegraph their presence with loud footsteps and by muttering and/or shouting genuinely menacing things. Sometimes they can also sound closer than they actually are, which ramps up the tension a lot. Not only are these audio cues one thing that the player can use to avoid the villains, but it they are both suspenseful and inherently scary as well. Likewise, when you are spotted by a villain, the game will play a sudden noise in a jump scare-like fashion as well as making the border of the screen flash red. Even when you are safe in a hiding place, these games still creep you out by letting you hear the main character’s frightened thoughts. The “Remothered” series has some really scary sound design!

And it’s hardly the only series of horror games to do this. The classic example of scary sound design in horror games can be found in “Silent Hill” (1999). Early in the game, you find a radio that crackles ominously and makes other scary noises whenever a monster is nearby. Given that the radio will often go off before the monster actually appears on screen, this builds a lot of tension and suspense. Subsequent games in the series often kept this feature and, in “Silent Hill 3” (2003), it was even paired with some terrifying dynamic music that varies depending on the type of monster nearby (eg: if dog-like monsters are close, howling noises will be added to the background music etc…).

Even when a game doesn’t directly frighten the player with sound design or music, you’d be surprised how important it can be for things like atmosphere. When I was figuring out how to get my old CD-ROM copy of “American McGee’s Alice” (2000) to run on my current computer a year or two ago, I almost got it working at one point. The game loaded properly… but there was no sound. You’d be surprised at how much the lack of Chris Vrenna’s creepy soundtrack reduces the eerily gothic atmosphere of this game. It really felt like something was missing.

Another interesting use of music can be found in an indie horror game called “Simulacrum: Chapter One”  (2019). This game is heavily inspired by the classic “Silent Hill” games and one of the many ways that it manages to evoke these games whilst also being an original game is via its soundtrack. CaligΓ‘ri Marte and Andrew Gledhill-Carr created a completely new soundtrack that uses some of the general musical techniques that Akira Yamaoka used in the classic “Silent Hill” games. And it pretty much instantly tells the player “If you like Silent Hill, then you might like this game too“.

Talking of Akira Yamaoka, his background music for the classic “Silent Hill” games is a huge part of what makes these games so distinctive. In addition to the kind of creepy ambient noise that you’d expect from a horror game, he also includes a lot of surprisingly melodic and bittersweet music too. Whether it is the beautifully haunting “Promise (reprise)” from “Silent Hill 2” (2001) or Yamaoka’s collaboration with Mary Elizabeth McGlynn for “You’re Not Here” from “Silent Hill 3” (2003), the music in these games manages to be both cheerful and depressing at the same time in a brilliantly memorable and eerie way.

Voice-acting can also matter a lot too. One of the many reasons why the amazing 2002 remake of “Resident Evil” is significantly scarier than the original 1996 version of the game is because of the higher-quality voice acting. The voice cast in the remake actually seem to be professional actors who take the game seriously, and you’d be surprised how much this changes the mood of the game. Don’t get me wrong, the goofy voice-acting in the original 1996 version is part of the endearing charm of this game but it does make the game less scary than the remake.

Likewise, one of the many reasons why the original PS2/Xbox/PC versions of “Silent Hill 2” (2001) are often considered to be one of the best classic survival horror games is because of the style of the voice-acting. A lot of the dialogue in this game is deliberately hesitant, reflecting the depressed mood of the game’s troubled characters. On the other hand, one of the many criticisms of the botched 2012 “HD Collection” edition of this game was the fact that, due to a contractual dispute, it featured re-recorded voice acting which – from the online footage I’ve seen – doesn’t really have quite the same emotional tone to it as the original.

Ironically though, the absence of sound can also be a really scary design decision too. A great example of this can be found in the original “Dead Space” (2008). Throughout this sci-fi horror game, most of the monster encounters are obnoxiously loud jump scares that quickly stop being scary due to repetition. However, during the segments of the game where you have to spacewalk around the outside of a spaceship, the game’s soundtrack actually reflects the silent vacuum of space. This makes the sudden monster encounters in these segments genuinely frightening again because there is literally no warning whatsoever. A monster can just suddenly jump out in front of or behind you completely silently. It’s scarier than you might expect. So, the lack of sound can also be an effective horror game design choice too.

Still, a bad sound effect can reduce the scariness of a horror game quite a bit. A cautionary example of this can be found in “Silent Hill 4” (2004). During the hospital-based levels of this game, the series’ trademark undead nurses make an appearance again. However, whenever they take damage in this game, they make a weird belching/farting sound. I literally laughed out loud when I first heard this.

So, yes, sound can be a surprisingly important part of what makes a horror game scary. Good horror games will usually also use numerous other methods to frighten the player and sometimes also ensure that the game can still be enjoyed without sound, but sound can certainly add something to a horror game.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

Horror Games That Go Against Your Instincts

2022 Artwork Horror games and instincts article sketch

Well, for this article in the second season of my “Horror Videogames Series“, I thought that I’d talk about horror games that go against your instincts in creative ways.

However, I should warn you that this article contains gameplay SPOILERS for “Remothered: Broken Porcelain”, the 2002 remake of “Resident Evil”, “Resident Evil 4”, “Amnesia: The Dark Descent” and “Alisa”.

This was a topic I ended up thinking about the night before writing this article when I – hopefully only temporarily – got completely “stuck” with part of “Remothered: Broken Porcelain” (2020).

It wasn’t so much the difficulty of what the game was asking me to do, since the “objective” seemed to be equal parts skill and luck, it was my feelings of abject trembling terror that were holding me back. Why? Because, in a hilariously evil twist, the game suddenly asks the player to go against what both this game and the previous game in the series have trained them to do to the point of instinct.

If you haven’t played these games, they are stealth-based horror games that are similar to slasher movies. The goal is to avoid, flee from and/or hide from scary killers whilst completing various puzzles and objectives that the game tells you to do. There is an almost constant feeling of extreme suspense as you fearfully watch out for the killer, having memorised all of the nearby hiding places. Your character can defend herself in emergencies… but it only temporarily stuns the killer, is fraught with risk and takes a bit of skill/timing to do successfully. These are NOT action games, and they favour a more cautious playing style.

Which brings us on to the especially scary part of “Remothered: Broken Porcelain” I want to study today. The first part of the game is set in a creepy “The Shining”-esque 1970s hotel during the off-season. You play as a teenager called Jennifer who works at the hotel and finds that her boss, Andrea, has suddenly turned into a scary slasher villain. At first, the game is pretty much what you’d expect from the series. Lots of sneaking, fleeing and completing simple objectives. The game even explicitly tells you to avoid Andrea:

Stealth tutorial in ''Remothered Broken Porcelain'' (2020)

This is a screenshot from “Remothered: Broken Porcelain” (2020) – albeit on low graphics settings – showing both one of the game’s tutorials and Jennifer hiding from Andrea.

Then, after one scary set-piece, the game casually tells you that Andrea has an item that you need to progress and that, in order to get it, you will have to actively find her and fight her for it.

The game tries to present this as cathartic. When you load a saved game in this segment, Jennifer will even mutter something aggressive to give the impression that “the tables have turned”. But, this is all a clever psychological trick. Not only is Andrea still much more powerful than Jennifer, but the player is well and truly used to avoiding Andrea rather than seeking her out. She is scary! And you have to actively find her! Needless to say, the first time I so much as heard her whilst playing this part of the game, I instinctively dived into the nearest hiding place out of sheer fright:

Hiding from Andrea in ''Remothered Broken Porcelain'' (2020)

Well, so much for “taking the initiative” or “turning the tables”. I quickly found myself frantically hiding in a storage box when Andrea got close. After all, this is what the game and its predecessor have trained me to do…

And this is hardly the first horror game to frighten the player by going against their instincts. In fact, it is a major part of the horror of the 2002 remake of “Resident Evil”. For example, in the original 1996 version of the game, one of the best ways to avoid zombies is to just run out of the room. Zombies cannot open doors in the original 1996 game.

It’s a really useful tactic that most players will have memorised and use instinctively. Of course, you guessed it, zombies can sometimes open doors in the 2002 remake. Not only that, the door will rattle ominously for some time before the zombie – suddenly and unpredictably – flings it open and lurches at you. This doesn’t happen with every door, but it happens just about often enough to mess with the player.

Door zombie in ''Resident Evil'' (2002)

This is a screenshot from the 2002 remake of “Resident Evil”. Notice the open door in the background? I certainly did! There’s no screenshot of the zombie because I was too busy running away!

Another, more famous, example from this game are the “crimson head” zombies. In the original 1996 version of “Resident Evil”, the player can fight the zombies and – once they are defeated – they are gone. The area is safe. Of course, if you do this in the 2002 remake, then things turn out… a little differently.

Unless you follow very specific “rules”, which can be easily missed if you don’t carefully find and read a particular document, then the zombies will only appear to die after you defeat them. But, some unspecified time later, they will suddenly return to life again as much scarier “crimson head” zombies.

Keeping with the “Resident Evil” games, “Resident Evil 4” (2005), also goes against the player’s instincts in a few clever ways. Although this game is more of an action game than a horror game, it still has a few horror moments in it.

One of these is where, after getting used to conserving ammunition by following the classic zombie movie rule of “aim for the head!”, the game will sometimes cause zombies to immediately mutate into more powerful and scarier-looking monsters when they lose their heads. This happens unpredictably, meaning that the player is never quite sure where to aim. Likewise, the game also includes a brief segment where you play as a completely unarmed character who has to avoid zombies and solve puzzles… instead of being an action hero who does lots of mindless fighting.

Unarmed segment of ''Resident Evil 4'' (2005)

This is a screenshot from “Resident Evil 4” (2005), showing a part of the game where you play as a completely unarmed character called Ashley instead of a burly action hero called Leon. Sorry about the low quality of this screenshot too, I had to use the old-fashioned method for most of the screenshots I took whilst playing this game.

Other horror games that go against the player’s instincts include “Amnesia: The Dark Descent” (2010) – where staying too long in some types of hiding places and even just looking at a monster can be dangerous.

A modern classic-style survival horror game called “Alisa” (2021) also messes with the player’s instincts by giving the player no in-game currency if they use the classic survival horror tactic of running away from monsters. Given how ridiculously challenging the combat in this game can sometimes be, this creates a really tough dilemma where the only way to get better stuff is to go against your instincts and fight the monsters.

And all of this stuff makes complete sense in the horror genre. Horror games are one of the few genres of game that actively try to avoid the player getting into an easy, predictable “flow state“. In order to be scary, a horror game has to make the player feel nervous or disempowered in some way, and what better way to do that than to make them do something completely counter-intuitve?

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

“Graphics vs. Performance” In Modern Horror Games

2022 Artwork Graphics vs Performance in horror games article sketch

Well, for this article in the second season of my “Horror Videogames Series“, I thought that I’d talk about “graphics vs. performance” in modern horror games.

This was something I ended up thinking about after stocking up on horror games during a Halloween sale last October. I found myself in the delightful dilemma of choosing which horror game to play next. Even though my current computer is a major upgrade from the classic computers I used before autumn 2018, it is fairly “low-spec” by modern standards. It’s a second-hand small form factor machine with a third-generation Core i5 and 8gb RAM. Since I haven’t got round to getting a dedicated graphics card for it, its main graphics hardware is the processor’s built-in Intel HD 2500 graphics.

Still, after watching gaming channels like “LowSpecGamer” and “RandomGamingInHD” in the past, I’ve learnt that “minimum system requirements” aren’t as rigid as I once thought they were. Games will often, but not always, run on hardware that falls somewhat below them. You might have to really turn the graphics settings down and the game might also run a bit more slowly too. It’s also usually worth checking sites like Youtube for videos of people running the game in question on similar hardware to yours before buying as well. But games can often still run below their minimum system requirements.

With this knowledge, two of the games I bought were modern 3D horror games with “minimum system requirements” above that of my computer – namely “Remothered: Broken Porcelain” (2020) and “Tormented Souls” (2021). To my delight, both run slightly better on my computer than I’d expected. The main problem was choosing which one to play first πŸ™‚

Interestingly, both games had fewer graphics options than I’d expected. The texture quality settings in “Tormented Souls” didn’t seem to go below “high” and the lowest resolution I could find was 720p. It still looks good on my computer.

On the other hand, although “Remothered: Broken Porcelain” had fewer graphics options than its 2018 predecessor “Remothered: Tormented Fathers” did (such as the lack of a manual resolution scaler), the lowest settings I could find looked like “Remothered: Tormented Fathers” at ultra-low settings – namely somewhere between the graphics quality of the very first two Playstation consoles (with lots of blurry textures, low-resolution character models etc…).

Here’s a graphical comparison to show you these games running on Intel HD 2500 graphics and the lowest settings I could find:

Low settings comparison of ''Tormented Souls'' (2021) and ''Remothered Broken Porcelain'' (2020)

This is a comparison of the graphics of “Tormented Souls” (2021) and “Remothered: Broken Porcelain” (2020) running on Intel HD 2500 integrated graphics and the lowest settings I could find.

To my delight, “Remothered: Broken Porcelain” actually ran… relatively… well at these settings. In faster paced moments, the game seemed to skip the occasional frame (whilst still maintaining a playable speed) but it felt more responsive and smooth than I’d expected. Yes, “60 frames per second or bust” gamers probably wouldn’t like it, but – at a pure guess – I’d imagine that it typically hit approximately 20-30 frames per second most of the time. Not perfect, but still surprisingly playable.

On the other hand, whilst “Tormented Souls” was more playable than I’d expected and the slower-paced “classic survival horror” style of its gameplay does compensate for low framerates a bit, the lack of any kind of serious “low” graphics settings meant that the game ran slightly too slowly.

When the main character runs away, the background would blur heavily (even with motion blur turned off) and everything would be in a dream-like slow motion. This is eerily atmospheric during ordinary gameplay, but it made fighting monsters virtually impossible. At a pure guess, I’d imagine that the ordinary gameplay hits approximately 10-20 frames per second at most, with that number dropping to a completely unplayable 3-10 during intense combat sequences.

[Edit: Some weeks after preparing the first draft of this article, I figured out a very convoluted way of getting the combat segments of “Tormented Souls” to run at a playable speed on my PC. It involved downloading an external window resizing program called “Sizer”. Switching to windowed mode with “Alt + Enter”, using Sizer to change the window to 640 x 480 and then using “Alt + Enter” again. Annoyingly, the game insists on return to 720p whenever you move between rooms. So, this process has to be repeated. It may also have been the cause of several glitches I encountered too.]

Anyway, after testing both games out, the game I decided to play first was “Remothered: Broken Porcelain”. Yes, the ultra-low graphics were “less atmospheric” than the heavily-restricted minimum graphics settings in “Tormented Souls”, but it didn’t matter. The game was not only the scariest of the two, thanks to things like it’s stealth-based gameplay and sound design, but the gameplay was a bit more responsive too. Ok, I’ve now got the problem of working up the courage to actually play through this terrifying game – but the fact that it allowed me to seriously prioritise performance over graphics won me over πŸ™‚

Of course, the other modern horror game I’ve played recently is “Alisa” (2021). This is a “classic survival horror” style game that also replicates the visual style of an old Playstation 1 game and has actually been made to work on some very “low-spec” hardware, in a way that should be standard for games with retro-style graphics. To my delight, it actually has the option to check the framerate and – when I briefly checked it – it pretty much stayed at a solid 60 frames per second. At a guess, it is probably capped at this speed.

Graphics screenshot from ''Alisa'' (2021)

This is a screenshot from “Alisa” (2021), showing off the game’s “mid-late 1990s” style graphics – complete with an old-school pre-rendered background πŸ™‚ And it actually has old-school system requirements to match these old-school graphics too πŸ™‚ Even though it was made in Unity! WOW!

And it is still a really good horror game, with some wonderfully creepy and/or suspenseful moments, despite its old-school graphics. Or perhaps even because of them. I’ve mentioned this before, but graphics don’t matter as much as you might think in horror games. A lot of other things – such as game design, pacing, art direction and sound design – matter a lot more in a horror game. And, yes, whilst “good graphics” can give a horror game a bit more atmosphere, fast and responsive performance matters a lot more. It is, after all, an interactive game.

Not every horror game fan has the latest hardware, so modern horror games should – like “Remothered: Broken Porcelain” – allow players to seriously lower the graphics for the sake of gameplay. After all, the test of a good horror game – especially in this modern age where most new horror games are indie games – is whether it can scare the player despite its graphics, rather than because of them.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

British Horror Games (1980s- Present)

2022 Artwork British horror games article sketch

Well, for this article in the second season of my “Horror Videogames Series“, I thought that I’d take a look at the history of British horror games since, to my continual surprise, there is actually a tradition of horror games here πŸ™‚

Yes, its less well-defined or well-known than – for example – Japan’s amazing tradition of survival horror games (eg: “Resident Evil”, “Silent Hill” etc..) and its less consistent in style than mainland Europe’s tradition of gothic survival horror games like Infrogrames’ “Alone In The Dark” (1992), Darril Arts’ “Remothered: Tormented Fathers” (2018) and Casper Croes’ “Alisa” (2021).

Although there is a lot of variety in style, I have noticed one common thread throughout most of the British horror games that I’ve either player or read about – a focus on narrative. They also tend to focus more on things like first-person perspective gameplay and/or video elements too.

For the purposes of this article, I’ll be focusing on games that were primarily developed within the United Kingdom, rather than games which are set here.Β  Ironically though, the best UK settings in horror games can often appear in games made in other countries.

Whether it is the brilliantly cynical “modern Britain” setting of Polish studio Harvester Games’ excellent “The Cat Lady” (2012) and its two sequels (which I’ll review later this month), whether it is Spanish studio The Game Kitchen’s historical horror game “The Last Door – Collector’s Edition” (2013-14?) or whether it is the limited footage I’ve seen of the “post-apocalyptic London” horror game “ZombiU” (2012) which was made in France by Ubisoft Montpellier. Sometimes, the best horror games set here aren’t actually made here.

I should also point out that, given all of the political debates regarding Scottish independence, I was uncertain whether or not to include Scottish games in this article. In the end, I decided to – albeit with clear labelling. I don’t know if this was the right decision, but hopefully it both acknowledges the current political reality whilst also not ignoring those who disagree with it either.

Plus, although I’ll try to cover as many games as possible, it’s possible that I may have missed some lesser-known ones. So, apologies if there are any unintentional gaps here. Anyway, let’s get started….

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One of the first British horror games was probably Malcolm Evans’ “3D Monster Maze” (1982) for the ZX81 home computer. This was a first-person perspective maze game where the player has to avoid being eaten by a T-Rex. It was perhaps also a very early precursor to the type of “run and hide” survival horror game that would be defined by Human Entertainment’s Japan-only SNES game “Clock Tower” (1995) and later become popular amongst indie developers worldwide during the mid-late 2010s.

Another notable British trend during the 1980s seems to be text adventure games, with CRL Group’s “Dracula” (1986) being the very first game to get a formal British Board Of Film Classification (BBFC) rating and, in an early precursor to the BBFC’s sensible attitude towards classic survival horror games, it only got a “15” certificate.

On a side-note: A later international collaboration between CRL Group and a studio in Ireland called St. Brides resulted in another horror text adventure called “Jack The Ripper” (1988) – which was the first videogame to get a BBFC “18” certificate in the UK. Looking further into this, it seems like CRL Group wasΒ  responsible for creating the game’s in-game artwork and St.Brides – a “new religious movement”, who also made videogames – were responsible for the game’s story.

The 1990s were an interesting decade for British horror games, and British developers seem to have focused more heavily on first-person perspective horror games in this decade. First of all, there was Magnetic Scrolls’ “The Legacy: Realm Of Terror” (1993) – an early survival horror game that used a first-person perspective and mouse-only controls. Although clearly inspired by Infrogrames’ “Alone In The Dark” (1992), even down to including selectable characters, it is notable for its first-person perspective and gloomier setting.

Gameplay screenshot from ''The Legacy Realm Of Terror'' (1993)

This is a screenshot from “The Legacy: Realm Of Terror” (1993), showing the game’s mouse-based user interface and setting.

Another interesting first-person perspective horror game is Gremlin Interactive’s “Realms Of The Haunting” (1997). Although clearly inspired by American “2.5D” sprite-based first-person shooter (FPS) games like ID Software’s “Doom” (1993) and 3D Realms’ “Duke Nukem 3D” (1996) – this game was more than just another first-person shooter game. It also included mouse-based point-and-click puzzles and a heavier emphasis on horror genre storytelling.

Keeping the “creepy old mansion” setting that was popular in horror games at the time – but with some cool fantastical locations as well – the game is also notable for its heavy use of full-motion video (FMV) elements too. Although there is more emphasis on action than a typical survival horror game, “Realms Of The Haunting” still possibly barely qualifies thanks to its heavy use of puzzles.

FMV screenshot from ''Realms Of The Haunting'' (1997)

This is a screenshot from “Realms Of The Haunting” (1997), showing one of the game’s many FMV sequences. The actual gameplay is kind of like a mixture of a mid-late 1990s “2.5D” FPS game and a point-and-click game.

Another first-person perspective British horror game from 1997 was Ocean Software’s “Last Rites“. Although perhaps more of a sci-fi action game than a horror game, with low-budget “pixel art” graphics that were already very dated at the time and level design that was… less than perfect, this game is notable for perhaps being the very first explicitly zombie-themed FPS game.

Other FPS games of the time, such as ID Software’s “Doom” (1993) and “Quake” (1996), only included zombies as occasional enemies. In Japan, Sega also released a zombie-themed first-person perspective “light gun” arcade game called “The House Of The Dead” in 1996 too. However, “Last Rites” seems to possibly be the very first traditional-style FPS game to take place during a zombie apocalypse. Taking heavy influence from old George A. Romero movies – but with the cynical edginess of 1980s/1990s Britain, some extremely rudimentary squad-based elements and a few sci-fi elements – “Last Rites” is an interesting historical curio.

Gameplay screenshot from ''Last Rites'' (1997)

This is a screenshot from “Last Rites” (1997), perhaps the very first zombie-themed FPS game. Also, note the edgy acronym scrawled onto the main character’s gun too. 1970s-1990s Britain certainly had a cynical sense of humour.

Talking of 1997, another interesting British game from this year was Stainless Games’ “Carmageddon”. Although originally meant to be an ultra-violent dystopian sci-fi racing/action game, it unintentionally squeezed itself into the horror genre thanks to censorship of all things. The original version of the game was banned by the BBFC on account of the fact that the game rewards players for running over pedestrians in a gruesome fashion. Eventually, a censored version of the game was released in the UK which replaced the pedestrians with zombies – technically just about maybe making this an unintentional horror game.

The 2000s seem to have been an interesting decade for horror games in the UK. In Scotland, the Edinburgh-based founding branch of Rockstar – Rockstar North (formerly DMA Design) – made the controversial ultra-violent stealth-horror game “Manhunt” in 2003. Its 2007 sequel “Manuhunt 2” was developed by Rockstar London and was actually banned in the UK for about a year after its release, before a censored version eventually appeared following a successful appeal.

In addition to this, a first-person perspective horror point-and-click game from 2006 – Shadow Tor Studios’ “Barrow Hill: Curse Of The Ancient Circle” – also seems to be another notable British horror game from the 2000s. I haven’t played it, but I have played an ultra low-budget indie point-and-click game by Two Tales from 2016-17 (?) called “Rabbit Hill” that was apparently inspired by it.

Two other notable British-made horror games from the 2000s are Climax Studios’ “Silent Hill: Origins” (2007) and “Silent Hill: Shattered Memories” (2009) which – surprisingly – were developed in Portsmouth πŸ™‚ Although the “Silent Hill” series is one of Japan’s most well-known horror franchises, Konami stopped producing these games in-house after “Silent Hill 4” (2004) and instead contracted out subsequent games to other studios. Which is why there were two “Silent Hill” games made in Portsmouth. Alas, I haven’t played either of these games due to their rarity, cost etc… these days 😦

Moving on to the 2010s and early 2020s, horror games had something of a resurgence in the UK. One notable title, which I unfortunately haven’t played, is Creative Assembly’s “Alien: Isolation” (2014). This first-person perspective game was one of several games that later popularised stealth-based “run and hide” survival horror games during the mid-late 2010s. And, from all of the online footage of “Alien: Isolation” I’ve seen, it also takes heavy inspiration from the settings and style of Ridley Scott’s 1979 film “Alien”, as opposed to most action games from the franchise that take more influence from James Cameron’s “Aliens” (1986).

In Scotland, Dundee-based developers Team Junkfish released “Monstrum” in 2015 – a first-person perspective “run and hide” survival horror game where you play as the lone survivor on a cargo ship with an escaped monster on board. Although not too different from other “run and hide” games of the era, it is still notable thanks to the way that there are both multiple ways to escape the ship and the fact that the monster is randomly selected on each playthrough. This adds unpredictability to the game and is an intriguing innovation for the genre.

Gameplay screenshot from ''Monstrum'' (2015)

This is a screenshot from “Monstrum” (2015), a “run and hide” survival horror game that features randomly-selected monsters.

Full-motion video also seems to have returned to modern British horror games, with D’avekki Studios releasing two FMV games called “The Infectious Madness Of Doctor Dekker” (2017) and “Dark Nights With Poe And Munro” (2020).

Although I’ve only played “Dark Nights With Poe And Munro”, it’s a really quirky comedy-horror game that is very evocative of TV shows like “Jonathan Creek” (1997-2016) and “The X-Files” (1993-2018), but with more paranormal elements and a “late-night radio station” setting.

FMV screenshot from ''Dark Nights With Poe And Munro'' (2020)

This is a screenshot from “Dark Nights With Poe And Munro” (2020), a modern FMV comedy-horror game.

Another famous modern British horror game seems to be Baggy Cat’s “At Dead Of Night” (2020). From all of the online footage I’ve seen of it, it looks like a really interesting twist on a modern-style first-person perspective “run and hide” horror game.

Set in a creepy 1950s-1970s style British hotel, and including FMV elements, the player has to solve paranormal puzzles whilst being hunted by the hotel’s evil manager… but the game uses mouse-only controls for movement. These deliberately awkward controls seem to add an extra note of scariness and suspense to the game in a similar way to the awkward tank controls used in classic survival horror games. This mouse-only control scheme also seems to be evocative of “The Legacy: Realm Of Terror” (1993) too. However, again, I haven’t had hands-on experience with “At Dead Of Night” and am only speculating from online footage of it that I’ve seen.

In conclusion, British horror games don’t really have a defined “style” – but the common themes seem to be a focus on narrative, first-person perspectives and/or maybe FMV elements too. Whilst Japan is, quite rightly, the most famous country for horror games – it’s still interesting that there’s also a tradition of horror games in Britain too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚