Review: “Alone In The Dark” (Retro Computer Game)

2016 Artwork Alone In The Dark Review Sketch

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been playing the original “Alone In The Dark” recently and, well, I’m quite honestly astonished that it’s taken me until now to play (and complete) this game. Especially considering that I was a huge “Resident Evil” and “Silent Hill” fan when I was a teenager.

Yes, I tried to find the demo of “Alone In The Dark” aeons ago (and may have even played a small part of it). In fact, about eight or nine years ago, I bought a copy of “Alone In The Dark: The New Nightmare” but I got completely stuck on one part of it and abandoned it in frustration.

However, I didn’t really discover the original “Alone In The Dark” until a couple of days before I originally wrote this review (several months ago).

At the time, a collection of the first three “Alone In The Dark” games was on special offer on GoG. And, since I was in a slightly glum mood at the time, I decided that a horror game from the 1990s might be just the thing to cheer me up. It worked ๐Ÿ™‚

So, let’s take a look at “Alone In The Dark”:

Alone in the dark 1 leaving

“Alone In The Dark” is a survival horror game from 1992. No, it isn’t a survival horror game, it is the survival horror game!

It was the very first game of it’s kind and, if you’ve played the original “Resident Evil“, then it’ll suddenly become clear exactly where that ‘groundbreaking’ game got it’s inspiration from. That is to say, there are lots of things in “Alone In The Dark” that “Resident Evil” *ahem* borrowed four years later.

If this looks familiar, then just remember that THIS game came out four years BEFORE "Resident Evil" did....

If this looks familiar, then just remember that THIS game came out four years BEFORE “Resident Evil” did….

 Again, this game came out four years BEFORE "Resident Evil"....

Again, this game came out four years BEFORE “Resident Evil”….

In “Alone In The Dark” you can play as either Edward Carnby or Emily Hartwood. Although there don’t seem to be any gameplay differences between the characters, their backstories are slightly different. Not only does this game give you the option of choosing a character, but each character actually has a proper backstory too.

I played as Emily Hartwood, who is summoned to the mysterious Derceto Mansion after her uncle mysteriously hanged himself in the attic.

This attic. The one you're standing in right now! Don't worry though, it isn't haunted...

This attic. The one you’re standing in right now! Don’t worry though, it isn’t haunted…

The beginning of this game is, quite simply, sublime. If you just wander around the attic aimlessly and look at everything, then a monster will jump through the window and attack you. After dying a couple of times, you start to wonder whether it’s a good idea to push a nearby cabinet in front of the window. Needless to say, this does the job. So, you stand there with a smug grin on your face as the monster outside howls mournfully and claws uselessly at the cabinet.

Then, a few seconds, later, you hear a quiet creaking sound. In the distance, a trapdoor gently swings open and a zombie slowly climbs out. If this sort of thing makes you spontaneously smile or suddenly burst into laughter, then you’re going to love this game ๐Ÿ™‚

Seriously, this scene is hilarious :)

Seriously, this scene is hilarious ๐Ÿ™‚

Although this game is ostensibly a horror game, the passage of time has turned it into something far better than just a horror game. It’s a dark comedy game. A totally unintentional one, but a bloody good one! Seriously, this game made me smile so many times ๐Ÿ™‚

I don't know whether I want to hug it or fight it. I love this game :)

I don’t know whether I want to hug it or fight it. I love this game ๐Ÿ™‚

I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I felt like this game had been made specifically for me. The (unintentional) humour was exactly my type of humour, the monster designs were amusingly inventive, the graphics were gleefully cartoonish, the atmosphere of the mansion was wonderfully gothic, and the horror elements of the game trod a fine line between being creepy and funny.

All of this astonishingly great (unintentional) dark humour is complimented by a brilliantly melodramatic H.P.Lovecraft-inspired backstory that is revealed through numerous documents that you can find scattered around the mansion.

If you buy the GoG version of this game, then all of these documents are also read aloud by a hilariously melodramatic cast of voice actors, who sound like they came from a vintage horror movie. Seriously, I really love this game ๐Ÿ™‚

 *rolls eyes* It's spelled "Ia!", do you WANT Cthulhu to devour your soul or not?

*rolls eyes* It’s spelled “Ia!”, do you WANT Cthulhu to devour your soul or not?

In terms of the gameplay, I would say that it’s fairly standard 1990s survival horror gameplay but, well, this game invented that type of gameplay. As you would expect, you explore the mansion, solve puzzles, read documents and fight monsters.

In terms of the controls, they’re what you would expect. You use the arrow keys for movement and the spacebar can be used to either perform actions or ready your weapons. The camera angles, naturally, can change several times within the same room. Personally, I love this aspect of old survival horror games, but modern gamers might find it confusing.

One slight problem with the movement system is that, whilst your character can run, you have to tap the up arrow quickly and then hold it down in order to move at anything faster than a snail’s pace. Needless to say that this gameplay mechanic can be tempermental to say the least….

In order to select items, or to choose what types of action you want to perform (eg: searching, pushing, fighting or jumping), you can press “i” to bring up the inventory screen:

Yay! Inventory :)

Yay! Inventory ๐Ÿ™‚

Like in all classic survival horror games, your inventory is limited. However, this is calculated using a weight-based system. So, you can’t really tell whether you have any inventory slots left until you try to pick something up. But, unlike “Resident Evil”, if your inventory is full, you can just drop any unwanted items and come back for them later.

Yes, it's actually MORE realistic than "Resident Evil". You can actually just leave unwanted items on the floor!

Yes, it’s actually MORE realistic than “Resident Evil”. You can actually just leave unwanted items on the floor!

Yes, you don’t have to search for item boxes to leave your stuff in! You can save your game literally wherever you want! You also don’t have to sit through an annoying animation every time you walk through a door (you just walk up to the door, your character opens it and it stays open).

Did I forget to mention that this game came out four years before “Resident Evil” did? And the gameplay is still more advanced!

There's even a hilarious in-game animation when you use one of the (scarce) health items. Again, this game came out four years BEFORE "Resident Evil". And it does everything much better than that game does!

There’s even a hilarious in-game animation when you use one of the (scarce) health items. Again, this game came out four years BEFORE “Resident Evil”. And it does everything much better than that game does!

One cool thing about this game is that you don’t always have to fight the monsters. Although combat is unavoidable in some areas, you can sometimes find another way of dealing with any creatures you encounter: Likewise, some weapons won’t always work in every situation.

Yes, if you're going to fight the pirate, you'd better use a sword. Oh, did I mention that there are pirates in this game? Pirates!!! :)

Yes, if you’re going to fight the pirate, you’d better use a sword. Oh, did I mention that there are pirates in this game? Pirates!!! ๐Ÿ™‚

Growing up on "Resident Evil", I just instinctively drew my pistol and started blasting away fairly soon after I entered this room. When I read a walkthrough later, I learnt that there's another - sneakier- way of dealing with these zombies...

Growing up on “Resident Evil”, I just instinctively drew my pistol and started blasting away fairly soon after I entered this room. When I read a walkthrough later, I learnt that there’s another – sneakier- way of dealing with these zombies…

However, the combat system is a little bit clunky, to put it mildly. You hold the spacebar to draw your weapon and then you use the arrow keys to either aim or use it.

With bladed weapons, you can use the left and right arrows to slash and the up arrow to swing your weapon downwards. With projectile weapons, you use the left and right arrows to aim and the up arrow to fire.

Another cool bonus is that, unlike in "Resident Evil", the knife is actually a reasonably decent weapon here. You only have to hit a zombie with it four times, rather than thirty....

Another cool bonus is that, unlike in “Resident Evil”, the knife is actually a reasonably decent weapon here. You only have to hit a zombie with it four times, rather than thirty….

The main “problems” with the combat system are either aiming the guns in the right direction, or timing your attacks so that they’ll actually hit the monster you’re fighting. If you play for a while, then you’ll probably get used to this and see it as part of the game’s charm.

Not to mention that, since this is a proper survival horror game, it isn’t an action game! The clunky combat makes every battle appropriately challenging, and it reinforces the idea that you’re just an ordinary person who is trapped in a house filled with much more powerful monsters.

Plus, when your character inevitably dies horribly, you’re treated to a wonderfully theatrical (which you can skip by pressing “Esc” if you get bored of it) cutscene featuring their body being dragged through a stone corridor by a zombie and placed on a sacrificial altar. Then you are rewarded by this really cool picture:

- *Sigh* Remember when really cool artwork was actually an integral part of the horror genre? Yes, I miss it too!

– *Sigh* Remember when really cool artwork was actually an integral part of the horror genre? Yes, I miss it too!

As for the puzzles, they start out reasonably well. In fact, this was one of the things that made me really happy when I started playing this game – I could solve the puzzles on my own. However, after playing about half of the game, I started to get stuck. Eventually, I checked a walkthrough. Then, a while later, I checked it again. Soon, I found myself relying on it quite heavily.

Then again, I’m terrible at both adventure game puzzles and survival horror game puzzles, so it was really wonderful to at least get through half of the game without having to use a walkthrough. Still, I didn’t really play this game for the puzzles. I played it for the atmosphere, the exploration, the unintentional comedy and just for the sake of playing it.

As for the graphics, they work surprisingly well. For a game that came out twenty four years ago, the 3D graphics aren’t bad. In fact, they’re astonishing when you consider that most games at the time (and for about a year or so afterwards) didn’t use 3D graphics extensively.

One cool thing about the old 3D graphics is that they make the main characters look like characters from a 1990s Saturday morning cartoon. If you grew up in the 1990s, then you’ll probably find this wonderfully nostalgic ๐Ÿ™‚

Seriously, she looks like a character from "Rugrats".

Seriously, she looks like a character from “Rugrats”.

Curses! Foiled again! And I would have gotten away with it too if it wasn't for those meddling kids!

Curses! Foiled again! And I would have gotten away with it too if it wasn’t for those meddling kids!

Not to mention that I absolutely love the vintage fashions in this game too. Seriously, I love the fact that -even with a relatively small number of polygons- both characters actually look like they genuinely come from the 1920s/1930s.

As for the rest of the artwork in the game, the pre-rendered backgrounds have aged fairly well, since they now look wonderfully cartoonish, rather than “realistic” . Plus, being a game from the early-mid 1990s, “Alone In The Dark” features quite a bit of really cool pixel art too ๐Ÿ™‚

*Sigh* I miss the days when games featured awesome pixel art AND clever compositional tricks too.

*Sigh* I miss the days when games featured awesome pixel art AND clever compositional tricks too.

As for the music, it’s fairly decent. Like in many later survival horror games, one cool feature is that dramatic music will start playing whenever you encounter a monster. Plus, if you get this game on GoG, then you’ll also get a free MP3 copy of the soundtrack too.

All in all, I loved this game ๐Ÿ™‚ If someone had made a computer game just for me, it would look like this game.

When I was a teenager, I thought that the early “Resident Evil” games were the games that defined the survival horror genre (even if I later thought that the second and third “Silent Hill” games were better). This game blows all of the classic “Resident Evil” games out of the water! Not only are the gameplay mechanics a lot better, but it’s also crammed with (unintentional) dark comedy, Lovecraftian mysteries and all sorts of other cool stuff.

If you’re a survival horror fan, you need to play this game. In fact, I’m astonished that it took me until 2016 to play it. That would be almost as unthinkable as being a fan of FPS games and never playing the old “Doom” games (which, in terms of gameplay, are still better than most of the FPS games that came after them… including “Doom 3”).

If I had to give this game a rating out of five, it would get at least five. Maybe even six.

“The Tower Of Lost Souls” (Experimental Horror Fiction)

2015 Artwork tower of lost souls sketch

Due to both being in a slight rush and miserably failing at writing the article I’d planned for today, I thought that – instead- I’d share a vaguely Lovecraftian experimental horror story that I wrote last August.

This was part of a short-lived project where I’d planned to write a collection of descriptive stories using a second-person perspective. You can read another story from this failed project here. Anyway, enjoy ๐Ÿ™‚

——————

The Tower Of Lost Souls

By C. A. Brown

As the wind kicks up a shower of golden leaves and the fog clears slightly, you stumble forward into what feels like a ice-cold gnarled stone wall. Pushing back from it, you get to your feet and look upwards.

A vast, unsteady tower stretches up into the deep grey clouds above you. For a second, it almost reminds you of part of an old castle that you saw in a magazine once. But, you think, castles aren’t supposed to be that tall.

Trying to get your bearings, you look around but you can see nothing but pitted grey stone walls and the dense fog you encountered over an hour ago. It’s almost as if you and the tower are trapped in a bubble of some kind or another, walled in by the dense cloud-like fog.

You walk slowly along the wall, looking for a door of any kind, but there isn’t one. In fact, as you look closer at the stones, you realise that they aren’t even individual bricks. The whole tower is made from nothing but one giant lump of stone with an intricate series of grooves and pits carved into the side of it. Worst of all, you realise as you look up at the tower once again, there are no windows whatsoever.

What you initially thought were medieval arrow-slits are, even in the dim half-light, obviously nothing more than deep grooves in the side of the tower. Slowly, you start to wonder why anyone would have gone to all of this trouble.

Was a mad sculptor abandoned here many centuries ago? Did a huddled band of peasants have to fool a fearsome army into thinking that they were in control of a giant city? The answer, you suspect, is lost somewhere in the mist.

Feeling a chill run down your spine, you decide to circle the tower and see if there’s anything more on the other side. With every step, you can feel the dead leaves beneath your feet crunching loudly and hear the wind wailing mournfully in the distance. The fog remains beside you, like another equally strange and opaque wall.

As you take another step, you head a loud crack beneath your right foot. Flinching back, you drop to the ground and brush the leaves away, fearful that you have trodden on the bones of another unfortunate traveller. But, as you brush more leaves away, you see nothing there. Not even a single, solitary twig on the bare brown earth below you. Shivering, you get to your feet, take a deep breath and keep walking.

After what feels like five minutes, you stop. By now, you must have reached the other side of the tower – right? But, as you look upon the stone wall beside you, you realise that there aren’t any points of reference. The wall just looks the same as the one you first saw when you emerged from the fog. For all you know, you could have circled the tower and be back exactly where you started.

Hearing the wind howl again, your mind latches onto a plan. Reaching down, you take the shoe off of your left foot and lean it against the tower. Like a breadcrumb in a labyrinth, you hope that it will give you some impression of where you have been.

Despite the brittle carpet of leaves, the ground still feels cold against your bare foot as you keep walking, only stopping to catch your breath and look at the walls of stone and fog around you, constantly checking for your shoe. It is nowhere to be seen. So, you keep walking.

Finally, after what seems like twenty minutes, you spot something amongst the leaves in front of you. It looks familiar. Leaning down, you pick it up and realise that it is your shoe. How did it get from the wall to over here? Did someone move it? Is there anyone there?

Sighing, you raise your leg and slide your foot back into your shoe. Only to stop suddenly. There’s something in there. Almost dropping your shoe, you recoil in horror and sit down on the crunchy leaves. For what feels like ten minutes, you just stare at your shoe until you finally take a deep breath and reach for it.

Holding it at arms’ length, you shake it slightly and what looks like a small marble falls to the bottom to it. Reaching in, you grab it. It feels cold against the inside of your fist. Slowly, you open your fingers and take another look and, to your horror, you realise that it isn’t a marble….

——-

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting ๐Ÿ™‚ Hopefully, I’ll write a proper article (or a review) for tomorrow.

Six Tips For Writing Lovecraftian Fiction

2013 Artwork Lovecraftian Fiction sketch

Well, since I’m re-playing the original “Quake” at the moment and I’m only just noticing how Lovecraftian it really is (since I first played it long before I’d even heard of Lovecraft), I thought that I’d write an article about writing Lovecraftian fiction.

In case anyone has never encountered this genre of fiction before, it is a sub-genre of horror/dark fantasy fiction inspired by the works of H. P. Lovecraft. Whilst Lovecraftian fiction doesn’t necessarily have to involve any direct references to Lovecraft’s stories, it should be written in a similar style and evoke a similar atmosphere to Lovecraft’s stories.

So, without any further ado, here are six tips which might be useful if you want to write something Lovecraftian:

1) Read H.P.Lovecraft: If you’ve read this far into the article, then I guess that you’ve probably done this already. But, if you haven’t, then either find a book of his short stories or just go over to Wikisource or Project Gutenburg and read the Lovecraft stories which have gone out of copyright (most of them are out of copyright in Europe but only few of them are public domain in the US – although the copyright status of “The Call Of Cthulhu” in America is fairly complicated, disputed and ambiguous).

This probably sounds like a really obvious step, but if you’re planning to write Lovecraftian fiction, then you should at least know what you’re trying to imitate.

2) Everything is old: Although Lovecraft was writing in the 1920s and 1930s, he generally liked to use a slightly antiquated and convoluted narrative voice. To give you an example, here is a single sentence from one of his short stories called ‘The Temple’: “My impulse to visit and enter the temple has now become an inexplicable and imperious command which can no longer be denied”.

Of course, a more “modern” writer from that time period would have just written something like “I couldn’t stop myself from visiting the temple” or “The temple called to me in every moment”. Normally long-winded sentences with lots of unnecessarily long words are frowned upon in fiction, but they are essential for good Lovecraftian fiction. Plus, Lovecraft loved using words like “cyclopean” and “ichor” a lot too.

So, if you’re writing Lovecraftian fiction, then it’s generally a good idea to have read at least some 19th century literature beforehand so that you have a good idea of what kind of narration people used to use back then, since this was probably one of the main inspirations for Lovecraft’s narrative style.

Likewise, the settings of Lovecraft’s stories are often fairly old places which either have a disturbing history or are just generally eerie. Many of the monsters and horrors in Lovecraft’s stories are also very old too (Cthulhu being the classic example). Although some of his stories have a science-fiction elements in them (eg: “Herbert West- Reanimator”) and science is a theme in a few of his stories, scientific discoveries almost always result in something horrific happening.

In short, everything in a Lovecraftian story should be fairly old. Even if you set your Lovecraftian story in the present day, then everywhere should still either have a slightly old look or a slightly old atmosphere to it.

3) First person narration/subjectivity: Quite a few of Lovecraft’s stories use first person narration and they are usually in the format of someone recounting the events which led them to the brink of insanity or the events that make them wish for death in every waking moment.

Many of his stories begin in a format which is, for want of a better description, similar to a suicide note. This technique of starting after the events of the story and then working backwards is highly effective, since it makes the reader want to know what exactly has done this to the narrator.

Subjectivity, sanity and unreliable narration is a major theme in Lovecraft’s stories too. His narrators often question their perceptions of events and their own sanity too. Yet, at the same time, many of his narrators value being as “objective” as possible. This tension between subjectivity and objectivity can be an essential part of Lovecraftian fiction.

4) Don’t copy Lovecraft’s attitudes: Although Lovecraft was a major influence on the horror genre, he wasn’t particularly progressive in many other areas (even for the 1920s/30s, which is saying a lot) and this sometimes shows in his stories. Whilst this may have been acceptable back in the 1920s/30s, if you’re writing a Lovecraftian story these days then you shouldn’t copy his attitudes in your story.

Yes, it may not make your stories as technically close to Lovecraft’s as possible, but modern readers have much higher standards and will see your story as “a modern story written in the style of Lovecraft” rather than “one of Lovecraft’s stories from the 1920s or 1930s”.

Plus, due to Lovecraft’s rather narrow-minded attitudes, there’s loads of relatively unexplored territory for new Lovecraftian stories when it comes to characters and protagonists.

In other words, try writing a Lovecraftian story with sympathetic female characters. Try writing a Lovecraftian story with a narrator who isn’t a conservative upper middle class white guy. Try writing a Lovecraftian story where English and European-American culture isn’t portrayed as being “superior” to every other culture. I’m sure you get the idea….

5) Mythos: Although I prefer Lovecraft’s more “ordinary” horror stories to his “Cthulhu mythos” stories, he invented a whole mythology of ancient gods and strange incantations which runs through quite a few of his stories. Now, you can either incorporate this mythos into your stories (although check the copyright laws where you live first), leave it out entirely or invent your own “mythos” for your stories.

6) Leave a few things to your readers’ imaginations: Although Lovecraft showed the occasional horrific or grotesque thing in his stories, the reason why so many of his stories are fairly creepy is because he left a lot more to his readers’ imaginations than many modern horror writers do.

For example, although a character might visit an ominous location, there are usually quite a few parts of it that they don’t explore properly or don’t really look at in detail (eg: the narrator walking past a mysterious and gloomy pit with something moving around at the bottom of it).

By leaving things mysterious and only hinting at what could be there or only showing brief glimpses of horrific things, Lovecraft allows his readers to fill the void with their own nightmares and fears.

Even the gruesome parts of Lovecraft’s stories are fairly vague and leave a lot to the reader’s imagination, such as in this line from ‘The Hound’: “Then he collapsed, an inert mass of mangled flesh”. Since Lovecraft doesn’t describe this character’s injuries in graphic detail, the reader is left to work out what this character looks like – and, as such, they will probably come up with a far more horrific image than the one which Lovecraft himself was probably imagining when he wrote that sentence.

So, for every horror you show, you should leave at least twice as many horrors to your readers’ imaginations.

———

Anyway, I hope that this article was useful. Iรค! Cthulhu! :E

“Jadzia Strange (remake)” – Pages 4 & 5

Well, here are pages four and five of “The Adventures of Jadzia Strange” (a remake of an unfinished comic I made in 2010). I am seriously proud of the art on these two pages, although page four ended up looking a lot more …. Lovecraftian than it did in the original comic.


As usual, these two pages are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Jadzia Strange (remake) - Page 4" By C. A. Brown

“Jadzia Strange (remake) – Page 4” By C. A. Brown

"Jadzia Strange (remake) - Page 5" By C . A. Brown

“Jadzia Strange (remake) – Page 5” By C . A. Brown

(The blurred text on page four was originally a H.P. Lovecraft quote (a backwards version of one of the incantations for summoning Cthulhu, I think) but, although “The Call Of Cthulhu” is out of copyright in Europe, whether it’s public domain or not in America is apparently a lot more ambiguous/heavily disputed. And, since this page is viewable internationally and I’m releasing this comic under a Creative Commons licence, I decided to (ugh! I hate that word!)..censor it just to be on the safe side. Sorry about this.)