Today’s Art ( 25th June 2019)

Well, although I’ll probably spend at least the next couple of days painting realistic landscapes, I felt like making a “1990s/2000s survival horror videogame”-style digitally-edited painting for today.

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

“Deserted Corner” By C. A. Brown

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Three Things Artists Can Learn From Old Survival Horror Videogames

Well, it’s been a while since I last wrote an art-based article and, since I’ve returned to making more imaginative art (on a semi-regular basis, at least), I thought that I’d look at a few things that old survival horror videogames can teach artists. Although I’ve almost certainly talked about this topic before, it’s always worth returning to.

If you’ve never heard of survival horror videogames before, they were a genre of horror videogame that was popular during the 1990s and the early-mid 2000s. They were games that used a third-person perspective and had slightly more of an emphasis on exploration, atmosphere, storytelling and/or puzzle-solving than on combat.

Notable examples of the genre include games like “Alone In the Dark“, the first three “Resident Evil” games, the first three “Silent Hill” games and the “Project Zero”/”Fatal Frame” videogame series.

And, if you take artistic inspiration from them, you can make dramatic art that looks a bit like this upcoming digitally-edited painting of mine:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 25th June.

So, what can old survival horror videogames teach us about making art?

1) Perspective and composition: One of the interesting things about survival horror games from the 1990s is that, due to technical limitations, they would often use pre-made 2D backdrops rather than actual 3D locations. What this meant was that the game’s “camera” had to remain in a fixed position in each location (since the background was actually a 2D image). Yet, this technical limitation proved to be one of the best parts of these games. But, why?

Simply put, game designers of the time had to use this limitation to their advantage. In other words, they had to use perspective and composition in interesting and dramatic ways. Here’s an example from “Resident Evil 3” to show you what I mean:

This is a screenshot from the 2000 PC port of “Resident Evil 3” (1999).

Notice how the “camera” lurks far away from the main character, creating a sense of both impending danger and of being an insignificant part of a large uncaring world. Likewise, notice how some dramatic flames and burning pieces of wood have been placed in the close foreground, adding depth to the image and also “framing” the image slightly. All of these things were conscious creative decisions that give this moment in the game a little bit more atmosphere.

In other words, old survival horror games can teach us that both perspective and composition are integral parts of any painting or drawing. When used creatively, they can add instant visual interest and atmosphere to a piece of art.

2) Altered familiarity: If there’s one thing that made old survival horror games so eerily dramatic, it was that they would often take familiar locations and turn them into something a bit more dark and twisted. This contrast between the familiar and the unfamiliar is designed to evoke something that Sigmund Freud called “The Uncanny” and it not only adds instant atmosphere, but it also allows for a lot more visual creativity too.

In addition to the post-apocalyptic settings of “Resident Evil 3”, one of the best examples of this can be found in another horror sequel called “Silent Hill 3“. This is a game that will often take familiar locations (eg: subways, shopping centres, hospitals etc..) and turn them into something eerily terrifying. Here’s an example:

This is a screenshot from the PC version of “Silent Hill 3” (2003)

In this scene from “Silent Hill 3”, an ordinary location (a subway corridor) is turned into something much creepier through the addition of things that you wouldn’t expect to see in this location. The incongruous piles of old junk not only evoke a feeling of dereliction and decay, but they also present a menacing barrier to the player too. Likewise, some faded/dried blood spatter on the wall also helps to add to this sense of menace too.

So, if there’s another thing that old survival horror games can teach artists, it is to be a bit more creative with “familiar” locations. Whether you’re trying to add a sense of ominous horror to your artwork or whether you just want to add some quirky and comedic stuff to your art, don’t be afraid to be a little bit creative with “familiar” locations.

3) The lighting: You knew I was going to mention this. But, it’s worth mentioning anyway. If there’s one visual feature that really makes old survival horror games stand out from the crowd, it is the lighting.

In order to create a dramatic atmosphere, these games were usually either set at night or in gloomy locations of one kind or another. What this meant is that the designers could use lighting creatively. Not only do the dark backgrounds make the lighting stand out even more but it also means that the lighting can be used to draw the player’s attention to particular areas of the picture. Here’s an example from “Resident Evil 2”:

This is a screenshot from the PC version of “Resident Evil 2” (1998)

Notice how most of the foreground is shrouded in shadows, yet the stairs and the corner of the walkway are brightly lit. Not only does this add some visual interest to the picture, but the player is also quite literally being invited to “go into the light”, since the area you’re supposed to walk to (eg: the end of the walkway) is the most brightly-lit part of the picture.

So, what can we learn from this? Simply put, in addition to making sure that 30-50% of the total surface area of your picture is shrouded in gloom (so that the lighting looks more vivid by contrast), it also reminds us that lighting should be used to direct the audience’s attention towards interesting or important parts of the picture.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Review: “Resident Evil 3” (PC Version) (Retro Computer Game)

Well, because I’m still reading the next novel I plan to review (“Transition” by Iain Banks) and because I had a bit more time whilst reading another novel, I thought that I’d take the chance to replay an old favourite of mine 🙂

I am, of course, talking about Capcom’s 1999 survival horror classic “Resident Evil 3” (or, more accurately, the PC port of it from 2000). After all, I’ve reviewed the film adaptation of this game and the novelisation of the film (but I haven’t got round to re-reading S.D. Perry’s novelisation of the game yet). So, I’m kind of surprised that I haven’t reviewed the actual game itself yet.

This is a game which I first played on the Playstation during the early-mid 2000s and then replayed it at least once when I found a version of it that ran on the PC (during the late 2000s, if I remember rightly). So, I thought that I’d replay it yet again – albeit in “easy mode”, mostly for time reasons.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Resident Evil 3”. Needless to say, this review may contain some (unrealistic) GRUESOME IMAGES.

*Sigh* I miss the days of budget games, second-hand game shops and when the BBFC was hilariously over-zealous about displaying age certificates on games.

The events of “Resident Evil 3” take place during the same time period as the events of “Resident Evil 2“. It is the late 1990s and the American city of Racoon City has been infected by a zombie virus, leaving the streets crawling with the undead.

Jill Valentine, star of the first “Resident Evil” game, must explore, puzzle and fight her way through the city and reach safety. Not only that, there’s also a giant mutant called “Nemesis” chasing her too.

And, yes, he’s the kind of gnarly heavy metal monster you’d expect to see on an Iron Maiden album cover.

One of the first things that I will say about “Resident Evil 3” is that, whilst I should be cynical about it, I absolutely adore this game 🙂 Even though I’m more nostalgic about “Resident Evil 2”, I’ve probably replayed this game more times than any other horror game. It’s just the right mixture of challenging, spectacular and fun. This is probably because it was designed for both die-hard fans of the series and for people who are new to the series.

On the one hand, things like the slightly more action-packed gameplay, the “easy” difficulty option (on the PC at least) and the game’s (ridiculously silly) costume design were designed to appeal to the “mainstream” and/or “casual” gamers of the late 1990s/early 2000s. But, for fans of the series, the game contains numerous awesome call-backs and references to previous games in the franchise – with the core gameplay not being too different either.

Not only does Brad Vickers have a cameo in this game, but you also get to explore part of the police station from “Resident Evil 2” too 🙂

Surprisingly, this dual focus actually works really well and it turns the game into it’s own distinctive thing. But, I should probably start by talking about the gameplay.

Whilst the exploration, puzzle and combat gameplay is fairly similar to the previous two games and is something of an acquired taste (eg: modern gamers might take a while to get used to the movement/combat controls, the animation that plays every time you walk through a door, the fixed camera angles, the limited inventory space and the obtuse puzzles), there are numerous cool additions which help to give the game more depth and drama.

Whether it is the much wider range of locations to explore, the fact that there’s now a “dodge” move (and an auto-aim feature), the inclusion of exploding barrels or the fact that this game contains refreshingly limited early versions of over-used modern things like quick-time events and a crafting system, this game feels a little bit more action-packed and “cinematic” than the first two games in the series. Yet, unlike what I’ve heard about some of the later sequels, this game doesn’t lose it’s identity and turn into a generic mindless action-fest either.

Yes, the only “quick time events” in this game are a few multiple choice questions 🙂

Likewise, the only “crafting” here is a fairly basic gunpowder-mixing system 🙂

This is helped a lot by the inclusion of difficulty settings (in the PC version at least) – if you play on “hard mode”, then the game is more of a traditional survival horror game, with fairly limited ammunition, limited saves and lots of other things that really help to ramp up the suspense and tension. Yes, the auto-aim makes the game a bit easier than previous instalments, but it’s still reasonably similar.

If you play on “easy mode”, then you get unlimited saves (but you still have to use fixed save points) and lots of extra weaponry – which makes the game a bit more relaxing, action-packed and “casual”. So, you can choose what type of game you want it to be – which is really cool.

On “hard” difficulty, this game is a tense, challenging old-school survival horror game.

But, on “easy” difficulty, it’s more of a wonderfully badass action-horror game 🙂 [and, yes, the exploding barrels are also there in “hard” difficulty too]

Still, one change I’m a little ambivalent about is the lack of character selection. Yes, there are technically two playable characters (eg: Jill and Carlos) – but the game switches between them automatically at certain points in the story. In other words, you don’t get two separate campaigns in the way that you did in the previous two games. On the one hand, this means you only get half a game. On the other hand, it does make the story a little bit more streamlined and varied.

As for the graphics and visual design, they are awesome 🙂 Yes, even with the PC version’s enhanced graphics, the game’s 3D models and CGI cutscenes still look pretty dated. However, this game has aged really well visually thanks to all of the really awesome pre-rendered backgrounds, dramatic camera angles and dramatic lighting. Seriously, I love old-school pre-rendered backgrounds and this game is an absolute work of art 🙂

Seriously, the background here could almost be something out of “Blade Runner” 🙂

And just check out the awesome lighting here 🙂 Seriously, people knew how to use lighting properly during the 1990s 🙂

And just look at all of the background detail here 🙂

In terms of the game’s horror elements, whilst you shouldn’t expect something genuinely scary (unlike, say, “Silent Hill 3), this game is a pretty decent horror game.

In addition to all of the suspense that things like the limited inventory, saves and/or camera angles can provoke – this game also uses jump scares slightly more frequently and effectively than the previous two games in the franchise usually do.

Boo!!! With the exception of the “Dog” scene from the first game, this game has some of the best jump scares in the old “Resident Evil” games 🙂

Other horror elements include the creepily unwelcome return of the series’ giant spider monsters too. Likewise, you can also find lots of ominous in-game documents describing the spread of the zombie virus. Plus, of course, there’s also a really awesome scene where some zombies quite literally rise from the grave….

This is so cool 🙂

In terms of the writing and the characters, they’re “so bad that they’re good”. Whether it’s the series’ traditional hilariously awful voice-acting, the gloriously wooden script, the minimalist characterisation/story or the ridiculously silly costume design….

Note how these experienced, well-trained zombie fighters wear sensible protective clothing like sleeveless vests, tube tops and mini skirts.

…. This game is utterly hilarious. But, this is part of the charm of the series. It was the 1990s, a more laid-back age when “dramatic” games could be hilariously silly. When games were still “low culture” in the same way that old pulp novels, horror comics, B-movies etc.. were.

Plus, in addition to having better 3D models, the ability to skip cutscenes/ door animations and the inclusion of more difficulty options, one interesting feature of the PC version of the game is that the unlockable costume selection option in the Playstation version is unlocked by default (and also now contains something like eight different options too).

And, yes, you can play as the “Resident Evil 1” version of Jill too.

In terms of the game’s music, it is the kind of dramatic, suspenseful, spectacular orchestral music that you’d expect from a classic “Resident Evil” game. In other words, it is absolutely epic 🙂

All in all, whilst this game is a bit of an acquired taste, it is a hell of a lot of fun 🙂 If you miss classic survival horror games, if you want a gloriously cheesy “B-movie” of a game, if you want to wander the streets of a post-apocalyptic city or if you just miss the creativity of the 1990s, then this game is well worth playing 🙂 If you want a tense survival horror game, play it on “hard” difficulty. If you want a fun, slightly quicker and gloriously silly action game, play it on “easy”.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, then I’d personally give it a five 🙂 But, more objectively, it’s probably more like a four or a three and a half.

Review: “Silent Hill 3” (PC Version) (Computer Game)

A few days before I originally wrote this review, I was in a nostalgic mood. In particular, I was nostalgic about a game that I played on the Playstation 2 when I was about sixteen – the one and only “Silent Hill 3”. But, since my PS2 sadly no longer works, I realised that it would be best to re-play this game on the PC.

But, although I’d found a demo of the PC version of this game on the internet a few years ago, copies of the full version were slightly on the pricey side of things. Not only that, at the time of writing, the game seems to be on neither GOG nor Steam. The only way to get this game is on DVD.

This DVD to be precise. Still, it’s good not to have to wait ages to download game data.

So, when I noticed that a second-hand copy of the game was going for about £13 (plus postage) on Amazon, I decided to splash out on it. So, let’s take a look at the PC port of “Silent Hill 3”:

Before I go any further, I should warn you that this review may contain some mild SPOILERS and GRUESOME/DISTURBING IMAGES.

Even the game itself warns you about this!

“Silent Hill 3” is a survival horror game from 2003. Although it can theoretically be played on it’s own, it is a direct sequel to the first “Silent Hill” game and the game’s story will make more sense if you’ve played that game.

Anyway, “Silent Hill 3” begins with a teenage girl called Heather finding herself trapped inside a rusty old fairground filled with nightmarish monsters. As she tries to escape the fairground by climbing a rollercoaster track, she is promptly run over by a carriage.

Waking up in a cafe in her local shopping centre, Heather is relieved to discover that it was nothing more than a nightmare. But, since it is getting late, she calls her father and begins to walk home – when she is startled by a rather dishevelled and dodgy-looking man who wants to talk to her.

After running away and hiding in the bathroom, she climbs through a window into a nearby alleyway and prepares to go home – only to discover that the alleyway has been blocked!

Luckily, a backdoor to the shopping centre is still open. So, she goes through it – only to notice that the centre is completely deserted and slightly gloomier than usual. Still, after a bit of searching, she finds a shop that is still open.

Well, that was lucky! I’m sure there’s nothing horrible in HERE!

When Heather enters the shop, she finds an unearthly monster feasting upon a mysterious corpse. Shocked and horrified, she looks around for a weapon and finds a mysterious pistol lying on the floor. Picking it up, she kills the creature and begins to explore the rest of the shopping centre. But, something isn’t right….

Oh right! This is a “Silent Hill” game! How could I forget?

One of the first things that I will say about “Silent Hill 3” is that it is a lot scarier than I remember! It could be because I’m less familiar with the horror genre than I used to be, or because I was playing it on the PC with headphones (rather than on a tiny TV screen) or even because I’m not comparing it to “Silent Hill 2“. But, this game is scary! It is a game that will make your heart pound at a hundred miles an hour and it will make you feel slightly jumpy for a while after you’ve finished playing.

The game’s horror works on so many levels. Not only is Heather a somewhat vulnerable character who has limited weapons, but the game has a uniquely dark and creepy atmosphere.

And this is one of the “safer” areas in the game!

Add to this all of the symbolism inherent in the monster design (more on that later), the game’s pacing, the sheer sense of bleakness throughout the game, the claustrophobic camera angles, an utterly terrifying soundtrack, some grisly location designs, some disturbing set pieces and a few well-placed jump scares and this is the kind of game that will leave you feeling at least mildly traumatised after you’ve played it.

But, the game’s main source of horror is probably suspense. A lot of the game will be spent nervously exploring dark buildings (and methodically checking everything in sight), with the camera carefully positioned to ensure that you never quite see everything around you at any one moment.

Not only that, when there’s a monster in the general vicinity, the game’s soundtrack changes slightly (with the creepy music varying depending on the monsters). So, you know that something is there, but you don’t know where.

So, there’s a lot of suspenseful running and/or nervously waiting for monsters to appear.

The game’s monsters are all suitably disturbing too. A lot of this has to do with the symbolism inherent in the monster design. Many of the monster designs revolve around the theme of disease – such as undead nurses, mosquito-like creatures, bandage-covered zombie dogs, giant tumour monsters etc..

This is pretty creepy in and of itself. But, more than this, at least a couple of the monsters in the game also have a somewhat phallic appearance – which adds an extra level of disturbing symbolism to the game.

Another thing that makes the monsters scarier is that you can’t fight them all. Not only does the game carefully ration the amount of ammunition it gives you, but even the game’s array of melee weapons aren’t that powerful (and you’ll probably end up getting hurt if you use them).

Since Heather isn’t a soldier or an action hero, the combat in the game reflects this fact by deliberately being slightly clunky and imprecise. So, expect to flee in terror more often than you draw your gun.

And, this emphasis on fleeing in terror is one reason why the classic “Silent Hill” games are scarier than the classic “Resident Evil” games are.

Unlike the open-world design of the previous two “Silent Hill” games, Silent Hill 3 has more of a level-based structure. However, since the levels themselves are non-linear areas that require exploration and puzzle-solving, this change doesn’t feel too limiting.

Not only that, this structure also helps to keep the game slightly more focused too. Even so, you do get to explore the town of Silent Hill a little bit in one later part of the game.

Ah, ominous fog! I’ve missed you! 🙂

The game’s puzzles are also reasonably sensible too – and they never quite reach “point and click game” levels of randomness (although they occasionally come close).

Best of all – if, like me, you’re terrible at puzzles – then the game even has separate difficulty settings for combat and puzzles. For the most part, I was able to solve the puzzles on my own – although I had to consult a walkthrough about five times whilst playing.

In terms of the lighting and location design, this game is magnificent! In addition to wonderfully gloomy lighting that is shadowy enough to be ominous, without being too dark to see anything – the game’s location designs are exquisitely creepy. As you would expect from a “Silent Hill” game, many of the locations appear in both a “normal” form and a dark, rusty, nightmarish, diseased and grisly “otherworld” form.

This is probably one of the least disturbing parts of the “otherworld”.

Plus, in addition to lots of nightmarish interior design, there are beautiful paintings too!

As always, this is absolutely terrifying. Not only that, like in previous “Silent Hill” games, even the “normal” versions of various locations will still feature creepy background details in order to ensure that there is little respite from the game’s unnerving terror.

For example, this place has seen better days!

One particularly outstanding location in this game is the “Boreley Haunted Mansion”. This is a carnival ghost house with a bit of a macabre twist to it, and a Vincent Price-style narrator who manages to be both hilarious and terrifying at the same time. Seriously, this small segment of the game is a perfect blend of old-school horror and more modern horror. However, it is followed by a somewhat frustrating running-based segment (but, more on that later).

Seriously, it’s only a small part of the game but it is brilliant! It’s classic 1950s-style horror with a grisly modern twist!

Although I don’t want to spoil the game’s story too much, I will point out that this game is a direct sequel to the original “Silent Hill”. But, the themes from that game are explored in a slightly different – and creepier way – with more emphasis on the horrors of religious fanaticism, more emphasis on the series’ backstory and a darkly memorable scene featuring a character from the first game.

On the plus side, there are some cool little references to the first two games, like this “Silent Hill 1”-style notebook.

The game’s writing and voice-acting is fairly good. Although some of the dialogue is a little bit on the melodramatic side, this works well with some of the game’s creepier characters (Vincent and Claudia spring to mind). However, some of the in-game text is slightly clunky – but in an endearing way. The voice-acting is surprisingly good too, with no glaring examples of “bad voice acting” or anything like that.

And, yes, the conversations with Claudia can be ridiculously melodramatic!

In terms of the controls, the PC port allows you to configure them to your own liking. Plus, it also contains two alternative movement schemes, with the “2D” option being very similar to the movement scheme in the classic “Resident Evil” games.

Yes, the movement in this game can take a bit of getting used to if you’ve never played a survival horror game before – but the slightly unwieldly controls and unusual camera angles are designed to impart a feeling of vulnerability and confusion. Most of the time, this works really well – although it is annoying as hell when you have to outrun a cloud of mist through a series of narrow corridors at one point in the game.

Seriously, it took me about seven attempts to get past this part of the game!

Best of all, the PC port of this game also includes a proper saving system. Although the save points from the original Playstation 2 version of the game are still there, the people behind this port have realised that this is a computer game and, in a good computer game, you can save (almost) anywhere. Seriously, this tiny change makes the game so much better!

Ha! I don’t need YOU any more, save point! You’re nothing more than a source of mood lighting now!

Another cool feature of this game is that, after you complete it, an “Extra New Game” mode is unlocked (which, depending on how well you play the game, can include extra weapons).

In addition to this, completing the game also unlocks an option to enter codes that allow you to unlock an array of alternate costumes – some of these codes can be found in-game, but there are also lists on the internet. Surprisingly though, some of the codes from the PS2 version (eg: the OPS2 magazine T-shirt code etc..) don’t seem to work in the PC version. Plus, you can also unlock an extra options menu that allows you to do things like change the blood colour, give yourself extra ammo etc.. So, this game has at least a slight amount of replay value.

Finally, I should probably mention the game’s amazing soundtrack. As I mentioned earlier, the game will play a different piece of disturbing music depending on which monsters happen to be nearby (eg: when zombie dogs are nearby, the music will include howling. When giant mosquitos are nearby, the music will include buzzing etc..).

This in-game music is, in a word, terrifying. It is also beautifully counterpointed with some hauntingly relaxing acoustic music during a number of cutscenes too. Seriously, the soundtrack in this game is an integral part of what makes “Silent Hill 3” so incredibly creepy!

All in all, this is pretty much a perfect horror game! Yes, there are a couple of slightly frustrating segments but the game is overwhelmingly brilliant. Best of all, the PC port is surprisingly well-made and runs really well on an ancient computer like mine, although I don’t know how it would handle on more modern PCs. Yes, this game is a little bit difficult to find these days – but it is well worth doing so! Just remember, don’t play it at night!

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get six hundred and sixty six.

Four Basic Things That Horror Writers Can Learn From Classic Survival Horror Games

Well, although I had planned to write about webcomics (since I’m preparing a webcomic mini series for later this month), I thought that I’d talk about the horror genre again.

This is mostly because I’m still playing the PC port of “Silent Hill 3” at the time of writing. So, I thought that I’d look at a few things that classic-style survival horror games can teach horror writers.

1) Backstory: Even the less scary examples of survival horror games (eg: such as the original “Resident Evil) tend to include a lot of backstory. This backstory puts the events of the game into a larger context, in addition to being a potent source of horror in and of itself. However, backstories in survival horror games are usually relayed in brief and subtle moments – often with at least some details left chillingly mysterious.

Sometimes, the player will get to read a short document, but backstory will often be either relayed through a short comment when examining something or it will be relayed purely through background details. In other words, classic survival horror games provide plenty of examples of how to use the old “show, don’t tell” technique in a chilling way.

For a visual example of this, just take a look at this screenshot from “Alone In The Dark“:

This is a screenshot from “Alone In The Dark” (1992).

Even if you’ve never played the game before, you can instantly tell from the pentagram on the floor that this room has something to do with magic or mysticism. Then a glance at the skull on the shelf will probably tell you that this probably isn’t a good type of magic or mysticism. The narrow corridor outside the room and the stark stone floor also imply that the room could be a hidden room (it is!). All of these details instantly tell the audience something about the room without spelling everything out to them.

So, a few short visual descriptions that subtly hint at a much larger backstory can be a great way to add some extra horror to your story.

2) Symbolism: In many classic survival horror games, the monsters are just monsters. However, the “Silent Hill” games do something really interesting, which can be instructive to horror writers. In these games, the monsters are significantly scarier because they often have some kind of underlying theme or symbolism – which allows them to tap into other sources of horror.

Whilst the symbolism of the monsters in “Silent Hill 2” can’t really be discussed without spoiling the story of that game, the monsters in “Silent Hill 3” provide a great example of how to add extra depth, meaning and horror to monster design.

One way that “Silent Hill 3” makes it’s monsters more disturbing is through disease-related symbolism. These disease-based monsters include giant spinning mosquito-like creatures, undead nurses, bandage-covered zombie dogs and creatures that look like giant sentient tumours. Even monsters that are meant to symbolise other things still have a somewhat “diseased” appearance. This allows the game to tap into a realistic source of horror (eg: diseases) whilst still being a slightly fantastical game about a nightmare-like parallel world filled with monsters.

So, one way to make your horror fiction more disturbing is to think of a disturbing theme and then find a way to subtly hint at this through the way that the main source of horror in your story is presented.

3) Atmosphere and subtle horror: The scariest parts of classic survival horror games often aren’t the parts where a monster jumps out of nowhere and attacks the player. They are either the general atmosphere of the game and/or a few relatively subtle moments that, whilst often not directly threatening to the player’s character, help to stop the player from getting too complacent.

These can include things like a phone suddenly ringing, something scrawled on a wall, a creepy piece of background music, chaotic locations, something being subtly different when the main character returns to a familiar location etc… Although subtle moments of horror aren’t extremely scary in and of themselves, they help to maintain a feeling of suspense by creating a mysteriously threatening atmosphere.

And, yes, atmosphere matters a lot in the horror genre. Leaving aside technical limitations, there’s a reason why many classic survival horror games are set in places like old mansions, derelict buildings, coldly futuristic laboratories etc…

So, subtle horror and a creepy atmosphere matter a lot more than you might initially think.

4) Vulnerability: One of the main reasons why the first three “Silent Hill” games are a lot scarier than the first three “Resident Evil” games is because the main characters are presented as being more vulnerable.

Out of the five playable characters in the first three “Resident Evil” games, four are military/police characters (eg: Jill, Carlos, Chris and Leon) and one (eg: Claire) rides a motorbike and is related to one of these characters. In other words, they all seem like tough, fearless characters who are knowledgeable about handling dangerous situations. As such, these games are less scary.

The three main characters in the first three “Silent Hill” games are a lot more vulnerable. Harry from the first game is a father who is searching for his missing daughter. James from the second game is a bereaved man who has seen better days. Heather from the third game is a teenage girl who goes shopping and finds herself plunged into a series of nightmarish events. None of these characters have any military training or experience with weapons (and the combat in these games reflects this fact). As such, these games are considerably more scary.

So, the lesson here is that – if you want to make your horror story scarier – don’t make your main character a tough action hero! The more of a threat that your character is to the scary things in your story, the less scary those things will be.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂

Seriously, this scene is hilarious :)

Seriously, this scene is hilarious 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂

 *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 🙂

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!!! 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂

*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 🙂 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.

Review: “Lasting Light” (Mod For “Doom”/”Doom II”/”GZ Doom”)

2014 Artwork Doom Lasting Light Review Sketch

If you’ve done any research into the history of “Doom“, you’ll probably know that one of the ways that either John Romero or John Carmack (I can’t remember exactly who) envisaged the game was as a game that was – and I quote – “Scary, dark and fast”.

Of course, like many people who only discovered “Doom” a few years after it’s release, the idea that “Doom” – the Shakespeare of the FPS genre – could ever have been genuinely scary was absolutely laughable to me. Hell, even compared to later ID Software games like “Quake”, “Doom” isn’t even particularly dark by modern standards.

Yes, “Doom” is still fast-paced and better than most FPS games that have been made since but I’ve always wondered what it would be like for the people who played “Doom” back in the early 1990s and were actually scared by it.

Well, thanks to an amazing mod called “Lasting Light” (which requires a modern source port like GZ Doom to run) – now I know exactly how those fortunate early “Doom” players felt.

Screenshot_Doom_20140703_164253

“Lasting Light” turns the gory action game that we all know and love into a genuinely terrifying survival horror game. Seriously, the first time I played this (at night I may add), I could only play for about ten minutes until I quit the game out of sheer fright.

But, wanting to take another look at this mod, I returned to it during the day and decided to review it. So, let’s get started.

Screenshot_Doom_20140703_164305

One of the first things that you will notice is that the Doomguy isn’t carrying a gun and the levels are darker than usual.

In fact, the only things you are armed with are a lantern (with limited fuel) and some rocks which you can throw to activate switches. Before you say anything, these rocks cannot be used as a weapon – so you are, essentially, completely unarmed. In the dark.

Yes, this is about as bright as the game gets when you aren't using your lantern...

Yes, this is about as bright as the game gets when you aren’t using your lantern…

Your lantern is the only defence you have against the all-encroaching darkness that surrounds you and, when you start each level, you have to turn it on manually.

What this means is that you’ll usually be faced with nothing but a black screen when you select “New Game” on the menu. Don’t worry, the game hasn’t crashed – just click the left mouse button and the Doomguy will raise his lantern.

If you see this when you start a level, then just click the left mouse button.

If you see this when you start a level, then just click the left mouse button.

By now, you’re probably thinking “Wait a minute! This is just a rip-off of that Slenderman game that gave me nightmares for weeks!” And, although there are obvious similarities, there are enough differences to make it into it’s own distinctive game.

For starters, there are three different enemy types that you have to avoid – the creeper, the screecher and the stalker. The mechanics of how each of these creatures works is explained fully on the ModDB page for “Lasting Light”, but they each require different tactics in order to avoid.

For example, turn your lantern off as soon as you see one of these creatures....

For example, turn your lantern off as soon as you see one of these creatures….

Like any good horror game, you will usually hear these monsters moving around long before you see them (and it’s almost essential to play this game with headphones). Not only that, when they are close, disturbing images will suddenly flash across the screen – making you jump out of your seat.

Aaaargh!

Aaaargh!

Whilst the images for the relatively benign “creeper” enemies just look like blue and magnolia Rorschach inkblots, the images for the “Screecher” (who reminds me a lot of a cross between Slenderman and a more evil version of the Witch from the “Left 4 Dead” games) are a series of highly disturbing black and red illustrations which seem to have been plucked from the depths of hell itself.

And, no, I didn’t take any screenshots of them – I was too busy recoiling in terror.

Yes, “Lasting Light” uses more than a few cheap jump scares. But, at the same time, most of the horror in this mod comes from the suspense and anticipation of not ever quite knowing where you are (even the level map is obscured by a “Silent Hill”-esque fog) and not ever quite knowing what is in the same room as you.

Yes, don't expect to rely on the level map to get around...

Yes, don’t expect to rely on the level map to get around…

And, without anything to fight back against the monsters and a limited supply of lamp oil (with very few refills), it’s only a matter of time before something gets you.

All in all, “Lasting Light” is a mod that you shouldn’t play at night. It’s a mod that is both highly original and highly derivative at the same time.

It’s a mod that is almost impossibly difficult (eg: I had to use the level skip cheat just to look at any level other than level one of “Doom II”) and it’s a mod that will turn your beloved action game into something that will leave you genuinely terrified. Do I recommend it? Hell yes!

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four and a half.