Alone in the Dark with Noir Polloni
Alone in the Dark was the original survival horror franchise. A full five years before we were counting bullets in Resident Evil, and even before getting nightmares and motion sickness from Doom, it was Alone in the Dark that had us checking under the bed for zombies. Today, plenty of us feel more than a little silly for ever being unsettled by characters made up of a fistful of angular polygons, but it was cutting edge at the time. Thanks to the franchises longevity, you can nearly perfectly chart the development of games technology with each instalment - from the etch-a-sketch aesthetic of the original to the wonder of zero-load console ports to the atmospheric interplay of shadow and light in the last PC instalment. What the games have also show is a steady progression to leaving the player even more alone, in even more dark. The comparatively jolly, Scooby-Do feeling of the second instalment gave way to darker sentiments in later games, until AITD: The New Nightmare actually started putting the 'horror' back into the survival-horror genre.
Now the franchise has a new instalment, in a title that is using the full force of the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC to set the spooky scene. Edward Carnby is back, alone in a game far darker than ever before. We sit down with producer Noir Polloni to learn more.
This latest instalment is simply called 'Alone in the Dark' with no little catchy subtitle like 'Revenge of The Pirate Ghosts'. Does this suggest that this title is going to be the definitive AITD experience?
Ultimately we'll leave that to the gamers to decide but we hope it's true! What's certainly true is that this will be a completely new Alone in the Dark experience. We're still keeping to the spirit of innovation that the first Alone in the Dark brought to the video game world, but at the same time taking the game in a completely new direction, more in the spirit of entertainment and blockbuster action, which is something the series hasn't seen before and which is more adapted to the tastes of today's gamers. The game is mainly focused on bringing innovative and "never before seen" gameplay, as well as pushing to have immersive environment interactivity based on real world rules, with direct control on elements and a freedom of movement on the way you use these elements around you.
All the gameplay mechanics are built on the survival concept: the hero has to survive and fight by any means available to him. A good example to illustrate this concept and which was one of our main source of inspirations is the film Die Hard, where John McClane had to improvise with what's around him and do whatever it took to protect his ass! The game is also designed for maximum narrative intensity, taking its cues from TV action dramas like 24, Lost and Prison Break with action, plot revelations and cliff-hangers to keep you on the edge of your seat and always wanting more. So it's a thoroughly modern approach to action gaming driven by the passion and ambition of the team here at Eden.
The game looks pretty enough and advanced enough that it could easily be its own title, and does not need the AITD name to garner support of the franchise fan base to prop it up. What traditions and elements has the new title maintained from its progenitors?
Many of the team are seriously big fans of the very first Alone in the Dark, so it's a great honour to be able to work on a game that can continue that incredible heritage. In terms of the gaming audience, there's no doubt that this game will be reaching a whole new generation of gamers and our aim is for our game to have the same impact on them as the very first one had on us. The hero of our game is Edward Carnby, and despite a fairly radical physical makeover, it's the same Carnby from the very first game set in the 1920's, and one of the intrigues is how he ended up in 2007 without ageing a day. There's also references to the first Alone in the Dark tucked away in the game, but we'll leave them to the fans to find! The key tradition we're maintaining though, is one of startling innovation, either in terms of technology or the gameplay itself.
This AITD looks very dark, very scary. This is a departure from the slightly tongue-in-cheek zombie cowboy shoot-outs of older incarnations, and instead continues the last title's emphasis of running away from monsters as much as possible. What elements and mechanics of the new game will keep the frights rolling?
Fear has its place in the game, but it's not the focus of the gameplay. It's one of the elements which works alongside all the others to create a unique game experience.
Pressure and tension are paced throughout the game, just like the films and TV shows that have inspired the gameplay and structure of the story. There's constant surprises, not just in terms of the story, but also the gameplay, and there's high pressure situations which you can't always get through in the most obvious way, so the clock is ticking and you're thinking "how the hell am I going to get out of this one?"
We've also worked to create a sense of fear more by suggestion than by showing pure blood and guts, so it's more about wondering what's behind a closed door or lurking in a dark corner. Our focus on immersion of the player in the game is also key, since this is a much more powerful way to affect the emotions of the player. The more the player is immersed into the gameworld and the story, the greater the opportunity to manipulate their emotions.
The look of the game world is a big part of creating the atmosphere and this sense of immersion, and our photographic rendering system lets us play with lots of effects more normally found in films to generate a highly effective ambience.
One of the other approaches we're using for fear is to play with people's phobias like fear of heights, suffocation, animal bites, drowning etc, so real primal fears which can paralyse us. We'll be putting the player in situations where he has to face up to these visceral fears to survive at all costs...
Fear is also enhanced with the music. We are working with a great musician, Olivier Deriviere, who is working with the renowned Bulgarian choral "The great voices of Bulgaria" to create a unique Alone in the Dark theme and musical style for the game.