Interview

Alone in the Dark with Noir Polloni

Duncan grills the producer of this new thriller

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? Alone in the Dark with Noir Polloni

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. Alone in the Dark with Noir Polloni

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.

What innovation or feature will we see here and nowhere else?

The coolest and most unique feature is the fire. We implemented realistic, unscripted propagation across all flammable surfaces and objects. It looks great, and behaves just like the real thing, burning at different speeds depending on the material. It can be a tool - setting fire to a broken table leg makes a useful torch and fire is a key weapon in your arsenal against adversaries, but it can also become an enemy itself - don't hang around too long in a burning room. There's loads of other gameplay innovations, some of which you'll see elsewhere, but we think we've taken them a few steps further than anyone else so far. We'll be showing more about these as we get closer to launch.

How is the game basically played? Will the traditional third-person fixed camera still be the norm?

We're using all types of cameras and the choice of camera depends on the situations and gameplay. Basic movements of the character for example can be done in third or first person view. Certain gameplay features lock to a mode of camera to have the best camera and gameplay performance for the situation. For example, manipulation of objects is done in third person view, then when using an object like an extinguisher or gun, we jump into first person view.

Other more "film direction" cameras are also placed throughout the game to put emphasis on specific actions or events.

The footage strongly suggests a more action-orientated experience. The bulk of the play-hours in the older tittles were trawling around for the right coloured key, and the later title's action was an exercise in careful ammo hoarding. Will Mr Carnby be guns blazing, or still checking every nook and cranny for a missing gear lever?

There's guns of course, but not every foe can be felled with a rain of bullets and it's not just about shooting and killing enemies; you'll be plunged into a major crisis situation, and in the survival spirit, you'll need to face every potential danger using your instincts and improvising with all that is around you: objects, vehicles, other elements from the environment.... Of course there's lots of intrigue too - Carnby has a lot on his plate to work out what's happening to New York city, but it all happens in the context of an action blockbuster rather than a typical puzzle hunt. And this time if there's a locked door you don't have to worry about finding a key. Just smash it in!

Tell us a little of the game's story.

The story is based on the universal theme of life after death and draws on these themes to build a credible and engaging story against the back drop of New York City, the world's greatest melting pot of different cultures, religions and beliefs.

Edward Carnby wakes up in a room in New York in the present day, with no idea how he got there. New York is tearing apart spectacularly all around him, and he has to survive at all costs and work out what the hell's going on. Stay tuned for the next Episode!

The disconcerting setting of the abandoned Central Park in the screenshots and demo footage give a slightly surreal, Silent Hill type feeling to the game. How does this setting lend itself to the game's overall effect, and is it the only location we will have the pleasure of running through screaming like a girl?

The game starts in a building on the edge of the park, but before long the action switches to the park itself for the rest of the game. Central Park is an iconic place that people will have seen in films and TV series. It's a perfect setting for the game - the beating heart of New York city.

The fact that it's a real setting, and that it's happening in our timeframe, reinforces the terror of the supernatural elements coming into our real world; people will feel disrupted and insecure when this happens in an area where usually people feel at peace. And if you've been to Central Park at night, honestly, we don't need to exaggerate the ambience that is already there to make you feel scared.

It's also a city in the city; it has lots of things in there that are great for people to explore: museums, police departments, lakes, wide open spaces, woods, etc. We also want to raise the question of why there is such a vast space right in the middle of one of the most densely populated cities in the world - it's a very strange anomaly. Did you know that "they" were lying to you, and that there is a deadly secret well protected and hidden in the very heart of the park itself?

Can we have some sort of formal apology for the movie? Maybe some sort of act of public contrition from Christian Slater?

No comment. I haven't seen it, and I don't plan to.

Downloadable content has been suggested. AITD does not seem the kind of title to go down the Resident Evil path of encouraging its players to go replay the whole thing again in a slightly different costume. What sort of material would this include?

We will certainly be looking at the possibilities for downloadable content which continues the story and offers new gameplay, but any firm plans won't be made until we have finished the first season.

Thanks for your time, Noir, best of luck with the completion of Alone in the Dark.

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