Sunday, March 23, 2014

VGR Alone in the Dark 1

The granddaddy of the entire Survival Horror genre.

Here's where it all began...

VGR: Alone in the Dark  also known as In The Dark or simply AitD
From Infogrames/Interplay
Played on PC
Also available on Mac & 3DO

Type Action adventure/Survival horror
Year 1992 

The father to the entire Survival Horror genre that would be explored and established in the later titles Resident Evil and Silent Hill, Alone in the Dark is not only a great innovative action adventure game. But also an historical influential title and als Wolfenstein 3-D came to be.
o the first true 3D game, developed long before

The original Alone in the Dark trilogy is considered a turning point in gaming history.

Today, I'd like to have a look back at the original first AitD episode.

The beginning of true 3-dimensional graphics.

Story goes the original idea came from Infogrames founder Bruno Bonnell. He wanted to see a game taking place entirely in the dark, where the players would have to find their way following sounds and few light sources (kind of a similar idea to what Warp's Saturn games Enemy Zero or Real Sound would attempt much later on).

The game was designed by a then-young programmer at Infogrames, Frédérick Raynal. He used to work on ports for the software company. He started exploring 3-D technology on the side, by himself. He had created an impressive soft to help create 3D animated characters.

He sketched an idea with white chalk on black paper based on Bonnell's concept and thus was the "In The Dark" project born (as it was originally titled)!

The idea was to recreate a cinematic experience playable through unusual angles for games at the time. With this early 3D-tech they were able to put a camera inside a scene, allowing a character to roam inside a simulated 3-D space.

At first the whole darkness and light-system was going to be a big feature in the game, but it was kind of ditched aside as the project moved forward. The idea was to have to burn matches to see your environment. This was later kept in the final product albeit to a much lesser aspect.

In the Dark was to be a fear-based horror game, inspired by the likes of George Romero's Dawn Of The Dead. After providing a tech demo based on this pitch as proof of a viable concept, Bruno Bonnell was put in charge of a small team to develop the game. Graphic artist (and Raynal's future wife) Yaël Barroz worked on the backgroud art. Soon joined by Hubert Chardot and Franck De Girolami on writing duties to help craft the plot around the game (who would go on to handle the entire production of Alone in the Dark 2 later) and composer Philippe Vachey providing audio and sounds.

The game was heavily inspired by H.P Lovecraft's work. During the development Infogrames actually got the rights to the Call Of Cthulhu license, but it was already too late. They wouldn't use it on Alone in the Dark, but later produced another Cthulhu-esque game using the IP later on.

To produce  Alone in the Dark  about 170 different cameras, and thus pictures/angles were produced, including several 3D monsters, objects, and scripted events. A milestone at the time.

Onto the game itself now!

Frédérick Raynal wanted Alone in the Dark to be set in a 1920s type of setting. Setting it in that era forced our character to have only access to a limited weaponry and allow only a certain type of technology to be available, taking electricity out of the context.

Our tale takes entirely place in an old haunted mansion. Our main objective?

"Get Out Alive!"

The story?

It's the Louisiana, 1924. A painter named Jeremy Hartwood was driven insane and finally committed suicide.

Like many games of the genre would follow suit later on, you start the game by selecting which character you want to play as. AitD offers both a male and a female character. The general game is exactly identical but the introduction and characters' motivation. It's not much compared to today's standards, but at least the game is decent enough to allow the choice, which was huge step forward in the early 1990s.

You can either select private Detective Edward Carnby or Emily Hartwood, Hartwood's niece. Both want to find the truth lurking beneath this mysterious mansion and the real reason behind Hartwood's death.

It's a simple story all in all. The narrative is told via an original gimmick. You will find most of the backstory, information, hints behind the plot, and explanation to defeat the creatures in the various documents and books you can find around. The plot is actually entirely optional since you can decide to skip reading those documents!

Your protagonist starts by roaming around.. then gets trapped in the Derceto mansion! There's no way out since a giant creature awaits behind the main door!

You start from the attic and have to explore the entire house for a way out.

The whole game is actually pretty close to old Adventure games such as Maniac Mansion. It gives you this entire multi-layered mansion you can explore in a non-linear way. The idea is to look for the mansion's secrets, resolve several puzzles and fight off monsters with a limited supply of weapons and health.

Who was the eccentric owner of this home, and what shady involvements caused this house to be the center of this frightening spectacle taking place on that night...

Alone in the Dark was responsible for establishing the infamous "tank controls" survival horrors are mostly known for.

You control your character relatively to his own placement, so to not lose track of his controls whenever the cinematic camera changes place. You can move forward and backtrack, left and right are use to turn on those angles.

The game uses an "Action key" not that far from adventure game's control schemes. You can set your main action to Search, Fight, Push, Throw/Drop and also a Jump later on. Search is used to in most places to explore and interact with the environment.

Edward/Emily can fight back whenever they get attacked. By selecting "Fight" you can aim at your foe and use either a short-range or long-range attack. At first you start with your own two fists, but later on you will find blades, swords, a revolver and also a rifle! But be careful, ammunitions are limited. You best option is always to run and avoid direct confrontation whenever possible!

Your inventory has limited space, so whenever you use something it's better to ditch keys and books (after you read those). You can drop items in most rooms to come back later in case you need those, sort of similar to what Resident Evil 0 would imitate more than a decade later.

Finally, you can combine some items (automatically), such as guns and their ammunitions, or matches/a lighter with the oil lamp... after you replenish it with oil of course.

The game has a surprisingly lot of "modern" elements most survival horrors failed to copy for several years. Starting with the fact you can't get your lamp/matches/ammunitions wet or they won't work anymore..! You can also interact and push furniture. Unlike Resident Evil, you won't ever be trapped by chairs lying around here!

In the end, light doesn't play as big a role as originally intended, but there are some occasions to play with your lamp. Some rooms are in complete pitch dark and you will need to light the way to move forward. You can even drop your lamp on the ground as you search around.

There's also a pretty original labyrinth in the dark near the end of the game.

The game is not particularly long, but it's open nature will have you spend quite some time around this Derceto mansion. It does get a bit more linear in the final 3rd act though.

Alone in the Dark features a pretty original bestiary of creatures. The main common enemy are zombies, but there's also a strange chicken-looking bizarre creature that has become synonymous with the original AitD. Also rats, a pirate (!!), ghosts, ghouls, gargoyles, Tremor-like giant worms and more! But you mostly fight zombies the entire game.

Frédérick Raynal set the tone on the very first scene with monsters coming after you.. which you can prevent from reaching you if you're quick enough. The game keeps track of the time you spent on several rooms, with monsters coming after you, breaking windows or arriving behind doors if you are too slow. The first corridor collapses and can can kill you. It puts the player in the correct mood from the start.

AitD scares players with the anticipation and its unique atmosphere rather than the actual onslaugh of creatures on screen.

Solving puzzles also make use of your mind and memory. They're much more obvious realistic puzzles than what other Survival horrors would tend to use later on. No silly statue to push a certain angle or clock to adjust compared to a painting somewhere here. Such as getting one key from a study room to open a previously locked door nearby. It both makes much more sense and feels more rewarding in the end.

Alone in the Dark owes a lot to its unique atmosphere.

Philippe Vachey composed a great score to match the ambitions of the team. A dynamic score that follows action and horror cues.

AitD proved to be not only a landmark for the genre but an influential work of art. Sure the simplistic 3D models aged a bit, but this historical title features the beginnings of true 3-D graphics.

The beautiful 2-D handdrawn painted DOS backgrounds certainly helped.

The game was imagined as what would have been the first in Infogrames' series of "Virtual Dreams". Which would have all used the same engine. But that label was quickly dispatched in favor of further pursing the Alone in the Dark series.

The game became the father of the entire survival horror genre. Along Crash Bandicoot, it was one of those rare Western franchises to make it big in Japan. No wonder this little French computer game was a huge impact on Capcom's crew. It would go on to inspire Capcom's zombie franchise Resident Evil as well Konami's much closer tense and creepy Silent Hill series.

Several sequels followed. The first three Alone in the Dark games form sort of a classic trilogy, all pretty close in terms of controls, graphics and story. Those were later followed by two more episodes much closer to the Resident Evil franchise to much detriment of the fans...

None featuring a main character as unique and original as the Alone in the Dark trilogy's original depiction of Edward Carnby. A middle-aged redhair with a mustache! His appearance would change drastically over the following sequels...

The original Alone in the Dark CD release would be the definitive edition of the game. Featuring entirely dubbed texts (documents and books!). Something you won't even find in today's Resident Evils.

The voice acting... is kinda decent. Specially compared to what was done at the time. In both its native French-speaking release and the English version. Nothing as bad or cheesy as the original RE.

Alone in the Dark helped both launch and establish Infogrames as a viable company.

Even though Alone in the Dark gave Frédérick Raynal name recognition, he never got the proper monetary compensation for his truly innovative work on the title... Despite the game becoming a huge best selling title. Which was amongst the many reasons why he left the company following its release.

Infogrames wanted an Alone in the Dark sequel much more action-oriented - since they wanted to port it on consoles as well. Raynal left the team shortly before work on AitD2 was started.

The original Alone in the Dark was released in 1992 to a huge warm positive reception and a big commercial success.

Raynal founded Adeline Software after that.

Overall, a pretty good game all in all.

Alone in the Dark was a truly impressive action adventure title for the time, while exploring new technology. 

The simplistic 3-D graphics and clunky controls aside, the game was the sole responsible for an entire new gaming genre. It was a huge hit in Japan, no wonder it gave Capcom and many other companies the inspiration to follow on Raynal's footsteps. The Resident Evil series would redefine and revamp some ideas found in Alone in the Dark (that's why taking place in a mansion as well, the original RE almost feels like a B-movie remake of AitD), while correctly establishing the genre. It would also be further explored in the later Konami title Silent Hill.

That aside, it's a great game. The game feels a bit short, but at least it offers 2 different characters. If both choice of characters appear as merely minor cosmetic change only, it's a great idea nonetheless that offers players a different motivations at the start of the adventure. Same quest taken aside.

The combat was pretty basic, but pre-dated the likes of Virtua Fighter. A first in terms of graphics, fully 3-D polygonal characters punching and kicking in hand to hand combat. And quite effective.

Some monsters can't be killed by traditional means and either require specific weapons or thinking out of the box.

The game was also finally ported to 3DO two years later. The 3DO port is almost identical to the original PC version. Only the game is screened, with borders due to the lower resolution. The animations are a bit cut down and more sluggish compared to the original. But apart from that, it's the exact same experience.

A classic, highly recommended.

I give it:
3 / 3 Invaders!


  1. J'adore Alone in the dark. Un jeu que j'ai connu quand j'avais 5 ans.
    Il a pas beaucoup vieillit, si on a un peu d'imagination pour voir au delà de son ancien graphisme et de sa vitesse assez lente.
    Les monstres, démons, fantômes et morts-vivants sont biens, les armes aussi (même si il y a beaucoup trop d'armes blanches...).
    Le scénario à son petit côté original, et la musique est superbe (pas en version Soundblaster, en revanche). Les effets spéciaux, sont moyens...
    L'aventure, les énigmes sont biens, la gérance des combats est bonne, et la maniabilité peut aller (il y a eu bien pire dans le genre, à l'époque).
    Mais en fait, ce jeu est très bien. Ambiance horrifique à l'ancienne, ambiance 1920. Très vieille époque, et très sombre époque également.

    1. (Je viens d'ailleurs d'en profiter pour remettre les images proprement dans mon test-review)

      AitD est un classique^^
      Le jeu reste quand même très sympa et original même. Alors que les autres survival horror propose des histoires et concept linéaire, rien que le fait que le simple but du jeu soit de juste sortir de la maison et trouver la meilleur façon de le faire en fait un titre exceptionnel et très original.

      Excuse moi, "anon", mais très vieille époque - ok - et "très sombre époque également"?????