Survival Horror, A Blood Splattered History Part 1
The Survival Horror genre has been haunting us since the early eighties and can be dated back as far as Malcolm Evans’ 3D Monster Maze which was released for the Sinclair ZX81, EPIC Magazine once called it “the original survival horror game” the game itself features on a Tyrannosaurus Rex stalking the player as he tries to escape, but traces of the genre can be tracked back as far as early Horror Fiction and H.P Lovecraft. Lovecraft pioneered the Horror Fiction genre with books like The Call Of Cthulhu and The Mountain Of Madness.
The Call Of Cthulhu was published in 1928, based on a huge aquatic creature sleeping for an eternity at the bottom of the ocean and destined to emerge from its slumber in an apocalyptic age. A whole host of Survival Horror games have often used the story as inspiration for their games.
I had the chance to speak with a few of Survival Horror’s leading guys including Red Barrel’s Co-Owner and Developer of Outlast David Chateauneuf, Creative Director of Amnesia Thomas Grip and Dying Light Producer Tymon Smektala about their views on the history of the genre.
I was curious as to what inspires people to make Survival Horror games, and set about to find out.
David: “Back in the days when we worked at Ubisoft, Philippe and I wanted to create a horror game. After trying we’ve been told that it wasn’t possible. Then Philippe went to Naughty Dog while I decided to finish another project at Ubisoft. Few years later when we met again, that idea came back in our mind. For sure, Amensia: The Dark Descent was also a great source of inspiration. We felt that all the survival horror game became action shooter, so we were more than interested to create a survival horror game”.
Thomas: “I’ve been a big fan of Horror since I was a kid. I just love anything Horror”.
Tymon: “I think it’s the same as Kojima-san making Silent Hill – he’s afraid of being afraid, and he gets afraid often, so he decided to participate in the process of creating a horror game to confront his fears. I think there’s something about it – the fear of zombies is deeply rooted within all of us, and if we fear something, subconsciously we want to face it, to get over with it. I cannot say for the rest of the team, but I know that this was one of my motivations for working on Dying Light”.
Other Survival Horror games began to appear in 1982 with titles like Haunted House and Monster Bash which saw Sega introduce Movie Monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein. Sega’s 1986 remake of Ghost House featured Haunted House stages that were filled with traps and secrets designed to keep players on their toes and forced them to learn the intricate layout of the house while keeping their wits about them. Developers were beginning to follow a set template and it is a formula that continues to work, even today.
So what key ingredients are required when it comes to making a great Survival Horror game..
Tymon: “A Constant feeling of uneasiness and tension. The question of needing resources. Ever-present threat coming from the environment. Normally I would add “limited movement options of the main character”, but thankfully we managed to create a Survivor Horror game which gives players almost boundless freedom of movement so it seems it’s not the quintessential part of the equation”.
Thomas: “A game that uses the player’s own imagination against them”.
David: “It is a combination of many elements. At the first, the sound and the music is soooo important. Compare to other games, sound and music are more than half of the experience. The setting is also crucial. The player need to feel You need to work on the atmosphere, the feeling of danger and the unexpectation”
As a boyhood fan of the genre my first real experiences of Survival Horror would be wondering the halls inside the mansion in Resident Evil, walking around the corner of a corridor to see a Zombie cowering over a team-mate feasting on his lifeless corpse or exterminating parasites in Alien Trilogy on the very first Playstation back in 1996, Alien Trilogy, which is heavily based on the first three films of the series was the first game to use 3D Motion Capture Technology, which was created by their own engineering team – Advanced Technologies Group. The game featured besides the obvious Aliens, 30 separate levels Alien Dogs and many Queen boss fights.
Thomas: “The first proper horror game I played was Resident Evil and I loved it. It was everything I never knew I wanted from games. I totally blown away that you could create this sort of experience in a game and had never played anything like it. Stuff like the dogs jumping through a window might sound cliche now days, but for 15 year old me it was amazing”.
David: “I remember playing the first Alone in The Dark. One of the first game in 3D. That game was amazing at that time. They approached the fear with different twists. Sometimes the game was playing a music like if an enemy was near, but there was nothing. Firing with a shotgun was really not what it is now. Your character was impacted by the recoil to make you feel human and not like a super soldier. They had different cool camera angle and gameplay with lantern in the dark. We could still all learn from that game today”.
Tymon: “I have to go back to the classics – first Resident Evil was the game that started it for me. The corridor with the dogs… For a teenager that was really scary. Then Eternal Darkness on N64. The structure of that game really made it something unique”.
In 1996 Shinji Mikami created Resident Evil, released by Capcom, Resident Evil was often seen as a remake of Capcom’s earlier Horror themed release Sweet Home. Mikami followed the lead of Alone In The Dark and use many great features in making Resident Evil such as the use of an inventory system and the iconic Typewriter, used to save the game. The game takes place entirely inside a mansion filled with flesh eating Zombies and moulded a winning formula that many horror games that followed it chose to use, some becoming a success and some not so much. Konami’s 1999 release Silent Hill used a similar template in an attempt to match the success, with great results.
“I like the darkness. There’s something to the feeling of not knowing your surroundings, not seeing the color of things as they appear, but as they truly are. There’s something about the unknown, the quiet the cold. There’s something unspoken about the dark, something I can never quite put words too. Something terrifying yet beautiful”.
Another superb Survival Horror game, also released in 1996 was Clock Tower 2. The follow up to Clock Tower which was only released in Japan for the Super Favicom. Clock Tower 2 was essentially a point and click Survival Horror title which used a cursor to give commands while attempting to avoid death at the hands of the evil Scissorman, who stalked the player during the first game. Encounters with the Scissorman saw the player having to repeatedly hit a panic button to escape, if not done quick enough or not having enough health to start with the player would die. Clock Tower 2 makes it into most Horror fans top tens and received a high rating after it’s release.
1998 saw the release of Hellnight, Only released in Japan and Europe, Hellnight didn’t really receive the recognition it deserved because of it not appearing in North America. The game is centred around the outbreak of a zombie like creature who after escaping from a Scientists Lab begins systematically killing anyone that gets in it’s path. The game follows the player as he tries to evade the monster by entering the tunnels of the sewage system deep beneath Tokyo.
The genre was now beginning to find a place inside the video game industry and had begun starting to produce some really great titles that have left a everlasting impression on the world of Video Games.
Three years after Resident Evil came Silent Hill a Konami developed Survival Horror title that was solely based inside an american ghost town. Silent Hill was credited for being the first Survival Horror title to take the genre away from the B Movie trend that had made the previous games such a success and instead implemented more of a psychological form. Silent Hill focuses on Harry Mason as he searches for his adopted daughter Cheryl inside the haunted town. Players were always aware during the game of an nearby enemies presence by a radio, which produced a static noise any time a monster was nearby. The fighting style and the puzzles made Silent Hill a great game for any fan of the genre.
Silent Hill featured an amazing soundtrack that blended with the game so well, Akira Yamaoka requested to compose the music for the game after the original musician left. Inspired by Twin Peaks composer Angelo Badalamenti, Yamaoka set about making the Silent Hill soundtrack stand out above all other games in the genre, in turn making the sounds from the game feel very rustic and at times emotional. When you combine the eerie feel of the game with an equally disturbingly beautiful soundtrack you have all of the hallmarks of a classic Survival Horror game.
With Silent Hill and Resident Evil, Survival Horror was ready to enter the twenty first century in style.
To be continued…
In part 2 of Survival Horror, A Blood Splattered history I’ll be taking a look at how genre entered the twenty first century, the birth of found footage horror and how modern day horror games fair against the classics.