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MCV 13/08/10 63 HORROR GENRE FOCUS The dark side of gaming


Horror titles are as popular as ever, but it’s not just about Silent Hill and Resident Evil anymore, with the likes of Dead Space and BioShock emerging from the darkness. Christopher Dring takes a closer look…


Modern horror games focus more on action, such as Namco Bandai’s Splatterhouse revival


GAMERS LIKE to be scared. It’s a fact developers first learnt in 1972, with Midway’s pioneering Haunted House. And it was the guiding principle behind the text-based horror adventures of the ‘80s, the survival horror hits of the 1990s, Resi’s return to form last decade, right-up to this year’s psychological horror/thriller Alan Wake. However, the tropes that define the modern day horror title didn’t emerge until 1989, with Capcom’s Sweet Home for NES. The game spawned the survival horror genre, introducing elements such


as secluded mansions, shadows, limited inventories and puzzles. It’s the same gameplay mechanics made famous by Capcom’s follow-up series, Resident Evil – a franchise that sold more than 40 million units worldwide. But today, the horror genre is starting to mutate. Whereas the original Resident Evil managed to build suspense





through deliberately poor camera angles and clunky mechanics, today’s gamer demands more control and more variety. “In the past many horror games used poor controls to heighten the fear and tension in the player – walking in a straight line could be challenging as could aiming,” says Steve Papoutsis, the executive producer on Dead Space 2.


A horror video game has got to get its hooks into the player and mess with their heads a little bit.


Mikko Rautalahti, Remedy


“I think past developers used this to their advantage, it made players feel helpless, it made them sweat. “Today gamers are more demanding and demand responsiveness in their titles.” Namco Bandai’s product manager Lauren Bradley, who is handling the UK release of Splatterhouse – the revival of


the ‘80s arcade hit of the same name – adds: “Creating a commercial game means the player is less vulnerable now as they’re rarely without ammo or a massive gun. “Games that have done it well like Resident Evil 5 and Dead Space have taken it in a different direction. Whilst these games are both brilliant they are ultimately now action games or shooters that happen to be scary.”





TERRIFYING TALES Indeed, in order to scare gamers developers have cast aside poor controls in favour of gripping narratives that build suspense. As Mikko


Rautalahti, the writer of Remedy’s thriller Alan Wake, explains: “Gamers demand interesting experiences, things that really engage them. In some ways, that probably applies even more to horror games than it does to other genres. “A well-made action game can work just on the basis of its game mechanics and feel entirely satisfying to the player.


A horror game requires something that goes deeper. It’s got to get its hooks into the player and mess with their heads.” Rautalahti’s feelings are shared by 2K


Marin’s design director Jonathan Pelling, who helped create BioShock 2 and is currently working on the X-Com FPS. “Horror games live or die on the quality of the narrative and their ability to immerse the gamer; to draw out suspense and manipulate emotions,” he says. “Games that elicit terror and anxiety are not new, but more than ever gamers expect the narrative to create these feelings, as opposed to restrictive controls and punishing mechanics.”


CINEMATIC TENSION


Horror games have often crossed over to other mediums. There have been movies based around Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Dead Space, Alone in the Dark, Doom and House of the Dead, as well as books, comics and so on. But horror games are more than just great stories on which to base a movie.


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