ALONE IN THE DARK: DEVELOPER DIARY #2 - INSPIRATION AND INNOVATION
by Eden Games lead designer Hervé Sliwa (part one can be read here)
We were so impressed by the legacy of Alone in the Dark we wanted something very ambitious and very innovative, so the first proposal was in fact maybe a little bit too ambitious and too innovative, which meant it looked very risky to a producer.
And we had a difficult start - the project was killed once, and after that we were so motivated to make this game, we worked on it and came back with a technical demo and a proof of concept of all the most risky elements, and Atari said OK let's take the risk, and since then we've had full support to develop the game.
Pre-production started in 2003 then full production started two years ago in early 2006. The team built up very fast and today there is around 120 people working on the game.
The main source of inspiration for this game was the narration, that's to say finding the best way to create the perfect narration for this type of game. At Eden we were all addicted to the new TV series like 24, Lost, Prison Break.
We thought about this and said, hey, maybe there's a new way to tell the story in a game. The length of the game is close to 10 up to 15 hours of gameplay and narration and so it's not the same pace as a movie which is around two hours.
Lots of games try to copy the narrative structure of a movie, but it fits better with a length of a TV season, so we had the idea to split the game into an episodic structure.
From TV there's the work of one guy I respect a lot, which is J.J. Abrams. He's the guy behind Lost and Alias and a movie which was released recently called Cloverfield. I'm a huge fan of this guy and his work. He did a conference about how he works with the mechanics of what he called the magic box to create different plot twists. His work was a real source of inspiration for me.
My goal for this game is for the audience to say, oh yes, now a game can be more interesting than a movie. We think in this media we provide everything that a movie provides; we can have animation, acting, sound, music, everything of a movie, but we have something more which is interactivity, so you can be directly inside the story.
With this approach the main goal is to give the feeling to the audience that now it's time to re-think about entertainment.
What we try to achieve with this game is to have the broadest audience possible with lots of different types of gameplay, but we don't want to disappoint the more core gamers so we're trying to create a blend between the two worlds, give lots of innovative content and new action, new types of gameplay, but we want to really make it very accessible.
The most exciting thing in this game is we're trying to provide lots of variety. Our goal from the beginning was to try to provide as much variety as possible in one adventure. The first thought was, in a movie like Indiana Jones or something like that the hero can run, jump, fight, drive a car, jump out of the car, use the car as a bomb etc, and everything in a full adventure and with a good narrative structure.
Of course it's very hard to provide this in a game because it needs lots of technology and different engines. If you make a car game it's not like an adventure game or a fighting game - it seems to be impossible. But we thought maybe we could do it, so that's why the project was maybe too ambitious at the beginning.
So from the start we tried to see how all this variety of gameplay elements could come together. After lots of research and development on all these features we made our first prototype and we were able to have our hero run, jump, get in the car, get out of the car, use every object around him, and we said, ok, now we can build a full adventure game.
To put everything together was a nightmare, but one of the most enjoyable things is when everything comes to life. When you dream about some situation for years, then when you play it, it's unique. It's hard for a designer to say what he's most proud of because by definition I'm never proud of anything, I always want more more more, but maybe one thing is the fact that we are breaking some video game rules and bringing some other real world rules.
One thing I'm proud of is you don't need a specific key to open a specific door, you can open the door without a key. If you are imaginative enough and creative enough you can build your own weapon and blow up your door and to hell with the key puzzle.
It's just a little example but it was so hard to build a level design and game rules to say ok, no more key, no more specific game rules, and try to make a good adventure game with that, but things worked out pretty well.
What we expect from the audience is, holy sh**! But also to feel, it could be me. The idea is you are someone in a very specific situation, but it could be anyone. So it's not a caricature of a perfect guy, it's just a normal guy in an extraordinary context.
You have to face up to all this sh** happening around you and you don't have a full arsenal of lots of weapons, you have to find them, to build them and be creative enough to survive.
What I expect from the audience is, maybe if I tried that and that I could get past this, and oh, it works! Maybe you could try another way and it works too because it's just logical and we don't need to explain all the rules of the game because it's as close as possible to the rules of the real world.