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"I am forced into print because men of journalism have refused to follow my advice without knowing why." It's a sign things are going awry when the walls start bleeding. Then, the voices start up, and the Gamecube spits up an error message saying the controller isn't plugged in. And in the meantime, the monsters are closing in and it's time to start questioning how much sanity you have left.
Chainsaws and gore pass for cutting-edge in gaming, but Silicon Knights' Eternal Darkness takes the craft of horror further. A Call of Cthulhu-style Sanity system plunges characters into madness, but the game also reaches out into the life of the player as his character goes mad. Instead of zombies out of nowhere, there's that cold chill in the pit of the stomach, that little shudder as the game announces 20 hours of gameplay has been deleted. There's the unsettling feeling of realizing the bug crawling across the TV is on the inside.
I hunted down Denis Dyack, Producer and Director of Eternal Darkness and President of Silicon Knights, to get inside his head. "Doubt of the real facts, as I must reveal them, is inevitable; yet, if I suppressed what will seem extravagant and incredible, there would be nothing left."
Eternal Darkness was "something that kind of came together. At that point, there had been a lot of horror games, specifically survival/horror. And we wanted to create something that was in the horror genre, but not categorized as survival/horror." There was another reason, too, something less lofty, he says. "At the same time, and [this] still is ongoing, videogames were under fire for messing with people's heads, and being accused of being murder simulators and stuff. So, we thought, wouldn't it be a good idea to make something that really does mess with people's heads?"
Combining the atmosphere of a Poe story - protagonist going mad, dealing with forces that may be entirely in his mind - with the themes of a Lovecraft story - protagonist going mad, dealing with forces that may be entirely in his mind and the ancient evil lurking on the edges of consciousness - Eternal Darkness is a different kind of horror game, almost literary in its storytelling. Not surprisingly, Denis cites the classics for inspiration. "All horror is steeped in Edgar Allen Poe, but Lovecraft is a staple of horror, and just about every major horror movie, almost every major horror writer, had to have some homage, and [we] stand on the shoulders of giants," he says, adding, "The other one that's a little more subtle in Eternal Darkness that a lot of people don't pick up on is Michael Moorcock and the parallel universes, Eternal Champion kind of thing."
He's actually hesitant to talk about his influences at all, saying, "These are things that I like, that resonate personally. We hadn't really looked at it and said, 'Let's do part of this and mix it all together.' It's just that these are the kinds of things, if I was to say, it was similar to. ... [However], we try to create something original every time. ... [In Eternal Darkness,] we talk about the history of the Ancients and them being imprisoned. [In] every major area in Eternal Darkness, there was a major catastrophe that occurred at some level."
He cites an instance from Tamerlane's exploits as an example: "The Pillar of Flesh in the chapter with Abdul" - he's speaking of a monument made out of people - "that's historically accurate. That stuff really did happen," he says, referring to Tamerlane's habit of slaughtering the people of the cities he conquered. "So, we've basically gone through history and said, 'What are these crazy, insane things that have happened?' and then put a fantasy spin on it of, let's say there's an ancient influence on people to do these really bad things." Somewhere, an ancient evil sleeping in a lost city stirs.