247: A New Horror

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A New Horror

In their rush to fill the screen with high-definition gore and arm players with arsenals that would make Duke Nukem feel inadequate, horror games have become a lot less horrifying. But one U.K. developer is doing his best to change that trend. Lewis Denby speaks with Dan Pinchbeck, creator of Dear Esther and Korsakovia, about how horror games could truly live up to their name.

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Dear Esther and Korsakovia are amazing! I think Dear Esther is absolutely remarkable and Korsakovia is definitely scary, even though that one puzzle got pretty frustrating relatively quickly. Gotta mention that I absolutely love the narrative in both of the mods, especially in Korsakovia. I'm not a huge fan of horror games in general, but if more games similar to these two exist, I'd be more than interested to play them.

Ha, good timing on the article, just when I was listening to the Korsakovia soundtrack :-)

I love the mods of these guys, always great.

I wouldn't call dead space a horror game either. I also think it's a creepy fps at best. Horror games should be much more then a few good scares and big shootouts. Mr Pinchbeck seems to understand this very well. I recommend checking out his website for more interesting reading about the mods

Dear Ester was fantastic, Korsakovia... less so.

I was enjoying it for the most part, but the level design was infuriating. Yes, I know it was "meant to be that way", but that didn't stop me quitting because it looked so amateurish.

Lewis Denby:
the Poltergeists' first appearance in S.T.A.L.K.E.R

which is interesting, as STALKER is mostly an action game with horror bits, so when it does go the horror route, it's a strange environment to be in.

Also, no post about horror games would be complete without mentioning the Shalebridge cradle.
I shouldn't need to say anything more.

Someone gets it! Survival horror might not be dead yet after all.

Its been while since I have played a game I could call that....

This week's articles are simply amazing, I love the theme =).
For the Dead Space thing, I simply loved that game, by far, I liked it more than RE5, also for the extended inttroduction, I'm certainly agreed with that, altough the entire game has it's share moments of true horror, but sadly the game only gets really frightening on Hard, because you have much less ammo and the Necromorphs are much harder to kill. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. simply scared me shitless when I first went underground and found a strange enemy (I don't think it's a poltergeist), first the invisible monsters, attacking litterally out of nowhere and hearing them running and grunting when they are close. Also some other enemy that simply messes with your mind and attacks psychically, I couldn't help but feel despair and fear, I wanted to get out of there as fast as I could.

Wow, this guy knows what's up. In any medium, horror and action are like oil and water. It's because Horror relies so much on expert pacing and building of atmosphere, and while some horror (again, in any of it's mediums) can have some 'action-adventure' elements here and there, those moments tend to take away from the horror vibe, and when action pervades the entirety of the game (or movie or short story), it completely destroys the horror vibe. This is why Action-horror as a genre is basically a logical paradox in my opinion.

I will need to find these mods and play them... I love horror games. The first Silent Hill games, Fatal Frame, etc are some of my favorites..

Nice article..

I have a few things to say about this article.

First: HURRAY recognition for Thechineseroom and Pinchbeck!!! YEAHHHH.

Second: Hey, you're the guy who made Post Script and Nestlings! You're awesome!

I've played both games, and though I'd recommend both Dear Esther and Korsakovia, the former is clearly better than the latter. Korsakovia gets extremely repetative and I never finished it. Dear Esther on the other hand is only a fraction as long and does not get dull, even though your character is restricted to walking at a snail pace (which can be worked around with a plentiful amount of jumping).

Both are very thoughtful and very interesting examples of (dare I say it) "interactive fiction". Don't go into it looking for a fun experience, because that is not what this is about. If the prospect of playing a game without a fun factor is off putting, than you are missing out big time. People who do that put a huge restriction on gameplay experience.

Korsakovia was definitely one of the scariest games I've played.

The article is right... Horror today, horror yesterday, and horror before that are very different from themselves. The game and film industries latch onto a particular style and ride it to death, then move on to the next freaky thing that passes by, never experimenting with a mix of styles or going back to reuse an old technique. Today's gimmick is as the article said, torture porn. Hostel and Saw being the father and mother of this latest craze, it's just shock value and gore, with no real substance. Previous to this Guro obsession was the Japanese thriller style pictured in The Ring and The Grudge (aka Ringu and Ju-On).

My personal taste is more the 80's styles, which were all notable for having one epic first film to use the style, followed by a series of lesser films trying to recapture the first film's glory yet failing miserably.

Jaws - Unintentional as it was, you never really saw the shark (fuckin thing never worked right). The terror was in tense waiting punctuated by stressful music which became shrill as events reached the crescendo.

Alien - Liberal use of the "jump out" (aka "BOO!") mechanic coupled with near or total silence. OR, at least, silence from the creature. The whole scene could be a cacophony of sounds, but you don't hear "it", the creature, until it strikes.

Pumpkinhead - One of the classic "don't show the monster" approaches, where shadow and bad angle shots obscure the demon, giving only the occasional glimpse, and in not seeing the whole of it, becomes more frightening as a result. In the light, the beast is almost comical or retarded looking, but in the dark, it's enough to get the heart pounding.

Friday the 13th - This one sets its mood by the Pepe le Pew 'esque "chase". No matter where you run, no matter where you hide, he's still behind you. He's still coming for you. Tension builds the longer it goes, until a sudden release with a feeling of safety/calmness, only to be ramped up to 11 with a sudden reappearance.

Nightmare on Elm Street - The lack-of-control fear. Could YOU stay awake forever? Of course not. No matter the danger, no matter how hard you fight it, you have no control over falling asleep. And once you drift off, you're his! And you need not actually sleep... Stay awake long enough, and you will fade in and out, blurring the lines between dream and reality, and offering no protection from Freddy.

Arrrgh, I hate it when people analyze Dear Esther in an attempt to look artsy.

Look, let me be clear; when someone makes a video game that makes me say "Wow." it's because it's a VIDEO GAME; something interactive that I did, which produced a relevant result that impressed me. Dear Esther is about the equivalent of reading a novel; a really good novel, albeit; but a novel for which the pages only turn if you hold the W key on your keyboard.

I actually think even Passage was much more engaging than the whole mod. And even better than that was the Passage parody.

It's only an "interesting analysis of games" if it's a game; if the message is in the code; what happens as a result of what you do.

Katana314: One of the ideas behind Esther was to see how much you can remove typically game-like elements from an interactive experience and still have that interaction be meaninful. Pinchbeck's mods do attempt to be enjoyable, but they're effectively research projects, and a negative result is perfectly valid too.

I'm not sure who here's analysing Dear Esther in an attempt to look artsy, incidentally.

Katana314:
Arrrgh, I hate it when people analyze Dear Esther in an attempt to look artsy.

Look, let me be clear; when someone makes a video game that makes me say "Wow." it's because it's a VIDEO GAME; something interactive that I did, which produced a relevant result that impressed me. Dear Esther is about the equivalent of reading a novel; a really good novel, albeit; but a novel for which the pages only turn if you hold the W key on your keyboard.

Eeeeeh. Do you think, then, that complete freedom of choice is the only way a game really is a game? That complete freedom thing is a child of the first GTAs, a direct storyline in which you do the thing in the order you are supposed had always been a perfectly acceptable way to structure a game and remains so. The fact that you are controlling the character, and not just reading/watching/whatever some fella doing whatever he's doing, adds a new level to the way the story is experienced. I guess you argue that linear games make this interaction an illusion, but I put forth that all fiction is an illusion by definition anyway.

Then again, I haven't actually played the game. I suppose that if you were to finding yourself hitting the next plot coupon despite it being obviously stupid/pointless from the character's point of view it would be an equivalent of the ridiculously stupid fodder for the machete-wielding supernatural murderer of movies, and no better.

I really need to get the Source engine somehow to play these games.

The Random One:

Eeeeeh. Do you think, then, that complete freedom of choice is the only way a game really is a game? That complete freedom thing is a child of the first GTAs, a direct storyline in which you do the thing in the order you are supposed had always been a perfectly acceptable way to structure a game and remains so. The fact that you are controlling the character, and not just reading/watching/whatever some fella doing whatever he's doing, adds a new level to the way the story is experienced. I guess you argue that linear games make this interaction an illusion, but I put forth that all fiction is an illusion by definition anyway.

Then again, I haven't actually played the game. I suppose that if you were to finding yourself hitting the next plot coupon despite it being obviously stupid/pointless from the character's point of view it would be an equivalent of the ridiculously stupid fodder for the machete-wielding supernatural murderer of movies, and no better.

I really need to get the Source engine somehow to play these games.

My favorite game series is Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, a direct-path storyline game with almost no branches whatsoever, so I think you're misinterpretting.

To try to give you a better idea of why I'm criticizing it, I will summarize Dear Esther. You begin on a dock of a large island (no, not Myst, bigger). You walk forward and explore the island (though in the end only certain paths will progress forward). As you reach certain map triggers, a narrator begins talking; he appears to be writing a letter to Esther about his stay on the island. It's very poetic and well-read, though I can't quite draw a clear connection to what I'm seeing on the island. You keep moving forward, no puzzles or anything, occasionally piano music will accompany the narrator. The environments are very vast (sometimes meaning you lose your way) but all you ever do is walk through them. No enemies, nothing to press the Use key on, no decisions, nothing. As you progress up these rock cliffs toward the end you see some really extensive chalk carvings on the rock, kilometers across, like it all makes sense in someone's head. Eventually you reach the top of the island after lots of dialog, and you beat the game.

My main criticism is that while a "cinematic" game, like say God of War's simon says cutscenes, has at least SOME interactivity, there is literally no cognitive difference between playing through Dear Esther and watching a video of someone playing through it.

Katana314:

The Random One:

Eeeeeh. Do you think, then, that complete freedom of choice is the only way a game really is a game? That complete freedom thing is a child of the first GTAs, a direct storyline in which you do the thing in the order you are supposed had always been a perfectly acceptable way to structure a game and remains so. The fact that you are controlling the character, and not just reading/watching/whatever some fella doing whatever he's doing, adds a new level to the way the story is experienced. I guess you argue that linear games make this interaction an illusion, but I put forth that all fiction is an illusion by definition anyway.

Then again, I haven't actually played the game. I suppose that if you were to finding yourself hitting the next plot coupon despite it being obviously stupid/pointless from the character's point of view it would be an equivalent of the ridiculously stupid fodder for the machete-wielding supernatural murderer of movies, and no better.

I really need to get the Source engine somehow to play these games.

My favorite game series is Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, a direct-path storyline game with almost no branches whatsoever, so I think you're misinterpretting.

To try to give you a better idea of why I'm criticizing it, I will summarize Dear Esther. You begin on a dock of a large island (no, not Myst, bigger). You walk forward and explore the island (though in the end only certain paths will progress forward). As you reach certain map triggers, a narrator begins talking; he appears to be writing a letter to Esther about his stay on the island. It's very poetic and well-read, though I can't quite draw a clear connection to what I'm seeing on the island. You keep moving forward, no puzzles or anything, occasionally piano music will accompany the narrator. The environments are very vast (sometimes meaning you lose your way) but all you ever do is walk through them. No enemies, nothing to press the Use key on, no decisions, nothing. As you progress up these rock cliffs toward the end you see some really extensive chalk carvings on the rock, kilometers across, like it all makes sense in someone's head. Eventually you reach the top of the island after lots of dialog, and you beat the game.

My main criticism is that while a "cinematic" game, like say God of War's simon says cutscenes, has at least SOME interactivity, there is literally no cognitive difference between playing through Dear Esther and watching a video of someone playing through it.

Except for the part where you choose how you move across the game. There is another difference, it's like reading a book and having someone read it for you. You lose something in the transition.

This reminds me of my first reaction to Penumbra, before it was a retail product. I bought the full series, but I stopped playing due to the shoddy combat... maybe I should give it another try.

The things that Dear Esther and Korsakovia did right made me more upset about what they did wrong, really. Dear Esther would've benefitted greatly from allowing me to sprint (I ended up jumping around, as the Source engine lets you a limited bunnyhop), and there were times where music and dialogue ran over each other; Korsakovia really ran into some bland level construction and unfair combat later on.

That doesn't take too much away from their effort, though. I found both Mods to be engrossing and nontypical, and some of the signs in Korsakovia actually made me shudder. I'm hoping that thechineseroom takes what they've learned from their first two outings and does something truly unique on their first independent outing. I think they've got it in them.

Unfortunately I probably won't get the chance to check out these MODs any time soon due to my lack of a computer to run HL2. (A problem I want to ammend as soon as I can afford to) The theory these guys are touting is inspiring thought.

"Horror isn't what you see, it's what you don't see."

This makes me think back to some of my favorite scenes in gaming. Not only is Silent Hill one of my favorite games ever, it's one of the best stories, and most atmospheric games I have ever played, and that was back on the PS1.

Strangly enought, I think the scariest game experiences for me was way back on the PC with the original Dark Forces game. It's strange because it's a FPS action game, and definately not built to be a horror game. When the game first reveals the Dark Trooper Endoskeleton, (the one that looked like a Terminator with blades) its shown for a moment, anf then you're whisked away to a maze of ventilation pipes. All you hear is the clicking of the Endskeleton chasing you, hunting you down, only to hear it speed up and get louder as it hones in on your position.
Again, no fancy graphics, just atmosphere, and the chaos of not knowing where the enemy will stike from.

What's your scariest moment? (If this isn't the place I may start a thread for it then)

Horror should be more related to screwing with someone's mind than to make them jump from their chair. Which is pretty much what is standard now in video games and movies today. We are only waiting for that moment of surprise that will make us jump and then continue with the regular plot.

I've had Dear Esther installed for a very long time, I might actually get around to playing it now it's come up again.

Man i wish i had Half Life 2 on my Comp.

wildpeaks:
Ha, good timing on the article, just when I was listening to the Korsakovia soundtrack :-)

I love the mods of these guys, always great.

I had started the download for Dear Esther 5 minutes before coming across the article (35% - I'm excited!) creepy, huh?

I was actually that surprised by how awesome Dear Esther was, I emailed Dan Pinchbeck to congratulate him. Brief conversation ensued.

He's a nice guy and loves what he does, for that he deserves a pat on the back.

I'll give hem more of a try later after work, but as such far, Korsakovia is annoying "Christopher, Christopher! Christopher can you hear me?" <-- that right there, i swear i heard that 7x times in the matter of 5 minutes. Not to mention some pretty bland level design. I understand it's all about the "story" but in the 30 minutes I've played. As far as I'm concerned there isn't one.

Dear Esther is sopposed to be better, adn i look forward to it. But i was looking forward to Korsakovia too, so far its let me down a little.

Well, korsakovia has certainly achieved it's goal of making me feel uneasy before I finished the first level...


They also make an enemy that i'd rather avoid then fight...

...how do i play it?

chickenlord:
...how do i play it?

Download, unzip into your steam/steamapps/sourcemods folder, restart steam and run it from steam's "my games" page.

I highly recommend giving "Dear Esther" a look. Mind you I think it's meant for and will appeal more to a mature audience. There is an updated version coming but I think it is a ways away yet.

I was almost done with Korsakovia and about to start Dear Esther last year when the hard drive they were on died, and I keep not getting around to reinstalling them. Maybe this will finally get me to do it.

The introduction of Korsakovia is amazing and probably the best thing (to me, at least) I've seen in any horror game ever. The combat (when there is some) kind of sucks, but it turns out to be relatively easy once you figure out how to hit things. It was pretty frustrating before I got the hang of that, though, but nothing compared to the goddamn jumping puzzles, which nearly got me to stop playing. Those are the main problem with it. They're not fun, and they're not scary, and they're only hard because trying to pretend you're Mario when you're actually Gordon Freeman (not in a story sense; in a same engine, same point of view, same controls sense) just doesn't work, and this is coming from someone who actually thought Xen in HL1 was fun.

If you can get past that, though, the atmosphere is amazing, and the bizarre level design will screw with your head. It's also neat that it's (somewhat) based on a real neurological disorder, and as someone familiar with it and how things like that work, it was pretty cool seeing it handled surprisingly well (if bent a bit for storytelling's sake) in the game, better than most similar things in TV/movies. It's worth checking out just for that and the way it's presented and develops over time. If you have to noclip your way through a couple jumping puzzles (as a last resort, preferably, since sometimes you can't do it just because that's not where you're supposed to go), so be it.

".. generally speaking, we've moved right away from horror to action in pretty much all our major horror franchises, and they are poorer as a result. Resident Evil 5? Alone in the Dark? They're just lame compared to their predecessors."

Haven't played either of the titles mentioned in the article, but this comment alone is enough to win me over. Resident Evil 5 (and I would argue 4 as well, though for slightly different reasons) is definitely lame compared to it's predecessors. It wasn't even a failed attempt at a horror game, it was a failed attempt at an action game that capitalized on the history of it's name alone.

Dark Templar:
Someone gets it! Survival horror might not be dead yet after all.

Its been while since I have played a game I could call that....

first: you should probably LOOK for games that are scary. like really theres at least one, often 3 or 4, truly scary games per year. look and you shall find.

now really.....

let me get this through the head of the universal gamer: IF ITS HORRORISH BUT NOT SCARY ITS SURVIVAL HORROR. otherwise its standard horror.

truly, if the first five games of a certain genre don't define the genre on ANY standard there is something wrong with that genre.

(i really dont alone in the dark OR resident evil are remotely scary.)

actually i change my mind. survival horror is a non-existant genre. if its a scary game, its a horror game. if its not, its should be categorized by whatever it is, even if it TRIES to be scary, but isn't.

so my message is: MERGE SURVIVAL HORROR WITH ACTION GENRE,FOR ONLY SLIENT HILL PULLS IT OFF.

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