2017 turned out to be very rich in horror. In addition to the long-awaited Resident Evil 7 and Outlast 2, Friday the 13th: The Game was released on May 26th. And that’s not counting budding Kickstarter projects like Visage and Ghost Theory. It’s time to remember the history of the origin of the genre and its path of transformation into an independent branch of the gaming industry.
Although the term «Survival horror» itself became popular only after the release of Resident Evil, the first steps towards the development of the genre were seen in the early 80s. Being representatives of other directions, many games of that time still contained individual elements that later became the foundation for a new genre.
The very first echoes of horror came from Nostromo, developed by Japanese student Akira Takiguchi, inspired by the ’79 movie Alien. In Nostromo, the player needs to escape from the spaceship, collecting the necessary items along the way. If you fail, you will be torn apart by a monster, which, in fact, is the quintessence of the genre.
Unfortunately, Nostromo can only be judged by the words of eyewitnesses, because the game was released only in Japan and was quickly forgotten.
Haunted House (1981)
But you can evaluate Haunted House, released in the same year.
Of course, with the graphics from the Atari 2600 era, the default Haunted House couldn’t make the player nervous. The spirit of horror was, perhaps, only in the title. Another thing is that at that time the players had enough of this, so the simple gameplay in the spirit of «don’t let yourself be caught» was accepted with a bang.
It’s funny, but after 29 years, the game has an official sequel. Atari released a new version of Haunted House, which again had only the name in common with the original.
3D Monster Maze (1982)
After receiving a Sinclair ZX81 computer as a 37th birthday present, programmer Malcolm Evans decided to test it by writing a simple game. Some time later, his experiment turned into a 3D Monster Maze. A game in which your task is to find a way out of the maze and not run into … Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Although by this point Evans had worked for the English Ministry of Defense on satellites and fighter jets, the resulting game intrigued him. Soon, on the advice of friends, Malcolm founded his own gaming company and became one of the pioneers of 3D in the industry.
As for the game itself, from the point of view of horror, the feeling of the hero being chased by a monster is well realized in it. That terrible feeling when you run away from an invisible pursuer in Amnesia: the Dark Descent seems to have originated in 3D Monster Maze.
Ant Attack (1983)
Another addition to the genre was Ant Attack, developed for the ZX Spectrum. The player needs to save people from a labyrinth city filled with huge cannibal ants. Once the player finds the victim, and then takes them to safety, the game restarts on a more difficult level.
Despite the fact that a deserted city attacked by monsters will become a favorite topic among horrors in the future, the main value of Ant Attack is that the game contributed to the development of not just one genre, but game design as a whole. According to the game’s author Sandy White, Ant Attack is «the first truly isometric game», which was a step in the development of the industry.
Formation of the canons of the genre
These are just a few examples of how horror elements have woken up in games of other genres. In the same way, the legendary platformer Castlevania or beat ’em up Splatterhouse helped prepare the player for a new direction simply by sharing their dark theme.
Since the late 90s, specific representatives of Survival horror began to appear, and in the future, almost every one of them at one time or another was marked by the founders of horror. One way or another, the following titles took concrete steps towards the genre, and eventually formed its canons.
Sweet Home (1989)
The first «real» horror game is Sweet Home. It is symbolic that it was developed under the guidance of Tokuro Fujiwara, the one who is responsible for Resident Evil. In the latter, Fujiwara was determined to implement everything that he could not bring to life when developing Sweet Home.
So, limited inventory, a mansion filled with mysteries, a save room with storage boxes, multiple endings, animations during door opening and character death — all this migrated to Resident Evil straight from Sweet Home.
The game itself is also not an independent product, but is an adaptation of the Japanese film of the same name.
Under your leadership, a film crew of five people gets lost in a mansion with its own bloody history. Five key items are distributed among team members, so you need to choose who you need to play depending on the current situation — only three heroes can move at a time. There are also five endings in the game, and they depend on how many characters reach the final alive.
Interestingly, the Resident Evil 7: Beginning Hour demo also has a lot in common with Sweet Home. Again, the action takes place in an abandoned house with a female ghost and the tragic history of the family that once lived in it.
Project Firestart (1989)
And if Sweet Home was the first to lay many of the fundamental elements of the genre, then Project Firestart balanced action and adventure in it.
The developers from Dynamix removed the extra dynamics from the game, significantly limiting ammunition, and making the main character rather weak compared to the enemies.
In terms of gameplay, the game is a fairly typical side-scroller — in most locations you can only move left or right, shooting mutants along the way.
The plot of Project Firestart has a bit in common with Dead Space, although the inspiration for those times was, of course, the film Alien. The protagonist also goes to a spaceship with which communication has been lost, and stumbles upon an army of mutants and fanatics who have gone mad.
By the way, it was in Project Firestart that the revolutionary idea of presenting the plot was first implemented through reading the diaries of the characters. This method of storytelling quickly became popular and migrated to other genres. As an example, we can recall the same Bioshock.
A 3D remake of the game by Eric Hogan was released in 2006.
Alone in the Dark (1992)
The first 3D horror game to spawn a great game series and two dubious movies by Uwe Boll.
Despite the fact that Resident Evil again comes to mind when looking at the game, Alone the Dark places much more emphasis on solving mysteries. Many enemies cannot be killed in the standard way, and can only be defeated by solving certain puzzles.
There are two characters to choose from and the goal of both is to find an old piano in the depths of the Derceto mansion, the owner of which committed suicide.
Alone in the Dark was originally an independent project by French programmer Frédéric Reynal, who previously worked on the 3D platformer Alpha Waves. The idea was pretty simple. Raynal wanted to create an adventure game filled with monsters and use Alpha Waves technology to create quality character models.
Raynal preferred to keep any dialogue between characters to a minimum, and for this the character had to be alone as much as possible. Also, the programmer got rid of the need to depict electronics and communications by moving the time of the game to the beginning of the 20th century. In fact, his first script consisted of three words, well reflecting both the game and the genre itself: “Get out alive!”.
Soon an animator, 2D artist and composer joined the team, and after a while the first prototype called «In the Dark» was ready.
This time, the genre that is gaining popularity has appeared before the players in a new form, in the form of interactive cinema.
According to the plot, a girl named Laura goes in search of her father gone mad, along the way finding out her terrible, long-forgotten past.
The game consists of two hours of wandering around an empty castle from a first-person perspective, regularly followed by small cut-scenes of movement. There are few puzzles, and they are all easy enough, so the two-hour limit does not matter. D has three endings, and the whole story is told through flashbacks.
Chief Designer Kenji Ino recalls:
“When I was working on D, it had almost no plot. The game was almost finished and in order to add a story, I had to insert a lot of flashbacks. Among them there were enough bloody scenes, including scenes of cannibalism.
The question arises, how did Eno avoid censorship? As it turned out, the game designer sent the publishers a “clean version”, and when the game was approved, he changed the master copy of the game before sending it to production.
The trick worked, but karma hit back. When D gained popularity and a PlayStation release was planned, for unknown reasons, Sony decided to prioritize other titles. As a result, despite the fact that the number of pre-orders for D exceeded 100 thousand, the company released only 28 thousand copies.
Eno was so offended by Sony’s actions, which, in fact, reduced his profit several times, that the game designer released all further projects exclusively on Sega consoles.
Clock Tower (1995)
Clock Tower became one of the most popular horror series of the 90s. The first part was made in the form of a classic point-and-click quest with the collection of items and careful study of locations. The necessary dynamics are added by the «panic mode», which turned on during the appearance of enemies. Or rather, the enemy.
Throughout you will be pursued by a 10-year-old boy with huge scissors, the son of the owner of the orphanage, in which the main character Jennifer ended up.
One of the main inspirations for Clock Tower was the work of director Dario Argento, and specifically the film The Phenomenon. The game’s lead designer, Hifumi Kono, wanted Clock Tower to have the feel of similar films, and designed the game in a specific visual style that combined bright colors against a hazy backdrop.
The non-linearity of the plot can be the envy of any modern adventure game. In Clock Tower, it is possible to get nine different endings, which is completely untypical for quests. By the way, in half of them Jennifer dies.
Interestingly, despite its significant commercial success, Clock Tower has never been officially released outside of Japan. However, skilled and sophisticated fans could not accept this and translated the game.
There were other serious representatives of the genre, like Doctor Hauzer, but basically they consolidated what they found rather than adding something new.
Resident Evil will be released in 1996, and thus will launch a new wave of horror, which is considered the «Golden period» of the genre. Series such as Silent Hill, Dino Crisis, and the aforementioned Resident Evil will bring the genre to the mainstream once and for all before it starts to merge with action again.
Author — outadimes