Art of dark­ness

Alone In The Dark cre­ator Frédérick Ray­nal on 2Dark, Res­i­dent Evil, and re­turn­ing to the genre he helped cre­ate


Frédérick Ray­nal on 2Dark and his re­turn to sur­vival hor­ror

Frédérick Ray­nal wrote his first videogame at age 14, and went on to cre­ate 1992’s Alone In The Dark, kick­start­ing the sur­vival-hor­ror genre in the process. The next year he co-founded Ade­line Soft­ware In­ter­na­tional, which was re­spon­si­ble for the Lit­tle Big Ad­ven­ture se­ries and Time Com­mando. When the com­pany was ac­quired by Sega in 1997 it was re­named No Cliché and worked on Toy Com­man­der, Toy Racer and an un­re­leased Dream­cast sur­vival-hor­ror project called Agartha. Now, to­gether with Yael Bar­roz (an artist on Alone In The Dark and Lit­tle Big Ad­ven­ture) and two other ex­pe­ri­enced col­lab­o­ra­tors, Ray­nal is re­turn­ing to the genre he helped to de­fine with the creepy, dimly lit 2Dark. Here, we dis­cuss his re­turn to sur­vival hor­ror, Cap­com’s years of si­lence re­gard­ing Alone In The Dark’s role in Res­i­dent Evil’s gen­e­sis, and the del­i­cate is­sue of fea­tur­ing chil­dren in a hor­ror game.

Why is now the right time for you to re­turn to sur­vival hor­ror? I’ve learned a lot since 1992. When we were work­ing for Sega, they asked us to make a very weird and dark sur­vival hor­ror for the Dream­cast, and that be­came Agartha. We started some­thing very spe­cial – long be­fore Black & White, we al­lowed play­ers to play as a good or bad char­ac­ter, to choose their be­hav­iour. But we were mak­ing it in 2001 when Sega started clos­ing down every­thing to do with the Dream­cast, so it was never fin­ished. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to make an­other sur­vival hor­ror, and two years ago we started on 2Dark.

There’s been a lot of progress since Alone In The Dark. Can you com­pete? It was easy when we started as noth­ing ex­isted – we started a genre, but it was luck! We didn’t ask too many ques­tions. My fa­ther owned a VHS tape store, so when I was young I watched a lot of hor­ror movies. The in­spi­ra­tion came di­rectly from those movies. But this time, we sat down and said, “OK, what is a sur­vival hor­ror to­day?” You have huge pro­jects like Evil Within, Res­i­dent Evil, all these big triple-A games with tons of poly­gons. I’ve worked in huge teams at Ubisoft, but I don’t want to make an­other triple-A game. So we de­cided not to do 3D be­cause if we went down that road we’d need big 3D. We needed to try to find some­thing dif­fer­ent. I started to work on an en­gine that was kind of 2D tiling like a Su­per Nin­tendo game, but ac­tu­ally all of the tiles that build the back­grounds are made with nor­mal maps and all the light­ing is 3D and uses ad­vanced shaders. That’s why we have this very dif­fer­ent look. The char­ac­ters, in par­tic­u­lar, look great. Thank you. I like to mix tech­nol­ogy and I wanted to keep this kind of retro feel­ing. I wanted the look of sprites, but I hate them be­cause you only have a few po­si­tions to use. I want a very [re­ac­tive] game with 360 de­grees of ro­ta­tion for the char­ac­ters, so I made all the char­ac­ters out of vox­els. They’re made with a lot of small cubes, but the sys­tem is ray­trac­ing the sprites ev­ery frame, so you can have all the ro­ta­tion but achieve this al­most hand-drawn sprite look.

Are there any as­pects of sur­vival hor­ror games you don’t par­tic­u­larly like? When I did Alone In The Dark, I thought a lot about the ef­fect of cam­era an­gles be­cause it was very new – it was one of the first full 3D games. I wanted to make some­thing that felt like a movie, but there were a lot of mis­takes in that sys­tem. For ex­am­ple, in Alone In The

Dark, you can’t see what the char­ac­ter can see if, say, he opens a door on the other side of the room. It both­ered me a lot, but with 2Dark you al­ways know where you are, even if some­times you’re com­pletely in the dark.

Also, a lot of games limit how of­ten you can save. In our game you can save when­ever you want – you smoke a cig­a­rette to save, but the more you smoke, the more you’ll cough and that could give away your po­si­tion. We want the player to be scared be­cause of the story, not be­cause they might have to redo a part of the game they’ve al­ready played. And if you can save when­ever you want, you can ex­per­i­ment and try ex­plor­ing places you might miss oth­er­wise. Just don’t smoke too much!

“Alone In The Dark was one of the first full 3D games, but there were a lot of mis­takes in that sys­tem”

Like Alone In The Dark, 2Dark re­lies on stealth. What ap­peals to you about it? In an ac­tion game, you have to keep the pace up for the player with no time­outs

or any­thing like that, in case it gets bor­ing. But in a stealth game, the player needs to be re­warded when he doesn’t play: ‘Oh, I’m hid­ing. I hear this con­ver­sa­tion, they’re talk­ing about me…’ So the most re­ward­ing mo­ments are the ones where you’re not ac­tu­ally play­ing! It com­pletely changes the ex­pe­ri­ence of the game, and I find that fas­ci­nat­ing.

You men­tioned Res­i­dent Evil – how do you feel about Shinji Mikami’s ad­mis­sion that Alone In The Dark did, in fact, in­flu­ence the se­ries?

For 18 years, Cap­com said the team never saw the game. That was the of­fi­cial line. I wasn’t look­ing for recog­ni­tion from them, but the op­po­site of it was very cruel. There are the same puz­zles, the same ideas, the same cam­eras… And the first thing Mikami-san said two years ago when his con­tract with Cap­com was over was that with­out Alone In The Dark,

Res­i­dent Evil would have been just a first­per­son shooter. Thank you, Mikami-san – I hope we’ll meet one day, be­cause I re­ally want to thank you for that.

How are you in­no­vat­ing this time?

I re­alised that sur­vival hor­ror games are very self­ish – you just have to save your­self. So my first thought was, ‘OK, what can frighten some­body more than just dy­ing?’ And when you have kids, your pri­or­i­ties change and you say, ‘OK, the life of my kids is more pre­cious than my own’. That felt like a good start for a sur­vival hor­ror.

A game in which chil­dren can die seems like a risky propo­si­tion.

It’s true. In 2Dark you need to save chil­dren from six se­rial killers, so that nat­u­rally means that they can be killed. No­body does that in games. We went back and forth on that, and wor­ried about it. I don’t want to be the game where you can kill chil­dren – it needs to be the game where you save chil­dren. Part of our so­lu­tion is if you try to kill any chil­dren, the screen fades to black and it’s game over im­me­di­ately. When we were re­search­ing the game, the re­al­ity of se­rial killers was worse than what we’d con­ceived, so there are some sub­jects we don’t want to touch on. In­stead, we fo­cus on gore – some­body the other day de­scribed the game as ‘gore cute’! With those vi­su­als we can bal­ance the game with the re­al­ity of the sub­ject mat­ter.

Are you con­cerned about con­tro­versy?

Of course we are a lit­tle bit scared of how peo­ple will re­act to the idea of a game in which you can see kids be­ing killed by bad guys, yes. But we all play war games, and what do you think war is? It’s not play­ful and nice – peo­ple are killed, and the in­dus­try still makes games about that. We’ve made a game about se­rial killers in which you have to save chil­dren. Some­one who saves chil­dren is a good role you could have in life.

ABOVE As the name sug­gests, light plays an im­por­tant role in 2Dark. Stick to the shad­ows and you’ll be hid­den, em­a­nat­ing cir­cles de­pict­ing the noise you, and en­e­mies, are mak­ing.

RIGHT De­spite its car­toon­ish vi­su­als, 2Dark is a macabre, ma­ture-rated game

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