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