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Alone in the Dark (filfre.net)
253 points by myth_drannon 66 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 61 comments

Little Big Adventure is painted down in the article, but it is also a masterpiece. It plays uniquely, in a way that's hard to express.

I happened to find a copy in a discount bin almost a decade after it was released. Despite the dated graphics, the charm of the game feels absolutely tangible throughout the game. I completed the game and did so again after another 5 years through dosbox. I bought the sequel (LBA2) because of this, of which I have mixed feelings.

The controls of Alone and LBA always felt natural to me, so I cannot share this sentiment of confusion. The sudden camera jumps in Alone in the Dark can be confusing, but then again I actually played "Resident Evil" before Alone (it was only then that I became interested in the genre).

I have to say that there are several french games that really stood out to me due to the artistic and general playstyle in general.

"Heart of Darkness", from Chahi of Another world fame stays true to his style. The "Gobliins" series from Coktel vision are similar to lucasart's games, but have a completely different humor/feel to them. Coktel Vision did several positively weird games (Inca 2, for example).

I played most of these games decades after they were made just for curiosity, simply going by the "I liked this game, let's see what the author/s also did". Sometimes you do really hop into masterpieces that stand the test of time.

If you have youtube channels that dig into this sort of stuff, I'd love to hear about it. I follow some retro channels, but I didn't see those really mentioned anywhere aside from the usual "Another World" and "Price of Persia".

Little Big Adventure was released by a french game company (in an "enhanced" version) in 2015 and is now available on Steam and elsewhere: https://store.steampowered.com/app/397330/Little_Big_Adventu...

Looking at the screenshots and description, I was immediately thrown off by the "enhanced gameplay" and the fact that interactive items in the level seem to be highlighted with the magnifier icon.

Being a fan of this game, I'd say that unless you can turn those off, play the original.

The fixed throw distance plays a crucial role in several of the puzzles. What's the point of interacting with the environment if you can go directly at the spot and pickup everything? There are, again, sections where only speaking with the villagers hints you at the right locations. This is _very_ important for the gameplay mechanics.

They can't help but mess things up can they. Although I've found some enhanced games like Resident Evil have managed to do it properly. But you have to have someone who really appreciate the original doing the update. Someone opinionated on the matter like yourself.

There have been countless bad games where players have to resort to a "probe everything" approach in order to find items which are needed to progress in the game.

But "good games" generally strike a balance between all the gameplay mechanics and that's precisely how they came to be known to be good.

You wouldn't change the way mario jumps in order to reach higher places and call it "enhanced gameplay".

Similarly you wouldn't show every hidden question box with a blaring icon so that you'll always know where all the secret boxes are.

These two elements are defining features of the game. You don't change that.

I think the current approach is to make games so approachable to "casual gaming" that anything deep loses meaning. Many old games that I consider beyond "good" wouldn't fly today. But adapting these games to a more modern hand-in-hand approach will simply destroy them.

Agreed, games are turning into a Disney themepark tours of cool cinematic experiences.

This is why indie game people are doing so well, they are limited in scope and are forced to make actual games.

I still think the gaming scene is in a good place though. Always tons of good stuff around.

Ecstatica [1] is another game contemporary to LBA, and coincidentally quite similar to AitD, that was similarly fascinating and weird/different-feeling. It's an early 3D game uses a unique game engine that renders everything as ellipsoids. You'd think it must be French -- it has that inscrutable feel of some French games -- but it was in fact British.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecstatica

Nice! It reminds me of another fighter game that used ellipsoids to render characters (the name escapes me though)!

Dune and Flashback as well.

Yea, was a big fan of both games at the time.

Gobliins was a great series of games, fond memories of the humor.

I used to love this game and all but forgot about it til I saw this pop up here. When I was about 12yo or so I emailed Infogrames asking about the game's development as I was interested in games programming back then, one of the developers emailed back and forth with me a few times, pretty cool.

Back then the cool library I found for developing games was Allegro for the DJGPP C/C++ development env for DOS. My brother and I started creating video games. It was so much fun trying to figure everything out and research things online. I seem to remember Yahoo kind of had curated directories of sites related to games programming.

My brother ended up working in the games industry for years, whereas somehow I ended up doing more web and data programming stuff. It pays better but sometimes I get excited about what it may have been like going the route of games dev. Ah, life.

Thanks for bringing up Allegro - I have many fond memories of playing around with it in my teens. I'm amazed to see that it's still under active development!

I also got into programming via games (probably like most people) and every time I meet a game programmer I'm happy I didn't end up going that route. I much prefer building apps and solving IRL problems with startups rather than being on a massive game dev team writing C++ for a mid-tier salary.

Besides there seems to be more than enough smart people making games. Not so in the thousands of industries open to business and consumer software which is pretty awful on average.

> one of the developers

Wasn't the game developed by a single dev (Frédéric Reynald)?

Here is a list of credits, and to be honest I can't recall who it was: https://www.mobygames.com/game/dos/alone-in-the-dark/credits

yes it was Frederick Raynal who made it. I don't think he was alone, a team called Adeline Software (a wink at Delphine Software) worked on it for the first episode at least.

It's all laid out in the article. Adeline was the Delphine studio Raynal joined when leaving Infogrames, after Alone in the Dark was published.

> Raynal’s lifestyle was becoming so unbalanced that his family was beginning to worry about him. One day, he ran out of his room in a panic, telling them that all of the color had bled out of his vision. His mother bustled him off to an ophthalmologist, who told him he appeared to have disrupted the photoreceptors in his eyes by staring so long at a monitor screen. Thankfully, the condition persisted only a few hours. But then there came a day when he suddenly couldn’t understand anything that was said to him; he had apparently become so attuned to the language of computer code that he could no longer communicate with humans. That worrisome condition lasted several weeks.

This sounds hard to believe. A lot more people use computers nowadays, for equally long periods of time if not more, and neither of these symptoms seem to be a thing. So... what's going on here? Embellishments to the legend?

Burnout perhaps ?

I think depression can cause color perception loss (not complete, but colors fade out).

Also when getting used to a second or third language (i.e. french _ english) one can temporarily get overwhelmed and have difficulty to switch to either of them. I never came accross literature on this, but personaly experienced periods of a day or more where I felt I just couldn’t speak anything. Asking friends moving to foreign countries some of they hit the same issue.

At that time at least in France “specialist” would tell the most random diagnostics with a straight face and it was pretty normal to go get a second opinion for anything more than a cold. Nowadays they know patients have at least googled symptoms and try to ecplain more of their thinking behind diagnostics IMO.

> At that time at least in France “specialist” would tell the most random diagnostics with a straight face and it was pretty normal to go get a second opinion for anything more than a cold.

Huh, what part of France are you from ? There was and there still is nothing wrong with the quality of care or doctors training in the country, compared to other places (quite the contrary, in fact)

> At that time at least in France “specialist” would tell the most random diagnostics with a straight face

Right, this does make the story (if not the underlying causes) sound more realistic.

The random diagnostics is still a thing in Brazil.

One veteran of the Russian TV industry reported a similar experience of temporal colour blindness after a long shift in the editing room.

Sounds like embellishment, but Scott Adams in a semi-popular known case lost the ability to speak... but could still sing. It seems like the brain somewhat partitions off language abilities and in cases of loss, one or the other can still be used. IIRC people have lost ability to speak one of the 2+ languages they're fluent in.

Scott Adams of Dilbert? He is not credible in any way.

There's also a great "Classic Game Postmortem" video from 2012 by Frederick Raynal, too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2lgEyNaop4

If I remember correctly, after I upgraded my PC, Alone in the Dark was the only game where I had to turn the Turbo button off to be playable... otherwise it would be so fast that the first monster would come at you from the window within seconds. And of course, walking was running like Usain Bolt.

As a kid, I never understood how the CPU could be too fast for the software. I'm not sure I do now either though. I get timing issues on ROM emulators for the old games using quirks due to NTSC/PAL issues. I know there were other programs that did not work with the Turbo button engaged that were not games where timing might be much more crucial.

You have to explicitly write your code to prevent this from happening. You typically have an engine that is executing all of your logic (rendering, game logic, AI, etc.) in cycles. By default, it will execute these cycles as quickly as possible. So for anything with real-time components, faster CPU = enemies move faster.

I forget which game first introduced a fix for this, but the solution is to have the engine run on time-based ticks -- you wait to execute the next cycle until the requisite time has passed.

Another alternative is to say, "How much time has passed since the last frame?" and update the game state based on that.

When your computer can't hold a constant framerate, the game doesn't slow down.

The developers didn't use fixed time points to update their games logic, they just updated the logic at the same speed of the proc, which leads to some interesting things.

I agree on all major points but one: I genuinely enjoyed Shadow of the Comet. Then again, I've also played CoC in campaigns based on that adventure. Never ran it yet as a Keeper, though. Alone in the Dark, Lovecraftian as it might be, definitely represents several turning points in my life. The turn to an appreciation of slow horror, of appreciating the safety of real isolation. And while he's mostly demonized, I have to thank the boss at Infogrames who insisted that Alone in the Dark run on a 286. I didn't have a 386 or a 486 when it came out. AitD was my first brush with 3d, and while it did send me back to 2d for a long while just out of mortal terror, I've come around realized that like all art forms, there's a time and place for both in the world.

Wow, unexpected reference to Popcorn. I had no idea it was connected to anything else, let alone Alone in the Dark. I remember trying to puzzle out a lot of Popcorn’s menus and documentation since it was all in French. It was like Arkanoid, with power-ups designated by a letter, but all for French words — “V” for an extra life is one I remember. I made myself a little cheat sheet to keep by the computer. This was on an XT/CGA era DOS computer.

(Also the Alone in the Dark backstory is fascinating as well, but the Popcorn reference caught me off guard.)

This hits home, being born and growing as a kid in Lyon, having played AITD on the family's 386 in 1993/4 or so, and later practiced rowing for years on the Saône river right in front of Atari's ship-shaped buildings, even giving some rowing lesson's to Atari/Infogrames team during a company event (and to Bruno Bonnel himself, who has been later into robotics and today in... politics).

Filfre is a great resource, an exhaustively researched one man work of love and a veritable rabbithole for who grew up on games in the eighties. Check out at the very least the articles about The Hitchhiker's Guide, about Elite and, one of my favs, about the curious creation story of Neuromancer (the game), which surreally enough involved LSD guru Timothy Leary.

I made a list of Filfre pages I liked after reading through the entire archives: https://www.gwern.net/newsletter/2017/06#the-digital-antiqua...

Alone in the Dark was very similar to an H.P. Lovecraft story and if that was what you were looking for that is what you would find. Relentless Twinsen’s Adventure was an intense fever dream of a fantasy that kept the player going on pure suspense and wonder. It had the dramatic finesse of Loom or a good sci-fi novel. When I purchased it I had only assumed it to be mindless entertainment. It turned out to be a statement on the human condition that was too valuable to let everyone know about. I diligently played it after school for many days giving the game my full attention. When I was finished I felt like I grew up a little and society at large did not let me down concerning the harsh truths revealed in this game. This is why I’ll never forget Relentless- the general malaise and apathy of the time in history it was released deeply contrasted against the wake-up call contained within the lessons of its gameplay. Both games we’re ahead of their time and technically very impressive.

Not mentioned: It was apparently possible to complete the game in a "pacifist run". Every fight could be avoided with exceptional attention to the fiddly details that the article rightly criticizes.

I managed to get as far as the kitchen without shooting any zombies (put the bowl of food on the table, duh), but couldn't figure out anything beyond that.

A friend and myself pitched a game idea for similar to this at DSI Vancouver (soon to be EAC) around 1990. It didn't hit fertile ground where I guess sports games were the go to idea. 3D, Lovecraftian, same camera ideas. I'm glad this one was made.

Amazing article. As a teenager, I'd always looked back at emulations of this game with a wonder of how the graphics and visuals came to be.

Surely it set the stage for a decade of fixed-set-pre-rendered games such as final fantasy and resident evil. Very cool.

Everyone in my neighborhood had the demo version of this game. It’s awesome, but we could never leave the first room (and it wasn’t for sale in my country).

I might as well play it today to overcome this childhood frustration :)

I relate to this and made an attempt a few years go. Unfortunately, the controls threw me off rapidly. Then I watched someone playing it on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSwYY2eoKhQ

Where would that be?


I loved this game when I was young. I finally had access to three floppy disks and tried in my 286, only to be frustrated that my CGA monochrome monitor was not supported...

I would play at my friend's house... good times

I couldn't figure out how to play it, I just kept dying constantly but I was intrigued none the less.

I plan to one day give it another go as an adult :) Fortunately it's available on GOG! [0]

[0] https://www.gog.com/game/alone_in_the_dark

I fondly remember this. It scared the bejesus out of the 8 yo me.

Is there a way to play the game today, with a CRT screen emulator? I imagine the graphics will hold up a lot more faithfully to memory.

DosBox or you can also play the console version on the 3DO. I believe GOG has a proper installer that packages Dosbox for you on Windows.

Dosbox, I guess. But I have never tried this CRT emulator, so I can't vouch for it.


Have a look at what RetroPie provides for the RPi. It's brilliant for emulation and will hopefully improve with the RPi4 4GB :)

>with a CRT screen emulator

Game is VGA only. VGA did line doubling. There are no black bars every other line people mostly associate with using CRT TV.

I played the game on a CRT monitor back in the day, would like to emulate that look. You’re correct, there were no visible black bars on VGA PC monitors.

The screen was fuzzy so it actually looked a lot better than it does in an LCD monitor due to a natural “aliasing” effect from bleed/blur/glow.

I know video game emulatores like MAME have good ones but didn’t know there was a filter for DOSBox, will try that!

I actually remember when it came out. Played it briefly with my sons (8-10). We couldn't get past the opening scenes, died so many time in the first hour of playing, for no apparent reason with no apparent solution, that we gave up and never played it again.

So I don't have any fond memories of it whatsoever.

Sounds like how most of my favourite games of all time started.

I played the Acorn 3000 port of this in the mid-nineties as a eleven or twelve year old. The early part where zombies are coming through the trapdoor and window were really scary for me at the time, but what a game. Only finished it when I revisited it years later.

Here’s a Let’s Play series for those who want to get nostalgic: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLXSB1azTTGuh7yAw1QtJ2...

Nice; thanks for the throwback, I played the dickens out of that game.

Oh man, I played Popcorn on our 386sx with grayscale screen. Haven't thought of that game in almost 30 years.

Then they immediate ruined the franchise with the second.

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