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THE GREATEST PC GAMES OF ALL TIME

ALONE IN THE DARK


86 THE GREATEST PC GAMES OF ALL TIME

THE MAKING OF

HOW FREDERICK RAYNAL CREATED AND LOST THE FIRST 3D SURVIVAL HORROR GAME. By Dan Griliopoulos

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ADVENTURE

INFO
FIRST REVIEWED PCG 30, 82% PUBLISHER In-house DEVELOPER Infogrames REQUIRES 1.8 GHz CPU, 512MB RAM LINK n/a INFLUENCED BY Fear itself GET IT FROM Good Old Games

he stories told by our game-creating heroes retread familiar paths: the secret project, the team triumphing against the odds, the evil management, the disaster averted. Alone in the Darks inception has all of these elements. Yet it also draws something from the movie industry and something from French culture. The projects creator, and driving spirit, was Frederick Raynal. His story starts in his fathers small-town video store in rural France. Young Frederick was, as he tells me in charming broken English, shy. I had a talk with a psychologist, we were talking about Eric Chahi (Another World, From Dust), Paul Cuisset (Flashback) and myself, we are the same kind of guy, very introvert... when I was little boy, I make paper games, board games for my friend. Because I always have this feeling I meet someone that I dont know what to say to him, and games were my way of saying OK, lets play! So Raynal started building games young, learning electronics through a correspondence course, then buying a ZX81 in kit form. As a painter found a pencil or a sculptor a hammer and pick, I found my tool to make games. Teaching himself about processors from a book, Raynal fell out of love with formal education and in love with programming. After secondary school, he went to work in his fathers shop in Brive-La-Gaillard, fixing computers and selling videos. I was living in the shop, literally, he says. Going to bed when completely dead, dealing with customers, then back to my computer. I was completely immersed. His first games from the age of 13 to 22 were Laser (1979), Robix 500 (1983) and Popcorn (1988). He distributed these on the nascent bulletin boards of the time and eventually fan letters started coming through the post swiftly followed by two job offers while Raynal was doing his military service. One came from a big
French interior design in full force.

Parisian company and the other from the tiny Infogrames, based in Lyon. Smalltown boy Raynal went for Lyon because it was a good compromise between a big town and a human town, he says. The company didnt figure in his calculations. Raynal didnt know anyone in Lyon. Hed also never worked in an office before. But he wasnt perturbed by the move out of the video store because there were computers! I feel well here. However, because hed put his job title on the co-developed Popcorn as graphisme, Raynal had inadvertently landed an artists role, and he had to prove his skills. They made me do a test. It was EGA, they wanted me to do a line function. I worked on it and optimised, and optimised. They said, oh, its 800 times faster than ours.

His story starts in a video store in rural France


OK, so I am a programmer. Raynal was working mainly on conversions and graphics design, including one game that caught his eye: Alpha Waves, a polygonal platformer and the first of its kind in 3D. Raynal became convinced that the time was ripe for 3D games and, in spare time, started working on what became Alone in the Dark. Working in his fathers video store had given Raynal the tastes of a film geek: he loved the horror films of George Romero and Dario Argento, and the structure of that kind of movie, one guy entering an old manor. Look at the headline for The Amityville Horror the premise for Alone in the Dark is written there: For Gods sake, just get out. Raynal had also done a little pen and paper roleplaying, specifically Call of Cthulhu, and, although he liked the theme, he hated the character

sheets, which he found huge and difficult. To simplify his own game, he decided to set it in the 1920s and place you in an old haunted manor, so there was no electricity and no dialogue just an adventure game with some action. His colleague, the artist Didier Chanfray, drew a polygonal structure for the first room, while a trainee called Franck de Griolami helped with the programming. Already the gothic horror of Alone in the Dark was settling into place. Raynals next step was to write all the technical tools needed to create a 3D game. Usually, Id think about a game and do a prototype in two hours, he says. But I needed a 3D modeller ie, a modelling program But this was early 1991. Id never seen a pro modeller! The 3Desk tools he made by himself, in a few days, contained all the core elements of modern 3D applications such as Maya and 3D Studio, as well as letting him try out the animation of his characters. But to make his world look realistic, he needed an artist to fill in the blank polygons. He ran an internal contest between Infogrames artists, giving them the wireframes to work from. Only two of them produced anything, and he settled on Yal Barroz, an art school graduate who was about to leave the company and wanted the work. Raynal created a generic character: Man_0 a programmers crash test dummy very simple because I needed something quickly. By September, he could control a 3D character with the keyboard. Playing in the polygonal test chamber, he quickly learned a lot about the problems camera angles can cause in 3D games, and what to avoid. The 12 polygon bird coming in the first window in the game; I showed that to Infogrames. Infogrames in those days only employed 35 people, and had turned down all the previous pitches from this shy designer. But when they saw the 3D room, they approved it immediately. The starting team consisted of Raynal, Chanfray, Barroz (who started dating

Rocking horses are always evil in some way.

Bad zombie, you pervert.

Reading that letter made him all saturated.

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Raynal a month into the project, more of which later), and Griolami. With writer Franck Manzetti, they planned out the manor. Didier made the first monster and Man_2, AKA Edward Carnaby, who was an unprecedented 40 polygons. The monster was what Raynal calls the zombie chicken, built around a sphere to create volume without using many polygons. The second playable character, Emily Hartwood, was introduced later as Raynal thought he could get women to play the game by doing so. I was very naive, he says. The story for the female character was supposed to be different, but we didnt have time. With a real hero and a real monster, Raynal now realised he needed a scripting language, so he wrote his own and put collision boxes around the creatures. By December 1991, they had a working room where you could push objects around, the monster would attack you and you could fight back, punching and kicking. Raynal even included a headbutt. The engine was ready and now they had to nail down what the game was actually going to be like. The team sat down for a three-day meeting. The new writer, Hubert Chardot, later told Raynal that he learnt his job in those three days. The team planned the storyline from start to end, made a complete task list for every person, and listed all the monsters, objects, animations and so on they needed. We ate a lot of pizza, Raynal recalls. One of the key decisions to come from this was that merely walking around the manor needed to be scary. From the unavoidable traps in the first area (a big design no-no these days) to the instadeath possible from reading some books or opening some doors, the player had to be stressed all the time. As Lovecraft puts it, the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, Raynal says, and the strongest fear is of the unknown. Raynal also created a simple path through the game: there was always a way to avoid fighting or to kill a monster with a single action, if you paid attention. For example, the games pirate could parry any blow, unless you changed attack halfway through the swing. The seemingly invincible knight could be killed with the statuette, and a roomful of zombies could be distracted by a pot of soup. With the project totally planned, they added two extra 2D artists and got to work. They also added Philippe Vachey to do the sound. At the beginning of the 90s, PCs were not good at doing sounds. recalls Raynal, but we got to use Sound Blaster audio samples, real samples. The squeaks, the steps, the scream of the monster when you open the door. As the sound was collision-based, every step sounded different. A problem arose in April 1992: the game was due out in November, so the advertising visuals needed to be confirmed, but the team had yet to give the lead character a head beyond a simple sphere. A simple solution was proposed: an artist hand-drew a face on, which never appeared in-game. Time pressures towards the end of the project meant that this faked-up image never got replaced; it ended up on the adverts, the box and in the in-game slideshow. By October 1992, Raynal had been working 15-hour days for a year and, although on schedule, they were cutting it fine. I have a confession Raynal admits. through with a recall. His relations with Infogrames took a nose-dive immediately after the game was finished. An important guy at Infogrames come to me and say, really literally, I know how well do a second one. Just modify a little the scenario, it will sell because it is number two! Oh! I really didnt appreciate that. Raynal would have been happy working another year of 15-hour days. But being not honest with the player, I cant. Alone in the Dark sold and sold, eventually spawning two sequels along the lines Raynal feared, and eventually two series reboots. Raynal doesnt know what the actual figures were for the first game. Thats a sad story. I never knew. I heard more than three million copies. In France, royalties were not something a publisher liked to do a lot, so I cant tell. Raynal and his entire team left, setting up Adeline Software, under the auspices of the famous music publisher Paul de Senneville. They worked on the kooky Little Big Adventure games, and continue to work together, now at Ludoid, Raynals indie studio, where theyre attempting to reacquire the rights for Little Big Adventure 3. The French government made Raynal a Knight of Art and Literature in 2006, alongside Michel Ancel and Shigeru Miyamoto the first videogame developers to receive this distinction. And Barroz and Raynal? They married, and now have two children. What does Raynal think of Alone in the Dark today? Playing back the game, the things I hated then, I was completely wrong. I also found so many mistakes you cant do nowadays. How did the players finish this? It was difficult anyway, even if you read all the books, because it was a time where there was no information for players. But it was another time. Not a lot of games existed at the time and the players were more technophile. The pleasure was to discover things, very often about the technology. The game released on PC, Mac and the long-dead 3DO, but Raynal preferred the PC version. When I first used it back in the 80s, I fell in love with it. I would like an HD remake one day and I hope it will happen. But Infogrames owns the rights. Given Raynals attempts to reclaim Little Big Adventure, it could yet happen. Alone in the Dark is available from Good Old Games, along with its sequels.
That chairs haunted! And the table! And the carpet!

A roomful of zombies could be distracted by a pot of soup


In October 1992, I hated this game. At the beginning of the project, everything seemed exciting and impressive but not by the end. We didnt do a lot of iteration. The first prototype was at the end of 1991 and we did the real content in eight months. We worked a lot and didnt ask questions. So tight was the deadline, there was no time for polish and little time for bugfixing. It was only on the night of release that Raynal, doing a final playthrough, realised the game was broken. I give the four floppy disk, I play all night. Raynal imitates panicked breathing. I find a bug. You cannot finish the game. He fixed the bug and, at 6am, he was waiting outside Infogrames offices. They shout at me; Why? What did you do? I am: you cannot finish it! The trucks are already going with the game. Thankfully, Infogrames took the decision to go

Many enemies wouldnt bother you if you kept away.

Dearest, please use smaller envelopes. Yours, Binky.

This hallway could do with a sweep.

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ADVENTURE

GAMEOGRAPHY
POPCORN (1988)

Developed by Christopher Lacaze, with Raynal doing the graphics duties, this Breakout-style game was programmed in assembly language to run on an 8MHz processor. Despite this, it can still run perfectly well on modern PCs if you can find it.
LITTLE BIG ADVENTURE (1994)

Contemporary with Alone in the Dark 3, Raynal and Adeline released this delightful, bizarre LBA, a fantastical isometric action-adventure involving rebellion, magic balls and prophecies, with a hero called Twinsen. LBA was a lot inspired by Zelda, Raynal says.
TIME COMMANDO (1996)

It was on the night of release they realised it was broken

Its easy to overuse the word bizarre with Raynals games, but this time-leaping combat game featured a huge arsenal of period-appropriate weapons in each of its bizarre settings. It was released on PC and PS2. The ultimate weapon was a yo-yo.
LITTLE BIG ADVENTURE 2 (1997)

Even more bizarre than the first game, LBA 2 replaced the handdrawn 2D backgrounds with fully 3D outdoor environments. It was extremely large and varied, with multiple planets to visit and featured relatively advanced enemy AI. It sold 600,000 copies worldwide.

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