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Alone in the Dark Hands-On Presentation With Producer Nour Polloni

Alone in the Dark Hands-On Presentation With Producer Nour Polloni
By Louis Bedigian

“Suddenly it hit us – why not take that captivation and addiction and bring it to Alone in the Dark?”

It’s been two years since the confirmation of a new Alone in the Dark. We’ve waited, wondered, and occasionally scratched our heads while mumbling: “What will become of this game?” After little more than a press release here and a screenshot there, it was beginning to feel like one of those illusive projects you hear about but may never get to play.

The fears, question marks, and any other feelings of doubt were put to rest this week when Atari gave the video game press its first test drive of their highly anticipated survival/horror sequel.

Hands-on impressions: Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii

But before we could scramble for the nearest Xbox controller or Wii remote, we were treated to an in-depth walk-through of the levels we were about to experience, courtesy of Nour Polloni, Producer at Eden Games. The event kicked off with a few words from Phil Harrison, President of Atari’s parent company, Infogrames.

“I’m proud to be with you this evening to share the amazing, creative vision that Eden Games has delivered in this truly widescreen, cinematic experience that is Alone in the Dark,” said Harrison. Though at this point we didn’t know it, the word “cinematic” was dead-on.

Shipping for Xbox 360, PC, Wii and PS2 on June 24 (and on PS3 in the fall), Harrison noted that convergence in filmmaking and game design – a key component in the evolution of Alone in the Dark – was not always well received. “Filmmakers and game designers were never really considered equals,” he says, but believes the latest consoles have leveled the playing field. “Today’s game designers grew up watching films. And you can definitely tell that today’s filmmakers grew up playing games.

“You can see that today’s stories, whether filmed or interactive, now share a very close set of creative techniques. The audiences on the big screen or the game screen are being immersed in a similar language of storytelling.” That, he says, is what they mean by convergence in today’s games.

“This isn’t a game that will play itself – far from it,” he continues, eliminating concerns that Alone in the Dark will sacrifice gameplay for story. “Alone in the Dark demands a great deal from the player with sophisticated controls that challenge and reward the player.”

Harrison then spoke briefly about Alone in the Dark’s DVD-style format, which he hopes will encourage every player to stick around until the credits roll. “We want everybody who plays this game to finish this game, something which is not always considered a value in game development. We want to see players enjoy the entire narrative.”

Harrison’s presentation concluded with a showing of the game’s latest trailer, which can also be viewed on GameZone’s downloads page. After the visual hint of things to come, Nour Polloni came on stage to walk us through several of the game’s levels.

“Alone in the Dark is the story of one man who in one night must fight to survive the unimaginable to reveal the secret behind Central Park,” she began. “But before we get into the details of the game, I’d like to say a few words on the Alone in the Dark brand. [It] is one of the key franchises in video games. Created in 1992, the first Alone in the Dark brought innovation; something fresh and original and really created a whole new genre, the horror genre, and was the source of inspiration for games today like Resident Evil and Silent Hill. For this opus, we really wanted to mark a new era and bring Alone in the Dark to an entirely new direction while staying true to the series’ innovations in the first Alone in the Dark.

“The game stars Edward Carnby from the first [game]," she continues, "who finds himself plunged into today’s world from the 1930s without aging a bit. He wakes up not knowing who he is or where he is.”

Wanting the player to be completely immersed in the story-to-game and game-to-story experience, Polloni explained how, in the opening sequence, gameplay comes immediately after the story sequence concludes. She said that from there “we plunge the player into first-person view, and give the player control from the first cinematic.”

And that’s not all they’ve done. Alone in the Dark will be the first video game whose levels can be played in any order. This surprising move comes from one of the game’s core inspirations: television. If you were to start watching Lost, 24 or Prison Break (the three shows Polloni has cited for inspiration on many occasions) this week, you could buy or rent the DVD and catch up. Or you could skip ahead, watch the season finales and try to figure out the rest. That’s the kind of freedom TV viewers expect. Alone in the Dark provides that same expectation.

“Suddenly it hit us,” Polloni says, speaking about her and the development team’s love of television. “Why not take that captivation and addiction and bring it to Alone in the Dark?”

After analyzing the narrative structure of television, the team decided to take the season format – multiple episodes with multiple but continuous stories – and apply it to the game. That helped the developers intertwine the stories while improving the pace. “Not just for one episode, but from one episode to another all throughout the game,” said Polloni. “To complete the package, we’ve added ‘Previously’ trailers that, when you leave the game and come back, if you can’t really remember what the story was, this will help remind you of all the key elements.”

You’re Fired

Back in 1996, Nintendo released a racing game that thrived on H2O: Wave Race 64. Without realistic water physics – both from a gameplay and visual perspective – the game would have been a total failure. It, more than any other, needed natural water effects to survive.

Twelve years later, we are finally approaching another equally important graphical innovation: fire. Alone in the Dark is a game that is literally engulfed in flames. Fire can be your enemy or your friend. It can be used to take out your enemies or – if used carelessly and not extinguished quickly – could turn into your worst nightmare.

On paper, it sounds like a nice idea. But how do you get players on board? How do you convince us, the hardcore gamer crowd, to believe in its power? By making it believable – by making it as realistic as possible.

“To achieve [realistic effects], we based the method on our physics engine,” said Polloni. “And we applied a level of flammability on all materials. That allows us to have fire that spreads out in a dynamic way. The fire is not scripted.

“From there, through a degree of simulated heat, we can have all the different stages of burning throughout the propagation. From small flames to blazing flames, all the way down to charcoal.”

Polloni says that they really wanted this to be a big part of the gameplay, and it took them a long time to pull off. “To do that, we had to reunite the elements together. First of all there’s fire as just a spark. Second, fire that can generate real-time light. Thirdly, we needed fire that could look convincingly great while being able to be interactive.” They did all that, Polloni revealed, because the developers wanted fire to be your most powerful ally in the game.

And don’t miss our new interview with Andre Bermudez (Game Analyst for the Wii version), or our previous chat with Producer Nour Polloni.

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