Horror not only remains relatively untapped within the videogame industry, the sheer scarcity of genuinely frightening horror games is quite alarming.
While the spine-tingling genre tropes remain one of the most popular cinematically – it seems we're treated to another 'Scariest Film Of [Insert Year Here]' movie every other week – there is just a handful of truly memorable, scary experiences on this side of the interactive spectrum. Of course, they're certainly there if you look for them, beneath the copycat military FPS clones and third-person space marine shooters - we're talking Doom, Call of Cthulu, Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Condemned, F.E.A.R, Amnesia – but nevertheless it's a sad state of affairs when one of the most visceral, unnerving and engaging genres still sits largely absent from store shelves.
Looking to fill that gap is Vivec Entertainment's first-person adventure game Shadow Of A Soul: Chapter 1, the opening instalment in a proposed trilogy of horror games for PC, Mac and PS3. “I can honestly say horror games are much scarier than horror movies,” says Vivec's one-man team Ferzan Kanat Aygen, “I think they're also more memorable, because you engage with them in a way that is not possible with movies. The length of exposure to the horror is also longer, while the intensity of the experience is also much greater. In movies, horrifying moments are followed by moments of calm. In games, that feeling of terror never ends.”
He continues, “Without giving too much away, I want to say one of the most terrifying things for me is what I call “the silent watcher”. The idea of being aware of something just around the corner, watching you, very silently, is really terrifying for me. With [Shadow Of A Soul], I'll try to instil that same kind of fear and terror into the player.”
But as Ferzan alludes, choosing to create new IP within the horror mould was not entirely his plan; “To be honest, I didn't choose the horror genre, it chose me,” he informs us, “I was thinking about the type of games I wanted to make and I made a list. Some of them were 2D, some of them 2.5D, and others 3D. Looking at all of them, I asked myself: 'Which one of these projects can I complete in 2 years?' Sufficient to say, that narrowed the list down quite a bit.”
But for the first-time developer, Shadow Of A Soul was still a daunting task to conceptualise, produce and oversee... “I still have absolutely no idea how long a project can take,” laughs Ferzan, “but I do know that most of the time I have to double my initial estimate to leave myself enough space to breathe and not have to rush things. Initially, Shadow Of A Soul: Chapter 1 was going to be a $9.99 game called Shadow Of A Soul: Prelude but after a few months of development, and because I'd created so much material, I decided I might as well make the game longer. So I merged Prelude with Chapter 1 to create one long standalone story.”
That same story remains vague at the time of writing, with only a short synopsis on Vivec's official website and a short teaser trailer (below) alluding to Chapter 1's plotting, themes and the kind of horror elements we'll be subjected to come release. What we do know is that Chapter 1 follows a thief named Jack - “a very unlucky person who is in the wrong place at the wrong time” - who is on an industrial espionage mission to steal blueprints of a new product from an office complex, but whom gets more than he bargained for when a malignant presence begins to terrorise him.
Quite how the episodes interlink to form the larger trilogy is a mystery to us, though Ferzan does reveal that Jack might not be the only character in our midst, or at least not in the same physical shape as where he starts the adventure - “I don't plan too many changes in gameplay [between episodes], but the main character of the second game has some handicaps that will certainly affect the game mechanics. That's all I can say for now; and it might even be too much!”
Gameplay-wise, Shadow Of A Soul is an adventure game first-and-foremost, with puzzles integrated directly into the game. “The game doesn't stop when the player is solving puzzles,” Ferzan divulges. “I believe this is one of the major features of the game. Without revealing too much, I can say that you'll never be out of danger, even when you're solving puzzles. One of the constant challenges I'm facing is making puzzles that fit the environment, having them make sense while at the same time making them challenging and entertaining.”
Such an approach to puzzle-based gameplay is to be admired, suggesting Shadow's one-man development team not only loves horror in its truest form, but understands it. Having players unable to relax while solving a puzzle promises to be a uniquely simple-but-effective tool in the game's terrifying arsenal; unnerving and tricky in equal measure.
Having been in development now for over a year, Shadow represents a huge labour of love for its developer. That said, Ferzan never appears daunted or put off by the task ahead, instead relishing the opportunity of committing to a trilogy before the first game is even nearly ready for release. “I don't think it's necessarily risky [to plan ahead to a trilogy], says Ferzan optimistically, “It can go one of two ways; either I make enough money to make the second game, or I don't. And the same goes for the third. If the game doesn't make enough money, it's no problem for the player because every game is a standalone chapter – playing three games just enriches the experience by adding layers to the story. In terms of planning, I have already planned the first two games from beginning to end. I don't know much about the third as of yet, except for the beginning and the end. But that isn't planning in the strictest sense. I just jot down the images I have in my head, the puzzles I come up with and so on. I've written pages and pages of material, some of it good, some of it terrible.”
He continues, “In my view, indie companies are very fragile entities. Unlike the situation for corporations, everything can have an adverse effect on an indie company. Everything from electricity and heating problems, to the weather, to health and family problems can directly influence the development of the game, to the point of having to abandon it. So, in short, I’d say that a certain amount of planning is a good thing and a must if you want to achieve success, but it is not very wise to spend too much time planning, or planning too rigidly.”
Just glancing at Ferzan's own development blog (currently showing '301 Days To Go') and the task at hand and the sheer stack of work to be done is staggering to say the least; from getting the word out about the game (something we hope to help with), contacting publishers, implementing new game features, to optimising Vivec's official website for search engines. There's a long road ahead no doubt for Vivec's main man, who hopes to release each episode yearly in the run-up to Halloween starting October 2012 for Chapter 1. But it's a journey that we can't help but feel will be worth it.