Preview - Alone in the Dark 3 (DOS, 1994)
Alone in the Dark 3 (AitD3), produced by Bruno Bonnell and I-Motion, takes Edward Carnby, private eye of the occult, to a small ghost town called Slaughter Gulch. Slaughter Gulch was built in the Mojave Desert during the gold rush, just over the San Andreas fault. Everybody used to say that Bodie was "the town too tough to die". Well, obviously, Slaughter Gulch was even tougher than Bodie, because Slaughter Gulch never died; the many graves of its boot hill are all empty.
Unaware of the dangers, a movie crew left Hollywood for Slaughter Gulch in the beginning of Summer 1925. They wanted to shoot a western.
Western. Here is the key word as far as AitD3 is concerned. All the great western myths are present in the first half of the game. We've got outlaws, duels, a corrupted marshall, sharpshooters, gold-diggers, a Navajo Shaman, a crazy banker, a strange hotel, a railway station and a saloon full of traps. We've also got a slow-motion interactive shooting sequence, an obvious tribute to Sam Peckinpah. We've got the Unforgiven, the Wild Bunch, the men who shot everybody buy Liberty Valance. But now, there's a new sheriff in town. His name: Edward Carnby.
To design Slaughter Gulch with a maximum amount of realism, two members of I-Motion's production crew went across the Mojave Desert looking for California's weirdest ghost towns. From their trip, they brought back hundreds of photos and documents which were then used by the production designer, Patrick Charpenet, and by the screenwriters, Hubert Chardot and Christian Nabais.
Chardot and Nabais had fun building the perfect ghost town, riddled with secret passageways linking the different buildings. But this wasn't enough! A movie crew was supposed to have added its own installations in Slaughter Gulch before having been shot. So the two screenwriters put themselves in early Hollywood set decorators' shoes and conceived many other tricks; trompe l'oeil, traveling rails, false doors, and so on . . .
A couple of 2D flashbacks will allow the player to learn the history of Slaughter Gulch and the background of the game. Those flashbacks will be slightly animated, and accompanied by authentic wild west songs specifically chosen and arranged for the circumstance. Mainly, they will introduce the terrifying Jd Stone, founder of Slaughter Gulch, who stole that sacred land to the Navajo Indians. Not having aged a single second since the last century, this merciless madman still rules the place.
Stone plans to make the San Andreas fault crack in order to drown California. Since the so-called death of Slaughter Gulch, he lives with his sidekicks in galleries dug in the mountains. Those galleries compose a weird tracery made of corridors and caves carved in the rock by the convicts who serve him. The twisted ghouls have fit out those caves according to their very peculiar tastes.
In the second half of the game, Carnby will enter a world of nightmare, where some of his opponents have lost their head, literally and figuratively.
But before that, Carnby will die. Die? Nobody really dies in Slaughter Gulch (and that's true as far as the game is concerned – the "death" animations are gonna be quite a surprise). Helped by a mysterious Navajo Shaman, the private eye of the occult will be reincarnated in an animal form for a while and will have to prove his valor in order to recover his body. Then, rising from his grave, Carnby will have to fight a duel with his evil double, born after his death, and will resume the game dressed as a gunfighter.
Another highlight of the game is the sudden miniaturization of Carnby after a strange experiment. The 3D character will keep the same size on the screen, but all the surrounding scenery has been re-built ten times bigger for those sequences, keeping exactly the initial proportions. And speaking of size, let's mention that AitD3's playing time is one and a half times longer than that of the previous episode.
In a way, AitD3 is the synthesis of Carnby's two previous adventures. The gameplay of the second episode has been kept; the rythm of the action is breathtaking, danger is all around, the game's field is very wide . . . .but the eerie atmosphere and the riddles revive those of the first episode. Carnby will have to use his brain at least as much as winchesters or Colt Peacemakers. And we will even meet again Emily Hartwood, co-star of the first game.
Most of Aitd3's creative team comes from Alone in the Dark 2 (AitD2). You don't change a winning team. I-Motion tried a different approach as far as the design is concerned and hired a french comic-book artist. Renowned for his rendering of gothic atmospheres, Joel Mouclier drew hundreds of color and black and white roughs. Most of them were straight done over prints of the design coordinator's 3D construction, to keep an accurate view of what would appear on the screen. Then they were transmitted to the studio in charge of the set decoration. Some of those color roughs have been scanned and will be featured in the title sequence of the floppy version.
I-Motion decided not to end here the collaboration here; Mouclier's artwork will also be featured in Prisoner of Ice next Call of Cthulhu game, following Shadow of the Comet.
Like an architect, the design coordinator, Christophe Anton, had to draw the 3D plans of the ghost town and the caves. He also had to position each camera (each camera displays a small part of the game's field) and to determine their setting off in relation to the player's position. All in all, more than 250 cameras were set off – fifty or so more than in AitD2 – in order to cover each room, each street and each nook under various angles. Particular attention was given to the cinematography, and the cameras positions were very carefully determined with the screenwriters, because AitD3 is a real interactive animated weird western movie.
The screenwriters and the design department joined efforts to draw 50 basic characters, who were then used to build the dozens and dozens of evil-minded wild west ghosts encountered by Carnby in AitD3.
The game's engine is the same as AitD2's, but is a little bit faster, and allows us not only to display more characters on the screen but to display more detailed ones.
AitD3 is the final chapter of Carnby's first trilogy. I-Motion is currently working on a new game engine for Alone in the Dark 4 (AitD4). In the future, the technical crew will be split in two; one will develop AitD3's foreign versions and little games like Jack in the Dark using the same engine, while the other one is going to enter a research and development phase to add the final touch to the future game's engine. A preview of that new engine, using multi-angular mapping, will very likely be incorporated into AitD3, to give the player a taste of what's awaiting him in Carnby's next adventures – the player will become the director of his game. According to the situation, he'll be able to choose instantly whether he likes an overall view of the room or if he wants to keep a subjective view of his surroundings.
In AitD4, Carnby will again meet one of his arch-enemies and the interactivity will be increased – the player will have the choice of whether to control either the private eye of the occult or Emily Hartwood. Then, the leftover character will live its own independent life and will cross the player's path a few times during the adventure. Each time, the player will have the possibility of switching characters.
AitD3 will be released in the middle of December 1994 as a CD-ROM product. The dominant color of the box, drawn and painted by a former coalminer, will be red. Why red? Maybe because Clint Eastwood painted a town red in High Plains Drifter . . .
A floppy version will be available two months later, around February 1995. But let's point out that the greater storage capacity of the CD-ROM will allow us to feature special bonus sections on the CD-ROM version.
Now remember, when you're once again alone in the dark, fighting a duel or looking for a clue in a room full of ghosts this is only a game.
Christian Nabais – Infogrames