Alone in the Dark might be one of the most influential video game series of my life – and is definitely the most important series of my childhood. To celebrate the undoubtedly terrible reboot launching in October, I’ll use the following months to rehash why this weird line of games is so important to me.
Alone in the Dark – little me, in library, pipi in my pants
Belgium, the nineties. I was eleven and got my first PC. It was my treasure, had Windows 95, a diskette and a CD-rom drive and – my god! – even a sound card. The days of listening to my mom’s crappy pc speaker like a pleb were in the past! To top it all off, I had a friend who had games. Tons of games. Most of these were copies which, we both knew, were incredibly illegal. We could go to jail. The crime? The coolest of all: Gaming.
And that’s how I got into Alone in the Dark: On four 3,5″ diskettes. Installing it took a while, and the installer crashed on the final disk, but when we typed aitd.exe on the dos prompt (this game would not run under Windows), the game miraculously booted. It looked like this:
Now, to today’s trained eye, this game in which you traverse a game from the attic all the way to the exit while encountering scary monsters might not exactly be scary. But man, in 1996, this was the worst thing I had ever seen. And I had watched Terminator 2: Judgment Day. This game was 3D, it had actual polygons, and it played like an interactive movie. Over the course of the next weeks, I would play for ten minutes, then put it down, partially because it was too scary, but honestly because it was too hard.
This game had puzzles, man. One of the first items you found was a rug. This item would be used to cover up an axe-throwing painting hours of playtime later. Hints would be scattered in books, but I wanted to play games, not read, man! I couldn’t make any progress in this game – and then my friend gifted me a printed walkthrough. This thing was my bible and without it, I would still be trying to figure out where that damn rug goes.
So now I could finally progress, and I discovered something else about myself: I’m a fucking scaredy-cat. I shat bricks playing this game. Derceto, the game’s mansion, had a library, as all mansions do. Only this one was dark, and you first had to fill your lamp with oil, then light it and finally pull it out to see something in there. And when you did, a purple blob monster immediately came towards you. So you did the most logical thing you could: hide behind a bookcase. Only to discover it could go through it.
But in the end, I got through the library. Probably with my buddy next to me screaming at the top of my lungs. The treck through the mansion continued and led me to the catacombs underneath. I escaped a giant worm, ran through a maze, jumped around a corner (because yeah you could effing jump in this caves, this game was from the future man!), ran down another corridor and then the game crashed.
Remember what I said about the installer? Turns out, a file on the fourth diskette was corrupted. CAMERA05.PAK. I remember the name to this day. Because the truth was simple as day:
There was no way for me to finish this game. Every time I ran down that corridor, the game just froze. I must’ve tried a thousand times, thinking this time would be the one, but unfortunately: no dice. It took years until the internet would develop so far that save games were available and I was finally able to finish the game. It had a demonic tree. And a skeleton for a taxi driver. It was rad, but by the year 1999, I had played Ocarina of Time, man. We had the Sega Dreamcast.
But to this day, Alone in the Dark is special to me. It was quite the mindfuck finding out the brain behind this, Frédéric Raynal, is also responsible for the other series of my childhood, Little Big Adventure. And I’ve played every Alone in the Dark game since. There’s five in total, and boy, are they a mixed bag.
Case in point: Alone in the Dark 2, aka the one that tries to be Die Hard. See you next time!