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Playable Cinematic Teasers in Frightening Loops. Playable Cinematic Teasers in Scary Loops. Playable Teasers in Loops. Be Scared of this Playable Teaser. P.T . Silent Hills

January 7, 2015 Leave a comment

Yep, that's kinda creepy

I’d heard a fair few mutterings and positive stirrings relating to the mysterious Silent Hills demo (also known as “P.T.”) but since I don’t own a PS4 I hadn’t thought much about playing it myself beyond lamenting that I never would.  By chance  I ended up watching someone else play on their Playstation, not the way I’d prefer to experience a horror game since the first person immersion is usually what makes horror games horrific, but it turned out to be worth the wait; P.T. is something of a milestone in videogame history, however you experience it..  It’s just a short demo, playable in a couple of hours, but it stands on its own as a complete game experience, and it’s one of the most frightening games you’re likely ever to play.  It’s just a demo but it manages to effectively bridge the gap between cinema and gaming in a way that nothing else has ever even attempted; perhaps because it’s a free demo (more specifically, a teaser.  “P.T.” stands for playable teaser) the developers weren’t burdened by the need to create a lengthy game experience or a predictable gaming experience that would sell.

The game throws the player into a confusing, terrifying series of  loops that take place down a single short corridor, with no information about what’s happening, or why, leaving him/her free to explore and discover the games secrets.  Your actions are limited in the game to simply walking around and zooming in on points of interest, a lack of input almost unthinkable in a modern console game but a design choice.  Once you’ve triggered the correct event you can walk through the door at the end of the corridor and you’ll find yourself standing right back where you started  The scenario is thick with atmosphere and whilst a lot of it is cobbled together from elements you’ve seen in horror games and horror movies a hundred times before – strange whining through a telephone, eerie radio news items about sinister murders playing in a background, ghostly shadows moving in the corner of your eye  and walls caked in blood – the sparseness of the game design coupled with the looping mechanic leave you feeling utterly disempowered as a player with seemingly no choice but to keep marching forward into every new loop knowing that things will have subtly changed, waiting to find out how those changes will manifest themselves, how that will affect you, and realising how utterly powerless to know how to stop them.  Sometimes it’s a small point of detail on a wall, other times a door rattles mysteriously, later you might happen to look up and see something ominous and eventually you’ll be hit by a massive jump scare that you’d been predicting for the past twenty minutes..

There’s cinematic inspiration here, a recent underrated horror masterpiece, Christopher Smith’s innovative triangle used a very similar looping idea to both horrific and heartbreaking effect.  It’s also not a surprise to see Guillermo del Toro’s name attached to the end credits when they roll (if you can get them to roll, since the game’s final puzzle is deliberately obtuse).  If cinema and video-games are to walk hand in hand into the future then it stands to reason that there are creative collaborations between those who excel in both mediums, and with movies like The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth behind him, del Toro is a proven master of the macabre.  Another high profile horror game that I’ve played recently, The Evil Within, suffers strongly from a lack of cohesion and discipline.  The game is certainly scary – boy, is it scary – but the horror is mostly visceral and for all its grotesqueries and genuinely gut churning moments, one walks away wondering why the experience is so disjointed and so desperate to plunge you ever onwards into the next big set-piece.  It’s not a candidate for the cinematic and it certainly doesn’t get under your skin.  The reason is, of course, because the game is so desperate to entertain you as a game and it wants to reassure you that, despite the multiplicity of horrors you’ll come across and the tension you’ll face due to a need to conserve ammo or resources, as a player you still feel in control, that you’re able to do what you need to in order to escape the hellish nightmare that you’re stuck in.  Gaming devices trump narrative devices every time and, whilst they might create a better game, they disconnect you from the story and diminish that aspect of the experience.

KrhdC3a

P.T. however, as a game, actively wants the player to fail.  Not just in terms of difficulty, or through forcing the player to endure a humiliating Game Over screen repeatedly a la Dark Souls, but more in terms of setting up a situation in which the player becomes doubtful and introspective, eventually completely unsure of his/her ability to succeed.   It doesn’t really care what input you might have into the game, all it wants is to heighten your feelings of fear.  But this is not the vomit-inducing fear of the gory, the visceral in your face kind favoured by The Evil Within, but the slow unsettling stomach-churning dread of a Paranormal Activity (a movie which itself applied cinematic methods to very humdrum pursuits, altering them upon repetition for maximum effect).

It’s unlikely that when it’s released Silent Hills will turn out to be quite this good.  We already know that the finished game won’t be based upon the ideas contained here and neither should it since it has a very different job to do.  However, there hasn’t been this kind of hype or excitement around any game in some time, let-alone Silent Hill, a franchise that’s been languishing in rehash land for so long most people simply stopped caring.  But now they care, thanks to this demo, and that’s a majorly exciting thing for the the computer game industry in general because it shows that innovation, thinking differently, coming up with new concepts and even embracing and meshing with the old (cinema) can garner you attention and ultimately secure sales.  P.T. is an entirely unique and free product that has clearly had a wealth of love and attention devoted to producing it and it’s succeeded in inspiring confidence in a game and selling a game.  Even though the final game will inevitably fall short of this nugget I’ll still be first in the queue to buy it, and I’m not even a long term Silent Hill fan.  And I don’t even own a PS4.

Anyway, I’d heard a fair few mutterings and positive stirrings relating to the mysterious Silent Hills demo (also known as “P.T.”) but since I don’t own a PS4 I hadn’t thought much about playing it myself beyond lamenting that I never would.  By chance  I ended up watching someone else play on their Playstation, not the way I’d prefer to experience a horror game since the first person immersion is usually what makes horror games horrific, but it turned out to be worth the wait; P.T. is something of a milestone in videogame history, however you experience it…

Don’t Go On, Put It Back, You’re Reading From the Bible Black!

November 17, 2011 Leave a comment

I played my first Japanese eroge Visual Novel recently, Bible Black, and have self consciously made the decision not to play through to the end despite the fact that in some respects I found it incredibly intriguing and well made. For those not in the know a Visual Novel is a style of computer game not made in the west; basically a glorified Choose Your Own Adventure the player scrolls through a series of semi-animated text and dialogue screens that tell a first-person narrated story, and chooses from a list of options at key points that will alter the outcome of the story to different degrees. Eroge (erotic) games are pornographic, though not necessarily in the traditional sense of “pornography” since the primary emphasis can still be on the storytelling only with the inclusion of the occasional hardcore sex scene.  These scenes may but not necessarily be seen as a goal or ultimate reward for the player. Many of the more popular anime series in Japan (non erotic) are adapted from eroge games (Clannad, Kanon, Fate/Stay Night) but inevitably I often read arguments that the TV adaptation is inferior to the original work and so I’ve been interested to try one out for some time.

Bible Black game cover

The game cover gives subtle clues as to what you may find within.

In a staggeringly unwise move, thanks to some gloriously inept research skills on my part, I chose to play Bible Black, a game which has been adapted into a well known hentai (meaning perverted – porn) series. It’s a series about an outbreak of sex antics in a high school that is caused by one student having possession of a black magic spell book.  Notably, I didn’t manage to watch this series through to the end of the second episode, despite its good quality production values. I was correct in surmising that playing the game would be a different experience and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a much better made, better scripted work than its adaptation, full -at least initially – of wit, humour and suspense, and there’s a good hour or two of play-time before there’s any hint of  sex or nudity (the hentai pretty much opens up with hardcore sex and continues with it for the entire runtime of an episode). These positive qualities have led some detractors to state that it would be a better game without the inclusion of the many sex scenes scattered throughout. I, on the other hand, think that the perverted hardcore sex featured in Bible Black, help make it the curiosity that it is. For better or for worse.

Bible Black really plays to its strengths as a visual novel by putting the player into the main character’s shoes and giving him – pervert that he no doubt is – what he thinks that he wants.  And then some.  In this case what that amounts to, with the help of the black magic book that you find in a disused basement of the high school, is the ability to make a high school girl strip off and masturbate in class and the option to ejaculate over her when she sleeps. Afterwards one can watch on whilst two girls rape another with a bottle and then you can force those girls to have sex with you. Later on you get to rape a whole coven of black magic acolytes. The squeamish are probably already looking away. In western culture rape fantasies are very much frowned upon and frankly I also find non-consensual sex scenarios to be quite horrifying, and not remotely erotic. But then, nobody claimed that this game was genuinely erotic. My terrible research skills really let me down here. Regardless, I watched on with jaw open in fixated fascination, as one might watch a Saw movie or any other work of extreme horror.

Girl in bed

It’s really just another day in high school when you’re given the option to pull down the covers and masturbate over a naked sleeping high school girl.

What makes this game so intriguing is that it sets you, the player, up for a horrific fall and a slap in the face. In those first two hours of slow paced dialogue one does, in fact, find oneself falling for the main female character, Kurumi Imari, your childhood friend who wakes you up every morning, walks to school with you, tries to get you to go to art classes and later on rescues you from a gang of thugs with her black belt karate skills. What one wants to do as a player of this game is to woo this girl, fall in love with her and eventually sleep with her. The creators of Bible Black know this and initially give you opportunities – game choices – that make it look like you’ll be successful. You can choose to go to her art class or run along home, you can try and get her to love you, or pick somebody else etc As one goes deeper into the game, after you discover the book of Black Magic, the illusory nature of every choice that you make begins to become clear. You “choose” to have a girl walk around school naked, but in actuality she ends up publicly masturbating (and pissing for good measure). You can “choose” not to ogle her in the medical room but her sheet somehow falls down and uncovers her nakedness anyway.  You do at least have the option not to masturbate over her, but that’s the game’s final concession to good manners.(who the hell would choose the “cum on her” option? Ok, don’t answer that – I didn’t.) You can “choose” to barge in and stop the 2 girls raping the other, but what happens is that the game informs you that you are transfixed to the spot and can’t help watching. Instead you get your revenge by magically forcing the girls to fuck each other whislt taking incriminating photographs. One ultimately realises that doing what one “wants” to do in this game is impossible when finally you are forced to sell your soul to another teacher, a black magic guru, and the “no thanks” option leads to your untimely death (yes, she actually force feeds you a pill that makes you masturbate yourself to death.  One of the game’s more horrifically amusing moments). At this point I also discovered that I was on a crash course to brutally raping, possessing and killing Kurumi Imari. Not the ending I was really anxious to see. Apparently the game does have a “good” end in which you get to be with her, but you can only access this after you’ve played through the bad ending. Nice.

It was at the point where I had to rape the girls in the coven – and I really didn’t want to – that I gave up the game feeling that I had a good grasp on what else it had left to offer me. What really intrigues me is how personally I was taking every situation and how frustrated I was getting that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. Yes, I wanted to sleep with the girls – of course (pervert!) – but not like that . I wanted Imari to fall in love with me, I didn’t want to end up possessing and abusing her; that was just too mean. I’ve seen rape scenarios in hentai before and usually I’ve just felt disinterested and switched them off since there’s so much better that anime has to offer. I’ve never felt the level of disgust and aggravation that this game made me feel, because I’ve never so effectively been put into the rapist’s shoes before. One can tell oneself that it’s only a game, with animated drawings and not even live actresses, but whilst you’re playing I it doesn’t make any difference since it feels very real and the choices you make feel very important. Having played this game I now feel like a sick and twisted dirty rapist.

Imari

That’s a cheeky little panty flash. She must be in love with me, right?

The reason I wanted to share this experience? Because this is a particularly effective demonstration of the power of representation. The movies we watch and the games that we play are always subtly manipulating you into thinking and acting in ways that may not necessarily be the personality you previously saw yourself as being. Computer games – not just visual novels – are very strong representationally because they literally encourage you to be and act out a particular role in an increasingly compelling and realistic fashion. I’m not arguing that this is wrong, or necessarily a bad thing, just that it’s worth bearing it in mind when one turns on the TV set or the XBOX. Bible Black is an amazing -or, at least, fascinating – game because it really strips away that artifice and shows representation and manipulation for what it is.

Nevertheless, I think I want to play something with fluffy bunnies and good old fashioned romance right now.

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