Results tagged “eternal darkness”

The relationship between magic systems and horror is hidden and unexplored territory, as secret as the black arts that lurk within the games themselves. Horror as used here refers not strictly to the genre of survival horror, which is a marketing construct invented in association with the first Resident Evil. Rather, horror-themed games include any game whose purpose is to evoke a sense of fear, dread, and the sublimity of unknown dark forces. Horror-themed games can be first person shooters, action-adventure games, and side-scrolling beat 'em ups. Magic is rarely the core mechanic of horror-themed games, often because players are put in the position of fighting magic through firearms and melee, or using magic only indirectly through artifacts. Magic and horror are intimately wedded in terms of themes but not in terms of direct player interaction.

realmsofthehaunting.pngYet, horror games often have the most original and memorable simulations of magic in terms of atmosphere and mood. What horror games have to teach us is their atmospheric simulation of magic, the Gothic mood that they associate with magic through a combination of art style, audio, and (sometimes) haptics. If more closely melded with the core mechanics of games, magic systems in horror games can be superb examples of design and provide inspiration for other hybrid genres.

Magic appears prominently in horror games because of an endemic thematic preoccupation with the supernatural, with emphasis on its dark side as the infernal and the demonic. With this supernatural element in mind, the definition of magic systems can be further refined and extended from last week's blog entry. A magic system is a set of rules and symbols for rigorously simulating the alteration of reality through the will by the agency of a supernatural force, whether conceived of as a genuine metaphysical presence, a symbolic construct, or an energizing psychological reality. In keeping with Crowley's axiom from Magick and Theory and Practice that "any intentional act is a magical act," any act of gameplay requires the operation of the will to achieve a desired result in altering a symbolic reality; therefore, any game mechanic can potentially be looked at as magic. This definition could theoretically be extended to include snowboarding and guitar playing if the experience of these activities approached the transcendent (which according to some Rock Band devotees, it certainly does). However, those genres that most embrace the representation and simulation of the supernatural will tend to exhibit interrelated mechanics that can most rigorously be defined as magic systems.

The definition of a magic system introduced in installment one could be sharpened from "any set of rules designed to simulate supernatural powers and abilities" to "any set of rules and symbols designed to simulate the alteration of reality through the will." This definition echoes Crowley's first axiom from Magick in Theory and Practice ("magic is the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will"), though it can apply to games without requiring designers to buy into any particular philosophical scheme.  Rather, an appreciation of magic requires only a little reflection on the profound mystery of the will: by deciding to do something, we can make it happen. For example, we focus our will to pick up a glass of water at lunch, and we do pick it up. Magic is an extension of similar taken-for-granted acts of will into a more profound longing: to control not just our immediate surroundings through the direct use of our body, but to shape nature, technology, other human beings, and the spirit world through the force of the will.

hereirule.jpgPerhaps most specifically, the fascination with magic stems from a desire to guide and shape the forces that govern the course of our individual human lives. The exercise of will to create change in life is murky and difficult, thwarted as it often is by forces both internal and external beyond our control. But in games, there is the potential of mastery, of understanding rules and then manipulating them through strategy in order to achieve a desired outcome. "Here I rule" is the marketing slogan of Magic: The Gathering, a declaration often accompanied by depictions of a skinny adolescent smirking confidently while surrounded by the fearsome monsters. As gamers, many of us identify with that sentiment.

As magic systems in games evolve, various forms of alteration of reality become formalized into types or "schools" of magic to categorize the ways in which players can alter a simulated reality. 


Magick Systems in Theory and Practice: Installment One

I am pleased to introduce Jeff Howard, The Gameshelf’s first guest blogger.

Jeff is Assistant Professor of Game Development and Design at Dakota State University in Madison, South Dakota. He is the author of
Quests: Design, Theory, and History in Games and Narratives. He received his B.A. from the University of Tulsa and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is currently working on a game-in-progress, Arcana Manor, and related research about magic systems.

He plans on writing about games and magic over the next couple of months here, starting with this post. Enjoy! —jmac


A magic system is any set of symbols and rules designed to rigorously simulate supernatural powers and abilities. Magic is pervasive as a game mechanic and fictional construct within games, spanning across genres (RPG, MMORPG, adventure game, action-adventure, fighter, survival horror) and decades (from the 1974 first edition of Dungeons and Dragons to World of Warcraft and beyond).

Magic is part of the very nature of why people play games: to simulate abilities that they do not possess in real life; to escape from the prison of the mundane to the realm of enchanted; to weave the chaotic forces of life into a rule-bound system that can be understood and, at least partially, controlled.

The problem is that many magic systems aren’t very magical. RPG’s, both multiplayer and single player, have the same shortcoming: players press a button on a tray of icons, then watch an animation fire, followed by a cooldown period, after which players press the same button again. This process of spamming a hotkey button or two, cued to one’s most powerful spells, doesn’t feel like magic.

Magic, as depicted in fantasy literature and occult tradition alike, is a complex and arcane art comprised of gestures and words, as well as ingredients carefully combined with ritualistic artifacts in order to draw away the veil between the natural and supernatural worlds. So, the question emerges: how could designers put the magic back into magic systems?

Eternal Darkness 2 Highly Unlikely

Eternal DarknessEven after ending their contract with Nintendo, Silicon Knights CEO, Denis Dyack is still asked if there are any plans for a sequel to Eternal Darkness. His answers regarding sequels have been strongly misinterpreted and there are many rumors being made without any basis at all.

“I am most often asked if we have sequels in mind for Eternal Darkness. The answer is absolutely yes.”

- Denis Dyack, Silicon Knights Blog, July 06, 2006

This does not mean there are fragments of Eternal Darkness 2 code and media hidden in their offices. It means they have ideas for a sequel if they ever had a chance to make one.

Although Eternal Darkness did not sell very well, it is well known for inventing “video game insanity”, literally. As the player progresses through the game, there is a sanity meter in addition to the common health and mana meters. The lower the sanity meter lowers, the more distorted the gameplay becomes. This can happen in various ways:

  • The camera tilts at an odd angle
  • Sounds of people screaming and crying loudly
  • Walls bleeding
  • Statue heads turn towards the player as they walk
  • The sound of loud knocking on doors
  • The screen turns black with the word “VIDEO” on the top-right corner as if the GameCube was turned off. The sound of your character being attacked can be heard in the background.
  • After saving a game, it will ask “Would you like to erase all data?” and will appear to erase the data no matter what was chosen.
  • The player will be attacked by monsters and the message “Please reconnect your GameCube controller” will appear at the bottom.
  • The game will pretend to crash and display the infamous “blue screen of death”
  • All doors in the room will be locked, making the player think they are trapped in the level.
  • Insects will appear to be crawling on the television screen.
  • The game will suddenly end with the message that “Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Redemption” will be coming out soon. This does not mean a sequel will be made!

AnthonyThere are many effects, and after some of these effects, everything will go back to normal (or more normal) with the player’s character screaming, “This can’t be happening”. The player can also recover sanity by performing finishing moves on monsters and casting recovery spells. The player’s health starts to drain after sanity reaches zero. I admit that there were times when I intentionally lowered my sanity just to see how many effects I can encounter. It was this method of messing with the player’s mind that gave it good reviews. It was weird enough to stop and think about what just happened, entertaining enough to find more effects and happens occasionally enough to make it hard to tell when it will happen next. It is a freaky game with a deep story and amazing audio. In addition, Eternal Darkness is the first mature rated game ever published by Nintendo.

Whenever a game is published by Nintendo, they own certain portions of the game, while Silicon Knights own other portions such as the characters themselves. The sanity system has also been patented (no. 6,935,954). The inventors are Henri Sterchi and Denis Dyack of Silicon Knights and Edward Ridgeway of Nintendo. It is because of this patent which stopped other developers from ripping off the sanity system for other games. In addition, it has never been made clear whether Eternal Darkness is an intellectual property owned by Silicon Knights or Nintendo.

“It’s not time to even talk about those other kinds of things for various different reasons. Nintendo, who’s still our silent partner, a lot of people don’t know that. We have a great relationship with those guys, and it’s not time to talk about Eternal Darkness 2.”

“It’s a complicated question with a complicated answer and we’re not answering the question.”

- Denis Dyack, Interview with Joystiq

Alexandra RoivasNintendo still owns stock of Silicon Knights, even though they have nothing to do with any of their current projects such as the Too Human trilogy. In addition, it has never been made clear why Silicon Knights did not renew their contract with Nintendo after developing only two games with them: Eternal Darkness and Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes.

Denis Dyack also stated that they want to make different types of games without being stuck in a single genre. He said that there is plenty of “undiscovered country”, with ideas that have not been quite explored yet. Dyack also made a very fascinating comparison between the video game and movie industry and stated that the major publishers are merging together to become larger and make fewer and better movies to make higher profits. Of the hundreds of games released last year, it is impossible to review each one and make a profit off each one as well. Video game publishers are also echoing this, with Activision Blizzard being an example of this.

However, I believe that Steam, WiiWare, Xbox Live Arcade, and the PlayStation Network make it possible for smaller developers to continue selling their games. Unfortunately, this does not make the process of pitching an idea any easier.

Denis DyackIn conclusion, there is no strong evidence that shows that we will be seeing an Eternal Darkness sequel anytime soon. With the legal barriers and the need for confidentiality, Denis Dyack does not have any other answers other than the fact that it is “complicated”. Even though I never finished Eternal Darkness, I would love to play a sequel should it ever get developed someday. Until then, Silicon Knights has a lot of work ahead of them with the Too Human trilogy and a bunch of unknown games they will be working on in between. These unknown games will be different from their other games in every way, in genre, gameplay, appearance, plot, etc. They have made many achievements with their games and working with Microsoft and Nintendo and did a great job of placing Canada on the map for game developers. The only person we can trust in regards to an Eternal Darkness sequel is Denis Dyack.



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