Before Resident Evil, there was Alone in the Dark

Which may very well be the first survival horror. EVER.

Basile Lebret
Jul 29 · 6 min read
Screenshot of the game, very first playable screen, a man wearing tweed is seen standing in an attic.

So, Resident Evil Village is a FPS. Interesting. Even more so if you’re one of the few who knows the franchise, before making it as the originator of the survival horror trend, was to be a FPS. Resident Evil ? A FPS? Come on, we all know it was fixed cameras, tank control, polished drawn decorum and 3D character models. There was no first person perspective involved. Well, this might depend on who you ask. For if you asked Capcom from 1995 to 2015, they would have answered by the negative. It’s Shinji Megami who said so, right after the release of The Evil Within. Resident Evil, the first one, should have been a FPS, but then Alone in the Dark came along. And it was all that the team needed to fire their imagination.

There once was a boy named Frederick Raynal who liked to make games. Paper ones, for his fellow classmates. That’s until he discovered PC, through the ZX Spectrum I believe, and decided: “Wow this was made to make games!” You have to understand Frederic’s dad owned a computer repair shop at the time, mixed with a video store rental and this may have contributed to the young boy’s love story with technology.

If you ever delve into why the Raspberry Pi was created, it was mainly because a professor of computer science thought that machines nowadays were too complex, that a child taking ahold of them would be drowned by the complexity of it. The 80s were a simpler time, wHen children could open their favourite PC engine and actually understand how the whole thing worked. This is what Raynal did, before creating games.

His first foray into gaming was not renowned — although he created an emulator — and sold a few copies of his game through his dad’s shop but it’s in 1988, when he was 18 that Raynal really became famous. One day he released Popcorn, a basic puzzle game. This led to Infogrames contacting him.

One of the missions which would be assigned to the young Raynal was making a port of the videogame Alpha Waves. A simple game which could be considered one of the first ever 3D platformers. Raynal has said, through many interviews, that it’s while he was working on the aforementioned 3D box that he frequently thought there was something more to be done with 3D.

Having been raised through the 70 and 80s in a video store; Frederic Raynal wanted but one thing. It was simple.

He wanted to make a 3D Zombie. In order to attain his goal, Raynal developed a program which enabled him to make moving polygons which would resemble a human being.

Around the same time, there was this idea floating around in Infogrames. It was initially titled In The Dark, and it would be about the player trying to make it through a dark environment thanks to a limited supply of matches — White Night, anyone?

Around the same time, there was this idea floating around in Infogrames. It was initially titled In The Dark, and it would be about the player trying to make it through a dark environment thanks to a limited supply of matches — White Night, anyone?

Of course, Raynal thought his idea of a 3D engine would complement the concept ideally, but the head of Infogrames wasn’t so sure. Raynal knew he had to make them understand and get behind him. Yet he also knew the machines he was working on couldn’t support that much information. Hence why after trying with photographs he opted to make his 3D character move over a 2D pre-rendered background.

The young coder then asked graphic designers privately to help him in his endeavour. He wanted concept art to sell his premises. One of the few who responded was Yael Barroz who would become Raynal’s wife. In many interviews he stated that to do so she had to use the computer that sat in her university, but hey, different times, different vices, right? ALso, Barroz actually handed him decorum that looked like the attic of an old mansion, and it fit way more his endeavour than some other concepts did.

Soon, Raynal had a working concept, an attic through which he could make his human (although headless) walk.

Execs, including Bruno Bunnell were sold. Raynal finally had the reins over the new project. There remained one problem though. Of course what he had was awesome when compared to the competition, but how could he make it scary?

Raynal opted for books, Infogrames told him about the Lovecraftian mythos, about making Alone in The Dark part of the Call of Cthulhu series and he declined. As a role playing gamer he despised the character sheet Call of Cthulhu had and so wanted to make his own thing. But this Lovecraftian inspiration this was on point.

To write the scenario, Raynal took the three programers who comprised his team and roleplayed with them through the entire plot. For him, the catchline of the game would be GET OUT! So their character had to start in the attic, he would then have to go through a mass of trials in order to survive the night.

This was when he also decided that what could be read would be scarier than whatever he could come up with on-screen.Hence the quantity of document presented in the title. He also decided to input a logic through which the player would play, do something, die, and have to repeat again with their new found knowledge. If Alone in the Dark is officially the predecessor to Resident Evil it may ultimately well be the ancestor to the Dark Souls franchise. Raynal wanted people to be on edge, and for them to be on edge despite the bright graphics, they had to die. EVERY. TIME.

When talking of Resident Evil if documentation and puzzle solving was not enough to convince you, the first instalment of Alone in the Dark also possessed two characters one male and one female, which would have let the players choose a totally different path if the team had more time to work with. The real reason behind having a female character? Raynal thought the reason there were few gamer girls was because they lacked representation.

Interesting.

Bruno Bonnell at the time didn’t allow Raynal to put his name on the franchise, which prevented the code from every copyright claim. After the release of the game, because Infogrames wanted to push the franchise and Raynal wanted to do something else, he finally departed the company.

Alone in the Dark in its first iteration would possess two other sequels (and one spin-off) neither of which Raynal had worked on. After the downfall of Infogrames it would end up in the bag of Atari, who gave it another two sequels and attempted a remake before selling the rights to THQ Nordiq.

Raynal sued Bonnell in order to regain some rights over the franchise and went on to create Little Big Story. A game to which he is to this day trying to make a sequel.

One thing can be said though, when Shinji Mikami, once he left Capcom finally admitted that Alone in the Dark was the main inspiration behind Resident Evil, he made one French developper hella happy.

Next week we’ll talk about Thérèse Raquin and its best adapation Parck Chan Wook’s Thirst!

Counter Arts

A Home For Your 2 Cents

Counter Arts

Whacky, countercultural, and insightful writing on all topics. Who cares what the algorithm says? We want to hear your true voice!

Basile Lebret

Written by

Releasing a paper every Friday.

Counter Arts

Whacky, countercultural, and insightful writing on all topics. Who cares what the algorithm says? We want to hear your true voice!