The Shadow
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The Shadow

2DARK, the REAL sequel to Alone in the Dark

Did you know Frederick Raynal never worked on the sequel to Alone in the Dark, but in 2015, chose to make a new survival horror?

It’s been more than ten years since Frederick Raynal released a video game. No, that ain’t true, the legendary game designer tries to comfort himself. Since his DreamCast adventure, Raynal certainly went through a drought, but he developed on his own a bunch of HTML games. The kind you’d play in your Facebook brother.

The type that really makes money.

Raynal has always been obsessed with creating gameplay. Not solely in the videogame sphere. He’s turned balloons into electronic devices. Hell, he’s been creating games since even before he programmed.

This was he’s telling himself as he watches the Ulule campaign for 2DARK, his new baby. Ulule is the French equivalent of Kickstarter. 2DARK is a new survival horror, he’s been developing with a team of twelve for a year now. The crowdfunding campaign is only asking for €30,000, not the entirety of the budget. Raynal would have preferred to ask €50,000 but let’s be honest, this campaign is to prove to potential investors that there exists an interest in his video game.

Raynal’s a legend, he invented survival horror by making Alone in the Dark. He worked for EA on Little Big Adventure and even released two games (the third was unfinished) on DreamCast.

Still, he knows he cannot make any mistakes. No one’s getting younger. Raynal wants to make another videogame. He’s made it a survival horror, so as to be certain that gamers would answer the call. He published the whole project as being solely French, very indie. He needs the money but more importantly he needs the interest.

To just breathe just for once. To feel relief.

When the campaign hits its end, it has gained 34,000. Not enough to add two levels but Raynal is now breathing. It’s very tense that he’ll now work on this new IP.

For a long time, Thierry Plathon was the president of the French syndicate of video games. For this venue he used to organize events, game industry conventions, think GDC but hella smaller. Since Frederick Raynal was a name big enough in the industry, he was once awarded a Medaille d’Ordre du Mérite by the French president, it’s really no surprise Plathon knew him and invited him quite often.

Plathon had begun his career in the comic book industry, working for comic book magazines such as Heavy Metal or L’Echo des Savanes. He made both comic and video game reviews in the 80s, and it is through this bridge that he was able to write the adaptation of a heavy metal comic book: Ranx.

Seeing Raynal had always been sort of a free mind, it is not that hard to imagine Plathon often asking him: “So, have you fin’ly come up with something that’ll revolutionize gaming?”

For years, Raynal had nothing. He had left the Alone in the Dark franchise even before the second installment and was never able to conclude his big trilogy of Little Big Adventure games (the third still does not exist). Raynal often joked that Little Big Adventure was a AAA from the 90s which meant that it was made by 70 people max. While Alone in the Dark was a AAA of the 80s, meaning it was made by 4 people.

Raynal had watched the AAA industry get bigger and bigger and he knew he was maybe a household name but he wasn’t a part of it. Still, if he was the inventor of the survival-horror genre, and had at some point tried to develop some sort of Shenmue survival horror, maybe he could rise to fame by using the same recipe.

In interviews, Raynal often states that the survival horror genre is a whole universe, in which inhabit very different games. Resident Evil is way more action oriented than Silent Hill. Just like Amnesia: the Dark Descent is a game about fleeing. To Raynal, as a gamedev, there was one common thread. Every survival horror is a game where the player is alone and has to survive horrors in order to advance.

An egotistical approach, says Raynal. What if you had to protect children?

Raynal has always been one to develop games as a whole. In interviews, you’ll hear him talking about how old school he is, how he will not be using unity but decides instead to develop his own engine even if that’s cost intensive. Let’s be real for a minute, Raynal developed the whole engine of Alone in the Dark and most of his game that came afterwards, he certainly knows what he’s doing.

But at the same time, developing a whole ass engine certainly doesn’t come cheap.

Plathon at the time, was the CEO of this small studio named Bip Media which mainly released video games for the Nintendo. Small games, about farms and stuff. Would he like to make a video game with Raynal? In a later interview, Plathon will admit Raynal’s eagerness is contagious.

So the duo, accompanied by Raynal’s wife, founded Gloomy Woods, a small structure that would enable them to develop the video game Frederick envisioned. It would feature some mature themes, Plathon would be writing, Raynal coding, Yaël Barroz, Raynal’s wife would be the illustrator.

Pretty much like he had asked her for Alone in the Dark, Raynal wanted her to paint 2D backgrounds. This was how he’d circumvent the low memory problem of early computers in order to make Alone in the Dark work. And à la Alone in the Dark, he wanted 3D characters and enemies to evolve on those pristine backdrops.

For this, Raynal and his team took six month to develop a new engine. Raynal had this precise vision of a non cubic voxel character, inhabiting a 2D environment. This way while the whole graphism would have a retro feel this would enable him to add lights. Very realistic lights.

Akin to Stifled, Raynal wanted to play with the darkness. In the obscurity of the game players would not be able to see through, even if they set their screen to the brightest. Even if they cheated. What he wanted was to build a sort of Zelda-like centered around shadows. in the shadows, only the noise of moving objects, or people, or monsters, could be seen as a wave. This would give more importance to light sources. You would be able to know a character’s somewhere but not when it really is before you shine a light on it.

Retrospectively, it’s interesting to note that Alone in the Dark was sort of a Soulsborne, centered around the die and retry logic, an really soulsborne, in turns it inspired White Night which was really about fighting the shadows through the use of matches and how obscurity would get to you. And it feels like Raynal was inspired by this logic for 2DARK.

I’ve heard Raynal in one of his interviews, citing Steve jobs and going: “No one really creates, we just mash together things that we learned and grew up with is all.” And, in a way, 2DARK really feels like this. A mishmash of ideas Raynal had throughout his life and that it let pour out in a last swan song.

Because, despite the fact that Gloomy Woods soon settled a deal with Focus Interactive, and was on track for the whole time of the development, they even released a mini-level for the Ulule backers. 2DARK wasn’t well received in the end.

Plathon in an interview explains that the whole team knew that it was not gonna be as great as intended, six month prior to release. Plathon also admits that Raynal and him had devised this as a way to shine bright once again and that if it failed they would close GloomyWoods.

They did.

Although in interviews leading and up to the release Raynal is often seen smiling and asserting they would developpe connected toys after this, or a 2DARK 2, GloomyWoods had to close its gate for good once the PS4 and XBOX One port came out.

Reception was mixed in France to say the least, but more importantly the publisher had asked the team to use the DRM Denuvo that most gamers hate. This led to a very toxic reception from fans although the protection program was taken out of the game only three weeks after release.

I never knew Frederick Raynal ahd released a new game. Some sort of horrific Zelda in which you have to save children from psychopaths and then have to escort the traumatized kids back to the entrance of the serial killers’ den. An interesting concept in and of itself.

But I bet if I, a french gamer, didn’t know, certainly most of the world didn’t know either.

2DARK can still be purchased on most video games stores. Here’s to hoping this paper picked your curiosity.

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Basile Lebret

Basile Lebret

93 Followers

I write about the history of artmaking, I don’t do reviews.