Phil Harrison Explains Why 'Alone In The Dark' Fixes A Big Problem In Gaming

Remember when I said something in presentation of the new "Alone in the Dark" made me place my notebook over my face?

It made newly appointed Infogrames president Phil Harrison smile. "We had a debate just before we were due to start on where to start that sequence," he told me last week.

In previous presentations, they didn't spoil it. Just my luck. But he's right; they proved the narrative important enough for me to avoid a spoiler.

Influencing the player's narrative interaction is the game's DVD-style functionality, which allows them to skip sequences they don't want to finish.

"I think the intention behind the design was to resolve two fundamental contradictions in gaming," said Harrison.

Harrison talked about the frustration of spending years on a project, only to discover later that only 5% of the audience actually finished it.

"That's a big problem in gaming," he said. "You can't get past the green monster at the end of level three, therefore you're not going to see level four. Not only has the player invested money in buying the game that they're only going to see 20-30% of the value from, but on the flip side, there's the intense creative output that the developer invested in the game. I'm not talking money so much, but their passion, their dreams."

"Alone in the Dark" lets you skip ahead, but you can't watch the ending unless you complete a certain amount of the game. It avoids letting you have complete control.

The DVD mechanisms were born from the game's episodic narrative, heavily influenced by shows like "24," "Lost" and "The X-Files." Side note: Harrison isn't up-to-date on his "Lost" episodes, so we couldn't swap theories. I wanted to find out who he thought was in the coffin. Alas, that will have to wait until the next time we meet.

"Shows [like "Lost"] have a clearly contemporary up-to-date setting with a twist," he said. "That's very relevant to today's audience. People like you, who play games and watch TV, who are going to be inspired by the story or inspired by the gameplay mechanic. You can play to both audiences."

Harrison is talking about "Alone in the Dark"'s possible appeal to a larger-than-hardcore crowd. The DVD features speak to that, as well as the game's various on-screen indicators for how to perform actions in the game world. "Alone in the Dark" goes a step further than most in explaining its controls.

"Alone in the Dark is definitely a challenging game," he said. "It does not play itself. This is not a point and click adventures, where you just have to click and the story progresses.. But [developer Eden Games] have put a layer over the top, which I think takes some of the fear out of it, takes some of the distance that your normally see between hardcore gamer and casual gamer."

That said, Harrison isn't saying "Alone in the Dark" is akin to Nintendo's self-labeled "bridge games" like "Mario Kart Wii." It's a hardcore game.

"Alone in the Dark" arrives on June 24 for Xbox 360, PC PlayStation 2 and Wii (stay tuned for impressions of that one). It hits PlayStation 3 later this year. I wondered: why June? "Alone in the Dark had to come out in June for schedule reasons," explained Harrison. "We didn't choose June. It wasn't necessarily our choice to bring it out then. But I think it's a demonstration that the industry is moving away from that intense focus on Thanksgiving as being the only time you can release a game."

Intentional or not, it's nice to see another game arrive during the normally dry summer.

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