Frictional: The Horror, Then More Horror

By Adam Smith on August 22nd, 2011 at 12:33 pm.


I remember when Frictional released Amnesia, there appeared to be a lot of talk about whether a game so relentlessly horrible would have a broad appeal. Refreshingly frank about both potential and actual sales figures, the team said 100,000 copies would be a dream figure. What, then, would they make of four times that number? It can only be assumed that dreams have piled upon other dreams, Inception-style, for 400,000 units have been shifted. So, yes, they have their dreams and almost half a million people now have fresh nightmares. I, for one, am now so afraid that doors will not open in the correct direction for a hasty retreat that I must check every single one when entering a new building. Just in case.

At GDC Europe, project manager Thomas Grip acknowledged the boost provided when Amnesia was thrust into Valve’s Potato Sack as well as the cult status that quickly grew up around the game, as evidenced by a hundred videos of people screaming along to it on Youtube. Publicity you just can’t buy.

Frictional were also at the NotGames Fest, which is dedicated to games that don’t rely on traditional “fun mechanics”. Running away and fouling oneself in the dark not being considered traditionally fun, Amnesia must have fit right in. The festival itself sounds like a fantastic cauldron of the esoteric and the website is certainly worth a gander, particularly as there are links to all kinds of fine games/mods right there. Dear Esther catches the eye as always and if you haven’t already played it, run off and do so.

As for what comes next, there is suggestion of an “Amnesia-related project”. Whether that is in terms of mechanics or world isn’t entirely clear, although I suspect the former. Intriguingly, Grip also talks about the desire to evoke “less primitive” emotions in gamers than fear. However, a horror base shall remain. Given the success of Amnesia, I reckon this is born from a genuine desire to shake things up, not because horror games are niche. You can’t fit 400,000 people in a niche. It’s simply not practical.

Hopefully, “less primitive” emotions might translate into “less primitive” fear as well. Amnesia was wonderful but a deeper exploration of the psychological would be a spectacularly unpleasant treat. Give me Penumbra crossed with Inland Empire and I doubt I would ever sleep again. And I’d gladly pay for the privilege.

Hivemind note: Mr Smith is helping us out this week, say hello!

Subnote: He is no relation to the other Mr Smith.

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95 Comments »

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  1. MD says:

    The happy passion, upon this account, interests us much less than the fearful and the melancholy.

    • Premium User Badge

      Lars Westergren says:

      “Why can’t love ever touch my heart like fear does?”
      -The The

    • MD says:

      Fear is a passion derived altogether from the imagination, which represents, with an uncertainty and fluctuation that increases our anxiety, not what we really feel, but what we may hereafter possibly suffer.

    • DeCi says:

      I must not fear.
      Fear is the mind-killer.
      Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
      I will face my fear.
      I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
      And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
      Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
      Only I will remain.

    • goodhegood says:

      Low price, reliable quality, trust shopper’s paradise. Welcome to:
      Online store:
      http://tinyurl.com/3wvabn3

    • Ruffian says:

      my biggest fear is that spambots will one day rule the world.

    • outoffeelinsobad says:

      Can a spambot develop comedic timing?

  2. Jockie says:

    Welcome Mr Smith (insert economics joke here – I got nothing)!

    I am one of those people who was far too wussy to actually play Amnesia, being defenceless in games does weird things to me, probably because of the way most games programme us to feel godlike by default.

    • Loopy says:

      You’re not the only one, I’ve yet to play Amnesia, even though it’s been sitting on my HDD taunting me ever since release (and I pre-ordered it too!).

    • EOT says:

      Me neither. Worst of all is the fact that I was bought it as a gift by a Steam friend and I’m well aware that they can see that my play-time is 45 minutes.

    • Nallen says:

      Same. It sits there looking at me. Then I close steam and play Starcraft and try not to think about it.

    • Snuffy the Evil says:

      You know it’s a good horror game when your time with it is spent in twenty minute intervals over a few months.

    • Raziel_Alex says:

      There are people here that have not “played” Amnesia? Oh, the things I would do to them…
      Also, hello Mr. Smith and it’s so great Frictional can continue the (r)evolution.

    • MistaJah says:

      Mmm, that King Kong game should be for you, the only game aside Irrational’s that’s made me run in terror, despite that you can fight the dinos.

    • McDan says:

      That’s exactly how I play it snuffy, nothing actually scary has happened yet in my playthrough, but I still can’t play for longer than 10 minutes at a time it scares me so.

  3. Coins says:

    I really hope they’ll do another game in the style of Amnesia. The horror elements did very little for me most of the time, but the story itself was well thought out, and this blend of folklore, light steampunk and magic tickled my fancy quite a lot.

  4. GoliathBro says:

    You’re not Quintin. What is this?

    • Baboonanza says:

      It’s the Invisible Hand, gently touching your cheek when you least expect it.

  5. LennyLeonardo says:

    Thanks, Frictional, for making one of the best/worst games of last year. You deserve every penny your success has earned you, and I deserve every penny your success has earned you in punitive damages for making me a gibbering wreck for two weeks.

    I love you guys.

  6. Scatterbrainpaul says:

    I wonder how many people out of the 400,000 actually completed it

    My heart couldn’t take it and I had to give up 3 hours through. I will complete it one day (from behind my sofa)

    • Caleb367 says:

      Hey, I did finish Amnesia. In 30-minutes long sessions, ’cause, you know, it scares the crap out of me, but I have to add, that game had me do the worst mistake in my gaming history.
      I played at night, alone, with a headset, in a dark room. And I had just entered that goddamn prison level.
      I didn’t get much sleep for the rest of the night…

  7. Symitri says:

    I wonder if a game like Amnesia could be replicated but instead of featuring any guaranteed monster encounters, there would be only a 1% chance of ever encountering a monster in the entire playthrough and even then, localised to certain areas. After a while I got desensitised to the actual monsters when I saw them but what I never got tired of being scared of was the chance a monster would appear.

    Would an experience where you may never run into a monster but knowing there’s a really remote chance be scarier than knowing you certainly would? I think it might be. Some people might go entire games without seeing a monster and, on the flip side, you might have somebody who happens to have the worst luck in the world and constantly runs into them. It’d make for more interesting Youtube Let’s Plays for the latter group anyway!

    • LostViking says:

      You are right. Every horror movie I have ever seen (with the exception of Aliens) gets gradually scarier up until the point where the monsters are revealed. Once you know what they look like it usually becomes a splatter-fest instead, and its not scary anymore.

    • tayruh says:

      That’s why I like the Clock Tower and Haunting Ground games so much. They only have one enemy and you can only run from them, but their appearance is completely random (except for a few setpieces that force them to show up). It makes it really freaky because you never know when they’ll show up, and when the music suddenly changes to the chase music, you have to stop whatever you’re doing and find a hiding spot immediately.

  8. Binary77 says:

    HELLO!

    I’ve still not played Amnesia yet, but i’ve heard nothing but great things & the videos of it look fantastic. I’ve been enjoying Silent Hill: Shattered Memories on the Wii, because you can’t fight back & it forces you to evade & escape, which makes for a much more tense experience.

    I remember everyone telling me about how scary Dead Space was & for the first 5 minutes – they were right, but once you get tooled up you quickly gain control of the situation & it stopped scaring me at all. Both Dead Space games are great & really atmospheric, but there’s nothing scarier than being defenceless against the unknown.

    • Calneon says:

      After playing Amnesia, Dead Space 1/2 didn’t scare me in the slightest. The first time I played through Dead Space (before playing Amnesia), it did scare me slightly though.

    • Subject 706 says:

      I might be weak-hearted, but I find the Dead Space games to be quite frightening, especially number 2, at least if you play on a harder difficulty.

      My puny weak mind simply cannot NOT be scared when a horde of grotesque corpse mutants run screaming towards me. Also, the fact that death came very quickly if you happened to miss your opponents.

  9. Freud says:

    I hope their next game is just like Amnesia, but where you can kill the monsters with guns, combos and other cool stuff.

  10. JackDandy says:

    I certainly enjoyed Amnesia, but I liked Penumbra more.

    Can’t to see what the good folks at Frictional have to offer us next time.

    Remember Ultima Underworld? I think they can pull off that kind of game really well.

    • Kaira- says:

      I’d like to second that. The atmosphere in Penumbras was so much better than Amnesia, even though the technology was clunkier.

    • iHavePants says:

      Yep, Black Plague is their primary masterpiece as far as I’m concerned. Knowledge that the scary won’t just “poof” away into a whisk of nothing if you hide for a moment definitely helped, and the implementation of “Clarence” was brilliant.

    • Mistabashi says:

      I have to say I agree, although I think part of it for me was the more contemporary setting, and also the fact that Amnesia rarely lets-up so it’s quite exhausting to play, whereas Black Plague gave you lots of little interludes where you felt (somewhat) safer and could catch your breath a bit.

    • Gotem says:

      Well, I didn’t like Clarence, at all. I think Red was a much much better character. I think I enjoyed overture more.

    • Jake says:

      I preferred the Penumbra games, and I thought Red was the best character. The worst thing about Amnesia is the voice acting of Daniel, it pulls me out of the game so much, and is far more of a frustration than trying to beat up a spider.

      The atmosphere in Penumbra is perfect, you get a real sense of slowly descending deeper into the darkness, going from bad to worse. Amnesia feels like it just plonks you in the middle of constant darkness and everywhere is equally horrendous. There’s no real sense of dread as you force yourself to go into somewhere new that looks grim, as it all looks equally grim so you get a bit jaded. Silent Hill did it best (of course), when you heard the air raid klaxon you knew things would be downhill from there.

    • Heinrich says:

      Mistabashi: Really? I found Amnesia gave me quite a few bits where I wasn’t worried. The big ones that come to mind are Agrippa’s room, once you get used to it, and the place with the fountain. However, I haven’t yet played Penumbra.

  11. Premium User Badge

    The Sombrero Kid says:

    this pleases me greatly, the frictional blog contains some info on the tech they’re working on which almost certainly means the next game will have outdoor areas and maybe even open worldyness, although i’d doubt it’d be a sandbox given frictional are pretty critical of sandbox games. here’s hoping!

  12. Eclipse says:

    In before I would like to point out the release of Dark Room, a very cool mod for Amnesia: http://www.frictionalgames.com/forum/thread-9618.html

    it’s a very nice mod and you should play it if you liked Amnesia!

  13. Premium User Badge

    Lambchops says:

    Hello Mr Smith.

    Amnesia was indeed rather excellent and I’m looking forward to seeing what Frictional do next with their much deserved pile of cash.

  14. Alexander Norris says:

    An indie game with practically no marketing budget and a fairly niche concept sells four hundred thousand copies.

    Four hundred thousand! Anyone who says there hasn’t been an indie games revolution is bollocks.

    (I’m now rather a lot jealous, considering the indie game I’m involved with is thinking 10k copies would be really ace.)

  15. Premium User Badge

    Rinox says:

    I am happy to say that I preordered Amnesia (when they had a ‘funding’ thermometer and everything), and was a small piece of the puzzle in funding the development. :-) of course, that also means I paid less actual monies than people wo bought the game upon release, so I’m not sure it’s something to brag about. ;-)

    • Prime says:

      Smugness is me also. :) :) :) :) :)

    • Shuck says:

      I actually waited for a sale to end so I could pay full price for the game. I really wanted to support these plucky indie developers after reading about them. These guys are underpaid and overworked, living on the financial edge to produce something different, and I’m pretty happy they’re finally seeing some reward for that. I just hope it continues, as the game market is fickle.

    • Shih Tzu says:

      I was one of the first 100 preorders!

  16. Subject 706 says:

    Same here, almost. I’ve only played for an hour or so. Since I am playing with headphones only (due to infant and wife not appreciating sounds of horror echoing through our apartment), I almost get a nervous breakdown after ten minutes of play or so. One day I shall muster the bravery to complete the game!

    Edit: Argh, reply failure. Was meant to be a reply to Jockie…

    • Balobam says:

      You… You are missing a prime opportunity here, friend. Grab that child of yours and force him to play his way through Amnesia.

      When he is a man with balls the size of coconuts and no fear, he will thank you, before venturing off to fight bears and other such manly activities.

  17. Premium User Badge

    HermitUK says:

    Frictional would be my developers of choice to make a Slenderman game.

    • azathoth says:

      Oh god. I’m scared just thinking about a Slenderman game by Frictional… It must be done!

  18. Bilbo says:

    Welcome, Mr Smith.

    Amnesia was indeed awesome, and I concur that the prospect of more of the same is very exciting. All the same Valve’s ability to play Kingmaker with Steam continues to frighten me on a much more meaningful level than an hour of Amnesia ever could.

    *braces himself for backlash*

    • Premium User Badge

      Rinox says:

      Backlash incoming!

      Why is it frightening? isn’t it a good thing that Valve is promoting good indie games like these?

      Now if they were somehow capable of driving games into the ground…that would have been a little scarier.

      Besides, I think you may be giving Valve a little too much credit. A good game will in the first place sell because it’s a good game, not because it’s been shone upon by Valve’s Holy Light.

    • Vile Vile Vilde says:

      Stop! You violated the law!

    • Bilbo says:

      Studios have been saved based on the power of a Steam sale – I think you underestimate their power…

      That said, I concur that Valve haven’t done anything insidious to make me that worried about what they might do with said power, and have in fact used it to do some cool stuff, but it’s the sheer existence of that power at all that makes me nervous.

    • Vile Vile Vilde says:

      Then pay with your blood!

    • Bilbo says:

      Oblivion’s a good game, too

    • Vile Vile Vilde says:

      Disposition maxed.

    • Whosi says:

      Sure, why not….every thread here seems to need a conspiracy.

      Plus, more from Frictional, sweet.

    • Shuck says:

      I’m really pleased and impressed by how Steam has seriously promoted indie games. This is only good news for indie developers; Valve can only improve their sales. Small developers have never been in a better situation, frankly – they get the sort of attention via Steam that would otherwise be impossible. Obviously, however Valve feel about indies, they aren’t doing it out of the goodness of their heart – they realized they could make just as much, if not more, money selling 10x as many cheap indie games as they could expensive AAA games. Indie developers must be far more amenable to making promotional content (for Valve’s ARGs, etc) than the bigger studios, too. Right now, there’s no down-side for developers; the worst thing Valve could do to them is not carry their games.

    • Bilbo says:

      Shuck, we disagree on the grounds that the same sort of effects are unachievable outside of Steam. I don’t think that’s true, but you kind of tossed it off, probably didn’t really mean it. I’d also add a qualifier to basically every statement you said – and don’t get me wrong, you implied it, but I want to underscore it – it’s good news for small developers who are on Steam. Valve have a lot of power in that regard, and you said it yourself – Valve could not carry a studio’s games, and they’d basically be dead in the fucking water, or at least, they’d have much more of a struggle ahead of them than their contemporaries who may achieve unfathomably better sales while having a vastly inferior product purely by virtue of being in Valve’s good graces.

      With great power comes great responsibility and all that, and it’s worth paying ongoing attention to Valve’s work with Steam and remaining guarded about the long-term effects their work is going to have on the market.

    • Shuck says:

      @Bilbo: Strangely, I think we’re actually in agreement here.
      Of course one can have a hugely successful indie game outside Steam – Minecraft proves that. It just requires a lot of promotional work, as you say. What makes Steam unique is the level of support and advertising they provide indie developers for just their (reasonable) distributor cut. (The impossibility I mentioned was that of getting the same visibility and promotional benefits for the same cost elsewhere.) I don’t see anyone else providing this same benefit. Valve does a good job increasing sales of smaller games available through their marketplace, and yes, not every game can or will appear on Steam, and those that don’t will miss out on this boost. My point simply is: this is not a problem with Steam, this is a problem with every other distributor and retail channel. And yes, some games that get a boost from Steam will be mediocre, but I think how well they do will be a reflection of how good they are, honestly. Steam is a social network; the games with the biggest boosts will be those that get the best word of mouth.

  19. changeling101 says:

    I got one hour into Amnesia before I ran out of trousers.

    On account of pooping myself.

    From fear.

    • Ross Angus says:

      Thanks for the clarification. To further clarify, for our American friends, when changeling says “trousers”, he means “pants”. I’ve no idea if he ran out of underpants.

    • Balobam says:

      And to reclarify for our English friends, who may have been confused about the mentioning of ‘pants’, he of course means pantaloons, which as all decent Englishmen should know, are the real mans choice of lower body garments.

    • Premium User Badge

      JB says:

      @Ross Angus – Re: underpants – Let’s assume yes.

  20. Khemm says:

    I wonder how many of those who bought it “waited for a -90% Steam sale” instead of rewarding the developers.

    • Balobam says:

      I am sadly one of those people, but had that sale not come along, I wouldn’t have bought it, because based off my playtime of either Penumbras, and my inability to process horror well meant I would never touch the game.

      So I figured a paltry £5 or £7 would be another sale to them, whilst I get to look from afar at a game I refuse to play for longer than 20 minutes. The gods were unkind to me the day I attempted Justine to earn myself another potato.

      I thought it would be easy.

    • Gnoupi says:

      Seeing as the game never reached lower than -75% (http://www.steamprices.com/us/app/57300/amnesia-the-dark-descent), I’d say none.

      And a sale is a sale. There is no “rewarding the developer”. You buy a game if you think it’s worth it, or you don’t and maybe wait for a lower price to tempt you, or go play something else.

    • Bilbo says:

      “A sale is a sale”

      -I think he was making a point about buying it at full price, and close to release, being the ultimate in supporting the developer, with waiting patiently for it to be reduced being less so. He has a point, uncomfortable or not.

    • sbs says:

      Right now I’m trying to decide if you are as whiny or even worse than the drama queen crying about how people “only” paid avarage price for humble bundle.

      yeah, fuck you.

    • Khemm says:

      @sbs
      I love you, too. Your dino avatar is so cute.

  21. OOS says:

    Amnesia is one of those games that I really want to play, but probably never will. I’m just too much of a wuss (in fact, I have Penumbra bought, waiting to be downloaded, but I could never bring myself to do it). That being said, these types of games fascinate me in the same way that movies like Martyrs do, so i’m definitely interested to see what these guys come up with next, and then to read about what exactly it is, and perhaps get over my fears and actually play one of these things.

    • Gnoupi says:

      Quite the same for me. I see that the game is great, I played the demo several times… But it’s just too scary for me, and I know I wouldn’t handle the whole game at such rate.

  22. LennyLeonardo says:

    I think the amount of “It looks brilliant but I’m too scared to play it” comments here and elsewhere are a measure both of Frictional’s success and their willingness to take risks. The fact that the risk paid off big time in this case fills me with joy.

    Oh god, does it mean their next game could be even be scarier? Oh please god no.

  23. Zarunil says:

    I hope Frictional makes another horror game, I’ll buy it for sure. I loved Amnesia, and actually completed the game.

    At least I think I did. Now where did I misplace my socks?

  24. Prime says:

    HELLO, ADAM!

    Amnesia was one of the highlights of 2010. I loved playing the game, loved watching the videos of people bricking themselves playing the game – this success is richly deserved.

    And oh GOD did those paintings, wot like you have in your header image, freak me out when they kept changing on you! Such a simple trick but holy badgers: so effective!

  25. Muzman says:

    I declare a week of economics puns!
    This story at least should have been called “On The Wealth of Palpitations” or something.

  26. Premium User Badge

    TheTourist314 says:

    So Mr. Smith, what are YOU going to do to help out this great blog/country?

  27. eclipse mattaru says:

    Did the paintings change? o_O I didn’t notice that, I was so shitless scared I couldn’t bring myself to making any videogame-y exploration.

    Or looking directly at any of the monsters (I only learned what they look like from screenshot).

    Or playing for more than 1~2 hours at a time.

    The next game needs a better, Penumbra-level writer at the helm again. The endings, for instance, were quite disappointing, and a huge waste of opportunity.

  28. Skabooga says:

    I’m so glad to see that I’m not the only one psychologically unable to play a Frictional game. Seriously, I got the first part of Penumbra off of the Humble Indie Bundle 2 like 9 months ago. Since then, I have only played it 3 times for about an hour each time (and that represents even less progress than you might imagine because I was crouching and sneaking the entire way). I plan to continue to play it, but just the thought of starting it back up again makes me uneasy.

  29. Robmonster says:

    I’m /honestly/ not saying this just to be contrary, but I just didn’t get Amnesia.

    It seemed t be trying to scare by making loud noises every so often and make things move about on their own but it didnt really seem to give me the heebiejeebies.

    So much so that I just stopped paying it as it wasn’t any real fun.

    Did I just not play it far enough…? I perhaps spent a couple of hours with it.

    Rob

    • eclipse mattaru says:

      The only person I know that would agree with you on this eventually admitted he had been playing the game with the lights on and using a crappy pair of generic desktop speakers, which is a great way of killing the mood this particular game requires; so there’s that.

    • Robmonster says:

      Hmm, no I was in the dark, but maybe didn’t have headphones on… Maybe I’ll give it another whirl. I found searching for light sources quite irritating, and the irritation was overriding any scares.

      Do the scares get more advanced than things mysteriously falling off shelves? (Actually, thinking about it more the bit where a piano would play by itself when you weren’t nearby was pretty spooky)

      R

    • eclipse mattaru says:

      Sounds like you left the game too early then: The actual good stuff begins when the creatures start hounding you; all that ghostly stuff is rather secondary (I barely even remembered all that).

      The whole having-to-frantically-look-for-hiding-and-pray-the-Lord-they-don’t-find-you every time you hear one of the creatures coming is kind of the meat of the game, horror-wise. And it does work, I can tell you that –I mean, it worked for pretty much every person I ever heard/read about, to the point some of them couldn’t even get themselves to finish the game.

      The encounters are very cleverly spread about so that they always catch you off guard, and they become very intense, what with the music and the noises and whatnot.

      You will see the strings eventually, mind: You will learn to anticipate when the creatures show up and you will learn a trick or ten that can fool them every time (they’re not the brightest AI out there, frankly); so I guess that might put you off at some point; but at least in my case, even after I knew all that I found myself every bit as tense as I was at the beginning. If anything, that knowledge worked as a sort of childish mantra: “It’s only a videogame… It’s only a videogame… ”