Frictional: The Horror, Then More Horror
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.