People call me crazy. Seriously: crazy. “Mad,” they say. “Insane,” they cry. They claim I’m deluded – that I don’t know what I’m talking about. They say that thing I believed totally gone done happened couldn’t have gone done happened at all.
Surprisingly, though, claims of my insanity have no ties to my questionable understanding of syntax.
So, what was the thing? I played a sequel to Eternal Darkness.
It was a thing of beauty, too – a wonderful, awesome thing. Made by a developer that goes by the name of Slightly-Mischievous Puppy, the Eternal Darkness sequel featured a slew of sanity effects imbued with the horror of contemporary industry tropes and a super-shiny co-op mode.
That said, I was naked at the time, having just given a speech to NATO’s crack team of hyper-intelligent mecha-monkeys about the importance of funding direct sequels to really awesome video games – and why overly-long post previews are evidence of one’s slipping grasp on reality.
But don’t let the naked-NATO-mecha-monkey thing fuel your doubts. Read on.
Because that’s what the monkeys want you to do. And what they want is important.
Because one day – one day soon – they will reign supreme.
For they will rule us all.
But before that day comes and you delve deeper into the ravings of a ‘writer’ with a seemingly-dubious grasp on both syntax and reality, it’s important to understand exactly what makes Eternal Darkness so notable: its meta-filled sanity effects and brazen use of unapologetic tragedy.
Silicon Knights’ Gamecube classic tells the tales of very human protagonists – heroes with bald patches, considerable waistlines and an unfortunate sense of style. These were heroes who, despite the combined efforts of player and protagonist, often met abrupt and tragic fates in service to a greater cause: saving the world from the impending eternal darkness.
Eternal’s roster of warts-and-all humans aren’t wise-cracking bullet sponges with a striking indifference to mass murder. Instead, puny humans having a really bad day with a really gruesome end.
The result is a narrative-driven experience that unfolds like a mythological relay race, each unsuspecting warrior a runner in a sprint to save the world. Throughout this race, exposure to the Walking Dread erodes each runner’s psychological cohesion. The more depleted the bar, the more pronounced the subsequent delusionary effects.
This is where the fun begins.
Sanity effects embody a simple premise: have the player join the protagonist in their inevitable descent into madness. From a spontaneous shut-down-feigning black screen to gratuitous head explosions and self-adjusting television volume, Eternal Darkness compels the hero to question the reality of what they encounter – and the player not long after.
So, yeah, about that sequel I think I remember playing once.
Eternal Darkness: The Sequel leverages fifteen years of change, with new technology and new industry tropes. Mysterious messages from phantom players, random party invites which, when responded to, put me in a party full of strange, otherworldly voices – and a party in which the player was one banana short of a bunch as result of their extensive game testing sessions. One instance had me open an objective-marked door, only to be prompted by an invite to buy the remainder of the game via the Mantarok Digital Marketplace for a cool 2,000 gold coins and the sacrifice of my youngest son. Bargain.
Finally, a phantom player remotely accessed my game, discarded my inventory, performed a decidedly unheroic ritual suicide and promptly deleted my save.
The ideas at play are as novel as they are obvious – but they were just the tip of the tower of flesh for the game’s most stand-out feature: asynchronous co-op.
This time, the mythological baton is passed between a string of disparate players – each’s decision influencing the circumstances of the chapter to follow. Every chapter within my campaign was an instance within somebody else’s chain, resulting in a drastically different experience each time. A naturally fitting mechanic for a universe that peeks behind the ever-rippling curtain of material reality.
Long-lasting decisions might range from starting spell selection and enemy positioning to item discarding and the opening of particular doors. A considerately-discarded weapon might appear centuries later to offer an unexpected boon to the next member of Team Eternal. Death itself is also a viable strategy: can I ensure my inevitable demise bolsters the hero for the chapter to come? Do I need to consider which items I’m carrying in case the next tome-wielding traveler finds my ancient remains?
Moments from the proceeding chapter are woven into the fabric of the next, as abandoned items carry vivid flashbacks of their storied history. A generous predecessor, then, might look to coordinate item placement and provide guidance along a perilous path.
Here, you’re both the storyteller and the story told. What’s more, never do you speak to those who came before and after. They, like the cast of the Sanity’s Requiem, are separated by almost immeasurable chronological and geographical distance – perhaps for the occasional well-placed item or scrawled, hand-written note within the Tome of Eternal Darkness itself.
It’s difficult to imagine few developers more equipped to handle such a sequel than Naughty Dog, previously the creators of a world in which very real people faced very surreal circumstances. The Last of Us, a game dripping with tension and atmosphere without its hand forever resting on the jump-scare button.
There we go, then: a sequel to a Nintendo-published fifteen-year-old Gamecube title developed by a Sony-owned studio.
People call me crazy. “Mad.” “Insane.” “Deluded.” Don’t know what I’m talking about. That thing I believed totally gone done happened couldn’t have gone done happened at all.
But I swear to Mantarok it happened.
And if by chance it didn’t, the monkeys will make it happen.
For they are the masters of all that exists.
They will rule us all.