We now join the countdown, already in progress. If you missed the earlier bits, here are links:
#30 & #29 (Stil Life and Night Trap, respectively)
Developer: ICOM Simulations
Systems Released On: Amiga, Commodore 64, Macintosh, Nintendo Entertainment System, PC.
Release Date 9/29/1987
Wow. Hard to believe Uninvited is almost twenty years old. And it still manages to be as great a game as it was when it first came out.
Uninvited is the second of three games created by ICOM in the 1980’s using the Shadowgate Engine. The game is a very old school point and click game involving your character solving puzzles and using various items to proceed further through the locations in the game in order to achieve the end goal. Although the genre has died off in popularity over the years, amazing games using this format still pop up. #30 on the countdown, Still Life, is one of those games and it was released in 2005.
Uninvited was one of the first Horror/Terror games that contained graphics. Sure we had Zork and the insidious Grue and a ton of text only Cthulhu Mythos games, but Uninvited actually gave you visual representation of what you were encountering. Its release on the Nintendo Entertainment System was a big deal considering it was the first true horror/terror game for the console (even though this game’s predecessor is going to show up on the countdown as well). Friday the 13th wouldn’t be released until 1989. This meant that for the first time, American gamers could encounter monsters without whipping them to shreds or jumping on their heads. (Japan had Megami Tensei, which was released a week earlier than the US got Uninvited.)
By today’s standards, Uninvited isn’t scary. However, there are moments of the story that are very well done and hold up when compared to today’s horror/terror releases. It makes one wonder how a remake of this game would fare. Hopefully better then the godawful Shadowgate 64. That game’s scary for completely different reasons.
The plot of Uninvited is a classic ghost story with some occasional comic relief thrown in. The main character (you) and his sister are driving along a road when a strange ethereal figure jumps out in front of them, which causes you to swerve your car into a tree, knocking yourself out and doing massive damage to your vehicle. You pass out and when you awaken, your sister is gone. Some of you may recognize that the opening to the first Silent Hill is either a blatant rip off, or a nice tribute to Uninvited. But from that point on the plots differ greatly.
The main character finds himself standing in front of an old spooky mansion that radiates evil. However, as it’s the only place for miles around, it’s the only place your sister could have gone. And steadying your resolve, you enter the Mansion where you encounter strange apparitions, spooky ghosts, and deadly traps.
There are several things that make Uninvited a true classic. The first is the fact the game’s controls and play setup is amazingly easy to learn. Although several of the puzzles can be quite tough indeed, it’s quite simple to master the controls, and makes a great “first point n click” for gamers. Hell, it served that same purpose two decades ago.
Nearly every object in Uninvited can be used in some way within the game. This is impressive when you realize even most modern point N’ click games don’t allow you to have that much control over your environment. There’s also a set of ten commands you can try with each object to see how they will react with yourself and your current environment.
The game also plays in first person perspective. This wasn’t very common back in the 1980’s, especially compared to today. Even the other truly great point n click games from this era, like Monkey Island or Maniac Mansion relied on third person perspective. This really helped Uninvited stand out, and made the game scary in its heyday. After all when that mysterious woman turns around, it’s not generic character #86 that gets a good look at her fleshless self, but rather you getting a face full of spooky skeleton. In fact, this very character is remembered as one of the spookiest (and most memorable) moments on the NES. I know several parents who took the game away from my friends when we were 9-10 because that scene scared the crap out of them. Of course, I grew up to hang out in the Amityville house or Castle Bran, so I partially blame this game for drawing me into things that go bump in the night.
The music on Uninvited still holds up today as well. Although most games have orchestral scores or actual tracks from famous bands today, back in the era of 8 bit gaming we had MIDI’s, and we liked it goddammit! The music helped to set the spine chilling atmosphere of the game. Okay, chilling for the 80’s. The further along you got in the game, the creepier the music got. Considering their was little animation to the graphics back then, the story and music really needed to set the stage and mood of the game, and both succeeded marvelously.
The puzzles in Uninvited are very memorable as well. They can be pretty tricky to solve, and some are definitely not logical. But what place does logic have when you’re trapped in a mansion of the undead? The maze in particular managed to drive many gamers to the point of madness. Because I’m such a nice guy, here’s the directions through the maze.
Of course, I won’t tell you how to deal with the zombies or what to do once you are through the maze, but at least you received some help from me, eh?
The last thing worth discussing in Uninvited is the fact there are 25 ways to get killed in the game. Heck, even today, most games don’t give you 25 different death scenes. Remember how I said you can even use objects on yourself. Watch the hilarity when you foolishly choose to use an axe or a knife on yourself. My personal favorite deaths in Uninvited involve being burned alive if you dick around at the beginning of the game, or being eaten by angry dogs. This was a big deal back in the days of when games just had your body collapse and didn’t go into descriptive detail about your body being ripped apart or being feasted on by zombies.
One thing of importance. If you decide to seek out Uninvited, I strongly suggest you look for the PC version of the game. The NES version is quite good, but it’s also edited with some of the spookier content and graphics edited out or dumbed down, due to NoA’s policy of “all ages” entertainment. However, if all you can find or access is the NES version, you’re still in for a treat.
Like most middle children, Uninvited did not get the same attention from the gaming audience at the time as Shadowgate or Deja Vu. Those other two games received sequels, but considering how they turned how, maybe it’s a good thing Uninvited didn’t receive one.
Uninvited allows us to see how far the genre of horror/terror gaming has progressed graphically in the past 20 years. Of course, it also shows us how little the stories or plots of these games have progressed as well, considering it outshines most of what is currently available in this aspect. If you’re looking for a nice short game you can beat in 2-5 hours, with an interesting plot, some clever brain teasers, and a plot that has influenced many horror/terror games since its original release, than Uninvited is strongly worth tracking down and devoting an afternoon to. Just remember, don’t punch monsters. It’s not a good idea.
Throughout the year and a half we’ve been doing Nyogtha, we’ve covered a great deal of haunted houses. We’ve talked about the Smurl haunting, The Amityville Horror, and many more. It’s arguably the most common piece of occult folklore or horror/terror literature. It’s origins began during the time of the Roman Empire, with scribes such as Lucian (who is also considered the inventor of the Science Fiction genre), Plautus (who primarily wrote comedies, one of which was adapted into the modern classic A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), and Pliny the Younger (who is best known for discovering the volcanic phenomenon of pyroclastic flows.) all have the earliest recorded haunted house tales.
So what has made the concept of the haunted house survive through millennia of writing and oral tradition? Perhaps it’s because unlike other forms of monsters out there, we can’t humanize or redeem a haunted house. It exists simply to terrorize and spook humanity. Witches? They used to be scary? Now neo-paganism is a trendy religious choice. Frankenstein’s monster? Hollywood turned it into a sympathetic character and is often considered a good guy in “monster vs monster” stories or films. As well, with modern science allowing even face transplants, it’s hard to be frightened by something that is more and more possible as we unlock the secrets of flesh. Vampires? Vampires have become tragic anti-heroes and sex symbols. It’s hard to find them frightening when they spend more time moping around than a teenager with the complete works of The Smiths. Demonic possession? Only Judeo-Christianity really demonizes (if you’ll excuse the terminology) the concept, as both religions shrink on a global scare, so too does the threat or fear of this concept. Werewolves? White Wolf Publishing has turned them into furrie hippies primed for slash fan fiction.
Ghosts however, and their subsequent hauntings of locales remain the most constant source of terror throughout the world. But why?
The most common theory amongst folklorists is that all forms of religion since mankind were able to conceive concepts beyond life and death featured some form of undead spirits. And very rarely were these spirits benevolent. A Jungian would say that mankind’s fear of the death and the dead themselves have become part of our unconscious collective.
Where we know that a minotaur is not going to exist in reality, nor are there ogres waiting to grind our bones into dust in that dark alley we pass by going home from the clubs at night, even the most atheistic person can feel goose bumps crawling up their spine from a good ghost story. This aspect is unique to ghosts as they surpass any particular religious belief. Whether you are a staunch Roman Catholic or an Australian Aboriginal who accepts “Dreamtime,” you still have thousands of years of ghost stories in your belief system. Then you also have to factor in the theory that ghosts aren’t necessarily undead humans remaining on the mortal plane, but as some parapsychologists conjecture, emotional residue from various acts (often of great anger or sadness) that manifest through various means. Concepts such as these combine to make ghosts and their kin not the most popular form of monster, but certainly the most common, and most importantly, the easiest to believe in.
If you’re interested in learning more about the oral tradition of ghosts, I’d suggest an oldie but goodie from folklorist Dr. Louis C Jones and his work, Things That Go Bump in the Night. I’ll let you search it out on your own, but I do want to discuss with “five Reasons for Haunting.” quickly before we move on to the next game on the countdown.
1. Ghosts haunt to replay their own death, especially if it was spectacularly violent.
2. Ghosts haunt in order to perform the actions and activities they did in life. Sort of an eternal loop. It is this type of haunting that is most often considered a psychic or emotional imprint by ghost hunters.
3. Ghosts haunt in order to achieve some unfinished business or action that they needed to do in life. Often this involves a human as intermediary.
4. To warn or inflict punishment on a descendent or close friend about actions they are taking. Charles Dickens used Jacob Marley to this effect in A Christmas Carol, for example.
5. To warn/protect/torment a human dwelling within a location in which they are tied to.
It is #5 that we generally see in late 20th or 21st century horror & terror literature. Although before recent history the other four were more commonplace. The most common belief for this is the average scary story today focus on HORROR rather then TERROR. Long time readers know I brought up the difference between terror and horror in video games when I did an early Retrograding back in 2003. Terror of course is fear of the unknown. It is dread and requires the manipulation of emotion in a sublime manner. Terror requires a level of sophistication and rudimentary understanding of human psychology. Horror however is the banal, the gore-filled, and the repugnant. Horror would be say, Resident Evil (although RE doesn’t even fit the true definition of horror either…), or a Pumpkinhead film, where the graphic violence is more important than a substantial plot. Terror on the other hand would be something like an HP Lovecraft story, or Clock Tower, where death does occur, but the fear of something getting you is stronger than the actual “death scene” itself. This is why I have such a loathing for Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth/ They took a classic work by a TERROR author; someone who utterly loathed the concept of horror, and turned his work into a First Person Horror Shooter. That’s like digging up Lovecraft’s corpse and raping it.
Of course, I loathe having to refer to this as a “Horror Countdown” because very few games on this list are actually horror by the definition of the word, but as long as the Video Game industry continues to show crapulent levels of ignorance by calling it “Survival-Horror” as a genre, I have to use the word horror as if it was interchangeable with terror…which it is NOT. That’s why you’ll often see me use “Horror/Terror” to describe the list. It contains both, but I continue to keep them strongly separated, and refer to games like Uninivted as Terror, while Still Life and Night Trap were labeled Horror. But now we’re off topic.
As those that are interested in monster have shifted more towards gore and gruesome displays of slaughter due to the advent of movies and television (not to mention some amazing special effects achievements), mankind seems more interested in horror than terror, Thus we have seen ghosts go from spooky and frightening apparitions, to things outwardly capable of attacking or killing humans. Even authors who have written popular horror novels have lamented that terror has taken a back seat to horror. These include Stephen King, Clive Barker, Richard Mattheson (which is ironic as Hell House is the epitome of horror haunted houses) and more. Perhaps horror has surpassed terror in popularity because it ISN’T frightening. Maybe horror is preferred because it is actually easier to view something like Freddy Kruegar because the violence is so over the top and that gore is something we can sleep easier in our beds after viewing than the idea of some nameless shapeless dread lurking in the dark hidden corners of man’s domain. Or maybe as Boris Karloff once said in 1943, that horror is for the lowest common denominator, while terror is for the intellectuals and the thinkers of the world. Of course Karloff also thought Joseph Conrad’s The Shadow Line was perfection itself in regards to terror, so who is to say?
#27 Prisoner of Ice
Publisher: InfoGrames (US and Europe), XChing (Japan)
Developer: I-Motion Entertainment
Story by: Chaosium Games
Systems Released On: MAC (US Only), PC (US and Europe Only), (Sony Playstation (Japan only), Sega Saturn (Japan Only)
Release Date: December 31st, 1995 (December 23rd, 1997 for Japanese Console Versions)
Prisoner of Ice was the second “Call of Cthulhu” video game put out by Infrogrames, which we all know and love today as Atari. Although it is not as good as it’s predecessor, PoI makes it on the list for having arguably the best plot out of any horror video game amongst spooky game aficionados, not to mention being the most accurate game in regards to adhering to Howard Phillip Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. (Note: Infogrames also published the first version of Interplay’s Alone in the Dark game back in 1992, but it is not directly connected to SotC or PoI. They do take place in the same universe and timeline however.)
PoI puts you in control of Lt. Ryan, an American aboard a British submarine (The H.M.S. Victoria) carrying a mysterious frozen cargo to Antarctica during a highly classified mission known only as Operation Polaris. The year is 1937, and although America has not entered it yet, WWII is raging across Europe. Operation Polaris is going smoothly until suddenly a Nazi ship appears on the radar and begins launching an array of depth charges. The submarine experiences an electrical fire and while the crew attempts to put it out, the cargo in the hull of the submarine begins to thaw…and all hell breaks loose. Literally.
What follows is an excellent adventure that still holds true to the beliefs and writing of the authors who made up the Cthulhu Mythos literary circle. You also have a strong focus on the Nazi’s well known fascination with the Occult. In prototypical meglomanical fashion, the Nazis feel they can control the Great Old Ones to destroy their enemies and then return them back to the horror from beyond whence they came. Silly Nazi’s! Of course as the only American, you’ve got to save what remains of the bumbling British crew from being devoured by hideous things that can not be described lest your sanity ebb away, stop the Nazis and prevent a race older than time itself from reclaiming the Earth.
Don’t misunderstand though. Unlike some other horrible CoC games, you’re not going to be shooting something like Father Dagon a few times and driving it off. This is a game where you stop monstrosities by using your brain, not a shitload of bullets. Prisoner of Ice is another point and click adventure game, so you’ll be doing lots of puzzles, interacting with other characters, and solving arcane or occult riddles. Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep (who is an Outer God actually), and Father Dagon (who is neither) all show up, but in name and word only. The Necronomicon is a rather important bit of the game, which is a nice touch. I mean if you’re going to be a Nazi warlord intent on conquering the planet with unfathomable power, might as well go for the Encyclopedia Britannica of occult tomes, right?
One of the reasons the plot is so great is because Chaosium themselves wrote and designed the plot of the game. For those that don’t know, Chaosium are the creators of the Call of Cthulhu pen and paper RPG. The game is basically a tabletop RPG given graphics. And if you’ve ever seen the level of detail and precision put into the adventures for that RPG line, you’ll understand just how great that is. Horror on the Orient Express remains my personal favorite Tabletop adventure of all time. The game focuses on not just Lovecraft’s Cthulhu monsters, but also his ideas on Time Travel and other science fiction concepts that would occasionally surface in his weirder tales.
Of course there is a drawback to the story, and that’s the game is amazingly linear, even for a point N click game. You pretty much have to do everything in an exact order that can (and probably will) feel stifling to those who aren’t fans of terror games or the Cthulhu mythos as a whole. In truth, the game will only appeal to the true connoisseur of horror games. But then, that’s the point of this list, isn’t it?
One of the most unique things about Prisoner of Ice is the fact there is a time limit on a lot of the puzzles, and thus the game itself. Although this might not appeal to some gamers, I personally love it. It adds pressure to you as a player and reinforces that a nameless shapeless dread is fast approaching. The puzzles aren’t that difficult so you won’t necessarily have to worry about the time limit if you’re used to adventure games. However it’s still hanging over your head hissing at you from the darkness, which is something a lot of terror games just don’t have. So kudos to Infogrames for trying something to get the average gamer into the mind of Lt. Ryan.
The voice acting of Prisoner of Ice is hit or miss, depending on who is playing. The game was designed by Europeans, so it is amusing to hear the most common complaint about PoI, which is that the accents don’t sound right. I don’t find them bad at all, and considering this is a 1995 game, the quality is actually better than a lot of other games that were out at the time. Oddly enough, my Japanese friends that I’ve spoken with feel the console versions of the game have pretty good voice acting, so take that for what you will. I should point out that the crazy Norwegian guy in the game is actually speaking broken Swedish. I’m not sure where the error is here, but it’s amusing if you catch this. Of course, when you play the game, you’ll find the character amusing regardless of this vocal faux pas.
The music however, seems to be complimented by all who play the game. It’s eerie, and helps to set the mood of the game from the second you boot it up until you finally reach one of the two possible endings.
The graphics are a few steps up from Shadow of the Comet, and again, are quite good for being ten years old. They don’t hold up by today’s standard, but I also can’t imagine anyone complaining about the level of detail or character designs. The monsters are quite well done as well, with the opening footage of the game being quite ominous. I do feel the need to point out Nazi Dietrich looks way too much like Colonel Klink for my tastes.
Let’s finally touch on the controls of PoI. Throughout the entire game, all you will use is your mouse. One button is for looking at objects, while the other is for picking things up or using them. It’s quite simple, but as the game is exceedingly linear, there are times when you will have to be in the right spot at the right time for an item to be there, or a puzzle to be solvable. There’s one very big irritating place in the game where this happens. But I suppose that’s true of most games in the point n click genre.
Prisoner of Ice was one of those games that received critical acclaim when it came out, being quite popular with PC gaming magazine and gamers in general. Alas, it’s fallen off the radar, but nearly everyone who bring it up or I mention it to has nothing but great praise for the game. Of course, there’re always those that dislike the game. But hey, I hate pretty much every Final Fantasy game ever made, so see? No one game appeals to everyone. The great thing is that you can still pick up Prisoner of Ice for amazingly cheap if you try and look for it. Currently Amazon.com has it for a shockingly low $2.99! Considering how rare the game is, that’s a pretty good deal. You will need a Windows 95/98 computer to run this version however. If you have played it, you already know why it’s made the list. If you haven’t, here is your opportunity to experience a really nice homage to the writers of the Cthulhu Mythos.
Now if you’re a Mythos fan, you’re probably thinking that with a name like Prisoner of Ice, the game would feature the Great Old One names Ithaqua, right? Well I’m not going to ruin if he does or not. But considering we just finished talking about the ice and Antarctica, it makes sense to speak of him here.
Although Ithaqua is one of the Great Old Ones, he is not a character created by H.P. Lovecraft. Instead, he is the creation of August Derleth who first appeared in the short story, “Ithaqua” and would later appear in works like “The Thing That Walked on the Wind.” Oddly enough, this was listed by Boris Karloff’s as one of his favorite stories, so that’s two countdown pieces in a row where ol’ Boris has come up.
Derleth was inspired to create Ithaqua from Algernon Blackwood’s classic tale of terror, “The Wendigo.” Blackwood of course, took the Wendigo from native American myths and legends. He was also used by Brian Lumley as a major character in the “Titus Crow” series.
Ithaqua appears as an enormous human with glowing red eyes. Where he walks bitter winds follow. Unlike his fellow Great Old Ones that are either imprisoned, sleeping, or not on this plane of existence, Ithaqua is firmly on the planet earth, wandering the coldest parts of the Arctic and Sub-Arctic
Also unlike the other GOO’s, Ithaqua has no real cult of worshippers. The Innuit and some Native Americans leave him offerings, but more out of fear than any real worship. Think of it like a spiritual protection racket. Ithaqua is also known for stalking travelers in the Arctic, searching for wayward wanderers or helpless victims which he will then carry off. Ithaqua’s victims are often found frozen to death, buried partially in the snow with a look of sheer agony solidified as their expression, and random body parts are also missing from the corpses. Brian Lumley changed this a bit by having Ithaqua carry off his victims to another planet known as Borea. Borea is a world of pure ice and snow that Ithaqua is the god-king of.
Chaosium publishing has put out an Anthology known as “The Ithaqua Cycle” which contains the following short stories
The Wendigo”, by Algernon Blackwood
“The Thing from Outside”, by George Allen England
“The Thing That Walked on the Wind”, by August Derleth
“The Snow-Thing”, by August Derleth
“Beyond the Threshold”, by August Derleth
“Born of the Winds”, by Brian Lumley
“Spawn of the North”, by George C. Diezel II and Gordon Linzner
“They Only Come Out at Night”, by Randy Medoff
“Footsteps in the Sky”, by Pierre Comtois
“Jendick’s Swamp”, by Joseph Payne Brennan
“The Wind Has Teeth”, by G. Warlock Vance and Scott H. Urban
“Stalker of the Wild Wind”, by Stephen Mark Rainey
“The Country of the Wind”, by Pierre Comtois
“Wrath of the Wind-Walker”, by James Ambuehl
“I’m not sure WHY it’s missing Ithaqua itself, but sadly the book has been out of print for sometime, so you’ll have to track it down. It is quite rare though. Hell, even Ebay doesn’t have a listing for it currently. I’ve personally been looking for a copy of it for years now. So come on readers, give me YOUR copy! Gimmee Gimmee Gimmee!
And hell, because I’m sure someone is going to ask me for the list, here’s Karloff’s favorite short horror stories (compiled in 1965)
“The Thirteenth Floor ” by Frank Gruber
“Child of the Winds” by Edmond Hamilton
“The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe
“The Opener of the Crypt” byJohn W. Jakes
“The Thing that Walked on the Wind” by August Derleth
“The Scarlet King” by Evan Hunter
“The Graveyard Reader” by Theodore Sturgeon
“The Mindworm” by C. M. Kornbluth
“Back from the Grave” by David Challon
“Man from the South” by Roald Dahl (Yes, THAT Roald Dahl)
“The Opener of the Way” by Robert Bloch
“The Haunter of the Dark” by H. P. Lovecraft”
That’s it for this week. Next week we take a look at an Asylum and what happens one hour before midnight.
Goodnight out there…whatever you are.