31 Days of Gaming Terror – Day 21: Night Trap
by Alex Lucard on October 21, 2008

Night Trap
Developer: Digital Pictures
Publisher: Sega
Systems Released On: Sega CD/Sega 32X/3DO
Release Date: 10/15/1992



Alexander Lucard: That’s right folks. Night Trap. THE Night Trap. Night Trap remains one of the most infamous games ever made. The more modern gamer appears to feel Night Trap is infamous for sucking, and not for the real reasons the game is widely known. In truth, when Night Trap came out, it received very high reviews indeed, with the lowest score at that time being a “6/10.” Considering this is back before the great Working Designs, “Holy shit, it we give reviewers free shit, they’ll give our games higher scores” debacle that set off what we know refer to as “power creep”(Side note: I’m impressed how often this term pops up since I coined it many years ago.), This is a very impressive show of scores indeed. ESPECIALLY when you realize many people who have played Night Trap for the first time in the past 5 years or so, generally hate the game. The big problem is that those games miss the context of the game and go into Night Trap it like it is supposed to be serious.

The truth is that Night Trap is a decent game that is actually pretty enjoyable if you go in remembering it is supposed to be a parody of B rated horror movies. Several years ago, instead getting up to my usual shenanigans, some friends and I held a “Night Trap” evening. The people that engaged in an evening of Night Trap with me were not my gamer friends. These were my friends that long ago “outgrew” video games. Doctors, lawyers, higher ups in pharmaceutical companies. This was my “Frasier Crane meets Frat Boys” group of friends.

And here’s the thing. We had a shitload of fun playing this game. To me, that proves Night Trap still holds up today. When it’s played by people that ignore(or are ignorant of) the fact that Night Trap created more controversy than GTA’s “Kill the Haitians” and “Hot Coffee” combined, they end up enjoying the game…even though we didn’t even come CLOSE to beating the game. That’s what matters.

Of course, Night Trap‘s at its best when the game is played by a large group of people; most of which are hopefully drunk. This is because Night Trap is an interactive horror-comedy movie. It manages to do something that no other horror game besides Obscure has ever been able to do, and that’s feel like you’re PLAYING a movie. Yes, to those of us who consider their video gaming palates to be a little more sophisticated, games like Eternal Darkness or Clock Tower are superior. Night Trap is a game that every fan of cheesy, badly scripted, horribly acted, B-Level horror fans can enjoy. You like “The Cremains” or “Jack Frost,” you’re going to love Night Trap.

So what is Night Trap exactly? I can give you the entire plot in one sentence. “Vampires vs. scantily clad sorority girls.” Oh my, yes. That IS the plot. In Night Trap, you the player are neither sorority girl nor vampire. Instead you are member of SCAT (SEGA’s Controlled Attack Team), which is akin to being in the video game FBI. Your role is to play peeping tom on the party of girls, monitoring 7 or 8 hidden cameras throughout the house.

Now, you’re probably wondering just why you’re spying on an all-girl slumber party. No, you’re not a sweaty palmed sex fiend. The reason you have all these cameras set up comes down to the fact that recently people in the area have been disappearing mysteriously thanks to an outbreak of vampire attacks, or, as they are called in the game, “Augers”. Your job is to set traps for the Augers and catch them. All 95 of them. Yes. 95. As you’ll see in a bit, this is so utterly insane and depraved to inflict upon the gamer, that those that have accomplished this goal are up there with “people who have beaten Illbleed or Nightmare of Druaga.”

The game is hard. And a lot of the game involves being in precisely the right spot at the right time. You need to set traps for the Augers and catch them by monitoring rooms for them and hitting buttons at the right time. The right time is when the Danger Meter is saying “Hit the fucking button…NOW!” You don’t have to catch all 95 vampires, but if you do, you get a very special ending that is hilarious. There are many endings to the game, both bad and good. It all depends on how many vampires you take out and how many humans the vampires take out. As I said before, the game is pretty hard to even get a good ending out of it. A lot of people blame the game for this, saying you have to be in the right place at the right time. Hell, even I used to think that. But in fact the game is amazingly clever when you boil down to the REAL reason you lose. And that’s because you fall for the game’s shitload of distractions.

What makes Night Trap a wonderful “hang out with buds” game is that it is so bloody awful. Not awful as in poorly made, but it was designed to be bad. To make you groan. To make you shake your head. To laugh at the sometimes gruesome (but usually hilarious) deaths. And this is all part of the master plan of the game to make girls in nighties Purina brand Vampire Chow.

The main song to the game is so infamously bad, that you can just hum the first few notes, and ANYONE who has ever played the game will point at you and go “OMGWTF! NIGHT TRAP!” Either that or they will start humming along and curse you eternally for getting it stuck in their head. The game even goes out of its way to stick the song in your cranium and make you laugh at it, as several characters will hum or sing the song while playing through the game.

The other big thing is the dialogue of the game. It’s cheesy. It’s horribly acted. It comes off the game was badly lip synched due to the nature of the game being all Full Motion Video. There is so much dialogue and so many stupid situations thrown into the game, that you find yourself watching as much as you can so that you can play MST3K or just laugh at how silly the scenes are. So bad, it’s good.

That my friends is the catch, because it’s exactly what the game wants you to do. It WANTS you to focus on stupid girl talk and pillow fights, because that means you’re not focusing on hunting vampires. The entire game is set in REAL TIME, meaning every second you are laughing at the commander of SCAT and his horrible Jamaican accent, you are missing a chance to take down an Auger. Time and time again, you will find yourself caught up in the insipid subplots and dialogue and will end up losing the game because of your own inability to stay focused on why you’re playing the game. This aspect of Night Trap is what makes it one of the most under-rated games of all time. Most people never catch on to the fact the game is designed to distract the player with all its cheesiness.

Of course, if you do ignore the titillating dialogue and characters, the game is a lot easier to beat. But you also miss out on a lot of the fun. That’s why I said the game is still fun to play, even if you don’t get the best ending. It’s almost more fun to lose at Night Trap, in the same way it’s more fun to lose at Brain Dead 13 or Dragon’s Lair sometimes.

Now it’s time to get to the real reason Night Trap deserves its own day this month. Yes it’s fun with a group of friends (especially when they’re drunk) and it’s a lot better than most people give it credit for, but in fact there are a lot of games that are scarier, better made, and well, more fun to play. So why is Night Trap deserving of unbridled attention? Simply put, Night Trap is one of the most important and influential video game of all time. That’s not just my opinion, but that of pretty much everyone who has any tangible knowledge of the industry. Let’s take a look at just a FEW of the reasons why.

1. It was the first console game to be so large it spanned 2 CD’s.

2. It was the first game with over two hours of video footage and voice acting.

3. It starred Dana Plato from Different Strokes.

4. It was the first Full-Motion Video game

5. It was the first “Interactive Movie” game.

6. It was the first game to feature actual actors.

7. It was a Sega CD launch title.

8. It was the game that single handedly spawned the ESRB.

That last bit is far more important than you realize. No other video game created a fervor amongst parents and politicians like Night Trap. Mortal Kombat? Nope. GTA? Rockstar WISHES. Manhunt? Nope. My god if Jack Thompson had been around when Night Trap was released, he’d have stalked and burned the homes of every employee of Digital Pictures while urinating on the ashes.

You see, Night Trap was the first actual game that showed gore or any non cartoon violence. Sure you had Friday the 13th on the NES. But there was no blood. It was all cartoon violence. With Night Trap, you had real women, real boobies, and what appeared to be real violence perpetrated against human beings by demonic thingies wearing garbage bags and gas masks. Parents were used to video games being cute and wholesome. “Oh. Mario jumped on a living mushroom. Tee Hee.” or “When Sonic stomps on a fiendish cyborg monstrosity, it turns into a cute animal!” They were NOT used to “OH MY GOD! Little Timmy just saw nipple while blood spurted out everywhere.”

Now granted, Night Trap was a LOT less graphic or violent than any horror movie that could be rented at the time. But movies had a rating system. Video games did not. So parents that were used to that wacky caveman Bonk or River Raid planes blowing up badly drawn bridges ended up being in quite a bit of shock to see horrible actors in “high quality footage” eating Gary Coleman’s adopted older sister.

Thus, Night Trap earned the wraith of censor crazed politician Joe Lieberman who would launch a public campaign against Night Trap with actual quotes like, “(the game is) contributing to the unacceptable level of violence in our society.” The irony here is Night Trap was only ever released on systems that underperformed. Sega CD? Sega 32X? The fricking 3DO? But because of the massive freak out some people had over the game, Night Trap became an actual system seller. So thanks Joe Lieberman, you radical nutjob! Thanks to you, more people owned Sega CD’s and thus could appreciate Lunar: The Silver Star and Eternal Champions!

The lamentation that Night Trap would cause all of us impressionable teenagers (I was one at the time!) to go out and storm sorority houses and slice and dice nearly naked women may be silly to us today, especially when compared to modern games and the emphasis on “realistic violence” over quality gameplay, but back then, Night Trap was so “innovative” and “realistic,” it would cause Congress to set hearings on video game violence and would eventually spawn what we know now as the ESRB. The ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board), is simply put, the governing body that decides what rating a video game gets stamped with on its cover. It’s an attempt to educate parents as to the content of the $50 video game that they are about to buy for their child. I’d love to go into a lot of detail about the history of the ESRB and what exactly it does for the industry, as well as how it has changed it I’ll leave that for Bryan berg.

Eventually Night Trap would hit the 3DO with even better resolution and picture quality. But of course it was on the 3DO so maybe a dozen people played that version. As well, the game was re-released on the Sega CD and 32X, but edited. It’s the red cover that’s the unedited version, and the one you need to pick up.

So that’s really it. Night Trap, in its day, was a game way ahead of its time. It was highly ambitious, and considering the technology at the time, very well done. Its two big problems were that 85% of the gaming audience at the time “didn’t get it” and that it gave the video game industry its first really big black eye. Today it’s ranked with Tomb Raider as one of those games that was considered well made and fun its day, but is now decried and mocked by the hardcore gamer. Night Trap really does deserve to be remembered for being one of the most influential and innovative video games ever made, not just one of the most infamous.

I strongly suggest playing the game with a bunch of half loaded friends. Not only will you gain an appreciation for what Digital Pictures was trying to do, but you’ll be amazed how well the game works as a team effort. Remember it’s a spoof of B level horror films, and like those movies, Night Trap is far more rewarding when enjoyed by a group. Is this a game I would tell you to buy a Sega CD setup just to play? Oh god no. GOD NO. Like I said, there are MANY better games out there than Night Trap. We wouldn’t have 95% of the horror games or Mature video games out there is Night Trap hadn’t unwittingly paved the way. Instead of letting your enjoyment of this game be some dark secret you act like you’re ashamed of, stand up and sing out the lyrics of the title track and be proud of your enjoyment of a game that went out of its way to be comedy-horror. Because they got it right where Evil Dead: Hail to the King did not.

And for those of you who wish yet another reason to loathe my existence, I end my part of this article by giving you the lyrics to Night Trap

Love is easy by the light of day
You get the boys to play away
Thoughts are down when darkness falls
Passion burns and danger calls
So don’t go out if you dare
You better be good
You better beware

NIGHT TRAP!
That boy will find you

NIGHT TRAP!
Watch out behind you

NIGHT TRAP!
Girls if you driving a ride
You’ll be caught in the night

NIGHT TRAP!

Mark B.: Y’know, I never really thought Dana Plato was attractive, and I never really thought Night Trap was particularly shocking.

Okay, so, the Sega CD came out, if my bad memory and internet research are to be believed, in October of 1992, which would have, as I recall, put me somewhere around thirteen. The Sega CD was, for reasons I do not adequately recall, THE THING I wanted to own that year, and so it was given to me for Christmas, along with exactly one game: Night Trap. Now, for those who are too young to remember such things, the system did indeed come with some games, though they were mostly CD format re-releases of other Genesis games, as well as Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective and some music stuff, and as I was incredibly bad at Night Trap, I ended up playing the other games instead. For whatever reason, however, one day I decided I wanted to see the end of that game and Sewer Shark, and so I called Sega and asked for help.

Aside: anyone who doesn’t like Sega can say whatever they want against the company, and its all fair, but when I was a kid, Sega used to mail you printed strategy guides for games free of charge if you called them up and asked for them. No, seriously. They were basically just typed up photocopies that were maybe ten pages long, at most, but without this support from Sega I doubt I’d have ever beaten Night Trap, Phantasy Star or Miracle Warriors: Seal of the Dark Lord, so in that respect, the company is pretty damn awesome.

Anyway, strategy guide in hand, I played through the game in its entirety, saved the girls, beat the bad guys, and watched the ending… and thought to myself, “That’s it? That’s what everyone was so bent about?”

Now, Night Trap isn’t a particularly BAD game, per say; it’s just another Dragon’s Lair sort of game, only with changing rooms; you’d have to be in the right room at the right time to catch the monsters, or you’d eventually fail the mission, the end. But I found it somewhat baffling that people were getting upset over the game; frankly, it’s neither particularly gory nor particularly titillating. I mean, THIS is the game that, along with Mortal Kombat, gave us the ESRB. THIS is the game that was SO HORRIBLE that it was going to corrupt our youth and degenerate our society. Never mind the fact that the game is, at worst, probably about a PG-13 film; never mind the fact that it came out for a system that maybe a quarter of the Genesis user base actually owned at that point; never mind the fact that it was, at best, a B-movie on a disc that most kids wouldn’t even understand. No, THIS WAS A SIN AGAINST GOD AND WAS GOING TO CORRUPT YOUR KIDS.

Night Trap really gets a bad rap in a lot of respects; it wasn’t a bad game so much as it was a silly, amusing game if you were the sort of person who loved bad horror movies, and it wasn’t really shocking and depraved considering you can probably see worse at this point on network TV. It’s historically significant mostly because it completely changed people’s perceptions of what a video game WAS at that point, and even if it had been titillating and gory, the FMV in the game was so grainy you wouldn’t have been able to tell anyway. If you’ve never played it, it’s worth looking at for its historical significance, or if you’re a fan of bad horror films, but otherwise it’s just a relic of the 90′s, and probably not worth tracking down or anything.

Charlie Marsh: I find it peculiar and rather hilarious that games in and before 1993 could be as violent as 8-16 bits allowed them to be, whereas Night Trap, a game that boasts such sexually charged imagery as a girl in a nightgown, spawns Senate hearings.

Looking back, it’s interesting to see all the hullabaloo the game caused. The offending scene was one in which a girl in a nightgown or bathrobe or some kind of thing like that is about to take a shower when she is attacked by these guys who want to drain her blood. Your job is to push the right button to send the vampires or whatever they are into a trap. Hence the name.

People thought that this scene would encourage violence against women. I can only imagine people in 1993 imagining psychos drawing up designs for their own drills to bore blood and other fluids out of a helpless woman’s neck (I couldn’t tell you if they were or weren’t, I was 6, I was happily watching Power Rangers, unaware of the whole thing). Well, I can probably assume that no one was drawing up any designs for any such thing. I can also assume the scene would not encourage violence against women, as you, as the player in this immersive gem, are there to prevent violence against a woman.

Maybe all the controversy was due to the fact that people naturally assumed the girl would have been taking the nightgown off if she wasn’t attacked. And if there’s one thing Senators don’t like, it’s sex (as long as it’s not them with an intern). I guess I can see that the Senate thought more games featuring girls in pajamas would be coming out if this were successful and wanted to put a stop to it right away. After all, you can have as many games depicting horrible violence as you want, as long as no one sees any boobies. The fact that no boobies are actually seen apparently means nothing as long as it distracts people from what’s going on in the Middle East.

Kind of like today, actually.

But of course, this silly game really didn’t have the catastrophic effect on people that scared mothers thought. Probably because the game sucked. I’m convinced it’s intentional too. It’s so charmingly stupid in every aspect, from the basic storyline to the gameplay, that it just has to be some kind of bizarre satire of B-movies. I’m not really sure though, and the problem with that is, I can’t decide how good or bad it really is. If it’s satire, it’s a masterpiece, but if it’s meant to be an actual game, it’s one of the worst ever.

Chris Bowen: What strikes me about Night Trap isn’t the mouth-breathing fear it brought about from soccer moms and opportunistic politicians, or the sheer lack of quality in the product itself, as unless you’re one of those people that watches bad horror flicks or bad kung-fu movies specifically because of how bad they are, there’s nothing remarkable about the game other than the fact that it’s clunky and boring. All of the things I’ve mentioned above have been discussed ad nausium, in other forms of media, as well as by my colleagues.

What’s striking to me is more about the era in question, and how everyone reacted to what was supposed to be considered “in”, causing them to shove it into everything they did.

By itself, Night Trap wasn’t the worst game on the Sega CD. No, with Kris Kross prominently involved in a Make Your Own Video rap game, and you playing the part of someone flying through sewers shooting large rats, there was definitely some competition on that system. But all of those games I mentioned – as well as others of varying quality – force fed us grainy, crappy FMV. Night Trap wasn’t exceptional in this sense, it’s just the one that got the most notoriety for it, because all of a sudden, it wasn’t pixelated people getting virtual bad things done to them, it was real people, real actors, showing real skin and real nightgowns (which is apparently EVIL… you know, as if a lesbian orgy breaks out at every slumber party), and even if it was fictitious, and so campy a high school theatrics club would be embarrassed to be associated with it, it was enough to mobilize a society that was already a bit on edge because of games like Mortal Kombat. If it didn’t use FMV, real “actors”, or digitization, I don’t think the fallout would have been as severe.

Since then, technology’s better, with Blu-Ray playing systems showing us the same images that repulsed so many in 1993, but in much higher quality, and the love affair with FMV has come and gone, beaten so hard by people trying to cash in on the fad that it ended up becoming a negative buzzword along the lines of Blast Processing. Ironically, the things you can do in video games are much, much worse now than they were in 1993; imagine if Manhunt or Grand Theft Auto III were out then.

Night Trap has its place in history, but it’s a relatively overrated one, and to me, the game itself is less notable than the tools it used to bore us all to tears in the 90s.

Bryan Berg: I got to know Night Trap a little too well while researching my ESRB article a few years ago. Was the game worth all the hype and notoriety it received? Of course not. But it did provide the catalyst for the ratings system, something that was necessary as the technology of video games improved.

Like Chris said, the most significant thing Night Trap did was provide the “real” representation of the games we’ve always played. And I guess that scared people. The fact that Mortal Kombat came out around the same time didn’t help things. So politicians with agendas, like Joe Lieberman, jumped all over these games. And if it wasn’t Night Trap and Mortal Kombat, it would have been the next game with questionable content. As we all know now, there wasn’t anything in Night Trap that we haven’t seen in PG-rated movies. However, the stigma at that time of video games as “kiddie toys” was prevalent, so we got the political response we did.

Night Trap gets a bum rap, kind of deservedly so, but it was also fairly influential for its use of full motion video, real actors, and for having many different things happen at once. Of course, that meant there was only one possible way to beat the game, but it was 1992 for Christ’s sake. As a horror game, there are tons better. But few games have had the lasting impact of Night Trap, even if that impact was totally unintended.




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