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Silicon Knights
November 2001

Eternal Darkness (beta)

Sometime after last year's E3, Nintendo decided to shift the nearly-complete Eternal Darkness from the waning Nintendo 64 to the new baby, GameCube. A year later, we see the results.

Features from Nintendo's press release:

  • Open the door... scan the room... see the shadows... try to leave... while you're still alive and sane.
  • Behold a unique genre--the psychological thriller--in which players watch with horror as their "sanity meter" drops, causing them to uestoin what is real and what is merely in their head.
  • Play as multiple characters in a journey that spans thousnds of years in an epic story of historical fiction.
  • Marvel at the unparalleled movie-like atmosphere, complete with stunning visuals, tons of voice acting and incredible sound effects and music.
  • Wield swords and guns or launch dazzling spells with a comprehensive combat system.

Eternal Darkness, developed by newly acquired second-party Silicon Knights, has been described as Resident Evil-esque; but the only similarity between the two properties is the massive quantity of blood.

The Resident Evil series thrills and intimidates gamers with clever camera work, stylized lighting, and many, many cheap scares. Eternal Darkness looks to deliver all the superfical excitement of RE--but with added deeper dementia. Along with the typical Health and Magic meters, each character has a Santiy meter. Run too long from the zombies without fighting back, and the Sanity Meter rises: and when it peaks strange things happen. The character's body might suffer quick and viscious dismemberment, then suddenly reawake from his delusion. New hordes of zombies emerge from the mist. Denis Dyack, President of Silicon Knights, promises even more disturbing consequences from losing one's grip.

In it's original incarnation, Eternal Darkness stretched the N64 hardware; the GameCube version looks as good as anything in Nintendo's booth--or anything on the E3 show floor. The game features volumetric fog that swirls and twists, and curls around the feet of the characters like ethereal hands. The characters are well articulated; turning their faces to objects of attention. This is both a nice visual touch and gameplay assistance: the characters indicate where the player should search for secrets. The demo's title screen boasts a steady 60 frames per second, and though the characters sometime move sluggishly, that seems more due to the animation routines than the hardware capacity. Character movement is smooth and realistic. In fact, according to Dyack, the game ran so fast in testing that it disoriented the players: Silicon Knights inserted cinematic pauses to create a more familiar flow and continuity.

Eternal Darkness is set for release with the GameCube launch this November. Be ready to flee the Crawling Chaos.

Gordon's Impressions: "I had high hopes for Eternal Darkness. Silicon Knights, which generates considerably Mature-rated content, will be a key second party in this coming generation; in terms of genre-filling and marketplace credibility, perhaps as important as Rare. Much is resting on Eternal Darkness and Too Human. After playing Eternal Darkness, I have confidence that Silicon Knights will deliver.

"The game is certainly unfinished. There's little narrative content in the ED E3 demo, but the atmosphere is there. Dark it is. The Insantity Meter has tremendous potential: if the insane blackouts and hallucinations have some essential effect on gameplay and the plotline, the experience of Darkness will be truly distinguished from its genre rivals, Resident Evil and Silent Hill. But Silicon Knights wil have to sustain both the atmosphere and narrative content to rival Konami's disturbing thriller.

"The gameplay is limited to one basic attack per character in the demo, but it's tight and comfortable, and should feature a variety of weapons and usable items in the full game. I'm happy as Hell that the developer dismissed the "up-moves-forward" control scheme, a standard in this genre, for a more intuitive multidirectional interface.

"Eternal Darkness looks good. I do not have the words to express how exciting it is to see a chick blasting zombies with a twelve-guage in Nintendo's booth."

Eric's Impressions: Behind every playable terminal at the Nintendo booth was a large screen demo of the title on display. Eternal Darkness' large screen private screening was by far the most informative. It was here that I learned about the incredible level of detail within the game.

There is some brilliant work of detail and I'll try to let you in on some of them. The first is that if you try running right through a level your player will tire and even his/her efforts to attack will be subsequently diminished. You can dial in exactly where you want to attack an enemy by holding the R button and then using the analog stick to select a body part. Also, the environment affects your gameplay. If you're the Roman solider in his level, there are some narrow halls and if you stroke to hard with your sword, you'll hit a wall and miss the enemy. BTW, some of the graphics in the game are absolutely unreal.

On the showfloor I did manage to have a rather impromptu meeting with Denis Dyack, the president of Silicon Knights. He went on to say that the insanity meter will play a much larger role than just tricking you or shocking you. In fact, Denis said that the game testers at Nintendo absolutely put the game down as they couldn't trust what they were seeing anymore. Also, Denis went on to say that you can expect around 60 hours of gameplay. As well as 12 different characters with their own levels of varying length. Each of these stories is tied in to each other through the overall scheme of the game.

This is my first must buy for the Gamecube folks. Take that comment as you will but Silicon Knights and Eternal Darkness were just absolutely unbelievable.

Tombo's Impressions: Eternal Darkness was originally intended to be released on the N64 and be Silicon Knights first game as a second party company for Nintendo. Well, things have changed since then and now the game is for Gamecube like what was expected for a long time.

Silicon Knights has been making Eternal Darkness for so long though, Ken Lobb mentioned that there would be approximately sixty hours of gameplay. A similar situation has happened with Star Fox Adventures because both games could have been easily released on N64, only to be continued in development for Gamecube.

The game will feature 12 playable characters and each character plays in his or her world. The time frame of the playable characters will span about 2000 years meaning that there will be characters from the time of the Romans to past the present. An FMV of Eternal Darkness showed off a space station so a level in zero gravity might be the final level. Imagine shooting crazy astronauts in zero g (well, there is no such thing as zero g but you can come close) and having trails of blood spew everywhere. With Gamecube, that could be possible (about anything is judging off of first hand experience).

The style of Eternal Darkness is in the vein of Resident Evil but Silicon Knights, unlike Capcom, has decided to improve the gameplay. One of the key features of the game is the "sanity Meter" which alters the game and makes it so you cannot tell what is real and what is imaginary. The Silicon Knights representative could not say much about the sanity meter because it would give away the game. He did mention though that game testers had to put the controller done and start over because they had no idea what was supposed to be real. I guess even game testers become scared. The sanity meter makes Eternal Darkness a psychological thriller as opposed to a survival horror game despite its similarities to Resident Evil. Psychological horror is just like taking survival horror to the next step.

Another interesting fact about Eternal Darkness and the power3 is that load time had to be simulated in order to not confuse gamers. The load time for walked through a door to go to another part of a level was so short that testers did not even know that they had done. An eighth of a second of black screen was added after loading so that there would be a smoother transition between areas. Do not go out complaining about 1/8th of a second of load time, there was more in Perfect Dark, a cartridge game.

One of the innovations of the game was that there was an enemy lock-on feature that let the player choose where to shoot the zombie/eater-of-the-living/dead. Using the R-button, the player locks on the closest enemy and then can use the camera stick to choose the part to attack which consist of either arm, torso, or head.

Enemies do not just die from a torn off head because they each have their own weak point. For instance, one zombie had his head blown off by a shot gun then used his hands to look for where his head should be (on his shoulders, of course). Then the zombie slowly grew back his head in about ten to fifteen seconds and kept attacking. If the torso was blown off by a mighty attack, the legs would fall down to the ground and disappear. I suppose Silicon Knights decided it was not worth it to use up RAM and keep legs or bodies lying around.

Some enemies in the axe or sword character demos would fall down to the ground intact. These enemies had to be finished off by either stabbing them with a sword and or beating them with axes a bit more. After these finishing attacks, the sword-equipped character would put his foot down on the enemy and then pull out his sword and the axe man would give a nice ripping motion. This animations still needed a bit of work because they seemed to miss the zombie.

The game features a life bar that appeared to be health/stamina based. In Resident Evil, your character would slow down and limp when hurt and the same happens in Eternal Darkness but in the demo the life bar recharged after giving the character a break. I commented on how the axe character seemed to have weak attacks but it turns out that he was tired at the time because the person playing was using the attack a lot. After all, can you chop wood all day? If so, try zombies and I'm sure it's more difficult.

The control of Eternal Darkness worked out well on the Gamecube controller. There are no issues with the small Z button or the out of place B button. The B button was used for opening doors or using objects such as picking up a phone.

Each main character was composed of 5500 polygons which is about seven times more then what N64 characters usually had. Remember though that Eternal Darkness is not slow and appears to run at 60fps and that means that the characters could have more polygons in exchange for less fps.

Eternal Darkness did not seem to be appealing when I first saw it in video reels but after playing it, I realized that Silicon Knights had something special up their sleeves (unless there is nothing there at all and the sanity meter is playing with us).



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Staff Avatar Gordon Distin
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"In the room, the women come and go, talking of Miyamoto."

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