GHOSTS: a haunting experience on Kickstarter

Since revisiting The 7th Guest for our GameBlast21 marathon stream, I’ve been on a bit of a full-motion video (FMV) binge. I know the genre still has plenty of critics but modern releases can be far different from those published in the 1990s.

It’s not all fuzzy video, cheesy lines and hammed-up acting nowadays (although you can still find that kind of stuff if it’s what floats your boat). For example, Contradiction: Spot the Liar! is a great detective mystery where it’s up to you to gather clues and track down the murderer; and The Madness of Doctor Dekker is an excellent atmospheric thriller played via text-parser. Then there’s The Dark Side of the Moon, one of my favourite recent titles thanks to its lovely cast and science-fiction storyline.

Sadly, it’s going to be rather difficult for horror FMVs to shake off their bad reputation. Let’s face it: older releases such as Night Trap and Harvester, which I found to be a confusing and cringeworthy mess when I played it back in October, are known for being schlocky and gratuitous with plenty of fake blood. This notoriety automatically tarnishes current titles which attempt to do scary FMV in the right way and they have to work that much harder to get the positive attention they deserve.

Perhaps GHOSTS will be able to do something to change this though. After Kevin from The Lawful Geek sent me an email earlier this week to let me know about the project, I’m now a backer for the Kickstarter campaign. The game is being written and directed by Jed Shephard in partnership with Visible Games and Limited Run Games, and they’re promising to create ‘a horror experience that aims to truly chill your blood and send FMV games screaming into the modern day’.

Players step into the role of a television producer who operates the outside broadcast van for a failing cable channel called FrighTV and it’s up to you to make their latest show a hit. GHOSTS previously had millions of viewers glued to their screens as a group of ghost-hunters explored haunted locations around the UK – but it was dropped as it became less popular and languished on freeview for several years. That was until it was snapped up by your channel and rebranded for relaunch in 2022.

As your team look around the most haunted place in London, it’s not only their safety you need to worry about. There are noises coming from all around the van, strange neighbours and a weird urban legend about The Long Lady. Sightings of this spirit have chilled the bones of residents for decades and she is said to appear looking through the windows of the houses on the street during times of tragedy. The rumour is that if you look directly at her face, you die…

You’re in charge of what’s shown to the viewers at home and you’ll have to think on your feet as you react to every moment to keep things interesting during the live show. You’ll be able to see all the feeds streaming from cameras around the location as well as heart-rate monitors observing each of the cast. You decide what gets broadcast and your choices can affect the future of the show, as well as perhaps the safety of the team; luckily, you’ll have a few tricks up your sleeve to help you ‘spice up’ the night and keep it entertaining.

The description on the Kickstarter page reminds me somewhat of Not For Broadcast gameplay-wise, a title where you take over the national news and control what’s reported about a radical government. In GHOSTS though, you’ll also have access to various documents, videos and audio files which have been collected by the local community over the years. Can you decipher them to help understand what’s going on, and discover something which will stop the horrifying events from unfolding?

Not too much is given away in the promotional trailer but there’s a nice scene at the end which could give us an idea of the jump-scares to come. The five members of the cast are introduced here and all have an impressive array of acting experience. Regular visitors to the blog will already be aware that I’m a total coward when it comes to anything scary so I know what they’re thinking right now: why on earth would I become a back for a horror game that looks pretty frightening?

Well, there are two reasons other than it being an FMV. The first is that the real-time version of the game is only playable at 22:00 in your local time-zone so everyone playing in your area will be doing so at the same time. You’ll see a classic test card if you load before then but if you can crack its puzzle, you’ll get access to a version where you can save your progress. There are consequences for all your choices though and the Kickstarter campaign warns that playing it safe isn’t always the best option.

The second reason is that, if you decide to leave your station at any point during your playthrough, the game will register your lack of movement and end your session. And you can probably guess what that means for your team: desertion of duty will result in the cast being killed off in a variety of gruesome ways. You’re responsible for their wellbeing along with the future of the GHOSTS show so take a bathroom break, grab plenty of snacks, turn off the lights and get comfortable.

Almost 25% of the project’s £165,000 goal has been raised at the time of writing and there’s still just under a month to go before the deadline of 07 May 2021. I think it’s safe to say that when GHOSTS is released in February 2022, we’ll be streaming it using our night camera – but my other-half will be on the controls while I hide behind a cushion. I’m not good with the horror genre at the best of times, let alone when FMV makes it look as though it’s real people being haunted…

Take a look at the Kickstarter page for more information and follow Visible Games on Twitter to stay up-to-date on the project’s progress.

The 7th Guest: the horror of the 90s

I’m a coward when it comes to horror games. But that doesn’t mean I’ve not played them: although I’m never going to be brave enough to face an action-adventure or survival on my own, I’ve managed to force myself through a few scary point-and-clicks over the years.

One of these was Shivers by Sierra Online back when it was released in November 1995. Picking it up again last year reminded me of just how much it had frightened me then, and I felt that familiar fear sink its teeth in even though the cartoon spirits are laughable now. A lot of this feeling was to do with the soundtrack; many studies have documented the ability of songs to recall previous events and emotions, and hearing The Theatre and The Secret Hall returned me to being a scared teenager.

Before this though was The 7th Guest in January 1993. Like with Shivers, it seems strange now that it was a game I bought as its promise of a ‘long-abandoned mansion’ filed with ‘eerie lights and the terrible sing-song rhymes of children’ should have really put me off. I remember playing it on the PC in my parents’ conservatory during the evenings after school while they were in the lounge, the lights and sound of the television from the other room making me brave enough to continue.

After meeting Darkshoxx in October last year, I watched several of his streams where he attempted to speedrun Trilobyte Games’ release. We then had the pleasure of seeing him move on to sequel The 11th Hour as part of a charity marathon one Friday evening. Seeing these games being played again made me want to return to The 7th Guest myself so, after receiving the 25th Anniversary Edition as a Christmas gift from Ellen from Ace Asunder and then working through a section for our GameBlast21 marathon stream, I decided it was time for a proper playthrough.

This isn’t your typical horror. Instead of grabbing your gun to fight off the monsters or hiding from ghosts in cupboards, the action takes place in the form of 22 puzzles dotted around the mansion and solving these opens further rooms. They range in type and difficulty, and there are some spooky happenings as you progress: you may hear a random scream coming from upstairs, see hands trying to push through a painting on the wall or get sucked into a secret passage which transports you to a different area.

The room I remember most from my first playthrough was the kitchen for two reasons. First, the puzzle was one which had me stumped for a while: your objective is to rearrange tin-cans with letters on them to form a sentence, but you must make do with only Ys as no vowels are provided. I spent days working on anagrams in a notepad and it was through this that I learnt the word ‘tryst’. Luckily I recalled this memory and was able to solve the challenge the second time around with little difficulty.

The second reason is the soup incident. As mentioned above, strange things happen at certain points in the game and if you click on the stove in the kitchen, you’ll be treated to a full-motion video (FMV) clip where a liquid face comes out of a pot. I remember this one frightening me the most as a teenager. The 7th Guest’s story is told through similar FMV scenes, although their sequence is dependent upon the how you tackle the rooms and so they may not necessarily be shown in order.

This made me wonder how well the plot is communicated to today’s audience. Storytelling methods in video games have progressed far beyond what was available to players back when this title was released and so I can see how elements of The 7th Guest could be viewed as confusing and out-dated. Indeed, I asked the friends who had joined us in Twitch chat whether they understood what was going on – and most of them admitted to not knowing what was happening.

I carried on progressing through the rooms, hoping that the ending would make the narrative clearer for viewers. The bishop puzzle in one of the bedrooms upstairs almost stopped us though and trying to move two sets of chess pieces to the opposite side of the board was just as difficult as I remembered it to be. Thankfully, we had both Darkshoxx and Die4Ever2011 – the person who holds the world record for completing the game in the fastest possible time – to give us several hints which got us through it.

So did the final cutscene make the narrative any clearer for those in Twitch chat after over ten hours of gameplay? The answer on one hand is yes because they now understood the plot-twist; but the other it’s no, because there were several friends who asked: ‘Is that it?’. There are certainly a few holes and unanswered questions when I look at the story through older eyes now. But playing it as a teenager in 1993, I seemed to overlook all those problems and lose myself in the atmosphere of the mansion.

To be quite honest though, I’m not sure the title has aged entirely well. The FMV sections were technically ground-breaking at the time of release and I remember being amazed by them but now, they just look incredibly fuzzy; and the ghostly moments are more cliched and comical than terrifying. Whereas Shivers managed to still scare me thanks to its creepy soundtrack and mysterious museum setting, I couldn’t help but laugh at some of the effects and acting throughout The 7th Guest.

But this is what makes it what it is. It’s nostalgic and brings back what you remember of gaming in the 1990s. It wouldn’t be the same title without the bad FMV cutscenes, weird villain and cheesy lines and a remake just wouldn’t be able to capture what made it special. I can see why many players still look at this classic fondly, and it has been a pleasure getting to know several members of the speedrunning community who continue to hold it in high regard.

During our streams, Attagoat suggested we next move on to The 11th Hour. It’s something I’d like to do one day because I bought it when it was released but never finished it. First though, I think I’m going to immerse myself in the world of FMV a little deeper as The 7th Guest has reminded me why I love these games so much.

Harvester: still confused and cringing

Have you ever played a video game that left you thinking about it long afterwards – but not for the right reasons? This sums up my experience with Harvester, a point-and-click which promoted itself as ‘the most violent adventure game of all time’ when it was released in 1996.

I don’t recall it being a title I ever came across back in the nineties. In fact, I only started taking an interest in playing it after it made an appearance in several news articles and blog posts published as Halloween specials last month. The coverage made me decide to pick up a copy so I could find out for myself whether any of the claims about violence and controversy were true, and this is how I found myself streaming Harvester on the Later Levels’ Twitch channel one Saturday evening.

There are spoilers in the following paragraphs. So if you haven’t yet played the game and intend to at some point, you may wish to consider navigating away from this post now and coming back later.

The story begins when 18-year old Steve wakes up in the town of Harvest in 1953 with a case of amnesia. It’s immediately obvious there’s something sinister going on: all its inhabitants are extremely eccentric or downright creepy and they keep urging him to join the Order of the Harvest Moon. The only person Steve can confide is in Stephanie, a girl he has no recollection of but who he’s apparently due to marry in two weeks, and it looks as if their only choice is to get into the Lodge and find out what’s happening.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see much of the plot during the stream as I managed to get Steve killed in a rather spectacular fashion around three hours in. How was I to know that using the word ‘Comrade’ in front of Colonel Buster Munroe would cause him to shoot the protagonist in the head, fall on a big red button and send a batch of nuclear missiles rushing towards Russia? Perhaps this was for the best though. Several scenes made for rather uncomfortable viewing so I decided this was a game better played off stream.

I went back to Harvester a week or so later, starting again from the beginning and getting much further this time. The first third of the gameplay focused on gaining an application form to become a member of the Order, then the second involved completing a series of petty vandalisms that had wider consequences. That was where I decided to stop. Not because it was getting too violent, but because the final third of the game involved something every adventure fan dreads: action sequences in point-and-clicks.

I’ve always loved the genre despite its quirks but sequences like this make me want to pull my hair out. There’s nothing worse than being ripped from a world of colourful characters and interesting puzzles, then shoved into a scene which requires you to make use of a different mechanic which is usually very poorly implemented. As soon as I realised this was the direction in which Harvester was heading, I uninstalled it and found a video on YouTube so I could watch someone else struggle with the rest of it.

So how did I feel after witnessing the ending; do I now believe it’s one of the most violent adventure games ever made, as its box-art claimed back in 1996? The truth is that I’m still not sure what to make of it. The only thing I can say for certain is that it’s possibly one of the most confused and pretentious releases I’ve ever experienced or researched in my years of blogging. Developer FutureVision (later renamed to DigiFX Interactive) obviously tried to achieve a lot with their project but not all of it was successful.

It certainly goes out of its way to shock the player as much as possible. There were many scenes that made me cringe internally or even look sway from the screen – but again, not because of the level of violence involved. Let me give you some examples and start with Steve’s parents’ bedroom. After you manage to break through the bars over the window, you find yourself surrounded by bloodied walls and sex toys while your bandaged father gives you a disturbing speech about what a married couple do behind closed doors.

Then there’s the puzzle solved by distracting pornography-obsessed Detective Loomis with a magazine. I’m not sure what’s worse: the fact you see him disappear into a jail cell with it or what the General Store owner says when you try to buy the item. Being told ‘that kind of interest is healthy for a young fella because it steers them away from being a fireman’ seems like a vaguely homophobic remark at first, until you meet Sparky; a man who spends his time sketching nude male models and updating the fire station’s interior design.

And let’s not forget those vandalism tasks mentioned earlier. They begin small with a scratch to Mr Johnson’s beloved car, but then evolve into more serious actions. Stealing something from the barber shop results in Mr Pastorelli’s death after a live wire is left in a puddle of water; and Edna Fitzpatrick kills both herself and her young daughter Karin after her diner is burned to the ground and she can no longer support her family. It feels as if these scenes only exist for the shock factor.

Perhaps the worst one though is when Stephanie asks Steve to ‘take her now’. I know that people in highly stressful situations may turn to each other for comfort but there’s absolutely nothing sexy about this: the whole thing is out-of-place and made even more awkward through terrible writing and acting. And if that wasn’t bad enough, your fiancé’s father is watching through a small hole in the wall complete with a close-up of his face and heavy-breathing sound-effects.

I’m not sure I’ve ever played a release which sets out to disturb the player as deliberately as Harvester does. It throws so many taboo subjects at you in such a short space of time that it seems like a confused mess, and most of the scenes are so over-the-top that it’s hard not to see the game as a bit of a joke. Although I didn’t find it scary at all, I must admit that it was rather unsettling – not because it’s incredibly violent or bloody, but because most of it doesn’t make any sense.

This had a negative impact on the ending for me personally. It wasn’t necessarily disappointing and I got the feeling it was trying to satirise something, but I struggled to figure out what exactly because of just how much the game relied on the shock factor. The last scene should have been a moment of insight and reflection, a chance for the player to question themselves and how they feel about violence in video games; but instead I came away scratching my head in confusion.

After finishing watching the YouTube video, my research led me to a post on the GOG.com blog where they had republished an interview with the title’s designer. It’s clear from reading this and other supporting material that he was vehemently against censorship. He said: “By [Harvester’s] very existence, it would place the player at the end of the game in the position of the protagonist IN the game, raising questions regarding the impact of violence in media on the audience.”

I’m not sure trying to create ‘the most violent adventure game of all time’ was the best way to raise that sort of question, but he did achieve in making an interesting mark in the history of the adventure genre. Harvester is definitely a game of its time and one I’m glad I played, if only for the experience.

Related: double trouble

The COVID-19 lockdown has caused many people to reconsider their career direction. And it seems as though some have decided to make the leap into video game development; at least, that’s the impression I get from all the new campaigns on Kickstarter recently.

It’s been a mixed bag for the platform over the past several years. Sometimes the video game category is empty, or stuffed with sub-par mobile games and ‘gangster shooters’ being made by kids still in secondary school. Then at others you’ll find several projects worthy of your backing, as has been the case for me over the past few weeks: I’ve now made pledges to over 40 campaigns and that number is likely to continue increasing.

My latest pledge is towards another entry in the adventure genre: Related, under development by three-person team FRACTALCATZ. It’s not a game I’d ever come across before the campaign appeared in my Kickstarter search results one morning even though the first of three chapters is already available for purchase at a small price on Steam. The reviews so far are very positive; players have praised the game for its creepy atmosphere and are looking forward to seeing how the story progresses.

So where does that story begin? Meet conjoined twins Jessica and Julia, who are locked in one body. The girls have been living in an orphan asylum since their early childhood and they don’t remember how they got there or whether they ever had a family. With the scornful attitude of the orphanage personnel and attacks by other children, the list of their troubles is long and although they have each other for support, they have conflicts just as all siblings do.

Fast-forward a few years and Related’s plot is now narrated by a grown-up Jessica. After suffering from a series of continuous nightmares, she decides to go back to the abandoned orphan asylum to try and collect her memories: will she find the answers to questions she has tried so hard to forget, and learn the biggest mystery about herself? Chapter one can be played for free until the Kickstarter campaign ends on 03 December 2020 so I took the opportunity to give it a go.

It’s just what you’d expect from a point-and-click in terms of gameplay and adventure fans will feel right at home. The environment can be explored and interacted with by clicking the mouse and objects collected are stored in your inventory, with the option of being able to examine some of them more closely for clues. Certain items require multiple clicks before anything happens; there were a couple of moments where I felt I was stuck, until I clicked on hotspots again and caused an action.

The movement speed is pretty slow in the scenes where you control Jessica as a grown-up and her movements are slightly uncoordinated. However, I got the impression this is deliberate rather than down to poor animation. You’re able to double-click to make her run in the flashbacks to her time as a child so her speed as an adult feels like a design choice. Perhaps this has something to do with the narrative and there are secrets about what happened to Jessica and Julia waiting to be uncovered.

The first chapter took around an hour to complete and contained several puzzles. The solutions for these all felt logical despite the surrounding plot and situations being rather creepy so, if they provide a feel for what’s coming up in the rest of Related, I’d say we’re in for an adventure which isn’t overly challenging and pulls you in with its story. It’s worth noting here that some of the objects involved are quite dark and include a bloody knife, so this probably isn’t going to be a game to let your young kids play.

But if you’re looking for a title with an eerie atmosphere, it’s worth checking out. There was something about the music and sound-effects which instantly put me on edge and made me almost hesitant to continue into the next scene for fear of what I’d discover next. As mentioned above, the Steam reviews so far have highlighted this aspect of the game, and this initial chapter is a great set-up for the coming episodes and getting to know the main characters without too much being given away.

In fact, the only worry I have right now is about the portrayal of mental health. What I’ve seen so far doesn’t give too much cause for concern as it seems there’s going to be more to the story, but consider the protagonists and setting – two girls trapped inside the same body and living in an orphan asylum – and you’ll see a situation ripe for clichés and tropes. I hope the developer handles this in a sensitive way and I’m willing to make my pledge to give them that opportunity.

At the time of writing, FRACTALCATZ have managed to raise around 10% of their £12,730 target. Head over to the Kickstarter page for more information or to become a backer before 03 December 2020, and you can stay up-to-date on progress by giving the team a follow on Twitter.

Scary games: only kidding

Imagine you were playing a horror game and suddenly, a child walks into the room and asks what’s happening in the story. You hit the pause button and consider your answer. How would you explain it you them without lying, but without frightening the hell out of them either?

This was posed to bloggers by the awesome Quietschisto from RNG as part of his Sunshine Blogger Award nominations at the end of September (sorry for taking so long to respond). It’s just the sort of question that suits me because I’m happy to watch someone else play a horror but I’m too easily scared to be able to do so myself. I’ve got some experience in this area too: when my stepson was seven-years old, he walked in on us playing BioShock and it gave him nightmares for a week.

Because I don’t search out titles from the genre regularly, most of those included on today’s list are releases my other-half completed while I was sat next to him on the sofa, bravely peeking out from behind a cushion. Let’s see how well I do at trying to describe their narratives in a way which would make sense to a child – and pretend we’d actually realised Ethan was standing in the doorway and had been quicker to press the pause button during that BioShock incident (I still feel bad).

There are spoilers in the following paragraphs. So if you haven’t yet played the games listed and intend to at some point, you may wish to consider navigating away from this post now and coming back later.

Alien: Isolation

A lady goes looking for her mummy after she went missing on a space station. She flies all the way up to the stars and there’s a big, bad alien waiting for her! She tries to get it off the space station but the robot workers there turn nasty and want to stop her. Then she finds out that an evil company wants to buy the alien and its babies, but there’s a big explosion when she gets into a fight with one of their people. She tries to escape on a smaller spaceship but one of the aliens makes it out with her so she has to push them both out into space! Someone eventually finds the lady and she makes it back home, but she doesn’t find her missing mummy. So it’s actually a very sad story.

Blair Witch

A man who used to be a policeman goes into the forest with his brave dog Bullet to search for a missing boy. He feels very guilty because he shot the boy’s brother when he was trying to steal something, so the man wants to find the boy more than anything in the world. But he can hear things whispering in the trees and so he gets very scared, then monsters made from leaves appear and the witch makes him go down into the basement of her old house. Bullet tries to stop him because he’s such a good boy, and what happens to the man depends on what he does. But all you need to know is that the brave dog doesn’t get hurt and he makes it home, where his warm basket and plenty of treats are waiting.

Project Zero

A girl has to go to an abandoned mansion after her brother goes missing there. So she explores all the rooms and finds out that someone has cast a spell to keep horrible ghosts from another world from coming into our world. But the spell went wrong and now all the ghosts have escaped! It’s ok though, because the girl has her magic camera with her and the ghosts don’t like having their picture taken at all – they’re so scared of it that they run away when she tries to take a selfie with them. She manages to find her brother and together they cast the spell properly, so the mansion is made safe once again and the ghosts are all sent back home. So it has a happy ending and it isn’t that scary at all.

Shivers

A crazy professor decided to build a strange museum in America so he could show off all the weird things he found in countries across the world to people who wanted to buy tickets to see them. But he disappeared before it was finished and nobody knows where he went! So you go to the museum because you really want to know what happened. You find out that many years before you got there, two teenagers managed to get into the building and opened a set of pots that contained ghosts. Because you’re so big and brave, you manage to put all the ghosts back into their prisons, and you cause a big explosion before you leave so you know the horrible ghosts can never leave again.

SOMA

A man needs to have a brain scan after he is hurt in a bad car accident. But when he wakes up, he has travelled back in time to a place that’s like a space station but underwater and the world has been hit by an asteroid! There are lots of computers there that think they’re human, and they ask the man to help them upload their brains onto a hard-disk and fire it into space so they can escape. He tells them he will do this and he finds a huge cannon that will do the trick. Just before he pushes the button to send it out of the water and up into the stars though, the man decides that he would like to join the computers so he puts his brain on the hard-disk too. When he wakes up again, he is in a world that looks like paradise so he has a big party with all the computers.

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

A man goes into an old house because he’s looking for his missing wife, but the family that live there have been turned into zombies! It’s ok though, because a lady calls him on his mobile phone and says they’re going to make a special medicine together which can turn them back into people. While they look for the medicine, the man finds out that it’s a little girl who has been making the zombies because she’s lonely and wants the man and his wife to be her mummy and daddy. The man tries to save her because he feels sorry for her, but then she reveals that she is actually a bad monster who’s trying to trick him! So he contacts the army and they capture the monster, and the man escapes with his wife and the lady that called him.

Rhiannon: Curse of the Four Branches

When your friends want to take their daughter on holiday to cheer her up, you go to their home in Wales to look after their farm while they’re away. A strange voice tells you about something that happened there a very long time ago: a heroic king and evil wizard got into an argument and fought a huge battle. The wizard’s ghost still lives at the farm and is very angry bout losing, so it’s up to you to calm him down again. You take his shopping list – which is full of weird stuff like a piggybank and chocolate fountain – and search the farm until you find them all. Once you deliver his shopping, the wizard decides that he can now go to sleep so the house is safe enough for your friends and their daughter to come back.

Until Dawn

A group of selfish teenagers decide to have a big party at a lodge on top of a snowy mountain. The person who actually lives there isn’t happy about this at all because he just wants some peace so he can forget about all the sad things that have happened to him. He decides to teach the kids a lesson and asks some friendly creatures who live on the mountain to help him scare them away so they leave. But one of the teenagers has done a very stupid thing: they left the gas oven on so it causes a massive explosion! Police come in helicopters to rescue everybody but it’s import to remember the moral of this story: never have big parties that disturb an adult’s peace, and never leave the oven on.



How did I do? Hopefully I managed to convince you that these horror games aren’t really that scary and some of them even contain useful life lessons – such as not going into abandoned mansions to search for missing family members. If you fancy attempting to explain video game plots to a child, give it a go!

Shivers: remembering the fear and nostalgia

Back in January I introduced my blogger-friends to Herdy-Gerdy during our 50-day challenge for GameBlast. It’s not one that many people heard of, but I enjoyed it when I picked it up for my PlayStation 2 in 2002 because it was so different to anything else out at the time.

I seem to have a knack for finding titles that go under the radar. A few weeks ago I decided to play Shivers on stream one weekend and it was the first time most of the friends who joined us in chat had heard of it. This horror-themed adventure was released on PC in 1995 by Sierra Online and was a deviation from their earlier titles, for which it received both praise and criticism. Some called a sleeper hit while others referred to it as an unoriginal Myst clone at the other end of the scale.

It was a game I came across in the same place as so many others during my early teenage years: the gaming stall at our local market, during a trip there to pick up something to see me through the summer holidays. Point-and-clicks were all I played back then so I can understand why its box caught my eye. What I still can’t remember though is the reason why I bought it; I was as much of a coward back then as I am now when it comes to horror titles so it seems strange I’d buy one with the tagline ‘What darkness conceals, terror reveals’.

Shivers’ story starts when our teenaged protagonist is dared by their friends to spend the night in the grounds of Professor Windlenot’s Museum of the Strange and Unusual. Unfortunately they’re not alone because several years before, two ‘nerds’ had broken in and accidentally released ten Ixupi from a set of ancient vessels. These evil spirits were left lurking in elements such as sand, metal and wood, and are intent on sucking the life-force out of anyone they come into contact with. Can you survive the night and find out what happened to the Professor?

The game was installed the following week when my parents left me at home alone one evening and I invited a small group of friends over to keep me company. As we solved puzzles to get further into the museum, everyone tried to keep their cool – but we all let out a scream the first time we encountered one of the Ixupi at the underground river and it attacked us. It was then quickly laughed off because the game was obviously ‘stupid’ (you know how it is with teenagers).

The first thing I did after my friends left that night was to go around the house with the pet dog Max in tow and turn on a light in every single room. I remember the skin prickling on the back of my neck each time I heard an unexpected sound and my overactive imagination telling me there was someone there with me. I was grateful when my parents and brother arrived home a couple of hours later, even if my dad did tell me off about the lights and for wasting electricity.

Shivers, video game, ghost, spirit, water, Ixupi, river, boat

It’s often the strangest things that scare you and what frightens one person won’t affect another in the slightest. I’ve been creeped out when entering dark rooms in the Greenbriars’ house in Gone Home; on edge with Sirrus and Achenar in Myst despite them being trapped in linking books; and shocked by the unexpected foes found in the mines in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. In-your-face frights are scary and will certainly leave you screaming, but it’s usually the more subtle things which stay in your uneasy mind afterwards.

After playing Project Zero on Twitch at the end of September and being disappointed by how little it frightened us, my other-half and I decided to seek out some other horror releases in the lead up to Halloween. For some reason I was inspired to replay Shivers and I didn’t think it would be a problem: although I hadn’t touched it since the summer of 1996, I’d seen some videos of playthroughs and found it laughable that something as silly-looking as an Ixupi could have scared me as much as it did back then.

I was wrong. The level of nervousness I felt on stream, along with the tensed shoulders, increased heartbeat and sweaty palms, was surprising. I realised there was nothing to be frightened of – I’d already completed the game once before and I knew to expect nothing worse than a cartoon ghost jumping out of an item – but it really did feel like being a teenager all over again. At certain points I was afraid to enter a new room and freaked out whenever I heard the Ixupi theme in the background.

It was the soundtrack which did it. There were several themes which immediately made me anxious back in the day and hearing them now brought all those feelings rushing back. Listening to the The Theatre and The Secret Hall made me feel on edge despite the bright lights and company of the stream, and it’s no wonder: music can be a powerful tool when it comes to nostalgia. Many studies have documented the ability of songs to bring to mind previous events and emotions.

I haven’t returned to Shivers since that night and I’m not sure I’m going to be able to bring myself to do so. There’s a part of me that wants to complete it once again and prove to myself I can conquer those teenage fears – but there’s another which just keeps repeating ‘no’. It does seem silly, especially since I know what happens in the story and that there’s really not much in the game to be scared of, but the level of anxiety I experienced during our stream is enough to put me off for the time being.

One good thing did come out of it though. We had the pleasure of meeting Darkshoxx who was kind enough to give us plenty of advice on the puzzles in chat, as well as introduce me to a community of Shivers speedrunners. I had no idea that such a group of people were out there and it’s lovely to know I’m not alone in remembering Sierra Online’s game. I’ve been watching a lot of his streams lately and it’s been so interesting seeing how he attempts to complete it as quickly as possible.

Is there a title that still scares you even though you know there’s nothing to be frightened of? Shivers is likely to always cast that spell over me… but one day, I’ll be brave enough to capture those Ixupi again.