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.

Mage’s Initiation: a touch of magic

I have fond memories of King’s Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow. Collecting the flower of stench from the beach on the Isle of the Sacred Mountain; using this to overcome one of the Sense Gnomes on the Isle of Wonder; and being thrown into the Catacombs to face the Minotaur. But the memory I remember most strongly is the fact I never finished.

So when Emily Morganti got in touch to offer the chance to play a preview build of Mage’s Initiation: Reign of the Elements, I jumped at it. This upcoming adventure-RPG-hybrid is being created by Himalaya Studios – who previously released remakes of King’s Quest I: Quest for the Crown, Kings Quest II: Romancing the Throne and King’s Quest III: To Heir is Human under the moniker of Anonymous Game Developers Interactive (AGDI). Perhaps now will be the time I’ll redeem myself for that past failing and make Prince Alexander proud.

You may be surprised to hear that Mage’s Initiation has been in development for almost a decade. The project began 2009 after a community poll identified an adventure / RPG as the type of game AGDI’s fans most wanted, then in 2013 the team went on to run a Kickstarter campaign in order to supplement work on the title. It did incredibly well: they managed to raise almost double their $65,000 target and reach six out of nine stretch goals. We’ll now have the opportunity to see the fruits of their labour at the end of next month.

Players take on the role of D’arc, a sixteen-year old who has spent most of his life so far confined to the Mage’s Tower in the realm of Ignior. The past ten years have been devoted to studying the magic of the Elements under the instruction of the most accomplished scholars and it’s now time for him to venture beyond the tower. He’ll have to brave a goblin-infested forest, navigate a vast lake to encounter a pure evil and ascend the peaks of a valley of winged warriors if he wants to make it through his initiation. Whoever said being a teenager was easy?

I feel I should say a few words about D’arc himself before we jump into the meat of the preview build… because we’ve only known each other for a third of the game and he’s already starting to get on my nerves a little. He’s very theatrical, particularly when it comes to his internal monologues, and there are plenty of grand pauses and witticisms when it comes to observations about objects in the environment. I can’t deny this is somewhat befitting of a teenage character though – especially one brought up in a fantasy medieval world by mages.

Speaking of the environment, visually this game is lovely. I could immediately tell it had been worked on by Sierra fans who’d been influenced by King’s Quest as the pixelated background art is beautiful and brings to mind a warm sense of nostalgia. I didn’t necessarily need the higher-resolution portraits which appear when a character is taking, as the text on the screen alone would have been enough; but they’re very well done and I understand that a lot of players prefer to see speakers close-up.

Mage's Initiation, Reign of the Elements, Treasury, sword, mage, puzzle

The game is controlled by mouse alone and you have a choice of three different adventure interfaces that can be switched between at any point. There’s the traditional Sierra-style icon bar, along with the LucasArts-inspired verb coin which sadly didn’t work for me in the preview build; but this wasn’t a problem as I felt comfortable with the more streamlined compact option. With this scheme selected, right-clicking brings up a small rectangle holding icons for actions such as touch or pick up, look and talk.

At the start of Mage’s Initiation, D’arc is summoned to the Tower’s Hallowed Hall by the Masters to see which of the four elements he is aligned with. This happens through a short series of multiple-choice questions. Usually when I play any kind of RPG I opt for fire spells (must be my inner pyromaniac) or lightning if I fancy a change; however, this time my overseers felt I was better suited to water. There does seem to be an option to change if you’re not happy with the automatic section but I decided to go with their wisdom in this instance and continue.

Next it was time to head to the Training Hall to receive my gifts from the Sphere of Knowledge. These turned out to be the ability to talk to underwater creatures and spray a jet of water from my hands, as well as being able to shoot bolts of ice and surround myself in liquid armour. Those last two came in handy when going up against another hopeful initiate and I’m pleased to say I kicked his butt – but I was given several stern warnings from my scholar to never use my magic on the Giftless humans.

There are several locations outside of the Mage’s Tower like BloodBark Forest, where you’ll encounter combat situations with enemies including Redcap Goblins and poisonous spiders. You can kill these foes by selecting a spell and then clicking on them but they’re able to fight back: casting magic reduces your mana and taking hits results in losing health, so there’s the possibility for D’arc to die. Potions created, found or bought can be used during battle however to recover your resources and continue.

Mage's Initiation, Reign of the Elements, video game, forest, goblins, mage, spell, fire, dark, trees

If you’re more point-and-click-minded, you can also run into the next screen to escape so there’s an option to avoid combat for those who prefer an adventure experience. However you choose to play the game, actions like defeating enemies, finding out information and discovering useful objects will grant you skill points which can then be allocated to strength, magic, intelligence or constitution once you have enough. You can also equip various jewels which enhance these stats in the way you wish.

The puzzles I’ve encountered so far have been quite straightforward; for example, at one point it’s necessary to locate four different tile pieces from within a labyrinth to complete a mural and open a locked door. I remember there being different ways to overcome a challenge when playing King’s Quest VI and the same is true here. When trying to find out a door combination, another character told me he’d trade the answer for a health potion – but in his words were a clue to the code, which I then managed to figure out for myself.

This feature, along with the ability to choose your element and customise your character somewhat as described above, give the potential for a lot of replay value. The branching storyline and optional sidequests also make for a story which doesn’t feel completely linear. It’s obvious the Himalaya Studios team have really focused on giving their fans what they asked for – and adventure / RPG hybrid – and with other titles like Unavowed being positively received this year, I can see this mash-up genre becoming popular.

Mage’s Initiation: Reign of the Elements is due for release on 30 January 2019 so there isn’t long to wait to get your hands on the full game. For more information, take a look at the official website or give the developer a follow on Twitter.

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Shivers down your spine (a QotM answer)

October’s Question of the Month is brought to you by Ian from A Geeky Gal: long-time blogger, video game player, anime watcher and all round lovely lady. To find out more about him and his site, as well as how you can get involved, take a look at this post.

It’s often the strangest things that scare you, and what frightens one person won’t affect another in the slightest. This has been proven by October’s QotM thanks to some curious responses: rather than give typical blood-splattered horror answers, many people have mentioned releases outside this expected genre when talking about the video games which have made the hairs stand up on the back of their necks.

I understand where they’re coming from. I’ve been creeped out when entering dark rooms in the Greenbriars’ house in Gone Home; on edge while dealing with Sirrus and Achenar in Myst despite them being safely trapped away in Linking Books; and shocked by the unexpected foes found in the mines of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. In-your-face frights are scary and will certainly have you screaming, but it’s often those more subtle things which will stay in your mind afterwards and haunt your dreams…

After convincing my parents I had far too much coursework to go to a family party, I’d been left home alone one evening in the mid-90s. But rather than getting out the books, I invited a small group of friends over to keep me company and we ended up playing a video game after they saw the stack of boxes piled up next to the CRT monitor. I’d visited the gaming stall at our local market just a few days before to pick up something to see me through the summer holidays, so now was a good time to start it.

We huddled around the screen to see where this adventure would take us, the sun slowly setting through the window turning the room gradually darker. Shivers‘ story started when our teenaged character was dared by their friends to spend the night in the grounds of Professor Windlenot’s Museum of the Strange and Unusual. The fact that the place was considered to be haunted ever since its creator’s mysterious disappearance 15 years earlier wasn’t a deterrent, and after solving a few puzzles we found ourselves standing inside the grand building.

Unfortunately for us however, we weren’t alone. In 1980 two ‘nerds’ had broken into the museum themselves and accidentally released ten Ixupi from a set of ancient ceramic vessels from the Moche Valley. These evil spirits were lurking within chemical elements such as sand, metal, wood and electricity, and were intent of sucking the Ka (life-force) out of anyone they came into contact with. You can probably now figure out what happened to the Professor and the nerds…

As we solved puzzles to get further into the building, everyone in my own group was trying to keep their cool. We had to hunt down each vessel and its corresponding cover then use them to trap the correct Ixupi before sunrise, without them lashing out and stealing away our limited amount of Ka. We all let out a scream the first time we encountered one of the spirits at the underground river and it attacked us – before trying to cover it off and laugh it off because the game was ‘stupid’. You know how it is with teenagers.

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

The first thing I did after my friends left for the night was go around the house with the family dog in tow and turn on the light in every single room. The skin prickled on the back of my neck each time I heard an unexpected sound and my overactive imagination was certain there was somebody there with me. I sat in the living room freaking out and was kind of grateful when my parents and younger brother arrived home, even if my dad did tell me off about the lights and for wasting electricity.

When I watch videos of Shivers now, I find it laughable I could find something as silly-looking so scary back then. But the story played on my mind and I found excuses to not be left alone for a long time after that summer evening. Even now as an adult I have a recurring dream every once in a while, where I’m searching for something unknown through a large building full of hundreds of rooms while something is stalking me… could it be the Ixupi?

Just one question: who on earth thought it would be a good idea to imprison evil life-sucking spirits inside some incredibly-delicate and extremely-breakable vases?