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.
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.