Dallas Ft. Worth - Washington D.C. - Seattle - New Orleans
'By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked, this way comes...'
Many of us enjoy being frightened by scary stuff, and here are a list of the games, movies and other media which put me in a dark of the moon mood.
"Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)" by Concrete Blond
"Sympathy For The Devil " Jonathan Round's version - they used to play this around Halloween every year back in Dallas on Q102. Very haunting atmospheric effects.
"Gravedigger" by the Dave Matthews Band - The acoustic version is great. Partial lyrics are here.
"Raven in the Storm" by John Gorka - Lyrics are on the Book Reviews page.
ROLE PLAYING GAMES
Deadlands - Hell on Earth - Lost Colony by Pinnacle Entertainment - This is one of my favorite game systems to play, but unfortunately Pinnacle has stopped producing the series and is selling off the last of it's stock. ( plenty on eBay and in game stores for now ) I was awed by the amount of work that went into the revisionist North American history (Old West) and post-apocalyptic settings. I still curl up with one of the source books now and then just to pick up some interesting facts about the Occult, and I occasionally travel to one of the sites or cities named in the source material to compare my real life experience to the game description.
The downside of the game was that the adventures were too rigidly structured, could have used more detail in area description and maps, and I get tired of all of the boss creatures having some "secret vulnerability - guess what it is before the party dies". AD&D gets the nod for best and most consistent module quality. The flavor also tends to get a bit heavy handed with the undead/hell/demon/everything has gone to shit theme.
Call of Cthulhu by Chaosium
Call of Cthulhu d20 System - published by Monte Cook under WOTC, but for some reason it is not on their website.
Chill 1st Edition by Pacesetter
Chill 2nd Edition by Mayfair Games
Chill 3rd Edition - Supposed to be produced by Other World Productions sometime next year.
AD&D - Most editions are good, (or can be good) though I find the 3.0 + versions to be a bit rule heavy and they angle you towards buying sourcebooks by the ton. Also, the d20 system is considered to be the Borg of RPG systems and has been accused of driving smaller publishers out of business ala' shades of Microsoft via a viral generic gaming system. Very interesting that both corporations are based in Seattle.
Still, there is a HUGE variety of source material available and some of the settings such as Ravenloft & Dark Sun lend themselves to a darker gaming experience. The Planescape universe allows you to indulge occult leanings to the uttermost edge of the fantasy/reality bridge so if you are wealthy enough, you could just quit your job and play full time.
Gamma World d20 - While this is technically not a horror game, it can be played that way with the correct GM, adventure and mood. This was originally Metamorphosis Alpha and then went under the GDW banner until that company went defunct.
Great stuff from the Mammoth Book of Best New Horror Vol. 11
edited by Stephen Jones
"Naming The Dead" by Paul J. McAuley
"The Emperor's Old Bones" by Gemma Files
"The Long Hall on the Top Floor" by Caitlin' R. Kiernan
" The God of Dark Laughter" by Michael Chambon
From Whispers 2 edited by Stuart Schiff
Trill Coster's Burden by Manly Wade Wellman
Classic vampire tales which predate Bram Stoker's "Dracula"
"Wake Not The Dead" by Johann Ludwig Tieck
"Carmilla" by Joseph Sheriden Le Fanu
I've been a computer gamer for a long time, and I am not easily frightened even in real life. But there are some games that are quite effective in creating a tense atmosphere, and when I turn the lights down and the surround sound up, these are the titles that get my adrenaline pumping.
Ultima Underworld 1 & 2 - These were the first actual 3-D first person roleplaying games which predated DOOM by a year or so and you could actually look around, jump, and crouch. The first System Shock (described below) used the same engine (which had a somewhat distorted fisheye bubble effect) and development group. (Looking Glass Technologies) Very well done for it's time and I wish Origin would get a clue and develop more stuff like this, but instead they went on with the Ultima series (including the online version) which all use a boring and unrealistic three-quarter third person view. (which I can't stand - 1st person rocks - so far only the Jedi Knight series makes 3rd person a viable way to play)
Doom - The original game in certain areas and the Aliens TC conversion was quite scary for it's time, but that was over 10 years ago.
Doom 3 - We certainly waited long enough for the next installment of one of the most famous 1st person shooters in history. The graphics certainly reflect the leap forward in technology over the past 10 years; I have a reasonably quick machine and I still couldn't play it on the highest detail setting. Also noticeable was how much the id Software team borrowed from Half Life (opening levels & cinematics) as well as System Shock for adding in game haunting sequences, email messages, video logs and so forth. I basically enjoyed the game, though I have to agree with a lot of viewers that the gameplay does get a little repetitious after a while.
The sound was good, but I was a little surprised that there wasn't more interactive and destroyable scenery. Also, I personally think weapon damage was too diluted to be realistic or fun, even on the easiest settings. I recommend you go out and get one of the famous mods on the net for enhanced stopping power as well as the famous duct tape mod.
Terminator Future Shock & Skynet - These games showed great promise with the then revolutionary X-Engine, but unfortunately Bethesda Softworks has a habit of getting everything lined up and then shooting themselves in the foot. They completely $hit the bed with the Skynet multiplayer mode by using a really klunky IPX protocol (for Novell) and Kali 95 interface instead of TCP/IP like the rest of the universe.
This was made more frustrating by the fact there were some really cool features in the game, like being able to climb into a jeep equipped with a laser cannon and speeding through the post-apocalyptic ruins while combating the scary robotic baddies of the wasteland. Some of the conceptual ideas for the enemies were really good (like the Flencer) but had poor AI (no patrol mode and you could usually spot them before they saw you) and there was no customizing available for maps and level design. All of the missions took place at night and were usually outdoors. (which Xngine excelled at) Indoor layout was drab and boring for the most part. If only it had taken off then fans would have made hacks and patches for it.
Dark Forces - The first Star Wars first person shooter was amazing for it's time, and while it may seem strange that it would show up on the Scary Stuff page, but I can tell you some of the level design and nature of your opponents (the robotic Dark Troopers were very formidable) justifies its inclusion. There is one mission in particular on Nar Shadda that I played over and over again because it was such a cool, grimy urban setting.
While the first game was actually a 2-D engine (they used tricks to make it look 3-D) the subsequent ones used a true 3-D engine. However, for some reason, I prefer the atmospherics of the first one much better. Dark Forces 2 was not nearly as interesting for the most part, though the Jedi Knight statues that come to life are pretty cool.
Realms of the Haunting - Very good graphics for it's time and some nice level design. There is one part where you are exploring the catacombs and these horned skeletons suddenly appear and charge you. Very scary looking and unlike many game monsters who just amble in your direction, these things are SPRINTING at you. On higher difficulty settings it would take multiple shotgun blasts to put one down. Quite chilling.
System Shock - The first one was pretty good for it's time, especially the CD-ROM enhanced edition, but the graphics had a warped bubble look; a holdover from the graphics engine used in the original Ultima Underworld series. (another classic in it's own right as the first truly 3-D roleplaying game)
System Shock 2 - One of the most truly awesome 3-D sci-fi roleplaying games ever made. You explore a ship whose crew has been murdered and mutated while you try to scavenge equipment and evade the intelligence which has taken over. What makes this noteworthy is the superior sound effects and AI of the creatures on board. They actually hunt for you, and it's not unusual to hear something opening a door down the corridor along with footsteps and groaning. In another brilliant move, the designers actually have the ghosts of the murdered crew appear to give clues. I also learned to hate the spiders. Very damn scary game.
Undying - I love this game because of the excellent graphics and vicarious experience of being a two-fisted paranormal investigator who fights the unknown with a combination of firearms, occult artifacts and spells. Level designs are amazing in their detail, and the creatures are quite frightening in the dark. Only complaint I have is some of the weapons are a little unorthodox and do not inflict the kind of damage I think they should. (the shotgun is surprisingly wimpy and takes a while to reload)
Aliens vs. Predator - While I don't like the way Fox Entertainment jumped all over the Doom & Quake Alien Patch/Conversions fans a few years ago, their latest offerings are worthy of mention. There is an advantage in having access to all of the copyrighted material and they make good use of it. The game is plenty scary with flickering lights, creepy noises, atmospheric effects, and of course some nasty, fast as hell aliens that crawl on walls/ceilings. Could have used a little more eye candy, though, (dead bodies and interactive scenery) and interactive civilians to protect. And instead of always deathmatching, why not have a little cooperatve mode where you can hunt with your buddy?
But Fox does a lot of things right, and my favorite toy is the motion detector which I would love to have for a real life ghost hunt. The game has some interesting facets in that you can also play as an alien or predator, but these modes do not hold my interest nearly as well, and I have yet to try multiplayer. While I like the cool look of the flares, I think it is silly how many first person shooters do not have a flashlight included as part of the gear. (obviously not designed by ghost hunters) I also do not like the way Fox made things artificially difficult by limiting the number of save slots or times that you can save. Let the player decide that, Big Brother.
Aliens vs. Predator 2 - This is an offering by an entirely different production company and to my delight, they fixed many of the complaints that I had about the original described above. The weapons offering is very impressive (10 in all plus a sniper rifle) and most of them are quite deadly with the flamethrower working unusually well - maybe too well. (drops most aliens in their tracks flaming and you can't catch yourself on fire) And above all, this is one of the most terrifying games ever made with the level designers using sound effects, lighting, music and plot to maximum effect. Very often, you will hear or see something in the distance very briefly - and then it will disappear just as suddenly. Aliens hammer on doors, burst through gratings and will maraud in nightmare droves.
And of course, the only complaint with a game of this high a caliber is that it ends too soon. The only improvements I would suggest would be greater interactivity with the environment (such as being able to weld doors or commandeer computer interfaces and maps) and an improved multiplayer mode.
Return to Castle Wolfenstein - while not as graphically amazing as some of the above games, there are still some notable levels which create great atmosphere. Fun to play, but a little empty feeling in spots, this is worthwhile if you can find it in the bargain bin. The only downside is that it doesn't stack quite as well against other WWII shooters, and while it does have the nifty aspect of supernatural enemies, they have some annoying characteristics like not dying at all when you shoot the hell out of them.
Some of this is because many of the weapons inflict unrealistically low damage, with the pistols being next to useless and even the MP40 going ignored throughout much of the game. Coming from id Software, I was AMAZED at the exclusion of the trusty shotgun in any form, and really wanted to waste undead at close range with a 12 gauge blast. Sigh - have to wait for Doom 3. There were some inexplicable save game glitches, and Mutliplayer was frustrating to set up. Seems like it needs to download a dozen patchs/maps before you can play a damn thing. On top of it all, Activision ignored my polite request for tech assistance.
"Ray: Good evening... as a duly appointed representative of the city, county and state of New York, I order you to cease any and all supernatural activity and return forthwith to your place of origin, or to the nearest convenient parallel dimension.