Together Retro Game Club: D

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Presented by Ack

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Horror has always been a vital component of change in film, bringing early success and riches to fledgling studios, championing the development of new means to bring entertainment to the masses, and serving as a vital springboard towards the future success of actors, directors, and screenwriters, while still hiding on the fringe as a cult phenomenon.  The genre is unconventional, often crude and violent, but sometimes with a sophistication that burrows into our souls and finds something intimately human and utterly horrifying.  It makes sense that a young video game designer named Kenji Eno would seek to use it as a vessel for his groundbreaking approach to characterization in video games and alternative means of storytelling.  Eno’s ideas were beyond the norm and unconventional but deeply inspired and creative, often extending beyond the game to the player in a way that would make William Castle proud.

To fuel his creative vision, Kenji Eno founded EIM in 1989 but later dissolved it in 1992 because the company did contract work to develop sequels and spin-offs and could not provide as an outlet for his creative desires.  Then, in 1994, Eno founded WARP, where he could develop the games he wanted to make.  That is where Eno made his contribution to the horror genre with the game D.

So jump in, strap yourself down, and prepare for a two hour ride through horror, murder, and debasement with central protagonist Laura as she discovers the secrets of her family history and the corruption which runs through her veins in D.

D-SCREENS

Overview

D(or D no Shokutaku in Japan) is a horror-themed FMV game in which the player takes on the role of Laura Harris, a woman in her 20s whose father has just committed a massacre at the hospital he works at.  In lieu of endangering their own lives, the police send Laura into the hospital with the hope that she will be able to reason with her father.  Once inside, she finds herself transported to a mysterious castle.  There Laura must unlock the secrets of her lineage and the dark memories she has hidden away in less than two hours.

This is the first game starring Laura, the digital actress created by Kenji Eno.  Eno believed in creating a central persona who could then appear in multiple games as a different character but still the same individual, just like an actor on the stage or in cinema.  To do this, he created three games which starred Laura: D, Enemy Zero, and D2.  All three are horror games, and all three feature Laura as the protagonist, though with different last names, slightly updated appearances, and different backgrounds.  Further digital actors were created for Enemy Zero that found their way into D2, but WARP went defunct a short time later.

D is notable for containing themes of cannibalism and violence, which Eno successfully implemented by submitting a sanitized version of the game for review and then swapping out the disc for the real version when meeting with the manufacturer.

Gameplay

The crux of D’s gameplay consists of watching FMVs as you navigate the illusory castle in first person view and solve puzzles within the two hour time limit.  It’s important to note that there is also no pause or save feature; D moves entirely in real time and must be completed in a single sitting.  Succeed in finding your father, and you can view either the “good” or “bad” ending, depending upon the player’s final choice.  Fail, and you receive the time elapsed ending, which will tell the player to try again.  While exploring, Laura will occasionally stumble across scarab beetles that will bring about a hallucinatory flashback.  If the player succeeds in finding all of these beetles, then he or she will watch the best ending, though it is very similar to the “good” ending.

Ports

D was originally developed and released for the 3DO console in both Japan and North America.  A special edition version of D was also released for the 3DO in Japan in 1996 entitled D’s Diner: Director’s Cut.  This version included additional scenes, several trailers for D(as well as an unlockable trailer for the originally-planned 3DO release of D2), a “sound novel” which explains Laura’s family history up to the beginning of the game, and a MiniDisc with several songs from the game’s soundtrack.

In 1996, Acclaim ported the game to the Sega Saturn and the Sony PlayStation in Japan, North America, and Europe.  A version for MS-DOS was also released in North America and Europe in 1996.  All of these versions were based on the D’s Diner release.  The PS1 version is said to have superior video quality compared to the Saturn and original 3DO release, though 3DO purists claim the 3DO.

Legacy

While D did very well in Japan, even topping the sales chart for the first week it was out on the Sega Saturn, it never quite caught on in the US.  Sony also dropped the ball when originally manufacturing the PlayStation version and only successfully filled 28,000 out of 100,000 orders, leading to a rift with Eno and driving him over to Sega.  Both Enemy Zero and D2 ended up on Sega consoles, as did the other games WARP put out during the rest of its six year run.  WARP moved away from video games in 2000 and became Superwarp but then official closed its doors in 2005.

Today D is seen as an oddity, an experiment during an era where FMV and 3D were new ideas that hadn’t yet been tamed and standardized, which has resulted in some harsh reviews.  In 2008, Game Informer went so far as to list it as one of the worst horror games ever made.  The digital actress idea never caught on, leaving Laura as the most successful of her kind, but also one of the only.

But other ideas of the game, such as using the design of the game to impose tension and directly assault the player, have continued to live on.The same basic idea of a 2-hour game that cannot be paused as a means to impart dread can be found in the limited saves of Resident Evil, the faux reformatting memory card message of Eternal Darkness, the powers of Psycho Mantis to know the player in Metal Gear Solid, or even the text files and fake endings of a game like Imscared – A Pixelated Nightmare.  If anything, the techniques used in D helped reshape the relationship between the player and the game in the world of horror and influence a new way to approach interactive media.  Once again, horror is the vanguard.

Unfortunately, Kenji Eno passed away due to heart failure brought on by hypertension on February 20, 2013.  He was 42 years old.

Discussion

Can you discover the secret behind your father’s murderous actions and learn what skeletons lurk within Laura’s closet in less than two hours?  Let us know in the forums!


One Comment

Tektoro says:

Excellent write up Ack, best article I’ve read pertaining to “D” love how he swapped out the censored version before print, maybe that’s why Sony chastised the availability.
R.I.P Kenji Eno and thank you for such a historical game hope everyone gets a chance to play this month!

Trivia: Can anyone guess what “D” stands for, don’t spoil it just play it!!

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