While the term survival horror came into use in 1996 with the release of Resident Evil, the origins of the genre actually go back much further, all the way to 1980 and legendary game designer Roberta Williams.
Mrs. Williams is one of the most important people who has ever existed in the game industry. She, along with her husband Ken, formed recently-revived Sierra Entertainment. Not only did she practically invent the adventure genre (without which we would likely not have RPGs or survival horror) she created an entire stable of legendary titles that showed how important story mattered. Games began to have substance and tell real stories. One of these key games was a title called Mystery House.
Mystery House originally released in 1980 for the Apple II. It was based around the idea of classic murder-mystery novels and it sought to surprise and scare players rather than just entertain them. Roberta was inspired by author Agatha Christie and wanted to create a game similar to her stories. Little did she know that she was laying one of the foundation stones for an entirely new genre.
The next big step for survival horror came in 1983 with the release of Halloween on Atari 2600. This was the first real horror game outside the text adventure genre, and, while it wasn’t earth-shatteringly good, it was a solid first showing and proof of concept for the genre moving forward. Another foundation stone was unwittingly laid, though it would be many years before the next big step was taken.
After Halloween’s release, the next 13 years saw a slow trickle of quality horror games and also some terrible ones. Roberta Williams cranked out Phantasmagora. Trilobyte produced 7th Guest and 11th Hour. The first Clock Tower released in Japan on the Super Famicom. Night Trap pioneered design and technology with full-motion video and player choice. All of these titles hinted around the edges of something new, something amazing that was just over the horizon.
Join us next week for Survival Horrigins Part 2: Birth of a Genre
Mike Bertrand is MONG’s foremost expert on survival horror games and will be happily dropping knowledge bombs on your faces all month. Tweets.