Discovering the spiritual son of Alone in the Dark - "Agartha" on Dreamcast
With Alone in the Dark , Frédéric Raynal refuting the sequels (not sufficiently original to sum up), which nevertheless placed for the first time an individual in a 3D universe where the dynamics of the camera placed the player in a cinematographic vision and this done in stressful situations, we were an actor for the very first time!
Everyone was waiting for a sequel, the return of the precursor but many inspirations will quickly hit the market ( Resident Evil , Silent Hill ...). Yet under the label of a new studio No Cliché (affiliated with Sega ), Raynal and his team want to renew the genre and exceed the competition. This is the key element of the title. If we come to the point, Alone in the Dark invents the concept of simulation, it creates a framework where the player interacting with the environment will feel what the developer wants.
How to go beyond this vision? Some will choose the technique, others the originality ... and Agartha too, but not only because it is based on an innovative concept "the choice"!
It is you, as an individual who will decide and suffer the consequences, the environment is no longer an imposed framework, it becomes flexible. The player becomes the avatar and thus the video game will go beyond a new evolutionary stage of gameplay still heavily used today.
The discovery of the different prototypes
"Agartha" was for me one of the most important canceled games of the dreamcast. Its cancellation left all of us unsatisfied. Being able to get my hands on a beta version remains one of my greatest discoveries.
I still remember the first time I launched the game and said " I'm one of the privileged few who can play it" . This feeling of playing unreleased and being one of the only ones in the world who can do it is a unique experience, a mixture of ecstasy and pride.
We are bringing our stone to the edifice of machine history by silencing more than 20 years of rumors. In the case of Agartha , we were at one point talking about a game that was complete, and then about a game whose development had not started. I've read a lot about him.
In 2011, a video was leaked on the internet. It had not taken more to relaunch all the hypotheses about him.
A little history
The game takes place in a village lost in the snow-capped mountains of Romania between the wars. An earthquake triggers the opening of Agartha , an underground gateway between Earth and an infernal dimension. Residents begin to vomit blue liquid before losing a human figure. When the dead emerge from their graves, Kirk , a white-bearded paranormal specialist, goes there to investigate.
Reinventing Survival horror
Although Kirk is heading in classic third person view, Agartha offers several new features compared to the Resident Evil that precede him: the game is fully 3D. Kirk has a backpack, which means the player can manage their inventory as they see fit. In the bag, we find a pistol and its magazine, binoculars, a camera, a book, a pencil, a passport, a key, an oil lamp and a flashlight. Kirk must monitor his Life gauge and Vril, which remains a mystery at this point. It is assumed to be a gauge of magic, with Vril denoting a form of mystical energy that lies at the center of the Earth.
As developer Didier Quentin explains:
"Our goal was to make Agartha THE Survival horror of the Dreamcast." Getting past Capcom's masterpiece Resident Evil: Code Veronica and competing against Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare by Infogrames (former employer of F. Raynal) presented stimulating challenges ”.
Video of the 2001 demo in high definition. I spent 7 hours at the upscaler. You can also download it here (open the "Dummy" file with the VLC player).
Torture and fear on Dreamcast
The player can decide to save as many innocent people as possible (and gain “Good” points), or on the contrary, to commit a butchery to accelerate the arrival of chaos on Earth (and gain “Evil” points). Moral choices influence the nature of enemies (undead, cult fanatics, and demons for the evil side / monk-soldiers, priests and archangels for the good side), and at least two different endings are planned.
Agartha hit hard according to Didier Quentin :
“At the last stage we got to, it was a game with a lot of freedom. Agartha would have been the first Survival horror where the player could have chosen sides: Good or Evil. For example, we had imagined leaving the possibility to the player to deliver a prisoner or to torture him. This then marked his psychology and made him enter a particular axis of the adventure ”.
Fear was the central element of Agartha, but F. Raynal also sought to arouse real unease in the player:
"Rather than detonating zombies in a chain, I would like the player to be scared to death understanding what to do, to say to himself just before the required action: 'no, that's too much. , I stop playing because I don't want to do that ””.
To get straight to the heart of the matter, what about the future of the Agartha project?
“To be clear, the Agartha project is definitely abandoned. We were in agreement with Sega to carry out our game and the recent announcement of the abandonment of the production of Dreamcast resulted in a breach of contract, leaving us with no other choice but to stop the development of Agartha ”.
Censorship and freedom of expression
If on a technical level, Agartha benefited from the support of SEGA, it was not the same concerning the highly controversial content. F. Raynal had met with refusals, and had come out bruised, but also determined not to compromise with the censorship:
“We encountered big censorship problems. We were clearly made to understand that there were limits to be respected in the world of video games and that we should not exceed them under penalty of suffering the wrath of censorship.
Our concept and our initial idea being precisely to go beyond the limits of political correctness to completely immerse the player in a dark and worrying universe: there was no question for us to comply with these demands […]. I realized that it was not possible to go beyond the tacit conventions imposed by the video game industry. Even in this new art where we still believe everything possible, there is an implicit censorship that restricts the imagination of developers and game designers. I think that's what affected me the most ”.
Scheduled for October 2001, Agartha will never be released since SEGA announces the shutdown of production of the console in March 2001. F. Raynal will not try to adapt it elsewhere:
“ Agartha will never be released on another platform, because the main idea - which was to be able to do good or bad deeds - is no longer original”.
You will find the Lore of Agartha by going to the end of the article devoted to her Reverse ( here )
The objective was to return to the essence of Survival Horror and to bring a new approach to it (let's not forget that Frédérick Raynal was the author of the 1st “ Alone in the Dark ” and therefore to offer an adventure that makes fear the worst for the player because his character is not a hero, Rambo style or some super-trained secret agent.
In a Survival Horror, fear, tension, angst are important emotions that cannot be achieved if we do not empathize with our character.
“ I have always found it important to build a game plan around the character that the player will control; it is through him that the player will feel emotions. "
Kirk was intentionally a character of a certain age, with the wisdom and experience that that implies, but also certain "weaknesses" which are likely to make the player fear many things about his survival.
“ I believe that he was made into a sort of anthropologist who was interested in various cultures to the point of making links between beliefs and legends that were very distant geographically. "
He decided on his own to go to the site of an earthquake that he considered very strange, in a remote and difficult to reach region of Romania .
The Merry Cemetery of Sapanta (Romania
This earthquake was the origin of the epidemic that emerged from the opening of a fault leading to the Hollow Earth . This opening was not natural; it had been started by a sect. Obviously, all this, the player and Kirk did not find out until quite late in the game.
After a few hours of play, the player had to discover that the story was ultimately not that simple. Kirk had, in a way, been drawn to these places. The earthquake was peculiar enough to guess in advance that it would attract his attention. He was, for the sect, only an intermediary to achieve a very specific objective: his half-sister who was at the center of the concerns of the sect.
Kirk's half-sister was partly of Tibetan descent, and by that ancestry she was related to those who had locked up demons thousands of years ago in the Hollow Earth. She was therefore the ultimate "key" that could free them. We therefore understand that she was very important to the sect which could not achieve its ends without her. Her temporary name was Julie .
“ We had a modeled version of his head designed for close-ups. "
It wasn't so much Kirk who was the heart of this story, but rather his half-sister. When she is attracted to the scene by the disappearance of her half-brother, she will put herself in danger without knowing it.
“ The player had to control her too. Suddenly, this survival horror allowed the player to be in the shoes of two different characters, each with their own weaknesses and each with their own narrative arc. "
The important thing for now is to understand that as Kirk , the player was going to have the possibility to trap his half-sister if he decided to marry the cult party, or be responsible for his coming. to come to his aid if the sect made him his prisoner.
“ Here we touch, if only in the broad outline of the scenario, to the concept of duality, the strong theme that has supported all of our design decisions. At first without realizing it, then becoming aware of it as and when, the player was pushed to make more and more choices oscillating between Good and Evil. "
In other words, the survival side of the game wasn't limited to dealing with attacks from infected people with little weapon or ammo but also steered the narrative to swing it permanently to one side or the other, in the last part of the scenario, and obviously lead to diametrically opposed ends.
Infected patients, like zombies, spread the disease by vomiting on people they rushed on. They were just different from the usual zombies who want to eat human flesh or brains. In Agartha , the disease forced the infected to release the microbe through their vomit. The disease spread through bodily discharges.
“Treating the contaminated was one of the possibilities offered by Agartha . Julie carried in her enough to make the remedy. "
The goal of the sect was not to spread this infection to the maximum. They just wanted to protect their environment, to be left alone in their secret activities. Having some sort of zombie militia as guardians of their precinct was perfect for them.
The sect was interested in an ancestral secret known under the name of the Hollow Earth: in summary, a theory on the presence of a vacuum within the very heart of the terrestrial globe in which would be hidden many powers.
“ For Agartha , we opted for the presence of demons buried thus underground and biding their time to return to the surface and take their place by eliminating humanity. "
The cult members wanted to take advantage of the power of these demons to enslave other humans and thus take control of the Earth. Obviously, they did not realize the power of these demons who, for the moment, were playing their game, too happy to have humans helping them to find the surface. It is by creating a first opening in the earth's crust (the famous initial earthquake) that the sect released, at the same time and without suspecting it before, the emergence of the virus in the region. Finally, they said to themselves that this is a good opportunity to avoid being disturbed in their rituals.
“It was more than a technical prototype. We had incorporated some of the visual elements already produced, just to see if all that could fit into the Dreamcast. We also already had a first version of a real-time staging tool. ”
Thanks to Didier Quentin , senior game designer and screenwriter on the Agartha project, for his explanation of the game scenario.
Some sketches and additional information
At the start of the game there was an avalanche blocking access to the valley:
Sketches with their visuals in play:
Sketches without in-game visuals:
The game was intended to fit on a GD-Rom thanks to the cinematics which were intended to be in real time. The development team was betting on an average life expectancy of 20 hours.
The graphic designers had gone to Romania to locate. A Romanian commented on one of the Youtube videos:
"I am from Romania, I confirm 100% that it is my country in the game. I saw a sign, the village is actually called Sapanta (Săpânța), Maramureș county, a real place well known for Merry Cemetery, a place where crosses are written with funny things. "
The cave with the lava that we see in the video was intended for a fight against a demon.
The monster on the brink of this map was one of the first guardians of a sect to face before descending even deeper into the bowels of the earth and discovering this forgotten civilization (which is biding its time to emerge from the depths to dominate the world )
Agartha wanted to be an Open World.
"A story of viruses again, fabricated from scratch to dominate the world"
The entire map by gathering all the sequences of the video
Thanks to Didier Chanfray for sharing these Agartha sketches with me.
Agartha Soundtrack (100 minutes):
The music in the game was meant to be scary, terrifying. It was composed by "Vachey Philippe". I count 82 different sound tracks (100 minutes) of which here are some examples:
-KALAPATHAR_EXTR01 -KALAPATHAR_EXTR03 -KALIGANDAKI_EXTR03 -KALIGANDAKI_EXTR07 -KALIGANDAKI_EXTR09 -KALIGANDAKI_EXTR11 -KANCHENJUNGA_EQ -KANCHENJUNGA_EXTR09
-KANCHENJUNGA_EXTR11 -KANCHENJUNGA_EXTR13 -KIANGJING_EXTR03 -KIANGJING_EXTR06 -KIANGJING_EXTR07 -LADAKH_EXTR02 -LOUPIOTV3 -PE03_22_EXTR01
You will be able listen to them on his site " https://www.audiogamers.com/albums/agartha/ ", hoping that he will add new ones in the future.
The playable E3 prototype!
Its discovery in 2017 was a real relief. We could finally know what we had missed. Many of us dreamed of this game at the start of the second millennium.
This is certainly the most successful build of Agartha. The demo is early in the development of the title. You can interact with the inventory, shoot your weapon, use your flashlight and admire some non-player characters in action.
This escapade in a small hamlet of Romania while directing Kirk allows us to imbibe the particular atmosphere of this survival horror. Music is not for nothing. One feels the atomosphere which emerges from Agartha . We want to see more, we want No Cliché to reform to finish it !!!
A debug menu is present, its explanation is detailed below.
Download the E3 demo from Agharta:
A graphic designer friend had created for the occasion the front and back cover of the games in homemade version to dress the game, to download here
The video in beta!
In July 2021, a collector by the name of "James Kremer" (we can thank him) contacted me explaining that he had a dev kit that he had bought in 2011, 10 years ago. He didn't know where it came from, which studio had used it.
After extracting the data from the development kit hard drive (release to come) we were able to deduce that it was used by No Cliché. The Agartha dossier cannot leave any doubts!
This new prototype version of Agartha is based on the 2011 video that you can download above. Sequences are missing like the passage where we see a giant on the edge of the abyss.
The build is not playable. We launch the video which runs in a loop on an emulator thanks to the GD-I format or by launching the game on a console by burning a CD with a CD-I. Loading times are long when launching it on Dreamcast.
The originality of this beta lies in the fact that it is possible to open a debug menu and thus interact directly in the video with the free camera for example.
To open the debug menu, you must plug a keyboard into port B of the Dreamcast and the mouse into port A. By pressing the ESC key on the keyboard, a debug menu will open. It will be possible to navigate among the multitude of options with the mouse. The Q button, by pressing twice, skips the video to the next scene. The N key allows you to skip the video to the next sequence (each sequence begins with a loading screen). The O provides direct access to the Loadingbackground.
Another possibility to navigate and open the debug menu is to connect a joystick to port D of the DC and press START, the joystick will replace the mouse (you still need the keyboard connected to port B).
The download pack includes:
The GD-I (the first of this unreleased) made by Metallic , thanks to him
CD-I image to burn onto a CD-R made by Ian Micheal , thanks to him
Download the GD-I and CD-I pack of this new Agartha prototype
The playable corrupted version!
This prototype not working properly appeared to have been used for create the video that was leaked in 2011. Maybe it had always been like this or the data was corrupted. For years, the mystery remained about this version until the discovery of the Video Build.
In the space of 4 days, we have made more progress than in 20 years. The exhumation of the last prototype made it possible to unblock the situation and repair the famous corrupted build. Who would have believed it ?
Victor Sokolov managed to make everything operational. You can walk around some of the environments in the video and visit the surroundings. The inventory is much more extensive than the E3 demo, there is a submachine gun, the Thompson for example.
For each map, a new disk image of the game had to be created.
The procedure for creating new ISOS:
Go to RESS \ GRAPH \ DECORS \ BUILD \ PLAYABLE \ CSE and replace TERRAIN1.HQR and TERRAIN1.LST on any other, then open the replaced .LST in the txt editor end change the first string on TERRAIN1.cse
As for all Agartha prototypes, a debug menu is present. The way to open it does not change from one version to another. This has its own features, here they are:
With the joystick in port 1 and the A button or the R key on the keyboard: this operation allows you to restart the video when the current sequence is loaded.
With the joystick in port 1 and the B button or the N key on the keyboard: this operation allows you to go to the next video sequence (the next loading)
With the joystick in port 1 and the X button or the P key on the keyboard: this operation allows you to return to the previous video sequence.
With the joystick in port 1 and the Y button: this manipulation allows access to the playable part of the build.
With the joystick in port 1 and the START button or the comma key on the keyboard: this manipulation allows you to pause the video.
With the keyboard and the SHIFT or ESC keys: this manipulation opens the debug menu.
With the joystick in port 3 and the debug menu open: by placing the mouse cursor at the location of our choice then by pressing the right trigger, we move the character to the selected location.
80% of the environments, cut into sequences (_SQUE), are playable. Some data is still corrupted, it is impossible for us to be able to run the "20_SQE", the "17_SQE" and the "7_SQE".
Each sequence put end to end would have given a game card. While walking in a _SQE, one is blocked by an invisible barrier, for example the end of a road. By selecting another _SQE, we start behind this barrier to explore another part of the map.
17 of the original 22 sequences are playable. Some only contain the interior of a building, others a larger explorable part. By starting the playable section, you can start in a vacuum, you have to find the ground. Here are the most interesting environments:
1_SQE: Unpublished playable section, the one with the bridge.
3_SQE: Playable section of E3 build with some differences.
6_SQE: Playable section of E3 build with some differences from 3_SQE
8_SQE: New playable section of the part where a PNJ goes to horses, only explorable via the free camera or by teleporting the character.
9_SQE: New playable section from the inn to the hunter's hut with the interior of some houses.
11_SQE: New section playable with the chapel on the cliff side.
14_SQE First and 14 SQE Second: New playable section of the temple (large door)
15_SQE: New playable section of the cave with lava
Take a trip to the inn, the 5_SQE, a surprise will await you in the reserve among the barrels of wine!
The mines with the underground lake (16_SQE) are difficult to access. It will be necessary to maneuver differently to achieve this because we start in total nothingness. Open the debug menu, select Log Windows then Camera. Disable the main menu debug. You will arrive in the Camera Menu. Once in this window, make sure you have the square of the photo in red. Move the mouse cursor out of the menu to bring up the scene. Be careful, you will be in free camera mode.
Download the corrupted version of Agharta repaired and playable (pack of 17 maps), thanks to ShindouGo for his help:
Download the original corrupted version of Agartha:
Compilation (hack) created by ShindouGo including the E3 build, the 17 playable maps, the video prototype and a trailer. You will have everything on the same disk:
You will be able to read a file on the reverse engineering of the games by going to the page "Agartha Dreamcast reverse Engineering" .
I walked through this canceled survival horror in every nook and cranny, even beyond the scenery. I imagined some non-implanted puzzles thanks to in-game details that you can read in the article:
4th corrupt build!
Frédérick Raynal , the creator of Alone in the Dark and Agartha , shares with us the dump of his build of Agartha . This, unfortunately, does not work. It is corrupt to some degree. The backup CDs containing Agartha have not stood the test of time.
Empty areas are 0x800 bytes, so the size of a sector. So if a sector was misread, it was replaced with 0x00s. There are quite a few holes everywhere.
In theory, we could merge the data with the latest versions of the game to create a new playable image, depending on the integrity of the individual files thereof.
The PLAYABLE / TERRAIN.HQR file, was supposed to be the playable part of the corrupted version. It is partially damaged in this image too, but to what extent, one is not sure. At first glance, it's mostly textures, and if that's all the problem, it may be possible to restore it .... "
The restoration work is certainly too important and would be a full time job without being able to be sure of getting there. The files necessary for its restoration are certainly in the Reverse part of the game where Sifting had been able to extract a good part of its textures.
Off topic, we notice that sequences, the 7_SEQ and the 20_SEQ, were not implemented in the famous video. It is assumed that these may not have been finished or were incomplete. By opening the SEQ7. LST, you can imagine the scene. In the PLAYABLE section, the (original) TERRAIN also seems something new.
Download the new corrupted build of Agartha with the original dump (to create the CDI, mount the .nrg with daemon tools then make an image with discjuggler), and a version with the files partially recoverable (see the python script in it)