No, we’re not talking about Sonic The Hedgehog, in which an animal makes out with a human. We’re talking about Night Trap, a Sega CD game released in 1992 that may have been the stormiest tea cup in video game history.
Developed by Digital Pictures, a studio that specialised in the full-motion-video-laden games of the time, Night Trap was a relatively tame affair by today’s standards. In 1992, however, it found itself at the centre of Senate and Congressional hearings on video game violence. Serious business!
The game was actually a port of sorts, having originally been filmed and designed (along with Sewer Shark, another Digital Pictures FMV “classic”) for an unreleased console called the NEMO (which we’ll look at next week!). When the NEMO went bust, the footage was salvaged, a few scenes re-shot later to incorporate mentions of Sega and, with a reported budget of $US1.5 million (a princely sum for the early 1990s), it was ready to become the most infamous game the ill-fated Sega CD ever played host to.
Night Trap’s premise seemed innocent enough: a group of young people are spending the night in a family home, which has recently been at the centre of a number of mysterious disappearances. So you, as a member of the “Sega Control Attack Team” (yes, SCAT), are called in to monitor them via a series of video cameras and make sure nothing happens to them.
The thing is, those young people were all young women. Some of whom weren’t wearing too many clothes. And when the house invariably comes under attack, it’s attacked by these sci-fi vampire…things which steal the girl’s blood. Throw in the name “Night Trap” and its scholck horror box art and you’ve got a game that, by 1992’s standards (and lingering perceptions that video games were only for kids), was deemed as going way too far.
First released in October 1992, on the Sega CD, Night Trap quickly found itself playing a starring role in 1993’s joint Senate Judiciary and Government Affairs Committee hearing on violence in video games. Alongside other “controversial” games of the time, like Doom and Mortal Kombat, Night Trap was accused of being “shameful”, “ultra-violent”, “sick” and “disgusting”.
Its key scene, which opponents of the game’s content would frequently cite, involves the scantily-clad Lisa being set upon by a number of “Augers” (the sci-fi vampire villains). It led to accusations that Night Trap somehow encouraged people to attack vulnerable women, despite the fact the player’s job was to save the girl, not steal her blood.
Despite protests from both publishers Sega and Digital Pictures, who pointed out the game was a tribute/spoof of old, tacky horror movies (and also that the game didn’t actually feature any explicit scenes of violence or nudity whatsoever), the amount of public pressure faced over the game led to Sega withdrawing Night Trap from sale in early 1994. It soon returned, however, and was even ported the Sega CD 32X, 3DO, PC and Mac, the only change being redesigned box art.
As a game, it was – like most other CD-based FMV titles of the time – complete garbage. As a technological achievement, though, it was impressive for the period, especially the later ports which employed better quality video than the Sega CD version.
Most importantly, though, alongside the other games highlighted in the 1993 joint Senate Judiciary and Government Affairs Committee hearing on violence in video games, it helped pave the way for the introduction of the ESRB ratings that are still in use today, and which help clearly define which games are suitable for children and which ones aren’t.
Oh, and a final fun fact: as revealed in an interview on Gamasutra today, the game was a direct inspiration for, of all things, pet simulator Petz. Kooky.
Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.