In 2002, Nintendo published the Silicon Knights-developed Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. The game had originally been planned for release on the Nintendo 64, but was pushed to the GameCube during development. Eternal Darkness was a lot of firsts for Nintendo — it was the first game they published during Satoru Iwata’s tenure as President, and, unless you count Luigi’s Mansion, the first horror game on the GameCube.
But Eternal Darkness wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill Resident Evil wannabe. Setting itself apart from the shambling pack of survival horror titles, the game puts the player in control of multiple characters spread across different locales which are re-visited at different points in history. Protagonists explore ancient temples, cathedrals, and mansions, exploring the connections across history that have been made through the titular Tome of Eternal Darkness.
Not content with this divergence from the formula, Silicon Knights took things a step further. Whereas most horror games of the time relied on jump scares or disgusting monsters, Eternal Darkness used a psychological approach to mess with the player. The Nintendo-patented “sanity effects” came into play when a meter representing the protagonist’s mental state began to decrease. At this point, sanity mechanics have become somewhat played out, especially in games based on H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos, but Eternal Darkness pushed them to their limit.
You had the basics, of course — strange sounds, a skewed camera angel, bleeding walls, that kind of thing. But then there were the more intense sanity effects, which did things like trick you into thinking you’d entered a new room when you hadn’t left the previous one at all, having your character suddenly die, and — most infamously — tricking the player into thinking that their saved game had been deleted. Basically, Eternal Darkness wasn’t afraid to gaslight you.
But that isn’t why Eternal Darkness is unlikely to come back. The game wasn’t a great commercial success, for one thing, and then there’s the fact that Silicon Knights went bankrupt in 2013. Precursor Games, a studio staffed by many ex-members of Silicon Knights, attempted to launch a Kickstarter for a spiritual successor called Shadow of the Eternals that same year, but the company shut it down halfway through, refunding all contributions. (In total, there were three attempts to fund the game — an additional Kickstarter and one through Precursor’s site — they all failed.) Only a month later, the studio’s cofounder and the co-designer of Eternal Darkness Kenneth McCulloch was arrested on charges of child pornography and later pled guilty. Precursor Games severed all ties with him, but their problems wouldn’t end there.
Silicon Knights founder Denis Dyack founded a new company called Quantum Entanglement Entertainment in 2014 after Precursor Games went silent. Under the aegis of this new studio, Dyack attempted to relaunch Shadow of the Eternals, as well as produce film and television project based on the unreleased game. None of these materialized, and Dyack soon launched himself into infamy with a series of comments about the negative reviews of Silicon Knights’ X-Men: Destiny and “yellow journalism.” Dyack’s attempts to garner support from the GamerGate movement of the mid 2010s didn’t pan out, however, as QEE shut down in 2018 and he formed yet another company called Apocalypse Studios. Its first project was to be the free-to-play Deadhaus Sonata, though the game has yet to be released and has made a number of engine switches since it was first announced
All of this — the low sales despite critical acclaim, the legal and public issues surrounding its creators, and the failed attempts to create spiritual successors — make it seem unlikely that Eternal Darkness will get even something as simple as a barebones re-release anytime soon. Regardless, Eternal Darkness is an important part of Nintendo history and an impressive, innovative title in its own right. And hey, I hear GameCube emulation is pretty good these days.
A previous version of this article stated that Eternal Darkness was the first M-rated game published by Nintendo. The first such game was Perfect Dark in 2000, at which time the company owned a 49% stake in developer Rare.