Haunted hospital weaves tale that's distinctly Thai

Haunted hospital weaves tale that's distinctly Thai

Thai developers make inroads in virtual reality gaming world

Earlier in September, Japanese video-game fans enjoyed the Tokyo Game Show 2016, known as the biggest consumer game show in the country, where thousands of games both well-known and obscure are showcased on the convention floor for thousands of attendees to see. Among the thousands of game developers there were Thai company MAD VR Studio, who was there to showcase their first game, a horror game set in a Thai hospital, Araya.

Players take the role of one of three characters, and must traverse this faithfully-recreated Thai hospital in order to unravel the mysteries behind the murder of the teenage girl-ghost featured on the game's promotional pictures. The best part? You can do all of this in virtual reality.

Set for release at the end of next month, Araya is developed by the handful of members at MAD VR Studio, and was among the few Thai companies to be featured at the prominent TGS 2016. On YouTube, the game's only trailer has been viewed almost 300,000 times in the month since it was uploaded, and the game has also been certified by the Steam Greenlight program, which lets users vote on which games the PC-game publishing company should fund next, before being released in full for the platform's more than 300-million users to purchase and play. As implied by the developers' name, the game also will join the relatively limited catalogue of VR-ready games available.

"Horror games and VR are a natural match," said Alan Archapiraj, CEO of MAD VR Studio, who was also quick to point out that the game can still be played entirely without VR, as the technology isn't exactly widespread at the moment thanks to technical and financial barriers.

"We wanted to make a horror game that appealed mainly to Asian audiences," added Jatupong Rakthaijaroencheep, CTO and lead designer on the game.

Featuring squat toilets, tiled-plasterboard ceilings, speckled marble walls and rows of uncomfortable-looking yellow plastic benches, Araya is unmistakably Thai in its identity. According to Jatupong, the decision to lean so heavily on the Thai aesthetic is partly due to the similar tropes in Asian horror, such as in Japan and Korea, which make the game much more accessible for an Asian audience.

"Most horror games today tend to be based on Western horror tropes, like the floating object or the static-hissing TV," said Jatupong.

"Asian audiences who are unfamiliar with these tropes may not be as affected by them, whereas things like a derelict shrine or the distant sound of prayers invoke much more fear."

Captivated by the haunted houses and horror games of his youth, Jatupong has always thought of fear as a primal emotion. This led to the creation of The Hospital Haunted Be Lost, a VR video-game he developed by himself as a thesis project for his degree in interactive media and games from Sri Patum University, which enjoyed brief stardom after numerous YouTube personalities published videos of themselves playing the game. Hospital Haunted is currently featured on the Oculus-dedicated store, which sells (or gives away for free) games and experiences designed to be used with the Oculus Rift VR headset or the Samsung Gear VR peripheral.

"When you see something pretty, the most common response is to think to yourself "oh! that's pretty" then forget about it minutes later. But people remember the things they're scared of. And since I can't build myself a full-scale haunted house for my thesis, a VR-enabled experience will have to do."

Speaking about the rise of VR in mainstream awareness, CEO Alan says that while VR's main use will remain for a few years within the video-game industry as the technology takes time to make itself less cumbersome, though it won't be long before VR technology is integrated into everyday life in the same way as smartphones.

"In terms of games, VR has allowed us to break free from the screen-and-controller format we have been using and refining forever, offering us a new way to engage with and play games." explained the CEO.

"For other mainstream markets, there really is no end to what VR can offer. Condominium showrooms can now be recreated and shown in VR form to prospective buyers. Even Facebook is jumping on the bandwagon by buying Oculus in 2012, as the only next step from live face-timing is being able to organically interact with friends over long distances as if you are right there with each other."

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