Chiller, the 1986 light-gun game from Exidy, is one of those bizarre relics of the end of the arcade boom. It’s small-time infamous for having two initial stages set in a dungeon in which the player is challenged to kill prisoners in as short a time as possible. Savvy players would use the various torture devices to quickly dispatch victims, such as shooting the guillotine blade to decapitate the condemned. More bloodthirsty players could shoot the prisoners directly resulting in torn limbs, bloody spurts, and a longer time to death. The other half of the game featured more traditional pop-out monster light-gun levels, but the first two levels with their (for the time) excessive gore and sadism stood out even compared to contemporaries that attracted more negative media attention. How did this come to pass? Luke Winkie, writing for Kotaku, asked one of the original programmers. Despite its salacious subject matter, the answer is as pedestrian as can be.
“If you don’t hook the audience in the first 15 seconds or 30 seconds, it doesn’t matter what’s going in the rest of the thing,” he said. “We knew most people like blood and guts, especially if they’re in an arcade full of wacko teenagers. We knew if we could just hook them with some gore – which itself isn’t much of a game other than how accurate you are, and not shooting the same body part over and over again – if you could get past that they’d be in.”
It always comes down to knowing your audience.