There are few times I can remember being more frightened during a video game than playing this year's "Siren: Blood Curse" on PlayStation 3.

But as a horror buff, I'm always left wanting more. Which is why I eagerly anticipated the release of "Silent Hill: Homecoming" this month.

I haven't finished "Silent Hill" yet, but have a good feel for it. After a few hours of "Siren," I'd experienced a turn-on-the-lights moment.

Did it happen with "Silent Hill"? Sort of.

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If you missed out on "Siren: Blood Curse," hop onto PlayStation Network and download an episode. Horror fans won't be disappointed.

There wasn't much talk about "Siren" before it came out. It came out of nowhere. Gamers who have already played "Siren" -- such as myself -- might be interested in learning more about its development and the people behind it.

Sony hooked me up with the game's story concept and game designer Keiichiro Toyama, a fellow lover of "Lost" and a man who…hates being scared?

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"Siren: Blood Curse" may be giving "Silent Hill: Homecoming" a run for its horror money this year, but there's one difference: "Silent Hill" is showing up at retail.

Even though Sony has released "Siren" on a Blu-ray disc in Japan and Asia (with plans for Europe), there are still no plans for a proper retail release in the United States, Sony told me.

"At this time, there is not Blu-ray Disc version planned for the North American market," said a company representative in an e-mailed statement. "Please note, however, that you are able to delete and then re-download episodes since the purchase is linked to your PSN account. The developers kept this functionality in mind knowing that the episodes were fairly beefy. "

It's very possible that Sony is simply waiting to see how "Siren" continues to perform as an online-exclusive (as opposed to "Warhawk"'s simultaneous distribution), and the complete "season" of "Siren" episodes will appear at retail down the road. Its performance abroad at retail could also impact that.

If you still haven't tried "Siren," however, don't wait for the disc. It's worth playing now.

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Game Diary - August 11, 2008: They Mostly End The Same

Not the end of 'Siren Blood Curse'If you and I made great games, we would probably make them last too long. So many of the best games do. And they end dubiously, with less than their best stuff and too much of the same old thing.

See "BioShock," a game whose many fans don't seem to be very fond of its tone-shifted super-villain-style final boss battle.

See "Grand Theft Auto IV," which ends well after Niko Bellic achieves closure with the agony that trailed him to America. But it goes on, toward the usual bombastic end.

See "Metal Gear Solid IV." People who have played it surely know why.

Even less-than-great games tend to last longer than I, a serial game-completist, so often feel they need to. And they end so awkwardly. For example: I didn't need that last boss battle in "Geist," the one that introduced an entirely new gameplay mechanic and control scheme just for the final fight. If only such end-game stumbles were rare.

This weekend, as I finished the superb downloadable PS3 horror adventure "Siren: Blood Curse," I again played a game that didn't seem to know when to quit or how.

"Siren"'s infraction was minor but disappointingly typical. I'd have shaved a few minutes from the end, mainly the final cut-scene and the final boss-battle right before it. It ends, without spoiling things too much, in the manner of "BioShock" and "Geist": abandoning its own style to conclude in the noisy super-sized boss-battle flourish that concludes most games. It's no longer distinguishably "Siren" at the end. It might as well be a "Metroid," a "Zelda," a "Devil May Cry," you name it.

Why must so many disparate games end the same crass way? Why does the confidence of so many game creators to build something distinct appear to abandon them as they craft their game's final moments?

I believe many developers have little sense of how to end games because so few gamers reach enough endings to express a critical consensus. Creators know how to make a crowd-pleasing opening because they expect a crowd to experience it and have listened for the reaction. But how do you make a great ending? Where's the feedback?

Here's the feedback: I would have liked "Siren" to have crept out of my life the wonderful way it crept in, eerie and haunting. It didn't. It went out like something else, something not "Siren."

Next: I'm playing through an Xbox Original: "Stubbs The Zombie." I hear it's short and funny. Checking…

No, Stephen, you aren't the only one playing "Siren: Blood Curse."

In fact, Sony's surprise horror hit kept me up until just past 3:30 A.M. last night.

I can't actually remember the last time I decided to let a game keep me up that late. I typically make 2:00 A.M. the cut-off point, even if I want to keep going. Not this time.

Part of the motivation was to make up for lost time from a few nights ago, when creepy noises outside my apartment persuaded me to not turn the game on.

The result of the late-night horror session means I'll probably be turning in early tonight. Unless I decide to turn "Siren" on again, that is. Readers, what's the last game that kept you up until the wee hours?

'Siren: Blood Curse'I keep asking friends who own PS3s if they've played "Siren: Blood Curse" yet, a game that is already a contender for best horror game of the year.

I keep hearing excuses, including an apparent prohibition by some girlfriends from letting their significant others play the creepy multi-character game in their presence.

(Could these excuses also explain why most of the major U.S. gaming outlets have yet to review this Sony-developed download-only game more than 10 days since its release? Or did this article I reported in May already explain why how a good game could get shunned?)

Whatever the case, I must confess the reason that I stopped playing the game on Monday night was that I got scared. Read More...

'Siren: Blood Curse'Given the strong recommendation of readers of this diary, I decided yesterday I will try to get past the second level of "Kid Icarus" but Monday was not the night to do it.

No, Monday was the night for playing more "Siren: Blood Curse" on the PlayStation 3. It scared me in good ways and in one very bad way.

I have long been curious about the "Siren" games. I'm not a big horror fan, but I was intrigued by reports that the games in the series let you play multiple characters in a village, hijacking the eyesight of friends and foes for special split-screen dual views of the levels, all while you resolve a number of diverse plotlines. It's all sounded to me like a mix between "Majora's Mask," "Silent Hill," "Battlefield: Modern Combat" and "Indigo Prophecy." Who wouldn't want to play that?

The new "Siren," downloadable for the PS3 in 12 episodes, presents the creepy combination I sought. In the first chapter, a group of Americans come upon a Japanese village full of murdering zombies and have to run and fight for their lives. The player has to sort out why a professor and his TV producer ex-wife and their daughter are all there, why an American teenager shows up, why the guy with the rifle is hiding in the trees, whether the cameraman has a secret agenda, and so on. It's good, creepy stuff as zombies amble toward whoever you're playing, undeterred by the stop sign you just shoved through their body.

That's what I like about "Siren: Blood Curse." What's not so good is that each 500-800 megabyte chapter of "Siren" has to be downloaded separately and then installed, separately, on the PS3. I've played two chapters, the first lasting 10 minutes, the second about 20 and in each case the installation for the chapters took five minutes. With 12 chapters, that means I will have to spend about an hour installing the full game, chapter by chapter. Installation can't be done in the background while playing another PS3 game, so you have to surrender use of your PS3 during each chapter installation.

And you thought "Metal Gear Solid IV" had a problematic installation?

"Siren," as good as it is, unintentionally makes me fearful for the future of large downloadable games. The game is very good, but having to manually oversee an hour of installation is... not so good. Surely there's a better way?

Next: I predict no new games will be played today unless the PR guy I'm having dinner with decides to show me something cool during dinner. We'll see!

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