Procedurally Generated Horror Game

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Harry Sunderland
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Procedurally Generated Horror Game

Post by Harry Sunderland » Tue Dec 10, 2013 11:53 pm

Hey guys,

I've noticed that procedurally generated games seem to be a bit en vogue right now (Binding of Isaac, Spelunky, Rogue Legacy, Faster than Light, etc). And while people are quick to call these games Roguelikes, I really think that term is used a bit liberally (Roguelike has gone from meaning a game similar to "Rogue" to now meaning any game with random levels and permanent death. You could argue that Minecraft on Hardcore is a Roguelike by this definition).

But instead of arguing semantics, I was wondering what you guys think about the idea of a horror game with procedurally generated levels? I did a quick google and saw that there is a game called "Daylight" based around this concept coming out for Windows/PS4.

Do you guys think there is potential in this concept? A part of me finds this concept kind of exciting, because who wouldn't want a game that can continue to evolve and scare you infinitely? You'll never memorize when all the scares will happen!

But at the same time, I think there is danger in this concept, for two reasons:

1.) Gamers are quick to pick up on patterns, and learning the patterns could quickly make the game less scary.

2.) The best horror games are paced like a horror novel/film...with intentionally crafted scenes of tension and relief.

I was just curious as to what opinion you guys had on this concept? Do you guys think there is potential in procedurally generated horror? I will say that while I love me some Rogue Legacy, the best platforming experiences I've had in my life came from the Mega Man series. That's not to say RL isn't fun (one of my favorite games this year), but random does not always mean engaging. By definition it can come out to be quite lame sometimes (and also awesome). :)

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miumiaou
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Re: Procedurally Generated Horror Game

Post by miumiaou » Wed Dec 11, 2013 4:43 am

Just try SCP containment breach and you'll see

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matt
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Re: Procedurally Generated Horror Game

Post by matt » Wed Dec 11, 2013 7:07 pm

While I am looking forward to Daylight, I'm of the opinion that hand crafted horror is always going to be scarier. I put so much effort into careful placement and timing of scares, so I feel like there's no way a program could do it as well. :)

Often procedural games are limited narratively, and I think an interesting narrative can give terrifying context to the events in the game.

My two cents anyway! :)
-Matt Gilgenbach
Lead Frightener at Infinitap Games

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LobsterSundew
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Re: Procedurally Generated Horror Game

Post by LobsterSundew » Sun Dec 15, 2013 3:34 pm

miumiaou wrote:Just try SCP containment breach and you'll see
SCP was mentioned. I'll use that as an excuse to post a link to SCP-426 which can be classified as Nightmare Fuel.

Pacing could be built into the procedural generation but it requires the game designer to have a deep understanding of multiple types of pacing to select from. There are ideas like having a sensor monitoring the player's heartbeat to alter that level in real-time or having a simulated player AI bot run through the level in advance to help be a conductor of the experience.

Procedural generation can be used for a maze of hallways to be different each time with specific hand-crafted rooms to include like a start, middle and end points. That type of procedural generation is becoming popular. Patterns can be hard to identify if there is a lot of potential variety or randomized "noise" in what is generated. Barely furnished rooms can be not as intimidating as rooms carefully populated by a level designer. So many more assets could be needed to create a game rivalling some hand-crafted ones that the hand-crafted option would be more economical. Generating assets could make it more viable but then that is another challenge to overcome. Procedural generation of monsters should work and a game could be static levels with the monster's body/abilities being what is different each time.

A horror game with a heavy emphasis on story is going to be a huge undertaking. That is where I see procedural generation would be the most difficult to sustain quality. Emergent stories like in Dwarf Fortress have a wide spectrum in quality although sometimes you can get amazing stories but that requires layers and layers of complicated systems. I played FTL: Faster Than Light enough that I memorized most of the encounters that could appear.

Currently it is easier for indie developers to just make a game instead of going through the effort of teaching an artificial intelligence how to make a game.

Grabthehoopka
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Re: Procedurally Generated Horror Game

Post by Grabthehoopka » Sun Dec 15, 2013 11:23 pm

I'm surprised nobody's mentioned The Consuming Shadow yet. http://www.fullyramblomatic.com/conshadow/

It's the newest game from Yahtzee Croshaw of Zero Punctuation fame, and it's his attempt at a horror-themed roguelike. It's still in beta, and I haven't played it, but I've seen gameplay videos, and it seems very tense and unnerving, although I'm not sure if that wears off over time or not.

To throw my hat into the ring of this discussion here, I believe that a procedurally generated game can very well be scary. There are many ways to scare a player, and if there's one thing that Siren has taught me, having planned out and designed scares is one thing, but having a horror game that relies entirely on its enemies to scare you is another. Knowing that the game is all bite and no bark gives you a constant sense of uneasiness and dread, because you know that there's no false alarms. Of course, if you do this, the balancing act of real danger vs perceived danger in horror game design is about a hundred times more difficult, since you have to design the game as an autonomous system that does the balancing act for you, and it rarely works.

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matt
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Re: Procedurally Generated Horror Game

Post by matt » Sun Dec 15, 2013 11:40 pm

I think procedural generation can be a huge win for indie developers assuming you aren't trying to have a set narrative. I think for procedural games, the stories about playing - ie. the emergent stories and the stories the players make up about their experience are the most interesting.

Before I decided to work on Neverending Nightmares, I was toying with the idea of making a procedural game just so the game could be "bigger" than the amount of content our team could make. However, my heart wasn't in it the way it is in Neverending Nightmares, so I think I made the right choice. :)

With respect to horror games, I think the story is a huge appeal both as a developer and a gamer. Honestly, I think the story elements are going to be the best part of Neverending Nightmares. I have some really amazing stuff planned. I think you can do scary encounters procedurally, but I think you have to give up too many tools in your horror developer tool box. At least, that's my opinion, but I am definitely biased. :-P
-Matt Gilgenbach
Lead Frightener at Infinitap Games

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