A harsh preview of Alien: Isolation

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Grabthehoopka
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Re: A harsh preview of Alien: Isolation

Post by Grabthehoopka » Sat Apr 12, 2014 1:48 pm

Yet another harsh, disappointing preview, this time of The Evil Within:

http://www.gameinformer.com/games/the_e ... ooter.aspx
The first gameplay demo shows the protagonist moving about the massively changed world that players get a glimpse of at the end of the E3 trailer. Streets shift and move as the character moves around an unsettling urban backdrop. Things take a turn for the bland as the character moves into a gated area where he encounters a group of zombies and dispatches them handily with a variety of weapons, from a shotgun to explosive crossbow bolts. Not that there's anything wrong with zombie slaying, but the previous gameplay footage and trailers give off a completely different vibe, one without much shooting, and with a heavier emphasis on fragility and scares

While the weapons seem competent, and the zombies need to be burned after they’ve been brought down to keep them from coming back, these slow stereotypical zombies being blasted to pieces with a vast, devastating arsenal isn’t the kind of thing that previous trailers and footage have conveyed. The demo ends with the character getting killed by a more interesting water monster, but the overall tone of the brief demo felt stale and overly familiar.

The second gameplay demo’s chance to redeem the first fell flat. The character maneuvers throughout a network of underground areas, continually killing “Boxhead” monsters. While creepy, the Boxhead encounters lost their luster quickly as the player’s vast array of weapons dispatched them easily, over and over. These demos placed a huge focus on powerful weapons and monster-slaying, a far cry from the experience of terror seen in the original reveal.
I never had any faith whatsoever that this game would be Shinji Mikami's return to his survival horror roots, despite all of the news outlets constantly touting it as such, but I was trying to keep an open mind. The latest trailer which makes it look like this game is just Resident Evil 4 2: The Resident Evil 4-ening, seems to confirm my suspicions. Of course, that doesn't mean it won't still be fun to play, which it very well could be; Resident Evil 4 is a fucking amazing game, so amazing that Capcom seems to be physically unable to stop porting and re-releasing it. I'm just a touch sadder than usual about this one, because this looked like it could have been the one. Publishers, developers, and the rest of the bean counters don't have any faith in survival horror games , so nobody wants to make one, and it reminds me of a metaphor from Stephen King's wonderful Danse Macabre (he's talking about horror movies, but the genre's the same):
"...I'd like to say something a little more serious about the peculiar relationship which obtains between terrible horror movies (of which there are a dozen for each good one, as this chapter testifies) and the genuine fan of the genre. The relationship is not entirely masochistic, as the foregoing may make it seem. A film like Alien or Jaws is, for either the true fan or simply the ordinary moviegoer who has a sometime interest in the macabre, like a wide, deep vein of gold that doesn't even have to be mined; it can simply be dug out of the hillside. But that isn't mining, remember; it's just digging. The true horror film aficionado is more like a prospector with his panning equipment or his wash-wheel, spending long periods going patiently through common dirt, looking for the bright blink of gold dust or possibly even a small nugget or two. Such a working miner is not looking for the big strike, which may come tomorrow or the day after or never; he has put those illusions behind him. He's only looking for a livin' wage, something to keep him going yet awhile longer."
Makes more sense when you look at every survival horror game that has ever been made (probably a few hundred or so, by now), and you all know that there is some truly horrendous shit that you have to sift through to get to the classics, and even a lot of what we consider classics have glaring flaws of their own. But while I think the quote is still relevant, it does point out the strangely paradoxical differences between horror movies and horror games nowadays. The market is saturated with so many terrible horror movies because the producers think that it's an easy way to make money, while the market has a drought of horror games in general because the producers think it's an easy way to lose money. So, while watching horror movies is like panning for gold in a river, playing horror games is like panning for gold in a swamp. Or a desert. Or a volcano. While, admittedly, horror games have started to make a small, slow comeback in recent years, I think we, more than anyone, are waiting for the one.

The one, the mother lode, the survival horror game that strikes a chord with both fans of the genre and "mainstream" audiences and brings balance to the force (of the market), leading the executives and bean counters to dig just that littlest bit deeper and discover that next big gold vein that we want them to hit (that would be us, having been given the privilege of willingly, uncontrollably throwing all of our money at them for getting what we want). Please, please, please forgive me for the simile that I'm about to use, but because of this, I feel like for the past few years or so, we, the fans of the genre, have been like Obi Wan Kenobi at the end of Star Wars episode 3, shouting "You were supposed to be the chosen one!" with tears in our eyes, as we leave our prospective games and franchises to die in agony as husks of their former selves, having failed to live up to what they were destined to do.

I thought Dead Space was going to be the chosen one, at one point. They took the Resident Evil 4 formula and steered it further into the horror direction, and seemingly to everyone's surprise, it was a smash hit. But instead of watching it blossom into the next great mainstream horror franchise, or see other studios follow suit, we had the privilege of watching EA drive the series into the ground. I thought that Silent Hill: Downpour would be the chosen one, steering the series back on track and giving us the Silent Hill series back, proving that you can still have a successful horror franchise in this day and age, but no, in Konami's eyes, it isn't a fanbase anymore, they see us more as a bunch of dogs that they've trained to give them money every time they say "okay, so there were complaints about the last one, but this time, we're really, really bringing the series back to its roots, honest!". I thought Amnesia and Slender would be the chosen one(s), coming out of nowhere and becoming runaway successes based on word of mouth and youtube videos, but all we got were a handful of truly awful Slender ripoffs by indie developers trying to make a quick buck, and there haven't been more than a couple earnest attempts to carry Amnesia's torch. I thought Alien: Isolation would be the one, but...well, you know...and, coming off of all that, we have this. This could have been the one, attracting the audience that the later Resident Evil games got while steering them further in the direction of horror, filling in the role that Dead Space was supposed to fill, but sadly, it doesn't look like it's gonna be that way.

Maybe I'm just naive and clearly don't understand how the market or the industry works, but it's frustrating. Sigh. At least Matt's sticking to his guns! Unless this game becomes a huge, unexpected financial success, and he tells us that Neverending Nightmares 2 will have zombies, combat, and QTEs, and Neverending Nightmares 3 will be a cover-based shooter with microtransactions and multiplayer (great missed opportunities for an april fool's day dev diary, by the way).

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JPrice
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Re: A harsh preview of Alien: Isolation

Post by JPrice » Sat Apr 12, 2014 2:52 pm

Hmmmm it's a shame that there seems to be an emphasis on gunplay and such. It's hard to say really as it's a preview, athough there are plenty of horror games with more of an action focus that are fun. I will say that it definitely reminds me of Resident Evil gamplay wise, mixed with the aesthetic of Silent Hill (Primarily with the creature design and such). Though I can imagine that the plot is going to be fairly by the numbers which is a shame really.

Seems like wasted potential! But hey it could still be a fun game :D
Also off topic but that "The Evil Within" font at the end reminds me of the recent "Evil Dead" remake's font they used for the poster - http://www.dreadcentral.com/img/reviews ... remake.jpg (Only slightly though hahaha)
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Grabthehoopka
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Re: A harsh preview of Alien: Isolation

Post by Grabthehoopka » Sat Apr 12, 2014 3:10 pm

Well, it just strikes me a bit cynically. If they're pushing really hard to call it the next for-realsies survival horror game by Shinji Mikama, and the first bits of gameplay they want people to experience are contrary to that, then either the trailers are not representative of the final product, or the demos are not representative of the final product, which means that somewhere along the way, we're being lied to by somebody, we just don't know who yet.

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JPrice
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Re: A harsh preview of Alien: Isolation

Post by JPrice » Sat Apr 12, 2014 3:58 pm

Yeah I can agree with that, it does strike me a little cynically as well. But I guess I'm just used to most mainstream horror titles dropping the ball so often that I rarely get that excited over a new one unless I hear it's really good once it's come out hahaa
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matt
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Re: A harsh preview of Alien: Isolation

Post by matt » Mon Apr 14, 2014 6:21 pm

I love Danse Macabre! Bonus forum points for quoting it!

While I was excited for "The Evil Within", I was a bit skeptical because the first thing you hear (the title) is derivative. The Evil is Resident Within? Grumble. I guess technically in Japan it was called Biohazard, so I'm probably more cynical than both of you.

This is super duper rumor-y, but I thought I heard from someone at EA that none of the Dead Space games were financially successful. I found it a bit hard to believe, but who knows. I don't think they were SMASH hits.

In general, I think good horror will never return to AAA. If it does, it'll be a fluke. There was a great article about how the summer blockbuster is killing the film industry. All the big budget movies are PG-13 at most or CG family friendly movies. I think I read it in several places, but I can't remember where, so I can't provide a link. When you look at the movies you are most excited about, it's probably Marvel movies which are now year round rather than just during the summer.

The reason for this in the film industry is that because the budgets for movies are so high (because of all the special effects, etc), they need to be all inclusive and get as wide of an audience as possible. Horror movies usually have much smaller budgets than their action counterparts, but the problem is that budgets don't scale down very well in games since you can't avoid special effects - the entire game has to be constructed in CG.

I think it's a similar situation in games. AAA budgets when you include marketing is probably $50-200 million these days. That's a lot of money, and I don't think the unforgiving mechanics of a horror game will achieve that mass market success these days.

Where does that leave us, the horror game fans? I think it means that we are left with indie games to push the genre forward, and disappointments in the AAA space. Maybe I'm just a grumpy old game developer, but I don't think the one is possible these days. Maybe if Dead Space 2 had sold better, they wouldn't have ruined the franchise with 3. I think the success of Resident Evil 4 and the low sales of Resident Evil the Remake (or maybe it was Zero) was one of the reasons that Capcom continued to push the Resident Evil franchise into an action direction.

I do hope I'm wrong and maybe the previews are unfair to The Evil Within or Alien: Isolation and every publisher will try riding on their coattails, but I think there has been a slow shift away from horror in AAA as developers are forced to be more mass market with their enormous budgets, and I don't really see that changing.

I hope I'm wrong though. :)
-Matt Gilgenbach
Lead Frightener at Infinitap Games

Grabthehoopka
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Re: A harsh preview of Alien: Isolation

Post by Grabthehoopka » Tue Apr 15, 2014 1:14 am

Actually, I was scripting a rather elaborate hypothetical April Fool's day joke in my head, wherein you would make a dev diary announcing that NN got picked up by some big-name studio, or Infinitap came into a bunch of money somehow, I don't know...the point is, you would be announcing a major shift in the game's direction. Firstly, it would be delayed til spring 2015, and in addition to the 100 or so people you were hiring, you would be outsourcing about 50% of the game's content to some studio in Australia or French Canada or somewhere. The committee found that the whole psychological horror thing didn't focus test so well, so the enemies have all been replaced with middle eastern terrorists (but it's okay cause the main bad guy is white. Oh, also, there's a main bad guy now.) And multiplayer, and microtransactions, and pre-order bonuses, and on-disc DLC, etc etc etc, you get the point. Anyways, the point is, you would end the video by saying to be sure to tell your friends, and buy multiple copies, cause you need to sell 4.8 million units just to break even.

Last year was a teeeeeeeeeerrible year for the movie industry. I think I read somewhere that in the last 2 years, there has been more big-budget blockbuster movies than any 2-year period in history, AND, there were more big-budget blockbuster movies that failed to break even than any other two-year period in history! You can definitely feel the effects this year; remakes are way down (gasp!) and sequels are way up. Everyone's teetering on bankruptcy, so they just want to play it as safe as possible, and we're stuck with all of their crap.

And then Capcom wrote off Resident Evil 6 as a financial failure, because it ONLY sold 5 million copies right off the bat, and they needed to sell 6 million(!) copies to break even. EA said that Dead Space 3 needed to sell 5 million copies if we ever wanted to see a Dead Space 4, and Square Enix was in financial troubles, and instead of taking responsibility for not really producing anything themselves, they blamed the western developers because Tomb Raider and Hitman: Absolution ONLY sold almost 3 million copies EACH right off the bat. And then they laid a bunch of people off. I really hope this trend sorts itself out soon enough, but it's starting to seem like the leaders of these big-business organizations are physical incapable for taking responsibility themselves. It seems like their thought process is "Didn't work? Throw more money at it!"

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matt
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Re: A harsh preview of Alien: Isolation

Post by matt » Wed Apr 16, 2014 4:10 pm

It is a strange business where things have to do huge numbers to make ends meet. Fortunately, that's not the case as an indie, but it's tough to make small numbers as an indie as I discovered with Retro/Grade...

I think that's why there is a lot of burn out. People get sick of working their butts off just to get laid off or have the studio close, so they go work for Microsoft or Google or something.
-Matt Gilgenbach
Lead Frightener at Infinitap Games

Grabthehoopka
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Re: A harsh preview of Alien: Isolation

Post by Grabthehoopka » Thu Apr 17, 2014 1:46 am


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matt
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Re: A harsh preview of Alien: Isolation

Post by matt » Mon May 05, 2014 3:47 pm

Thomas Grip, the creative director of Frictional Games, the developers of Amnesia, Penumbra, and the upcoming SOMA wrote a blog post about some of the problems in Alien: Isolation, which are problems in all horror games. I thought it was a good read. Neverending Nightmares struggles with the same types of problems, and I am trying to solve them in different and interesting ways with the "waking up" mechanic.
-Matt Gilgenbach
Lead Frightener at Infinitap Games

Grabthehoopka
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Re: A harsh preview of Alien: Isolation

Post by Grabthehoopka » Tue May 06, 2014 1:08 am

Although I've never played it, Dark Messiah (aka Hell Night), as gushed about on Chris' Survival Horror Quest, seemed like it had the most elegant solution to this problem, one that I'm shocked I've never seen anyone else (that I know of) copy: you have a companion, and together, you both run from the monster. If the monster catches you, it mauls your companion to death, which just happens to buy you enough time to get away from it. Provided you survive after that, the game sticks you with a new companion. Each companion is their own unique character with a personality and everything, and the longer they stay alive, the more you interact with them and get to know them. When they die, that's it; they're dead. With a system like this, you can still have the stakes set to life-or-death high, and you can still have very real, very serious consequences, all without repeating, stopping, or even slowing the game down. The monster can catch you and you can just keep on running, but not without punishment.

That's one of the reasons I'm always saying that XCOM, both the original and the remake, from an ideological standpoint, is (in my opinion that you in no way have to agree with) one of, if not the best designed games ever. The soldiers are just blank templates with randomly generated names that do what you tell them to do and don't really think for themselves, but I tell you, each ground mission is a roller coaster of emotion. I couldn't tell you how many supposedly-important and emotional character deaths in very deliberate, planned-out stories I've read, seen, and played that couldn't hold a candle to the horrified pain of loss I've felt witnessing some of my randomly-generated cookie-cutter soldiers die. And that's something that I think needs exploring.

The goal of the horror game designer is to make the player feel like they're in danger, and feel like they can die, without reminding them that they aren't, and they can't. The player is an outliar, separate from the game and impossible to physically affect with it. The game can't harm them physically, and that's something we have to bend over backwards trying to go around. Emotionally, on the other hand...why, that's a whole different story. :twisted: There is one documented place where the hurt is very real: right in the feels. We know games can, and by god, they should. The player might be safe, but someone or something within the boundaries of the game itself, apart from the player or their representation, can be put in as much very (relatively) real danger as you want. I'm not saying that all horror games should be like The Walking Dead, but it's an area that isn't explored nearly often enough that could use some poking around in.

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