Your dream horror game?

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gagaplex
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Re: Your dream horror game?

Post by gagaplex » Sun May 11, 2014 8:48 am

Cursed Mountain sounds interesting. The digital version is not available in my country, but I bought a used one now to check it out. :-)

Grabthehoopka
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Re: Your dream horror game?

Post by Grabthehoopka » Sat May 17, 2014 9:24 pm

I think the thing that I would love is to have more subtle horror by designing something to become familiar or even personal to the player, before some outside force comes and fucks with it. The closest thing I can think of to any game doing this was Silent Hill 4 and the apartment, which is such an awesome and mostly well-executed idea in such a lackluster game that frankly it's the only reason to play it.

It's the same thing I always say about Paranormal Activity, where the scariest part is when the ghost breaks a picture in broad daylight. Ghosts are inherently scary, not because of some deep psychoanalytical bullcrap about how they represent the evil we have in us given absolute power, or that they're a reminder of our mortality, but at its most basic level, they're a monster that doesn't play by the rules. You can't see them, hear them, or sense them in any way, except for the most fleeting glimpse to remind us that they're still there, and they can be anywhere at any point. You can't outrun them, you can't lock them out, and they can kill you, but you can't kill them, unless you're lucky enough to be in a story that has one very specific thing to do to absolve their spirit or whatever. Simply put, they're invisible monsters with noclip and godmode on. So, swerving this back towards Paranormal Activity, the picture gets broken in broad daylight. Even though it happens off-camera, and it's not a big jump scare, and the movie sort of glosses over it, it's a clearly-written message to us that this ghost ain't playing by the rules anymore, what little rules there were. Up to that point, there was a very clear pattern that the ghost followed that did wonders to amp up the suspense. They dinked around in the day time, and then the ghost came at night when they were in bed. They skip over the completely uneventful nights, so over time, it sort of trains you to anticipate that when the movie switches to this specific camera angle, it means something's going to happen; you just don't know when, where, or how. And as the action escalates and the ghost gets more and more "forward", we're still of the understanding that at least the ghost can't do anything during the day time. And then, whoops- it breaks a picture in the middle of the day. All bets are off.

Swerving this further backwards onto hypothetical survival horror games, I would love to see a horror game with a setting like Session 9, or The Shining, or The Haunting, or Prince of Darkness, where basically, at least at the outset of the story, the player character has a very immediate, but not necessarily important, goal, and they go to and stay at the location where shit will later go down for the purpose of working on and finishing some kind of job or project. By establishing a kind of routine or a monotony for the player to lose themselves in, you create a space that they are familiar with, and then you can start sneaking in the unfamiliar in really small ways. Yeah, it's hard to do, but oh man, would I love to play it.

I thought of a game like this once based loosely on a screenplay I never finished where you would play as a forensic biochemist investigating a big house for reasons that, in the interest of time, I'll spare you. I think there's a way that you could trim it down and make it work, but the way I see it, it would involve heavy amounts of randomization and an AI partner to talk to and interact with, and whose opinion of you as a result is central to the game's design and story. I know that would involve staggering amounts of work, but I'm like Peter Jackson. There's only one direction my ideas move in: bigger. Bigger and bigger, never smaller. That's why I can't edit my own stuff. Or make blog posts that aren't an essay long.

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matt
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Re: Your dream horror game?

Post by matt » Sat May 17, 2014 11:33 pm

In the designer's notebook, you'll see one of my original horror game ideas that I sort of merged into Neverending Nightmares. It was basically playing with the idea you suggested - normal things getting subverted and things basically go into the shitter. Then it turns out it's just a nightmare. Then you wake up, and it starts out normal and goes bad. While Neverending Nightmares doesn't have the normal mundane stuff that goes bad, it does kind of preserve that feeling where most nightmares start out just walking around the mansion, but soon, things go bad. :) The atmosphere is always thick though, which I think goes contrary to the idea that things are normal and take a turn for the worse.

Still, it's an interesting idea and potentially something I might explore in a future game.
-Matt Gilgenbach
Lead Frightener at Infinitap Games

Grabthehoopka
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Re: Your dream horror game?

Post by Grabthehoopka » Wed May 21, 2014 5:46 pm

I just spent a really long time typing up a really long thing about Lone Survivor, and how it basically is the game that I described above about creating a familiar space and all that, but I took too long writing it and the forum timed me out, so I lost ALL OF IT when I tried to preview it. I'm not much in the mood to try to rewrite the whole thing now, so I'll edit this post or write another one later. But to summarize, I hated Lone Survivor with a burning passion, and the reason why I hate it so much is that it comes so close to being my ideal horror game, but is marred with blatant mistakes in game design which mean that either the game is way too brutally unforgiving, or that the mechanics of the game aren't nearly as clearly communicated as they should be, and the fact that I'm unsure of which is the root of the problem shows what happens when you obfuscate too much detail from the player.

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matt
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Re: Your dream horror game?

Post by matt » Wed May 21, 2014 6:38 pm

I'm sorry you had that weird forum timeout thing. I don't really know what to do about that, but it happens to me sometimes as well. :( Stupid free phpBB.

I did enjoy Lone Survivor, but it wasn't close to my dream horror game but frustrating. Going home to sleep/save was pretty interesting, and I always worried about eating. I don't know if you can starve to death, but I think the threat of starvation can be a powerful one. I think they used that to good effect in The Walking Dead where you have to choose who to feed.

I think I got stuck early on and used a walkthrough, so I didn't have many problems with opaque design. hahah I think I turn to walkthroughs too easily - especially as a game designer. I think to some extent, I do it too often in horror games because I'm worried about running out of supplies. I want to make sure I have all the supplies necessary to get through the final boss. I usually end up with like maxed out ammo and a ton of health potions when I finish the games - well except for Resident Evil and Fatal Frame, which were challenging even with a walkthrough. hahah
-Matt Gilgenbach
Lead Frightener at Infinitap Games

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RightClickSaveAs
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Re: Your dream horror game?

Post by RightClickSaveAs » Wed May 21, 2014 7:46 pm

It's kinda weird, but I type everything in Notepad++ and just copy-paste it if I'm typing something long. Which I tend to do a lot. But not this time, I'm trying to be more concise. Now to stop typing about how much less I type.

Grabthehoopka
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Re: Your dream horror game?

Post by Grabthehoopka » Thu May 22, 2014 4:55 am

I typed it up in a word processor beforehand, and sure as shit, I'd timed out by the time it came to submit it. Luckily I came prepared this time. Anyways.

*long, deep inhale...*

Anyways, yes, the food thing is sort of the lynchpin that all of my criticisms revolve around. The game is completely designed around exploration. Despite there being a linear progression that you're intended to go down, you're left to figure that out on your own. Isolation and survival are major themes of the game, so it's natural that food and hunger play some kind of role, but I think he (I would say 'the devs', but the whole game was made by one person) did a bad job implementing it. You're supposed to poke around and figure things out, but then he piles this arbitrary time limit on top of it all, and in a game where the focus is on exploration, that's a huge no-no in my book.

That's one of the reasons why I hate Dead Rising (although admittedly I've only played the first two), since the game devs created this big world for you to explore, experiment, and have fun in, and then slapped your hand with a spoon and punished you for taking the time to explore, experiment, and have fun in the world that they created (for the sole purpose of you to explore, experiment, and have fun in).

Anyways, so you have to find food, but the food items are crushingly finite. Each individual food item was crafted and placed deliberately in the game world, and once you pick it up you have it, and once you eat it or it spoils, it's gone, and that's it. So, by placing this very finite resource along the linear path you're expected to take, he was, in essence, creating and enforcing a strict pace he expected you to keep. So if you, say, can't remember where you're supposed to go, or are trying to figure out what you're supposed to do, then you spend a day without making progress, and then you're one day behind schedule, and you'll run out of food one day quicker than before. And the worst part about all this is that there's already an arbitrary timer in the form of sleep, and it isn't frustrating and totally works!

I love the idea of having a safe home environment to return to. The system they establish of stepping from safety to the danger zone, building tension, building tension, building tension, making progress, and then returning from danger back to safety, is a solid one, and one that Amnesia: The Dark Descent used to good effect with its safe hub areas and the smaller, separate, dangerous areas that branch off of it. It creates this pacing that, when charted out, is like a series of short, but intense, spikes of emotion and achieves a higher average of general scariness compared to trying to build tension over a longer period of time, or trying to keep tension sustained for a longer period of time. There were plenty of times I was out exploring and my character said how tired he was, and I debated really hard about whether or not I should do one more room, or explore a little further out, or if I would be passing the point of no return and not be able to make it back in time.

Of course, I never found out what happened if I did run the sleep meter completely down, so to speak, while outside my apartment, but it was clear enough for me to guess what would happen, pressing enough for me to not want to know what would happen, and easily solved enough for me to never have to. I get tired, I go back to my bed, I sleep, and that fixes that. It's a perfectly fine mechanic. The food, though, isn't as easily solved. I already said food was limited, but if you're rationing or out of food, then you get the privilege of getting an earful of the player character complaining about how hungry he is. I'm already struggling to find enough food as it is, and I don't need the protagonist whining and constantly reminding me how bad of a job I'm doing on top of that to make it more stressful.

Which brings me to the main point of what's wrong with the game (possibly): the game is way too coy when it comes to revealing the inner workings of the what's going on. The fact that, other than your bed, there is one other limitless resource in the game that I know of, and that's rotten meat that you get from your refrigerator and use to distract monsters, tells me that he's hip enough to be aware of the player acting unpredictably and to prevent the game from becoming unwinnable, so maybe the food situation isn't what it seems to be. For all I know, like you said, there already is a system like this in place and you can't actually starve to death, it just depletes your sanity, which means that he would have been toeing the perceived difficulty/forgiving difficulty line perfectly, since I had no clue. But then again, he decided not to tell me this at any point, and he didn't really give me any incentive to wait around and find that out on my own, so I thought I was hopelessly failing and my hours of playtime invested in it were for nothing, so I got frustrated and gave up who knows how long before this oh-so-clever and thoughtful safety net of his went into effect. There are a couple ways that I think he could have solved this, in my personal opinion that you in no way have to agree with:

The first is to give us more information. Resource management is one of the pillars that the entire game rests on, but we have basically no indication or feedback at all regarding how well we're managing our resources. No matter how much food I found, it never seemed to be enough. I never knew if being a little hungry all the time was good, or if I was supposed to be satisfied as often as possible. Whenever I felt like I really needed food, I never had any, and whenever I had food, I was too afraid to eat it because I didn't know if I was wasting it or not. Is it better to eat this food item, or this other one? What's the actual difference? Is it more efficient to eat only when I'm starving, or just enough to keep me satisfied? This could have been given with an indicator more “gamey” in nature. I understand the need to have a diagetic interface to make the game as immersive as possible, but he already has a traditional inventory menu in the game; it wouldn't be that far off to have a separate menu with your needs on it. It doesn't necessarily have to be a meter or something so specific for each one, but some kind of clearer indicator, like Resident Evil's good/caution/warning health levels, as well as a clearer indication of how much each of the different food items would decrease your hunger would have been nice. Instead, I had to worry about all of the above and more, which is stressful on its own, on top of the protagonist saying “Ugh...soooo hungryyyy...” every 30 seconds, and the game got really frustrating really quickly. And he has the indicators, it then wouldn't be that hard to put a little tooltip when you mouse over them: "Hunger - replenish by eating food. If empty, your sanity will decrease."

The second, and superior way in my opinion, is to tweak the game so that the forgiving mechanics are more obvious and the difficulty almost entirely surrounding the morale/sanity meter more apparent. For example, instead of just lowering the sanity meter when the player starves instead of killing them, he could have had a limitless food supply in your apartment that lowers your sanity when you eat it, like, one of those giant bags of dry dog food or something, and then give it a description like “Dog food. It's edible and it won't go bad, but there's something rather degrading about eating food meant for a lesser animal.” or something like that, preferably getting more and more bleak the lower your sanity is. That way, without a meter or anything (but maybe with a really brief tutorial box), the player knows they can sate their hunger at the cost of their sanity, and so the decision to keep pressing on to find food is still important, but not nearly as all-encompassing as it appeared to be before. Also, I remember having a pill with basically no explanation or description, and I took it, had a bizarre dream talking to two mysterious characters, and I woke back up with extra ammo in my pocket. Since he offers the choice of sneaking by the monsters and retaining your sanity, or killing them and losing some (which I understand from a gameplay perspective, but thematically, has always struck me as a little backwards), there's already a really simple risk/reward mechanic at play. Piling the management of your extremely limited supply of bullets on top of all that is a little unnecessary. So, he could either have a limitless supply of bullets at the apartment so you can always refill up to a certain (small) amount between trips, kind of like the film in the save points in the first Fatal Frame, or, preferably, he could have a limitless supply of those trippy ammo-giving dream pills at the apartment, with the dreams getting more and more ominous the lower your sanity is, so that in addition to the safety concerns of engaging these things in combat, the player might get a tangible sense of messing with forces they don't comprehend and fear for the chunk of sanity they lose each time.

By having all resource management-related punishments tie into the sanity level, you still have raised stakes in the form of which ending the player gets, or even how the player feels about the protagonist getting more and more depressed, but without affecting the actual difficulty of the game, which is the golden egg of the survival horror genre (and, also, something Frictional Games is trying to achieve with SOMA). And despite some of these mechanics probably being in the game itself, the fact that the game is so dedicated to keeping them a secret practically renders them irrelevant anyways.

I'm going to give it another try at some point. I always give games I don't like the benefit of a doubt, and some of my favorite games of all time took a second or even a third chance before I realized I loved them. I really, really want to like it, so who knows.

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matt
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Re: Your dream horror game?

Post by matt » Thu May 22, 2014 8:06 pm

Yeah, the time limit in the Dead Rising games is weird. I did manage to put in like 40 hours and complete pretty much everything in Dead Rising 3 without running into the time limit, but I didn't like it constantly hanging over my head.
I love the idea of having a safe home environment to return to.
They kind of did this in Fatal Frame III, and I haven't gotten that far in the game, but I feel like it cut some of the tension in the game.

I was actually going to do something like that in Neverending Nightmares when you can wake up at any time. I decided against it because I felt like people would use it to counter the tension I carefully built up, so it seems like it would actually hurt the horror of the game.

I’m not saying it can’t be done well, but I think it would have to be very carefully done and though through. My idea was bad, maybe Fatal Frame 3’s wasn’t so great, and I wasn’t nuts about the way it worked in Lone Survivor. It was interesting in Silent Hill 4: The Room though. Despite the game’s many flaws, they may have done the hub world the best. In Amnesia, the center hub didn’t seem that home-y to me, so while it is practically similar, it isn’t quite the same thing.

With respect to the food, I think opaque systems are good for horror games because they create a lot of tension. Something interesting is both Silent Hill and as you mentioned Resident Evil don’t actually show the health – they just give you a rough idea of where you stand. By not telling you what role the food plays, it creates all this internal tension, which it seems like what frustrated you.

Is that sort of tension the "right" type of tension. Food rationing boils down to item management, which isn’t very horrifying in my opinion. It always feels game-y, which makes me want to min-max it - basically game the system. The problem is that you don't know how to min-max it, so it just sort of ends up being probably too opaque as you mentioned.
-Matt Gilgenbach
Lead Frightener at Infinitap Games

Harry Sunderland
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Re: Your dream horror game?

Post by Harry Sunderland » Mon May 26, 2014 9:05 am

One of the most terrifying experiences of my life was being hospitalized for an incredibly high blood sugar spike I suffered from having diabetes. The experience really scarred me and gave me a whole brand new set of paranoia and complexes.

I always thought a horror game based on the idea could be interesting. In the game, you play as a hospitalized diabetic, and the power gets cut in the hospital. A slasher killer-is on the loose, and your objective is to escape. You're on one of the top floors, and the elevators are out.

In my mind, part of the challenge of the game is managing your blood sugar using insulin and carbohydrates. If your blood sugar gets too high (which is triggered by adrenalin bursts from scary things happening and running), your vision starts to get all fuzzy, your legs go numb, etc (real life side effects I suffered from). You need to find insulin to bring it back down (it's a hospital, there's bound to be some syringes lying around).

However, beggars can't be choosers, and you're bound to give yourself either too high a dose of insulin, or to go too long without finding carbohydrates after strenuous physical activity. The combination of being on insulin and not eating, and doing intense exercise, causes your blood sugar to drop to fatally low levels. This causes you to fatigue, stagger, and stammer. You'll need to find things like graham crackers, orange juice, etc, lying around the hospital to bring you back up.

I feel like this would replace having a health meter in the game, and has the potential to set up some really terrifying moments. I'm imaging a game with kind of a "Clock Tower" vibe.

Anyways, that's my dream horror game. Birthed from real life psychological trauma.

Grabthehoopka
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Re: Your dream horror game?

Post by Grabthehoopka » Mon May 26, 2014 4:10 pm

Harry Sunderland wrote:Anyways, that's my dream horror game. Birthed from real life psychological trauma.
That's actually a really interesting concept, and I always enjoy games that center gameplay mechanics around some kind of disorder/disability of the protagonist because for one, it makes it a lot easier to identify with the protagonist, since you as a player are forced to worry about the same things that they worry about, and secondly, it brings some kind of an internal conflict to the table so that even if it's not the main focus of the game, it's an easy way to brew conflict and drama where there ordinarily wouldn't be any, or get the protagonist heavily involved in the conflict, rather than being an observer to events outside of their understanding or control.

So yes, good on you for that, although I'd say it would simplify the game a great deal if this replaced the health mechanic, as you say, and the enemy/enemies weren't a physical threat, but a frightening one instead, like ghosts or something. That actually creates kind of an interesting scenario in terms of resource management, since normally in survival horror the goal is to just hoard as many items as you can get your hands on and use as little as possible, but with this, your "health bar" is like a scale that you have to keep balanced somewhere in the middle.

Of course, I can imagine by focusing too much on the resource management side of things it would shift the focus from "omg scary monster" to "dammit, my careful item management is ruined". I imagine it would probably have to be simplified, with some behind-the-scenes fudging on the dev's part. Sort of like the sanity in Amnesia, which was often an acceptable short-term sacrifice, but was still a lingering long-term threat.

And I'm trying to think of a way to handle conveying the player character's limbs going numb, and in terms of game mechanics maybe slowing down movement, or making more noise when moving, or fumbling around with items when you use them, so it takes longer to use them. Or something. Or, it could be entirely cosmetic and just affect the animations.

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