I’ve been on this horror genre kick these past 2 weeks between reading about the new Fatal Frame game and a lengthy preview of the Silent Hill remake (more about that further down). Since then I’ve started to think about how I would do a true horror title, not my Evil Dead remake idea but a game that is designed to strike fear into gamers. Last night a game idea came to me that I really like and while it’s no where near the point that I could reveal it to the public, the design philosophies I have in mind are ready. (Warning very long post)

1. Horror and Combat don’t mix : This week I’ve been replaying Eternal Darkness on the Gamecube and while it says that the game is psychological horror it’s not. The reason is being able to fight everything I see, it’s hard to feel scare when I know I can handle anything the game throws at me. Same goes for the Resident Evil series, RE 4 and 5 are not horror titles period. Don’t tell me how something popped out of a window and made you jump and call it horror. The designers behind the Silent Hill Remake have the same idea and that brings me to my next point.

In the preview I read on the remake the designers have opted to have no combat at all, instead the player can only run and hide from the enemies in the game. Now just from this preview at this point personally I think that this is too far as it removes one of the basic tactics we all have, to defend ourselves. Let’s face it most of us put into the world of Silent Hill would be screwed, however if backed into a corner we would at least have the sense to pick up the nearest blunt object and start swinging. Someday the question will have to be answered “can a horror game be made with a solider as the lead?” but for now an idea hit me last night that could work. Instead of giving the player the option to attack, why not give them the option to defend themselves?

I know that the past sentence sounds like a contradiction but there is a method to my madness. Offense is about being proactive, knowing that you can approach any creature that wants to kill you and fight it no problem. Defense is about being reactive, knowing that you cannot kill whatever is coming at you but you can at least disable it long enough to get away. My idea is to give the player defensive items similar to the Resident Evil 1 remake, items that have only a few shots before they break keeping the player from relying on them too much. Depending on the power of the item it may have fewer chances to be used giving the player more decisions.

2.Balancing out ways to survive: To deliver horror in games, nothing should be distracting the player or cheapening the experience. Such as a camera focused on the complete opposite direction or controls turning your character into a tank, by removing the ability to attack there needs to be something in place to give the player some kind of hope of surviving. Which is why for my game the player is going to be agile, not Prince of Persia agile but enough that it would put most horror games to shame. Any place you could realistically get to in real life the character in game should too. The other trump card the player has is a way of basically enhancing any activity through using up “endurance”.

While the character in game is faster then other video game characters, he can still be outran by his captors but using up endurance to dash away can allow him to keep ahead. It can also be used to break down doors quickly and to wrestle free from being caught. However it drains quickly which moves it from a constant tactic to a panic button. Now that I’ve blabbered on about what the player can do, it’s time to talk about what the player would be up against.

3:Giving the player something to fear: I think that this is the section that the games industry has the biggest trouble with due to the disconnect between games and horror. In most non zombie related horror movies the villain is most often barely seen for the majority of the movie until it’s time for the confrontation with the title actor/actress. This is a great way to build up suspense and such for movies, but would be horrible for a game. Imagine spending 5 hours roaming around not meeting anything scary until the serial killer appears for 15 minutes and the game ends, doesn’t sound all that fun to me. So the games industry over compensates and gives us plenty of action and in the process kills the horror in my opinion. Take Silent Hill 2 regular case of creeps for instance, sure watching a screwed up mannequin come at you is scary the first time. However watching the 50th lurch slowly towards you is another story which is why I think quality enemies is the way to go.

Strangely enough look at Silent Hill 2’s main villain, pyramid head as a good example. The creature only appears rarely in the game but is sure to put a shock into the player whenever they meet him. Nemesis from Resident Evil 3 is another example as he is one of the few enemies I can think of that actively chases you in a horror game as well as the Clock Tower series. For my idea I’m going the route of Haunting Ground in the sense that in each area of the game the player is chased by a new villain, but unlike HG there is more to it then that. In some areas the player will be chased by one main enemy in others he will be attacked by a group of people all seeking to kill him. With a group each individual member is weaker then one main villain, however they can cover more ground and gang up on the player. In fact if the group manages to catch the player at the same time they will kill him on the spot which can make a group in some cases more dangerous then a single entity.

To make things interesting whenever the player goes up against a group, the group will be set a given number. You won’t have to avoid hundreds of the same looking enemy which brings an interesting dynamic to choosing defensive options. Getting an item that is a guarantee kill on one of the members of the group could outweigh the risk of being left defenseless if you encounter more then one.

With that I believe I’ve said everything I’ve wanted to about the horror genre for now, I feel that this idea I have has merit and could be something big. Hopefully this will get you to think about how to create a game that really scares the player and not about how many closets you can fill up with generic monsters.

Josh

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Right now I’m working on a massive entry which could be my biggest one yet, but in the meantime I would like to share my thoughts on Demigod and how even a patient man like myself can finally snap.

For those that don’t know when Demigod was released the network for online games was flooded by pirates bringing it to a stand still. Since then StarDock and Gas Powered Games (Publisher and Developer respectively) have been working on trying to fix this so that people can play online. However it seems that there are more things wrong with Demigod then just the network.

Over the last week of me playing I’ve encountered numerous bugs from game crippling sound issues that slow the game down, to stats not being saved after a game ends. Just now when someone left the lobby I was forming the entire game crashed. The straw that broke me just now was when I finally got a 3on3 multiplayer to work to only have it bring my system to a crawl, which is so completely beyond the requirements that I’m sure one of the many bugs in the game is the cause. Add in a complete lack of a manual or tutorial and even my inner Stardock fanboy is on life support. Now I hate to say bad things about designers especially those that I like but at this point Stardock and GPG have screwed up way beyond the network issue.

From reading reports of the bugs and issues in the beta I’ve reached the conclusion that this game was released at a buggy state on purpose. Not an evil purpose but a necessary purpose, I think they needed to get the game out now for whatever reason and were planning on fixing them fast. However the whole network debacle has thrown their plans out of whack and now they’re playing catch-up. I don’t have any solid evidence of this of course but from seeing the kind of bugs left in this game are those that should have been snuffed out weeks ago, they’re just that obvious.

For now I’m putting Demigod aside and focusing back on Left 4 Dead and hoping that this beta period will be over soon. This is one of the many examples of the problem with digital distribution, releasing a game early and just patching away the problems instead of releasing a solid program first.

P.S For those that have zero problems playing Demigod and wondering what the hell is wrong with me, that is good that you are able to play this as the game is good. However even I have a limit to the number of BS problems I can put up with in a game. I really want to play Demigod but the obstacles standing in my way are too great for me.

P.P.S Just tried the “fix” people have been mentioning about playing the game with no sound, which worked great until the game crashed to desktop on its own. I’m sorry but I wash my hands of the game until they fix it.

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This week on gamasutra there was a game design challenge to put a fresh perspective on the horror genre. Like most people I put up an idea of my own and sadly did not even get an honorable mention. I think the problem with my idea was that it really didn’t deliver on psychological fear and instead was more focused on shock horror. Anyway I still think the idea has some merit and will post my entry along with some expanded notes (damn 500 word limit really killed me) on my idea.

Hopefully everyone here knows who Bruce Campbell is and knows that my title entry is relating to Evil Dead and not Scooby Doo (although an M rated Scooby doo game… there’s a thought). I enjoyed the Evil Dead movies and still waiting for the day when hell freezes over and we’ll get Evil Dead 4. I’m a big enough fan to even play the games based off of the series even though they weren’t exactly the best. I will say that the last Evil Dead game wasn’t half bad and having Bruce Campbell and Ted Ramini in on the project was great. Since then I’ve been dreaming about how I would make a proper Evil Dead game and came to a conclusion. In order to create an Evil Dead game that wouldn’t seem like a cheap cop out there are two ways to go. Either make an Evil Dead 4 in game form or reboot the series, my idea is based on the latter.

I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from the movie “Evil Dead 2” for my game idea in the sense that I want the player to be a badass, but the things they’ll go up against are even tougher. The scene that fits best into my idea is the iconic scene of Ash entering the cellar looking for the pages of the book. He has a sawed off double barreled shotgun and a chainsaw on his arm and he’s still scared as hell to go down there. I want a player who is loaded to the teeth with weapons, incredibly agile and still “wet their pants” scared to go in any dark places.

Instead of just taking place in a cabin the area is now a small community. Ash of course arrives with his girlfriend and stays at the cabin where he accidentally releases the evil force. Ash can use most environmental objects as weapons but only guns and sharp weapons will do major damage. The first big difference is that Ash is agile and can run and dodge and leap over objects to get away, no tank controls here. Second is that any enemy can knock Ash’s weapons out of his hands when he’s trying to aim requiring him to grab it off the ground. Instead of going with the dozens of cloned enemies similar to RE, each enemy in Evil Dead is a deadite citizen and will be completely different from the others, similar to Shadow of the Colossus which focused on quality instead of quantity. Ash will have to be careful as you won’t know who is already a deadite when you first meet them and they won’t turn until night falls and by then you won’t be able to get away from them.

Day and night plays a huge role in the game as the evil force will be hunting for people during the night and people may be turned into Deadites by the evil force. Ash can only wander outside at night for a few minutes before the evil force will come for him and the game will end if it catches Ash. The majority of time at night is spent exploring the building you’re stuck in looking for anything that can be useful. The layout of the area could be created at random with each play through. Your goal is to find the missing pages of the book and save any of the remaining humans left. Lethal weapons will be scarce forcing the player to rely on basic firearms and objects to survive. Even with the chainsaw you’ll still have to be careful as enemies can temporally disable the chainsaw forcing you to try to get the engine started again.

Thinking about it after a good night’s sleep I could also picture an Evil Dead 4 title as well, but this I think would be more action and less horror. What I say may be blasphemy, but I don’t think Bruce Campbell should be in the Evil Dead reboot idea. I really want to create something fresh in the Evil Dead universe and I think having him reprise his voice as Ash would be detrimental to what I’m going for. That is not to say that he shouldn’t at least provide some voice acting for the game as I’m not that stupid to completely exclude him from an Evil Dead game.

Looking at the winners of the gamasutra challenge I realize that while I love the horror genre, it is one of the harder genres for me to design games for. Now I know this line sounds cliché but I’m not easily frightened anymore. There are things that I fear but are more psychological and very hard to translate into game form (Why do I have a feeling I just gave Corvus a BORT idea 🙂 )

Developing a good game based on a movie is hard enough but trying to undo the stigma behind the Evil Dead game series is a challenge. Still who knows, maybe someone who reads this blog could get it over to Bruce and Sam and could give me a call 🙂

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I was at Gamestop this past week looking for any hard to find games. While scanning the shelf of Wii titles I must have seen at least 20 titles that look like they were made in 2 months. I saw “The Price is Right” game, various titles ending in z (bratz, catz, etcz), and other lesser quality titles some going for $40 new. Next to that in the bargain bin is the entire Sly Cooper trilogy which would cost $20 used to get all 3, the designer in my started to weep for a second there. I then started to think, are cheaply made games like these good for the industry? I think that there is a valid argument for both sides and I’ll look at both and try to be as subjective as possible.

Pro: While these games aren’t advancing the creative medium of games by any means they are providing something else, income. For every copy of High School Musical 3 that is sold that’s more money publishers can use to fund another game and more money for developers to stay afloat. Shovelware titles that are aimed at those who don’t follow the industry all that well means that they will make sales where other games wouldn’t which I think include games that parents buy for their children. Also they allow smaller developer houses a chance to add a completed game to their resume which can mean all the difference in the world with getting more work.

Con: Let’s face it, the hardcore gamer will look at any of these titles and scoff at the thought of buying them. This means that future titles from that studio will be looked at with skepticism. Building up “cred” with your fan base is important, as we all have companies that we are less likely swayed by negative reviews of their games. The bigger problem is that publishers are more likely to give money to these titles rather then something new. From a business perspective, would you rather finance the next Shadow of the Colossus or the next Hannah Montana game?

Personally I think shovelware titles are good as a short term benefit but hurt the industry in the long run. I think the padding out they’re doing for the Wii library is killing the already on life support hardcore scene. I think the biggest issue that shovelware titles can cause is confusing the masses, if someone who has no idea about video games buys one of these titles and finds out that it is horrible, would they really risk buying something else after dealing with the last dud? In a bit of serendipity it was just announced that the newest Fatal Frame title for the Wii is not coming to America which I have no effing idea as to why. However the rage I’m feeling now makes this a great time to end the entry 🙂

Josh

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