Why Survival Horror is Still Viable.

Role-playing survival game is willing to take risks

Recently I’ve had an idea buzzing around my head for a new kind of survival horror game. And with what seems like perfect timing, there was this news piece on Gamasutra where the producer behind the latest Resident Evil says that survival horror is no longer viable.

As I thought about his statement and my own idea, I came to a realization. The basic formula for survival horror is outdated, and today’s market is actually the best time to do horror thanks to a number of points involving technology.

1. Graphical Enhancements: One of the problems with older horror games was that they were limited by the graphical engine of the time. Because of this, designers had to cut corners when designing the environment such as copying and pasting room design, or reusing the same art assets.

With today’s game engines, there’s no reason not to skimp on the art side of a horror game. An excellent atmosphere is one of the hallmarks of a great horror game. A great example would be Silent Hill 2’s grainy look and decrepit style for the buildings and other world. The difference between the original Resident Evil and the Gamecube remake was almost night and day with how much the new graphics engine affected the mood.

2. Enemies With Bite: Graphics can go a long way to instill a mood in the minds of the audience, but good enemy design is needed to instill fear. Every horror game I’ve ever played has always had limited enemy AI. Every enemy operates the same exact way and the most complex maneuver is a long range attack.

I want to see enemies that hunt the player down, and not just in the immediate surroundings, essentially the concept of Nemesis in Resident Evil 3 taken to the extreme. A few of my earlier horror concepts were based on this concept alone. Almost like a deadly game of hide and seek where the player must escape or avoid a creature wanting to kill them.

3. Randomization: This is the big one both for my idea and for the genre as a whole. Because of the horror genre’s roots in the adventure genre, linearity has always been a major component. However, linearity breeds monotony which can ruin a horror game. What I want to see developed both from my idea and from the genre is a greater use of randomization to mix things up. In other words sort of like a horror rogue-like: forcing the player to adapt to the situations with each new play.

4. Environment Interaction: Another important point as it plays both into combat and puzzle solving. One of the oldest troupes of the adventure genre is having a room full of items, and only a one or two of those items can be interacted with. For my horror game, I want anything the player can pick up to be usable to some extent.

By having more interaction with the environment it will preserve a sense of realism to the exploration and puzzle solving. Why search for a key to a door, when you can just break it down Shining style? This will also help make combat chaotic, as the player scrambles around the area to find anything they can use to bring down the enemy. I want a room to look like a hurricane hit it after a fight.

5. Open World: Lastly, with advances in game technology we’ve seen open world games come into their own. So why haven’t we seen an open world horror game? The concept of exploring a huge environment with no right way, while being tracked and hunted would make for an interesting horror game.

I don’t believe that survival horror is a dead genre. But designers are trying to create the same games, using the new tools of today’s platforms. Other genres have had major games come out that changed how we viewed the genre: Ninja Gaiden, Uncharted and many more. With the Survival Horror genre there has been very little growth. Any new mechanics are tacked on to the previously established ones and feels like a square peg in a round hole. Such as adding more combat to Silent Hill, or the involvement of a co-op partner in Resident Evil 5.

For survival horror to continue to exist, designers need to stop repeating the past with outdated mechanics. There are plenty of things that go bump in the night, just pick one and run with it and by run with it means without clunky controls.

Josh Bycer

  • Anonymous

    An idea for a survival game would be to search for living allies.
    If let's say the main character is in a zombie infested town, where does he look for humans? Calling the phone number on a wall? Waiting patiently in a supermarket, where the canned food is stored? Looking for smoke rising from campfires? Or following the sound of gunshots?
    Depending on how fast the player finds the hints and follows them, he may come just in time, too late (dead, moved to next hideout) or to find somebody paranoid, who has built a fortress and refuses to let anybody in now.

    The easier to find a character is, the less helpful he/she might be.
    And a bit variety in the characters might be great as well.
    I don't mean variety of wepons or combat power here, I mean more like some experts for support (healing, building traps, scouting, negotiating (with other survivors) repairing equipment, gathering supplies, lookout, shortfusing cars or handling other means of transportation (cranes, trams, motorboats etc.), taming/training animals (he11 I could even see a guy taming carrier pigeons so you can send one back to the base to call for reinforcements), depending how long the player has to hold the fort even a gardener may come in handy.
    You could built up a real little community of survivors.