Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Horror and hiding

So recent rumours about Dead Space 3 have hit the internet. Ranging from being set on an icy planet, to featuring customisable weapons, story mode co-op and even a cover system.
Obviously such a strong departure from Dead Space's dark, claustrophobic setting and gameplay not suited to combat caused a bit of a stir among fans. Me being one of them, I too was taken back by this potential shift. This wasn't unexpected news, as Dead Space 2 was more action-oriented than its predecessor, and it only makes sense for developers to aim games to a more general, action-loving audience. The Resident Evil series has been going down this path for years, including the upcoming Resident Evil 6, which has been made even more action-y than any other RE title. Why? Money of course. To big developers, it no longer seems financially viable to produce a Survival Horror game in its true sense. Resident Evil 5 sold more copies than Resident Evil 4, so clearly Capcom were doing something 'right'.

No, Capcom, you're right. There's nothing more terrifying than well-lit open spaces

However, we don't know that Dead Space 3 will take Resident Evil's path and become a full-on action cover-based shooter, this is based entirely on a loose rumour. The co-op seems like a horrible idea, though, as adding another player or brick-stupid mandatory AI will only detract from the isolated feeling of Dead Space - and horror in general. A cover system may not be such a bad thing for a horror game, however.
A critical element of horror is suspense - which in turn is a result of the relationship between two factors - Hope and uncertainty. The player hopes to reach their goal, be it reaching the end of a level, escaping a room or simply surviving. The uncertainty arises from the ambiguity of the player's ability to reach this goal.
Now, suspense is relevant to any genre, and even games such as Super Monkey Ball can create suspense using these factors. Recently I have been playing a lot of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a brilliant game that is brilliant. The game discourages the brute force approach, encouraging players to sneak their way around. These are tense moments - hiding in an enemy stronghold, hoping that a passing sentry won't bother to look over the small piece of wall you're pinned desperately behind, alerting the entire building to little ol' you. These stealth moments are some of the tensest parts of any game I've played. This example, of course, only works when the player is vulnerable - when there is some risk associated with being discovered, be it Adam Jensen is understocked in weaponry, low on health or simply trying to get that ghost achievement. There is a tangible suspense and this isn't a game designed to scare. This needs to be put to horror use.

Tension. Also, robot arms

Amnesia: The Dark Descent, i.e. one of the scariest things ever made by human beings, lets the defenseless protagonist, Daniel (this scared me a little when the game seemed to be talking to me directly) can either run or hide. Hide around corners, hide behind doors and hide in cupboards. The game even gives the player the ability to peek around corners without coming out of cover. All this to avoid some guys with weird faces.

Pictured: World's most effective laxative

Now, I have had plans for a cover-based horror game for a couple of months now,'in the works', so to speak, so this is an idea that I've had to pitch to people. In this game, the protagonist runs and hides from his problems instead of facing them - it's in his character. With no means of combat or defence, he is pretty much done for once his cover is blown. Blown cover in Metal Gear Solid and Deus Ex generally results in a clumsy panicked attempt at a firefight, raising the tension from moderate to somewhere ridiculous. My horror game has an enemy monster which can follow the blood trail of the wounded protagonist right to where he is hiding. When this pig/dog/moth finds the player, it alerts all surrounding enemies to your presence.

So from this we could believe that cover in Dead Space 3 could be used to great effect. Encouraging the player to keep Isaac hidden from the necromorphs and new human enemies would be a great way to create atmosphere. Combining this with the gore and panic from the previous 2 titles, players could be given a truly horrifying experience.


On the topic of video games currently being designed, I'm also adding more details to Machina, a '3rd Person Puzzle Platformer thing with birds and Moais' video game idea I've had for quite a while. It occured to me recently that I haven't put much, if anything online about Machina, except for a few halo concepts. Over the next few months I'll be putting together a brief production bible for it, including characters, creatures, settings, designs and a basic story and themes.

It has occured to me while designing things for the two games is that most people may be rushing in with the visual, sound and kinesthetic models - i.e. the game - and leaving the story, themes and emotions to lag behind. People want to make games, not tell stories.
If any of these projects sprouts wings and takes off, I'll be sure to employ an actual writer to make sure that a good story with good wrtiting is told, and doesn't play out like a 5-year-old scribbled it down.

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