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Saturday, September 17, 2016

How I Would Make a Horror Game

Hey, what's up. I wanted to do something a little different this time. There's a fair amount of horror games out there and not too many I would really recommend in any sense. That's mostly due to the fact that I'm not a horror fan, which may seem weird since I'm writing this. However, I haven't written anything in a while so this is a good exercise for me.
I traded in my copy of Mankind Divided and got two games, one of which was Alien Isolation. I've been playing it since this morning and it got me thinking about the horror genre. Personally I'm not a fan of horror for a very basic reason of not liking being scared. Unfortunately that limits the amount of games I can play as a lot of games, while not being a focused horror game, will add or borrow elements from the genre itself. Kind of like the Scarecrow mission from the first Batman Arkham game. The very basis of horror is to invoke a feeling of dread or fright in a person which would enhance the game for a player. While some games sometimes fail in making a genuinely frightening moment often times it has more to do with the mechanics of the game rather than graphics or anything else like that. These are just a few ideas I would take into creating my own horror game, if I was so inclined to do so.

1. You have weapons but they're not viable.
One of the biggest problems I have is being completely powerless in a game. While it does make sense in a horror game it also makes no sense at all. For every gamer there has been that moment where the immersion is broken. An invisible wall, invincible enemy you're supposed to fail at defeating or just a situation where you could have used common sense to solve a problem. You can't honestly tell me you wouldn't try and fight back against a horrific creature trying to kill you. Now you probably don't have access to a sword, gun or any other conventional means of weaponry. But hey, wood exists and its pretty sturdy. Why not hit that unspeakable horror over the... head (?) with it. The makeshift weaponry should have an effect though not a significant one. Like in stealth games the weapon itself should only be truly useful when you've got a jump on the creature and even then just a minor one at best. You should be able to swing away in an attempt to keep these creatures at bay but of course wood breaks and you're left defenseless. I think Silent Hill 2 would be the best example of this in the harder difficulties. Sure you can get some pretty decent and useful weapons but early on you're just left to use whatever you can.

2. The option of choices.
Alright so, bad news: the monster is pissed. Your table leg splintered over it's head and now its chasing you down. What do you do? I personally like that in Isolation you're able to craft certain tools and materials. So as you're running and hiding you're picking up things to attack, subvert or defend against the monster and these tools should make you feel accomplished. Using a flashbang to temporarily stun the creature or a molotov to send it running away in pain is a great idea. Ultimately the monster WILL come back but you now know this particular monster has a weakness to fire and you have a good few minutes to scavenge and complete your goals therefore prolonging your death. You could also completely avoid the creature. If you're good enough, stealthy enough and even smart enough that creature won't even know you're in the shadows. Its kind of like how in Dishonored you can go through the entire game without killing anyone. While that is a feat in itself, going through the game without being noticed once or knocking out a single guard is also something to behold. Games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne reward players for being skillful though on a subtle level. Defeating a horrific boss using only you're puny fists? That's a great accomplishment. You won't get anything for it but you did something no one else is going to be able to replicate immediately and that's pretty awesome. My horror shouldn't be able to immediately find me or have any scripted "Ah it found you because the script said it would!" moments.

3. Ya, no 'sanity' meter.
You're in the shadows creeping around the monster and kind of having fun messing with it. It hasn't even seen you yet and you're halfway through the game! But you know, it would be a shame if that art designer's work went unappreciated. Might as well get a peek at what the monster really looks like... I'm going to say this right now and never take it back. Any game that has a mechanic that punishes you for looking at the creature already failed at their job. Sure if the enemy has a specific ability to do that? Fine. The basilisk in Harry Potter makes sense because it's stare is deadly. Medusa? Her sight can turn others to stone when looked directly at. But anything else? Look I get this is a horrific monster and peering into the maw of this thing is going to shatter your fragile conceptions of your place in the universe but other than that I should have no problem ATTEMPTING to comprehend it. If Cthulhu came to Earth at this very moment and perched himself directly above humanity for all to see people would be rightfully shocked. But as a person who loves science I would be one of those brave few to stare right into his eyes. To go into a ship and try and communicate with him. Sure he might try and destroy us but we at least ATTEMPTED. Why is my character such a baby they can't even see the creature without soiling themselves? I get that its scary but if I've been through the game and now am at the halfway point or clocked in a few hours of staring into that monster's sparkling tender stare you'd think I'd be used to it. The character heavily breathing? Perfect. We are now conveyed that this character is afraid. It builds up tension but I, as a player, can ignore it if I so choose. It has little to no bearing on me as a person. My point is a game's ascetics and mechanics should seek to enhance the gameplay instead of hamper it. And if your reasoning is that the monster doesn't look frightening enough, then you've already failed. Horror is subjective. If a person was born without the ability to feel fear or turned into some sort of Batman-esque figure then that is their own thing. Adding in arbitrary mechanics doesn't make the game feel or play better. On the contrary.

4. The fewer, the better.
On a personal level I love the first Alien movie and its the best horror movie I've seen. Atmospheric, tense, horrifying, gripping. Its THE horror movie I put all others to standard. Also Elen Ripley is a badass character who evolves throughout the story, turning from a scared woman into a badass Valkyrie who casually shoots off a one liner as she punts the unspeakable horror to certain doom. Aliens on the other hand? Its an action movie. I really hate when people say Aliens was "A good horror movie." because it isn't. A horror movie that is. First of all everyone is far too prepared for what is inevitably coming. Too many guns, too many muscles, too much macho. Also while I'm at it, too many characters. I'm going to be clear and say that every single person in that movie acted fantastically but the movie itself checks off just about every cardinal sin when it comes to the horror genre. While I'm at it, too many aliens. Sure the alien is awesome but having more of them presents a problem that can only be solved by subverting the expectations and having them come out victorious or making them be ineffectual. Predator is the perfect reasoning behind this. Sure the Predator is badass and super deadly but the movie its in completely screws over the creature. It gets some decent kills but ultimately it can't fend against a few dudes in a jungle with some pretty basic weaponry and is ultimately defeated by it's own hubris. While having multiple monsters isn't a terrible idea, having one ultimate monster is the best idea. While the other minor monsters don't have to be cannon fodder, this one monster stands above the rest. Its the ultimate goal, your one fear. While the others are nibbling at your heels, your attention is put squarely on this one monster. Think Pyramid head from Silent Hill. Whenever it comes around its an event. What is it going to do now? How will we fend against this?

I know this was a pretty short list but I really liked the idea. With all the game makers around maybe I could make a game like this or someone else could. In any case I hope I enlightened you in someway.

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