Monday, 16 April 2012

Chilling: My horror game idea

For a few weeks now I've been mulling over an idea for a survival horror game. I've considered making it myself using something like Unity 3D, but that sounds like too much time and effort for me. So I'm posting it here, just in case anyone with a bit more initiative wants to have a crack at it.

So it's a survival horror game with no combat at all, only stealth, similar to Amnesia: the Dark Descent . It could be in either first or third person, that's not important. In Amnesia, however, when a monster appeared you could hide behind a bookshelf for as long as you liked. I wanted to change that. What if you could only stay still for a certain amount of time? This would increase tension by removing the comforting knowledge that the player is safe when they're in cover. The time limit would probably be made fairly lax. Not so much that the player can disregard it altogether, but enough that it was a guarantee that the player wouldn't find themselves in cover with no opportunity to leave safely before the time ran out (and they presumably died). Now that we've established this mechanic, we must find a way to put it into appropriate context.

So, what if the character suddenly found themselves in a situation where they might freeze to death. Say they're driving through a forest, late at night in the middle of winter, and their car crashes (that's the first scenario that comes to mind). They're very tired, it's snowing heavily (horror bonus points, reduced visibility)and they're not wearing thick clothing. They know that if they rest for a second and fall asleep they will not wake up. As such they must keep moving, to keep their mind alert and their core temperature up. And that's it in a nutshell, forcing the player to break cover in order to survive, putting themselves in harms way. As for the enemy/monster in question, that's not entirely important at this concept stage. When I was considering making the game itself I imagined a lumbering beast shrouded in a black mist. Partly because it creates confusion about what the creature actually is (the less the player knows, the better), mostly because this would give me an excuse to cover it in particle effects to hide the lazy design (I'm not a graphic artist to any degree). Minimalist design in horror is important, it keeps the tone serious rather than silly and allows an independent designer to work within the limitations of their resources.

Now that we've established that core mechanic, we're free to look for ways to expand upon it (or outside of it) to make the game even more frightening. The sanity mechanic has been pretty popular in recent horror games, but I don't feel that it's being implemented as well as it could be. For starters having an actual "sanity meter" doesn't make much sense to me. When you're going insane you don't know it, so the knowledge of precisely how sane you are is comforting. The other thing is that the only consequence of the player going insane is that the screen goes weird and the player might fall over or something. I think it can be taken further than that. Maybe the character starts slowly moving by themselves, or they start making noises that alert the nearby enemy(s). That would force the player to take measures to preserve their sanity, rather than just allowing it to slide like you could in Amnesia. The other way to (possibly) implement this is to mess with the player themselves, rather than the character. You could change the volume slightly, cause slight screen tearing, change camera angles etc. Any of this would have to be implemented very subtly, or it would damage the player's immersion. But then, having never tried this it might damage their immersion anyway. Seems like it would be worth a shot at least.

So that's about it, that's my brilliant idea for a survival horror game. On the slight chance that someone does actually read this, think "wow, that's a great idea and wouldn't at all wind up being a really cheap and gimmicky version of Amnesia" and makes the game, could you link me to it. I don't care how it turns out, there just aren't enough horror games being made these days. Or maybe too many, and we should be keeping each game a special, unique experience. One good one every two years or so might be enough. In which case you should wait another years if you want this one to be good, A Machine for Pigs is coming out later this year (Frictional + TheChineseRoom sounds like a great match to me).

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