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.