Monday, 22 November 2010

How the player becomes the protagonist

Introduction
In Amnesia one of the main goals was for the player to become the protagonist. We wanted the player to think "I am" instead of "Daniel is" and in that way make it a very personal experience. The main motivation for this was of course to make the game scary, but also for the memories that were revealed to feel more personal for the player.

In this post I will go through some of the design thinking we used, problems it caused and how it eventually turned out. I will also briefly discuss the future of this sort of design.


Playing a role
First of all, it is not required that the protagonist matches the player character in order for the player to "become" him/her. As an extreme example, I see no problem with a game featuring an animal as lead character to have the player become the protagonist. The idea is not that the player should match the physical / mental protagonist, but rather that he/she should be able to roleplay him/her and to feel like really being him/her.

There is of course limits to this kind of roleplaying and certain characteristics might make it impossible for a player to feel a connection. This is the same for works in other media where the reader/viewer is meant to feel empathy toward one or more characters. Sometimes there is some mismatch that removes this feeling, and much of the work's power is lost. Note that this sort of friction is more likely to happen because of the personality of the character and not so much because the physical appearance. A simple example of this would be that protagonists in Disney movies are often very easy to relate to despite being animals.

Considering this, the general rule that we used was not to force emotions and actions that players were unlikely to accept. When the protagonist is displayed as doing or feeling something, we had to make sure that player could agree to this.


Getting into the act
In film or literature it is possible for the audience to not like the protagonist at the start, but then make them feel a connection over the course of the work. This is not possible to do in a videogame, as players must start acting out their role as soon as the game starts. If the situation does not feel comfortable at the start, then it will be very hard to connect.

Because of this, videogames need to have a tutorial of some sort where the player gets used to the idea of playing a certain character. During this phase it is also important that the player learns how to act as the protagonist, so they later act accordingly. I do not think this can be done solely on a mechanics basis, as the trial and error involved will most likely just frustrate. This is largely dependent on the space of actions available though and sometimes players will quickly realize the role they are meant to play.

In Amnesia we made the choice to be very upfront on what is expected by the player. This is accomplished by displaying messages before the game starts, telling the player what to do. The main message was a rather simple one, simply saying that the player should not try and fight any monsters. As this is pretty close to what most people would do in real-life, we basically just had to tell players that the game was not a first-person-shooter and the rest came naturally. If the game would have required more specific behavior from the player, more info might have been needed.

Once the player accepts this role and is ready to play, the next step is to provide an interface between the player and world. Here a bunch of problems arises and it becomes less clear what is the right thing to do.


What emotions to hide?
First of all, we decided to remove any form of cut-scene from the game. Upon entering a cut-scene, there is a large distinction between the kind of control a player has during normal play, creating a discrepancy that weakens the player-protagonist connection. In our previous effort, Penumbra, we had little of these, but there were still places when control was taken from the player for longer periods. In Amnesia, we only used very short "view hijacks" to display points of interest. These were not very frequent and were meant to be seen as reflexes, which seemed to be accepted for most players. Some were a bit annoyed by them though and we are not sure they were that necessary.

Next thing we decided on was that, unlike Penumbra, Daniel (the protagonist) should never comment on the situation. In Penumbra the most obvious place this happens is when a spider is spotted and the text "A spider! I do not like spiders" appear. This sort of interface where the protagonist make subjective remarks on the game world can very easily break the connection between player-and-protagonist.

We tried to skip descriptive texts completely, but this caused problems when dealing with puzzles. If players start thinking about a puzzle "incorrectly", then it is imperative that they get on the right track. In these cases, the easiest (and many times only) way to communicate this to the player is by using texts. We tried to add as many solutions to avoid having texts, but it only works so far, and eventually some kind of explanatory / hinting text was needed. If not the player would have gotten stuck instead and we thought this would be worse than having the texts. In order to keep the player-protagonist connection, we kept all of this texts very objective and impersonal, careful to not force emotions on the player.

Side note: A problem we had when removing subjective comments was the hints were much harder to write. Not being able to let the protagonist guess, use insights or personal knowledge proved quite tricky at times.

We did not remove all of the subjective protagonist emotions though. We kept the more autonomous physical actions such as panting and heart beats, a choice that proved slightly controversial. After releasing the teaser video some people argued that having these sort of reactions pulled them out of the experience. Others felt that it just heightened the experience. Once the game was released, the main complaint came at a very specific feature, namely the "sanity damage"-reaction (that happens whenever the player witnesses something frightening). In the end, we estimate that something like 15-30% of the players disliked these kind of effects.

For the people that did not dislike these effects, many felt it increased the connection to the protagonist. For example feeling as if their own heart beat faster when the protagonist's did or becoming startled when a "sanity damage"-effect told them to. This is a really interesting subject and while using these kind of effects might detract the experience for some, I think it might be worth taking the risk. So far we have mostly tried this for very simple situations, but I believe it can used to evoke much more complex emotions.


Bringing back memories
An important part of Amnesia is that players slowly learn the background of the character they are playing. As the name suggest, the game starts out with the protagonist having amnesia that sets the player and protagonist on equal footing. By progressing through the game both the player and the protagonist gain access to increasingly more lost memories, slowly getting an idea of how Daniel ended up in the situation he currently is in.

The main mechanic we used to deliver these lost memories was through diary entries scattered throughout the game. We decided to voice these in order for them to be more interesting, but I think this backfired a bit. What many players seem to have experienced was that Daniel was reading the entries aloud. Thus this proved to be a large distraction and must have weakened the player-protagonist bond for many. What we intended was for the player to hear Daniel's voice as the voice of their old self. This was probably way too obscure though and it might have been better to just had them as pure text.

Added to this was the fact that Daniel actually spoke at some points. Some lines are spoken during the start of the game and some during gameplay if sanity is too low. Again, this was intended to be lost memories, but many players did not perceive it as such and instead thought it was strange to hear Daniel talking.

As mentioned earlier, we wanted the player to feel as if the lost memories were their own. But because of the way the memory content was delivered I think the effect was not what it could have been.


Dialog
A major obstacle when trying to create strong a player-protagonist connection is that one often end up with the so called "silent protagonist". The reason for this is simply that that whenever spoken words are required, the lines spoken by the protagonist must be predetermined and chosen for the player. Either, the character simply speaks a scripted line or the player chooses from a list canned responses. Using the first type allows for more fluent conversation but removes any interaction. The second choice provides some interaction but makes conversations stiff (as other actions are only possible when in "dialog mode") and might lack options the player finds appropriate to say. Some hybrid solutions exist (like in Blade Runner where the player just sets an attitude) but the problem still remains.

Side note: Interestingly, the problem is quite opposite in Interactive Fiction. Instead of lacking options for the player, the characters one speaks to lack the intelligence to understand all possible (and fitting) sentences.

So how to solve this? Well, first of all it is worth noting that the systems mentioned above can still be used if applied carefully. If the player's emotions are in line with the protagonist's then simply having short scripted lines could work very fine. To make this work I also think it is important that the protagonist's voice is a recurring element of the game to get the player used to it. If it just pops up on rare occasions, the illusion is easily broken. Call of Cthulhu and the Thief series use this to some success (I think it is at its best when short, in-game and the player is free to do other actions at the same time).

The multiple choice system is also possible to use, but I think it comes with more problems. The biggest is that since the player gets a choice it is more obvious when the game does supply the wanted action. With other actions such as walking and fighting, it is easier to set up rules for the player on what is allowed and not. Conversations have a much wider scope and it is much harder to keep it consistent. It is also much harder to display the options in a way that feels okay. Unless they entire game is controlled with a menu-like system, having a menu pop up for a specific action is very distracting.

In Amnesia we chose to avoid conversations as much as possible and there are only two occasions when you meet another character face-to-face. And in only one of these were there any real opportunity for a conversation (with a tortured man called Agrippa). The way we went about it was for Daniel to be silent, but for Agrippa to respond as if Daniel had spoken. This gave the dialogs (or rather monologue) more flow but many players found this quite disconnecting. They found it strange that Daniel silently spoke back, especially as many was sure they had heard him speak before when reading diaries. On the other hand, it might have been even more strange if Agrippa had never asked Daniel anything and simply just spoken in direct orders or in a lecturing manner. Agrippa was put into game pretty late in development and we did not gave it as much thought as we should have, so this might have been solved better.

When creating a videogame with a strong player-protagonist connection, the best option is probably to fit the game world around a protagonist that does not require none or very simple (as in yes-no or simple vocabulary) speech. This way, the player-protagonist connections is more easily kept and consistency is maintained. An example of this is System shock where all characters are dead or talking through a one-way radio. Another example is BioShock 2 where the protagonist is a dumb robot that is not expected to speak. This of course put limits on what kind of experiences that can be made, but might be the only way to create a strong player-protagonist experience.


Problems to overcome
It is not only dialog that is a large problem when trying to make player and protagonist one and the same. Since we are trying to craft an experience where the players themselves are a central ingredient, much pressure is put on them.

A major problem is that it is hard to let the protagonist have any special knowledge. This is a reason why stories starring amnesiacs, outsiders or cannon-fodder are so common; things becomes very complicated if players need to have a deeper understanding of their surroundings. A way to solve this is to force the player into learning things before starting the game. But since reading a novel before starting the game is not really possible, the amount of information that can be given is quite limited. Another way to solve this is to have some sort of tutorial texts popping up, but this is of course very distracting.

Another issue, is that the player and protagonist might not share the same goals. For instance the protagonist might be out for revenge, but the player might not be interested in this. This makes games of this type end up with fairly simplistic motivations. It might be possible to give some kind of instructions before the game starts, but that does not seem very good to me. Better would be to provide an experience at start that sets up the player's mood to match the protagonist's. This is easier said than done though.


Why bother?
So why go into all of this trouble of making blurring the line between player and protagonist? For one thing, I think it is something that is extremely interesting to explore. So far games that try to create strong player-protagonist bonds are mostly about killings things and exploration into other themes is pretty much uncharted.

Secondly, it is something that that is unique to the medium. In no other media can the audience step into works of art themselves. And just because of this I think it demands to be experimented with. Instead of looking too much to film or other art as inspiration, we should try and do things in ways that only videogames can.


Your thoughts?
We would be very interested in hearing your thoughts on this. How did you feel like you connected with the protagonist in Amnesia? Was there any especially large obstacles for you to have a strong connection?

Also, in case you are interested in more discussions on this, check out the previous post on self-location in games:
http://frictionalgames.blogspot.com/2010/09/where-is-your-self-in-game.html


26 comments:

  1. while reading all these posts about you thinking of how a game should be and how to achieve this i finally noticed that you re doing a way better job than other game producers.
    so first of all this is a huge compliment for what you re doing and the way you let the players (us) experience what you re thinking of during working on a game and "participate" in your work.

    to be honest i didn't really identify with daniel what was perhaps down to the fact that the whole atmosphere was f***ing scary and the only thing i could think of was:"wow how am i going to react to the first encounter and when is he/she/it appearing?"
    THIS is not bad as it shows that your game series are the most intense and scariest i've ever played and you should definetly not change this in future projects.
    as a little help:
    for some reason i absolutely loved the half-life 2 series and i completely identified with the protagonist gordon freeman. i guess that's because they did a great job on the other important charecters such as alyx and eli. i almost enjoyed every dialogue between gordon and one of these characters and was always concentrated while listening to them as i wanted to know what they 're saying. to refer to your thoughts, they chosed to use the "silent protagonist" way of dialogues between the protagonist and others. in hl2 this worked out very in my case as i already identified with gordon and was able to thing of what he s going to say and so immeadiately connect this with the conversational partner's answer.

    i hope i could help you and would be happy with a reply.

    reagrds

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  2. That was very interesting! You guys have really thought this over, and it was worth it. The game really sucked me into it, and I loved it (with shit in my pants).

    Sanity? I only disliked it because it makes the game even scarier, but it adds a great deal to the atmosphere. ;)

    It not being clear that Daniel didn't read the letters aloud? Well, it was obvious for me, shame for those other people. :|

    The silent talking to Agrippa didn't bother me really either.

    I'll keep all these things in mind, could come in handy. Very nice article! Also, any idea when Frictional Games will announce their next game? Can't wait!!

    Herman

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  3. I felt a deep connection to Daniel for the entire playthrough. In fact, I missed the second of three notes in the the cistern and to this day I feel like I'm missing a memory of my own.

    The gasps and whimpers that Daniel gives off every now and then didn't bother me in the least, honestly. I think it was at least partially to do with the fact that I myself was making similar sounds. :) Contrasted with a game like Half life, where you can break your legs jumping and Gordon doesn't even seem to notice, it seemed much more immersive.

    Unrelated, I just wanted to thank you for supporting Linux. It's the only OS I use 90% of the time, and I refuse to buy games to run in Wine.

    Cheers

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  4. I found that as the story progressed and Daniel's backstory (and why he has amnesia) was revealed I felt a sense of sorrow and pity for Daniel. Ultimately I felt that the trials Daniel had to go through were justified, and his/my position in the gameworld changed from being the victim of the horrors, which I feel mirrors how Daniel was thinking in the events that lead to the beginning of the game.

    One thing I felt a disconnect with though was the fleshy stuff which appeared on the walls when I'd completed an area to urge the player on. I realise now they represent the shadowy nastiness growing nearer, but at the time I took it literally, as though something was actually growing out of the walls.

    Actually on the topic of urging the player on, I quite liked the sanity mechanic, in that hiding in the corner and not progressing doesn't help your sanity, you have to actually face your fears and advance.

    Oh, and one really neat touch was the bugs/cockroaches that crawl over the screen at points during the game. I found myself running down the corridor trying to shake them off. Another aspect I liked was the "crushing walls". The first time that happened I ran. The second time however, I decided to stay put and see what happened, and I was a little disappointed when nothing did. It sort of lost its effect after that.

    I think that parts of the game were done very well, and in general the horror effects used were very good, but they lost their impact when I realised they didn't have consequences.

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  5. Hey,

    I can't really "identify" with protagonists in videogames, however the game still totally got me due to its amazing atmosphere and scariness.

    What I personally really disliked was the huge sanity-damage where the entire mousemovement became "delayed" but I guess that's just my personal and subjective opinion. The blurry screen that occured when you just entered a dark area however was quite cool, along with all the critter sounds.

    The fleshy things at the walls were weird I have to admit. At first I didn't understand when/why I sometimes got hurt (by the pulsating ones), and the hanging holey parts of it didn't really fit in visually with the remaining awesome graphic work.

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  6. I think most of the issues you're presenting are related to the experience of gamers and their willingness to keep an open mind in a game. As a hardcore gamer, and a huge fan of FGs niche games, I found most of the issues non-existant. To mention a few: The phanting and heartbeats felt like my own, I always felt like it was the former Daniel reading the notes (with the immersion in his voice it was hard not to!) and the insanity effects only "punished" me when I felt I'd done something which would naturally cause me to freak out and helped immensely with the overall experience!

    When I convinced a friend of mine (who's more into shooters and football games) to try out the game, he rushed through most of the earlier parts, not really caring about most things that happened (like when the staircase breaks in one of the earlier rooms), insisted on things working the way he wanted (he rushed up to the first enemy encountered and frantically hit the left and right mouse buttons in an attempt to hit it, wanted to skip most notes he found (while i insisted that he'd at least hear out the voice-overed ones for the story) and I immediatly knew i had to give up a lot of clues for the puzzles in order to keep him playing for as long as possible, hoping he'd find it more interesting and immeresive along the way.

    I'm very picky about plots in games, movies and books, but I give most of them a fair shot before abandoning them or torture myself through them in hopes that they'll eventually improve. Amnesia was extremely successful in all aspects for me, especially plotwise, but for someone more of a casual gamer like my friend, they seem expect to be handheld through the story all the way like in a movie and find idols in the protagonist and his companions instead of roleplaying them.

    Not to discourage you, but I don't think you'll manage to convert all gamers to the mindset you strive for, but IF anyone can do it, it has to be Frictional Games and I hope you continue to experiment, even if only for the benefit of us, your current fans.

    Hälsningar,
    Jan Arne,
    jätte stor fan

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  7. I finished the game last night. There was very little to criticize, yet much feedback to give. So let me just say some things about the protagonist in particular for now.

    Now that I see how much thought you put into everything, I can really relate to you. I don't design games but I made an experimental film with real protagonists, meaning I sent people through a type of Haunted House where they had to solve tasks and puzzles, much like a video game, and filmed them. So I know how it feels when one has put tons of thought into designing something and in the end, people's reactions turn out to be completely different from what you expected. They miss things you thought were obvious and get worked up about some chair you accidentally left in a room. So I guess it's kind of the same thing, regarding expectations, estimations etc. So let me tell you how I felt about Daniel:

    I didn't consciously think about how I was involved with Daniel, which is a good thing I'd say. However I felt sympathetic towards him, so I automatically identified with him, mainly due to him being a person instead of some testosterone hero like the protagonists of most first person games.

    I liked Daniels voice, and never thought he was reading out the notes aloud. Having the diary read out was a good move, it did make it more interesting, I often closed my eyes and just listened, so I was always thrilled when I found another page with the extra audio. I also feel more for a character with a voice than for a mute one.

    The thing is, once I got down to that first horrible prison area, there was no chance for me to think "okay let's get this guy out of here, cause that's what he wants, right?" It was more a "I want the f*** outa here, NOW" - I didn't stop caring about Daniel, but I was so afraid of being startled to death or eaten that I could only feel like I was the one imprisoned there. It was in the calmer areas where I started dwelling on Daniel's past. I didn't suspect he could have done anything bad until late in the game, even then I didn't start to hate him. It rather got me to think about what I would have done in a situations like his. The whole story was great as you've merged it with reality, like the torture instruments, a most horrible part of the game, or Agrippa who was actually born some 30 kilometers away from where I live.

    Sanity effects didn't bother me or affect my sympathy towards Daniel, I liked them and they weren't over-done. Except maybe the crunchy noise you hear when you're in the darkness, it sometimes came a little too quickly, and now and then I'd say things like "what you're freaking out for now, there's a light right there a couple meters away, this isn't all that dark". As for me, I was so scared of the gatherers that I rather put up with the darkness than giving away my hiding spot. I finished the game with 51 spare tinderboxes.

    The whole "Come on Daniel, let's do this!"-thing some people say - You couldn't prevent it, unless you had a complete non-character protagonist. Addressing Daniel in such situations is a common thing when you're scared and alone, you tend to do this because it makes you feel like you have someone to talk to and you try to distant yourself from the situation, denying how you're the one in control. It doesn't break the immersion, it only proves you did a good job in creating genuine fear.


    I hope my bit of feedback made for an interesting read, there's lots of other stuff I could have said about the game. Haven't played the Penumbra titles, will probably buy then now. Would love a physical version of Amnesia, makes it more special, you got something to hold in your hands, maybe a booklet with some drawings in it ... I hope it can be released at some point!

    PS: If you care for the film project game thing I mentioned, click my name up there^, it can be viewed online

    PPS: Keep on traumatizin', F.G., you're good at it!

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  8. To be honest, I'm not sure how much a connection there really was between myself and Daniel. The problem as I see it, is that while a silent character might be easier to connect with, (because you can project yourself onto that character and fill in the blanks), there's also a risk of disconnection too because a silent character doesn't react the way a normal person would (by talking, reflecting, revealing details about him/herself). I personally always found silent characters extremely boring, because in order for me to feel like I'm the character, there actually NEEDS to be something there to work with; a silhouette and some paint. Beside that point, a character that never speaks (even when spoken to) tends to give me the impression that they're stupid. :P Besides, it disconnects you even more because that's not the way most people would behave in the same situation.

    At the other end of the spectrum there's the character with every possible attribute already predefined (who never seems to shut up), but I'm not saying this is a viable solution either. Like with all the other aspects you discussed, there's a fine balance here. However, I do think there are also different stages in which you connect with a character.

    Take Daniel as an example. He would probably rank somewhere in the middle of the silent/vocal scale, as you frequently hear his voice, but never see his face (which creates anonymity). While I can't really say I was ever too involved or interested in his personal vendetta or backstory, I definitely was on a purely instinctive level. That is, his panic and fear were very much mine as well, and his spontaneous reactions to run and hide felt very authentic.

    When it comes to Daniel reading diaries, I always thought it was his old self reading them, which apparently turned out to be true. As for his gasps and the forced-view thing... I didn't really have a problem with that at all. I mean, I know a lot of people complained about it, but I really can't see why someone would think it's a big deal.

    Lastly, I strongly agree with your point that games should embrace the fact that they constitute a separate medium. I mean, they have the ultimate opportunity to really drive interesting storytelling forward through interactivity, but to me it seems a lot of games are simply trampling in place. Either that, or they borrow too much from books and movies.

    I want to see more games like Heavy Rain (okay, reviews were mixed, but you can't argue with what it attempted to do) or Pathologic, where you feel like you're playing something FRESH, a new type of game for a change. It's good to see there are still developers who recognize this fact and try to break new grounds.

    Cheers to everyone at Frictional.

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  9. I found myself connected to the character and like I was the character for almost all the game. The only times I felt detached was when I find out about specific things in his past since he arrived at Brennenburg..his less admirable actions. But this did not in any way lessen the fun I had with this game.
    The sanity effects were fine in my opinion and the option to not have them was there so..you covered both those who like and dislike them. The thing I hated was the upside down effect. With the setting insanity turned off it happened rarely but particularly in the choir or when being chased it came on and ruined the experience for me in a big way. So that when I was being chased it wasn't so much about the thrill of the chase or the pure fear, I just started cursing because my screen was upside down and found frustration rather than adrenaline which I got in almost every other part of the game. So I missed out on the parts where I should have had the largest effect because of this thing that (as far as I know) can't be changed. I had heard it was a bug that when it was on it happened all the time which it seemed it did but even when turned off it still happened so..whether something's wrong with my patch or it is the near only fault in your game it is one of the only downsides.

    I enjoy hearing the characters speaking in your games quite thoroughly. The voice acting is very good, it makes me feel like I am a real person and it 'spices up' the game. Makes it less boring, if there was no dialogue from the protagonist the game would still work because you guys know what you're doing but when Daniel read a note or Philip said something I found interesting and made the game less bland. Although the "I don't like spiders thing" is good to leave out because the player will tell themself that if they don't like spiders. I understand some people want know outside distractions at all. They want the character the controls and that's it. No monologue or hints or on screen tips. Perhaps having the option for both is a good idea.

    "to let the protagonist have any special knowledge" I think this is fine so long as this knowledge is disclosed to the player, not through text at the bottom of the screen but perhaps in a note or some form of personal monologue. Like if Daniel were to talk about how he hurt himself one day and had to take some Laudanum and in doing so mentions that it is an opiate.

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  10. That was a good 5 minutes of time investing in read this. Thank you.

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  11. "Instead of looking too much to film or other art as inspiration, we should try and do things in ways that only videogames can."

    This is exactly what I tell everyone and this is exactly why I bought Amnesia and convinced others to buy it. Frictional needs to make more games, because they understand it as an art form.

    As someone said above, not everyone's going to appreciate this kind of experience. Some will rush through and not "get it," just like not everyone can pick up a great work of literature and appreciate it because they have the wrong mindset.

    I found he game to be a resounding success (I was also impressed that despite your limited budget and time, there was not a single bug or hitch in getting through the game), but here is a list of what I had a problem with:

    1.) As an experienced gamer, by the end of the game the monster movements and the hiding to deal with them became predictable, easy, and much less threatening than it was before.

    2.) Agrippa. He was terrifying at first, hanging on the wall, but then became a cheery voice that talked to you endlessly. I always felt very safe and secure around him because of the friendly vibe he gave, but it also felt very out of place. The whole Agrippa subplot kind of fell apart when we actually met and talked to him.

    3.) The ending(s). I've seen all 3, and while the "Kill Alexander" one was the most satisfying, I found all 3 to be a little too quick and unsatisfying. The actual confrontation itself was nothing compared to the rest of the game, when such an encounter could have been SO climactic and horrific in some disturbing way. Instead it was too understated and simple, with any of the 3 endings being too brief and feeling incomplete.

    I could probably write for ages about this game, but much of what I though has been iterated in the blog post itself already.

    CAN'T WAIT for Frictional's next game, now that I see they understand what video games truly can and should be.

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  12. Amnesia is a great game. One problem that you have to face though when trying to build a world where you want the players to become emotionnaly involved with the main character, is what means can I invest (men, money, time) to achieve this. In my view, the more consistent the world you create, the more involved players become. I view consistency as, a set of rules valid throughout the game. I can move a table means I can move all of them. My character is afraid in one scary scene, my character will be afraid in all scary scenes (and not drop me a rambo style combo just for the end boss....) One that is very important, I walk through this street, please give me a good reason why I can't walk through that one! or the whole consistency collapses.

    But creating a consitent world is very time consuming. One example is the physics simulation engine build in FG's games. In the penumbra series, it was an amazing "trick" to immerse players in the environment. Being able to interact with most of the objects was way more immersive than technically advanced graphics. What put me somehow off in Amnesia, was the fact that most of the objects could not be interacted with, tables, furniture, lamps, books etc... I understand the limits of the game engine, our computers, your time and money, but it made a dent in the consistency of the world you created, making it more artificial. Recently I've been playing "STALKER" (clear sky and call of pripyat). I was amazed by the consistency of the game world. Even if there are LOTS of menus for conversation, trading, maps and mission briefings, the whole world seems very consistent. They found ways to direct the player towards the main goal while placing only very few artificial barriers. One example is in clear sky, the military barracks in the end that you need to clear out. The compound is huge, but the mission only requires you to go to one place. The fact you can go visit the rest of the place, to find new items or just to stare at the beautiful landscape is their trick to create a consistent world and it works. It must have been very time consuming to create all these extra places that are not required for the main story, but the fact they're there transforms the game from a bore to a great emotional experience (for me at least). So, to wrap it up, consistency throughout the game should be the number one goal of any "immersion orientated" game. A modest consistent game (Penumbra) will always be more immersive than a huge (Resident Evil 5)over the top one.

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  13. After experiencing Amnesia, I have checked your blog frequently for updates

    The insight into how you design these immersive games keep me hoping that one day you will release info about your next release

    love your company!

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  14. Amusingly, I didn't think even for a moment that Daniel answered Agrippa. I presumed the conversation was very similar to HL2 where everybody speaks to Gordon without awaiting any answer. Tbh I've never felt like I was Gordon in hl2 or even that there existed a Gordon - I was but a silent spectator in story-scenes and the gamer in action scenes. I wasn't part of the world and Gordon was only a leaf thrown around by an unsure wind.

    I didn't find Daniel reading the diaries distracting, but actually enjoyed it since I could close my eyes (and hence give them rest; Amnesia is quite heavy on the eyes) and just listen to him tell what was written. But that's subjective and, I fear, even detaching from the atmosphere. Forcing the player read the note her-/himself might, hypothetically, make it feel more real. Especially since there might be some players (like I in Bioshock) who listen to the notes while crouching in some corner so no other sound could disturb the dictation, but I've found this rarely adds to the atmosphere and usually even takes away when your eyes get bored and wonder away from the screen further detaching you from the game-world.

    I also liked the sanity meter since it added urgency and a nicely ironic touch to the core gameplay (hide in the dark to escape the monster, stay in the light to escape yourself). I think Daniel's breathing is also understandable since that is an involuntary action and I'd say presumable in the given context and could hence be seen as helpful for the atmosphere.

    One problem would imho be indeed as to how exactly punish players for not following your rules of horror without forcing them to replay sections. Here I mean the players who prefer to just sprint and avoid everything you've built, like sadly most of the people I recommended this game to (and who actually bothered to try it ...) On the other hand we might just call them a lost cause and concentrate on those who actually want to enjoy the world and hence are willing to meet you half-way in creating the atmosphere (presuming you will hold up your end of the bargain which, with Amnesia, you really did :) ).

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  15. I didn't really feel like I was in Daniels shoes.. I felt like I was controlling Daniel. But it was still awesome.

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  16. I strongly suggest that you guys take a look at Half-Life 2 in what it has to offer for this player-protagonist bond. While you may have a gripe about how much killing is used in games as opposed to something else, please understand that HL2 is one of those games that doesn't revolve entirely around that one theme.

    Let me explain what Half-Life 2 is in brief terms. You play a theoretical physicist, Gordon Freeman and most of what you go through in this game is pure experience and sheer adventure. I really can't put a finger on why the player-protagonist bond works so well in here. There was this moment in the game when I had to travel under a bridge along its supports and I was, for a sure fact, actually afraid of falling into the depths below. The sound effects and vibrating world made it feel real. It was a grand atmosphere for its time. There weren't even any enemies scattered around to break that moment. I can even heavily immerse myself in the character interactions, which isn't something that usually happens to me. Everyone in the game illustrates rich and real personalities as much as they are distinct. There is the caring friend, the loving father, the eccentric work partner and the leader dependent on his power. They are all simple characters, but are cleverly developed to the point they become people we can relate to yet without consciously sensing their outwardly simplistic themes.

    The dialogue and voice acting helped too with this. If I may, here is a video showing some of the game's brilliant one-sided dialogue.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQLRS5o6vtU

    When I experienced this for the first time, I truly felt as though I really was the messiah-like figure these characters took me for. Even for a brief moment I would have been glad to believe that I was meant to be a saviour, a silent hope to the needy. I would've believed myself to be as mysterious as the vortigaunt meant me to, and yet, simply remember myself as the theoretical physicist who, somehow, is only trying to stay alive.

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  17. I feel a bit bad about criticizing Amnesia, because you obviously put a lot of effort and talent to it, and there is just so much you can do with a small team. I'll try to be brief and constructive.

    I like role playing the games and I enjoy your games because they give me very interesting motivations. However, by the middle of the game I could not connect much anymore. I'm not sure exactly why it was, but I think it probably was because of transversal reasons rather than because your character-player connection design was bad. It was very good indeed.

    One of the reasons, for me, was that I wasn't comfortable with the transition of Daniel from a normal guy to a torturer and butcher, that, for the dates of the diaries, occurred within a few days. The scene in a torture room in which Daniel remembers himself butchering a body, for example, felt very strange to me. He was joyfully doing it, even singing or something. I guess it was suppose to represent that he had lost it. Maybe this is discussing human nature to an extent I don't understand, but I would have expected it to be harder for Daniel, I was expecting a point in which Daniel figuratively (and, most likely, literally) pukes and cries over what he is forced to do, a point in which he breaks into tears and disgust for what he was doing. Maybe Daniel was not a very good person after all...

    Another, very important problem for me, was that many game elements were somewhat cheap or felt cheap. In particular, the sanity going down with the darkness and the monsters. One thing you, as a game developer, have to deal with, is the reality that players, especially old gamers, tend to dissect the game mechanics until they understand them fully. In horror/mystery games, this is a major problem, as the mystery disappears if the player understands how the game works. If he/she knows the tricks.

    This happened to me with the darkness thing. At some point, I realized that there was no real penalty to loosing your mind, just some annoying effects. From that point on, I would not care anymore for staying to long in the darkness. This connects with the problem of the monsters too. As you have only two different monsters, the player gets used to them too easily and stops fearing them.

    It is, of course, very complicated to create or change the game mechanics of a game continuously, it's a lot of work. But the problem with the darkness and the monsters is that you don't give them any background either. What are those monsters?, Why does Daniel fear darkness that much (maybe because he was buried alive?)? Imagine that you would have given a believable background to the darkness fear. Even if I would have realized that there was no serious penalty for staying in the dark, I would have had a reason to still not take that game mechanic to my advantage, because there was a good plot-reason to not do so.

    Maybe I overthink things too much, but, if it helps you in any way, I'm glad of it, :)

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  18. Just wanted to say that we do read all comments, so thanks to all who have posted! We have found them very interesting!

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  19. I found the gameplay very immersive. I liked the insane-damage effect as it gives the sense of focusing on "what the hell is that thing!" instead of "shit here comes a monster". But Daniel saying things like "what the hell was that" when with low sanity, breaks a bit the conection: instead of thinking "god i'm freaking out", you think "ops, daniel is freaking out". With the first memory I though there were some guards or something coming, so I hid, but soon i realized it was a memory.
    The thing I don't liked, though, was when I had an idea of how to solve a problem, but it wasn't the espected by the game: for example, while trying to get into the inner study, I first though on grabbing two vases, going back to the storage, putting the chemicals on those and then blowing up the block. Then I tryed to break the room with the portrait's window with many objects i though would break the window. It took me a lot of time of running around the castle to realize the partially broken window.
    Also things like not being able to move a box on the water part to avoid stepping on the water while opening the gate, being unable to use the hammer to hit the grunts on the head as last resource, or grabbing one of the candles I lit and use it to light my path saving oil, felt unnaturall, but I guess those where needed to keep the gameplay style of saving oil, avoiding enemies and not being safe.
    Despite this little things, Amnesia had the most immersive interface i've seen in a game.

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  20. Loved it.
    Both the post, aswell as the game.
    Probably in the top3, if not favourite game to date.

    I did start to identify with daniel, looked forward to the notes. The voice acting, to me, was like I was hearing it in my head as the avatar was reading the note. It added atmosphere aswell as feeling to the whole. I wish there was more, possibly with notes from others. So far I still wonder who and what those awful zombie like creatures are. At some point, where you have to face one, all I thought was "poor wilhelm".
    So definitly kudos on that, will definitly look forward to new titles from you guys! As far as what I fealt when I found out what alexander did to me (er, daniel).. not sadness and sorrow like others said. More of a firm.. "aye, if I ever forgot that anger.. the buggers gonna die now!"

    Though I do have some gripes about the sanity system. It is nice, and overall it adds to the game. But sometimes it breaks immersion... if you're out of tinderboxes and oil, and you've checked the room / level three times over.. when looking for that item to continue your quest, because you missed a door (the guest room for me, I kept searching the study), it gets annoying because it prevents you from focussing.
    So perhaps something can be said for one starting to feel safe in an area after a while, even if its a false sense of security.
    Now the agrippa part had me confused a bit. Now I understand his situation, but it took me a while to get over the fact that he wasn't going to jump down and rip my throat out.. the silent replies worked.. but I would've preferred spoken dialogue. I reckon it isn't too far a stretch in this case to impose the dialogue on the player. You've been literally thrusted into the dark with only a couple of matches and a leaky lamp, hunted by gruesome things that would just love to feast on your intestines (daniel assures me that that hurts, quite a lot)... trapped in some derelict castle in the middle of nowhere, with a note from yourself asking you to kill someone who you don't remember. Then by the time you reach him, having found all those notes and diaries from yourself.. While playing there was only one kind of reply possible.. From a designers standpoint, forcing dialogue on a player is never a good thing. But lets consider the alternatives.. silent dialogue, chosen dialogue, other. Silent worked decently well, as proven in the game. Chosen dialogue.. probably wouldn't have worked in this case, since the player isn't given any options in regards to his or her goal. The goal has been determined: find alexander (there isn't anywhere else you can go anymore!). There are plenty of reasons to block off alternative routes, there are plenty of reasons to leave them open. It is interesting to have read your take on making the decision on which system will best suit the need (lets face it, there is no absolute system, they all have their own strengths), and I applaud you, aswell as everybody else who worked on amnesia, to bringing some fine horror to the horror genre. Be it book, movie.. or in this case as close to enduring it in person as we care to get!

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  21. Loved the game, but I never cared about the enemies because the game told me to just hide from them. Every time I heard one I just ran around a corner and waited about two minutes then continued. I felt like I was Daniel and I was too scared to face them, but that meant the only time I ever saw one was the later ones who ran at me from behind and it just made me annoyed that I'd have to start over. Also it seemed to me like they would disappear when you hid and come back every time you progressed, which made me think they were incarnations of the shadow. There should have been different encounters instead of the same one repeated; immersive though it may be it was also a lull in the game for me.

    Otherwise, from the very beginning, I always thought "I'm the guy doing things and Daniel is a man who is dead now."

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  22. In Amnesia it took me a little bit to get the flashbacks. But once I got what they were, I found them effective. I did like most of the insanity effects but they didn't feel real even though they did add to the tension. The bugs crawling in front of the eyes was less effective.

    Once effect that I really liked was the ringing in the ears at a particularly tense part. To me it felt real just like my blood pressure was going way up.

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  23. hmm well the guy did have the same name as me so i guess that helped...
    yay lucky me.

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  24. Hey, first of all I just want to say that this game must be the most immersive I've ever played, so you've done a fantastic job! Even I played through the whole game with a friend by my side, it didn't make it any less scary.

    One part that got me really disappointed was when we were at the part when you're collecting ingredients for Agrippa. We missed the place where the blood was, and when we got to the laboratory it was already too late to go back, so we had to load a save. It kinda kills the feeling when you have to do stuff like that.

    I really liked the whole mysterious aspect of the game, that you don't really know what's going on, but gradually find out things through notes, flashbacks etc. My friend and I were eagerly discussing things like where the monsters were really from, who Hazel was (the girl that escaped?) among other things.

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  25. I think it was absolutely the right choice to hear Daniel's voice in the journal entries. For one, it gave it a more pertinent feel, as it is a sign that this is relevant to the story, unlike many of the other letters, which offer clues for puzzle solving (plus some admittedly interesting stuff). It didn't even cross my mind that Daniel could be reading them aloud. In my mind, Daniel's voice reflected what he felt while writing the entries. Also when you hear his voice when the sanity drops, I immediately understood these were just effects happening in his mind.

    The only thing that felt slightly distracting was the part where he discussed with Agrippa without actually saying a word. I wondered if he sensed what Daniel was thinking or something like that.

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  26. I doubt you guys are still reading this part of the blog, but in case you get email alerts or something, I thought I'd clue in my opinion-

    Daniel had an absolutely manly voice in Amnesia, and I don't think the game would have been the same without it. The text in Penumbra games was dry and boring, and generally resulted in skimming through texts trying to find the important part. Having Daniel read the notes (or listening to his own personal narrative) brought the world of Amnesia to life. While it is important to have player immersion, it must be recalled that either way it is a seperate world you have tried to introduce, and like in your later remarks on Dead Space, you want to introduce a mixture of progression of the plot and introduction of the world.

    Just my two cents.


    ~FT

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