Tuesday 9 June 2009

A History of violence. Part 1

Ever since I started working on horror games (first was a simple 2d game called Fiend) I have been thinking about what kind of combat one wants in a horror game. This question was even more important when working on Penumbra as we had some problems in Overture concerning weapons. Our idea was that player would want at least something to defend themselves with, so we gave them some weak weapons and cumbersome combat mechanics, thinking it would only be used as last line of defense. Instead all kinds of problems arose, some players thought that since there where weapons, combat was meant to be used and complained about it be boring. Others figured out some tricks with the combat and thought it was way too easy. Very few players seemed play the game like we intended it to and we had to fix this somehow.

In Black Plague we took the decision to skip combat altogether and let the player be as vulnerable as possible. Not only did this make the design easier for us (could always assume enemies where alive), but most players also found the game scarier and more fun to play. Still, I think that there should be some way to use weapons, as it seems like such a "natural" thing. For example: if some monster/bad guy traps you in a corner, you will probably grab what ever is near and try to use it as means to get away. This kind of mechanic is also very common in horror movies, for example Scream uses it quite a bit.

For our new game "Unknown" we first considered using weapons and having them as defense only. But after some playtesting, the same problems that we had in Overture popped up. Some found the combat way to easy and others found it almost impossible. As trying to configure good difficult settings would be really hard, we decided to tone down combat and make the player very vulnerable instead. Further gameplay testing seem to confirm that this was the right thing to do.

In part 2 I will discuss the different kinds of combat found in games.

Until then: What are your thoughts on the combat in Overture and the lack thereof in Black Plague? Does removing combat really make a game scarier or is just a matter of how it is implemented?


  1. Good article, waiting for the second part.
    I think removing combat and being more vulnerable while playing really makes a game scarier, as you know you have nothing or almost nothing to defend yourself (that means less possibilities to survive if you encounter any monster), so any thing that occurs (mainly the unexpected ones) will scare you more.

  2. I tend to agree that removing the combat mechanics from a game will reinforce the frightening effect brought on by the player's environment. Take a look at popular modern horror games such as Fear. I found the first Fear (the only one I've played) to be "scary" in its own way but look at the sort of tactics it had to employ to bring on the effect. Gorey scenes, little zombie girls doing crab-walks through vents, and sudden BAM! moments that do more startling than actually scaring. They have to employ these tactics because it just isn't all that scary running around when you've got a gun that shoots railroad spikes and the ability to slow down time. Fear will almost never be considered scary the second time through the game....but I still get freaked out when playing Penumbra.

    If you were being chased by a crazy zombie-dog animal underground, would you stop to try and hit it with a hammer? Hell no. You'd run and hide like a little girl and probably look for a fresh pair of pants.

    However, being able to set up traps to kill enemies is, in my opinion, something that fits very well into the genre.....but I guess I wouldn't consider that combat per se.

  3. Nice article, looking forward to part 2.

    I don't think it was the fact that there was combat in Overture that made it less scary than Black Plague, I think it is because Black Plague was genuinely designed to be scarier. There was alot more moments where monsters were banging on doors and smashing stuff off screen that put you on edge.

  4. I started Overture several times, and hit alt+f4 a lot. The combat system sucked for me. But I was very much interested in the story, so I tried harder and harder. Later I found the trick, how I could kill the doggies without getting hit, and with that I was able to finish it. Black Plague was a lot creepier as the only option was to run and hide. It was a lot scarier, but I really missed combat. I think the best moment in black plague was when I walked by a closed door, and after a couple of seconds I heard something broke out from there, and I ran and ran, didn't even look back.
    These kind of scripted events are far better then just lingering enemies. This was actually fun and extremely scary. For me a game has to be fun to play, and the kind of atmosphere overture created made me hit alt+f4.
    A solution could be this:
    -having scripted appearences of very strong, nearly invulnerable enemies, from which we have to run and hide
    -and also having weak enemies which we can kill, so that it gives us the feeling of success

    I really liked both overture and bp, the idea of that hatch reminded me of Lost, and the feeling that anything can be there created a very moody atmosphere. I hope unknown will have a bit more complex story, and I would be happy to see a story-telling like in Lost. With a lot of mysteries, and as the game progresses revealing these secrets, and also rising more questions.

    In conclusion I think the mood the story creates is far more important than the mood enemy encounters create. But this could be just a personal opinion.

  5. Having scary dogs (Overture) you can kill on a level gives you a sense of relief when they are gone and you know you can roam around and investigate every corner of the level without interruption.

    Having monsters you cant kill (Black plague) through lack of weapons of just type of monster, means your always on edge - and dont feel like you can explore everything. You just hope you havnt missed anything important.. and generally you dont as the levels have been designed for this style of play.

    Currently Im at level 4 of Requiem and the lack of monsters makes it more like Overture with all the dogs killed.. which is just as well as the level puzzles are wonderful and need careful examination/thought without distraction.

    The major attraction for me of the Penumbra games is the exquisite 3D interactive world you _have_ to interact with to progress. I can happily live without combat in a game.

    Having said that, some of the most fun liner-story-driven games I have played have kept me entertained by mixing different games styles (combat/stealth/puzzle) on different levels.
    Variety is the spice of life.

  6. One thing I disliked about the more main stream horror games like Resident Evil is that you're never really completely defenceless. I most cases there's you can shoot them or, even in the worst case scenario, get away from them fairly easily. Because of that, they're not really as frightening as hiding in a corner hoping they'll go away.

    When I first started playing Overture, I was playing it in the way you seemingly intended, including spending a good five minutes sneaking past the dog just to get to the TNT. After that point I soon figured out that I could quite easily handle the dogs by simply waiting for it to attack then hitting them. Though I still avoided them when I could, it was never quite as scary knowing that I could beat them off if I needed.

    I certainly think you went down the right road in BP giving the player no weapons, instead relying on them hiding or just legging it. It made you feel a whole lot more vunerable, knowing that you're most likely screwed if the Infected sees you.

    That being said, one thing I attempted to do in the hope if would be more effective was throwing something at them. Of course, it wasn't, just made it flinch really, and then continue chasing me. I think if that mechanic was implemented more heavily, it could give the player a fighting chance of getting away without actually being able to kill them entirely.

  7. Good article. To answer your question, yes. I do believe removing weapons made the game much scarier and I could see how it would make the game much easier to make, too. Thanks for the article, can't wait for part 2.

  8. David:
    In regards of throwing stuff at them and then try to get away: This was really how we intended for the player to do in combat. But the problem was that it was always more simple to just rush at the enemy when they where defenseless and bash them, instead of running away. A hackish fix for this was that when the dogs stand up, they are invunderable, leading to some amazing survivals of dogs near explosions :P Needless to say, the whole thing did not work out as we planned. One live to learn though :)

  9. I like to have weapons in horror games. Like in Overture. But the problem was they was very hard to use in defence when the dogs was running around me. I was forced to use them in offensive attacks. When I got close to the dog without noticing then I could easely kill him.
    In Black Plague I tought I was too much defenceless. Running away was the only option but I could run faster than Infected so I think that caused to be less scary in some situations.
    I think adding randomization in combat could add dramatic effects.
    Everytime when player attack a monster there should be 50:50 propability of succeeding. In positive outcome the player will hit the monster and geting some time to escape. In negative outcome player will be hurt and drop his weapon but still get some time to escape. But he must return later to collect weapon (or find alternative)

  10. I believe that the scariest thing about horror games is the ability to die to a single enemy. That is way more threatening than fighting with an enemy up close. The feeling that you can take care of these monsters takes away from the feeling that they're actually dangerous. The dogs felt like a joke after I figured out how to kill them without getting hurt. (Pickaxe them as they're running towards you, hit them as they get up, repeat)

    I think a 50/50 solution would be to have breakable weapons. This could create a really tense atmosphere because you know that if you're not careful, you may end up defenseless, especially in the midst of battle. It makes you choose whether to run or stand your ground. You'll obviously also have to make these weapons quite rare.

  11. Regarding breakable weapons:
    Is this not used in the Condemned 2? Has anyone played that game and can say how it works there.

    The only other game I played with breakable weapons was system shock, but then there was a whole strategic system to it.

  12. I remember being attacked in Black Plague and running blindly down the corridors, dodging the waving torches of the Infected trying to find a safe room... Powerful moments.

    I'd go for having no weapons that can be carried. Combat where you have to manipulate the environment to wipe out enemies you must kill (such as the crane and box in Black Plague) serves to mix it up and give some much needed revenge (although Black Plague managed to give that one an edge too).

  13. I was the only person who played Overture like it was intended to it seems. Initially I tried killing the dogs but I just wasn't good enough at swinging the weapon (damn, it was cumbersome). Eventually I started sneaking to avoid the dogs and did this for the rest of the game. It did get boring towards the end of the game, though. But before that I was always on edge and pretty scared because I knew I would be dead if a dog noticed me.

    In Black Plague I was afraid of the infected at first but when I found out you could easily outrun and lose them in the corridors all the horror went away for me, which was pretty early in the game.

    I think you guys made a mistake making the infected so easy to escape from. You should have made them really powerful or the player really weak. Like if they had submachine guns instead of sticks then you'd really have to run to escape them.

    What you're planning to do with Unknown seems like a good mix between the two Penumbra games. Keep the combat in but make it very hard and unpredictable so the player actually fears the monsters. Make the monsters have strange effects on you (it seems you guys are adding some kind of sanity effects, right?), the Archvile in Doom 2 comes to mind - it blinds you so you can't see anything while it can see you.

  14. I kind of suspected that you removed combat in Black Plague due to what happened with Overture. I've seen a lot of people who kept jumping up on boxes to kill dogs then complained it was too easy.

    Perhaps fortunately enough for me, it did not occur to me to use the pickaxe or hammer as a weapon at first. Years of flight sims and tactical shooters pretty much taught me that reflexes and reaction time don't get repeatable results and relying on them should be avoided.

    I don't know if anyone does this, but came up with a method of using propane tanks to kill dogs. I would take a propane tank and hide in a corner near a dog patrol route, lay the tank sideways in front of me, and throw a beef a good distance. When the dog would come for the beef jerky I'd hit the tank with the pickaxe or hammer and it would light up and roll away from the force of the blow. It would roll right up to where the dog was eating and BOOM! Dead dog. I pretty much worked this out about 1/3 through the game and used it to get rid of any dogs I couldn't sneak past.

  15. In my humble opinion, removing weapons in BP was wrong. Why? When you have a hammer or an axe, you can defense yourself, fighting against dogs or sweet spiders. But it is just a suicide to fight against The Big Worm, using the same weapons, m? So, the solution is, I think, to keep some weapons against weak and common enemies, but add enough scripted and/or invulnerable enemies to keep player on edge. BP was sooo boooring due to hours of running-running-running..

    Somewhere above I've read "you'll never stop to fight against zombie dog". Can somebody explain me, why not?! Of course, I've never fought against _zombie_ dog, but in my life there were two moments, when I had to fight against dog - and I did, coz I hadn't any chances to escape. And I hadn't axe or hammer, I had (and still have :D) two hands, two legs, one head and ~two seconds to use something from around to protect myself.
    If you prefer to escape - do it, but why _I_ can not prefer _to fight_?

    P.S. I'm waiting for part 2, and for Unknown too.
    P.P.S. sorry, if my English is bad :)

  16. I think a good option would be to take an approach outside of the horror genre. Look, for example, at the Thief series. In those games you have the option of fighting the guards with a sword or bow, but once I got it into my head that it was a stealth game, I don't think I ever attempted to fight the guards; it was much more efficient to use the blackjack or hide from /elude enemies.

    The reason was that the combat was pretty ineffective-- not unwieldy, somewhat risky, and difficult as in Silent Hill 2-- but damn near impossible. You could perhaps take one on and live-- heavily damaged-- but the noise would often attract others, and then you'd almost certainly be finished.

    So for horror games in general-- though it would be awesome to implement it in Unknown, even at the eleventh hour :)-- I believe that combat should be included, but it should be a little clunky. Not impossibly so, just so that it's more of an "I'm cornered" OR "I have an excellent opportunity" thing. I realize this was what you tried to get with Overture, but I think the issue with that was how the combat system was structured.

    It's a cliche example, but let's say the player has a sword. Let them use it, but with the feel of an unexperienced person using it, not a professional fencer. Have the damage be noticable and decent, but small enough to require several good hits to fell an enemy.

    The enemy should not do ridiculous damage: say, a one-hit kill had by everything you encounter, but signficant enough that with a few blows the monster could kill the player-- perhaps 3-5 good hits or otherwise comperable to what the player needs to kill them, perhaps seven hits.

    Thus if the player is lucky and skilled, he or she would be able to fend off or take a single enemy by surprise, but any prolonged combat would alert other enemies.

    Here's another point that, I think, warrants special attention and consideration. Only a few additional enemies should come barreling down the halls. Preferably only one most of the time, two or three on a much less common occasion.

    As for getting a prime opportunity to slay an enemy, since the character is not likely an assassin or a thief with a dagger/blackjack, use of the environment would be key. I can already envision a beautiful scene where a monster is lurking on the floor below, and through the rotted floorboard the player can see it. With good enough timing, the player can loosen a chandelier or drop a special item-- like acid-- on the creature, killing it.

    Also conducive to avoiding the hack-and-slash impulse would be go give items and approaches that help the player escape enemies. In the Thief series, for instance, flash bombs could temporarily blind enemies (or the player, if used incorrectly), giving him/her time to escape-- of black jack them.

    Other than this is a trial-by-fire approach: articulate to the players that combat is an available, but not preferable, approach. Then let them see the impracticality (e.g. die a few times), and then try a primarily stealthy approach.

    I realize that this was attempted in Overture, but, I think, these methods would be a little more effective (e.g. a "standard" approach to most combat and other options/items helpful for stealth).

    I don't think that combat should be excluded from horror games, because whenever a game limits the player ("you can't go here" or "you can't fight back"), it will be frustrating to many, though perhaps not all players. And even though Horror games do not have to be "fun", they should be immersive, and limiting the player decreases immersion.

  17. Paleontologist10 June 2009 at 22:55

    Have you already implemented a fight system for Unknown? For me, it's the experience that matters, not the exact mechanics of the fight, especially because the game features a vulnerable character that doesn't have any formidable combat skills. In Overture, combat was based on the exact mouse movement, but this level of control is unnecessary in battles. This kind of stuff is great for physics and physics-based puzzles, but in fights it seemed awkward. On the other hand, you probably want to have that real-world-rules feel in all aspects of the game. The solution, as I see it, is to put the priority to the experience of the player, and do a little 'cheat' - like this: the player initiates the action by swinging the weapon; after this initial moment, the game basically takes over for a moment, and plays the swing animation, possibly from a set of predefined variants, one of which is chosen based on the initial mouse movement. This is essentially a variation of what other games use - a left click initiates an attack. Here, instead to click, you would have to start the swing, and the game would finish it for you (and possibly introduce some random factor for the direction, success of the attack, etc.). This makes the game readily playable; the player doesn’t have to learn how to move the mouse in order to hit the enemy correctly. In real life, most of us are already capable to (relatively accurately) hit a target, right? This also enables the game to alter the efficiency of the attack (for instance, if the player’s character is super-scared, his vision blurred, totally out of control...). If the physical player can keep it together, the original system would allow him to, even with all the difficulties, perform a perfect attack. In the alternate case, the player would at least panic!

  18. Paleontologist10 June 2009 at 22:57

    Another aspect of combat that can really contribute to the overall horror atmosphere is related to the simulated reactions of both the player’s character and of the enemy. Repetitive (enemy) death animations definitively kill the atmosphere; on the other hand it is impossible to completely eliminate this... Also, I'm sick of I'll–eat–you–or–die–enemies. I would like to see them hesitating if they realize the player is not totally defenseless, and then trying to trick him, circling, making angry noises, hiding and reemerging from behind. These enemies would be hard to kill, not because they have tons of health, but because they value their lives and evade you. As for when you actually manage to hurt them or kill them: if you have a person in the team with a mind enough 'sick in a good way', he/she could probably figure out a whole spectrum of weirdest and scariest death screams and sounds that would make the player run away. And, in a horror game, the player should be made clear that killing the enemy is not a nice and clean business. Imagine playing a game, and after an attack you manage to disable your enemy, and it tries to crawl away, emitting horrible sounds, and you keep hitting it with a pipe or something, but it just screams and wont die. Scary as hell! Especially if sometimes these things surprise the player and use their last ounce of strength to bite his leg or something. And it makes the player want to avoid the fighting, and to just get to hell out.
    When the player's character is the one who suffers a bad injury, the game should do it's best to make the physical player realize it REALLY hurts. Screams, weird sounds, visual effects, other effects... And then... A scripted sequence: the player on his back, crawling away, throwing rocks at the approaching monster; OR the player crawling to a weapon, and then, after not reaching it in time, being dragged away, nails digging the ground, struggling, maybe succeeding to free himself for a moment, but only for a moment... It's a movie like experience! Don't be afraid to (completely or partially) seize control from the player in favor of the atmosphere and the experience - because these things are what matters in horror games. And mess with the player in general. E.g., make the view turn around, as if the player’s character heard something behind. This would make the player anticipating, even though nothing will probably happen. The key to all of this, in my opinion, is not to overdo it. If you played The Suffering, those CONSTANT flashes of weird images are scary only during the first 10 – 20 minutes of the game. After that, you’ve seen them enough times to ignore them! Bad design! And the fact that they can appear even during a cutscene is just unforgivable! An example of neglecting the importance of the playing experience... (The game was not a bad one, though.) I guess there are other types of players out there who like other aspects of a game, but for me the atmosphere and the story are the most important ones. Hell, I mostly play the game just to see what happens next – almost like watching an interactive movie. And that’s what games should be. Games should sometimes take the freedom away from the player, in order to achieve a film like feel.
    P.S. Although this is my first comment/suggestion related to your work, I became interested in it since you guys released the Penumbra Tech Demo. Great things you've done, keep up the good work :)

  19. Unknown's combat system has been implemented and then scrapped :) We are now considering only using the environment and/or no direct combat actions.

    Interesting comments everyone! Interesting to hear what you all think about combat mechanics in horror games.

  20. The combat sequences in Overture (referring to the dogs attacking (spiders + small spaces = claustrophobicly horrifying )) were ruined since it was possible to use methods which left the creatures defenseless. The dogs would've been really hard to kill were not for those - perhaps a drastic choice of word - bugs (they really ruined the athmosphere in the mazes and resulted in the player not needing to be constantly alert and on the edge, which was the case in Black Plague).

    One might wonder why I killed the dogs with an imbalanced method when I knew it'd be scarier if I let them live. Going a bit off topic I'd say because you had to run around in the mazes so much, back and forth between the rooms (the maze concept was very repetative overall, I liked the type of design used in Requiem better) and avoiding dogs became such a time waster.

    Running from the infected in Black Plague was really scary at first, but when I realized that they were easy to escape from, one scare factor disappeared, once again leaving the mazes to be nothing more room connectors.

    Anyway I think that combat should be possible, either by using an object from the inventory, which has some kind of main purpose but also happens to be a decent melee weapon (e.g. the hammer), or using interactive objects. But the circumstances (the player and opponents' health, speed, vision, hearing and damage dealt should be well balanced so that the player makes the following prioritization:
    1. Stealth mode on.
    If detected,
    2a. Run for your life and hide! (Maybe block a door with a chair, tip something over the floor to obstruct the followers' cathing up with you. This is used occasionally in Penumbra, but in my opinion the environment in general should enable this, e.g. let all shelves be "tipable" if using great force, and so on.)
    2b. Damn, a dead end, I'll have to defend myself in order to survive (i.e. using combat as a last option)!

    Penumbra rules and it's probably my favourite adventure game, close second, with Sanitarium on top ;)

  21. To be honest, for me, the combat mechanic in Penumbra Overture was excellent! Just as you intended, the tough combat system was left as a last line of defence, only used in the worst case scenarios.
    At the moment, I'm still in the middle of Penumbra Overture and I'm finding it the best horror game yet! At first I couldn't even play the damn thing due to fear and tension... But soon, I got heavily addicted to the incredible story and found myself moving on with a grimace that eventually turned into a frown.
    However, the fact that Black Plague doesen't have a combat system doesen't bother me ether... Even though I havn't reached yet, I know more or less what's waiting for me... And I'm dreading it in a good way :)
    All in all, you Frictional guys are putting together really astonishing games... I'd still like to know who the hell wrote such an icnredible story line since it's probably one of the most original ones ever in survival horror history... That, plus the incredible horror game itself (being what a survival horror game SHOULD be like!) makes it one of the best games I've ever played so far!

    All I can say is: Keep up the good work :) You got a 100% loyal fan here who's eager for more of your work ^^

  22. I belive that killing an enemy simply can't be scary. A kill essentially proves that the enemy isn't a threat, and if they're not a threat, what's there to be afraid of? Ugly enemies can scare you only to a certain extent. Combat itself can be scary, but winning the fight usually isn't.

    In most games dying isn't scary either. It's the possibility of dying that's scary, not death itself. When you die, you just drop into the safety net of the previous saved game. It's even less scary if you've got quick saves and loads. I really didn't like the worm-parts in Overture since I had to reload several times to get past them. It just breaks the immersion. One-hit-kills mostly just annoy me.

    Another thing that isn't scary: knowledge. Knowing that an area is clear of enemies isn't scary. If you know how enemies will behave, you can easily use it against them. Both the dogs and the infected acted in a very predictable manner. They patrol the same route over and over, and they all behave largely the same in a fight. There's no suspense in a fight if you know how it's going to end, and an encounter isn't scary if you know you can get away unhurt.

    So, what does this leave? First, I don't think you should be able to kill enemies (except spiders and other enemies of that size and appearing in as large numbers). Second, enemies shouldn't be too strong, and you should have a chance of escaping them. Third, enemies should be unpredictable and combat uncertain. Most encounters with an enemy should leave you hurt.

    I'd just give the player punches and kicks, so that you could stun or kick an enemy down (they shouldn't always be successful, though). However, getting close would give the enemy an opportunity to attack you as well. (Most) enemies should be faster or as fast as you so that you can't always just run away. You'd have to attack them if you wanted to get away, putting yourself at risk. Also, the kick should kill anything spider-sized :).

  23. I'm with shados on this breakable weapons is a good option, it would give the player something to defend with, but also give the knowledge that it could break any time and so make them very careful in using the weapons.

  24. Oh, well, I'm late. Anyway, there's lots of commments here. And full of very interesting ideas.

    My particular wall of text (which I'm forced to divide because of the comment's character limit):

    - Combat isn't as important as having a way to defend yourself. Most observations about how a lack of combat was detrimental for their game experience gave the example of the not-so-scary zombies in Black Plague, mostly because they were just too slow to be a real menace. I think solving the latest, making enemies smarter, faster, stronger and/or more unpredictable (as it's been commented already) would please most. Personally, I'd go with improving their AI, but boosting their stats would also work if the former proves to be too hard or too complex to fit in your schedule.

    - The use of environment to deal with enemies just works fine and I'm glad it's back. That said, steam cages, while nice and useful, are too obvious devices to be easily replicable (conceptually) in other game environments. How many devices with such a clear objective -kill creatures- can be implemented into the lore of a game, or a particular building, without breaking the suspension of disbelief? Not that much, I'm afraid. But I'm sure you could come up with other ways to achieve the same. Maybe being able to crumble walls with a hammer (already used in Penumbra), the mentioned falling candelier, or fooling an enemy so it falls through a window/staircase when it tries to pounce on you. Or being impaled on pointy things. I'm pretty sure there're countless other ways to achieve that, and probably more original and plausible than the ones I've mentioned.

    - Talking about environment, but not static objects, I kind of love/hate the way the throw mechanics worked in Penumbra. While it was certainly an original way of doing things I think that's also partially the reason why most people preferred to just go for total stealth (relatively easy) or just berserker (harder to master, but relatively easy once you do). Throwing objects seemed to be like the last resort in both play styles. Personally, I just used it twice and without much success. In my opinion, simplifying this mechanic would definitely increase its appeal. Probably removing the physics engine from the process of the throw preparation for something like this: Pressing the use key grabs the object. Holding the "fire" button powers up the throw, releasing it throws the object within a distance relative to the amount of power gained. No need to show a power bar (it'd break the atmosphere), but the player's avatar could make a sound (maybe grumble a bit as it's stretching his/her arm back to its limit) so the player knows when the object would be thrown at max power. Just that. No waving objects in front of you. Standard and unoriginal. But effective. Remember that the object thrown has a high change of being lost for the player in most situations, and the amount of heavy objects is (or has been in Penumbra) quite scarce overall. So, there's no need to complicate things further. Having to "charge" the throws to deal some damage (or be able to stun) can be nerve-breaking enough in most cases.

  25. (cont.)

    Overall, I don't mind combat being removed as long as the enemy creatures and the use of environment are improved. I also agree that boosting the sense of vulnerability is key for a survival horror so this may help. Including combat in this context is complicated and leads to complex systems (making the use of weapons arbitrarily complex, introducing new mechanichs like the decay/repair system, etc) or makes the player go berserker, which breaks the mood. I have the impression that you're trying to find a middle ground between Overture and Black Plague, and I like that.

    Finally, just a particular case I'd love to see in a horror game, hopefully yours: a sneaky, coward creature that, while weak, it's deadly when it flanks you. When directly confronted (even if you're unarmed) it'll run away and hide, ideally to areas unexplored by the player, so he/she will be hesitant to follow it. Unless the player manages to kill it (and it should be possible) or trap it somewhere, it'll silently follow the player and attack him again from behind when he's unaware. Over and over again unless the creature is dealt with. Maybe the creature could be able to blend in the shadows the same way you do, increasing its dangerousness, and making the only place the player feels safe (the shadowy areas) a bit less comfortable. The point here is to create an intense relationship of nemesis with a particular creature. When that happens the implication of the player with the game increases exponentially, in my experience. If the creature also behaves in the meanest and most cowardly way possible, well, bingo (and, hey, you behave the same way as a player, hiding in the shadows and hitting things from behind). Anyway, no feelings will be hurt if this idea is ignored :)

  26. Nice article! well, I'm a little bit late, but, oh well, nevermind;

    When playing horror games, I like to have at least 1 weapon to defend myself with; games such as Silent Hill: Origins were genuinally terryifing (even if there were MANY weapons), because every weapon was breakable, and it made me felt like I was always on the verge of being killed; on the other hand, the complete absence of weapons of any kind confuses me. If I were in a situation similar to the protagonist of "penumbra: black plague" I would take a weapon, even if weak (like the broom in Overture) to defend and survive in that hell; another great method to scare players are scripted events (Call Of Duty is a perfect example of such a game), even if the surprise effect would be eventually lost if played a second time. Thinking of Overture, an error that has been made is, i think, the stun effect when the dogs were hit. With that, there was practically no point of using stealth, if few hits can take the menace down. A positive thing was that the dogs could call reinforcements (unforgettable the scene were I was resisting inside a container with 3 dogs out ready to have a lunch), improving difficulty. At the end, I think that few weak weapons are useful in such games, amplyfing the sense of terror;

    Sorry for my poor english!

  27. Excellent Article.

    I am a huge fan of the Penumbra series and I can tell you, from my personal experience playing the games, that combat should be left at a minimum.

    In Overture, I developed a battle tactic that successfully eliminated every dog in the game easily. I would throw an object at said dog and continue to beat it with my pick axe while it was incapacitated on the floor. Because of this, I found myself carrying a barrel or a propane tank throughout every hallway in case I heard some growling around the corner. I loved the game, but the dogs became more of an annoyance and frustration rather than a tasteful horror element. I'd rather not carry an oil drum around every new room I explored.

    In Black Plague, I enjoyed the dynamic of the combat system. I felt helpless and terrified - exactly what I wanted. The switch from cave dwelling dogs to mutant pale zombies also made a huge difference in the scare factor. Stay away from dogs in Unknown ;)

    I have some ideas for the combat.

    Keep all combat with the physics system:
    Throwing chairs, cups, statues, bricks, etc.
    Have the damage realistic to the object! Have small items briefly stun an enemy and have larger and heavier items inflict deadlier blows.

    Another possible option could be to implement weapons that deal insignificant damage but provide useful stuns that delay the enemy long enough for swift escapes.

    This keeps the game realistic while keeping the player on their toes.

    It is paramount to keep the combat system a last resort and a dangerous and risky alternative.

    The reason why Black Plague was so scary was because of the sense of helplessness and panic that the difficult enemies provided.

    Creating a combat system too easy to master or too powerful could easily remove any sense of panic or urgency when an enemy is nearby.

    I am very excited for Unknown and I hope this helps.

  28. I'm very glad to read your posts regarding combat in horror games. Combat in games such as Silent Hill (1-4) is usually only rudimentary and is never intended to entertain the player, but only to frighten him/her out of frustration. SH Homecoming is an entirely different story, as we get a combat veteran (much like Resident Evil) who still has to conserve limited ammunition and fight off some of the most ferocious monsters ever seen (Scarlet <3).

    Dead Space is another great example of an inexperienced-character-turned-hero, and while he shows his inexperience (terror?) with the sheer desperation of his melee hits, he still can wield converted firearms extraordinarily well.

    The scariest game I've ever come across (which I also think you should have definitely mentioned) is the Fatal Frame series, which take place in an old, haunted, decrepit Japanese manor/village (depending on which intallment you play). The only weapon you get is a Camera Obscura that consumes the souls of the ghosts you see/fight. The combat is only 30% of the sheer terror I experienced while playing this game; the rest is the sheer atmosphere: Very little lighting, the creaking floorboards and chattering of unseen spirits scared the s--- out of me.

    I have never seen or played Penumbra, but I think I will, simply because of how invested you are in creating a terrifying experience.

  29. I agree that the player should be able to use weapons to defend himself and aid his escape, but you need to be careful to prevent the enemies from becoming easily killable. One way that I think would be effective is for the enemies to become more powerful each time they get stunned, and don't allow them to be chain stunned (either by requiring more hits to stun the enemy each time, or only allowing the enemy to be stunned once, and once more each time it has damaged the player).

    If a killer zombie dog's bearing down on you, give it a whack and keep running. If the player decides to stick around and try to act like a superhero, have the dog leap onto his face and reduce him to extremely low health. If the player still doesn't get the hint and keeps fighting, go ahead and have the dog finish him off.

    Reward defensive, punish offense.

  30. in relation to one hit weapons that are laying around manhunt on the ps (maybe ps2) is a good example. anything you find laying around like slivers of glass, plastic bags that you can suffocate with, boards with a nail in them. the good thing was these were 1 hit weapons, once they were used they were gone.
    i know that if is was in this situation i would be constantly trying to get my hands on the best weapon possible, discarding chair legs for baseball bats etc.
    one of the biggest things that gets me into these games is when a character does what i would do in real life, i even give a little cheer. and then when they get mauled to death for being cocky i like that too, makes me feel like the enemies could take me in real life which adds real fear.


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