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Wavinator

Uses for a Sanity meter

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I vaguely remember posting on this ages ago, but at the time didn''t have the idea very well developed. The basic idea is that you have a Sanity meter that functions as a second set of hit points. The difference would be in the creativity and variety of what could affect the meter. The main objection I see to this is a kind of squeemishness I feel (and others may feel) about portraying "matters of the mind" in-game. Social and mental issues in games usually don''t work well with a ham-handed approach like a meter, but the uses for it I see may be acceptable. Here''s how I see Sanity being affected:
  • Some psionic attacks deplete it; some powers restore it
  • Rest restores it slowly, less so that loss to physical health
  • Horrific encounters with Cthulu-like monsters reduce it
  • Brain-related viruses and diseases encountered on foreign worlds reduce it, sometimes quickly, sometimes after a long delay (like poisoning)
  • Telepathy with some alien beings, or ultra-powerful alien "mindlink" technology could reduce it and induce other status effects, such as periodic paranoia or confusion
  • Mass casualty events reduce it for players and NPCs without a "hardened" trait, combat experience or an apathetic personality
  • Out of alignment actions, such as suddenly murdering a close ally, reduce it for "good guy" alignments
  • In-alignment actions recharge it, such as taking a mission to help a loyal ally or faction
  • Long periods without social contact reduces it in some personalities, creating a kind of "social need" as in the Sims--counteracted by character traits like "Loner"; VR sims and pleasurable facilities; and inventory restoratives, like seratonin reuptake inhibitors (anti-depressants)
  • Any non-standard, non-traditional social gameplay, such as romance (if feasible), could recharge it and raise the max
  • Losing the object of romance to kidnap by your enemies could temporarily cap sanity until the person is recovered (with the cap being lower the longer the romance?)
  • Losing the object of romance to death by enemies could permanently cap sanity until the objects that caused the cap are brought to justice or killed
  • Torture could have the possibility of reducing it
  • If the player has a home, being there restores Sanity at a fast rate (inspiring the player to protect their home?)
  • Just being around allies, devoted followers and family slowly restores it
As a player, you''d only know your own sanity. Psych tests could reveal the sanity of others. Councillors and empaths could heal it, as could visiting some locations, such as a paradise retreat or shrine. System For Sanity I have a Will stat that resists mind related effects just as damage reduction reduces HP damage in some systems. Sanity could be the HP being reduced after Will negates some of the damage. Sanity could also be the chance of ignoring certain mental status effects which do not reduce damage, such as the chance to panic (random fire or dropping equipped items) or flee. The percentage chance of being affected would be Current Sanity / Max Sanity. Special Sanity feature: Uttering a vow When players have had their maximum Sanity reduced due to a special in-game event, such as the murder of a close ally, devoted follower or loved one, they can at that moment choose to "utter a vow." The vow sets up victory conditions and a time limit but also makes the player immune to sanity point loss ("singlemindedness") for the duration of the vow or until the objective is accomplished. According to alignment, the player can either choose to capture and imprison their foe or kill them. (If you''ve ever seen the movie, The Pledge with Jack Nicolson, you might understand what I''m going for.) Going Insane Death is boring. So what about delusions?
  • For paranoia, some enemies could be substituted over the models of allies, and vice versa.
  • Doors and devices might activate by themselves, either a sign of a stealthed intruder or a figment of a delusional mind.
  • NPC Reaction adjustments would be out of wack and randomized because the player thinks they''re making sense, but may really be spouting nonsense.
  • Hallucinations: The game could load maps and models that have nothing to do with the player''s real environment, causing the maps and models to swap functionality: For instance, the player wakes up to find trees scattered throughout his ship, but these are really doors
  • Non-existant NPCs could appear to do things, such as activate devices, open doors
  • Objects could swap functionality: A communications panel actually fires weapons, for instance
  • Objects and elements in the environment, in a kind of grand scavenger hunt, would always contain the key to returning to sanity
This may be too silly, or too much work for so little gain, but I just thought I''d run it by you guys. -------------------- Just waiting for the mothership...

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When I was younger I did some work on my own gothic themed pen and paper rpg, in it was a sanity stat. This stat had a chance of being reduced during certain situations similar to the ones you listed. It was also a kind of slippery slope situation since the lower your sanity the more likly it would decrease when faced with a situation you couldn''t cope with. Sanity could increase but it was more difficult and was harder the lower the characters sanity.

In game the effects of sanity where two fold on one side they helped resist certain kinds of mental attacks. The second effect was whenever the character lossed a point of sanity they acquired a dementia. There was a table of dementias and the player acquired one at random, there was also a scale to the table so that the more dementia you had the more sever new dementias would be.

for instance have no dementias ment that you rolled a d10 and looked on the scale 1-10, with a role of 10 causing a reroll with +10 added to total. Now these where faily minor dementias such as an obbssive compulsion. Now if you had 1 dementia you would roll a d10+10, do the scale would be 11-20, with 1 being a reroll on d10 and a 20 being a reroll on d20+20. Now second level would begin to be problematic for the player, such as an intense an phobia.

There where also a few benefical dementia thrown into the mix there was one first level dementia that caused the player to have a thirst for blood but also provided a tempory boost to strength after drinking blood.

Now this system was designed for pen and paper but I think a variation on it could work for what your trying to acchomplish. One of the diffrences of course being that the player is not told when or what dementias they acquire, you could also hide the sanity stat from them for this purpose. It could work especially well if there was an internal dialog system in the game where the player is told their characters thoughts. It would take some work to do well but it could very interesting little quirk to a game.

For instance what if after returning form a traumatic mission the character rests for while and then before heading out again recruits some new npcs one they think is particularly useful called Henderson. Now during the mission the character and henderson become friends and henderson excels at every task the players sets for them. Meanwhile the crew is growing somewhat uneasy and the character notices stranges looks and whispers. Here you could have the path split in two down one way the the increased pressure cause the charcter to worry and they ask henderson to investigate only to have henderson inform them of a plot to mutiny and the charater must act quickly and execute the ringleaders. On the other path the character seeks help and discoverd that Henderson isn''t real he''s dilusion caused by stress and trauma.

But likly I said its a lot of work but could be an interesting quirk, and interesting gameplay and something new to discover each time they play keeps gamers gaming.


-----------------------------------------------------
Writer, Programer, Cook, I''m a Jack of all Trades
Current Design project
Chaos Factor Design Document

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It''s an interesting idea, and could be a very useful feature in the game, but the meter does indeed seem a little ham-fisted.

Everything you want this system to do would be a positive contribution to a game, and so your ends are good. It''s the means that bother me a little bit. Psychological instability is a complicated thing, and a wide variety of conditions fall under the umbrella term "insanity".

For instance, there should be a variety of neuroses in the game, but a simple "sanity meter" would have to either apply them randomly or stack them hierarchically, since it''s a one-dimensional value. One option might be to have such events impact stats like will and intelligence, and then have symptoms arise epiphenomenally from that imbalance, but it would require both an absurdly nuanced model of a "healthy" mind and some kind of modelling system for neuroses. A little too complex, I suspect.

Perhaps the simplest compromise between too much complexity and ham-fistedness would be to use an algorithm similar in structure to your existing systems for loyalty and other psychological conditions. You could have a handful of psychological conditions, say "Dementia", "Paranoia", "Phobia", and "Amnesia"(maybe not, these are just for sake of argument). Different situations would impact one or more of these variables, and when they reached certain levels, symptoms would manifest themselves to varying degrees.

I think that a model similar to your other psychological systems will be more intuitive both for you as a designer and for the player, in the end.

As to actual conditions, I think that showing players something weird, that may or may not really be there, is a great idea. Swapping images for demented paranoia, juggling sounds around, or otherwise getting wacky would be terrific. However, for things like manias or phobias, player characters would be harder to affect than NPCs. Tough work.

I like the "vow" system. Avoiding in-game attribute penalties by effectively trading them for more mission objectives is a terrific idea, and this is an elegant application of the principle. The ability to cope with stress by promising yourself some kind of specific experience is a stroke of genius. You could have your record for keeping vows to yourself have an impact on how effective the exercise is. If you promise yourself revenge and just use the promise to cushion the psychological blow until you''ve gotten over it, then next time you won''t be as comforted by what you know is probably an empty promise. This way, in certain instances, it''s as though the event itself is less stressful than the feeling of impotence that comes of not being able to do anything about it. Isn''t that the way it is for all of us?

One final note: If you''re going to model these negative conditions, might it be worthwhile to build in positive psychological conditions as well? Throw in things like love, friendship, and other things. Give a character bloodlust so that he enjoys battle to the point at which his stats actually improve when the ship is being boarded, or train an astrogator to love math.

Really, this and the loyalty system and a number of other things might be unified into a single overarching psychological profile for each character. Instead of building a loyalty system, an insanity system, and a work ethic system, you could pick a dozen or so psychological traits and implement continua on which to evaluate them.

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The simplified sanity meter in Eternal Darkness on Gamecube made for interesting gameplay. I''m sure you''ve heard it mentioned before, so I won''t need to tell you about what it did .

Ive never seen it in any real RPG, so this is quite interesting to me

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There was a single player mod for HL released a few weeks ago called Cthulu (its based on an h.p lovecraft novel i think), which had a sanity meter (replacing your HL armour level). Using spells drained it. When it reached 0, it went to a cut scene of you losing your mind and you lose the game. The only way to restore it at any all was by defeating cultist plots, which only happened once or twice in the entire game, so you were always very sparing with your sanity .

once the novelty wore off, I found I was treating it just like any other game variable, sort of like an ammo count for magic, and nothing more.

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As the sanity metre wears down the negative effects should slowly become apparent. For instance, it would not be good to simply suddenly go insane and be bombarded with ridiculous scenes, but rather things should gradually change in a way that the player does not notice the changes. Also, it would be good to do things in a way that the effects are not blindingly obvious. I think the idea is to produce fear, uncertainty and disturbance in the player, rather than make the player laugh at the stupidity of it. For instance, it might be a nice idea if at random moments that character hears footsteps, only to discover that he/she is entirely alone. Or the group of people following the player seems to alter as time goes by. I might be a bit worried if I turned away from a mate for a brief moment only to turn back and find no one was there. Also, the original poster mentioned objects being replaced with oddities such as trees. How does this sound - instead of replacing the objects merely change the appearance of them to reflect the traumatizing events that have taken their toll on the character. If the player suffered some disturbance in an abandoned cave then perhaps the interior of his spaceship might begin to reflect the appearance of that cave - ie bloodied stone walls etc. Now that I mentioned blood, that might actually be an effective tool. When the player is going insane add blood to the walls and characters just for disturbing confusion (it should be noted that I am not a violent person, but I am very interested in the idea of a sanity metre).
In short, the effects generated by insanity should reflect the events that caused the insanity. Instead of just randomly creating oddities change the situation to replicate the prior disturbances the lie within the character.
Also, perhaps it might be a good idea NOT to display the characters sanity. The reason being that the player then does not know how insane he/she is and there is always a level of uncertainty. Thinking about it, I actually really like this chain of thought. It will cause the player to question reality, not knowing whether to believe the situation or not.

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Guest Anonymous Poster


Sounds cool. I don''t have anything to add to your system, but I''m wondering how you will handle sanity effects for NPC crew? Should everyone get a visually disorienting effect as the result of one crew member losing it?

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Guest Anonymous Poster
how about subverting RPG expectations, and as the PC becomes more unwell they start to hear their weapons say that they need blood to become more powerful (ie. weapon XP), or getting subquests from things like talking dogs. Things which you would normally expect to do in a normal fantasy RPG.
Creepy.

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I like the idea, but I''d rather see the meter work as a chance effect, rather than some guareenteed 75% SANITY = VOICES. Like, if the meter is at 50%, then that just means theres a 1 in 2 chance of something weird happening in a given area. Of course, you could be strong about and say, the psychodelic colors won''t happen until the meter is below 33%.

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I absolutely love the idea of the character's lose of sanity being transparently transmited to the player.

But it truly needs to be done in subtle, ellegant ways, otherwise it'll look forced, and the atmosphere will be destroyed. Such thing is perfect for horror games: the game slowly and subetly distrubs the player, creating the proper atmosphere.

As example, the map could suffer subtle to drastic changes depending on the sanity level. That could also be used to portray the characters' attention level and allucinations.

As example, the player enters a corridor with 5 doors (including the one he came from). When he enters one of the doors to, takes a look at the room and come back, there are only 4 doors. Then he enters another door, investigates the room, and come back. Now there are five doors. WTF?
Player then enters the first room he investigated. Wait, wasn't the wallpaper supposed to be blue? Then BLAM! The sound of a door being slammed comes form the outside.

That'd be very cool to play during a cold night, with all lights off...

[edited by - M3d10n on March 21, 2004 9:59:39 PM]

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