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Wavinator

Not survival horror-- just survival!

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"You're a washout! A LOSER! A LOWLIFE! A BUM! Sorry, pal, but you just don't have what it takes to make it in this world!" It seems to me that, subconsciously, survival horror games are powered by the visceral fear of abject and total loss. It's not just that you're going to be killed, it's that you're going to have your guts devoured by hideous beasts who you will in turn become. It's not just loss of body, it's total loss of self. But I wonder if a less combat-heavy game could tap into that sense? What would it take to trigger fear of abject failure; or raw hunger for success? Could you rival the survival horror game not in adrenaline, but in urgency? (I think yes, skip to the end to see why.)
What A Country! As a working example, consider the plight of the immigrant in a lush, bizarre new world that is almost magical. She / he will have to learn how the world works, and her / his ability to survive and thrive is going to be directly proportional to how she / he learns to cope with the challenges encountered. So what kind of design techniques would it take to hook a player into surviving, and then thriving in this environment? What game design tools do we have to make a player fear abject failure while at the same time craving success? Here are a few possibilities:
Fear Of Falling I'm not sure, but I sense that the first, most important aspect is to somehow try to trigger the player's subconscious "fear of falling" or "fear that all things are sliding into ruin." This is a deep trigger. People naturally worry about the future, about what the world is coming to, and whether or not everything's going to hell in a handbasket or oblivion-- morally, financially, culturally, or spiritually. But how to do this? One guess I have is that a central gameplay mechanic must revolve solely around the idea of the declining resource. Nothing you have is stable, nothing really lasts. Everything on a timer. Friendships fade, opportunities have expiration dates, prospects are always declining. And, of course, resources are always going down. Just as soon as you get to the point where things are stable, a whole new range of (unstable) possibilities come within your grasp. Fear of Stalling I think that another big fear, but one that a game has to be careful in making a player experience, is the fear of stasis. "Where is this relationship going?" "Am I ever going to get out of this hellhole?" "Am I ever going to get a break?" This has to be handled like a leaking drum of nitroglycerin, though. The player is playing for entertainment, and stasis is by definition boring. So I think stalling has to be remapped to falling. If you're not going anywhere, time will eventually run out, and you will lose. So the whole play experience, no matter how open or engaging, has to be bracketed by an ultimate time limit. At least until the next game. I Am Your Worst Nightmare I think we work hardest against what I consider "the devouring unknown." The fear you can't name, which in turn fuels your imagination. But how to translate the idea of "something bad will happen to you if you fail, but you can't know what it is" into gameplay? Well, first, what is nameless fear in real-life, non-combat terms? Fear of becoming something you despise? Fear of failing in the eyes of someone you respect? Fear of either learning a horrible truth, or having a horrible truth about yourself revealed? To even begin to engage the player, you'd have to have this by serious immersion tools, such as writing, world design and character expression. Let's assume that's a minimum. So you have these fears, but at a certain level, the player is going to simple quantize them. "Well, nobody will respect me and I'll be exiled." or "If I don't make it, the I'll get the 'died in obscurity' ending." While this ties into immersion (you won't be if you refuse, no matter how good the game is), I think the failure options must lead to disasterous consequences that you can't really know about beforehand. Something bad will happen. You might skate, or maybe everything WILL go to hell. What this implies in gameplay is subjecting the player to ranges of random loss that are unrecoverable. Yet I think this will never work unless all victory conditions are designed to oppose escaping this nameless fear. In gameplay, this means that failure leads to swings of destructive chaos, and success normalizes that chaos. What Did You Become? Think about politicians who spend their lives hiding some dark secret. Or true believers who get corrupted by those who oppose their cause. By the end of the story, you're exactly what you never wanted to be. So the victory condition must be the antithesis of fear: Varieties of success, measured for their emotional value-- which means that you're not playing for phat loot, you're playing for a proper ending, of which their must be MANY. While the "many branching endings" idea certainly isn't new, I don't think many games focus solely on acheiving a certain kind of ending. Usually the focus is on defeating a specific threat or mission, which by extension is said to cause some effect in the world ("teh evul is destroyed" or whatever). This would be a bit more low-key, thus leaving room for a wider swing of surprise endings (after all, you can only save the world so many times [grin]).
TOO MUCH WRITING: TELL ME IN A NUTSHELL! [lol] Survival as a lone marine on a zombie infested space station? Interesting. Survival as a castaway, running out of air? Interesting. But everyday survival? Your first response might be "nah!" And you'd be right, unless there were some driving mechanism that fueled your sense of urgency and played to both hope for success and fear of failure. The driving mechanism behind both the Doom and shipwrecked example is the sense of impending disaster. It only exists because all gameplay mechanics-- health, threats, etc.-- are on a timer. But this, in and of itself, wouldn't exist without victory being defined in opposition to constant decline. Monster spawn rate, health and ammo recovery rate, even level length all go toward this. And underlying all of this is a subconscious, abject, but nameless fear, which we find exhilarating to master. It's why we go to scary movies, or on rollercoasters. Nobody gets much worked up by a level full of fuzzy, cuddley puppies, after all. So I think you can make everyday survival just as engaging and urgent using similar dynamics. Survival must be uncertain, the paths and strategies unknown, and the dangers tinged with the kind of powerful fear that has haunted human beings sense forever.
Thoughts?

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Isn't this the psychological drive behind Tetris? You have to manage resources and formulate plans and make decisions in order to maintain a comfort level that is constantly threatened by both immediate crises (misplaced pieces) and long-term threats (where's the damn straight piece!?).

I absolutely agree that this can lead to spectacularly interesting, varied and addictive gameplay. I trust you to carefully evaluate gameplay mechanics and avoid pitfalls like overly technical gameplay and unforeseeably random crises. Macchiavelli's notion of fortuna and virtu would be a good philosophy to put at the core of this idea.

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Original post by Wavinator
So what kind of design techniques would it take to hook a player into surviving, and then thriving in this environment? What game design tools do we have to make a player fear abject failure while at the same time craving success?


If I understand you right you are asking two questions. You have the mood (horror) and you are (a) looking for themes (like fear of falling), which you have already found some. Fourther you are (b) looking for ways to make this things exiting for the player. I'm I right?

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The comparison to Tetris is awsome. You must keep a timer constantly ticking towards the player's end, so he has a sense of purpose in the game: the goal is to delay that timer as much as he can. It doesn't mean that all threats must be fatal, which would be an obvious way to keep the player on his toes, but would also be very annoying; it means that each threat works against you in a visible way, even if you have to make 10 mistakes in a row to lose. A game like yours will be naturally littered with these threats, so unless I missed something you already have what you need; but maybe it would help to somehow keep reminding the player of how fragile the balance is?

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What sort of survival? Financial? Emotional? Mental state? Health? Respect of co-workers?

Or the ultimate survival test - High-school - survive the bullies, the creeps the weirdos the b*tches the teachers the sports coaches, the exams, your first crushes.

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I thought about this a while ago (not in so much detail though :D ) and couldn't come up with a decent workable game concept.

However, do consider The Sims, which I only played once.
My single character became depressive. I desperately tried to cheer him up.
He started doing bad on the job, meeting less and less people.
Eventually he got sick and died.
Luckily there's no suicide in The Sims. Felt bad for the poor lil fella.




I should have painted his room XD

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Original post by Madster
I thought about this a while ago (not in so much detail though :D ) and couldn't come up with a decent workable game concept.

However, do consider The Sims, which I only played once.
My single character became depressive. I desperately tried to cheer him up.
He started doing bad on the job, meeting less and less people.
Eventually he got sick and died.
Luckily there's no suicide in The Sims. Felt bad for the poor lil fella.

it's called fencing him/her in with counters and leaving only a coffee pot in reach. And yes, I always felt immensly rushed by that game when it was on anything but the lowest speed setting.

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Original post by Iron Chef Carnage
Macchiavelli's notion of fortuna and virtu would be a good philosophy to put at the core of this idea.


I will research this further, but do you have a moment to provide a synopsis? (If not, no prob)

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Original post by nefthy
If I understand you right you are asking two questions. You have the mood (horror) and you are (a) looking for themes (like fear of falling), which you have already found some. Fourther you are (b) looking for ways to make this things exiting for the player. I'm I right?


We can both probably come up with a ton of things that make you fear physical challenges. Jumping over open shafts and crevasses (maybe with monsters hot on your tail) is one example.

But now I'm asking about things beyond the physical.
Taking the immigrant example: There's no combat, but using the techniques in the OP, is it possible to make you fear ending up completely washing out, a derelict on skid row? It's not real life, so you have to do something to hook the player into actually caring.

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