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The Fear Factor vs. Randomness

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I just finished reading an inspiring post on Gamasutra regarding fear as something that should be used to drive the player. It went on to talk about randomness being a lazy means of battle which detracts from emotional connection between the player and the game. If the player were to understand that an area of the map (ie, "the swamp of doom"[(c)Dwarfsoft 2001]) is going to absolutely spell disaster for them then they should fear it. So now the player has been told that the ugly ''swamp of doom'' (c) is at (x,y) on the map and the nasty jhxkrqz[(c)Dwarfsoft 2001] people are likely to smite our hero back to the nether-realms which spawned them. Our hero is now likely to think ''ah, the game wants me to get into this slimy mudhole and do some smiting of my own''. Thus, the problem that is faced is how to relevantly warn a player where they should NOT go, without actually driving them to the aforementioned place. I agree that there needs to be more reasoning to encounters. Diablo II kind of brushed on this with all those damn swarms hanging around the swamps, but there needs to be more limits. Creatures that live in swamps will never leave them, or will only pursue for a short distance. It is essential for reason to be placed in encounters, and I would like to see the player fear to go near a place. May the player be always wary of the the nasty jhxkrqz(c) Thoughts? -Chris Bennett of Dwarfsoft - The future of RPGs Thanks to all the goblins over in our little Game Design Corner niche

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Fear is more a matter or presentation than big scary monsters. For example, that big mutha of an alien in Half-life that lurks around its cave is freakin'' SCARY. Being chased by that thing is terrifying fun, not because it''s a big monster, but because it''s a big monster and you''re alone with it in a cave.

Random encounters have always been a piss-poor way to draw players into a game, either because they''re too frequent or too meaningless to the plot. The designers of Fallout did a fairly good job in this respect (the first one, not the sequel). But I would never say the battles were scary, so let me reiterate.

The scariest game I have ever played was probably Tomb Raider II. This is because, in one level in particular, you had to traverse a lair of giant spiders, and those spiders were freaking SCARY. And big. And fast. And extremely well animated. And I''m afraid of big scary spiders, so this place about made me piss my pants when one of those fuckers ran up on poor Lara and started chewing on her knees.

Arachnophobia aside, I probably wouldn''t be afraid of your "Swamp of Doom" (©Dwarfsoft, used without permission) simply because you haven''t done anything to make it scary for me. There are monsters there that can kick my ass in a second? So what? That doesn''t make them scary, it makes them unfair and frustrating. The swarms of Blood Maggots in Diablo II were far more scary than the Pit Lords, because I don''t like man-sized insects (see last paragraph).

Now, if you told me your "Swamp of Doom" were filled with giant spiders. . .

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Ah... I believe that we are talking along two different lines about fear. I was talking more about the player being fearful for their characters life. This then can become a fear in itself of the monsters.

Hell, I would prefer the monsters to be scary, and that swamp of doom only has to have one jhxkrqz that is bloody huge, bloody ugly, and bloody fast, and it really terrifies you that this creature has the power to snap you like a twig. I would like to see game monsters toy with the player. This gives the player extra chance to escape, but also prolongs the whole fear factor as they wait for the imminent death of their character.

Anyway... Do you get what I am at on my perspective of fear? What other things are fearful from your perspective on fear?

-Chris Bennett of Dwarfsoft - The future of RPGs
Thanks to all the goblins over in our little Game Design Corner niche

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Fear... real fear... I for one would like to see more genuinely freaky ambience in games. One game that did this well was the original Thief. To a lesser degree, System Shock 2 also had this quality. Sound, visuals, and gameplay can be combined to produce an experience that can really scare the sh*t out of a player - I personally find these games incredibly immersive. Of course, real ambience can usually only be achieved convincingly if events are scripted, and not truly random. That is not to say that a quasi-random engine couldn''t be developed to produce random encounters ina believable way -- just that it''s definitely not easy.

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Aah, SS2 ... only played the demo. It started with a female voice screaming ".. get out of there NOW, its going to get decompressed .." She was so REAL I ran through those doors like crazy, hand shaking on mouse, .. The second time I played the demo, I just went a bit slower, nothing happend, so I just stayed in the deadly area for a bit longer, like half an hour while I ate, and nothing happened.. Dont know if the game does this trick, but I didnt like it.

Ass for scary, Thief is the black book of scary. Man, that game has such an atmosphere it could catch fire. Particullary those undead levels were dreadfull ! Gotta play Thief again, at night, when I buy an 3d sound device

But, THE MOST SCARIEST thing that happend to me in a game, uncomparable to everything I experienced even in movies (I''m not a horror fan, I find them either boring or predictable or plain funny, maybe didnt see the right ones tho) was during Thief II ("the adventures of the greatest thief the world has never seen" ). Now Thief is a game I can trust to be honest. Everything makes sense. No teleporting monsters like in half-life. No sniper shots from nowhere like in CounterStrike (those work well too for fear). And you generally can hear every monster coming.

So, one night (both game and reality), I go down some stairs, move slowly around some vey dimmly lit corridors, all tense, weary of some mechanic like buzzing that increased slightly, then I heard the sword BANGING me dead from behind, my character screamed, I SCREAMED, my sister SCREEEAMED.

What happend was I overlooked a corridor, and was 100%certain that there wasnt anything behind me. Nothing in front of me. And no sounds I knew (first encounter with that beast). But such a tense atmosphere. So, the surprise threw me off my chair. Literally.

After that, I learned It was possible to sneak up behind the iron demons and bang them with the sword on the head for the kill, but the horror of that unwordly mechanic buzz of them never went away...

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I agree w/ Tom that fear''s a matter of representation, but I take issue with the whole "random''s a bad way to do it" line of thinking. As the Resident Complainer About Fallout 2 , gotta say that the random encounters with aliens, remnants of the Master''s army, and enclave patrols were tense. This was more a matter of several deaths, however, and a knowledge of where the monsters hung out. Nothing was worse at the beginning than, "You encounter a large pack of Deathclaws!" *run!!!!*


But back to the original question: How to make them fear rather than crave the challenge? Well, I think this actually is more a personality type thing mixed with difficulty. I loaded up Half-Life again & decided to play on Hard. Lots of monsters, limited ammo, and it''s damned difficult to take them down. Because the risk to reward ratio is so low, and I''m fearing the loss of health / ammo / self (immersion) so much, I find myself bypassing obstacles where possible. So if that swamp is right deadly and the rewards for going in don''t outweigh the risks, then I think that you''ve effectively discouraged players from taking on the challenge.



--------------------
Just waiting for the mothership...

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Consider the following story..

A top secret scientific installation has gone incommunicado. You are an elite agent sent in to clear up the problem - this stuff is far too sensitive to send in the army. Going in, you learn that the scientists were experimenting with alien DNA, and succeeded in breeding some kind of crossbreed lifeform. This creature has killed everyone in the lab, and was last seen on security camera heading toward the lab (camera shots show only a dark shape moving in the shadows, not enough to get a proper idea what it looks like)

Scenario A:

You go down into the basement. At first you are a little wary, shooting at shadows and rats and other harmless things. When the monster finally jumps out at you, you are half expecting it. However, it proves rather tougher than you thought, and is not easily killed with the machine gun you have selected, since it is so fast. It kills you, so you reload the game. Remembering where the monster lives, you head down, taking care to switch to the flame thrower. As expected, the monster leaps out, and whoosh! it runs about screaming for a while, before collapsing in a charred heap. Victory!

Scenario B:

You go down into the basement. At first you are a little wary, shooting at shadows and rats and other harmless things. When the monster finally jumps out at you, you are half expecting it. However, it proves rather tougher than you thought, and is not easily killed with the machine gun you have selected, since it is so fast. It kills you, so you reload the game.Remembering where the monster lives, you head down, taking care to switch to the flame thrower. You reach the room, and nothing happens. A little confused, the player starts to wander about a bit, but still nothing happens. Slightly annoyed, you think maybe you forgot something and head back towards the lift and then Bang! the monster jumps out at you from a place you have walked through ten times already. You are surprised, but at least you have the right weapon selected - you have a good chance of winning. If you do get killed, the next visit will be a lot more interesting and tense than if the monster always appeared in the same place at the same time.

Now I have no idea whether this game is any good or not - thats not the point. What it shows is that unpredictability adds a lot of replay value, and can add tension as well, once the player knows it is there. Who knows what lurks around the next corner? It doesnt matter if you have been that way before, creatures can move around too you know....

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The first time I played Tomb Raider II, I became so fearfull of any baddies around corners, that I''d spend half an hour just checking out every corner to make sure nothing jumps out at me. There''s also a lot of suspense when you''re swimming through the water with an aligator at your heals as you try to quickly throw a switch and get out of there.

But I think games shouldn''t have ways to completely avoid a character. Like the iron demons diodor was talking about. It takes all the fun out if you''re able to sneak up behind a baddie and kill it without any effort. In some games, you can stand on a ledge, etc. and shoot at a baddie from a distance without getting hurt. I think this at least takes away from the realism of the game.

Tomb Raider III tried fixing this by allowing the baddie to block your shots if you don''t move from your spot for a while. But all you have to do to get around that, is to jump away for a second, wait for the baddie to drop their defences, then jump right back into your safe spot.

E:cb woof!

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Okay, presentation. Stephen King is the freakin'' master of terror, so we can take a few pointers from his books.

The scariest story I''ve ever read was "Gramma." I didn''t think written words could capture the ambience that King crams into his stories. I was scared shitless when Gramma woke up. I even figured it would happen long before it did, but holy shit. That was scary.

Incidentally, that was also the same book that started with "The Mist," one of the best modern horrors I''ve ever read. No, scratch that. The best modern horror. The story takes place in a grocery store. I mean, what better setting for a horror story than in a grocery store? Half-life used this same approach, by placing an alien menace in a familiar setting to make the surreal seem plausible. And it works.

"Uncle Otto''s Truck" was another scary-ass story. Actually, I think I was probably more scared by that than by "Gramma." But I don''t remember. It''s been a while. Either way, it took a regular real world item (a truck, go figure) and gave it a personality. King made the truck seem alive, but more than that, he made it vindictive.

Damn. I need to read some more of his books.

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First - Sandman... Damn you! We are trying to DISSUADE people from save-reload constantly... Death should be an EVENT, not a regular occurance.

Anyway... Would it help if the player was required to take their character around a threat slowly and quietly... Say, a sleeping troll for example. While trying to sneak past the troll might twitch every now and again and look like its going to wake... Sometimes it might, most likely it doesn''t...

?

-Chris Bennett of Dwarfsoft - The future of RPGs
Thanks to all the goblins over in our little Game Design Corner niche

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quote:
Original post by dwarfsoft
Anyway... Would it help if the player was required to take their character around a threat slowly and quietly... Say, a sleeping troll for example.



I think that''s the key. When your game establishes that running in fighting is not a valid option and that stealth is required, things can get very tense. Combine this with a horror setting and traditional horror film trickery, and maybe you''d get real fear from a player.

I can''t get frightened at films or games but can understand why people might. With that in mind...

Two scary, tense games: Silent Hill and Metal Gear Solid. The former because it''s horror and was designed like that. It uses all of the tricks perfectly. The latter because you can spend ages sneaking around but you''re always waiting for that one thing to go wrong. That one guard that see''s you. Tense indeed.

Imagine Metal Gear Silent. That would be some scary shit right there.

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quote:

First - Sandman... Damn you! We are trying to DISSUADE people from save-reload constantly... Death should be an EVENT, not a regular occurance.



Dwarf: I know, I know, and I agree, but that wasnt really the point of the example. Whether you allow save and reload or not, the opportunity still exists for the player to replay the game - but will the experience be so good second time around if the player knows where everything will be, and when it will appear? a small amount of randomisation can give more replayability and tension than a fixed script, with minimal extra effort on the part of the developer.

Going back to the original point of the post, which I think I completely missed anyway, () I think that part of the problem is that players like to see everything and do everything they can in a game, simply because it is there. And why not? After all, there must be a point in the evil swamp of doom (I am ignoring your copyright because I am sure it has been done before ) otherwise the designers wouldnt have put it there. Even if they get their arses thoroughly whipped while they are there, and end up going back after they have levelled up a bit, to try and get some payback. After all, there must be a treat of some sort at the end, and if they dont get to see ALL the game then they aren''t getting their moneys worth. Its the same sort of thing that makes players wander round quake maps for hours after they have killed everything, trying to find every last secret.

As for the troll, I wonder how many people would try murdering him in his sleep before bothering to try and creep past. The sort of mentality that prevails in games like diablo is that by not killing him, you are missing out on valuable XP....

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Yeah, you can''t not have a reward in that area, because it would be totally unfair to the gamers who have to find everything you put in the game. If you design this so-called swamp of doom, you just wasted a good 2-weeks of development time if you don''t want the gamer to go there anyway. What you want to do, is scare the gamer so much that they don''t want to go there, and then put in circumstances that force them there, without it being obvious from the start.
Lets take a good fantasy book. You know, the kind with a nice big map of the world in the begining? You study the map, and see the "forest of shadows" and the "mountains of dark storms" and you say to yourself, "I can''t wait to read about that place." Just because you can''t wait to read about it, doesn''t mean it isn''t scary when you find out the characters have to go somewhere. Sometimes, it''s scarier if you have to go somewhere you don''t know anything about. Think Alien when they''re checking out the planet for the first time. You know somethings going to jump out, it freaks you out. But then nothing happens. Until they are all back on the ship again and the movie is only half over, THEN you are scared.
So just plain randomness, like in most rpgs, isn''t scary, and isn''t very effective at drawing the player into the gameworld. But including crazy stories about places in the game, maybe even places the gamer wont know much about (just enough to be scared) could work really well.

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C''mon guys... give me some credit . As if I would have told the player that it would be beneficial to ''sneak past the troll'' if it wasn''t going to be beneficial... It would make me a liar

As for the murderous breed... my game doesn''t work on the same XP level. IF you are a murderous character... or a warrior, then you can expect that XP might be gained by slaying the said beast - but that wouldn''t mean jack to the priest or the thief (the theif would probably try and pick-pocket it Like in LOTR )

Oh... and about the "Swamp of Doom" (c)... Well.. the copyright was written originally because it was such an overused idea... hence why bother copyrighting it (for humor?)... But the creature name was almost mine aswell - The Cat on Red Dwarf used a similar word in a game of scrabble that meant "The sound a cat makes when its genitals are caught in a closing book".

-Chris Bennett of Dwarfsoft - The future of RPGs
Thanks to all the goblins over in our little Game Design Corner niche

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I havn''t read all of this, but how about a game that learns, and remembers where you load and save, and if you get a chance to know where the monster is, and then reload, then the monster should get to know that you will come in such and such a way, etc.

ANDREW RUSSELL STUDIOS

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quote:
Original post by dwarfsoft
If the player were to understand that an area of the map (ie, "the swamp of doom"[(c)Dwarfsoft 2001]) is going to absolutely spell disaster for them then they should fear it.

So now the player has been told that the ugly ''swamp of doom'' (c) is at (x,y) on the map and the nasty jhxkrqz[(c)Dwarfsoft 2001] people are likely to smite our hero back to the nether-realms which spawned them. Our hero is now likely to think ''ah, the game wants me to get into this slimy mudhole and do some smiting of my own''.

Thus, the problem that is faced is how to relevantly warn a player where they should NOT go, without actually driving them to the aforementioned place.


Q. Dwarfsoft, What is the purpose of this "swamp of dread" . Why is it dangerous and what is the purpose of trying to make the player worried by what it contains?

Is it to have it as part of the plot, ie. if the containment barrier of the T-Rex pen is broken there will be big trouble. ?

Is it to make them worried by it until they have the powers to deal with the threat.. ie. a cloak of invisibility which allows them to sneak through the "Super mutant" fortress, but doesn''t give them the power to destroy the threat. Ie. They have to be careful not go give their position away with noise / footprints in water...

If you want to make them fear something, maybe have it affect things that they care about.. ie. it will eat their friends, break their prized Minigun...

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In the context of RPG''s and FPS''s I think the best way to inspire fear is mainly through NPC AI. What you need to do is limit the players senses, and then add some(very few) NPCs who have AI that would make them hunt the player. I think this is a technique used all the time in movies and books... If the player is being hunted, he needs to look around every corner; he needs to pay close attention. I liked the idea someone made about the monsters playing with the player before they kill him. Perhaps sometimes the player would know about the hunter, sometimes not. But you could give clues like footprints and whatnot.

If the player senses or feels that someone or something is watching him, he will be more tense, and, when this monster finally jumps out and attacks him, he will be genuinely scared.

As for implementation... For starters, you could simply have the monster follow the player and decide whether or not to attack. This would mean that the monster might watch the player pass 5 feet infront of him without attacking just to inspire fear.

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Anyone ever played the original Alone in the Dark? Aside from being based on the writings of H P Lovecraft, which are unsettling enough by themselves and a must read for any self respecting game developer, it demonstrates some of the best ways to scare a player in a supernatural game.

Warning:this post contains examples which will act as spoilers.

In my opinion, the best way to scare a player is this: Have them enter an area which could be dangerous, then check it over for danger thoroughly, and satisfy themselves that is is safe. Then they get settled in, and suddenly something happens to make that location become dangerous. This can be as blatant as having the player leave a companion there, and return minutes later to find them slain or vanished, or as subtle as returning and finding an object moved slightly, a window open, a lamp lit or extinguished, or a book previously closed opened at a certain page, by an unseen intruder who may or may not be still there, hiding. The room suddenly becomes dangerous, and the player is startled by this. Previously the situation was known: This room is definitely safe, all the others aren''t. Suddenly everything is unknown, and all rooms must now be suspect. It is the fear of the unknown which is the most powerful kind, especially the very suddenly unknown.

An example of this (*SPOILER ALERT*) is on the second floor landing of the Derceto mansion in AITD. Carnby, the hero, walks down a flight of stairs, through a visibly empty room, and out onto the landing. From here he proceeds into another room, and all of a sudden he is being silently followed by a zombie from the very room he just passed through. The shock is further increased by a special overhead camera angle as this happens, which has a very claustrophobic, confining effect.

Furthermore, there is another exit from this room, leading into a very dangerous area. If the player runs into this area and encounters an unstoppable monster, he will immediately attempt to retreat to the last room - which is suddenly occupied by the zombie following him. The zombie is extremely easy to kill, but the shock of its being there is enough to miss a heartbeat.

Another example (*EVEN BIGGER SPOILER*)is near the end of the game Blade Runner. It is a non linear game, so you may have to play several times to find this scene. It is the scene of McCoys realisation that he may be a replicant. Up to this point, he was a detective, with a comfy appartment, a dog, a squad car or "spinner", and the right to carry a gun and hunt down suspects. Being a law enforcer, he had authority. The situation was safe. All of a sudden, he returns home one night after hunting reps to find his dog gone and a stranger living in his appartment, who is now the legal owner. There is no record of his ever having lived there. His dog has disappeared, he has no job and is accused of being a replicant and attacked if he contacts his former colleagues. He has lost his car and has no transport, and the police patrols in the streets, formerly providing back up, now shoot at him on sight, and he has no choice but to flee into the radioactive sludge of the Los Angeles sewer system (circa 2017). The situation has quite definitely changed to "unknown and dangerous" I don''t know about you lot, but when I played that bit of the game, it was quite scary.

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First off, I would like to defend the "Swamp of Doom" because I would never put something in the game just to fill up some area. It would most DEFINITELY be linked to the plot on some bizarre level if not apparently obvious .

As for the following thing, I like it. Keep introducing new ways of things being able to happen to the player. I am thinking that new skills that will further the abilities of the monsters to hide would most definitely be beneficial to the player. they would learn some skill that allowed them to see if there are any monsters currently using their hiding skill, but the monsters continue to find new ways of hiding .

That can get a bit vindictive though. New levels of monsters, or creatures could know different ways of hiding and so the player would have to check for them all. I like the idea of being able to scare a player by making them sure of safety and then proving to them that they are not safe. This has happened countlessly in Diablo and II. I walk through a room and see and hear nothing. I start attacking baddies in a new room only to find a solitary zombie that must have been hiding in the corner has managed to sneak up behind me... this could go hand in hand with the toying idea, because the creature could just sit and wait to see if it has been spotted and try to look convincingly absent from the scene.

They could then slowly approach the player from wherever (unseen) and surprise them from behind. Toying can also be extended to include injuring the player a bit then sitting back to see what the player will do, before approaching and reattempting the same thing or maybe a different tactic

If it was obvious to the player that the creature was just playing with them and not seemingly worried about its own health then perhaps the player would consider that they are not yet a match for the creature and this would increase their fear or wariness of the said creature.

Enough speculation anyway

-Chris Bennett of Dwarfsoft - The future of RPGs Thanks to all the goblins in the GDCorner niche

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The idea of scaring the player is a matter of the game''s mood. While mood is something which the designers of Horror titles pay careful attention to, this aspect of game design is often ignored in other genres.

In some games, mood is simpler, and therefore seems less important. But this is not the case. Even in the simplest, most abstract games, mood must be carefully considered.

At first, it might seem that a game such as Tetris has no mood. Does the designer try to scare the player? Is there eerie music in the background? Certainly there are no characters. So how can mood be important to a game like Tetris?

But there is an element of mood in Tetris. There is the uncertainty of planning ahead for the arrival of a piece the player cannot identify. There is the tension of having misplaced a piece. There is the stress of increased speed. Tetris has a mood. And that mood becomes progressively more intense as the game continues.

Certainly the mood of a game like Tetris is not overly difficult to create and maintain. But it is important nonetheless. And just as there is a mood in such a seemingly simple game as Tetris, so too there is a mood in every game.

Sometimes that mood is fear, sometimes comedy, sometimes even boredom. But whatever the mood, it is important that the designer pay attention to it.

We have been exploring ways in which the designer can scare the player. I would suggest that the lessons we draw from this discussion can be applied to virtually every single game. I believe that the more attention a game designer pays to the mood of a game, the better that game will be.


Jonathon
quote:
"Mathematics are one of the fundamentaries of educationalizing our youths." -George W. Bush

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An interesting subject, this fear stuff.

I think there are a lot of little things that can be used to incorporate fear of death of your character:

Some are psychological, such as making your copyrighted smelly swamp very dark and hard to see, with noises around you.

Other ways are through actions: I think wavinators example is a good one, such as spotting not 1 but a big pack of deadly xyzs'' running along the path you are on. Other great examples are of some powerful troll you have to sneak around to go somewhere, or being hunted/stalked by an evil demon in the dark.

It was mentioned that random monsters isnt a good thing. I *somewhat* disagree with this notion. Sure you dont want to be unfair, as the programmer who pops up 10 monsters out of the blue or something. Yet, to have, as wavinator says, a pack of monsters storming through an area they normally dont, when you are weak, well...if you know you are gonna die if they see you, then thats scarry and you will run.

My point is there are 2 ways to come up with fear of survival of your character and no one really has distinguished them outright here...so now they are.


Visit my Webpage and Project: LoreQuest

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I think that the main way to scare someone is to hit them with something that they didn''t expect. Always be prepared, is the motto of the Scouts, but what if it is an event that the player couldn''t have prepared for... This goes somewhat along the lines of the monster not being in the same place each time, or can be more extreme in that an exit that a player was sure was there, has miraculously moved elsewhere...

Just be sure that there is good reasoning behind these events and the player wont think you are cheating them... Make the player trust you, and don''t abuse that trust. There needs to ALWAYS be a good explaination behind what goes on.

-Chris Bennett of Dwarfsoft - The future of RPGs Thanks to all the goblins in the GDCorner niche

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Guest Anonymous Poster
hehe.. can you imagine playing descent and are positive that the mine exit is just through that door, and when you blow the reactor the door suddenly becomes locked? _that_ would be tense.

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