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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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