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tehgamemaker

You Decide.

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So i was thinking about horror games and what makes them so scary and I though of this. "Would a horror game be scarier if you could make the choices?"
In games like Dead Space and Resident Evil you are pretty much stuck in a rut. You have to follow this certain path, you don't have a say in if you want this woman to help you kill all these damn zombies. So think about this. A horror game where you decide everything.
Say you were stuck in a zombie apocalypse. You could decide to raid a store and risk being attacked, or you could keep quiet and move to the next block for ammo and risk being attacked by a mob outside. Don't you think this would make a horror game scarier. If the player was actually paranoid about if there was something around that corner or not?
So what do you guys think. This idea definitely needs some polishing but please discuss.

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I think choices in a horror game could make the experience a lot scarier. Several things to worry about is something that some developers find hard to do: stop forcing the player to make specific choices. If you are speaking of a free roaming, sandbox horror game, then you have to give the player viable options to complete a goal while allowing them to experiment. This freedom can be tough to swallow since the player can choose to completely ignore the haunted house filled with scary scripted events (unless of course the house is necessary for the goal).

So to compensate you either have to make places where they player must go but give them different routes to get there (these routes may also hold scary events). This is similar to the level design of Left 4 Dead: have one linear route that branches off into several directions - all of which still lead to the end of the level. The player is going to the same place, but they have the illusion of free will when they can choose what route to take to get there.


This could make it scarier by giving the player a sort of 'choice remorse'.

[b]Scenario[/b]
You are trapped in an abandoned asylum and are trying to find your way out. You have been traveling down corridors and
crawling through venting ducts for a while, but have managed to plunder a few items from various rooms and get closer to the exit.
Upon turning the corner, you are faced with a problem - the path splits into two separate halls; each hall leads to a large metallic door that is
wide open. Inscribed upon each door is a warning: "DOOR IS SET TO CLOSE UPON ENTRANCE. CONTACT SECURITY PERSONNEL TO REOPEN."
Before you can decide, a chilling moan echoes down the left hall as it fills with a strange, thick fog. Within the same moment, you hear a faint scraping
noise to your right. As you turn, a dark figure scurries out of your view and disappears down the long hall to your right.

The player is now faced with two scary paths and can choose what choice they want to gamble with. If they picked up a weapon, they may go down the hall
with the creature, and kill the creature if they encounter it. Another player may be defenseless and choose the foggy corridor where the deep moaning was heard.

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It sounds like you're basically suggesting an open world horror survival game. Open world games are great (they're my preference) but they come with some baggage that might seriously hinder the survival horror genre. Balance, direction and meaningful endings are three of the biggest that I can think of. How do you ensure players have enough resources to meet the challenges they face when you don't know for sure exactly what they're facing? Or that they don't have too many, making the game a cakewalk? If all the zombies bunch up outside the gun store, for instance, or block some chokepoint causing you to have to cycle back and forth between challenge and resupply point you won't necessarily know that until after you've built the game. Finding where to go and what to do, while normally fun in open world games, might be a pain in the neck if you're constantly under threat. And how do you not only make it all end well but ensure that most of your players (if not all) will definitely be able to get to the end?

There are definitely ways around these problems. Maybe you could use Left For Dead's model and scale up / scale back challenges based on player behavior and resources. If you had an open city you could lock monsters to regions of the city, as well, to ensure they don't all cluster into one environment. It might feel a bit like I Am Legend meets Grand Theft Auto.

You'd probably want to still have unique areas with specially designed content, though. One big problem open world games suffer from that level based games are not as subject to is repetition. If you design custom challenges that relate to specific areas it can break this problem but you'll then need to consider what happens when the player accesses these challenges in any order. Balance again becomes a problem there because whereas a level based game designer might be sure you can't get a certain power up, weapon, vehicle or ally until a certain point you'll have to either come up with some mechanic that gives the same barrier or tolerate players having very different levels of difficulty as they play.

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The biggest challenges that I see are that in a horror game type situation, your choices are not likely to be unrestricted, and you are extremely likely to die. If it's the zombie apocalypse, and some random person is offering you assistance, you are probably not in much of a position to say, "No thanks." And even with the help of character B (and C, D, E, F, and G), your odds of surviving the zombie apocalypse are incredibly low.

That feeds into the second big potential issue, which is that in any horror game scenario you can think of, how many options reasonably exist that don't result in your gruesome death? It might have some appeal, especially if done well, to be able to choose some objectives for myself. But if I'm required to hit events X, Y, and Z in order to survive, my freedom is going to be pretty heavily constrained. If there are alternate sets of objectives I can use towards the same end, I might feel more immersed. Or I might feel that the zombie apocalypse isn't so bad after all-- opportunities to escape abound. And even if a lot of choices can lead to a bad ending, that restricts freedom a lot as well (guaranteed death for anything but one choice is as on-rails as a game gets). Not to mention that repeat play of the same general situation will reduce the scare factor in and of itself.

Dead Rising comes to mind as a free-roaming survival horror game franchise. It has some mechanics that work really well, like a couple of endings which allow lots of different combinations of player activity to come to a resolution. What it doesn't have are involving characters, a strong story, or many scares beyond the overall situation.

I think that increased player freedom can absolutely make a game more [i]fun[/i], and so is generally a better choice than restricting freedom. But fun and scary aren't always going to be the same thing. So for a horror game, I would accept fewer choices in exchange for better atmosphere and more/better/deeper scares.

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