Fake Difficulty in Games

So what am I talking about when I say ‘fake difficulty’? I don’t mean that the game is not difficult, but that devs make the game ‘harder’ by fiddling with numbers to make it more difficult to achieve objectives in a very superficial and unsatisfying way. An example of this is increasing enemy damage by 200% for hard mode without adjusting anything else. It’s not that these methods of increasing ‘fake difficulty’ shouldn’t be done at all or that they can’t be incorporated into making a genuinely fun and challenging experience, but if done badly, it can make playing it feel tedious. Often difficulty modes are tacked on at the end of the development process, so even while the Normal mode might feel very well-balanced, the more difficult modes can often feel very out of wack, because little thought has been put into how superficial increases like making enemies deal more damage can affect the overall experience. Continue reading

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Guest Post: Spooky Games To Learn From

Image by JBLivin

Image by JBLivin

This week the awesome Hatm0nster of My Two Caps and one of the admins over at United We Game has written an extra spooky post for all you CTVG readers to celebrate Halloween. This also concludes Simul-Tober, the month long post swapping between me, Hatm0nster and other fellow contributors Chip, Duck and Cynenway. Remember to check out their blogs for the rest of the posts in the series and many other awesome gaming articles for you to peruse. I hope you guys enjoyed our horror themed blog swaps and remember to check back later on in week for the post I wrote for UWG. Happy Halloween everyone!  

Awkward camera angles, jump scares, deformed creatures, and good old-fashioned explosions. There are so many things a survival horror game can throw at its players in to order to deliver the thrills we’ve come to expect from the genre. Indeed most horror games are very capable of delivering thrills, but not always the right ones. A true horror game’s goal isn’t just to excite and wow its players; it wants to scare them, to fill those poor unfortunate souls who dared to play it with an almost unbearable sense of dread as they wander its dark passages and fend off its twisted denizens.

Halloween for all intents and purposes is a celebration of everything that causes us to shake with fright. So why not take a moment to venture a glimpse behind the curtain at the dark secrets of those games that inspire that true, spine-tingling terror that we love so much about the survival-horror genre. It is these games that the future generation of horror needs to learn from if they’re going to keep those horribly-awesome scares coming!

Amnesia: The Dark Descent

This teaser actually gets the idea of Amnesia across pretty well. You’re a man; just a normal, frightened little man, who quite literally finds himself right in the middle of a haunted castle. As he makes his way through the empty, yawning halls, it becomes more and more apparent that unspeakable things have taken place within the castle’s dark and imposing spaces. More than that, the castle itself has taken on the bloodthirsty aura of those who performed those horrid acts; its vile nature having spawned infernal aberrations to stalk the now-vacant halls. These are creatures that our “hero” cannot hope to resist, and so must cower in the darkness in the hopes of escaping their gaze.

Atmosphere and lack of power are the strengths of Amnesia. The castle is dimly lit, filled with hints of detestable acts and signs of encroaching madness, and is populated by unsympathetic fiends that the player has no choice but to fear.  The story is good and adds to the horror of it all, but it’s the utter lack of control in a foreign space that inspires the terror the title has become so famous for. It may be a simple idea, but so far only one game has managed to get it right; let’s hope others follow it’s example more closely than the sequel did.

Dark Souls

“I remember the first time I died.” Is a quite fitting tagline for this trailer (which, if one looks closely, is comprised almost entirely of player-death scenes). It’s a statement that likely rings true for many a player of this purposefully difficult game. Dark Souls manages something that very few, if any, horror games can claim. It allows the player to have what would normally be considered a very powerful character. A character that follows the normal growth arc of the action RPG until, under normal, gaming circumstances, they would be an unstoppable juggernaut. It then proceeds to mercilessly destroy that character again, and again…and again. Even though there is an immense amount of power available to the player, death is always around the next corner.

It’s likely not the scariest game in the traditional sense, but from a gameplay perspective, there are few games that manage to keep the tension a very present and real part of the game even after one’s character has reached their peak. Hopefully someday a game will be able to maintain this kind of gaming tension without making it almost punishingly difficult. Until then, best do as the tagline says and “Prepare to Die”…a lot.

Silent Hill

Silent Hill is a fixture of the horror genre. It and especially its sequel, Silent Hill 2,demonstrated a mastery of horror in the gaming medium that even the series itself hasn’t quite been able to live up to since. And though Silent Hill 2 would eventually perfect the now trademark series formula it is the original that deserves special consideration. Silent Hill was produced at a time when video game visuals, while vastly more expressive than they had been, were still not very effective tools for building atmosphere. So, in addition to its macabre plot and population ghastly, static-generating monsters, its designers decided to use the Playstation’s weaknesses and use them to the game’s advantage.

Since graphics could only go so far, instead of going the Super Mario 64 route and trying to build a fully 3D world, the game was instead developed with a mix of 3D environments and pre-rendered scenes, both of which were handled in a way that made sure the player’s field of vision was limited. The low draw distance in the 3 dimensional town streets gave the town its iconic and otherworldly fog (which was usually hiding monsters) while the fixed, indoor angles ensured players would be easily caught unawares by stray monsters. Combine that with a deliberately slow and awkward combat system to emphasize the character’s lack of combat experience and reinforce the idea that they’re just a regular person just trying to stay alive, and we have a chilling game where the tension is hard-wired into the gameplay itself rather than reliant on the story.

In this age of cinematic visual quality, we would do well to remember that a horror game doesn’t (and honestly shouldn’t) rely on said visuals to deliver an intense experience. Not when there is ample opportunity to use good gameplay design to achieve the same effect.

Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem

Featuring Lovecraftian –horrors, claustrophobic spaces, paranoia, madness, and even some 4th wall breaking surprises, Eternal Darkness was truly one of a kind. A game that truly lived up to its title, Eternal Darkness constantly kept its players questioning which things that happened in the game and which were not. It threw curveball after cureveball; villains would turn out to be heroes, other heroes would die, and those that lived would be reduced to blabbering madmen. Even when removed from the stories contained in the “Tome of Eternal Darkness”, players would encounter ghosts, find themselves in upside-down rooms and indeed find the so-called real world descending into the very same madness witnessed in the book.

The game is scary because it operates on the principle of madness. The plot revolves around the return of unfathomable evil, no one in the game is safe, and the world works according to its own rules. In short, the game is unpredictable. And it is by being unpredictable, that it keeps its players on edge. Since there are no established safe zones and we know that anything could happen at any time, playing the game becomes a truly tense and even frightening prospect.

It doesn’t take long for a gamer to recognize the formulas and patterns in plots and level-design. It would truly be a breath of fresh air (albeit a likely horrifying one) for a future horror game to throw out all the establishments of games and try instead to keep us on our toes rather than letting us get comfortable.

There are many more successful horror games out there besides these, but these are the paragons. They’re the ones that, by one means or another, sear the experience into the player’s memory rather than give them a short-lived thrill. If future horror games take away anything from these paragons of horror, we may just be in store for a new golden age of horror gaming!

What was your experience with these games? What horror games would you want future entries in the genre to take inspiration from?

Happy Halloween all!

Guest Post: You Believe Me, Don’t You?

As you may have noticed, I didn’t put up my usual post on Tuesday. The reason is that this week I’m swapping posts with Chip from Games I Made My Girlfriend Play. Chip is a fellow blogger, UWG contributor and awesome writer/gamer and GIMMGP was borne from his desire to share his passion for games with his girlfriend Laura. They keep their blog updated with musings, reminiscences and opinions about games both old and new. Make sure to check out his blog for more posts like the one below! Also, I’ll reblog my post here, so remember to check back for it! For the rest of October I’ll also be swapping posts weekly with a couple of other writers from UWG on the topic of horror. Basically it’s the blog swap month! Not to worry though, you’ll still be able to check out my weekly posts on their blogs, which I’ll reblog here. 

SH2Reflection (1)

The perspective within video games can be a blessing and a curse.  Players have the ability to immerse themselves directly into events, to slip through the fourth wall and become the main character of a story.  This level of control can provide engagement and suspend disbelief for hours on end, but it comes at a narrative price: the story being told is no longer uniform between players.  Where I choose to turn left and hide in the shadows, you may opt to turn right and walk into the spotlight with guns blazing.  Throughout the course of play there can be a variety of choices that will change the tone of the story and intentions of the main character.  With so much power in the hands of the player, how can a developer craft a mysterious and haunting plot that will truly shock people?

One answer is through an unreliable narrator.  The main character of a game can be written in such a way that key points of information will be hidden from the player.  This may be a deliberate choice made by a devious narrator who is twisting story details for his/her own devices, or the involuntary actions of an amnesiac or a character who suffers from past trauma.  When this plot device is well executed, a game with an unreliable narrator can make for an excellent horror experience. Continue reading

Playing Outside of Your Comfort Zone

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This post was inspired by Shaun from At The Buzzer’s ‘Do One Thing Every Day That Scares You’ pledge, which you can check out here. I think it’s an awesome idea and probably one that’s not foreign to any of you. Although they might not do it every day, people step outside of their comfort zone all the time in real life or least think they should. It’s seen as character building and from my own experience, I’ve found that stepping out of your comfort zone regularly can open up many new opportunities for you. So why can’t we apply the same attitude to gaming? Most gamers probably have a favourite genre or type of game that they prefer to play over others and many of them (myself included) tend to just play what they’re used to or the kind of game they’ve had fun playing before. It’s a pretty normal attitude I think. There will naturally be certain games that attract you and there might be reasons you don’t play others. If don’t like socialising you probably don’t play a lot of MMOs, for instance. It might be that you know the controls in your genre (they tend to be fairly standardized these days) or maybe you don’t want to have to learn a new set of rules. However, for many of the same reasons you might want to do be a little more adventurous in real life, playing games outside of your comfort zone could lead to some surprising and beneficial results.

Continue reading