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đź’€ Necro Horror games and the "first death" problem

Pieta

Very custom
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I totally agree. I was just playing Alan Wake...it's a game I have had for so long but only now started playing it because i got a controller.
It is truly a bad game as a horror game. There is no tension whatsoever. And anything scary it does is immediately overdone which ruins it. THere is so much fighting with flashlight and gun that fear is replaced by uncoordination as i struggle to use the 2 things.

What it tries to do to be scary is to make the villains scream at you with scary voices....but that's not really scary.

The initial building shaking in the intro was scary and then it puts an eyeball on the tv in front of you for no reason...which is suddenly creepy....but then it puts like 4-5 more tvs with eyeballs in the place which makes me laugh...

i cannot fathom why this turd got over 90 percent.
I don't know if it's worth 90%, but I definitely didn't consider it a turd.

The main emotion that game brought out in me wasn't fear. Sure, there was some of that, but it was mostly weirdness, confusion, the feeling of foreboding. I wasn't afraid for the hero - it's a computer game with his name as a title, he's pretty much guaranteed to survive till the end - but for his loved ones, for the sympatethic NPCs, for the setting and the town.

Even the Taken, the shadow-infected people, weren't that scary. Sure, they did the scary voices, but the most impactful thing about them was how normal the stuff they said was, contrasted with how abnormal everything else was. They didn't scare me that much. They totally weirded me out.
 

NobodyImportant

Registered User
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Horror games have had a few solutions to this over the years:

- Make death significantly impactful. Not just in-universe, but also out of it. For example, in the Resident Evil games that choose not to be rooty-tooty-point-and-shooties, saving can require ink ribbons, a consumable resource that players can feel the urge to hoard. If you haven’t saved your progress in two hours, the threats suddenly become a lot more threatening.

As another example, there’s a horror game - whose name I now forget - where you’re constantly accompanied by an AI companion. Whenever you’re in a situation where you’d be killed, the companion dies instead, and you soon run into a new one. Each companion has progressively better gear and abilities, but is associated with a worse ending if you bring them to the end of the game. I can’t remember how well this worked.

- Scarcity. The “survival horror” method. In this paradigm, you possess limited resources, and encounters with threatening enemies can drain them faster than they replenish. The licker’s not scary because it can kill you - it’s scary because it takes like three shotgun shells to put down, and you need those. YMMV heavily on how well this works for you.

- Don’t assume that death is impactful or meaningful at all. Fill the game with characters, encounters and situations that are nightmarish enough without danger creeping into it. After all, no other horror media creates the illusion that the viewer is in any real danger, why should games have to? Two excellent examples of this are SOMA and Bloodborne.
 

General Fishsticks

Tribune of the Plebs
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I'm dredging my memories; but one of the stand out horror aspects in System Shock 2 was never about death. There's one scene when you're making your way to a shuttle bay (I think to escape) and you see two people in the hangar through a window. One of them looks directly you and says 'What is that thing...' before the other tells her to run. It was a fantastic moment of horror, when you are suddenly confronted with how much of a monster your character become.

I agree that the death of your character in horror games is a real dilemma. I played through the recent Call of Cthulhu, which whilst being far from a masterpiece was enjoyable; however there were a number of set-piece encounters which became particularly frustrating and lethal, and broke the atmosphere of the game considerably - the creature in the museum in particular - especially as the solution isn't immediately obvious, and even when it is there's a high degree of luck to defeat it.

I'd rather see some form of consequence, rather than horrible grisly death. Fled rather than defeated a monster, guess what it'll come back to haunt you again, or will kill someone else making your journey more convoluted or problematic...
 

Killer300

Registered User
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1. Level design being the key to horror, to me, should free up everything else in the game to focus on other things. A horror movie, book, game, ect., should have things besides just horror driving the experience. Silent Hill alternates between pure horror, what the fuck levels of weirdness, and finally, massive, tear inducing sadness. Its enemy design gets to do things besides just be scary, but also carry heavy symbolism, and say things about the protagonist of the game.

I remember hearing Higarushi When They Cry uses horror as a contrast to heighten the other parts of the game, and the creators were inspired by how other visual novels use massive amounts of tear inducing scenes in order to heighten everything around them. I think in the case of video games, one could very possibly do multiple things at once, if the level design is able to carry the game's terror itself.
So, I wanted to echo this because I think this got lost in the prior discussion. Horror games often seem to run out of tricks because they're stuck being horror games the whole time. This works with a very short game, but if a game needs to be longer than like, four hours, this is... tough to pull off, at best. For horror to have length, and staying power, it needs contrast. More than that, I'd argue it needs to have a point besides scaring for the sake of scaring. Silent Hill 2 is a great example of all of this, because its horror serves the purpose of the story, rather than being the whole point of the story.

I'm reviving this thread because I've been reading a horror anthology that has brought these thoughts to mind. In addition, I've seen a number of recent horror films that attempt to use dramatic elements as a contrast for their horror, both to make the horror more real, but also to provide emotional beats for scenes that aren't scary. But most of all, because I think contrast is what's missing from the more recent wave of indie horror games we've had.

For another comparison, I remember way back, Brows Held High, which is a youtube channel that reviews arthouse films(among other things), did a review of Gerry. Now, Gerry is awful, as it's the height of pretentious boredom masquerading as art. However, there was a comment on the original video that keeps banging around my head occasionally, because its a problem I've seen in a lot of media. It basically said that after the film's opening 20 minutes or so, it had nowhere left to go, and so the movie had the same style of shot for eons, contributing to why it was so tedious, boring, ect.

Does that remind you of any horror games? It reminds me of the complaints I heard about Outlast 2, specifically those about its reliance on shock value. Thinking back, I wonder if that's because Outlast 2 essentially had nowhere left to go after the first game, because there weren't any means by which top what that game did with male nudity, gore, ect., without coming off as ridiculous. If Outlast 2 could burrow more from another genre, and be about something that wasn't trying to scare, creep out, or shock the player, I think it could've worked a lot better, because it would've had something to contrast its horror elements against, along with


Tying all this back to the thread, I think the problem of the first death is exasperated by a game having to lean completely on its horror elements. More than that, I think it ties back to a much bigger problem which death represents, which is what I like to call the problem of confrontation. I don't think a game needs to kill the player to be scary, but I would argue it needs a way of confronting the player, barring certain arthouse experiments and similar styles of exceptions. Lack of confrontation leads to two groups of problems,

1. It makes the game feel artificial, because if the player ever realizes, "wait, the game is never going to do anything," then it kind of deflates the balloon of fear, and the game's immersion gets shattered against a tree.

2. It removes, "verbs," from the arsenal of the game developer. If a game cannot confront the player, its limited in what it can do, as lack of confrontation prevents chases, stealth, and of course, combat. One can have a good horror game without those elements, but I'd argue it requires a level of skill, in storytelling and other departments, that a lot of us do not possess.

Now, with that said, there is an argument to be made no confrontation is better than bad confrontation, which I think I agree with in the case of say, jump scares.


Anyway, thoughts on all of this?
 

JoeNotCharles

Registered User
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Maybe I'm just weird, but to me, the problem isn't repeating the same content over and over. It's that, once I've died in a game, avoiding death becomes a mechanical challenge rather than something I'm doing out of actual anxiety. It's functionally no different from avoiding getting caught in, say, Thief or dying in a spectacle fighter. It's something to be avoided because of the annoying mechanical consequences, but it's not something that actually evokes any sort of emotional response in me.

Once I'd died the first time in Amnesia, the monsters held literally no fear for me. They became, well...AI constructs using simple pathfinding routines. It was like seeing the zipper on the monster costume in a movie.
I just finished reading the thread, and this stood out to me. Does anyone else actually have this reaction? Because I absolutely do not. Repetition does let me see the seams in things, including the death mechanic of a game, but it's definitely the repetition that's the problem, not the death itself. Seeing the strings certainly doesn't flip on at the moment of the first death.

Does everyone else who's engaging with the premise have the same reaction as Calliope or are you just thinking about death as a specific example of a more general problem of repetition in game mechanics?
 

Max

A dapper chap without a doubt
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I just finished reading the thread, and this stood out to me. Does anyone else actually have this reaction? Because I absolutely do not. Repetition does let me see the seams in things, including the death mechanic of a game, but it's definitely the repetition that's the problem, not the death itself. Seeing the strings certainly doesn't flip on at the moment of the first death.

Does everyone else who's engaging with the premise have the same reaction as Calliope or are you just thinking about death as a specific example of a more general problem of repetition in game mechanics?
Yeah, I do have this reaction, too. When I die for the first time in a game, the fear of it diminishes dramatically. I think it's just that the anticipation and dread of "dying" are quite simply nowhere near as bad once you actually know what to expect when it happens - it no longer feels like a dreadful singularity with potentially dire consequences to be avoided at all costs, but just another setback.

"Familiarity breeds contempt" is a common truism, but personally I prefer to phrase it as "Exposure breeds tolerance." :)
 

Knaight

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I don't play many horror games qua horror games, but I've played a few that ended up in that space. I'd also separate out spooked and scared here, where the first is jump scares and the like and the second is the atmosphere getting to me.

For spooked there've been a few games that did it. Metroid Prime II actually got me a couple of times as a kid, Subnautica got me a few times, Limbo managed a fair few, and that's all I can remember that managed anything at all. For scared though I have to namedrop Depression Quest. The bad endings there feel genuinely threatening, as are the ways to get there.
 

The Unshaven

Registered User
Validated User
I'm dredging my memories; but one of the stand out horror aspects in System Shock 2 was never about death. There's one scene when you're making your way to a shuttle bay (I think to escape) and you see two people in the hangar through a window. One of them looks directly you and says 'What is that thing...' before the other tells her to run. It was a fantastic moment of horror, when you are suddenly confronted with how much of a monster your character become.
There are so many great moments in that game.

I remember falling from a great height in the final sections and winding up underwater. That gave me a fright, but okay. I oriented myself but couldn't see the surface, and waited for an oxygen meter to appear like in Thief.

....and nothing appeared.

...............because I didn't need to BREATHE anymore.

That was horrifying and very, very well done.
 

CarpeGuitarrem

Blogger and gamer
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Thinking back on my experience playing Doki Doki Literature Club, I think it illuminates a couple of points in the discussion.

1: Horror isn't always about the scare. In fact, at its core, it's never about the scare, the scare is just part of how it ramps up tension. Horror is about the slow revelation of an awful truth that makes the audience recoil as they comprehend it. It's about a growing understanding of the terrifying thing that is taking place, and scares are just punctuation along the way. Without a terrible truth, preferably one that resonates on a psychological or profound level, horror is hollow.

2: Atmosphere is key. There's a lot of elements that go into this: music, visuals, events...and gameplay mechanics fall under this. Mechanics are atmosphere too, and they have to be carefully crafted for the atmosphere. One reason repeated death runs into problems is that the correct atmosphere requires pacing and buildup, and death in a horror game is a release of tension. If you go straight from that into another death, or into the threat of death, you've lost all tension, and yet that's how a default save system works.
 

Max

A dapper chap without a doubt
RPGnet Member
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I would say that the scare is also a release of tension - it may be part of an overall rising arc, absolutely, but the scare itself peaks and subsequently releases tension rather than builds it up, at least in the short term.

Otherwise I agree with CarpeGuitarrem CarpeGuitarrem , and would suggest that a good horror game should probably explore failure states other than PC death, either instead of or in addition to it.
 
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