The Survival Sneaker

 By Shamus Aug 18, 2008 105 comments

In response my article on the decline of Survival Horror, Luke Maciak suggests a different kind of SH game, and while I always love discussions on gameplay mechanics, this one really scratched my particular itch. I think it would make a tremendous game.

What he’s proposing is a Survival Horror game that focuses on the strengths of the genre (being in frightening situations) and de-emphasizing the things it does poorly. (Combat, which also undermines the scare factor of a game.) Read his bit for the full set of ideas, but the short version is that the game should focus on hiding from monsters as opposed to fighting them.

Allow me to join in with the armchair game design…

Stealth

The drawback here is that you will run into the same problems faced by other stealth-centric games: You can build a game around sneaking, but sneaking is a pass / fail activity. (As opposed to a combat game, where you can have degrees of success – you can be partly injured, but you can’t be partly discovered.) You have to allow that the player will make a mistake and be spotted from time to time. If foes are unbeatable, then the game becomes very difficult and unforgiving. If foes are beatable, the player might just realize that it’s more expedient to blast their way through the game instead of fiddling around with all that sneaking.

I just sneaked past nine guys. Oops! I walked right into number ten. Combat ensues, and the noise ends up bringing the other nine. If I’m going to fight them all anyway, then those twenty minutes of observing patrol patterns and careful movement were a complete waste. I call this the “Metal Gear” effect.

One way around this might be to give the player a weapon that kills in a single hit, but with limited ammunition. Unlike other survival horror games, in this one you can headshot zombies (or whatever) and drop them with one round. But ammunition is very scarce, and using the gun is a sort of penalty. The number of bullets you have determines the number of mistakes you can make. If you blunder into a zombie, you have to use a bullet and then find a hiding place until the trouble blows over. Like Assassin’s Creed, those hiding places should be iconic and easy to identify for a panicked player.

This is much like how the Prince of Persia: Sands of Time series worked. As a game designer, you give the player a way to correct a limited number of mistakes, and you throttle that supply of “bailouts” to keep them from being reckless or cavalier. You replenish that supply at carefully controlled intervals, to make sure they have enough to get through a given area.

The trick here is that you’d have to train the player very carefully at the beginning of the game. If you hand a player a gun, they are going to want to Wolfenstein their way through the place. It’s human nature. That gun makes them feel safe and powerful. Letting them learn via repeated failure (death) is not fun and would be a disastrous way to begin the game.

But all-stealth-all-the-time is going to get monotonous. You can’t take that one moment of “oh noes the zombie is coming this way I hope he doesn’t see me!” and stretch it out over ten hours. Thief and Metal Gear have other types of gameplay mixed in there to keep things interesting. Let’s build on a few established ideas:

Barricades

Once in a while games will give you an area where you can block a door or a window, but I haven’t really played any that brought this idea to the forefront. I can envision a game where there would be large set-piece conflicts where you have to prepare for a coming onslaught of foes by erecting and maintaining a series of barricades.

Although once again, this creates a binary pass / fail situation. If the player does a poor job in building their barricades, or if they overlook an entry point into the room, then they’ll get swarmed and die. (Or deplete their ammunition, which is effectively the same thing.) That’s no fun.

You can fix this by making the “barricade” sections of the game have “fallback” rooms. So, if you get overrun in the first room, you can bolt to the next, where you’ll have thirty seconds or so to seal the place up before your enemies begin assaulting the new room. (Let’s assume that between these rooms we have heavy steel doors that foes can’t penetrate, and that we’re worried about them swarming in through the windows.) You can give the player a few rooms like this, and then simply require them to survive for a limited time. (If we’re talking zombies, then perhaps they must survive until dawn. Or until the power comes back on. Something like that.) They have to survive for (say) five minutes, and if they botch the barricade in one room they can try again in the next.

The risk here is that they would barricade the safe escape route. Again, it would all come down to player training. You have to explain the rules via an NPC, a narration, or a soliloquy. This could be really fun if you can clearly communicate the goals to the player. They would run around the room, repairing damaged barricades before they collapsed entirely. The smashing and rending of the enemies as they tore their way into the room would make for some tense moments.

Chase Scene

The final gameplay mechanic could be a nice monster chase. Present the player with an unbeatable foe and then have it chase them through an area. This is exactly the mechanic of the Guardian chase in the Antlion lair from Half Life 2: Episode 2. Now, that part of the game wasn’t a huge thrill for me, but I think it’s a solid idea and many people loved it.

As with Episode 2, this would need to be a set piece, with the player crawling through windows or darting through doors, with the monster having to crash through walls in pursuit.

Again, you run into the pass / fail problem, but I think the gun could be used to solve this. If the player shoots the monster, it will be knocked down for a second and allow the player a chance to get a few steps away. Once again, you need to carefully communicate how this works to the player, or they will see that their bullets “hurt” the monster and simply try to kill it outright.

Plot

I don’t want to get too hung up on plot here. A good plot is crucial for making the game interesting, but the above gameplay is flexible enough that there is no need to marry it to any particular story. Certainly you begin with the premise that the player is trapped in some sort of horrible place infested with zombies or other monsters. You isolate them, and then you provide them with some motivation for going forward. The most important thing is to make sure the story doesn’t undermine the gameplay.

But for the sake of fleshing this out, I’ll toss out an obvious plot to act as the backdrop for all this. I like Luke’s idea of a MacGyver-style protagonist, so let’s start from there:

The player is a scientist at some sort of research facility. (Those troublesome corporations / governments, when will they ever learn?) An outbreak occurs. Amid the chaos, one scientist darts into a large test chamber and slams the door shut. She cowers in the dim light for hours as snarling horrors pound endlessly on the door. Eventually the pounding subsides. She doesn’t have any food or water. She waits as long as she can, but it’s clear she doesn’t have any choice but to leave her safety vault in search of help. After scewing up her nerve and giving herself a character-revealing pep-talk, she opens the door and emerges into the ruined labs.

As she exits, the game begins. As a scientist, she’s far better with tools than weapons, and has to rely on ingenuity and environment-based puzzles to survive. You can introduce the player to game mechanics one at a time as they “find” useful items. “Oh look! The screwdriver: I can use this to remove vent covers and move between rooms.” Or perhaps, “A lighter? I can use this to set off the fire suppression system!” And so on.

One good object to give the player would be a cell phone. They can call for help, and an NPC can guide them through the game. A little icon will appear letting the player know the cell phone reception is good in a given room, and that they can call out. Doing so will give a hint on what their current task is or deliver a quick a tutorial on an upcoming area. You’d have to be very careful with the writing to avoid reminding the player of the unintentional comedy of the Metal Gear codec sequences, but if done properly you should be able to train the player without completely wrecking immersion. As a bonus, the cell phone could double as an ersatz flashlight as well.

This would make for an interesting game. There would be sneaking sections, barricade sections, chase sections, and puzzle sections. Mix in a few “cutscene” rooms to give the player a reward for progressing, and you have the ingredients for a game that can offer a lot of variety and can dish out some genuine thrills. From hold-you-breath suspense of the sneaking sequences to the adrenaline-pumping barricade and chase sections.

Sadly, what I’ve just described is, without a doubt, a mainstream AAA game. I wouldn’t attempt this in 2d, and a 3d game with this many elements would be extraordinarily difficult to pull of on a tight budget. Heck, 3D avatar-based games in general are tough for indies, even when dealing with established and well-understood gameplay. Something like this would require a lot of careful playtesting and note-taking on the part of the developers to deliver a fun and polished experience.

Still, it’s fun to dream.

A Hundred!5105 comments. Quick! Add another to see if this message changes!


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  1. JFargo says:

    I wish I had the kind of money it would take to back a game like that, or the clout to talk a company into producing it. It sounds absolutely fantastic, the perfect kind of game that I’d want to play.

  2. Ambience 327 says:

    Brilliant. I’d play that game in a heartbeat. I really like the barricade idea – I can see how much fun it would be to scramble from window to window, nailing in new boards or shoving new furniture up against a door. It would have elements of resource management, you’d only have so many nails, so much wood, so many vending machines, etc.

    The chase scene is fairly obligitory – but would it have to be you being chased? What if you had to catch something, before it got away? Like maybe a scumbag corporate bigwig who has the antidote to the outbreak – which you’ve now been infected with? Sure, you’re a measily scientist, but he’s old, bald and overweight. You can kick his butt – if you can get past the security systems he’s enabled.

    And now – with your infection running its course – the outbreak victims effectively ignore you – they can smell the disease and know you’ll be among them soon – and you don’t taste good any more either. :) The whole thing could end in grand style as the bigwig’s military escort catches up to the two of you, and have to fight it out with your new “allies” while you work your way through the mess to get the jerk who started this whole mess – and save your own sanity as well!

  3. Shamus, there is a third option here – license a well established engine. I believe that lots of what we both talked about in our posts could be done with the Source engine.

    As an example of what can be accomplished using the Source just look at Vampire: Masquerade or The Ship. Both very different games, with different mechanic, and which look nothing like HL2 or counterstrike. :)

    There would still be tons of work to do, but at least you don’t need to design a physics engine, and the guts of the game are already mature, and well understood and documented (well, at least one would hope).

  4. Greg says:

    This reminds me of a lot of the cthulu game I’ve been playing recently. The last time I played I’d just got my first weapon (after some hours of gameplay) but most of it has been either sneaking past or running away from opponents that I have no reliable means to attack. It’s had a great atmosphere and I’ve enjoyed it a lot. I’m told that it does become a killfest by the end though :(

    Looking at the ideas you’re putting above I’d mostly be up for that, but I’m not sure how well the gun mechanic would work. Shooting things to get away is good in theory, but if it’s a first person game you can either look at where you’re running to, or what you’re shooting at – any use of the weapon in the way you suggest would probably do you more harm than good. Also there are only so many reasons to strip a players ammo, I think that a lot of players would be very conservative through most of the game and then blitz the last couple of levels when they realise they’ve collected loads (albiet in very small packadges) over the course of the game.

    The problem with sneakers is this all or nothing thing you talk about, it’s like when you said it that you’ve said something that’s always been known but nobodies quite put into words before. I think the challange would be to come up with a better mechanic than a gun for achieving this effect?

    If it’s a scientist in a scifi type setting perhaps some device that renders the player invisible, that automatically activates for five seconds at a time whenever the player is spotted. Limiting charges on a powered device makes more sense than limiting a player to only carrying 10 bullets and it’s just long enough to scoot past one enemy (So you can do the next bit of the game instead of having 5 minutes “boring time” while you wait for the enemies to stop looking for your hiding place and go back on patrol)

    Of course that’s all a bit fantastical and survival horror works better without scifi elements (since it’s a slightly unimmersing thing) is there an effect that’d do these jobs without the limitation?

  5. Jonathan Grimwauld says:

    Damn.. I think I’m in love with a non-existent game…

  6. Oh, and one more thing – I don’t necessarily agree that stealth sections must be pass/fail situations.

    For example – if player is detected, the zombie/monster stops dead in it’s tracks and spends 30 seconds sniffing, growling or doing something intimidating giving the player a head start. Then the game goes into a chase sequence with easy hideouts. I think in my comments section we talked about how this could be resolved – for example hiding in shadows or simply putting a wall between you and the monster.

    Also, I don’t agree you can’t be partially detected. One could design quirky monsters which have limited field of vision. For example blind zombies that react to noise. They would zero in on your footsteps if you are within their aggro range, but if you stand still they may loose sight of you. Then you throw something into the other room and all of them go scurrying to investigate.

  7. Mike R says:

    more “bailout” options (other than the gun with limited ammo):
    recharging teleport (lower difficulty means faster recharge)
    recharging invisibility
    limited number of “flares” that blind the dark loving zombies..

    ie you can not kill them but you can “get away” from melee..

  8. Sarah says:

    “If only,”

    The eternal creedo of creative gamers and indie developers.

  9. Freaky Dug says:

    That sounds like a really cool game. Not really for me(I found Portal terrifying so a game that was focussed on scaring me would probably give me a heart attack) but a good idea nonetheless.

  10. Shamus says:

    Luke: The thing I was trying to avoid was Detection = Death. Certainly the stages of detection make sense, but sometimes the player will make a blunder and the zombie will know exactly where they are. If you step into the light right in front of a zombie, it shouldn’t get “suspicious”, it should try to eat you, right there. Running away means running to another room, and you end up “collecting” more guys, until you have a whole crowd chasing you.

    Greg: Perhaps a taser would work better. Limited charge capacity, which can be replenished at carefully placed power stations. As a bonus, the monster doesn’t die, and the player won’t expect it to. It just goes limp for a minute or so, gets back up, and goes back to hunting.

  11. Shamus says:

    I should add, the other thing I was trying to avoid was the exploit where the player just runs through the level, letting the zombies chase them. If it takes forty minutes to sneak through and six minutes to sprint, then it encourages players to play sprint- n-hide. This is why I proposed the gun mechanic.

    As in: You’re spotted? Use a bullet / taser charge or get eaten.

  12. Shalkis says:

    HL2 did toy with the barricade idea, they only used turrets instead of physical barriers. And the Metal Gear Solid series has plenty of examples about partial detection. The trouble with that, like any other mechanic, is that you quickly discover the basic rules of the mechanic: that the guards have no short-term memory whatsoever. You can be partially detected as many times as you want, and their response will always be the same.

  13. Factoid says:

    If the setting allowed for it, I would think about adding in a classic gameplay type like the “Shock and Awe” level in Call of Duty 4, or the chapter in Half-Life where you control the artillery platform. The idea being that you are in control of some apparatus capable of destorying lots of bad guys with little risk to yourself.

    Since it’s a survival horror game, we just add a little of the risk back in, but basically it’s a reward level, meant to be pure, concentrated fun.

    Imagine you’re in a warehouse or industrial complex that has a grated metal floor. It’s completely dark under there, and dimly lit above. There’s a bit of crawlspace under the floor and our hero being a small and agile can crawl around fairly easily.

    You can look up and see monsters standing/lumbering around, but they can’t see you unless you make too much noise or turn on a light. If they see or hear you they’ll start ripping up the grated tiles and you’re toast. There are dark corners where it’s safe to push a tile up and poke your head out, maybe crawl around to get an item or set off a trap.

    This is your opportunity to call in the cavalry, though. Using your GPS-enabled cell phone, you can crawl right underneath groups of monsters, snapshot the coordinates, then crawl to a safe distance and call your buddies on the roof or from a satellite to zap them with their special anti-zombie-ray.

    You have to be careful because the cell phone gives off enough light to detect you. You’ll need to create some distractions to get underneath undetected. Maybe there’ll be a rope you can untie that will drop some strung-up corpses onto the deck, causing a feeding frenzy.

    In my mind the idea of crawling right under a monster’s feet, afraid of being detected, but not wanting to miss the opportunity to annihilate them en-masse, would be incredibly satisfying, and would fit in with the whole suspense/stealth/horror theme.

  14. @Shamus – I believe we also covered this in the comments:

    1. My initial idea was to have very few zombies in each area. So you would have 1 or two of them, and once you knew their patrol routines you could plan your escape routes and/or kite the monsters into carefully set traps. For example, if there are 3 zombies in the area you could probably lock at least one of them in a walk-in freezer either indefinitely or at least for a little while (until it destroys the door).

    The idea is that 1 monster can sometimes be more scary than a horde of monsters. Most of the game would be spent exploring the destroyed laboratory complex and interacting with the environment.

    I sort of imagined that there would be many rooms in each area that the monsters never patrol and never visit unless they are pursuing you.

    2. I think we mentioned use of meelee weapons to stun monsters. If the zombie tries to eat you, you hit it on the head with a rusty pipe, and then you hide.

    @ Shalkis – heh, but unlike MGS guards, zombies are sort of supposed to be mindless and stupid. :)

  15. Eric J says:

    I’m thinking a blowgun, with a limited amount of anti-zombie curative darts.

    Perhaps there are labs along the way where you can mix up a new batch (if your barricades hold…)

  16. tom says:

    If there would be a monster than only stalked you from the shadows and wouldnt come into the light then maybe this could happen:

    About halfway through the game you meet up with the “badass military type”. You team up for a little while and just when your feeling safe you go through a room where the light suddenly goes off. On the way here you got a couple glimpses of that monster in the shadows and now you hear that monster attacking the badass military guy. you quickly get out your lighter/flashlight (this would work better with the lighter since you can’t move where the light is going as much) and you get a view of the monster just before he jumps back into the shadows, with the military guy dead and his gun broken. The next room would have the lights on and you wouldnt see the monster in the shadows for a little while.

    This would make an awesome game.

  17. Gnagn says:

    My favorite bit of Barricade/Chase gameplay was from Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth.

    ***Big spoilers for possibly the best part of a generally cool game ahead***

    Once the residents of Innsmouth decide they no longer want this outsider poking around their friendly fishing village, they decide to get rid of you. You awaken in your hotel room just before they arrive, and spend a few very tense minutes running from room to room, pushing things in front of doors to slow pursuit just long enough for you to get to the next room, and eventually escape to the rooftops for a long chase above the town with precarious ledges and leaps and whatnot.

    The unfortunate part about this section is that it is very much like the Babel fish puzzle. There is exactly one optimal path through the hotel, pushing the proper wardrobes in front of doors in the proper order and using the correct doors at the correct times, and a single mistake means you are caught and have to DIAS. But I found that the “OMG they’re right on the other side of the door” tension really held my interest through the whole scene, even though I had to do it many times. Only having a few seconds once you’ve entered a room to figure out what needs to be done and do it really makes for exciting gameplay.

  18. Veylon says:

    I remember that in Kotor there was a monster guarding an area that you had to get through. Being a rather huge monster, it would kill you in one hit and your regular weapons were useless, so you were supposed to use a plot item to make it not attack you. However, I had collected a rather large number of mines (by disarming them throughout the game), so I was able to plant mines, lure the monster out, and blow it up.

    So, I guess my point is that a chase scene could also involve the player quickly putting out traps, luring the monster away from the player’s home base, and rescuing NPCs in addition to ‘simply’ trying to escape.

  19. Factoid says:

    Veylon: Which part in KOTOR are you referring to? It’s been a while since I played it. Was that the Krayt dragon on tatooine?

    If so I think I remember blowing it up with mines too. In fact I’m not sure I remember there being a way to get close to it without attacking you…I must have missed that plot-point. I remember it had some cool loot if you blew it up.

  20. m2 says:

    Ah, the famous Rancor on Taris scene. I think that a limited set of traps could also help the player out and break up the monotony. But an alternative could be to make the player at least slightly combat capable. A bit like Splinter Cell, as it were.

    BTW, the Rancor leaves no loot. There’s some good stuff in the Karyt cave, though.

  21. Nick says:

    I think we can all agree that games need better stealth mechanics. I hated how, in Oblivion, if anyone knew you were there, you could NEVER hide from them, short of running five load screens away.

    Too many games also ignore the “If the can’t sense you, they can’t find you” rule. How many zombies with it’s head freshly blown off (played a bit of Prey recently) still manage to track me down without eyes, ears, nose or touch?

    It’s rare to find a game that introduces stealth while ALSO allowing you to re-stealth after being found. While MGS was originally bad with short-term memory loss guards, they’ve gone better, with heightened search patterns and backup and new, random patrol routes if they suspect anything.

  22. Magnus says:

    The original Alone in the Dark has many of the elements you mention, including barricades at a few places, as fighting gets you no benefits other than wasting what little ammunition you have, and items were not always obvious to find.

    Most was puzzle based, and in terms of a scientist/zombie setting, you could find meat, or dead animals, and poison them with something, then throw them to the zombies (assuming they are general carnivores, rather than just liking the taste of human brains…)

    “Thief” was very good in the initial levels, allowing you several ways of getting past guards, avoidance, KO, kill. It fell down in my eyes when non-humans and similar were brought in, which reduced the number of options.

  23. I just sneaked past nine guys. Oops! I walked right into number ten. Combat ensues, and the noise ends up bringing the other nine. If I’m going to fight them all anyway, then those twenty minutes of observing patrol patterns and careful movement were a complete waste. I call this the “Metal Gear” effect

    That is not how it worked in Metal Gear Solid 2 or Solid 3.

    I don’t know what you are naming this after.

  24. potemkin.hr says:

    @ Veylon: The monster was an adult Rancor ;)
    A good addition would be if you had team members with you and in one moment a zombie bit your team member but he “forgot” to tell you this… Let’s say there were this guy, a chick and you in the room which you just barricaded and have no escape but to wait for help called trough the cell phone. At one moment the infected guy wakes as a zombie and starts eating the chick. Now imagine you have no bullets ’cause you used all of them retreating. A little hopeless situation, no? :D

  25. Derek K. says:

    The rancor was the one with several options. The easiet way was putting a scent thing on a bomb, but it’s nice to know mines worked.

  26. Anonymous says:

    From this post I take it you still haven’t bought and played Penumbra, because it pretty much does this. (WARNING: SPOILERS MAY ENSUE.) Although it is possible to kill the wolves in Penumbra: Overture, it takes a few whacks with the pickaxe, which is not ideal for combat to begin with. It’s often a much better idea to hide from them, and if you’re spotted, you can distract them with some salted meat and keep on running until you find a safe spot to hide. In Penumbra: Black Plague, you get no weapons at all. You have to hide from the Infected because there is no other choice.

    There’s also a part in Penumbra: Overture where you have to outrun a giant worm thing so that it doesn’t eat you. You have to block its progress by closing doors and collapsing ceilings while at the same time smashing through barricades with your pickaxe. It’s unfortunately a pass/fail situation but it’s very compelling and it fits in well with the game.

    Honestly, if you haven’t picked up either of the Penumbra episodes then give them a try. The third (and final) one, Requiem, is coming out in about ten days, and I’m looking forward to it.

  27. Sharpie says:

    You need to play Penumbra: Black Plague, me thinks. It does not have all these things, but it is a pretty damn good survival horror.

  28. Eltanin says:

    Here’s a half-baked idea. I’m sure that it would be fun but only if it could be implemented well.

    One of the Survival Horror thrills that I enjoy are situations from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I.e. it’s not necessarily mindless zombies or monsters that you’re fighting/escaping but other intelligent members of society. The Matrix had a whiff of the kind of flavor that I’m talking about. Could you implement that tension of having to wear a disguise and hope that the creeps don’t see through it? This would not be a thing to base a whole game around, but might be an interesting section to interweave with barricade building and sneaking, etc.

    As I said though, I’m not sure how to implement that in terms of a video game. How would one provide behavioral patterns that the player could implement with varying degrees of success? I can think of things like a dialogue tree in which you need to choose the proper responses, but that’s a pretty static thing. Not replayable. I’d love to hear if anyone has ideas along these lines.

    Also, I was thinking about the stealth thing, and one option would be to provide some sort of invisiblity cloak. Perhaps it works best in shade and has a limited time before the sun begins to reveal who’s behind it (or vice versa – it’s charge by the sun?). Anyway, I can imagine that detection would then be a gradual process in which the zombie became suspicious before it became outright aggressive. And I think that it would fit in nicely with the frantic hunt for a little scrap of shade (or sun) to find before your cloak fizzles out.

    This is similar in flavor (though less thought out) to Factoid’s ‘crawl under their feet’. The ability to move in amongst your enemies without being detected (you hope) would provide a certain frisson I’d think.

    Anyway, just some thoughts.

    • Gordon says:

      as far as the “disguise to walk among them” goes, what about using something from other zombie media? in “The Walking Dead,” the main character is able to move among the undead by covering himself in undead guts and walking slowly and unsteadily. if, in this game, you could try something similar, it cold be interesting as an alternate approach to sneaking. faster, yet more dangerous, without resorting to tension breaking fights.

      In larger crowds, it ends up being even more dangerous, but not necessarily a “Pass/fail” sort of thing, assuming there’s a safe location to get to just afterwards. perhaps some types of monsters or zombies are more likely to sniff you out, so you have to avoid them specifically, and even if one or two zombies sniffs you out, not all of them will start gnawing on your trachea at once. MAYBE you’d be able to take out the one in question discreetly, or lose him in the crowd, or if you think you’re close, just run for it and rely on the confusion amidst the mob to keep them from jumping you until you make it. in fact, put a POSSIBLE barricade section right afterwards; if you manage to sneak through undetected, then they don’t assault the barricades unless you make a lot of noise. if you alert one or two zombies, but eluded or stunned them, then you get a chance of either not triggering the barricade rush or having a delayed trigger.

  29. DGM says:

    Shamus,

    Ever played Metroid: Zero Mission? In the last part of the game, Samus has lost her power suit and has to sneak through a space pirate-infested ship with only a small emergency pistol. The pistol has unlimited shots, but only stuns an enemy for a second or two and requires a recharge between shots; Samus has no way to actually hurt bad guys at this point besides getting them to shoot each other.

    Something like that could work for the “oh no, I’ve been spotted” part.

  30. Shamus says:

    Chris Arndt: That is indeed how MGS 3 worked for me. Or at least, how it seemed. I’d sneak past several guys, slowly, slowly. Waiting and watching and waiting and waiting. It was fun until I made a mistake, at which point it turned into a big clumsy firefight and I had to engage several guys at once. As soon as you’re discovered, all your previous successes become liabilities.

    Eventually I realized it was just faster to murder my way through the game, because I wasn’t skilled enough to sneak flawlessly.

  31. Daniel says:

    What if the zombies were hostile to each other, in addition to the player? Then being discovered might still result in death some of the time, but it would also be possible to run. Sure, charging headlong into another room might lead you right into the arms of another zombie, but you might be able to get away/hide while the first and second zombie “distract” each other.

  32. Aergoth says:

    I wonder Shamus, if you have ever played a game called Last Stand? I’ve found it on armor games, and manages (for a 2D flash game) the idea of a barricade quite well. There is no fall back, but if the zombies breach the ‘cades you can hold them off if you are sufficiently prepared. The second game is equally good, and manages findng supplies much better than the first (you now have to move between different locations, and must choose which buildings to search with the alotted time. It’s a very good game if I do say so myself.

    Stealthy gun-fighting is something I’ve seen implemented moderately well in both Nightfire and in Red Steel. Nightfire being a Bond game, there are sneaking levels, where you must remove enemies without being seen, or prevent enemies from raising the alarm. In the later case, one could fight their way through the level, but limited ammunition and time, as well as the twisty nature of the patrol patterns make this difficult. You can’t go through as a pacifist either, because the game forces you to go through enemy patrolled areas with minimal cover. When dispatching an enemy at range, you seem to get the “grunt effect”. If you’ve played Halo (I believe I remember a post about it) you might remember that the most basic of enemies, grunts, tend to react in panic when a comrade goes down, and that the entire group can be scattered if you take out the commanding unit (elites in the case of halo) Enemies in nightfire and red steel both react when they hear gunshots or if they see an ally fall dead. Red steel doesn’t have as many chances for stealth, but the enemies will lose track of you for a momment if you take or switch cover, and then reaquire you as a target if you stand up or fire.

    @Daniel: What you describe is called monster in-fighting and only exists where there are defined “kinds” or “teams” of monsters I’ve found. Doom has such features implemented, and a smart player can conserve ammunition by avoiding fighting through some rooms while the monsters duke it out. Zombies seem to lack the capacity for in-fighting because they don’t have anything to gain from it (brains/food in this case)

  33. The Lone Duck says:

    My thought is that the fundamental ideal is the chase and/or get-the-heck-outta-Dodge gameplay. Now obviously, the horror creeps in as you realize you can’t get away, but you have to have hope before you can have horror. Dropping the player in a corridor that only goes forward does not create a sense of fear. Uncertainty, the question of “is this the right way to go”, that creates fear. Of course, you’d have to lay out the mechanics of this in-game, so metathinking wouldn’t kick in.
    This running away mechanic (not the automobile kind) could take the form of a driving scene, platforming, run and gun. To avoid the pass/fail problem, create multiple paths. Make enough mistakes, and you die, do everything right, and you’re signifcantly safer. (Let’s say you a. kill the thing that was chasing you instead of merely getting away, or b. get some object that can protect/heal you as a result of your performance.
    Another potential aspect is tied to your barricading idea. The fundamental idea is manipulating your environment. Creating a ‘wall’ where there wasn’t one, creating a ‘door’ where there wasn’t one. For example if you’re in a Japanese house, both you and monsters should be able to run through the thin walls. If you’re in a church basement, you’d either need a lot of time to break a wall, or a lot of firepower (in which case, why are you running?).
    Now to me, hiding should be a response after running, separate from barricading. There is definately a pass/fail mechanic to hiding. To add variety, I think hiding in different ways would help. Let’s say you got a monster with eyes, and he can see you. You have another monster, who can see in the dark, but is blinded by light. You got a monster who hears the sound of footsteps, the sound of you breathing. (Hold x to hold breath.) You got a monster who smells blood. Create different hiding mechanics for different enemies. Do these different enemies work together? That depends on the plot you create. Some would probably cooperate, but some need not. By creating these different forms of hiding, one still avoids the routine of knowing you won’t be found.
    Speaking of plot, there is one factor that is important to me. The unknown is scary. So the game can’t tell us everything about the “horror element”, (whether it’s aliens, zombies, ungodly horrors, etc.) by telling us, it simply becomes an elaborate animal that requires a certain number of bullets. However, by telling us to little, we won’t know what’s going on, how to progress. As I see it, the trick would be in telling us just enough to let us know how much we don’t know. Metagaming can ruin that on some levels, but that can be fixed. How many bullets does it take to kill a zombie? Make it random. Sometimes 1, sometimes 12. One time, 57 was recorded. You currently have 8 bullets left. Suddenly, mere zombies are scary. Obviously, there would be caps, depending on the creature, but that irregularity that defies logic and science, that creates fear. Suddenly, that machine gun doesn’t make you feel so big. To concide with this mechanic, have weapons that slow down the enemy. Obviously, a shotgun. On some enemies, flamethrowers would work. On others, well… Is a zombie dog running toward you better off on fire? Of course, you already said the emphasis wouldn’t be on combat. Rather the use of weapons would be in the running away segments, to aid in running away.
    Now for me, the ideal survival horror game is if you take the concept of Mirror’s Edge, only you throw dark colors in, and instead of government agents, you have zombies. Course, zombies with guns don’t make much sense. And you wouldn’t carry them… Well anyway, there are some ideas.

  34. Daniel says:

    @Aergoth
    What I was suggesting was far more pervasive aggression. Rather than zombies on teams intelligently fighting over territory, what if you had each zombie mindlessly attacking anything that moved? Take the original example:

    I just sneaked past nine guys. Oops! I walked right into number ten. Combat ensues, and the noise ends up bringing the other nine. If I’m going to fight them all anyway, then those twenty minutes of observing patrol patterns and careful movement were a complete waste. I call this the “Metal Gear” effect.

    If each zombie were universally aggressive, instead of having 10 guys to fight if he’s discovered, the player has to avoid the first zombie only until others arrive, because the others will be just as happy to attack the first zombie. Of course, the arrival of more zombies does not make the player exactly *safe,* because the new zombies would be all to happy to rend the player limb from limb — but it does provide an opportunity to hide again probably survive. i.e., it provides Partial Failure.

  35. @The Lone Duck – if you read through the comments on the original article you will see that we talked about precisely that – different monsters with different detection mechanisms.

    I originally had slow, blind zombies which hunt by sound (footsteps), deaf zombies/monsters that hunt visually and mostly ignore noise, a zombie dog/monster which hunts by smell and will trail you from room to room albeit slowly until it sees/hears you an an unknown monster that lurks in the shadows and won’t attack you if you’re standing in the light.

    I’d stack them in increasing order of difficulty – the blind zombies would be first since they would be easy to distract and outmaneuver. The dog creature would be near the end since it would be hard to shake off once it is on your trail. The shadow monster would be most dangerous and most scary since availability of light would not be a given at all times (also the lighter would not scare it away).

  36. Aergoth says:

    @Daniel
    Yes I understand what you are saying now, my belief is that I simply wouldn’t work with zombies as the prevalent enemy, unless they were perhaps similar to the flood.
    The theory is sound, the execution in this case is flawed. Zombies don’t do in-fighting in my experience, unless they’re both after the same corpse, and even then, what can they do to each other? (I’m talking about classic Romero style zombies here, none of this new fangled running jumping super zombies.)

  37. Daniel says:

    Well, I don’t know if it’d have to be too newfangled . . . I mean, if you just have classic mindless zombies out for flesh/brains, why can’t they be equally attracted to zombie flesh/brains?

  38. Dev Null says:

    With your scientist/MacGuyver idea, you touch on another gameplay mechanic; traps. Like the lovely setups in Ravenholt which I always thought were a little underused just because you could usually blast your way through the situation with less effort. Part of your limited inventory could be things like wicks, bottles (for molotovs), ropes and tripwires, and you could have a level or two where instead of sneaking past everything you had to kill a bunch of zombies to get by. Still with an extremely limited supply of trap materials, this level is, say, an oil refinery, with lots of flammables and heavy barrels to drop on things. The tripwires and ropes do you no good in the sneak levels because theres nothing to burn there, or no handy scaffoldings to hang heavy weights off of, so you don’t have to worry about these supplies turning the whole thing into a killfest game, like you would with giving them too much ammo and a shotgun.

  39. David says:

    I’m wondering what your thoughts are on the game “Haunting Ground” for the PS2, if you’ve ever played it. It might be right up your alley.

  40. Olly says:

    I’ve always thought that it would be great in a survival game for there to be a possibility that no matter how well you plan and prepare, things can still go wrong. For example, imagine that you’ve been hoarding all the ammo you can find for the past couple of levels and you now come to a corridor which you can clearly see has several monsters. Deciding that it’s fine, you can take them easy, you set off straight towards the monsters raise the gun and *click* it jams. That would make for a priceless horror game moment.

    Clearly in this example there would only have to be a chance that the gun would jam, and likely a very small one at that. But building in these extra uncertainties and importantly letting the player know of them would help keep things on edge nicely. That wood you used in the barricade? Rotten and weak, so it breaks much sooner than all the other wood you used. That conveniently placed oil barrel? Empty, shooting it/setting it alight just draws attention to you.

  41. Felblood says:

    Eternal Darkness Plays with a lot of these concepts, but then it undermines itself. These are the implacable gods of madness; their ways are unknowable. Now use this easy to understand magic system to steal power from them and use it against them. The early levels are very tense, but as the player expands the Tome of Eternal Darkness and comes to understand the rules that bind the guardians, the game gets less scary and more hard. Health, sanity, magic, and ammo limitations make partial victories possible, but an abundance of each robs partial successes of any weight.

    A lot of the ideas you talk about were present in the game, but the fact was you hand an axe and zombies move slow. Lop off their heads and they can’t find you. Blind two zombies and push them into each other. Watch them kill each other. If a room contains demons loyal to different old ones, you can run past while they fight it out.

    Trappers were an exception in that, you couldn’t kill them without wasting ammo, but their attacks usually left you better off, once you knew how they worked, and they had no visual sense.

    Sneaking was never really possible without using the Mantorok stealth field, but it led to several nice moments were your cloak would wear off in the presence of a Xelotath Reaver, and you wouldn’t be able to recast until you fled or killed the thing.

    Having you change characters at the end of every level did give your ammo count a nice reset button though, but since the later characters usually had a nice melee weapon and/or military grade firepower, tha was underexploited. Bianchi’s level did string you along running and sneaking past zombies, until you found a weapon, at which time they made you fight reapers.

    Then at the end you have to fight the liche. This guy dropped Mantorok, god of death, in one hit. Granted you technically have amassed more occult power than him, by then, but the whole idea that the liche could feasibly master the power of the old ones, let alone letting the PCs do this, undermines the ideas of ineffable alien powers, that the game relies on to be scary.

    Thankfully, the final twist offsets some of this. Mantorok is a sneaky … Tentacle … eye … mouth …thing.

  42. Johan says:

    [quote]you can be partly injured, but you can’t be partly discovered[/quote]
    I sort of disagree with this one. I think there ARE ways to do this, and as an example I thought Deus Ex had great sneaking mechanics that, had they been twiddled a little, could have turned it into a perfect sneaking game (without the need for the guns). In it you had “almost seen” where the guards would say a line and turn your way, something like “I saw someone, might be just a homeless guy.” If you got to cover quickly enough, they would forget about you and act as if nothing had happened.

    If they DID see you, and started shooting or whatever, you could still sort of hide sometimes (if you had a good place to do so), although then the guards would skip the “I almost see you” step and go straight to the shooting if they saw you again. I would have preferred it if this “trigger happy” status would have also worn off, but it didn’t seem to do so (though I could be wrong). Either way, though, you weren’t immediately in failure mode of you alerted the guards.

    I also didn’t think it explored the ability to “distract” guards well enough. I remember an old game from the 90s where you could distract guards with a pack of cigarettes. They would walk up the pack and start smoking, and you could then take them out away from the other guards. I’m not sure how you would “distract” or “take out” zombies or monsters, but this is another option over the usual pass/fail simplicity of stealth games.

    Had all these been twiddled a bit more, you could make a game all about sneaking and none about gunplay without the pass/fail of usual stealth missions/games.

    Not sure if this has been addressed (haven’t finished reading the post or comments), but just my .00002 cents.

  43. NobleBear says:

    @Shamus, thank you for sharing this, it was a really good read.

    @Luke, Great stuff here!:D
    Two suggestions I would make just based on my own personal taste:
    1) I really hate weapon degradation. Give it to me or don’t (as with a wrench, steel pipe or piece of rebar); or give me an item that I know and expect up front to be in finite supply (like a grenade or Molotov)
    2) As much as I like HL2, I really prefer 3rd person; so while physical puzzles are a great idea, I’d like them to be more in the spirit of ICO than HL.

    That said, you might have characters pass through areas where the environment provides the “weapon”, like a waste disposal facility with a masher or a refinery with a smelter.

    I also really like the idea of barricades, but what you could do is have the barricade be transitive. Like, in RE3, after Jill’s first encounter with Nemesis she can choose to duck into the RCPD station; when she safely gets to the other side of the doors then closes them, there’s a moment where N bangs on the door with his full weight. When I first played it, I freaked out. What if can get through the door? How much time do I have? It turns out that the lobby had a typewriter and therefore meant he wouldn’t ever come in the room. But what if he could? What if I only had so much time to get what I needed from there and had to move on quickly cause he’d be through the door and on top of me any second?

    Anyway, just some thoughts. Thanx for hearing me out.

  44. Spam Vader says:

    The sneaking around to hide from the monster idea was featured in Mall Monster, which is free, by the way. You have to sneak around a mall, while avoiding the monster, which is faster than you, invincible, and apparently as a bat-like ability to find exactly where things are by sound alone. There were ways to temporarily slow it down or sound traps that would let you know where it was. There was even a fear meter that would blind and/or paralyze you if the character was freaking out too much. But, the game was hard beyond belief due to the monster’s powers.

  45. Blackbird71 says:

    Some very interesting and compelling ideas here, is it too much to hope that someday we get to try them out?

    Somewhere during the whole conversation, my mind turned to the FF movie (Spirits Within), though I’m not sure why (maybe it was the suggestion of a female, non-combative, scientist protagonist?). Anyway, I’d never thougth of the movie as any sort of horror, but it did have a number of scenes that would fit nicely in the game being described.

    Particularly, I thought something could be learned in the film’s approach to combat. Yes, you had the big bad military types, with really big guns, etc., but what made the encounters suspenseful was that even with all their gear, they were in reality unprotected and their weapons could only slow the enemy at best, irritate them further at worst. When even the fully armed and armored soldiers are better off running than standing and fighting, it really adds to the sense of danger.

    Now, how to pull of the same effect in a game without having it be entirely too difficult to be fun, that’s the dilema, but I think these ideas are on the right track with the emphasis on evasion tactics.

  46. Lanthanide says:

    I especially like the concept of using the cellphone as a crappy torch – it would be neat to see the rather feeble greeny-blue glow effect that it gave off lighting up some zombies face. As the game progressed you could reward the player with a better torch, and then have its batteries suddenly die without warning. From a design perspective, limited resources always result in me simply hording them and never using them. I got to the end of Baldur’s Gate 1 with almost every special potion I had collected in the game. Luckily I actually had enough invisibility potions/spells to get past a very very difficult battle, but the rest of the potions just sat there and never got used. So having a torch that you could find that has a battery meter I think would be counterproductive – if you don’t let the player know that there is a limited lifetime on the torch, it makes it that much scarier when the batteries finally do run out. You could signal it by having the beam get dimmer over time, and really in real life this is exactly what happens – we don’t have magical HUDs that tell us when our torch is about to give out.

    As for the chase sequence, I think a really good way of communicating to the player that using the weapon won’t actually kill the big beastie is to simply replace the big beastie with a big horde of zombies. So if you turn around and shoot 1 zombie dead, the rest of them will pause for a few seconds as they tear its body apart, while giving you time to escape. But you also know that you haven’t really saved yourself, and because you don’t have enough ammo to take them all out, there’s no way that simple combat could save you.

    Having a horde chasing you leads to the opportunities for many other gameplay elements: you can have traps that will take a few zombies out, you can have barricades that will hold them off for a few minutes, or you can finally get to a safe area and stop horde of zombie flavour X from chasing you, only to find zombie horde flavour Y coming out from the woodwork to continue the persuit. This could also give you opportunities for rival factions – you’re just seconds away from being killed by flavour X, and you run into a room full of flavour Y, which is extremely scary but if you are clever you can slip out of the room and leave X and Y to battle it out.

    I also like the idea of weapons being quite random in their killing strength. Thinking about Doom 3 and HL2 in particular, you get a fairly good impression of just how strong each weapon is, and this directly translates to how safe/secure you feel about your ammo situation at any time. You know that as long as you’ve got 20 rockets, you’ll be able to handle 10 revenants, or that the 3 combine orbs you have will let you take out 3+ soldiers or hunters. If, however, a zombie could take anywhere between 2 and 9 shots to kill, having 23 bullets in your gun doesn’t lend much comfort and definitely makes it more of a ‘last resort’ type of option. The tricky part is getting this to be fun and not annoying for the player, especially because random difficulty like this can greatly change the way the game is received by different players.

  47. NobleBear says:

    Some very interesting and compelling ideas here, is it too much to hope that someday we get to try them out?

    Seriously. I’m at a point in my schooling where I’m having to decide what direction I really want to head in. This thread, combined with other experiences, has me thinking games.

  48. MikeSSJ says:

    There IS at least one Survival Horror-series out there that emphasizes stealth over combat – it’s called “Forbidden Siren”.
    Never have I played a game where I was as terrified as in this one – you DO get weapons to take the zombies down, but them, being zombies, WILL get up again, over and over and over again, forcing you to hide, avoid combat whenever possible, and run away.

    However, it is also freakishly hard so I’m not sure whether you’d like it or not. Story and atmosphere are top-notch, though – at the beginning, you have a cast of 10 to 15 “survivors”, and switch back and forth as the story unfolds. And towards the end, that number decreases. A lot. And most of the survivors are encountered again – as zombies.

    Pretty neat, actually.

    But, as I mentioned before, it’s also increedibly hard, especially if you’re not using some kind of strategy guide.

  49. Vao Ki says:

    @Greg(#4): On the problem of finding too many bullets and blasting your way through levels…..

    It’s simple really. The gun only holds so much ammo. Once it’s full you can’t pick up any more. You have no pockets, or limited space used up by all the tools you need to advance.

    Also, 2 words on the problem of running from a boss and trying to shoot it: Auto targeting. Since you won’t need to shoot much, we can assume the character always hits whatever enemy is closest.

  50. Kevin says:

    I love the idea of blind zombies. Somehow that just ups the creep factor even higher.

    And as for why you wouldn’t be able to sprint through a level, what if you had to accomplish certain tasks to clear the pack of zombies standing around the exit, or start the generator to open the blast doors, or any other task that would make you stop in certain areas… which would get you killed in a hurry if you were trailing a hundred zombies.

  51. Mark says:

    You don’t think this would work in 2D? Well, maybe the atmosphere would suffer a bit for it, but there’s nothing you listed there that can’t happen in two dimensions.

  52. Duffy says:

    Bah, you’ve proposed something I can spend far too much time theorizing about. If I retain this line of thought for much longer I may have to attempt making a basic version of this idea.

  53. RoymacIII says:

    One of the things that I found most terrifying about the original Silent Hill was that there were a lot of moments where you didn’t know whether you were in danger or not. If I’m looking for horror, I’m looking for fear of the unknown. I remember a part in SH1 where you’re walking through a dark hallway, and you keep hearing noises around you, and then the creepy music cues up, and you don’t see any enemies for a long time, and that damned radio is sending out white noise like it’s going out of style. Just the threat of something happening was enough to get my heart racing.

    In an action game, if there’s a promise of action/fighting and the game doesn’t follow through, I feel annoyed or cheated. But, in a horror game, when the game suggests that something bad is going to happen, and it doesn’t, it can really rachet up the tension.

    Which is to say, I think that most of a horror game shouldn’t be combat, but, rather, the threat of it. I don’t usually find hordes of enemies particularly horrifying. I find being a long hallway or a building where I think that there *might* be an enemy, but I can’t see him *much* more frightening.

    But, if you’re going to have hordes of enemies, I think that there are some interesting things you can do with that too. Related to the crawling under the enemies, instead of having the player fight or sneak *through* the enemies, it seems like there could be some interesting play in having the player figure out ways around, over, or under the enemies. Imagine that you’ve been working your way through the aforementioned lab. You’ve been trying to find an exit, and finding them cut off or trapped. Eventually you come to a large loading bay or a warehouse or something. You’re up on a catwalk of some kind, and below you are teeming masses of whatever zombie enemy you’ve got. Maybe it’s dark, so you’re only catching glimpses of them, or can hear them. You have to get to the other side. You have to get on your hands and knees and crawl carefully along a narrow beam to get to the next catwalk, or to the top of a packing crate, etc. The tension comes from having, say, a limited ammount of strength or balance with which to steady yourself. Failure doesn’t necessarily mean death, though. It could be that failing results in your slipping or losing your grip for a moment, and you drop some important but unessential piece of equipment- maybe you drop some health replenishing supplies or a weapon, etc.

    The same thing could happen in typical sneaking segments- you’re ill equiped for fighting, so if you get grabbed, you’ve got to struggle to break free, but each time you’re grabbed, you run the risk of the monster ending up with some valuable item from your inventory.

  54. Well …

    Rested
    Fed
    Healed
    Energized

    To start. You are a scientist at the bottom of a secured installation and something goes wrong.

    Each level of the installation is airlocked from the next. The airlocks are on independent power, and each requires a pass code that you have to retrieve from the level before you can get past it.

    Each airlock has enough power for you to either sleep to fully rested, use to fully heal, or fully energize your stealth/time dilation device (or part of each). Food can be found and eaten, but has minimal effect (the lack of food is bad, and food can trade off, a little, for rest, just like real life).

    You get twenty seconds of time dilation from a full charge. Maybe you can outrun a zombie, maybe use it to hide, maybe swing a wrench real hard (breaks the wrench) or punch real hard (breaks your hand, requires healing or you start to degrade from the pain). Maybe a syringe with silver nitrate (wouldn’t want to try it on a zombie except from behind).

    Mostly sneak, explore, find the passcode parts. As each airlock runs out of energy, it opens — to both sides, so infected/zombified/criterized things can come through in both ways.

    And something really nasty is slowly coming up from the central lab you left behind when you decided you had to make a break for it.

    Updates, cell phone contact sometimes, sometimes you can patch into the computer system, some maps, some one shot weapons (a taser here, a wrench there). A first aid kit once or twice.

    Obviously the longer you can put off using specials, the more you can have later in the game.

    Autosave at each airlock, otherwise Doom style saves available too. But you can always restart at any airlock you’ve passed through.

    As you get towards the end, military command is on the outside, encouraging you. Of course you have to bypass them at the last or they’ll shoot you as part of the contagion. But can you really trust that television helicopter?

    The zombies get more and more evolved as you go further up. The longer you are climbing, the more they mutate and the more dangerous they get. Some are in lab coats, others are experimental animals, who knows what some of the others are. Is the one at the center an alien, a dead god, a demon? Do you really want to find out?

    But you can set up just about everything, kind of like Chip’s Challenge. A trap here and there. An explosion you concoct in a lab. A release of poison gas. Barricades. Stealth. Searching. Puzzle solving. Maybe a cubical jumping sequence.

    Seems like you could work just about anything and everything into ten levels.

  55. JoCommando says:

    While I may be posting a tad late for this topic, I wanted to share this hopeful-looking prospect I found recently:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_Island

    (Please forgive the wikipedia entry; it is slightly less conspicuous to open up for us folks at work than the game’s actual website.) I don’t recognize the publisher (Techland) so I’m unsure if DRM is an issue.

    In the meantime, for the casual gamers among us:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urban_Dead

    The only problem with UD is that you’ll want to keep playing long after you’ve run out of Action Points.

  56. Anders says:

    This idea reminds me of the zombie/ghost levels in the Thief-series. You had a big bunch of re-awakened Hammerers that walked their century old patrol paths and with a very limited supply of water arrows (that could be turned into holy water arrows for a limited amount of time).

    The monsters where almost unbeatable as far as I remember, and the creepy feeling of sitting under the table in a room whle a zombie walked around it talking to itself was almost unbearable creepy.

    Some of the elements right there.

  57. Tony says:

    I know a couple of posters mentioned this earlier, but as soon as I saw the headline, my mind went “Why, that’s excactly like Penumbra”, and when you went on, I could only keep thinking “Why, that’s EXCACTLY like Penumbra.”

    You’re a scientist (physics teacher) who’s awful at fighting but can defend yourself in the first game. The enemy takes a lot of hits, so you’ll probably only want to smack those dogs until they flee and call for other dogs.

    The game also utilizes a whole lot of physics, and with it comes physics-based puzzles as well as the option to barricade doors and entrances. There are also chase scenes and very likable characters with whom you comminucate by radio. Seriously, Shamus. You’re not allowed to go “Oh, this is my dream game and I sure hope it’ll come out someday” and then not the play the two that in fact are out.

    Besides, I’d like to hear what you have to say about them.

  58. Heph says:

    I have to say that the story – especially when you start adding things like what Stephen M. said – reads to me, not like Penumbra, but like Half-Life. Scientist trapped in a research facility, needs to work his way out through zombies and solving puzzles and laying traps? At the end, encounter military who you also have to avoid?
    Been there, done that, witha bit too much fighting for the game you want, but, yeah. Please think of another story if you decide to make it :-P

  59. Coldstone says:

    RE: Outbreak had a guy it it (David, I think) who was a plumber, and could whip up all manner of nifty things by combining things found around the area by using duct tape.

    While the game itself was less than stellar, the concept of a blue-collar guy who has plenty of tools and the skills to use them, but not much in the way of weaponry, would make for a pretty good basis for a character in a survival sneaker game.

    Really, if the game uses duct tape at all as a medium for problem solving, I’d get it in a hot second

  60. skeevetheimpossible says:

    I recall barricade moments in the original Alone in the Dark game. I also remember them from the recent RE4. Of course that was a game mechanic designed to stem and control the flow of “zombies”. You couldn’t block them out completely and you always had to fight them all. I was always disappointed with way the silent hill games went. The first one was a much larger focus on puzzle solving and the like. Avoiding monsters where possible was always the best route in that one. hmmmmm… good times

  61. Flying Dutchman says:

    I love the practical approach. Maybe, you could (and it would require careful instruction indeed). I think it would be difficult to do, but there should be a number of different scenarios (used at random or depending on environment) of zombie-escape.

    For example, one scenario where a fight is inevitable, the player would have use something in the direct environment to keep the enemy at bay, like a length of pipe, a two-by-four, while positioning herself in a matter that would cause the brainless zombie to stumble into a pool of water, where the player can electrocute it, rendering it in spasm for a minute, allowing time to escape. The player could also use inflammable stuff (it is lab, and she is a scientist). This would be a fight to escape scenario. Keeping zombies at bay with a weapon should be risky.

    Another scenario would be to run, the player would (after having been detected) be prompted into an exciting hallway escape scene, or (if a hallway is not present) would have to climb up on a closet or locker to get to a vent, using all kinds of materials.

    Another great scenario is to create a diversion, use the fire extinguisher to create a screen of white mist. Use a slab of bloody meat to keep a zombie occupied for a short while (poison or acid on it for extra effect?). Toss a lab rat into the room to cause a zombie to briefly look for it while you sneak by. Or open the monkey cages for all kinds of chaos in which to escape, or the gorilla cage for a fairly efficient zombie killer in a limited radius.

    I could think up a few other creative things to use in the lab environment, like tranquilizer darts, fire hoses to keep them at bay, tossing small caged animals in a group to pose as a distraction. And so on. Ideally, one should make it without killing zombies, and building barricades and traps should make for a good way to avoid unwanted attention.

    Long post, but I’ve seen suggestions for teleporters and cloaking devices. I think a game like this depends entirely on the realism of its solutions, I am not intrigued by a game where you can cloak your way past your foes, because it ruins my immersion (or set it in a sci-fi environ altogether). Keep it simple, use wrenches, pipes, fire extinguishers, lab animals, security systems, vaults, chemicals, tactical positioning, escape routes, and retractable ladders, not a BFG with one charge but which can be recharged with AA batteries, or a cloaking device that renders the user invisible for a minute.

  62. Flying Dutchman says:

    Oh yeah; the gun? Limit it to trashing locks in a hurry, shooting holes in vents or piping from a distance, and to keep zombies at bay, but without killing them. Ideally, zombies should not care if you shoot them. It can be a more powerful tool to coerce NPC’s to enter a particularly frightening room first, that would depend on the player’s style, now I’ll stop writing before I start thinking up dilemmas concerning NPC’s.

  63. Alter-Ear says:

    It would be fairly neat to combine some of the ideas together.

    For instance, as you said, the cell phone doubles as an “ersatz flashlight”. Make it the player’s ONLY flashlight. Give it a nearly-dead battery life at the start of the game and have her find a charger relatively early – and use waiting-for-the-phone-to-charge to present the barricade concept.

    The best part of this idea is that the PLAYER chooses how long they need or even want to keep up the barricade. This solves the pass-or-fail problem, too; make it so that NO player can barricade indefinitely, but that the earlier their barricade falls the less charge they’ll have left on their phone, and hence the less light (and NPC conversations) they’ll have available until their next barricade.

    Make every room that has an electrical outlet barricadable — in fact, don’t advertise which rooms they are, but force the player to search the walls while hiding in order to find them. Since they’re probably in a facility of some sort, these rooms will pop up relatively frequently if not be available in almost every room, and let the player decide how often and for how long they want to let their phone charge.

    (This would actually be a fairly neat way of introducing the power-goes-out level. You’re sitting there behind your barricade, zombies banging on the windows and doors, nervously watching the power meter on your cellphone go up slowly slowly — and then suddenly ZOOP.)

    This choose-your-own-barricade concept also prevents people from getting bored with having to do it — because it lets them choose their own balance of how often and for how long they want to charge their phone.

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