The Survival Sneaker

By Shamus Posted Monday Aug 18, 2008

Filed under: Game Design 106 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…


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:


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.


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.


From The Archives:

106 thoughts on “The Survival Sneaker

  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. Luke Maciak says:

    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. Luke Maciak says:

    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. Luke Maciak says:

    @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. Drew says:

    Barricade building? Totally done in 2D. :)

  16. 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…)

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. Chris Arndt says:

    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.

  25. 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

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

    1. 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.

  30. DGM says:


    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.

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

  33. 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)

  34. 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.

  35. Daniel says:

    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.

  36. Luke Maciak says:

    @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).

  37. Aergoth says:

    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.)

  38. 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?

  39. 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.

  40. 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.

  41. 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.

  42. 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.

  43. 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.

  44. 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.

  45. 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.

  46. 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.

  47. 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.

  48. 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.

  49. 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.

  50. 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.

  51. 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.

  52. 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.

  53. 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.

  54. 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.

  55. Well …


    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.

  56. JoCommando says:

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

    (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:

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

  57. 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.

  58. 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.

  59. 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

  60. 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

  61. 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

  62. 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.

  63. 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.

  64. 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.

  65. Alter-Ear says:

    Come to think of it, this also introduces elements of strategy to the game. Not every room with an outlet is a good idea; if you’re in a room with seventeen huge floor-to-ceiling windows, that’s probably not your best choice. Go to the next room :)

  66. Teppesh says:

    I think it might also be interesting to have a segment of the game be where you set up a sort of lair for the hero/heroine and companions, where you can take time to set up fortifications. Perhaps each one of the companions you have with you has a different type of fortification that they can build, so you have to get your companions to work together. Another staple of the horror genre is just how fickle human nature is, so managing that group of companions could be an interesting challenge in itself, as some might be more willing to turn on the others to save their own skin, for instance, or hide an infection, or just make a stupid mistake, all of which could be avoided/mitigated if the character chooses carefully what is said in the conversations she has with the companions. So then it becomes a Survival Sneaker/RPG. I don’t think that is a bad thing.

  67. Chris Arndt says:

    Shamus: I’m just saying that if you noisily murder the guys you sneak past earlier you’ll have ammunition from when you do screw up.

    The throngs of foot soldiers out to kill you are rarely if ever those bastards you snuck past originally.

    The only difference between sneak-and-kill and the fighting off the horde stuff is that getting overwelmed can’t be prevented by thinning out the crowd with sneak-and-kill. The only reason to avoid killing at first is to save bullets. Period.

    Frankly I still don’t understand how your basis of critique for the Metal Gear Solid is the third one which happens to be a prequel.


    Let me put it simply, how I originally envisioned my reply.

    The reason your title “the Metal Gear Effect” makes no sense is: they’re not the same guys!


  68. Heph says:

    @Alter Eard: the problem there, is that a lesser-skilledp layer will have trouble in part A (not get his batteries charged enough), which means he’ll have a harder time in part B (less battery light and less helpful tips over the comm), making part C even more problematic (he has to hold out or else), and so on. It isn’t a pass-or-fail, it’s actually worse: it’s positive reinforcement of failure. In other words, once you start failing, the game becomes progressively harder, so you’re more likely to go on failing…but to what previous point do you reload when you’re finally completely down and out?
    Remember, the original idea was to have the cellphone also double as a tutorial/hints bit – punishing someone for not being good enough by giving them *less* tooltips isn’t a concept that has ever worked, methinks.

    On the other hand, it’s also a storytelling device, which is a double-edged blade: on one hand, being able to use the phone all the time and hearing the most conversations can offer replay value: what convos did I miss because I wasn’t good enough in part A or B?
    On the other hand, it can also cause those being not so great at the game to have glaring flaws in the story, incomprehensible bits,…and the powergamer who already *knows* the bloody story and just wants to power through for the umpteenth time to get that last achievenemnt, gets extra dialogue he doesn’t want or need.

  69. General Karthos says:

    What if there were negative consequences for killing one of the creatures? I’m thinking like “Aliens”. An Alien’s blood is concentrated acid, so killing it at close range with a messy weapon could injure, cripple, or even kill you. Plus there are so many of the damn things.

    I also don’t think that having a huge number of bullets or big weapons necessarily means that much loss of the survival horror. Again, citing “Alien” and “Aliens”. They have numbers in the first movie, and firepower in the second movie, and in both of them, almost everyone ends up dead.

    What if you came from a whole new direction of survival horror? Instead of hundreds or thousands of dumb enemies, you have one, or two, or a few dozen SMART enemies? Things that will hunt you. Will let you waste your ammunition firing at shapes in the dark, will stalk you until your back is turned, and then pounce?

    I’d concede the gameplay could be frustrating, because there’s the possibility of a “whap kill”, being alive one moment, then dead the next, like a combat knife to the back in Counterstrike. But if you gave “clues” that the Alien (or whatever) is nearby that allows someone to react, even if only by firing blindly into the darkness in the vain hope that they kill “it”. Say a droplet of drool, or a sticky secretion on the INSIDE of the door you just locked….

    Just a few small ideas.

  70. mephane says:

    @Original Post:
    Sounds like something Valve could make, and they would make it great. ^^

  71. Shamus says:

    Chris Arndt: Ammunition? I never said anything about that. I was talking about time. And surely you can see the effect I’m talking about, even if it doesn’t match your MGS gameplay experience? I mean, sneaking is SLOW. Fighting is fast. Why do the former if you’re going to end up doing a lot of the latter anyway?

    I’ve only played the first couple of hours on MG 2, 3, and 4, which is where I derive my impressions of the gameplay: Frustrating and unrewarding when you’re caught. Not: “Oh boy! Some run and hide funtime!” But instead, “Aw hell. Five minutes of this crap again.” It’s actually worse than simple death: It takes longer to resolve the alarm going off than it does to reload the game.

    But looping back to my main point: The goal I had was to get the player BACK into the stealth gameplay as fast as possible. If that’s where the fun is, then you want them spending their time with that mechanic. It doesn’t matter if it’s five minutes of harassing soldiers (MG) or death (lots of other games) stealth gameplay all too often comes down to pass / fail. Once you’re outed, you have to stop having fun for a minute or two. That’s the problem I was working to fix.

    “They’re the same guys”? Who? I don’t see how it matters what order the games came out in, or which one is the prequel? I’m talking mechanics, not story.

  72. beno says:

    can the mobile phone be running low on batteries?

    perhaps that’s too much like real life to be fun…

  73. Alter-Ear says:

    @Heph: Excellent points. The concept can be played with, though:

    On ripple effects:
    The player can come across another phone every so often, for instance, from which they can take and use the battery. That way if you’re not doing well at the barricades it won’t cause too much of a ripple effect. And make all cut scenes and expositional dialogue escapable for the powergamers (because GOD is there ANYTHING more annoying than an unescapable cutscene, especially if it comes immediately after a save point? I’m lookin’ at you, Assassin’s Creed!). But also, it’s a phone. If you don’t like talking to the NPC you can always choose not to answer it, and given that calls use more battery life than flashlights some players might prefer it that way. Which brings up another idea: Give the player a choice between leaving the phone on silent (and risk missing calls) or leaving it on ring (and risk it giving away your position).

    On players missing plot-central info:
    This can be solved with good CYA writing. Rank information in order of importance, and decision-tree all the conversations such that the player character can say “Be quick, the phone’s about to die!” — whether scripted or even as a button the player can press — in order to make the NPC say the really important bits first. And have the program keep track of what hasn’t yet been said so it can be filled in during later conversations or calmer interludes. Make the different versions of each conversation varied enough and you preserve the what-did-I-miss factor.

    Also, if it’s done really well, you can organize plot-central conversations in such a way that no matter how much charge you have left, the conversation will meander such that you get the requisite Phone Dies Just Before He Says The Most Important Bit.

    On the phone serving as tutorial:
    Tutorials don’t and shouldn’t last the entire game. The phone should start out nearly fully charged, which means that for the first few levels you barely need to pay attention to the battery meter. But part of the point of survival horror is the loneliness, which means that if it’s too accessible as things get worse for the character, it ruins the point of the game.

  74. Zaxares says:

    I don’t really play SH games, but I reckon it would make for one hell of a frightening encounter if the player is running from zombies, picks up a gun, blasts one of them in the head, but to their horror, the zombie doesn’t die.

    Of course it doesn’t. It’s ALREADY DEAD. Chop it to pieces with an axe? The severed arms and head continue to crawl after you. The realisation that you’re facing enemies that simply cannot be killed and won’t stop chasing you should send terror through the heart of any player.

    OK, maybe if you managed to smash a zombie into goo (say, in a steel press) or burn it to ashes, that would stop the zombie, but how often are you going to get the opportunity to do that? (Plus, zombies can cut the power to the steel press, and that flamethrower’s gonna run out of fuel eventually.)

  75. Zukhramm says:

    I like the Metal Gear Solid games, but I still agree with the “Metal Gear Effect”, it is usually as effective, but a lot faster, to shoot everyone than to sneak. And on the easiest dificulty, ammo is hardly a problem.

  76. Flying Dutchman says:

    So what do other people think about location?

    I have this huge, partly underground, research facility in mind, with lots of test animals, laboratories, vaults, and special sciency and industrial stuff in it.

    Darndest thing, it’s a deadly cliche…

  77. Lowercase M says:

    (I posted some of my thoughts at Luke’s site [ as Big Tiki ], but this one caught my attention…

    General Karthos:
    August 19th, 2008 at 3:40 am

    What if you came from a whole new direction of survival horror? Instead of hundreds or thousands of dumb enemies, you have one, or two, or a few dozen SMART enemies? Things that will hunt you. Will let you waste your ammunition firing at shapes in the dark, will stalk you until your back is turned, and then pounce?

    I’d think that, as the player’s character gets more and more frightened, shadows in the distance should be *rendered* as enemy forms. “Is that one of those back-to-back fused zombies over there? They can’t see, but they hear well and they’re fast. If I sneak very very… oh, phew, it was a trick of the light.” Get a little more freaked out, and then the game engine starts putting dark moving phantasms in the environment, just out of range, just barely moving, just enough to keep you on your toes, but if you look back – it’s gone!

    I'd concede the gameplay could be frustrating, because there's the possibility of a “whap kill”, being alive one moment, then dead the next, like a combat knife to the back in Counterstrike.

    One thing that came to my mind was the “time stands still” mental response to the surge of adrenaline and stress. Character enters a room that has a zombie in it, begins wandering around. If the character “camera” never looks at the zombie, the screen blurs a bit, and for a moment, control is taken away from the player. The view gets washed out, and time slows to a crawl as the camera swings around to spotlight the rotting arm reaching out from behind the curtain… Very loud heartbeats… one… two… three… then *pow!* the view snaps back to the character’s POV, and things gradually come back to realtime. The player’s now aware of the danger, and is in fight-or-flight mode!

  78. Roy says:

    @Alter Eard: the problem there, is that a lesser-skilledp layer will have trouble in part A (not get his batteries charged enough), which means he'll have a harder time in part B (less battery light and less helpful tips over the comm), making part C even more problematic (he has to hold out or else), and so on. It isn't a pass-or-fail, it's actually worse: it's positive reinforcement of failure. In other words, once you start failing, the game becomes progressively harder, so you're more likely to go on failing…

    I think that this is only a problem if you don’t give the player opportunities to learn from and improve on their mistakes at the expense of something else. I mean, as a game player, ultimately, that is the kind of experience I sort of want. I don’t want to be able to blow through the later parts of the game easily if I haven’t been able to master the earlier parts of the game. If you can finish the later game easily without the phone, why should you bother with the phone at all? It becomes a liability rather than an aid. Or, to go back the MGS point- why sneak if you can just as easily kill and have it take less time?

    The trouble is in finding the balance between making it extremely desirable to complete earlier tasks while still making it possible to finish even if you didn’t complete those tasks very well. That’s where, I think, branching story options come in handy. If you’ve managed to do well enough in the earlier sections, you receive a call that unlocks a different path through the lab/forest/complex you’re in, giving you access to some reward- health, a safer route, a better weapon, a cutscene that provides more story information, a better ending- something that rewards a player for doing well or punishes him/her for failure.

  79. Greg says:

    @Vao: C’mon, are you really trying to tell me that if each bullet meant the difference between life and death you wouldn’t find somewhere around your person to stash an extra one that’s not in the holster? You’d stuff them into your socks if you had to. I can’t imagine the container that can carry a variety of tools but not an extra bullet.

    @Shamus: Aye, the taser approach could work. I’d like it if it was somewhat automatic though, if the game became an FPS (i.e. requiring you to move away from an enemy while aiming and firing) even for a moment you’d risk running into other enemies and a game designer couldn’t portion the charges well (It makes a huge difference whether your player is taking one shot or three to down each opponent). Perhaps another way to do it would be to give the player a stamina guage? When something spots them it jumps them (or prehaps the player jumps the baddie if it’s something that might call for help) and if the guage is high enough some is lost they get a cool animated sequence where they take it out, otherwise it kills them. That justifies having limited recharge points, (places you can rest) a maximum, enemies seeing you but not getting into a big fight, prevents running through the level and, best of all, means that after a short sequence or a loadgame the player is back in the stealth portion.

    If you hooked such a guage to other things (say running or hanging of ledges) it’d add an element of strategy forcing the player to make calls like “If I take this shorter route I’ll avoid having to sneak past those three enemies, but can afford to be spotted by one less until the next resting point”

    The only downside is that it’d imply the protagonists ability to deal with these things up close and personal which might detract from the horror. Then again if the struggles looked desperate enough, or the protagonist had a powerfull weapon they clearly didn’t know how to use (I, as a person, wouldn’t fancy my odds against a zombie even with a syringe full of Zom-B-gone, sure I might struggle it into place, but injecting something stronger than you that wants to eat you without taking that one fatal bite, would be a real struggle)

  80. Miako says:

    Tutorial: Save friend from zombies by creating block maze from above. (dropping like tetris)

    end of Tutorial: Friend dead, they came through the shaft (show much gore).

  81. Steve C. says:

    As someone else said, this sounds like the original Alone in the Dark. It was the first 3d game, but I hated it so much I stayed away from any game like it and most 3d games until the PS2 came out. That said, that genre of game could be a lot of fun with proper implementation.

    Portable resources. As Lanthanide (47) said, limited resources always results in hording them and never using them. But the opposite is worse. That’s where you’ve depleted too many resources and don’t know it yet. Heph (68) also picked up on this issue. How can you possibly balance this for fun when every person has different levels of skill? I think it is the number two failing of survival horror. (The biggest failing is terrible controls.)

    Ideas mentioned here so far I liked:
    -cellphone that needs charging
    -being able to call in periodic help*
    -weapon that needs charging rather than ammo
    -enemies stunned but not hurt by attacks
    -splash damage from hitting enemies if too close
    -room barricading to get time
    -monsters fighting each other
    -different types of monsters

    Things to avoid:
    -“boring time” waiting for resources to replenish
    -guns. Guns are bad. They are portable and require ammo, which is also portable. Now you are into resource management and all the problems with hording/lack of resources. If you want resources to expend, pick something that can be used and then recovered such as a thrown brick.
    -Zombies. Or things so close to zombies to be functionally the same (Las Plagas). Zombies are used far far too often. If you need a low IQ monster because you can’t program good AI (F.E.A.R.) then only use zombies as an absolute last resort.

    *Help would be part of plot, not as a resource. To break up game play and let the player get some payback. Particularly like the idea of teaming up with a badass npc that gets himself killed… or turned against you.

  82. Steve C. says:

    Ideas I had:
    Monsters that split when “tagged” by the player. (I say tagged because there is no way to hurt monsters.) If monsters are hostile to everything, there is the automatic stun mechanic and danger from being too close. Player tags monster that splits after a few seconds. Both are just as dangerous to the player as the original, but now there are two and they don’t necessarily start close to each other. The splitting part could ping off far away. The two monsters will look around for something to kill and find each other eventually. The player might have to run TOWARDS the new one to trick them into fighting each other. One will win resulting in just one monster that the player still can’t hurt. Since there still is no way to win against that last monster, you are always in danger.

    You don’t need things dangerous to humans (like a shotgun) to fight off monsters. You need things dangerous to monsters to fight off monsters. and since monsters are fictional you can pick whatever you want.

    A good expendable resource to use is water. It’s logical that you can carry up to X amount at one time but no more as limited by containers. And many containers for liquids are not exactly portable. You can carry a bucket of water slowly, but how exactly are you going to put a bucket of water into your backpack? Sure you can put more water into your socks but unlike that spare bullet, soggy feet won’t be helpful. Take too long sitting around and you will expend all your water as you drink it.

    Water solves the immersion issue, as friendlies aren’t going to care much if you shoot them with a water pistol. Maybe monsters cause dehydration. Easy to find locations to replenish water, but they tend to have only one way in and no way outs (aka bathrooms). You can instantly refill your containers of water from a pool. But running water makes noise to attract monsters, even filling a glass up at a tap takes some time especially if you want to do it quietly.

    If monsters react poorly to water, you can use water as a means to barricade. Spray/splash water on that door and it takes the monsters some time to go through it… but they will eventually. You can run without hindrance through a puddle, but it might slow down a monster.

    Combine the water motive with a fire motive. You might need a fire to see, but monsters might be attracted to fire (or even made of it.) Fire is a mindless force that will consume you… kind of like a zombie but not as overused. Forced to jump into a lake to get to the next level? Oh well your light is extinguished and your fuel in inventory is ruined. Too far away from a fire? You might freeze to death since you just jumped into a lake, or your water pistol “jams” from the cold. Oh look you are so cold you are shivering and your aim is crap. Water vs fire results in lots of play mechanics, plus if it’s rendered properly it’s very beautiful.

    Set it in a place like Iceland, and you can easily incorporate settings such as; ice caves, molten rock, snow, steam, hot springs, ice cold water that is dangerous to you and limited fuel for fires.

    I would pick a construction worker/ engineer as my protagonist so that he/she always has an empty water container on hand… his helmet. I wouldn’t use a fire fighter as a protagonist because that way you could use a fire fighter as your badass npc. If at some point in the plot the badass firefighter dies it could spell trouble. Because he’s was wearing a fire retardant suit when he died, the fire is happening under the suit. Too bad the suit repels water. Your water pistol can’t hurt the fire underneath, making him extremely nasty given the play mechanics.

    More that I think about it, the more I think I would enjoy a sneaking survival horror game where quasi-sentient fire is out to get me.

  83. Factoid says:

    Shamus: I’ve learned that it’s nearly pointless trying to argue that there is anything whatsoever wrong with the MGS games.

    I’m not accusing Chris of being a Fanboy or anything, I’m just saying that there’s something about this game that some people just seem to “get” and others just don’t.

    I’m jealous of the “get it” crowd honestly, because they seem to like it SO much that I wish I could get in on that. There’s something in that game that some of us aren’t wired to enjoy.

    It’s like how a person who is colorblind can’t image what “red” must be like, or what is so great about it. So to make a poor analogy, a person who can’t see red probably thinks firetrucks are ugly grey monstrosities. It’s just a big clunky truck with no personality, and a bunch of pipes and ladders coming out of it.

    Add the red in and all of a sudden the whole thing comes alive and is completely awesome. The red makes everything that was bad about it before seem perfect.

    I personally find MGS games to be tedious, immersion-breaking, overly-complicated messes…but there are so many people who love it that I have to imagine that I’m just colorblind to the one thing that makes everything else seem just right.

  84. Blackbird71 says:

    More random thoughts on the game:

    Tazers, these could definetely be useful. The question is, how “realistic” do we want it to be. In my opinion, a bit of realism in your resources and means of fighting/escaping enhances the game, as the danger can feel more real if the other mechanics are grounded in reality.

    So, tazers in real life either come in two varieties or have two options. One is a close-contact weapon, where you have to press the tazer directly against your opponent. The other is the dart-firing kind, that can allow you to hit an enemy at range. The thing about the darts is that they are a one-time use. You get one shot, that’s it, no recoiling of the wires and retracting the darts for another shot, no “ammunition” to be instantly fired again. This definetely would be a limiting factor, as you’d be very cautious about using your only shot prematurely.

    Now, most tazers of the dart variety (particularly those used by law enforcement) can also be used at close range. There is typically a removable “dart module,” so you could pull it off after firing and replace it for another shot, but it takes time to replace, and you would supposedly have a very limited supply. Now, the dart tips can be pressed against someone without launching them for close range effect, and once the darts have been fired, the module can be removed, exposing contacts that can also be used close range. With this, even if you’ve expended the darts, you’re not completely unarmed.

    Now, to make your limited number of ranged shots even more valuable, add a reason to not want to be in close range of the enemy. If close contact means outright death, then it makes the game very dificult, and will give any close weapons a slim chance for usefulness. Rather, we need something that gets worse the longer or more frequently you are in contact with the enemy.

    If we’re using “zombies” of some sort, lets say created by either biological or chemical agents (since we are talking about a laboratory setting). Whatever the cause of the “zombification,” it’s spreading, and contagious. Coming into contact with the zombies starts the infection process. Prolonged or frequent contact increases the level of infectious agent in your blood, and speeds the process. Reaching higher levels of infection can caused physical impairment, making movement more difficult, blurred or dimmed vision, etc. Crossing the maximum threshold can have a chance of resulting either in death, or in converting you into one of the mindless horde. Either way, it probably means game over.

    A variation on this could be that as the infection worsens, and transformation begins, some abilities may increase, such as strength or pain tolerence. If you have zombies of different varieties, some with enhanced smelling or hearing, etc,. maybe you start randomly turning into one of these. In this case, part of the game would be trying to keep a balance between having some extra abilities and keeping the infection under control so it doesn’t take you over completely. Maybe at some particularly difficult parts of the game, you’d want to inject yourself with soem fo the agent, but you’d better be sure you have something to use afterwards to slow it back down.

    Now, you can have some method of monitoring your infection level. Keeping it simple would just be judging how bad off you are by your level of impairment. You could get more complicated by having some sort of medical kit allowing you to stop and sample your blood. Or, you could go with a typical HUD display that just has a meter showing how infected you are, but I think that’s an unimaginative cop-out. Of course, you will probably have ways to lower your infection level. You can periodically find medical suppies to stave off the infection. I think it would add to the suspense and motive of the game if the infection was a constant presence. Maybe you even start out with it. The infection would be a sort of countdown timer, slowly getting worse as you play. Contact with zombies speeds it up. Different medical supplies can decrease your infection level, or slow it’s progress, but nothing cures it completely. A mechanic like this could add a sense of urgency to the game (can’t hide forever, have to keep moving before the infection overtakes you), and also add objectives. Instead of just escaping the zombies, you have to escape what’s in your own blood, and throughout the game you can try to reach a particular lab, or gather materials and tools, that can be used to develop a cure.

    Of course, if you don’t go with the cliched zombies as an enemy, you can always use something similar. Perhaps the baddies are radioactive, and you end up suffering radiation sickness. Or maybe they just drain your energy, and under the circumstances you’re already fighting exhaustion. In this case, rather than medical supplies, you’d be scrounging stimulants (coffe, sodas, candy bars, anything with sugar or caffeine). Whatever the enemy, you can imagine some effect that would add this dimension to the game.

  85. Roy says:

    Portable resources. As Lanthanide (47) said, limited resources always results in hording them and never using them.

    Why is this bad, though? I think that it’s a sign of successful survival horror if you get a players who make it to the end of the game and discover that they had resources they didn’t use because they were afraid they’d need them. If you give the player resources such that they feel like they can use them regularly, you’re not in survival horror anymore, imo. I might be alone on this, but it feels like it’s almost one of the genre defining aspects- one of the primary sources of fear in a survival horror game should come from the constant threat of running out of whatever resources you’ve got. Monsters aren’t your only enemy. Time is your enemy too.

    I think that this is related to your point: How can you possibly balance this for fun when every person has different levels of skill? I think it is the number two failing of survival horror.

    You’re either the sort of person who enjoys survival horror, or you’re not. Part of horror survival is resource management- that’s why it’s survival horror. How do you stretch out what you have to make it last long enough to get out/succeed? The difficulty can be scaled to some degree using difficulty settings “easy” through “impossible”, but if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t find horror or survival with limited resources appealing… why play survival horror games?

  86. Some random thoughts:

    Several survival-horror games de-emphasize combat and/or emphasize running away and hiding: e.g., the Clock Tower series, Haunting Ground, Siren, Call of Cthulhu. [Hint: if you’re playing a young girl in a horror game, you’re usually going to be stuck on the “weak and defenseless” side of things.] I personally find these games to be frustrating examples of DIAS design, which is why I can never get into them. But you might want to hit Gamefly or eBay and check out a few of them.

    Barricades: apart from Last Stand 2, there was also the scene in Resident Evil 4 where you have to barricade yourself and your companions inside a house and hold out against enemies for a set amount of time. The barricades were all pre-determined, but it was up to you to move them into position in the moments before the house is attacked. It was a 2-story house, so you also had to worry about attackers scaling ladders to the second floor. It wasn’t an insta-fail scenario, though: you’re expected to kill enemies once they breach your flimsy defenses.

    BTW, it might be possible to implement a fairly interesting survival-horror game using the Neverwinter Nights 1 (or 2) engine: it’s got rules for stealth, destructible objects you can use for barricades, beaucoup monsters to choose from, etc. It might not be very scary, given the state of NWN 1’s graphics, but it certainly has a low barrier to entry for aspiring developers with more talent than resources. Others have attempted survival-horror NWN mods, e.g., Berra’s Surviving Horror series.

  87. Will says:

    I heard a lot of elements from the original Unreal in your description (at least the first levels). You’re on the crashed prison ship and unarmed. As you proceed through the wreck, you hear and get glimpses of nasty things happening to people all around you. Then you get your peashooter and it turns into an FPS. You never directly communicate with another human. You’re always alone. All you find are corpses and notes from other people who left the wreckage ahead of you. Those notes feed you clues about where to go, how to use your weapons, and all the other little bits of info that propel you.

  88. Vao Ki says:

    @Greg: Ok you got me there. In real life yes, you would find places to put those extra bullets. So, I guess the stun gun/taser approach with limited charging stations would be the best bet to prevent abuse of that mechanic.

  89. Alan De Smet says:

    As with previous posters, I recommend the Penumbra series. If you’re a cheapskate, I’ll point out that while the demo for Penumbra: Overture is time locked, it only checks the time limit when you quit. I finished the game via the demo. (I feel a bit guilty about that, but I’ve got the second game in it’s box waiting for me to get to it, so that helps.)

    Now on the down side, Penumbra is full of pass/fail tests. But when it works it’s some of the best survival horror I’ve ever played. (It has two other notable downsides: 1. It gets repetitious near the end. It needed more enemies with different behaviors. 2. There is a fairly trivial exploit that lets you kill the enemies with only moderate to zero risk depending on the situation. Fortunately I discovered it just about the time I was getting tired of the repetition.)

    You might also want to look at Call of Cthulhu – Dark Corners of the Earth. It’s highly erratic, gets it bit combat heavy later on, but the first few hours of play are just great. You spend an hour or so poking around Innsmouth with minimal risk, just soaking in the setting. There are a few slightly exciting moments, but it’s mostly just slowly adding up that things are really, really wrong. Things ramp up with The Chase Scene, (you’ll know it when you see it) which is simultaneously the best and worst moment of the game. It’s about 10 minutes of gameplay that form a single pass/fail test. Get 6 minutes in and fail? Try again. There is only one route through, although it’s realistic in that way. But if you don’t notice something, or you waste time fumbling with something it’s Try Again. But on the other side, the chase scene feel frantic, realistic, and scary. And the fumbling feels authentic. “Oh sweet Jesus, how can I be so clumsy with these keys! I’m about to die!”

    Oh, and cell phone as crappy flashlight? Total brilliance. I know I’m not the only person who has used their cell phone as a $50 flashlight. That would be a great immersion addition, especially since phones tend to have crappy battery lives compared to proper flashlights.

  90. R4byde says:

    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.

    *WARNING! MGS Fanboy Mode… Activated!*
    Shamus, I assure that the comedy was completely intentional, all of Kojima’s games have a strong underlying comedic element. None of them is meant to be taken entirely seriously. You have to approach his games like you would Hot Fuzz, not Blackhawk Down.

    It's actually worse than simple death: It takes longer to resolve the alarm going off than it does to reload the game.

    Not when you approach the situation correctly, like finding somewhere to hide when the alert starts and then nabbing a guard and forcing him to radio in the all clear code.
    *NOTICE! MGS Fanboy Mode… Deactivated.

    You might also want to look at Call of Cthulhu – Dark Corners of the Earth. It's highly erratic, gets it bit combat heavy later on, but the first few hours of play are just great.

    NO! NO! NO! DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES INSTALL THAT GAME ON YOUR COMPUTER!!!! Sorry for the caps, but this is VERY important. That game comes with the Starforce DRM (Duckling Rape Machine) and Starforce is one-gazillion times worse than SecuROM. You definitely want to avoid that like the plague, hell it IS the plague.

    Lots of cool ideas here. I like the idea of a substance – Maybe nano-ized (Whoo! new word!) water? – that hurts enemies but heals the PC. Thus, forcing the player to chose between killing an enemy or healing himself. I also recommend the Penumbra series to a survival horror fan, excellent work by a great up-and-coming indie studio.

    On a side note, why do we call it survival horror? That term doesn’t make any sense, why not just horror?

  91. FireStomp says:

    Well, horror is a stylistic aspect. It’s like fantasy, science fiction, or mystery. It’s easily mixed in with other genres which have more direct bearing on gameplay, rather than flavor/storyline. This is why we have horror shooters, horror adventure games, horror RPGs, and so on. Survival horror denotes a particular fusion of horror as an overriding stylistic element and survival of said horrors via (usually) extremely violent, but limited, means, or by (on occasion) running the hell away and hiding. In order to distinguish itself from shooters, the combat is usually third-person and melee.

  92. Reminds me, that running game you previewed, a runner terror could be fun.

    It would basically be a 3D ski game (from a designer’s view point) — you have to keep moving and jumping and running, but you could vary the tempo.

    I can see a survival/terror runner. Not an exploit, but the actual game. Sneak, sneak, run! Sneak, sneak, run!

  93. Now I need to find a copy of Half Life. Never played it, had no idea the plot fit the pattern I suggested.

  94. Joshua says:

    Well, I think a horror action game like this would be a lot of fun.

    Here are a few suggestions for these problems that you pose. I’ll start off with the classic idea of a zombie game, which so far has not been done as successfully as the movies. This below arguments are based on the idea that zombies are frightening because despite the fact that they are slow, one bite from them will effectively kill you and they are very difficult to kill themselves.

    1. It’s easy to keep players from “going Wolfenstein” if you give them a gun. Just don’t give them the gun until later in the game, when they’ve gotten a feel for it, and then don’t give them much ammo. Make it realistic.

    For some additional discouragement, make it more realistic- there’s no targetting crosshair unless you’re looking through a scope(which means you can’t be running and you’re vulnerable to being attacked. So, if they want to get blast-happy, they’re risking missing a lot and using up their scarce ammo. Also, if they do find spare clips or boxes of ammunition, don’t do their reloading work for them- make them take the time to manually load their clips/magazines. On the upside, guns are one of the few weapons that can have much effect against a zombie, and you can fire from a fairly safe distance away. Weapons like baseball bats, 2X4s, tire irons, etc. will push zombies off of you, knock them back, but not otherwise harm them. You could use an axe or machete, but even that would risk getting bitten, which leads me to….

    2. Get rid of the whole health meter/hit point thing. If it’s going to be true to a Romero-style zombie movie, one bite from a zombie means you’re finished. Instead, have a fatigue system, and possibly introduce wounds too(from things other than zombie bites). So, you want to run around and let all the zombies chase you? Fine, even though you can easily escape them, you’ll get tired out, which will make it hard to keep running away and fend them off from biting you. The more there are around you, the harder time you’ll have to avoid receiving a bite. You want to grab a baseball bat and start slugging away? Well, you’ll mostly just knock them around(only bullets to the brain or decapitation will kill them) and you’ll tire yourself out in the process. Also, if they hit you with their flailing arms, you’ll take additional fatigue and risk being knocked down. Fatigue will take resting in a safe spot for awhile to recover, although actual wounds would require some kind of medical assistance(wounds meaning a debilitation like a cut leg or broken arm, not a decreased health meter). Maybe you could also have a limited amount of adrenaline that you could use to escape or fight off zombies even when you’re tired- until your adrenaline runs out.

    3. Have an encumbrance system. You can pick up more and more weapons, guns, bombs, etc., but you’ll be slower from the weight and you’ll tire out quicker, which in turn will lead you to be even slower. So, there’s an advantage in running around with just a pistol instead of carrying around 3-4 shotguns and rifles and a few satchels of magazines.

    4. If zombies see you, they will chase you, until you can break line of sight- at which point they’ll just begin searching around the area they last saw you. Voila- you have a sneaking system that isn’t pass/fail. Being seen means you’ll have to hoof it a bit and try to hide, but doesn’t mean you’re going to die. You also therefore don’t have to sneak all the time- just when it would be a hassle and you don’t have a place to shore up.

    So, you have a game where zombies can only be killed by certain weapons, and getting into combat with them can prove fairly risky since one bite = death. You won’t have much ammunition for your weapons and if you do choose to carry a lot extra, you’ll be slowed down and vulnerable to being caught.

    The safest course is to hide and use fortifications, or to run away. However, you can’t run away forever before getting tired out and you’ll eventually be at the mercy of of the dozens of zombies who all flocked after the running meatstick. So, there are times where it’s easier to sneak by the zombies without being seen, time to just make a break for it, and even a few instances where it’s better to just try killing them.

    If you wanted to add non-zombie monsters to the above ideas, most other creatures would work- they may be easier to kill than zombies but would probably also pose a greater threat to you since they wouldn’t be as slow, would have sharp claws, etc.

  95. Noumenon says:

    That comment about “Penumbra does this” was fairly convincing.

  96. The Ghost says:

    I have a few suggestions.

    Include a small corps of Generic Tough Military Men. They’re determined to defeat the monster threat through sheer display of force. You only see them now and again, though – they aren’t with you or against you, but moving in parallel, with your storylines occasionally coming tangent to one another.

    At first, they’d straight be doing BETTER than you. No injuries, good spirits, easy time of things, whereas you’re beat up and horrified. You can’t come with them, though, because they’re heading for darker and deadlier monsters while you just want to escape. You COULD follow them, of course – you’d just die in a hurry, like with the original “parking lot is impassable” idea.

    As the game and story progressed, you’d see less and less of the Tough Guys, until near the endgame. Now they’re retreating too, diminished in number (from six to two, maybe), with only the “followers” – the weakest of the bunch, both rankwise and powerwise – surviving.

    They’re running away too…what could have reduced them to this?!

    You make it in the end, not through power, but through having already gotten used to being outgunned, whereas they’re where you were at in the beginning. Terrified and unused to the mechanics of this nightmare. Since you’ve gotten to know these monsters while they just tried to bulldoze them, you’re the one who survives…


    This is also the perfect game to incorporate Shamus’s “invisible railroad tracks” into. Normally, maybe the Horde A zombies are the threat. But you can escape them, only to run into Horde B. That’s normal. But let’s say you trick Hordes A and B into dismembering each other! You duck into the next room and breathe a sigh of relief, congratulating yourself on your cleverness…only to turn around and see one bigger, meaner monster staring straight at you!

    Normally, it’s not there. ON YOUR FIRST PLAYTHROUGH, it won’t be there (dum bum buuummm!!). But only B zombies can hurt A zombies and vice-versa, so the death of an A or a B zombie flips the invisible switch that switches you onto the new tracks…

  97. Ishmael says:

    “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!”

    This, THIS is what I look for in games. Nothing makes me happier in a game then to have my character really CONNECT with the NPCs, in a novel-like fashion. I absolutely love it when I get (intelligently controlled) NPCs helping me, and when NPC enemies become allies for some reason, and really really when NPC enemies have to deal with the same crap I have to. When some NPC enemy is chasing me and another NPC enemy attacks them because this second type attacks *anything* it sees and it didn’t see me, I get a little thrill of pleasure. I feel like my character is a real part of the world, a real player in the story.

    I dislike how in MMOs most enemies don’t fight each other. Why do the wolves attack well armed adventuring parties but not the deer standing right next to them? Why do these wolves, which apparently love to eat humans exclusively, only attack ME and not all the thieves wandering around in the woods? Do they have some kind of PACT? Can I get in on that action? And don’t even get me started on the vast majority of single player RPGs… these *used* to be my favorite genre, but everyone seems to go the SquareSoft route where your party is the lone bastion against an entire world full of unified evil.

    When NPCs make up such a huge portion of what you will be interacting with in a game, it really pays to make the NPCs have some depth, some appearance of real reason. Not just good combat AI, but scripting to deal with other NPCs in a more real fashion. When I envisioned the scene Ambience327 laid out, the one I quoted at the top… I shivered with pleasure. This would be such an incredibly *satisfying* end to the game, I can’t even find words to describe it. I would LOVE to play through that game.

  98. Ambience 327 says:

    Why thank you. I was pretty proud of that little bit of creative thinking – glad someone else appreciated it too! :)

  99. Sydney says:

    I realize I’m coming in way after the wire, but I’d like to tap into the effect of the “basketball spinning on the rim” effect. Make there be two different kinds of “stunned zombie” – one where the zombie reels in place, then comes back at you slightly faster and with a vengeance, and one where the zombie reels, totters, and falls down.

    My vision here is the player nailing the zombie and watching it weeble and wobble, going “fall down fall down fall down fall down!”…meanwhile, another zombie’s snuck up.

    I think this would create an interesting tactical divergence. Knowing if the zombie can be “counted out” for a couple of seconds, or if it’s going to be right up your ass just as if you hadn’t zapped it with the tazer, is important…but can you afford to watch?

    Also: This is the best line of the entire thread. Mad dap, Steve C.

    Sure you can put more water into your socks but unlike that spare bullet, soggy feet won't be helpful.

  100. Sydney says:

    Sorry for the double-post, but I sent the previous one and left my seat for longer than the edit time limit. R4byde made a passing comment about nano-ized water that gave me a cool idea for a scene. All game, you’ve been splashing zombies with this special water that hurts them, and drinking the same stuff to slow your own infection. Well, at one point, you find yourself in a “normal” area. Not in the lab, but in…say, a visiting area for guests, politicians, whoever they were getting their funding from. Well, you find a bathroom – the first “normal” bathroom of the game – and a zombie pops in. Well, obviously, you splash it with water…and it doesn’t even flinch. What the f– OH CRAP, THIS IS NORMAL WATER! RUN!

    And one last thing. I like the idea of a dichotomy between long-range and close-range weapons. Long-range weapons might be (deliberately) hard to aim, more “powerful” (stun for more time), make noise, be “storable” in a pocket, and involve limited ammunition. Close-range weapons might be easy to aim (long, wide hitbox), less powerful per hit (but allow for repeated hits), make less noise (compare a baseball bat hitting flesh to a gun going off) and not involve limited ammunition (but you can only hold one, and it ties up both your hands so you can’t interact with the environment).

    But, like in Free Radical, “Deck” doesn’t want to go near the monsters because he’s afraid of the bioagent. So finding a long-range weapon means you get to spend less time near the monsters, making a gun worse offensively, but better defensively, than a simple crowbar.

    Running with this idea, and Blackbird71’s mention of the infection increasing your abilities rather than decreasing them (until you “overdose”), maybe the story could be that the lab was trying to create some kind of serum for making superhumans. It just happens that they made their stuff too strong, or administered too much, or that their stuff got into the bacteria and viruses that is in the breath of every human being and turned into an infectious agent, or…

    The possibilities are endless.

  101. Sydney says:

    I’m back again. I love this thread for some reason, I know nobody else cares anymore.

    I suggest not using a scientist – scientists tend to know what’s going on, and the mystery of just what went wrong would be perfect for a “revelation-through-notes-you-find” formula. At the same time, scientists tend to be more theoretically-grounded than hands-on capable.

    I suggest that the main character should be a lab technician – still zero combat ability, but extra “fiddling” skills, and no knowledge of what’s been going on inside the heads of the think-tankers (the scientist/technician relationship in this lab would be elitist/serf).

  102. Jamie Thomas Durbin says:

    No, somebody still cares… I’ve been reading through the thread, and god knows, there have been a lot of games since the original blog post that have tried (and failed/partly succeeded) to create the “perfect” survival horror. System Shock/Bioshock had elements, MGS had elements, Penumbra had elements (but was not perfect, as the tech demo had some serious DIAS moments) , all of them had elements. But there’s one element that people have missed, and it’s often a fun part of the story synthesis… That, somehow, it’s *your* fault.

    Go back to System Shock 1. Watch the intro. Now, many players I’ve met have not actually connected the intro (involving “the hacker”) to themselves. But I got it in the first try. *You* cocked up. You didn’t have much choice, but *you* removed the Asimov protocols from SHODAN, and everything that’s happened since is, at least partly, *your* fault.

    The same is in Half Life. Yes, you’re ordered to put the sample in (railroaded, as in SS), yes, the sample came from the boss… but *you* still kicked everything into motion, even if you were a pawn. The fact that you *are* a pawn is one of the most terrifying things in a game.

    Okay, so people have talked about the “mysterious benefactor” through the Cell-phone mechanism (loved that, btw)… it’s a common mechanic, but it works… what not many people have done, however, is openly tell you you’re a pawn Imagine this situation, using the “lab tech” scenario.

    LAB TECH: Ohcrapohcrapohcrapwhat’sgoingonohCRAP!
    LAB TECH: WTF?!?!
    ZOMBIE: Urrrr?
    LAB-TECH: OH CRAP! Run run run run run HIDE
    LAB-TECH: GOD-DAMMIT! answer
    CELL-PHONE: Oh, good, you answered. Listen up. The only reason I’m helping you, little man, is because you’re in the right place and I’m not. Listen up, and listen good, or I’ll be calling this phone continuously for the next and final 10 minutes of your short life…

    Obviously, not quite worded like that, but I’ve found it works very well when the “mystery helper” doesn’t actually give a monkeys about you. It adds to the fear… *nobody* cares whether you live or die, except you.

  103. Dreadjaws says:

    After reading this, I wonder if you’ve played Silent Hill: Shattered Memories for the Wii. It’s amazing how many of these mechanics showed up in the game. You can’t fight the monsters, you have a cellphone, chase scenes, etc. BTW, the game is terrifying.

  104. Tharwen says:

    Hey, Shamus-from-2008. There’s a game I think you might like.

  105. beleester says:

    Looking back at this from 2018, The Last of Us seems like a good example of a survival sneaker. You have starkly limited supplies so you can’t approach any combat in a cavalier way. You can craft shivs as a one-use weapon to stealth-kill zombies or escape an attack, and you can carry a bludgeoning weapon that will survive a few more whacks. This gives you a little bit of a safety net, but one you need to conserve. The “Metal Gear” effect is somewhat present, but not too badly, because zombies are pretty stupid and don’t always notice a fight in the next room, and the sequences with Clickers tend to be mercifully short. And when they want to change things up, they can always bring in the humans with guns, or the less dangerous Runners and Stalkers.

    I’m not a fan of how they made the Clickers one-hit kills, and it’s a little dumb how a steel pipe breaks after hitting someone with it three times, but it’s a good game nonetheless.

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