My Escapist column this week is yet another nudge to an industry that has forgotten how to make psychological Japanese horror. This is particularly frustrating to me because I dig character-driven stuff, I love mind-bending stories, and I really appreciate a game capable of creating a sense of foreboding dread.
At the same time I don’t have a lot of patience for overly convoluted lore, I hate straightforward “defeat the bad guys” style stories in my horror, I’m sick to death of action schlock, and I despise jump scares. This industry doesn’t put out a lot of horror titles, but when they do they work hard to make sure it’s the opposite of everything I might be interested in.
Before you jump in with, “Ah-ha! Shamus, clearly you haven’t played X!”, note that I address this at the end of the article. When Amnesia: The Dark Descent come out and made a big splash, I went poking through other horror titles coming out of the indie scene. I found a lot of attempted imitations, but I never found anything particularly good. Maybe I just had bad luck, but after wasting money on several duds I concluded I was panning for gold in a landfill and gave up.
I’ll admit I’m incredibly picky when it comes to horror games.
- I don’t want the game to kill me constantly because that shatters the mood and makes it less scary. At the same time, I want there to be some sort of real threat of failure and not just a bunch of toothless spooky noises.
- I prefer supernatural, unknowable threats to well-defined ones. This means I think an angry spirit is more frightening than a dude with a gun. At the same time, I don’t want the story to be completely vague about what the evil force wants and what it can do, to the point where it all feels arbitrary.
- I want there to be an interesting story or premise to explain what this supernatural hocus-pocus is, but I don’t want the game to bury me in ten minutes of backstory and lore.
- I want the main character to be isolated and alone, which means I don’t want them to have some buddy character helping them out. At the same time, it would be nice if they had someone to talk to once in a while so we can see what makes our character tick.
- I don’t want some overproduced showcase of cutting-edge rendering techniques, high detail, and massive draw distances. The world should be a little surreal, a little fuzzy, and a bit hard to comprehend. At the same time, it would be great if it didn’t look like the invasion of PlayStation 1 potato people.
- If we’re going to have combat, then it shouldn’t be empowering and fun. At the same time, it shouldn’t be clunky and frustrating. Good luck finding the sweet spot between those two.
Am I being reasonable? Probably not. But that’s what I’m looking for.
WAY back in 2005, I wrote about a D&D campaign I was running. The campaign is still there, in the bottom-most strata of the archives.
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