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Why do you like horror style missions?


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I've just gone back and read your MWoT, Airship Ballet, very insightful. I can't tell if I actually disagree with you about anything, but if I did it might have to do with scripted events. They're great for gradually building up apprehension and dread, at least on the first playthrough. Scripted events have very little replay value, because you already know what's going to happen. But that's fine, replayability isn't necessarily a major concern.

 

The problem is, I've played so many horror games / mods, I'm getting really good at figuring out what's scripted and what's not, while it's still happening. For me, scripted events have much less first-play value than they once did, because I already know what's going to happen, in general terms: I won't actually be attacked - that's what's going to happen. Oftentimes, I can run right up to the "danger" and stick my face in it, with little fear of consequence. A horror veteran doesn't have to wait for the 2nd playthrough for scripted events to lose potency, much is lost as soon as he can tell the them apart from "real AI". I understand every game requires suspension of disbelief, but as you play more and more often, you automatically develop a higher and higher degree of "perceptual skepticism" - you become genre-savvy.

 

The only solution I can think of is to focus hard on blurring the line between scripted event and AI - keep the player guessing right up to the end about what constitutes a "real AI". Unfortunately, this becomes even more difficult with a fan mission for an existing game, because chances are the player already knows how an AI typically looks and behaves in that game. And if you do want replayability, scripted events are right out - your best bet would be try to make AI which are good at setting up scripted-event-like encounters dynamically. An example is an AI that sneaks up close behind the player, but doesn't do anything else, unless they're noticed.

 

I noticed another meta-game problem for the genre-savvy: the implications of helplessness change. Early on, helplessness meant I'm vulnerable. Through experience, I've now come to understand helplessness means I'm unlikely to face anything that's a real danger (only scripted events.) If I don't have any means of defending myself, I know you're wearing kid gloves, because you wouldn't want me to feel the game is unfair. At best, I'll have to run out of the room, and at worst, I can just wait out the scripted event.

 

A perfect example of what I'm talking about is the beginning of the Thief 2 FM Rose Cottage. From the start, the atmosphere is amazing, but I observed everything with a knowing smirk on my face, right up until the point when they gave me a weapon. My response was, "Oh shit! Now I better start being careful." I've come full circle on this issue - I think the game should never make the player completely helpless, because in the meta-game, the experienced player responds not by feeling vulnerable but by anticipating the kinds of things they'll encounter while completely helpless, that is, nothing "real".

Edited by eigenface
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Scripted events have very little replay value, because you already know what's going to happen.

 

Merry Wall of Text™

Definitely, but like you said the goal is to blur the line between danger and sideshow. By scripted event I mean anything in the vein of Penumbra or Amnesia. Turning off the lights and having a whisper right in the player's ear, slamming the door or knocking something over all give the impression the player is in real trouble. They're good for the early moments, because the moment you take away somebody's vision, the enemy may as well be in the room with them. If you can tailor it to the player's meta understanding of TDM, even better. If they hear footfalls and they recognise it's the stock footstep sound for enemies on wooden floor, they begin to assume it's a real AI with them. Later on, you can place an AI to stay dormant until you turn the light back on or turn around, only to have it flicker out with the light or something similar. Something FEAR got very right was showing little Alma's head staring at you over the very bottom of a window, or standing in full view of the window. That wouldn't bother me normally, but it was always nerve-wracking because she was stood right where you had to head: in front of the elevator you just turned on from the room looking onto it or at the door leading out of the room you're in. Having just seen her there mere seconds ago, you're more than a little bit jumpy when you have to walk right over her. With regards to Penumbra, there's picking something up and hearing that there's something coming for you so you have to hide, that kinda thing. It could be difficult to convey in TDM, but with a little work you could certainly have it work. I think the only use of completely passive sideshow events is to hype up your supernatural element so the player can appreciate the extent of trouble they're in once they meet for real, or even think they have. A big mistake is to use nothing but spooky sideshows but they're certainly necessary to begin with to familiarise the player with the threat. If you can relate your scripting somehow to a direct threat to the player through any of the above it has a far greater impact on the player, even the jaded ones who've seen it all before.

 

Edited by Airship Ballet
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