Sunday, September 23, 2012

Son of a Gun

Boys & weapons... If you never played with self made nun-chucks, didn't fancied the air pellet rifles at the fair, hated to see Stalin’s Organ blowing shit up in a WOII documentary, or even didn't get goose bumps when seeing the Tsar explode, then there is a 90% chance you're castrated and singing in a choir. Or you suffer from a very tenacious variant of peace-loving hippie genes. One of the differences between man and beast is that we make awesome tools to exterminate each other. Most men roughly know the Age-of-Empires evolution when it comes to weapons; Clubs, spears, swords, gladiators, Chinese gunpowder, boiling pitch kettles, catapults hurling Plague-infected bodies, muskets, cowboy rifles, Gatling guns, trenches & musterdgas, tanks, Bismarck, Spitfires, V2-rockets, MIG, B2 bombers, Tall boy, M16, Bob Hope, AK47, Bell Huey, nuclear submarines, Barett, MOAB, IED, drones. Power Rangers. Men's history in a nutshell. All other discoveries such as electricity, art of printing, thermo power-plants, computers or GPS were byproducts. And why we know all that? As I said, weapons are awesome.

Well, you don't have to tell me that those weapons are less "awesome" when you see footage from Syria. Also, those who caught Stielhandgrenades during WOII probably have less romantic memories about weapons. Yes, the USS Abraham Lincoln wasn't made to be a colorful happy Amsterdam Gay parade boat. It's made to kill & destroy. Still, that doesn't take away the fascinating creative thinking behind these devices. And probably a gun has some psychological magic (for boys at least). Carrying a device that gives a powerful blast when pulling the trigger, reloads like a small mechanical oiled wonder, and has the ability to take out whoever is fucking around with you, gives a mighty feeling. Or something.

PPS-43 in progress, by Diego

Yes, I like guns. And no, I don't have them (other than some not-so-dangerous air rifles). And no, I don't think it's a very good idea to legalize them here as well. Although I don't agree with the "guns kill people" saying. Aggressive/stupid people with guns kill other people, that's for sure. Giving weapons (for hunting, hobby or self-defense) to a society is like giving democracy; people need to be ready for it and deal in a mature way with it, otherwise it's going to be a disaster.

But now the big question... should guns be legalized in Tower22? I'm not talking whether that would be a good choice or not in a moral way. Screw that, most aggressive societies I know aren't famous for playing XBox, neither did our ultra-violent ancestors have Gameboys. No, I'm wondering if it would be a good choice to ship a horror game with self-defense equipment.

If implemented properly, guns surely add a fun element to a game. It's not without a reason that many top-rated games involve bang-bang. Doom, Goldeneye, Halflife, GTA... Guns make cool sounds, allow you to do something you're not supposed to do at home (I hope), and give a challenge. It's pretty dull if we had to jump on our GTA gangster opponents or squirt melon juice to make Doom3 Imps stick to the ground right? Weapons open a whole world of tactics, with spectacular destruction effects as a bonus. But for our game, we can also choice NOT to kill opponents.... Huh? Arrh! Blasphemy!

Saying that in Game-land is like saying the Earth is more than 6000 years old in an Amish community. It's probably the reason why pretty much every game that involves "bad guys" also has weapons of some sort. Just to be safe. Even when the focus isn't really on killing enemies. Like in Silent Hill, where the combat gameplay is pretty shit actually. The game is supposed to scare you, the stupid axe-fights with dumb fleshy things are just to fill the game a bit.

Nope, this guy didn't make it through the X-Factor selection rounds. Nevertheless, I wanted to show it anyway.

However, Amnesia showed a game can also be "good" without guns. A risky choice, but it worked out well. I placed "good" between quotes because Amnesia is not a fun game. Neither is Silent Hill btw, and also the older Resident Evils may fall to that category. Fun = having a laugh, tap yourself on the shoulder after kicking the level3 boss’s head off, or get satisfied by solving puzzles. That's not much the case with these horror games, apart from some puzzling maybe. Anyway, Amnesia wasn't much fun maybe, but it was SCARY. That sounds obvious for a HORROR game, but many horror games aren't scary really. Resident Evil turned into a farmer-shotgun-fest with a cheesy over the top Hollywood storyline. Doom2 was loads of fun, but certainly not scary. Unless you illegally played it the age of 10.

Alan Wake is another example. The story sucks you in, and the whole setting has potential. Yet it isn't really scary. Like so many other games, it decided to become a shooter mainly. Alan is blinding and shooting ghostlike entities all the time. And if you get killed? Just respawn 10 meters earlier. In other words, they decided to please the mass. Not a bad decision if you want to earn money with a game, and I'm not saying Alan Wake is a bad game. The point is, true scary games like Amnesia are only for a limited audience.

So, it seems the "action element" reduces the "fear element". Put a bit too much action on the balance, and the fear element is outweighed. It happened with Alan Wake, modern Resident Evil, and so many other games. The explanation for this phenomena isn't that difficult. Didn't I mention a gun gives a mighty feeling? Even if you have a small weiner? Same thing happens in virtual reality. Gore graphics and monsters on themselves aren't that scary once you saw them a couple of times. Once you learned how to deal with them (shoot them), you have the situation under control. Fear = losing control. Being vulnerable, not knowing what will happen, having to redo a substantial part of the game when taking a wrong step, not understanding what you see. Everything that pulls you out of your “mental safe zone”.

Obviously, guns and features such as Auto-save / Quick-load reduce fear, as they give you control. Got eaten by a dragon? Just respawn. 10 Imps with fireballs? Answer with a BFG9000. It gives you Tony Montana powers, it makes you reckless, storming in rooms without thinking. At this critical point, consider the game being an action game. Not a horror game (anymore). No matter how much blood, guts, ugly monsters and weird environments you throw against it. Just look at Duke Nukem 3D. Plenty of monsters and weird darkgreen Alien worlds that could be pretty scary actually. But when controlling the Duke, not even a Muhammad cartoon can scary you.

Don't you agree Alice in Wonderland (the old cartoon, not that Johny Depp shit) was scary? And that was not because of the monsters or blood. Just because it was so fucking weird. Like a dream/nightmare. I mean, look at that door man!

So... maybe its better just to forget about guns in T22? Hmmmm... It sure has advantages. No need to make a bunch of complicated models, death animations, destruction physics, ammo crates, et cetera. It makes the development easier, that's for sure. And it will make things more tense. T22 has only a few monsters wandering around the building. It's definitely not the goal to kill them on first sight. Bye bye big monster the T22 team spend millions of triangles and pixels on. No. The T22 monsters are stronger than the player, so a gun shouldn't suddenly change that.

But... that means you are supposed to run or hide? Ehm, yes, that has always been the idea for this game. But wouldn't that get boring after a while? Now that's a difficult question. With shooters, there is plenty of comparison material. But with a run & hide type of game, there aren't much good examples other than Amnesia (from which I only played the demo btw). To make this gameplay element work, the environment really needs to lend itself for that. Lots of corners, maze like corridor structures, dark spots or objects to hide in, and also a good dosing of monsters. If you had to run each 2 minutes while trying to solve a puzzle, it becomes very annoying. Therefore in T22, you won't see much monsters in general. But then again, what else should make the game exciting/playable? T22 is about exploring the environment, and finding new area's by solving puzzles. The balance between puzzles, tense monster chases and "rest" is crucial and requires a lot of testing.

Eventually it may turn out that the game becomes too dull, especially when it's a long game. Like with food, you need to vary to keep it tasty. Eating rice every day makes you a Chinese, potatoes every day an European farmer. Erh, right. The point is, T22 needs to be scary in the first place. But we have to prevent it from becoming boring after a while. In other words, I'm not saying no to guns right away. The T22 player sure is no hero, but neither a complete defenseless moron. What would you do if a monster chases you? I would pee & run, but also throw a Ming-vase at its head if there is no other option.

The first Resident Evil showed that weapons can be combined with scary gameplay, just as long you don't make the weapons too powerful. In RE, they smartly dosed the ammunition and save-games (ink ribbons). You could shoot zombies and reload, but be careful! There's not enough ammo to kill them all, and in narrow spaces a pistol might not be enough to defend yourself to dumb but tough zombies. Also only save when you really made progress. Having to decide all the time whether a save or pumping down a zombie is worth it, actually added some extra stress to RE. You could shoot the bastard but what if you wouldn't have enough ammo for the next boss? Better just outrun the damn thing.
Speaking of RE, here the door in-game. No slow door animations when entering a new room though.

Likely, T22 will go that way too. Although you won't be locked & loaded most of the time. There might be enough ammo to kill a few of the opponents, but pick wisely. As for us, to make sure these ingredients are in good balance, play-testing is crucial. But first we need to make some more (maps) in order to test it. You can't play hide & seek in a small house, you need a "playground" for that. And a test-person. The problem with making a horror game/movie/book is that its totally not scary for the creator. How can I be scared if I know where the enemy is, how it thinks (AI), and where to run? Nope. If we finally come to a testing phase, I think this Blog would provide some trusty fans for that ;)


  1. Have you ever played Sega's Condemned? It's one of (or even) the best horror game's I've ever played, and it's implementation of gruesome melee (you could use anything around yo to finish your enemies) was perfectly fitting.

    And it even had guns, but in a perfect way for such a tense survival horror game, and by far the best implementation I've ever seen :
    Guns are extremly rare to find and hard to use, and all the guns you found only had very few rounds in them. So you could always check the amount of amo in a gun by a key-press and your character would (depending on the gun type) take out the mag and count the bullets. I thought this was an extremly awesome feature, and e.g. a shotgun was so cumbersome to handle (and usually only had to bullets) that your shot had to be aimed and time perfectly.

    So if you plan on implementing guns into Tower22, you may want to take a look at how condemed did this, and maybe also play the game as it's atmosphere was one of the best in the survival horror genre.

    And keep up the work, I love reading your extensive blogpostings, though I rarely have the time to put done a reply.

  2. Played the PS3 Condemned demo, and saw a friend playing it a long time ago. They managed to make the fighting work in 3D indeed, usually melee combat sucks in FPS games simply because you don't see what your character is doing (other than in third person views).

    Condemned is very different than T22 when it comes to action though. In Condemned you are "continously" fighting/shooting/killing, in T22 rarely. But having a low ammo count and making the guns hard to handle are certainly on the menu. Shooting a gun really isn't as simply as you most games make you believe, certainly not while crapping your pants because of monsters.

    And thanks for the kind words! Btw, any idea if there have been important updates on Newton lately? ~8 months ago Julio told me he was planning to update the Character Controller, including state machines and everything...

  3. The last Newton 2.x is from June, though I dont' know if anyhting about the character controller has been changed.

    And then there is 3.x, for which Stucuk recently released Delphi/Pascal headers. The problem is that you'll have to either compile the DLLs yourself or take them from someone else. But 3.x is still alpha and has a lot of problems.

  4. Have you heard of Pathologic? It's a survival horror game where the horror comes more from passive threats than immediate ones. It has combat (albeit terrible combat), but most of it is against regular other human beings, whereas most of the genuine challenge is managing resources and fighting fatigue, hunger and illness. It's a genuinely exhausting experience that I think works out just fine with (limited) combat (little ammo, old guns, etc).

    Perhaps you could implement similar gameplay mechanics about keeping the player alive, which would add to the desperation and make up for some tension lost in occasional combat.

  5. Hey! Pathologic... Googled around for some images, but seems I completely missed that title.

    I don't know how this game exactly implemented the "survival" element, but in many games things look feeding yourself is usually pretty dull. Hunger. Take bread from inventory. No more hunger. If finding bread was very difficult, it would become a challenge. But if you can find or buy it in every shop, it's just an unnecessary extra game element. At the same time, if scarce, "getting hungry" starts working like a timer; you'll need to find food within X time, or you'll die. In a slow paced puzzle game like Tower22, having time pressure might be annoying.

    All in all, I'm not against having such survival elements in the game, but they must be balanced really well. More is not always better.

  6. It's definitely not that simple in Pathologic. You can buy food from shops, but resources are so scarce that the food is expensive and the shops have very little in stock. Along with food, you also need to keep your medicine, bandages, weapons, ammo and clothing in shape, so food isn't the only resource to worry about. Sometimes you'll need to sell your own weapons or protective clothing just to be able to afford the stuff that is absolutely necessary to keep you alive.

    Now, Pathologic is an open-world game that lasts for 12 days, each day being 2-4 hours long, so it's probably very different from Tower22, but it teaches a few lessons that other horror games can learn. It's about overcoming inevitability and going up against horror that isn't just in-your-face, and the resource management is fucking effective. I'm assuming Tower22 is a linear experience that lasts somewhere less than 12 hours, so hunger isn't something to worry about, but who knows! I guess, just don't force the concept in if it ever starts appealing to you, unless it fits with the plot/narrative.

  7. Odd, it automatically posted that message through my Google account!

  8. The demo movies are very scripted of course, but T22 isn't exactly linear. At least... even a game like Zelda is still "linear" more or less in the end since there is only one correct order of solving quests in general (asides from optional side-quests). But you can do it at your own tempo, and likely you will waste a lot of time searching in the wrong area's. T22 should be somewhat like that, and no, I'm not going to help the player with very obvious hints. Hardcore exploration like in the old days.

    Sleeping is a "confirmed" gameplay element in T22, eating depends on gameplay tests. So actually that feature is in the pipeline, but I'm not just that sure about it yet... Weapons and ammunition will only take a little role, if they are present at all, so don't expect RPG elements such as shops or upgrades on that terrain.

    I very much agree that not just monsters or gore should make the experience scary. Of course T22 will contain those, but dosed carefully. Most of the time, you won't be seeing guts, monsters or other weird stuff. The fright-factor lays deeper, wandering in a dreamy bizarre environment, not knowing what will be next.

  9. "Like in the old days" is always a phrase that makes me cautious. Lots of people I've seen used that to justify "Our game is unreasonably difficult." I'm just hoping you mean you won't hold my hand while I play, but you'll still be conscious of the logic behind your puzzle design and item placement.

    I am interested in seeing how this less linear design will work out, now. I was imagining something like Penumbra/Amnesia, where there are hub levels that connect the ...connected parts of the game's puzzles, but this sounds like something new and much more interesting. I suppose it makes sense that you can access more than one area at a time since--I think--you play a character who lives/works in Tower 22. In that case, it would be nice to see the environment change along with the progress you make--not in overall design, but in events taking place and hints of things to come. Coincidentally, this is also something that Pathologic does as a plague spreads through town.

  10. I don't think games are unreasonable difficult unless you keep dying because of unfair conditions (cheating AI, navigating a clumsy player with bad camera settings over platforms, having only very few seconds to accomplish something, ...). The majority is just threating the player like a kid. I'm mainly comparing Zelda's, Metroids and Resident Evils. "Back in the old days", you didn't have auto-map locations that show you where to go, way-too-obvious hints, auto-recovering health, auto-save that spawn you back 4 seconds earlier if you die for the 2345th time, and short-time-span puzzles. With that last thing I mean that if you find a new item, you almost immidiatly know what to do with it (in the nearby area). In older games, you would often find items you had no idea about how to use them yet. Those kind of mechanics keep you in the game, true, but also discourage to think or to fear your players live.

    Games have become way easier, and that annoys me. Of course, that might have to do with my age. I grew up with 1990..2005 games that more than often contained "unreasonable difficult" games that made the Nintendo joypads fly all around the room. Three times didn't make the impossible platform jump? Restart the fucking game (not all of them even had password systems). Not saying we should go back that way, but making games more accessible for less experienced players made the 2005..2012 games not much of a challenge for the older generations.

    T22 doesn't have levels. It's one big level (the game roams like GTA does, but on a much smaller indoor scale). Of course, not the entire tower is just made of corridors / apartments, the "world" gets divided in several sections with themes. But yes, you will see the same area's multiple times. "Back-tracking" became a dirty word in modern games (that's why we have the short-time-span puzzles) but you will be in T22. Like it or not ;) The environment changes when accomplishing main goals in the game. New spaces in previously visited areas become accessible, and even the rooms themselves will be affected by some of the main-events. Got to be careful with promising too much on that last point too, small dev-teams often twist their own neck with all the ambitions!