When I first turned on Silent Hill 2
, I remember being scared to the extent that I didnít want to play the game alone. As the game finally came to an end, I let out a sigh of relief and congratulated myself on surviving the hellish town. A while later, I notice the game on my shelf and reminisced about the fun times I had with the scariest game I had ever played. I decided I wanted to relive those memories, so once more, I started up the game. I ran down the forest path, aware that nothing would attack me until I got my hands on that trusty plank which was still a long walk off. I listened to the slightly unsettling sounds that emanated from somewhere deep in the forest that no one in their right mind would ever venture into. I ran into an old acquaintance, Angela, and though she didnít remember me, I remembered her very well. I wished I could help her, but knew it was futile. I continued on and as I entered the town I had also visited before, the memories of stumbling around aimlessly in a fog full of monsters came back to me. I ran into a blood stain on the ground and noticed a shadow slowly disappear into the fog, again. The real game was about to start, I knew. I followed the shadow and began to hear my good friend, my trusted friend, my broken radio emitting static. I picked it up and looked at it lovingly, even though in a way we had never met before. The straightjacket in the corner came to life and attacked me, forcing me to fend off and kill the first enemy I had already killed handfuls of on my previous treks through Silent Hill in another time. And thus began my second journey through the possessed town.
As I continued my quest, I had a terrifying realization, more terrifying than anything I had fended off in Silent Hill before: I wasnít scared anymore. Everything I had done in my other life as James was the same. The same straightjacket waited for me to get my plank, the same Pyramid Head was getting it on with that mannequin before walking off to go do whatever it is he does when heís not trailing me, and the same video tape waited for me to discover it and find out exactly what was going on. The combat system that made me feel like the enemy always had an upper hand, as I wasnít a trained fighter, had become just a frustrating and cumbersome game of Ring Around the Rosie. In short, the only time the game was truly frightening was when everything was new and unexpected.
This is something that really hurts replay value of games. Games just arenít exciting to play through more than once if everything is the same every time, and horror games suffer the most. If the entire scare factor of a game disappears when everything is predictable, then the game becomes bland. Jumping up a difficulty level may offer some reprieve, but mostly these only offer harder enemies, not more or at different times.
What horror games, and games in general, need, is randomly generated occurrences.
I played through Resident Evil 5
several times. There was a part where I had just killed the chainsaw wielding man and he fell down differently than what I had become used to. I made note of it subconsciously, but didnít react to it any other way. I turn around and continue what I was doing before he came in. I turned around once more, not 15 seconds later, to find him sitting up. I became confused and thought it was a glitch in the game. Then he stood up and I became frightened. When he started waving his chainsaw around like a madman, I lost it. It was an experience like this that had been missing from Silent Hill 2
. Something 'new and unexpected', even though it was my third time playing the game. The whole scene had me so shaken for a minute that I couldn't do anything but sit and stare in awe as my hands shook from the fright I had just received. It was a step in the right direction, but after that, I simply paid attention to how the enemy fell down, and could immediately see if he would be making another visit in a few seconds.
The game that got me thinking about the possibility of random events in games was Dead Space
. This is a game I enjoyed very much, as anyone that may have read my other blog post a few days ago may know. The first time I played through the game, I was scared several times. The first time an enemy was seemingly dead on the floor and it jumped up at me, I freaked out. The second time I saw a corpse, I was cautious, but it still caught me off guard, as I wasnít sure if it would happen twice. The same thing happens several times during the course of the game and never preserves the scare the first one had on me. As I played through the game for the third time, I simply approached it while aiming my gun, and immediately blasted it before it jumped up at me. Needless to say, the scares had once more slipped away into predictable set pieces.
Early on in the game, you pick up an audio tape. The man, clearly shaken by the ordeal, explains that the enemies use the vents to get around the ship. On several occasions, enemies do indeed come out from air vents on the ceilings and walls. But with every playthrough, the vents and enemies are always the same. No exceptions. With a possibility of enemies coming out from anywhere at anytime, it seems like such a missed opportunity for there to not be any variation at all.
Letís say, for example, that there are 50 or so possible enemies per level, bringing the total to 600 when all 12 levels are counted. Take half of that, and make those the permanent enemies. So now there are 25 enemies that will always be in the same areas at the same times, while still leaving 25 free. Now letís say that out of the 25 left for each chapter, 1 of them is lying around somewhere, ďseeminglyĒ dead. Then each time a new game is started, the game decides to take a random 6 of these and have them jump, while the other 6 are simply dead. The player could still approach the enemy prepared to shoot, or shoot before even approaching the enemy to find out if itís dead or not. On the harder difficulties, however, when ammo consumption is a serious issue, the player has to decide whether he wants to risk wasting ammo checking the state of a body, or risk losing a significant amount of health from a surprise attack. And now for the last 24 enemies. These can also be more optional and random. Say that there is an empty room with no permanent enemies. In one random case, the player could possibly walk through, perfectly safe from harm and continue. In another, the game could randomly decide to throw an enemy at the player from one of the many vents in the area. These could either be completely random, or dependent on some player action. For example, if the player makes a lot of noise, stomping on boxes, stepping on litter, shooting for no reason, the enemy could Ďhearí the playerís location and seek him out and attempt to kill him. These are clearly all very specific to Dead Space,
but it shouldnít be that hard to incorporate some of these solutions to almost anything.
The only game I have ever heard of having an example of this sort of thing happening is Fatal Frame.
Not having played the series unfortunately, I can only go by what I have heard, so feel free to correct me. I have heard that if the player simply stands for an extended period of time, doing nothing, the game will send ghosts to kill you, essentially destroying that one moment of peace a player can have to take a breather after an especially frightening set piece.
It is that kind of game design that should be encouraged. The sense of mystery and being unaware of whatís coming is a vital part of horror, but most things lose that feeling when there is no variation between different playthroughs whatsoever. Now if only those guys at Tecmo would stop being such assholesÖ
And there's only so many times that Pyramid Head's ridiculously slow movements and easy to dodge attacks will scare me. And that number is 1.