Monday, October 09, 2006

How do you get Started?

This is NOT an entry into the round table this month. I will do something more substantive for that. This is just the story of Why I Love Horror.

When I was just a wee lad, I had a normal childhood of Disney movies and Scooby-Doo reruns. The games I played (less than many kids I know) were things like Mario, Sonic, and Squaresoft back before it sucked.

One day, I purchased a game called "Cyborg Cop" for my Genesis. (Or maybe "Cyber Cop".)

It was a bit of a Shadowrun-themed game which took place wholly in a futuristic office building. It's graphics were 3D, but had no textures at all. The character creation was extremely varied - so much so that the first five times you played it was impossible to get a character that would survive.

It was a hellishly hard and not-very-good game. Until I got to one of the later levels - three or five. Then I ran into a werewolf. I couldn't kill it. I ran. I hid. I sat and thought. "Maybe I can run through the level while it's somewhere else? But how can I tell where it is?"

That was when I heard the footsteps. It padded up to me, stopped on the other side of an opaque wall. Paced back and forth. Loped rapidly off.

It was HUNTING me!

I was pretty young, and freaked out, so I wussed out and shut the system off. I never played the game again.

Ah, a budding love of horror.

Shortly after, I began to play my friend's Turbografix. Instead of the good games, I liked to play Silent Debugger. I didn't actually get to play it much, I was terrible at it, and it's a pretty poor game, but I enjoyed every minute of it.

In Silent Debugger, you don't travel from level to level. Instead, you are in a giant elevator, and the outer layers change but the inner layers always remain the same. Over the course of the game, critters invade various parts of your elevator and start to damage and destroy things like energy rechargers and ammo stations.

In addition, you had a way to tell when something was nearby, but before you could actually see and affect it. A bleeping.

You have to understand: these two terrible games were a stunningly different experience from all the games I'd played to that point. All the other games either had perfect information or levels which waited for you. This idea that things were happening - things you needed to do something about - this was new and full of adrenaline.

After this, I continued my illicit love affair with the horror genre in the form of movies - stolen hours of late-night TV or someone's well-worn VHS of "Evil Dead". But back in those days, horror games were essentially unheard of, and I wouldn't have been able to convince my parents to buy me one anyway. I watched a lot of kung-fu movies - a poor substitute, but quickly turning into an addiction in their own right.

When I got into high school and college, things started to pick up. I had a lot more access to horror movies. (Actually, I don't like horror movies. I like shlock horror, survival horror, and terror movies.) I also found a few really incredible horror GAMES that came out. System Shock and System Shock II are the most potent, but Marathon, Doom, Half Life, Aliens vs Predator, and a bunch of others certainly made their impressions.

(Bobs are flammable!)

Anyhow, this made me something of a specialist in horror related theory and techniques. This is, of course, in addition to at least a dozen blog entries. :)

To me, the only true horror games are first-person. Nothing immerses like first person. Third person does good things involving player vision, but you lose a lot of the visceral affect. I don't really care for most third-person horror games. The aiming feels stupid, a monster jumping at you doesn't have the mind-numbing shot of adrenaline... and the idea that you need to carry around random junk and hope some of it fits in some hole somewhere is just not horrifying. Seriously, who locks a door with an octagonal key? Losing immersion is THE quickest way to lose me.

And yet, immersion is just about the ONE essay I haven't written.

So, that'll be my entry into this month's round table.


Patrick Dugan said...

I wouldn't be so firm in categorizing "true" horror in games, or if I were, I'd say the only true horror games are the ones where the balance is assymetric, resulting in the very real sense of being hunted. The only FPS that did this well is System Shock 2 (I haven't played the first one, so it gets the benifit of the doubt) where the distribution of resources paced the game on a tense precipice.

But for me, THE scariest game of all time is Clock Tower. Unlike Silent Hill or RE, Clock Tower mechanics involved no bullets, only hiding places. The game was paced with scenarios of horror cross cut with long, pensive breaks of investigation. The horror had you locked in a powered down building, trying to find an exit, while the sound of scissors intermittedly haunted your steps. Puzzle solving was tied to escape, and believable, and frighteningly, as you're ability to think rationally was somewhat impeded by the fear.

I literally had nightmares for about six months after RENTING the goddamn thing.

And nothing has ever come close.

Craig Perko said...

I didn't say that they were the only true horror games: I said they were the only true horror games TO ME.

Obviously, my taste is mine alone. I even specified that with my movie preferences: my game preferences are much the same.

I almost certainly wouldn't like the game you're talking about, but that doesn't mean it's not "true" horror. It means it's not shlock horror, survival horror, or terror. It's one of the forms of horror I don't like, because they aren't immersive enough.

Before you argue about that: I'm writing a whole essay on it. Probably best to argue it there.