Friday, March 1, 2013

Fear Done Right

I'm a big fan horror in video games. Especially when it's mixed in with a bit of space sci-fi. Sadly, I've been disappointed by all the media that has recently carried this particular theme.

Prometheus (the film) was poorly thought out. Dead Space 3 had way too much action. Aliens: Colonial Marines was simply dull. The reason for these failures can be traced to one key point. Escapist Columnist, Shamus Young, thinks Aliens is really about Ellen Ripley.  I disagree.  Don't get me wrong, she's a great character and gives the audience someone to root for...but as I mentioned before in this blog post, it really comes down to primal instincts and anxieties.  So, to make what I'm getting at explicitly clear, let me show you a way to make an Aliens game done right.

Horror co-op might actually work here (link)
You wake up from hypersleep alone and disoriented. Your in the belly of an old starship. Outside the cryo-chamber it's dark claustrophobic corridors lined with cold metal. From here the player can explore three decks. A-deck is astrogation and consoles for various ship systems. Here you can figure out what the hell is going on and get a map. B-deck is the living quarters. Medical, the galley, airlocks and space suits are all here. You can also find a motion tracker. C-deck in engineering. You can rig up an incinerator unit, set the self destruct and prep the escape pod. The nest is also here. Including crew who woke before you...or what's left of them. You see...there is an alien on board. It isn't aware of you at first, but after a short time it takes notice. It's smart and might stalk, it might lay an ambush or it might simply avoid the player for awhile to create a false sense of security. A flamer will keep it at bay, a motion tracker will warn you when it's close. Beyond that though your pretty much defenseless.  What do you do? Zap it out into space? Set the self-destruct sequence and bail? Program the ship to fly into a sun?  What about sending out a distress signal?

It's up to you. Things are open ended and there are multiple ways to finish with some endings better than others.  There's also a number of side objectives you could try to complete. Rescue cocooned shipmates, figure out what happened from "Mother" or use an auto-doc to remove the alien egg sitting in your chest - Surprise! Meanwhile, doing anything requires you to navigate using a flickering flashlight hearing the ping of your tracker. Is that a bulkhead or the alien holding perfectly still? maybe you could send some fire that way but your flame thrower is already sputtering. Maybe you should make a refueling run or weld some doors shut and barricade a few air-ducts. Maybe don a spacesuit and go EVA to reach another part of the ship with worrying about the xenomorph...that is assuming you have the oxygen.

Would this game draw critical praise for being terrifying?  I think so. Would it sell like crazy?  Probably not.  I think it could be done well in nine months (unlike the game we ended up with), but it would be short and have to be sold as a $20 downloadable game (DLG?) possibly on Steam.  So for that reason alone, the above is pretty much ensured to never happen.  Gearbox might have tarnished their reputation a bit with Aliens: Colonial Marines, but they made a lot of money, and most gamers don't have any clue who Randy Pitchford is.  Still and idea is an idea.  

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