Forcing the player through a level.

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Forcing the player through a level.

Postby Jeeves on Sun Mar 31, 2013 8:27 pm

Hello all

I'm currently mulling over some ideas for a horror mod. For one level I'm trying to create the illusion that the player is being chased through a level; and that he must move - when prompted, by some on screen text. This text will tell him when to move and - specifically , where to go.
The level will be relatively short and obviously completely linear, the only challenge being to move at the right time to evade a scripted enemy; and to avoid staying in one place for too long, thus the level would be almost impossible to fail. How would you as a player react to this kind of level, taking into consideration its total linearity and its context(as a seqence of scares)?.
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Re: Forcing the player through a level.

Postby Black_Stormy on Sun Mar 31, 2013 9:46 pm

Text on screen is a terrible idea. It may have worked ten years ago but times have changed. There are a lot of things you can use to guide a player. Think about the human mind and what it does. Humans immediately look at the brightest thing they can see, so you can use lighting to guide them. To expand on this, you can use different colours, angles, intensity and other crap to help the player make a decision on where they want to go. Want the player to move out of the dangerous darkness and towards a particular spot? Put some nice, safe lighting there. Want the player to feel that a spot is dangerous? Put in some low angle lights, dark, warm colours, maybe flickering or somehow unstable.

Also humans are drawn to higher spots, since it is easier to defend from uphill and you can see more, so use verticality in your level layout to help the player choose their path. A light in a doorway at the top of a ramp or flight of stairs is a useful cliche to draw the player in. You can even get a bit brechtian and use that doorway to scare the absolute shit out of them by having the door slam shut or something jump out at them, but you want to use these breaks in convention sparingly or you will confuse the player too much.

If you want to be a lot more forceful, Halo 4 had a bit of a cool thing in a quicktime sequence that required you to jump from ledge to ledge while shit fell down at you. When you got to a certain spot the camera would quickly rotate to glance in the direction you should move to get to the next ledge so it was clear where you had to jump. Some people don't like this kind of 'grab the players head' stuff but if you're really having trouble guiding the player sometimes you need to think of more forceful things like this, or rethink your level design.

If you want the player to feel they are being chased, I would guess that audio would have a lot to do with that, as well as having furniture or doors move in response to something giving chase, like if something smashes against a wall with force the chairs and tables could get pushed away from the wall from the impact. You could try making the player take damage if they loiter too long or have some sort of effect that makes the player see the need to move (like Penumbras insanity effect). Maybe you should just have something actually chase the player?

Also you should play some horror games to really research your subject matter. I suggest the Dead Space series, Penumbra series, F.E.A.R series, Amnesia (same guys who did penumbra), and the Chzo mythos series (by yahtzee).
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Re: Forcing the player through a level.

Postby Major Banter on Sun Mar 31, 2013 9:52 pm

Permit me to run thoughts by you as to how you would get me personally shitting my pants. The general idea is perfectly sound - loads of really solid horror games have pulled the same trick time and time again, but there's a lot more elegance to it than just 'run here, wait here'. Do you want to do a really, really solid job of it, and get a player reacting in a genuinely frightened manner? You're going to have to think a bit first! If you can really pull it off, the linearity and context becomes second fiddle to the important thing - a player actually scared!

Step one, in a perfect world, is to dump the on-screen text thing entirely. It ruins any immersive aspect of the atmosphere, and ordering your players to run generally means your design is lacking in terms of motivating the player to do that of their own accord.

Remember, players should react and proactively react to your environment - try to avoid giving basic instructions.

So, how to do this? First, establish the rules of the chase clearly. Give the player a chance to understand the rules of movement, the rules of safety and so on. You can do this by sound/voice, by actual demonstration (by far the best way), or if you'd rather and you don't really have any other means, by text. If you can get it into the environment though that'd be fantastic - writing on the walls, notes on a desk, whatever. Way cooler, and much more impressive!

Clearly established rules are way, way better than random ones, by the way. Use light or physical objects very clearly, rather than vague areas. This helps the player understand how the chase is supposed to work.

So you've got the rules down, awesome - the player gets what they're meant to be doing preferably before the actual event. Even just before is better then at the actual event itself. You can raise some tension and make sure the player doesn't mess up and get frustrated. Equally, giving them at the time, quickly and effectively is a good way to panic the player and get them moving quickly.

Now the biggie - how do you actually motivate the player to move? Make it clear this motherfucker you're dealing with is damn scary, damn tough and nigh-on unstoppable. Then don't give the player any weapons that can hurt it. But remember, play by the rules with your beastie. The player will run of their own accord if everything is set out properly - watching it kill from a distance, seeing how it moves and hunts - simple things, but oh so effective. Remember the antlions? It was clearly set out that they spawn from the sand when its stepped on very quickly, and re-established in that tiptoe section. It was a fairly linear, pretty dull path - but the tension was ramped up to 11 because of the threat, not the level.

So yeah, you manage all that and manage it well, how do you think a player is going to react? They're going to run like hell!


Edit; to add on to what Stormy is saying, really plan this out. Don't make it lazy or a 'that'll do', I've played countless shitty horror sections and they're forgettable. Really good ones stick, like Amnesia's dungeons. I'd also recommend that you either avoid having the player hide entirely, or make them hide and move, hide and move in a methodic way. You can't effectively combine hiding and timing in my opinion, unless you test the living hell out of it.
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Re: Forcing the player through a level.

Postby Black_Stormy on Sun Mar 31, 2013 11:16 pm

I forgot to add some stuff about undisclosed horror, which Senor Broma touched on. An unknown threat that will most likely kill you that is an undefined distance away and closing in at possible breakneck speed is horror. A big monster chasing your through a house while you run away is action. Undisclosed horror builds tension far greater than looking at an ugly monster and shooting it. Ever seen a horror movie where they reveal the monster halfway through? It's almost always a disappointment because now you know what you're up against whereas before your imagination created all manners of things to fill the gaps. To get the player actively filling the gaps is to truly immerse them. But I get the feeling your mod is more about a chase scene and less about creating a tense atmosphere for a prolonged period of time. Regardless, it's all food for thought. Listen to MB, he always has good shit to say about level design.
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Re: Forcing the player through a level.

Postby Major Banter on Sun Mar 31, 2013 11:25 pm

Black_Stormy wrote:Listen to MB, he always has good shit to say about level design.

Awwh cheers bebez, I <3 your modelling skills :[]:
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Forcing the player through a level.

Postby Jeeves on Mon Apr 01, 2013 12:53 pm

Thankyou Stormy and you Banter.


So, going off on a slight tangent for a moment, has text has been totally supplanted by audio and better visual stuff in situations where the designer wants to engage the player mentally?.

Banter, in your opinion is a readers subjective mental experience of horror from reading the text in a novel, able to be conveyed in a modern game in any pragmatic way with the use of text ?. Taking into consideration the text adventure games of the 80's, where there was jack-shit in the way of sound; and visuals were mostly hand drawn, pixelated and not realy scary, so if you had some good text used in conjunction with pictures and audio, it could make the player use their imagination a bit.
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Re: Forcing the player through a level.

Postby Major Banter on Mon Apr 01, 2013 2:23 pm

Permit me to make something clear - you could just bash this together quickly and go with the idea in your own head. However, I don't think that'll make an epic experience. If you want to do something really, really cool read on, because you're going to have to think about it a great deal. If you'd rather just go and make it, go ahead, but it seems a shame not to put some real thought into make a defining experience.

Also, 'scuse my essay!

Jeeves wrote:So, going off on a slight tangent for a moment, has text has been totally supplanted by audio and better visual stuff in situations where the designer wants to engage the player mentally?

Pretty much, yes. To use text effectively is difficult as it is because it's a flat system in a 3D world. The world is used to text in video games being dumped into subtitles or otherwise, unless it's actually IN the environment. I'll expand on this hugely in a moment. Audio and visuals are so much more effective; why? See below.

Jeeves wrote:Banter, in your opinion is a readers subjective mental experience of horror from reading the text in a novel, able to be conveyed in a modern game in any pragmatic way with the use of text ?. Taking into consideration the text adventure games of the 80's, where there was jack-shit in the way of sound; and visuals were mostly hand drawn, pixelated and not realy scary, so if you had some good text used in conjunction with pictures and audio, it could make the player use their imagination a bit.

I'd like to say that making people use their imaginations is a very strong aspect of any form of media, and that includes video games. However, with the advent of high graphical fidelity, frenetic gameplay and a laissez-faire attitude to general design (I'm looking at you, Call of Duty) game developers are filling in the gaps more and more. Cut-scenes are an example of this - how are you meant to be scared when you don't feel like you're actually playing? The devs are just taking you through a ghost-train ride rather than dumping you in an abandoned house at midnight, where your imagination fills in the noises and dark spaces. You're sadly going to have a very hard time satisfying a modern audience through old-skool text/sound methods, especially with archaic means.

Hell, these days even showing your monster is considered standard practice, even though its so much more effective not to!

Naturally, books have an enormous strength here in that they allow you to formulate your greatest terror in your own head. Good games can latch onto this, giving you an environment and context but leaving you to fill in the gaps - and in that oh so human way, fill them with terrifying things rather than fluffy bunnies. So combining that book aspect - the written nature of the media - with games, that's a really interesting idea, and now I see what you're getting at with the writing. It's sorta narrating the player's story; postmodern, different, clever. However, you're really going to have to think about implementation. You're smashing together two very different mediums, and though you have a bridge through horror the point of games is that a picture speaks a thousand words. Nobody plays games to read; they play them for a more immediate, active experience.

So have a think and get back to us as to how you'd implement this. My advice? Dump the pragmatic methodology and go fucking nuts with the game aspect. Try out weird ideas. Audio narration is a cool trick, something Amnesia did very well but you could bring it into the environment proper. Dear Esther did a brilliant job of this, The Stanley Parable a truly stunning job of it. Definitely worth a look. Writing on the walls in a narrative manner is very disconcerting, and so on and so forth.

I feel that text-on-the-screen is just not going to bring it together in the way you want. When you have an environment full of noise, activity, the threat of actual digital death - text feels flat and powerless. That's why I keep banging on about putting it into the environment proper - imagine running down a hallway as spotlights light up the walls, revealing very short sentences, or even just words to narrate your passage. That - in my opinion - is the only way to pull off text in a strong manner. Text is also a real immersion killer.

I can think of one pragmatic way actually. If you can mirror the nature of text to the environment - keep it slow, steady, loaded with tension and absolutely vital to read every word carefully, you could pull it off. You're going to have to break some rules of convention though; no fast gameplay, unless the text is literally just RUN RUN RUN RUN or TURN AROUND TURN AROUND. It has potential, but it's a toughie. You'd need to warm the player up to reading your text and discovering that it's the only way through - give them a locked room and the location of a key is in the text proper, then go from there. You cannot effectively combine speed and text, imo. Hit me with a few ideas though, I'm interested!

NB; this is, of course, my opinion and people are welcome to question me.
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Re: Forcing the player through a level.

Postby Black_Stormy on Mon Apr 01, 2013 9:01 pm

The problem with text on screen (and probably one of the reasons why a lot of horror games go with minimal HUDs) is that it destroys suspension of disbelief. In order to build good tension in a horror environment you need to player to be invested in the game world. For this to work you need the player to conceptually forget he is interacting with a form of media. Books do this well purely on the virtue that there is no visual. You have to create the images in your head. You have to involve yourself in the world your mind creates. To display text on screen is to tear the player out of the world you have convinced them to believe and remind them that they are interacting with a static form of media. So let's drop the text on screen concept entirely and forever.

As for the text in environment idea, I think this is a delicate subject. The thing I hate about most games that do this is that the words are never anything people would actually write. Nobody in a horror situation is going to take the time to write "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO" in meter high text along the entire length of a school hallway. That shit makes me laugh mirthfully every time. You don't even need to rely on people writing shit, society does a good job of directing people through signage and posters. Generic signage to point the player (selfillum exit signs, safety signs with big arrows etc) could take the place of peoples writing.

Sorry for sucking valves dick, but they did the writing on the wall thing very well in both L4D and portal. There was a reason for the writing in those games. The ratman was bonkers and the graffiti was in the safe rooms where people would have time. If you want to do text in the environment you need it to have a purpose. Who wrote it and why? Depending on your horror situation, perhaps the murderer stalking you wrote it to add to the fear he wanted to invoke in his victim. Perhaps he wrote it in order to trick the victim. If it's something mystic then perhaps ghosts of people wrote it to try to communicate with the player, or demons. If you're getting chased by an alien then I doubt anyone had much reason to communicate with you previously, in which case you could use things like the aforementioned signage. The mystic thing could be used for fast paced gameplay - you could have words appear and disappear on the walls, as the ghosts or whoever manipulated them. This would let you flash instructions to the player quite convincingly. Of course, think about your subject matter and all that ('press space to jump!' says the demon from the third circle of hell).

What exactly does your horror level entail? There was a source mod that was about a dud being batshit insane and little black clouds chased you around the world and it was fucking bizarre but I can't remember what it was called. They did a really good job of invoking fear and confusion in the player, you may want to check that out too.
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Re: Forcing the player through a level.

Postby zombie@computer on Mon Apr 01, 2013 9:18 pm

@black_stormy: you mean black snow?

Anyway, to force a player in a certain direction, keep the pace up for the player. Shkle shouldn't have the time to hesitate going one way or the other. Talking in hl2: if you can move left or right and there's tons of combine on the left, who woudnt choose going right when health and ammo are low? Dont use signs or graffity or some shit to direct the player, its stupid and unless very obvious can easily be missed by a spooked player.

Scary things are those that you know can attack you at any moment, make little sound but you can hear them skuddle in the vincinity, but never see directly. Who didnt feel the tension the first time he met the gargantuan in hl1? or the second time? its all about knowing its there, but having to rush to some place because you cant kill it directly (well, in hl1 you could, unfortunately).
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Re: Forcing the player through a level.

Postby Jeeves on Tue Apr 02, 2013 1:06 pm

Major Banter wrote: Nobody plays games to read; they play them for a more immediate, active experience.


Yes, I'm hoping that if It's even possible to implement it right, it will work in conjunction with the visual media(active experience); making the player feel fear/urgency without having to keep them constantly moving. Here's an example of what I'm thinking it could go like:

Player (hidden behind some boxes, sees monster walk past) *text all caps for effect? : "OH JESUS CHRIST!, HOLY SHIT!, THERE HE IS,HE'S LOOKING FOR ME!, OH CHRIST...WHERE DO I GO!?, WHAT DO I DO!?, IF I RUN HE'LL HEAR ME!, IF I STAY HERE HE'LL FUCKIN KILL ME!. THERE'S A CORRIDOR DOWN THERE WITH AN EXIT DOOR, WHERE'S HE GONE!?, THATS IT I'M GOING TO RUN. RUN.....RUN RUN YOU PHAG!..."

Now imagine that text somewhere on the screen when watching Pyramid Head, and assume this isn't a cutscene:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHxd0TCSzdE

Unnecessary perhaps?, does the player's narrative add anything?; at the very worst would it detract from an already horrifying experience?, as has been said, text is an immersion killer .

Major Banter wrote:I can think of one pragmatic way actually. If you can mirror the nature of text to the environment - keep it slow, steady, loaded with tension and absolutely vital to read every word carefully, you could pull it off. You're going to have to break some rules of convention though; no fast gameplay, unless the text is literally just RUN RUN RUN RUN or TURN AROUND TURN AROUND. It has potential, but it's a toughie. You'd need to warm the player up to reading your text and discovering that it's the only way through - give them a locked room and the location of a key is in the text proper, then go from there. You cannot effectively combine speed and text, imo. Hit me with a few ideas though, I'm interested!


I think we're on the same page here, this is how I wanted to try and implement it, at least

Black_Stormy wrote:The problem with text on screen (and probably one of the reasons why a lot of horror games go with minimal HUDs) is that it destroys suspension of disbelief. In order to build good tension in a horror environment you need to player to be invested in the game world. For this to work you need the player to conceptually forget he is interacting with a form of media. Books do this well purely on the virtue that there is no visual. You have to create the images in your head. You have to involve yourself in the world your mind creates. To display text on screen is to tear the player out of the world you have convinced them to believe and remind them that they are interacting with a static form of media. So let's drop the text on screen concept entirely and forever.
.

I suppose to know if it irreparably damages immersion or not i'd ultimately have to implement it in game; and get some folks to play it, horror being subjective after all. I suppose it may be a case of trying to re-invent the wheel, but people have in fact moved on from the wheel long ago.

zombie@computer wrote:Scary things are those that you know can attack you at any moment, make little sound but you can hear them skuddle in the vincinity, but never see directly.


I believe that this concept could be implemented with text. For example the player could associate the text with something bad happening in game, if pattern was made apparent early on. A novel(pun not intended) idea I had related to the fact that in-game narration - text or otherwise, could be assumed to be the characters thoughts. Imagine if the text was, up until a certain point in the level predictable; for example ("OH NO THAT'S A SCARY THING, WHY IS THAT DOOR OPENING) etc, changes to (" I'M GOING TO FIND YOU!, IM RIGHT BEHIND THIS DOOR HOPE YOUR NOT HERE!), so the player becomes disconnected from the thought process he's accustomed to, is he even hearing his own thoughts anymore?; Here's another example, : ("THE RED DOOR IS SAFE, OPEN THE RED DOOR"), and....guess what's behind the red door?.

*Stormy, The level consists of the player going to some old industrial building, to find some information on his mysterious past, However he is interrupted by several indestructible men who want to capture/kill him. As he's hopelessly outmatched( this previously has been made clear), he must sneak past them to stay alive.
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Re: Forcing the player through a level.

Postby Black_Stormy on Tue Apr 02, 2013 8:28 pm

Jeeves wrote:"OH JESUS CHRIST!, HOLY SHIT!, THERE HE IS,HE'S LOOKING FOR ME!, OH CHRIST...WHERE DO I GO!?, WHAT DO I DO!?, IF I RUN HE'LL HEAR ME!, IF I STAY HERE HE'LL FUCKIN KILL ME!. THERE'S A CORRIDOR DOWN THERE WITH AN EXIT DOOR, WHERE'S HE GONE!?, THATS IT I'M GOING TO RUN. RUN.....RUN RUN YOU PHAG!..."


Exhibit A. All tension lost. If this was done in a voiceover (and was done exceptionally well) you might get away with it, just. There are better ways to present this information to the player. For instance the player already knows that this guy is the enemy. So they already know it is dangerous to run. If the player has no weapons then they know they are defenseless. At this point all you want to do is convey to the player that they can't just hide and wait for him to pass. Once you get them out of their hiding spot then you can use level design to direct them to said corridor (exit signs, lighting, room layout etc).

I assume you don't want to program the AI to actively search for the player, that would be extremely hard unless you're a pro coder, and this is the reason why you are trying to get the player to move of their own accord. Try giving them a more defined objective, rather than 'don't die'. If they are looking for secrets to their past, maybe there is a room in the building that they know holds something they want, so make sure the player knows they need to head there. Perhaps give them a map with a cross on it, or something in the game world leading to the objective that they can follow (trails of blood, electrical cables, fairy lights, breadcrumbs or some shit). This will let the player know there is a reason to move that outweighs the risk of detection.

If you really need to force them out of their hiding spot and get them moving you can just destroy their hiding spot somehow. Maybe a scripted sequence? I think with enough AI nodes and shit (no idea how these work in hammer) you could have the AI meticulously search hiding spots without doing much coding. You'd want to make sure the player sees that they are searching, probably by having them do it close to the enemy reveal, when the player will be looking at them.

I think if the player has an objective they will move along to find it. Your demographic is going to be familiar with hide and seek gameplay. But as usual, test and test and test.

Also for good hide and seek gameplay, I loved the stealth sequences out of Beyond Good and Evil. Youtube it.
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Re: Forcing the player through a level.

Postby Major Banter on Tue Apr 02, 2013 9:01 pm

I'll leave Stormy to the practical advice, he's talking good sense. I'll stick to the more theoretical side. This is really interesting as a discussion :smt023

I haven't really mentioned it so far, because I assumed you were aware of it, but you're going to need top-notch writing.

Really superb writing knows what to say, but more importantly what not to say. Games are a piece of theatre or drama, not a novel - the action is happening in front of the player and they can see it. Narration adds detail and adds depth, but it WILL NOT and MUST NOT define the scene. That's shitty writing; lazy, forced and needless.

Consider Iago's asides in Othello. We can see the scenes playing out in the background on stage, but what Iago says to the audience adds a tremendous depth to the relationship between the character Othello and Iago. Without it, we'd see a nonchalant conversation between a prince and his commander. With it, we see a callous backstabbing bastard lying barefacedly in his prince's face, a man who he seeks to ruin and destroy.

You'll want to pull this off with your text/audio (henceforth narration), if you choose to keep it. Never use it to describe the situation unless you're adding depth and grounding whatever else you're going to say. For example, "the room was deadly cold. The depths of winter had even had an effect on the doors; any leading outside were iced shut." We take a blatantly obvious, descriptive detail and turn it into something with depth, backstory, explanation or mystery - whatever. We make it into something more.

Stanley Parable gets a bit meta with this, and does an epic job of it. It seems highly descriptive, but when you start to think about what's said and unsaid, a whole world of depth opens up.

When things get a little more spicy, keep it super-short, and don't put words in your player's mouth. Ever. Bastion does this rather well; it doesn't say "SHIT'S SCARY YO, OH MAN THE KID IS SCARED" - it says "that's a real terrible beast there. Wouldn't do for The Kid to forget about his pals though." It enhances what the player can actually see in their face rather than kills it stone dead.

A cool, calm collected narrative voice really works with this. Dear Esther, Bastion, Stanley Parable - all of them have ice-cold narrators. That's for a reason; it works with the immersion really well rather than against it. The only time to break out of that is to shock, and to maintain that in the immersive factor. Nightmare House 2 had this really cool moment where the subtitles would come on and just endlessly write TURN AROUND TURN AROUND for about 10 seconds. It was shit frightening, no matter where it happened, because it was totally out of character of the subtitle system.

So yeah, a bit to consider there. Because you're balancing immersion, genres and modes, having the player read and register a scene and many things besides, you've really got to think here. This isn't taking pages from a book and bringing them into a game - it's having the game do the job of immediate description for you.




With this in mind, let's look at your examples.

jeeves wrote:I believe that this concept could be implemented with text. For example the player could associate the text with something bad happening in game, if pattern was made apparent early on. A novel(pun not intended) idea I had related to the fact that in-game narration - text or otherwise, could be assumed to be the characters thoughts. Imagine if the text was, up until a certain point in the level predictable; for example ("OH NO THAT'S A SCARY THING, WHY IS THAT DOOR OPENING) etc, changes to (" I'M GOING TO FIND YOU!, IM RIGHT BEHIND THIS DOOR HOPE YOUR NOT HERE!), so the player becomes disconnected from the thought process he's accustomed to, is he even hearing his own thoughts anymore?; Here's another example, : ("THE RED DOOR IS SAFE, OPEN THE RED DOOR"), and....guess what's behind the red door?.

You're going to have to think long and hard about whether you want the player trusting the narrator or not. Character's thoughts...ehh, I don't like the idea, and while it can certainly be done, it's too easy to default into asking the player to feel a certain way rather than actually managing it and underlining it with narration. I'd try not to go too schizophrenic either - again, perfectly doable and very cool, but very hard work to get it to function over a short, action packed area. Don't do too much at once, an effect like that would arc over an entire mod.
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