There are several reasons. One of them is that after a short time you start to predict them because the environment has been designed for it and you can tell. Then it stops being shocking and just annoying.
The other reason is that the developers are relying on surprises to scare you. Fear associated with surprises only lasts until you’ve identified what’s surprising you. Once you size it up and figure out what to do about it, it’s not scary anymore. The key to true horror is leaving the player feeling helpless and ignorant. The player senses that something is dangerous but doesn’t understand the situation and therefore can’t act on it, or even if he could, he doesn’t have the right tools and feels vastly disadvantaged. In situations like this, you often do the opposite of surprise the player. You make the player aware from the beginning that he’s about to die and you stretch that out as much as possible, relying on the player’s own brain to scare himself, often more than is really necessary, since the monster may not actually be that hard to beat. The key is not letting the player know this.
One “surprise” that does scare me is not the monster but seeing the monster, realizing you have no way of beating him (because you don’t have anything but a pistol and that doesn’t work after 2 or 3 shots) so when he starts running at full speed at you, you turn and run like a little girl and then you realize in horror that you have no clue where you’re supposed to go. Oh $h1T you think, as you lead the monster into a dead end and then backtrack just fast enough to come within half a foot of the thing so you can see its face clearly for a brief moment in the almost pitch black. Then you sprint through doors and down stairwells looking for a door with a lock on it so you can seal the beast safely behind you.
See Penumbra’s giant worm sequence, Amnesia’s water level, SOMA’s frickin shipwreck, etc. I hate being chased but damn does it work!
Doom 3 does the closet monster thing and has lost ALL of its scare factor after 2 playthroughs. I now play that game only to fire big guns.
I will give doom 3 one thing. Having 30 spiders explode out of cracks from 3 different directions does scare the $h1t out of me but only for 2 reasons:
Spiders are inherently scary because of their features and mammalian instincts
They come from different directions which has the same effect as taking your gun away (ie. helplessness)
Jump scares are good once or twice. The friend above cited Alone in the Dark, and that reminds me of the Playstation game, The New Nightmare, in which, at the beginning, you’re walking towards a gate when a thunder cracks and lights up the place, at the same time, a bunch of humanoid creatures glimpse behind you, and that gives you a little scare. Then, further into the game, inside the mansion, you get into a little library/office room, lights on, you go to the desk, look it up, search the place a little more, and when you’re exiting, a thunder cracks, lights out, the humanoid creatures appear again, but this time they stay. So perfect. That’s the kind of good jump scare, allied with the game not being easy.
The best type of horror is psychological, see Silence of the Lambs and the Saw movies. I think this game should really characterize SHODAN, and make her on par with Hannibal Lector as a characterized villain.
Having her omnipresent is a good start… I wish she taunted you more throughout the game.
The first game had a lot of SHODAN’s interactions, she knew where you were and would put obstacles in your way, or even prepare traps, and it was magnificent, something that the second one lacked because of the plot. This new installment would benefit a lot from things of the first one, I would love to have SHODAN actually fulfilling her threats.
Jump scares are bad tools for scaring players, but excellent for releasing tension. Even the best horror games use them. For example, the Ocean House sequence in VTMB makes good use of them and they are even in Silent Hill.
I agree with your larger point about most encounters emerging from rules banging into each other being more interesting – certainly for repeat play – than every encounter being pre-defined with only very minimal tactical differences. As Jon Chey put it in his wonderful System Shock 2 post-mortem: “When you throw together many such systems (as we did), you end up with a lot of game play.”
More about that in a moment. First, though, it’s maybe interesting to consider that the first time you see an in-game hybrid in System Shock 2, it’s actually a scripted sequence! This is the bit when you’ve just entered the first code after waking up on the Von Braun and walked through the doorway – when you hear the screams and look to your right, a shotgun-toting hybrid is chasing a female crew member down a hallway you’ll soon explore for yourself.
I don’t think this undercuts the later “oh, hello!” moment when you open the door and that first hybrid tries to take your head off. But it does mean that the SS2 team wasn’t averse to a bit of scripting themselves, even if it was of the non-interactive variety.
Which brings me to my other counterpoint, which is that a game with scripted encounters isn’t automatically a bad game. This is how all the Half-Life games rolled, with scripted events that were both interactive and non-interactive, and all of them are still fun to play today.
And that did have an effect on System Shock 2. In that SS2 post-mortem, Jon Chey says:
[W]e realized that our design time and budget were very tight and that we would not have time to carefully hand-script complicated game-play sequences in the engine. Instead, in an attempt to shift the battlefield, we chose to focus on simple, reusable game-play elements. The success of [i]Half-Life[/i], which launched while we were in the middle of [i]System Shock 2[/i], confirmed our intuitions in this respect. We simply didn't have the time, resources or technology to develop the scripted cinematic sequences used by [i]Half-Life[/i].
But later in that same post-mortem, he acknowledges that the team did, after all, feel they needed to implement scripted cinematics in SS2:
Motivated by the dramatic scripted sequences in [i]Half-Life[/i], we attempted to introduce similar elements into [i]System Shock 2[/i]. In doing so, we broke one of our rules: we tried to step outside the bounds of our technology. Although we attempted relatively simple sequences and ultimately got them working, they were time sinks, and the payback was relatively slight. For example, we scripted a hallucinatory sequence in which the player character rides through the interior of the alien boss-monster, known as the Many. This so-called "Many ride" was the source of innumerable bugs -- the player would be thrown off the moving platform, manage to kill his projected self, bump into walls, and so on.
Despite this, I’d say that the SS2 team understood that the real strength of their game was in creating rule-based systems in an evocative setting and then letting those systems interact in fenceposted but otherwise unscripted ways. And I think that does give the games of Looking Glass and its immediate descendants a feeling of being a living, breathing world to explore that many other games lack.
So why don’t other games do this? Two possible reasons come to mind:
Generating surprising content by letting rules interact in unexpected ways is scary. The benefit of this approach over scripting is that the player doesn’t know exactly what will happen. The danger is that the developer doesn’t know what will happen. Some of the funnier AI bugs happen as a direct consequence of this kind of thing – a few you can let survive into the game, but most have to be fixed, and that takes time. Worse, this model increases the risk that bugs might be discovered by players after the game launches. There are lots of gamers who like to beat up on Bethesda for exactly this perceived flaw – Zenimax might tolerate this; other publishers won’t.
Either the developers or the publisher don’t trust their players. There almost seems to be a fear: it’s like they’ve decided that most players have the attention spans of a juvenile mayfly, so no player must be permitted even a fraction of a second in which they don’t know exactly what they’re supposed to do and how to do it. Consequently, these games are massively signposted, with minimaps and giant exclamation marks hovering inexplicably over characters’ heads, and they slavishly follow the “linear corridor shooter with one distinct gimmick” philosophy.
I like the Looking Glass style of game better myself because their developers aren’t afraid to build interacting systems for me to explore, and because I appreciate that these developers trust me to explore their game in whatever way(s) I enjoy. I want OtherSide to succeed not just so I can play Underworld Ascendant and all their later games, but so that other developers can see that making highly systemic computer games that respect players is a winning design philosophy.
…this ran a little longer than I intended. My thanks to anyone who managed to plow through the whole thing.
I actually didn’t even like the Body of the Many cutscene. It felt too sudden and out of place, in a situation where i was focused on something entirely else.
About cutscenes in general, i don’t even like them as much. Yeah, they can be fun to watch, but too often they’re used as a tool to loosely connect different plot elements from the game.
Usually, when I play a game, I feel immersed. Until the mission ends and i put my hands off the keyboard and mouse to watch pre-rendered cutscenes with improved graphics which aren’t even ingame. This does not immerse me, the story might, but the cutscene on itself doesn’t. This is what i love about System Shock’s storytelling, it never even lets you go for a second. You are always engaged. It doesn’t need cutscenes! Using no cutscenes also forces developers to more tightly connect different plot elements, because you can’t simply be warped from zone to zone, using a cutscene as filler. I don’t want to play events which take 3 hours, to be sent ahead a week by using a 5 minute cutscene. This doesn’t mean it isn’t allowed in general, some stories cannot be told in a single day, but at least try to properly connect them in an immersive way.
Let me take Halo as an example. Halo tells much of the story in the missions themselves, but don’t actually provide you with action until the dialogue has been completed. Instead, it often stretches the beginning of the level by a bit with a ride in a Warthog through a pleasant looking environment, or by a fair bit of walking. Yes, it uses cutscenes to tell the story, but these always are directly connected to what you’re going to do in the next minute when you’re dropped off, much of which you already knew about because they introduced you to it in the ending of the previous level!
I have no problem with them if the execution is good. Shock 2’s BotM scene was meant to be a telepathic transmission/out of body experience, so it had an in-world, consistent reason for robbing control and telling a story. For a game that doesn’t care about such intricate consistency I’ll happily enjoy a cutscene if it actually entertains or is meaningful. I just can’t stand this modern practice of constant cutscenes that fail to engage and “cinematic” knuckle-deep gameplay accompanying.
In Shock 2 respawned enemies drop nanites and ammo, therefore there is respawning ammo. Energy weapon battery is also infinitely rechargeable, and melee weapons are infinitely usable without any degradation even. Even if not, the odds do not always have to be stacked in favor of the player in every single instance. When the player overcomes tough odds the satisfaction is greater. You can always just run away a lot of the time in these games anyway. AI’s ability to give chase is always poor.
I think people underestimate just how scripted Shock 2 was. If you want high levels of emergent player-authored gameplay, play Morrowind. It drops you into a huge simulated world and gives you a hell of a lot of freedom. Shock 2 has a lot of free-form game systems (e.g AI spawning and weapon degradation), reasonably open level design, and some objectives can be tackled in non-linear fashion, but other than that it’s pretty damn scripted. Definitely not a bad thing. Well, in the realm of RPGs it is definitely moderately scripted anyhow. In Ultima Underworld for example you didn’t need to progress the story to get to level 2, you only needed to find where the hell the stairs going down were. Shock 2 strikes a good balance of player-authored and developer-authored gameplay/storytelling (which is something like 10% player, 90% developer). There’s no shame in a moderately scripted experience if you make it a good one.
I’d say the presence or absence of scripting alone isn’t enough to make a good game bad or a bad game good. It’s how you use it.
Generally, the more power you (a game designer) feel you need to exert over the experience of everyone who plays your game, the more value scripting will have for you. At the high end, this produces what are sometimes called “roller-coaster games”: players are on a set track, with pre-defined moments of calm and excitement, and those sensations will happen in the same order every time they play that game. Highly scripted games are also often designed around generally linear levels to maximize the developer’s control over how and when the intended sensations are delivered. The Call of Duty/Modern Warfare-style shooters follow this model to give players a particular series of exciting sensations. So do the Half-Life games.
My question to a developer is, are “exciting sensations” the primary kind of fun you want to sell? If not, if – while still offering some sensational moments – you mainly want to make a game that emphasizes feeling or thinking or obtaining, then you may not need as much scripting for asserting control over how every player experiences your game.
I would highly appriciate the return of the Co-op option (or maybe even inital implementation). My Brother and I played through SS2 in Co-Op every 2 Year or so (since the co-op patch came out, up until today).
SS2 was a unique example of "Don’t Design for Co-op, but leave space for it. Most “modern” Co-op games realy force this out. I don’t care if Co-op get’s patched on, the SP expierence has priority especially in System Shock.
The “leave space for it” worked very well especially with the diffrent traits and gameplay approaches that SS2 offers (including collecting chemicals).
i’m in my fourthies now, and my gaming habit centers around visiting my brother and playing a couple of hours of any co-op game with him on sunday evenings.
The Bio-Shock series never cought on to me. It had no Co-Op and seemd to loose gameplay depth with every itteration (my feeling was that it did’nt have mutch of it to begin with.)
The new Gameplay Trailer looks fantastic and has a very SS faithfull vibe to it and gives me a lot of hope for a good game.
Instead of respawning, a recycling of biomass, over time, makes the only in-universe sense to me. It’s not enough to knock an enemy down, but if they stay lying around, they can potentially be reincorporated, and return as something else, smaller or coupled to another mass. If we got biomass stuff, again.
I know this sounds like a joke/troll but I swear it’s not. I’ve had a huge boyhood crush on SHODAN (up to and including awkward-teenager fan fiction), so my suggestion would be: A story that involves submitting to- instead of slaying SHODAN. Can I please leave my pathetic insect flesh behind and marry her in cyberspace? Thanks in advance!
Warren Spector has implied that he’s a fan of consequential choices – that giving players choices isn’t especially interesting, but providing meaningful consequences for player choices is.
So while I don’t know about marrying SHODAN, I believe SS3 may offer a variety of consequential choices for how the player deals with her. There’s the ending where the player chooses to destroy SHODAN (or at least believes that SHODAN is destroyed!); there’s the ending where the player brokers some kind of truce between SHODAN and humanity; and there’s the ending where the player goes full Quisling and helps SHODAN destroy humanity, perhaps in return for the opportunity to merge with her that The Hacker and Goggles refused – the mirror version of J.C. Denton choosing to merge with Helios in Deus Ex.
I don’t think System Shock games need multiple endings or story branches in general. What System Shock really has to have is adjustable difficulty settings to make the game more replayable. Just like in Quake 1, when you adjust difficulty, pick ups go down or they change or change place, which I’d like to see in SS3 too. Such an effective way to make the game feel more tense yet many modern games don’t use this at all.
I certainly hope SS3 is not scripted in a way that no enemies can be added simply in an editor. Less scripting please and more dynamic things, so the gameplay can be adjusted for further playthroughs. I wouldn’t even mind if alternative audio logs (or similiar) appear on your second playthrough or on higher difficulties, which would certainly motivate you to play the game again.
PS. I like endings though with added scenes or slight variances affected by player actions. For example, if at the end Citadel station was to blow up after the defeat of Shodan, player would survive or not survive depending on if he found a key or some other item required to escape the station. I do not like choices however that make you have a clear crossroad at some point, like if you would like to serve Shodan as a cyborg or not, since it is almost impossible to write the script in a genuine way; you would fight Shodan at first, but in the end get talked into allying her. More subtle things are easier to pull off and feel better. In Bioshock the two endings felt fairly believable, since throughout the whole game your choices with the little sisters meant what you are as a person. Certainly not a perfect example, but fair enough.
To be clear, I do not wish SS3 to have a Fallout style ending with combined clips, just some variances, nice touches, that could still feel fairly dramatic like dying or not dying at the end.