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 hate cut scenes. Show, don’t tell.
Two cents about respawning enemies. Maybe at some points of the game or in a certain level / hub. But not the whole game. There’s no such thing as respawning ammo.
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.
Agree with you Dear…