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Title: Thoughts on Psychological Survival Horror
Post by: Ben Lehman on June 24, 2009, 07:20:04 AM
I want to write a game that occupies a space I think of in my head as Psychological Survival Horror: basically things which are like Silent Hill, or Braid. Basically, Survival Horror is a genre where a lone character confronts a fucked up monstrous hell-world, and Psychological Survival Horror is where the hell-world is, metaphorically or actually, a projection protagonist's own mental issues.

In Silent Hill, the creatures you fight are representative of your troubled relationship with your dead wife. In Braid, you can manipulate time because you can't get over your failed relationship (or perhaps non-relationship.) Like that.

Generally speaking, the issues of the character are hidden at the start of the game, and revealed (slowly and horrifically) through play.

So anyway I have a pile of ideas about this game which here's a list:

1) There's one character. One player controls the character, the other people are all controlling the monsters and also his own subconscious (and also other stuff as needed: possibly some sub-division here.)

2) Stolen from Silent Hill: A radio, tuned to a dead channel, as a tension meter. The louder the static, the closer the monsters are to emerging, and the more dangerous monsters can emerge.

3) To shoot your pistol, you hold your hands in the "I'm holding a pistol" position, pull the trigger, and say "bang." There's a similar rule for your shotgun, which involves the awesome pump shotgun sound/gesture. Combat is in real time.

4) Naturally, ammo supply is an issue.

5) The monsters create, and control, the repressed "sin" which is being expressed by the emerging hell-world and the monsters that are in it. The character is supposed to discover this sin (or not) through play.

Here's the thing which is giving me trouble. I can't figure out why the person playing the character is going to care about this guy. There's no substantive creative input. At the same time, I like the hidden / repressed issues, because it gives the feeling of creeping, growing suspense. So I'm trying to figure out how that should work. I would really appreciate if anyone has responses about creating character identification when one or more parts of the character are controlled by other players and kept secret. How did you make it work?

Also, trying to figure out character death. I know that I want harsh, meaningful character death, because there's no way to turn me off of a character more than endlessly escalating "consequences" instead of death, but at the same time these games are brutal, yet they have save points. So you get the feeling of "screw up once and you die" but you don't just close the game forever, or have to start from the beginning. In the back of my head I'm thinking maybe there should be a way to implement save points in the game. Has anyone done anything like that? How did it work out for you?

Title: Re: Thoughts on Psychological Survival Horror
Post by: Elizabeth on June 24, 2009, 07:29:48 AM
Part of what made Silent Hill work, in my mind, was that it wasn't just about exploring some creepy hell-world, it was about the main character reaching a goal that was desperately worth it to him. That, in and of itself, might be enough creative control to make it work-- have the character's player answer the question, "Why is braving this hell-world worth it to you?" I feel that's different enough from the sin itself to make it okay to give the character's player authority over that.

Also, rarely, the character runs into real people inside and outside of the hell world, who aren't projections in the way that the monsters are projections. The character can care about them, too, or hate them, or whatever else. I mean, in the end, that's as much creative control as a player usually gets in a traditional game, and those are still fun to play sometimes.

Title: Re: Thoughts on Psychological Survival Horror
Post by: greyorm on June 24, 2009, 09:58:15 AM
Ben, and this is just an off-the-cuff thought, what if you reverse things. The "lone character" is played by the GM role -- which is usually a role that deals with not having to necessarily care deeply about their characters. Perhaps he knows the sin. The players are then there to try and force it to be uncovered (so it's an Exploration game). The players are participants in creating the situation, but are also audience to the unfolding horror, exactly as if they were watching a movie.

I know that's rather different than what you were looking at, though.

Title: Re: Thoughts on Psychological Survival Horror
Post by: Rafu on June 24, 2009, 11:06:38 AM
What about giving the lone protagonist player some creative input, after all?
Creative input in the form of a question.

As a part of creating their character, they author an "oddness", something which is apparently wrong with the character or their life. Not a deep thing, mind you, but a bleeding hint of a Sin the player themselves don't know about yet.
They are, thus, posing a question of "Why is my character like this?"

The job of the monster players is thus to answer the question -- that is, to author an answer to the implied question.
Assuming the lone character player did care about having their question answered, they'll care that their character lives through the horror long enough to know...

Title: Re: Thoughts on Psychological Survival Horror
Post by: Charlie Gilb on June 24, 2009, 11:42:55 AM
Ben- How "safe" do you want this game to be? What if the issues or "sins" involved come from the players' own issues they themselves might be experiencing? They could be anonymously submitted on pieces of paper or something prior to play.

Title: Re: Thoughts on Psychological Survival Horror
Post by: jburneko on June 24, 2009, 11:46:49 AM
Hey Ben,

I have no idea if this will be helpful or not.  I'm working on a game I call Silent Sound which is exactly in the same head space as what you have here (I'm working from the thematics of Silent Hill 2 to be specific).  My first alpha draft for the game is here:  However, I've substantially redesigned the game and haven't gotten around to writing up Alpha 2.0.  The guiding principles are roughly unchanged.

I ran into the same "Why do they care?" issue you did.  In my case I have multiple PCs instead of just one but that just means you have three disengaged players instead of one.  Here's the way I solved it which I present as point of comparison which may aid your thinking.

First of all, I focus on one psychological issue: Guilt.  Unlike the source material the PCs are aware they harbor guilt and indeed my initial playtest yielded a unanimous expression from the players that their characters should be actively pursuing absolution rather than living in denial or not really feeling guilty for what they did.  For cross player engagement the group decides on a theme for their guilt and also choose the metaphorical aesthetic that the horrors in the world will take.  In my playtest the theme was Kids and the metaphorial aesthetic was: An Amusement Park.

Second, I down play the monster killing element.  I take advantage of the dual world concept from Silent Hill.  In the Normal World there are no supernatural elements (a major departure from the source material).  Instead there are characters who were involved in the PCs guilty pasts.  These characters are entangled in a situation that represents the extreme worst possible outcome from whatever guilty thing the PC did.  Basically, they are still being victimized in some way by whatever the PC's past action was.

The Shadow World, as I call it works sort of the way Ron transforms detective novels into Sorcerer scenarios in Sorcerer's Soul.  Basically everything in the Normal World gets "monsterized" in the Shadow World.  That social worker threatening to take away that woman's children becomes a giant mouth with many arms that snatches up and eats children.  That kind of thing.

Basically, I had to do away with the "Survival" and the "Reveal" part of the games which may not be something you want to do.  So again, I provide this for comparison and thought.


Title: Re: Thoughts on Psychological Survival Horror
Post by: chronoplasm on June 24, 2009, 01:15:06 PM
Regarding character death:
What if you provided rules for some kind of 'Groundhog Day' scenario where the one day in game time is constantly repeating itself? If your character dies, you wake up in the same place you started.

Title: Re: Thoughts on Psychological Survival Horror
Post by: Ben Lehman on June 24, 2009, 03:40:07 PM
Thank you very much to everyone for replying.

Chronoplasm: That's a really interesting idea. If you turn repetition into a part of play, then death is a natural outcome of that.

jburneko: It sounds like we're taking the same source material and turning it into totally different things. Good luck!

Charlie: I ... don't care? Right now I think people can bring that stuff to the table or not bring that stuff to the table as they see fit. If it turns out that some Spione-like technique is necessary, I'll use it, but I don't think that this is a game where that would necessarily add anything.

Rafu: Some input is definitely in order. I like your idea of a question.

Raven: I'm worried that that's steering dangerously close to one guy setting up everything and then acting it out. Which is not my bag.

Elizabeth: Already talked to you about this.

I'm strongly considering "you don't get to make your character, or perhaps you only get to make the surface details, but you get to make the person that your character is trying to save."

Thanks again!

Title: Re: Thoughts on Psychological Survival Horror
Post by: chronoplasm on June 24, 2009, 05:19:13 PM
You might also consider having multiple ways of dealing with death depending on the situation or whatever 'mode of play' the game group agrees to.
What if characters can 'wake up' just before they die, leaving the 'nightmare world' to return to the 'waking world'. Perhaps there can be some kind of 'sanity loss' related penalty involved here?
What if characters get sent to hell when they die, but have some way of climbing out... perhaps by finding a place where the underworld intersects with the world of the living? Or something?

Just a few suggestions there.

Title: Re: Thoughts on Psychological Survival Horror
Post by: sirogit on June 24, 2009, 10:08:01 PM
I think that the game would be helped by the only one player having a protagonist - like GM'd games, you can have a role that's kind of demanding and weird, but its okay because you only need one person like that to play (Who is also likely to be the person who will be most invested in finding games like this.)

The' Sorcerer' route comes to mind as a soluotion - Make "being not a shitty person" a crucial part of the risk/reward system, frame the game as a challenge between the human player and the monsters for the human player to be not a shitty person.

(Incidently, I think having a toy gun would have more tactile fun. Plus you could do something with possession of the gun for the player.)

Title: Re: Thoughts on Psychological Survival Horror
Post by: Ben Lehman on June 25, 2009, 05:10:44 AM
Kevin (Chronoplasm): Those are all good ideas. I think I'm going to have one set of rules and stick to it, though, rather than have many different modes of play. Although it would be kinda awesome if you could, I dunno, "unlock hard mode" or something. I'll have to think about that.

Right now here's my list of ideas:

1) You have a journal. Whenever it's Quiet (no static) you can write in your journal, in which case you, the player, have to write in the journal and describe what's happened so far. If you die, you can start over, with all the things that happened in the journal kept the same, and all things that happened since (or that you didn't write about) up for grabs.

2) The hell-world is a dream. When you die, you wake up in the real world. If you go back to the hell-world, it's different somehow.

3) You're not just stuck in place, but in time. When you die, you wake up at the beginning of the day (or, most likely, the beginning of the night.)

I think that's it.

Sirogit: I like the pretend gun because then I can make the shotgun cocking noise. That's very important. But I'll think about cap guns. There could be something to that.

I think that "whether or not the protagonist deserves to live" is basically the core question of play and as such I'm unwilling to heavily systematize it.

Oh! Here's a new topic. I'm thinking about types of monsters, and they're almost all divided up by the way that they move. I think that's interesting.
1) Crawlies. Tiny little crawly things that are blasted hard to hit.
2) Hounds. Four-legged creatures than move fast and can trace you.
3) Shamblers. Shambling human forms.
4) Scuttlers. Bigger things that move like spiders, crabs, or running/hiding people.
5) Hulks. Huge things that fuck shit up.
6) Enigmas. Enigmatic creatures with strange powers that can change the rules of the game.

With possibly separate categories for environment and puzzles.

One of the things I want to try to do is have the players tie the monsters as deeply into the sin as possible. So, like, in Silent Hill 3, where the main character's issue is with her booth, there's a crawly creature that literally looks like a uterus. Shit like that.

I'm also thinking each one might have a "boss form" which is what you have to face to assemble that part of a puzzle (you get a flashback, or some shit.)


Title: Re: Thoughts on Psychological Survival Horror
Post by: noahtrammell on July 08, 2009, 09:49:43 AM
  I want to hear more about the combat/shooting mechanics.  The whole hell-world idea doesn't immediately grip me as a reader because it's been used so much (but please don't take that as me saying you shouldn't use it, I'm just saying what really grabbed my attention), but the shooting mechanics are intriguing enough for me to at least want to glance through them.