Project Recovery: A Conceptual Horror Experience.
So a few weeks ago i posted on my blog an essay on death and its use in games, the post had strong focus on horror games. I proposed that most, if not all horror games designers don’t take the death of a player into account while designing their experience. With death being a reason parts of a horror game turn from being scary to just plain frustrating. My reasoning as to why is that death of the player is not accounted for in the core premise of the game, and that death isn’t really scary in horror its the acts that the character/player is being subjected to is what is scary. With death being an escape/ “a good way out” for them. Now i didn’t really drop any proper examples of games that do this. So fixing that i’ll share with you a game concept that incorporates death into its narrative and makes it a core part of the games systems. Today I share with the internet a concept I have been kicking around for awhile now called REcovery.
The basic premise of Recovery is that you play as a nameless employee of a data retrieval service. You character is left intentionally blank, you’re not a hero, you’re not evil, you’re not even a monkey. You are playing you as if you were working for this company. This is so you will take your morals and bias into the game. As a recovery agent you have been tasked to scrub through the security logs of a scientific research facility that has been recently closed, they want you to find and pull out key pieces of information from 6 different recordings that could do irreparable harm to the parent company.
Sounds pretty generic right. Twist is that you are also playing the people taking the recordings. Basically the idea is that every employee is equipped with a video camera at all times, all being powered by movements of the employee wearing it. So as well as being cast as the person watching the videos, you are also playing as the employees that the footage came from. As the recovery agent you can choose what out of the 6 different feeds you watch first and you can choose what you do with the bits of information you gather from each feed, E.G. Make the information public, Blackmail the company, give it to them, ect.. but when you dive in to one of the recordings your placed in the shoes of one of the employees of the lab during the event. From there you have full control over this character actions. Now here is where death comes in, when the character in the feed your playing is killed the feed cuts out and you can’t play that character again.
This game has a lives system, like the ones of yore. Games like super Mario brother, crash bandicoot, sonic and many more games once/still use lives. It its a system that fits within the narrative and is also acts as a sneaky perma-death mechanic. Having six different character gives the player 6 chances to explore the story. As the player know that they have six chances to fully discover the narrative, creates a pressure for them like a perma-death mechanic does.
In theory the player can easily complete the game, if they don’t then they can still have a satisfactory experience with the with the game. by piecing all the information they gathered though there six playthroughs they could work out the story of the facility and they learned what happened to these characters.
As the recovery agent your objective is to recover the footage from the facility’s security cams. How ever when you dive in to the employees of the facility your objective becomes escaping. Its a pretty simple objective and can be achieved by the player. There are no sub objectives like find a key to open this door, or turn on 3 power switches to open another door. the core objective is to survive and escape, making the game about protecting the character instead of key hunting. To achieve this goal you will have to explore the facility and find tools to help you survive and escape.
Yes this concept has combat. Something that’s been slightly bugging me about horror games in the recent years. the lack of defense for the player can be scary, but is also frustrating. Being cornered in a room with an attacker coming after you, hurting you/killing you isn’t fun because you didn’t have some form of defense. Its frustrating because its not always the players fault that they get cornered. it can be the level design not clearly telegraphing how the player can handle this situation. Sometimes they run in to a character that violent and have no time to hide. So i want to empower the player a little by giving them the option to pick up object as weapons (e.g. a broken pipe, a brick, ect..).
The player also has the ability to push back/though an attacking enemy. During an attacking animation the player if they time it right they can push back the attacker and hit him back (its basically a counter move). They can also push the enemy out of the way while running past them, even if the enemy has seen them.
So being a survival game there will be items for the player to find around the map, health packs, “weapons” ect… These are scattered around as incentives for the player to explore the map. As well as finding useful items the player will find things like journals, research notes, email, even friendly NPC’s that further the backstory of the lab and there goals.
So that’s REcovery. My super early take on a horror game. A game that takes into account the player’s death. Now this is not a template for all horror games, it might not even work, be fun or a good game. The systems havent been tested, there isnt much of a story yet. For now Its just an idea that could give people inspiration designing the narrative with the game play.