Monday, August 20, 2007

Putting The Fear In MMO's

Hi All,

Me and a few local designers went out for a coffee a few days ago and got into a very good topical talk for the MMO design market. We had a good 2 hour dicussion on How a Horror MMO could be made and what techniques could be used from session based games such as silent hill for the MMO.

It's more of a random drafting of ideas then a well structured article, but I thought It would be good to post to share with the community.

Putting The Fear In MMO’s

We see Fantasy and Science Fiction Massive Multiplayer’s all the time. Even odd twist in a MMO, but what we don’t see is the MMO world expanding like the session base market has. We can explore different types such as; Racing, RTS, Platform, FPS, Horror. My point is we can achieve something new for the MMO genre when looking back into the session based market. My point for this article is to look upon the Horror Genre in a MMO.

Many MMO’s these days like to play it safe and go along the terms of fantasy or sci-fi. What we don’t see enough is original titles. Putting Horror into a MMO is easier said then done. First we must look at how titles such as Silent Hill and Resident evil give us the tense creepy atmosphere making players delve into the world and prone to the zombie or monster jumping out any second. Below I’ve drafted up a list of events and techniques the designers have used to keep the horror genre alive.

· Scripted events – such as the player walks around the corner and something fly’s past the window.

· Dark Atmosphere – All horror games and movies have a darkness to them, there is no point having a vibrant light atmosphere as it doesn’t set the tone “What Lurks In The Dark”

· Abandoned places – Well we could argue that all horrors aren’t in abandoned places, although it seems to be the setting for any of them these days, ghost towns, haunted mansions, deep woodland.

· Folk Lore & Myths – Many horrors are based of Folk Lore and Myths we know of. Some maybe original but a-lot of the scary stuff is from it’s based of real events (Such as the Amityville Horror Killings)

· Horror stories revolve around the actions and emotions of the antagonist, instead of merely using the antagonist as a “mechanic by which drama can be promoted among the protagonists.”

· Horror employs subtle horror techniques. Such as a contrast between the calm music played while horrifically disturbing visual imagery is played. This results in the viewers senses becoming confused. Other visually distorted effects causes the viewer some discomfort, such as varying room heights and characters’ facial characteristics being slightly skewed. Anything, generally visually, that seems wrong somehow gives the viewer a sense of psychological unease, if only subconsciously.

So we looked at techniques for the Horror genre, but we haven’t really looks at what Horror is?

· Merriam-Webster defines horror as a painful and intense fear, dread, or dismay – which sounds related to emotions.
· Stephen King defines horror as an emotion to be grappled with, a combat waged in the secret recesses of the heart. The emotions of horror, terror, fear, panic all split us off from the crowd and make us alone.

What about horror in a MMO?

The horror concept within a MMO is easy said the done. You need not only make one player feel the tremble of cold fear up there spine but a wide range of players. Myself and a few others formed a discussion group not long ago talking on the ranges of MMO Ideas we could expand on and pull into full production. One that struck all of us was that the Horror genre is a very difficult theme to get across for an online game. It would be bad enough trying to figure out the story line for 100’s to follow but to achieve the sense of dread and painful emotion into such a widely spread online game would be near enough impossible, but we did have a few brainstorming sessions and found that there is ways to pursue the Horror for the Online Game’s market.

Our first question was to be “What setting could we have for a Horror MMO?”

We could look at Silent Hill for online setting, a ghost town set in deep dense woodland with just a bridge that goes there. Our second was to be looking at a range of storylines like Dawn of The Dead and Resident Evil with a T-virus sort of link. Our last idea which we decided on was to place the players in a dense dark gloomy forest. Why? Because nothing is more scarier then woodland at night with night noises plus we could easily create a woodland with procedurals and a Forest Generator. Gladly could argue our own system or a middleware like Speed Tree.

We all came to the conclusion that using a woodland for a world setting would be a perfect place for all these creepy events. Now to deal with players. We know our woodland is going to be dark and gloomy with mist throughout, but how can we tackle the problem of Day time. Looking at Silent Hills story of It’s bright and still creepy but when it goes dark all hell lets loose. We have decided that it would be a great feature to put into the MMO. The woodland is on endless proportion, we don’t intend the player to move in and out of the woodland. We want daytime to be a relief for players. They will go through the scary dark night wishing they weren’t alive then daytime then can regain ammo maybe find there buddies they lost on the way from running so fast from evil (Blaire witch style).

Deciding what this evil is gains a hard respect on what our story is. Ok we have woodland yes it’s scary but how? Mostly down to psychology and physical being of woodland with night noises from owls and other wildlife but how do we turn the virtual woodland into a heap of evil.
Firstly let’s look at what we could potentially have in this woodland;

· Satanic drawings (Pentagram In the dirt, three stones positioned, bones in the trees)

Satanic structures are one that can pull in the player to evil. Many horror titles have pentagrams and other symbols usually in blood to give that creepy feeling. The game will place other structures such as bones form trees, maybe a few carefully placed (3 stone), hanging corpses and sometimes alive ones. Good reference is Silent Hill The Movie. Were the guy is hanging from the fence still alive.

· Monster (Blood creatures, maybe look at resident evil lickers as reference)
Bloody and burnt corpses crawling across the ground at you, strange shadows running across in front of you. Creatures such as Lickers from resident evil to climb and sit in the tree’s stalking you.
· Ghosts (Able to play with players minds, move objects)

Now ghosts can appear, maybe a ghost appear when you walk closer to a tree you can see one hanging, but we don’t want ghosts to just be a art feature but more element to add to a scary setting. Ghosts can roam and disappear, the ghost of a little gal can skip through the forest singing a song and disappear into the distance.

· Eyes (although many of you may be going that’s not creepy when you come across two
glaring red eyes your first instinct is what is that then second is ok I’m out of here)
We would relate eyes to the creatures in the trees or on the ground so I wont go into any more detail here.

· Night noises (Groans, voices, object noises)
Whispers of voices, little girl, satanic, (reference White Noise) voices directing the players into more evil or taunting them.

We want the player to come across and area and think to themselves. Oh dear I’m not suppose to be here. We also want all the players to experience some sort of scary feeling within the MMO and not just players who have been there for awhile.

So we have a basic setting for the MMO and know a brief outline on what to fill it with, we now come across the players game play.
A very good idea highlighted by Alex was to keep players on there toes and not give them range of weapons such as shotguns, mg’s but to replace all of that with Torches. Nothings more scarier then roaming around a haunted/evil place without any weapons to protect but a torch to guide you.
Wont go into any more greater detail on this, just to give you a rough idea on how to approach a session based genre for the MMO world.

With thanks to:
Alex , Jamie, Tim & Myself

This discussion is continued on the Community Forums:

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