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Active Topical Banter - Episode 20: +2 to Reload is not Frightening

Scott WachterScott Wachter Dread News EditorRPGamer Staff
Hallowe'en is upon us and we take an hour to explain why the hybridization of typical RPG mechanics, detracts from horror games. We also spend a lot of time parsing terminology.

Listen (if you dare)
Subscribe at your own peril
too frightening to even contemplate

BOO! Talking Points:
-What Scott means when he says horror, what game designers mean. These are very different.
-Spoopy skins on regular games
-RPG mechanics are dependent on transparency, horror uses obscurity to create tension
-Degenerate strategy (or any strategy at all) and atmosphere don’t mix.
-System shock 2 (take a drink).
-One zombie is scary, one thousand is a chore
-Disempowerment is scary,
-Lovecraftian horror seems like a good match, but it doesn’t happen.
-Souls games or something maybe

Next time: Something multiplayer something something maybe


  • daveyddaveyd Turn-based lifeform PAFull Members
    edited November 2015
    I don't play survival horror games often as they don't really appeal to me. I played one Resident Evil game but grew bored very quickly. Maybe I should give Silent Hill a shot.

    You've already given numerous examples of how the horror aesthetic / atmosphere works in RPGs, but I think some other elements of horror games that I think could work well in RPGs, too:

    (1) Scarce ammunition / resources. Most RPGs limit your equipment only by how much currency you can acquire / then you just restock in shops. But in a "Survival horror RPG" you should be pretty isolated and limited to what you find. This would also work well for any post-apocalyptic RPG.

    (2) Fragile & vulnerable characters. RPGs tend to have characters gain HP as they level up (Often to the point of absurdity). Part of this is due to combat focus of most RPGs. But in a "Survival horror RPG" you could give XP only for reaching new locations (or completing quests of course) rather than killing monsters... And have the level up mainly increase their noncombat skills rather than making your character/s unstoppable killing machines. You shouldn't be penalized for sneaking by or running away from hostiles in a game that is all about survival anyway.

    On the point that turn-based combat takes away the tension needed in a horror game... I tend to agree there but there could be ways to increase tension. Have turns execute simultaneously to make fights more chaotic / less predictable. Or monsters that respawn or come out of the shadows....

    Also there's few games that I don't think were mentioned that might be considered "horror RPGs".

    System Shock 2- described as a " first-person shooter action role-playing survival horror video game" on wikipedia. Haven't played it so I don't know how strong the RPG elements are.

    Gorky 17- Have the GOG version and played for a bit. Oft Referred to as a horror strategy RPG. The tactical turn-based combat does definitely seem to take away the tension in this case. Also the graphics aren't very good by which limits the immersion / fear factor.

    Darkest Dungeon- Currently in Early Access. A supposedly Lovecratian rougelike where you have to manage your character's mental states.

    Also, a Five Nights at Freddy's RPG was just announced.
    Currently playing (on PC): Hard West, Eisenwald: Blood of November, Dungeon Rats, Wasteland 2, Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire

  • NyxNyx Staff Girly Girl RPGamer Staff
    We actually discussed Darkest Dungeon on the episode! Particularly in terms of how it uses status effects as a means to generate horror (which was my favourite element of the game that they've now made slightly worse...) I also believe Scott discusses that sacred cow, System Shock 2 as well.

    There's a lot to consider in terms of horror, and I think the issue is that it's easier to use the aesthetic side instead of the mechanics side. There;s not a lot of RPGs that do this well, let alone borrow the survival horror mechanics and use them in a way that doesn't feel disjointed or out of place in some way.
  • Michael BakerMichael Baker RPGamer Staff RPGamer Staff
    First example that popped into my head was Mark of the Mermaid, as an SRPG that does incorporate some survival horror elements (limited equipment, mid-battle events that change things up for the worse, and in some levels highly inconvenient enemy respawns).

    Second thought was CIMA: The Enemy. In that one, the primary goal is always to shepherd your ragtag band of survivors through illusory dungeons created by demons that feed on fear and madness. The game as it stands wasn't terribly good with using this concept, but it could be adapted into one really freaky horrorshow pretty easily.
  • VictarVictar Member Full Members
    Koudelka could reasonably be declared a horror game in the "terrible to play" sense, given that survival is absurdly difficult in the early game (when everything one-shots Koudelka and there's no quick access to healing), it's extremely easy for the player to screw themselves over if they don't allocate statistics correctly, and many first-time players will stumble into the "bad" ending unless they check a FAQ. The player has to be willing to put up with a lot of unforgiving game mechanics (or read a FAQ) to enjoy Koudelka.

    Given this, I am bemused that you discussed Koudelka nonchalantly then relentlessly bashed Sonic Chronicles: Dark Brotherhood yet again. Opinions are subjective, I suppose, but now I really want to see if Sonic Chronicles is as terrible as you say.

    I just finished Sonic Chronicles chapter 1, and sure the combat is slow with some required stylus usage, but it's nowhere near as teeth-clenchingly frustrating as the beginning of Koudelka.
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