I spent quite some time diving into the recently released Dead Space title on the PC and although I found the experience to be rather lacking I do feel it could provide a unique setting for an MMO game. The survival horror genre is practically invisible in the online space; with very few titles managing to capture that adrenaline fueled experience provided by top console and PC horror games, but why?
Fear lays at the very base of human society, an emotion we're given at birth and one we experience throughout our lifetime; but what makes something truly scary? Usually the emotion is conjured through fear of the unknown - a new experience, first day at work, meeting new people; but what creates real fear?
It's rare for a video-game to create true emotions within the player but whether that emotion be fear, joy, surprise or sadness, many games have managed it in the past. I'll never forget my journey through some of the Final Fantasy titles, conjuring mixed feelings throughout the more popular games, but in the same instance I will treasure my experiences with the early Resident Evil games, even though they appeal to a totally different set of emotions.
So how do modern day games appeal to our deepest fears? A few titles of recent years, such as Dead Space, Slenderman and Amnesia, have shown that players respond with fear when placed into a situation that leaves them with little choice but to run. This same approach can be seen in the horror genre throughout the last decade, but the choice to run is usually a result of poor movement controls and mechanics.
Another part of the recipe that appears to be vital, you must be alone. It's difficult to be scared if you're surrounded by a group of friends, or aid from other players is just a quick message away, so how can the MMO world bring that feeling of solitude into a genre that relies on socializing and group play?
Imagine an online world that is as expansive as EVE Online, a game that supports over 5000 star systems and 2000+ Wormhole systems, but think of it without the thousands of player controlled ships. Within those 5000 star systems are hundreds of planets, easily enough to cater to 1 planet per player on a server-based platform.
Every player would spawn in with nothing more than a survival pod with limited fuel, a nearby planet and some random ship debris. The beginning scene would see the player explore their nearby surroundings for valuables such as fuel and food, but their travel is limited by a solar powered survival pod. The pod would replenish fuel over time but could be boosted with discovered items.
Similar to Dead Space some of the debris would be intact enough to offer an interior, an instance or dungeon if you will, providing players with a nearby area to gain experience.
To really instill fear the game would need to support a perma-death mechanic, and I don't mean have a hardcore option. You die and that's it, everything is lost and you must start again. While players are exploring wreckage's, landing on planets and scavenging for resources, other players may have traveled beyond their original boundaries with the hopes of discovering something new.
In order to give players the opportunity to fight or run I would use a system similar to that of Mass Effect 3. Players can see an overview of the current star system, including the life signs of other players. If another player begins moving towards the original player, a proximity warning is given and the player can choose to run or hide.
Obviously there are dozens of holes in this idea but I feel very passionately about the horror genre in general. It has been butchered with the majority of big releases and outside of the indie scene, there's very little promising that fear-fueled adrenaline that we horror fans have come to crave.
What are your thoughts? Do you think an old school horror approach is fitting for the MMORPG game world or just a mindless pipe dream? Leave a comment below and let us know.
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