Friday, October 29, 2010

The top 5 scariest games

Halloween is almost here and what better way to spend it, then with a scary video game?

Here's five that scared the crap out of me:

The Uninvited (ICOM Simulations)

Sure the graphics don't look like much, but this game was the scariest thing you could find back in 1986 - good story, clever puzzles and some genuine scares.

Alone in the Dark (Infogrames)

As far as I'm concerned, the first true horror video game was this 1992 PC game. The graphics were considered pretty awesome for the time (check out that 50 polygon rocking horse in the above image!) and true 3D gaming was still a new thing. This game was all about mood and it had it in spades. Great story, creepy sound effects and great pacing. A classic.

Resident Evil 2 (Capcom)

The game that cemented zombies into the hearts of gamers everywhere. Despite a few head-scratching-ly obtuse puzzles, the sadistic typewriter save system and wretched "tank" controls (which I argue actually adds to the player's feeling of helplessness), Resident Evil 2 is a fantastic game filled thick with mood, awesome sound and cinematic design and genuine scares (alligator any one?)

Siren (SCEA)

One of the things I love about Siren is while it is set in a very traditional Japanese location - which gave a western player like myself a feeling of unfamiliarity throughout. The game feels is steeped in helplessness - only been rivaled by the recent Heavy Rain. When you realize that not all of the 10 playable characters are going to survive the game (despite your best efforts) a feeling of fate and doom settles on you. Then there is the sightjacking. Seeing an enemy coming (or even worse looking around to realize he's STANDING RIGHT NEXT TO YOU!) is truly terrifying. If all of this wasn't enough, Japan Studio's method of using real actor faces on 3D models dips deep into the Uncanny Valley, right into creep-ville. A truly scary game.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent (Frictional Games)

I just started playing this first person survival horror game, but it builds such great mood and creates such great scares, I had to add it here. The player doesn't even get the option to fight the monsters, all they can do is run and hide and pray that it goes away. Beautiful visuals, great sound design and unique play really makes this one not to miss.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

October is the time for tormenting children

For those of you who haven't played Limbo on XBLA, you are in for a treat. Limbo is the creepiest game I've played in awhile without being overly trying to scare you.

If you already have played Limbo and you are looking for another game that brutally kills small children, then look no further than Gretel and Hansel 2!

This game not only looks beautiful - with WATERCOLOR ARTWORK (!!!) - but it also has a very macabre sense of humor. It's obviously not for kids.

You can play Gretel and Hansel 2 here!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

In full Zombie Mode

A lot of game designers and players have been telling me lately they are suffering from zombie burn-out. I can understand this feeling as zombies are in A LOT of games (close to 250 by my last count!) however, there's no denying that zombies are popular and there's a reason why they are so popular (at least to us video game designers):

Zombies are the perfect video game enemy.

Why don't you ruminate, while I illuminate with these ten reasons:

1) Zombies are creepy! Well, duh, but as a former video game artist, I can tell you that zombies are fun to draw. Go ahead. Draw one. RIGHT NOW!

Hey, that turned out pretty good! Are you sure you haven't done this before?

The truth is no matter how gross they are, rotting, skeletal, bloated, grotesque, humanoids just look cool. They are horrifying and they evoke a response of fear and revolution from a player. Which is good, 'cause they're suppose to be scary and that's plenty of motivation to get a player to run or blast 'em!

2) Zombies 'plode real good! They show off effects and gibbing particle systems and make the players go "ooooh!"

3) Zombies work in a variety of genres: They work in horror, they work in sci-fi, they work in action, they work in fantasy. They work in shooters, platformers, brawlers, action games, adventure games, fighting games... even puzzle games! See that image above? It's from "Rock of the Dead" a music/zombie game. THEY WORK IN EVERY-THING.

4) Zombies can be scary... and funny! Put a funny bear head on a zombie in Dead Rising? Hil-larious. The ones in Plants vs. Zombies with the traffic cones on their heads? Comedy gold.

5) Zombies come back. A zombie is shot and falls to the floor. But if it gets back up, no player is going to yell "CHEAP!" The player expects it. (Heck, I'm a little disappointed if it doesn't) And as a game designer, any enemy that can provide "double-duty" is one worth having in a game.

6) Zombies (turtle) are in Mario games. As I always say, if they're good enough for Miyamoto, they're good enough for me.

7) Zombies travel in packs. The best basic enemy is one that can be replicated when it makes sense. This means ninjas, masked terrorists and zombies. Pirates? Not so much.

And with new technology that allows you to swap parts and decorations, you can push 100's of them on the screen with no two looking exactly alike!

8) Zombies eat players. If you were to ask anyone what the worst way to go is, I'm sure "being eaten by something else" would rate pretty high up on the list. And that's just creepy (see point #1) Fortunately, because zombies have to get up close to eat you, this allows the player some time to blast them with a shotgun or chop their heads off with a katana or simply run away. That's gameplay, folks.

9) Zombies inspire interesting gameplay - sure, shooting zombies in the head is always fun, but creating barricades to keep the zombies out, protecting helpless (hapless) NPCs, the constantly advancing waves of undead work great for shooters to brawlers to tower defense type games.

10) Anything can be zombified. OMG is that a ZOMBIE BEAR?!!! (I just want to go on the record as saying we had zombie crocodiles in Maximo back in 2001)

As a result, Zombie Mode" has become all of the rage in gaming. Every major game has one. Here are some of the better ones...

Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare - Cowboys? Zombies? Count me in. Low-tech weapons like reloadable six-shooters, bowie knives and lassos are not as effective as a chain-gun or flamethrower and therefore zombies become a much greater threat to the player.

Call of Duty: World at War Zombie Mode - two words. Nazi Zombie. Add the word "jetpack" onto that and you have the perfect video game enemy. The CoD zombies are particularly cool as they have glowing eyes. I don't know what it is about glowing eyes, but they're almost as cool as jetpack. Zombie mode is nothing new to the CoD franchise, but my personal favorite is in Black Ops where you battle zombies as President John F. Kennedy.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World - To play this you need the zombie code. On the game's title screen, simply input down, up, right, down, up, right, down, up, right, right, right -- that's "DUR DUR DURRR", presumably the sound a zombie makes. It doesn't add too much to the game other than some enemy graphics, but c'mon Scott Pilgrim vs. Zombies!

So maybe the next time you see a zombie in your favorite game... be a little more sympathetic to the game designer and then blow those zombies away!!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

If it's October, It must be time to update my blog.

As you might have already noticed, I'm really slow about updating my blog. Sorry.

It doesn't mean I'm not thinking about things to blog about, I'm just not doing it. However, I am going to make a "End of the Year" resolution (why wait until the New Year?) to update with a post once a week. I might fail miserably, but I'm gonna try.

And since it always helps to put my money where my mouth is, here's a preview of a few topics:
  • Video Game Box Covers Should Not Be Like Movie Posters
  • Everything I learned about Licensed Games I learned from Batman
  • The 10 Things a Publisher is Thinking During A Pitch Meeting
  • Survival Horror Games Aren't Dead... yet
Check back and see you soon!