svh-head

There is a genre of game that I have a cer­tain fond­ness for, and giv­en that this is the Halloween is­sue I bet you can guess what genre that is. Indeed, hor­ror games hold a spot close to my heart. The tru­ly clas­sic en­tries meld video, au­dio, in­ter­ac­tiv­i­ty, and the im­mer­sion that only video games can pro­vide to give ex­pe­ri­ences that can im­print on you for life. Horror games have been around since the ear­ly days of video games in the 80s and those hum­ble pix­els evolved into the ex­pe­ri­ences we fond­ly re­mem­ber in games like Alone in the Dark, Silent Hill, and Eternal Darkness.

The sub genre that most think of when it comes to these games are those la­beled sur­vival hor­ror. As de­scribed in the ti­tle of the genre, the cen­tral fo­cus of these games tends to be the sur­vival of your char­ac­ter, and typ­i­cal­ly their psy­che, as they face what­ev­er mon­sters (phys­i­cal or metaphor­i­cal as they may be) or sit­u­a­tions put upon them.

I think I love these types of games so much be­cause they are the re­ver­sal of “stan­dard” game de­sign. Instead of an out­ward fac­ing pow­er fan­ta­sy where you un­load on what­ev­er stands in your way, sur­vival hor­ror games tend to be in­ward fac­ing in­tro­spec­tions in which you mere­ly hope to live — with a shred of san­i­ty in­tact still hope­ful­ly. Entire de­sign con­cepts for these games ac­tive­ly work to take pow­er away from the play­er in their pur­suit of ur­gency, in­stead of de­liv­er­ing more pow­er as you ad­vance.

This is all to say that most of the best of hor­ror games tend to be these lov­ing­ly craft­ed menageries of grotesque body hor­ror, ex­plo­rations of emo­tion and psy­chosis, and/or mir­rors held up to what can be the worst in­side us — all while stand­ing on the shoul­ders of au­tho­r­i­al gi­ants. Their cre­ators tend to put a lot of thought and ef­fort into these works, and even the ones that do not ex­e­cute that well as a game tend to get a nod from me for the work in­volved at least.

That’s why it pains me to see so many lazy and unin­spired “ZOMG SO SPOOPY” games lit­ter­ing the land­scape of late.

Let me de­scribe about a dozen games I’ve seen the past cou­ple years:

You are be­hind a cam­era (some­times a dig­i­tal cam­era with VHS tape ef­fect go­ing on be­cause of ig­no­rant nos­tal­gia ping­ing) as you ex­plore a for­est, then an in­sane asy­lum, and then an old church (or was it asy­lum, for­est, then a fac­to­ry?). You search for notes or trin­kets that put to­geth­er a stock sto­ry made up of mun­dane woe. Something is chas­ing you, and your UI freaks out when it’s close. If it gets too close then you die.

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I dare you to name this game with­out look­ing it up. No cheat­ing!

These games are like Asylum Productions made Enderman knock-offs, but with­out the charm. Their only claim to any­thing close to be­ing a scary game is their pen­chant for lazy jump scares, and their choice of the ap­pro­pri­ate Unity store as­sets.

That is the dif­fer­ence be­tween a “scary” game and a “hor­ror” game to me. These ex­ces­sive­ly shat out clones of Enderman en­com­pass what I term “scary” games. No heart, no hope, no hor­ror. They try to cap­ture what makes games like Amnesia and Soma so en­gag­ing by putting to­geth­er what feels like a tech demo and plac­ing it on sale hop­ing some Pewdiepie wannabe will pick it up and scream at it on Youtube, or that peo­ple no­tice it has trad­ing cards to hock.

And if it hasn’t been made clear by now, I do not like “scary” games.

A game like Soma will nev­er leave my psy­che. Aspects of my life are still fil­tered through the lens of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing Silent Hill 2. Even some of the earned jump scares in games like Resident Evil still pop in my mind with a smile at ran­dom times. Scary games en­deav­or not to such heights. They want to make a quick buck.

The Digital Homicide saga en­riched all of our lives with the knowl­edge of how lazy but greedy de­vel­op­ers pump­ing out Z-Tier games grouped in $1 bun­dles can make resid­ual in­comes off items like trad­ing cards bought and sold on Steam’s mar­ket­place. If you don’t know how this works, take the time to check out this en­light­en­ing video. Don’t wor­ry, I’ll still be here.

Steam also doesn’t help the sit­u­a­tion with their out of con­trol Greenlight pro­gram (a grand idea that has run amuck), and their Early Access pro­gram. Valve had two in­ter­est­ing ideas there that have evolved into mon­sters of their own, re­leas­ing crapt­stic games of all gen­res — not just flood­ing the “scary” mar­ket.

This isn’t to lay blame en­tire­ly on Valve and Steam for this glut of crap. There are the de­vel­op­ers ex­cret­ing it out, and the peo­ple who are buy­ing these things (at times large­ly to just get trad­ing cards and oth­er dig­i­tal junk to sell). It just makes me sad to see these shells of games tak­ing up the same screen space as mas­ter­ful hor­ror games on Steam’s store­front when search­ing for hor­ror games, in­stead of these “scary” games be­ing rel­e­gat­ed to places like IndieDB where they be­long.

So this is a shout out to all the gen­uine ef­fort that gets put into hor­ror games big and small out there. To any­one work­ing on them, keep at it know­ing there is an ador­ing au­di­ence who ap­pre­ci­ates what gets put into a tru­ly un­nerv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. To any­one who loves these games like me, I hope you get prick­ly at those schlock games too. Always be shar­ing the best with peo­ple, be­cause it’s a real niche at times.

I don’t have much of a so­lu­tion here this time, sad­ly. This just isn’t that type of opin­ion piece. I only want­ed to de­fend the hon­or of our hum­ble lit­tle creepy genre this Halloween sea­son.

Some more qual­i­ty con­trol on Steam would be great. You can find great cu­ra­tors out there, but I think that is only a band-aid for Steam’s flood­ed store­front. Some of these first time devs just need to be pushed to up their game, and high­er stan­dards on a plat­form could do just that. Not every first time Unity project needs to be a thing that is sold.

Gamers With Guns
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Josh Bray
Josh has worked in IT for over 15 years. Graduated Broadcasting school in 2012 with a fo­cus on A/V pro­duc­tion. Amateur pho­tog­ra­ph­er with a pas­sion to make things work… by any means nec­es­sary. Editor-in-Chief and do-er of tech things at SuperNerdLand