So I was writing a comment for *cough* another site. And then I reread it and realized it was longer than essays I've written, and probably better written, too. And so I thought I'd share it here, and maybe we can talk about gameplay mechanics, or the necessity for games to be fun, or how good The Void is, or how awesome a writer I am.
FPSs these days are moving further and further away from resources being a factor. You rarely end up in that tense "I only have three bullets, god I need to headshot this next dude or I might be really boned" kind of situation anymore. Shields regenerate, ammo is abundant, and in any case the pistols never run out of ammo. Even in horror games you're never left without agency, without a way of fighting back. There's no Hollywood bit where we know the killer will emerge and, with crushing inevitability, kill the blonde. There's some exceptions to this, but generally they're bits where you're scripted to die, and then the game goes on, but now you're naked and have an AI inside your head.
There's a reason for this, of course. If you're Valve and you're looking at heatmaps of where people die, you notice when people run out of bullets and die. People get frustrated being put in situations where they're going to die, and there's they can do. It takes you out of the immersion. It makes the game uneven, breaks the rhythm, stops it from being a smooth rollercoaster of an experience. People are more likely to quit, and then that's a waste of all the modelling you did in the final chapters. Robbing players of agency is rightly considered a cardinal sin of game design (at the least, doing it so's that they notice). It just isn't fun.
But Ice-Pick don't seem to care. The Void isn't a fun game. It's a horror game. It's original name was Tension, and it's a far better name. This is a game where you're a dead man desperately clinging to life. A game set in a world where all hope has drained. I read reviews that raved about how the tutorial characters aren't trustworthy. The game started, and I was told to steal a heart and I thought "Is that the right thing to do?" I doubted their motives from the off. You're told of the awfulness of the Brothers, and then you're told you are one of them. When you take the colour you desperately need, a voice tells you "I will make them fear you"(not an exact quote) Everything feeds into this sense of dread and desperation.
Including the resource management. Every cycle, you must collect enough colour to stay alive. You're not told exactly how to maximize this, you just have to struggle to keep yourself full. And you're constantly draining away. You're constantly checking your health as it ebbs lower, watching the bar go down in front of your eyes. Hell, you even conserve it slightly more when your reserves are low - so if you're struggling for it, it makes sense to trickle a bit in, and keep toping it up, drib by precious drab. Keeping yourself close to death, keeping your attention constantly on your life, listening your heartbeat struggle more and more.
Another classic Icepick trait: you have to plan ahead. Half the time you spend grubbing around for scraps of colour. But the other half you spend trying to set yourself up so in the future you won't be quite as desperate. This shortage ain't a temporary one, it doesn't provide relief and make you treasure the good times more. It's a chronic worry, overlaying everything you do. (Oh, and when you're using your colour, it gives you powerups. But once it's used, the world gets your powerups. So get rich and fill yourself up, be a superman. And then you run out and you're weak again, and the world is even tougher than before. The only cure is to desperately find more colour, any scraps of colour, just to survive.)
This is how revolutionary this is: When I played, I got into a situation where I had ran out of colour to collect, and I still didn't have enough to survive the cycle. I should have planted more when I got the chance: but but the time anything I sowed now sprouted, I'd be gone. I was fucked. Classic gameplay flaw, right? But I had that looming oppressive dread, the feeling you have when you turn up to school and you know you haven't done your work. I had no way of escaping my doom, but I marched on, desperately watching it come closer. Constantly recalculating the rate my life was flowing away at, checking and rechecking that no, I was out of my reserves. That sense of doom, that sense of desperation - it was a powerful feeling, and I am glad Ice-Pick let me have it. Even if it wasn't fun, even if I had to restore from a previous save and sort out my sowing techniques in the garden. It's hanging over you the whole time, providing as much feeling as the excellent design (seriously fucking beautiful!), writing (the game comes with a book of poetry in the extended version! That's gotta be a first!) and basically the rest of the fucking game does. Who else does this? Who else lets you be the perky blonde trapped in the house with the serial killer? Fuck agency, I want an experience.