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TIGSource ForumsDeveloperDesignCan you add horror to a strategy game ? CAN YOU ?
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Ramos
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« on: August 04, 2020, 12:51:22 PM »

Hello,

Why ?
I am a simple man, I love playing RTS, tactical games, and survival games and I love horror stuff so my main objective is to create something that I want to play(yes a bit selfish of me and yes money is needed but not my main focus) in this case a tactical RTS mixed with horror.
Closes game to this kind of zone mixing tactics with horror was for me the classic Xcom ufo ( they are billions is a good RTS but far from horror).
So my quest begins

Help me doctor!
Currently, I need some help, any suggestions are highly appreciated.
More exactly I need any suggestions/ideas that combine tactical aspects/RTS elements with horror.
Don`t be shy

What do I got so far
SO this is some things I made regarding mixing these elements
- most monster spanners are hidden in dark areas and even before they come on screen they got speech bubbles with creepy lines
- mechanic wise: when killing a zombie there is a 50% chance of that zombie to turn into a zombie crawler so there is always the suspense. artwork wise: the crawler is pretty creepy moving a lot slower than normal zombies and leaving a track of blood
- environment wise: I added narrow corridors on some maps leaving room for some claustrophobic feel each time a squad member pass tough it
- lights that flicker hidden for little time what is underneath it including player characters
- barricading windows with engineers and trying to defend the position with soldiers not letting the monsters inside, also note that engineers and medic cannot defend themself alone so tactical management is needed
- creepy monsters design, for example, a monster that can turn hand in tentacles(inspired from the movie the thing) or a monster with eggs on his back from which worms come, worms that if not killed fast they evolve into bigger worms
- perma-death to increase the fear factor
- each character unique lines based on events so that people may empathize with them more
- maps also got additional optional text displayed like in comic style in order to support the horror aspect
And so on...

Mainly the RTS elements are almost complete but for the feel I need stuff that can boost these feels
- suspense
- horror
- fear
- uncertainty
- claustrophobic
- any possible phobias




Preview of how the game looks like so you can have a better estimation of what can be added/changed



https://steamcdn-a.akamaihd.net/steam/apps/1035660/ss_95d59c1d0c14dec114c0ef2fe0c34e01d2ed877a.1920x1080.jpg?t=1594307885











I also tried to create an environment based on the movie "The Mist" more exactly the pharmacy encounter.



also some gifs for a better understanding of how it plays





We want to add some more Lovecraftian inspired monsters such as walls made of flesh and these things, an eye which can make survivors stun with fear and eggs grown out of flesh wall from which worms grow, brrrrrr





Evacuation zone

Evacuation zone mechanic is implemented, during each building exploration map there will be exit points, to evacuate simply move the character on top of it, will take a few seconds for a character to evacuate during which other characters can cover him, if he got reflex skill the evacuation timmer will be lowered, in some situation is best not to be greedy with looting while monsters come closer last characters evacuation will be a problem, or you can set automated defenses with an engineer to cover evacuation if you have an engineer in the squad, many MANY possibilities, and gameplay approaches tactics.

The character may evac map at any time he desires but he must take in consideration that each evac will increase aggro(overall difficulty, awareness of monsters) every action got a consequence.

This mechanic is also aimed for adding the feel of pressure for the player


Heavy inspiration from the movie Children of the corn and jeepercreeps environment


and the classic Xcom above mentioned (loved the thrill of sending the squad in an unknown encounter zone)




this map is heavily inspired from movie "ALIENS" were the colonial marines had the first encounter with the aliens




This been said, I thank you for reading and hope that you can help me with any suggestions regarding this personal creation








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darkdimension
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« Reply #1 on: August 06, 2020, 04:41:27 PM »

Making an RTS game horror-y is definitely doable, but I'd be it will have a different feeling than other (usually first person) games.

Most horror games adopt the idea that "The user is the main character", so whatever happens to the character, the user will feel happens to themselves too. This is easily done on a first person game.

Having said that, I have some ideas of how to create a similar feeling to an RTS:

  • I see in your game, the user is expected to control a handful of characters. One way to increase tension is to make them more fragile. Like the user needs to be careful, because if they move too fast, their character might get injured or worse.
  • Make some enemies move fast, or be a little unpredictable, or both.
  • Create safe areas, and when the user least expects it, unleash monsters at it.
  • Make ammo difficult to maintain, so users will have to try to save bullets.
  • Make losing punishing. Nobody will get scared if they are revived on the same area.
  • Make a monster that is hard to figure out what it looks like, or how it's expected to behave. It should still follow a certain logic, just one that is different than the generic humanoid.
  • Enemies that randomly revive.
  • Make enemies have a distinct and subtle sound. When the user moves to a new area, play a new ambient sound, to make them feel it could be a new enemy lurking around.

These are a few ideas I've though that would increase tension. It's definitely possible to make an RTS horror-y, but like every other game design, it takes time and effort to pull it off.
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Ramos
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« Reply #2 on: August 07, 2020, 12:52:31 AM »

Thank you darkdimension for writing a good pack os suggestions!

I will try to give some feedback upon them
Quote
I see in your game, the user is expected to control a handful of characters. One way to increase tension is to make them more fragile. Like the user needs to be careful, because if they move too fast, their character might get injured or worse.
- yes, sir, I made some tweaks towards this suggestion, like for example, engineer and medic, are not combat units and cannot defend themselves, also soldiers and all characters must avoid hand combat, if it enters hand combat range the soldier cannot use his range weapon anymore and goes into mele mode, this is ok if its 1 enemy and soldier got decent armor and maybe some skill or melee weapon but if more than 1 enemy engaged with him in melee combat then the outcome is not in favor of soldier, so it is important to keep a distance. Also, each character got perma-death
Quote
Make some enemies move fast, or be a little unpredictable, or both.
- Yes, sir, there is variety of enemies and some are very fast some very slow, also regarding unpredictability, after you kill each monster there is a 50% chance of getting resurrected in a damaged state, for example after you kill a zombie there is 50% chance that the zombie reanimates himself without legs just crawling toward the player slowly + some randomness regarding span points if you have any other suggestions regarding this let me know
Quote
Create safe areas, and when the user least expects it, unleash monsters at it.
- right now there are no real safe areas BUT if the player got an engineer in the squad he can barricade windows and other access points and maybe even make some traps from the environment with these establishing a defense perimeter. Do you have any other suggestions regarding this?
Quote
Make ammo difficult to maintain, so users will have to try to save bullets.
- yes, sir, they need to balance the tasks if they want to loot ammo or other resources available in current location and yes ammo is limited and without ammo is pretty impossible to win, there are some combos that allow survival to some extend without ammo for example combination of a melee soldier with a medic that heals him constantly but this only works in narrow places because if they get surrounded from all sides its game over
Quote
Make losing punishing. Nobody will get scared if they are revived on the same area.
- yes, sir, we got perma-death for each unique character and not only that but saving the game cost a specific resource (food), I tried to use the save game cost design from resident evil aka the ink
Quote
Make a monster that is hard to figure out what it looks like, or how it's expected to behave. It should still follow a certain logic, just one that is different than the generic humanoid.
- can you please elaborate on this?
Quote
Enemies that randomly revive.
- yes, just mentioned the 50% chance of getting resurrected after death in a damaged state/version
Quote
Make enemies have a distinct and subtle sound. When the user moves to a new area, play a new ambient sound, to make them feel it could be a new enemy lurking around.
- yes, this is also implemented to some extent

Thank you so much for these suggestions and if you got any more please let me know







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JimmyBee
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« Reply #3 on: October 06, 2020, 07:05:46 PM »

Hi there, I'm new here, so not quite certain the best way to give feedback. For horror, art style and sound design go a long way.  I like your art style in the sense that it's easy to distinguish between units, objects, and the background (It's a pet peeve of mine when there's too much chaos on screen to tell what's going on even when standing still). However everything seems really bright and colorful, so I don't know if there's a way to tone that down a bit. Maybe instead of having all the sprites fully lit, only light the outline around them?


 Blink One of the scariest top-down games I've ever played is Darkwood. It's not a RTS game, but it is a real-time top-down with resource management. One of the things that makes it scary is the vision cone, you can see aspects of the environment that you are not directly looking at, but when you look at things, they will update with "real-time" information such as showing objects, corpses, or enemies. It looks like you have a little fog of war going with lights being on or off. I would try adding different levels of vision cones to see how that affects gameplay. I know the point of RTS games is to have near perfect information in order to make decisions, however I think that removing that information can make things more uncertain, and thus scarier. You could try having only rooms visible that units are standing in or that they can see into (for instance one of your screenshots shows a visible room on the other side of a closed door. If the door is closed, the room should be a mystery), or you could give individual units their own vision cones based on the direction they're facing (play around with large fov or narrow fov), everything in the vision cone is "real-time", and everything outside the vision cone is a little darker, and does not display enemies, only the basic info about the room itself (floor, walls, doors). Combine the vision cone with the lighting system you already seem to have: If a unit is looking down a hallway, the hallway still needs to be lit to see anything in it.

Another scary aspect of Darkwood is surviving the darkest part of night. I have no idea what's outside at night, I don't want to know, my only choice is to lock myself in, stay close to the light, and hope. Perhaps some kind of "insta-kill" fog that slowly closes in and surrounds the map as long as there are enemies remaining, and only light keeps it at bay? Or just make wandering into darkness itself is deadly, with patches of Fog so thick that flashlights don't penetrate it, and you have to disperse it somehow? A daylight meter in itself can give you a mission clock, because at night when the fog comes, a lot of enemies spawn inside the fog, so you have to be boarded up and locked-down with enough supplies before then. It looks like you have an overworld map, so perhaps the arc of the game is to simply get across town, and you can only move between buildings during the day (still not 100% safe), and then camp each building at nightfall hoping to survive. I dunno, just ideas.


 Blink Another scary game (which I haven't played but watched) is Duskers. It's a real-time strategy game about managing salvage drones aboard derelict spacecraft. It is scary mostly because you lack a lot of information, everything's abstract and you navigate mostly with schematics only. You only get to know what's in a room for sure if you move a unit into it, however there are motion sensors and computer consoles you can interact with that show you which rooms have movement in them. So you want to make sure a room is as safe as possible to enter before opening a door, so you plan you moves carefully. This leads to very tense moments of trying to open doors remotely, trying to get "whatever is in there" to move to a different room, and then locking them in. And don't you dare open an active room directly adjacent to your units. There are also vents that the enemies can move though to connect different rooms in unexpected ways, and you have to read the schematics carefully (or infer their existence if schematics are incomplete) to catch them. So Duskers has a high level of abstraction from the enemies (you rarely get to see them until it's too late) and it has a "plan carefully/things are not going to plan" loop that looks very scary.

I would try to abstract enemies as much as possible in your game until you absolutely can't. So maybe try removing the taunting enemy dialogue boxes when they are in shadow, which lets you know something is there for sure; It's always scarier not knowing. Maybe you can have enemies make footstep sounds, but all your units need to be inactive for things to be quiet enough to hear. Maybe they are not directional sounds, you just know somewhere on the map something is moving around, but not where. It looks like the structures you are in have traditional doors, but maybe there could be a research facility later that has automated doors that you can control remotely from a console in the style of Duskers, trying to figure out where enemies are and manage around them, with not enough resources (ammo/health) to survive too many direct enemy encounters (you can't brute force your way through all the enemies, only a handful).

edit: Found the video I watched that made me want to try Duskers, just haven't had a chance yet. It makes a strong argument and am certain I would get spooked.




 Blink I love how one of you inspirations is Aliens. Part of the genius of the xenomorph design is that they are dark color, with strange indistinguishable mechanical shapes all over their bodies, so when you get a flash of one in the dark, you can't really tell what you've seen. I see some good enemy variety here, but for a really spooky creature, try a shadow monster or two, with fuzzy ill-defined edges, and AI that reacts very infrequently until they are well-lit, and will move around and relocate in darkness. They will blend into the shadow areas, so if you catch a glimpse of one, you can never be quite sure what you've seen, and if you go back for a second look, maybe it won't be there.


 Blink Another idea is some mimic type enemies. Regular office chairs are scary as hell if they're really a monster in disguise.


 Blink Also, perhaps a sanity meters? If a unit is almost totally insane, it won't respond to your commands and could hurt friendly units. As the meter rises, you get a higher percentage chance of a disobeyed, or delayed response to commands. You could have some kind of nerve calming resource as well, which gives you more reason to explore unsafe areas, and more hard choices to make when you have limited supply. Slowly dropping sanity can be a mission clock on its own and put pressure on players to make quick and poor decisions. I feel that the Eldritch style Madness meter can be overplayed, but it is an effective trope. While you want your game to be "fun" to play, some elements of effective horror rely on wearing down the audience in a way that makes them continuously anxious. You need breaks from the anxiousness from time to time (pacing is important, but in games the break comes naturally between missions), but you also need to apply the pressure to affect an oppressive atmosphere. Finding the line is a balance issue for sure.

If not a sanity meter, you could just replace it with hunger/food. If your balance and delivery are good enough, the real sanity meter is the one inside the player's head, slowly unraveling as they loose control over the situation. I'd be careful about adding too many types of resources, otherwise it will become a resource management game (unless that's what you want), but something to keep the pressure on other than just heath and ammo. RTS games are all about being able to multi-task and split focus anyway, the more the focus is split, the more anxiety there is as situations happen faster than they can be responded to. Too much split focus and it can become frustrating, but too little and the player won't be nervous enough. (A couple of examples of games that can drive a player mad with worry are Tharsis and Darkest Dungeon, which aren't necessarily considered horror games, but induce high levels of anxiety to be horrific in their own right).


 Blink Another thought is that balancing pressure on the player is critical to horror games. It has to be just right. One game that really comes to mind is [spoiler]Resident Evil 4[/spoiler]. It's a bit of a spoiler, but the game has a hidden auto-balancing mechanic. Many games have done this, but this is the example that comes to mind first for me since I've replayed it so much. Basically, resources (ammo, health, money) are mostly loot-based, from both enemies and breakable boxes. If you are doing well and killing enemies easily, the game gives you less resources. If you are dying a lot, the game will drop loot more frequently. This system works because it's invisible, it's not telegraphed to the player, all the player knows is that "I only have 12 bullets left". And if the auto-balance is working right, the player should constantly have *just* enough resources to get by, but never more.

Hope some of that helped Smiley
« Last Edit: October 06, 2020, 08:34:59 PM by JimmyBee » Logged
droqen
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« Reply #4 on: October 09, 2020, 07:07:32 AM »

I'd pay a lot of attention to the difference between two distinct types of experience:

1. What happens when the player is looking / actively deciding?

2. What happens when the player is busy paying attention to something else?

Quote
- mechanic wise: when killing a zombie there is a 50% chance of that zombie to turn into a zombie crawler so there is always the suspense. artwork wise: the crawler is pretty creepy moving a lot slower than normal zombies and leaving a track of blood

Here, if I'm watching and desperately hoping my character can kill this zombie and then the zombie turns into a crawler that further endangers them, cool, that's horror. But if I'm managing a bunch of things at once -- I don't even mean my camera has to be anywhere else, maybe I'm managing an inventory or lost in thought about a different character's fate -- there's a chance I will intentionally or accidentally fail to pay attention to this zombie/crawler interaction.

Out of sight, once I've mastered this zombie/crawler mechanism, it doesn't really mean a lot, it just means that zombies have a little more health on average.

This is a really hard problem because there are a lot of examples of games that give you horror-feels when you're looking, but it's much more difficult to have off-camera stuff give horror feels, and the nature of RTS is that details of the situation are missable. You only have so much attention, and the strategy part is partly in choosing where that attention goes.

I don't have any answers for you here, just questions, and problems Tongue How can you make it scary to choose where to pay attention? How can you play with the player's attention in a way that evokes horror?
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« Reply #5 on: October 09, 2020, 03:17:04 PM »

I'd pay a lot of attention to the difference between two distinct types of experience:

1. What happens when the player is looking / actively deciding?

2. What happens when the player is busy paying attention to something else?

Quote
- mechanic wise: when killing a zombie there is a 50% chance of that zombie to turn into a zombie crawler so there is always the suspense. artwork wise: the crawler is pretty creepy moving a lot slower than normal zombies and leaving a track of blood

Here, if I'm watching and desperately hoping my character can kill this zombie and then the zombie turns into a crawler that further endangers them, cool, that's horror. But if I'm managing a bunch of things at once -- I don't even mean my camera has to be anywhere else, maybe I'm managing an inventory or lost in thought about a different character's fate -- there's a chance I will intentionally or accidentally fail to pay attention to this zombie/crawler interaction.

Out of sight, once I've mastered this zombie/crawler mechanism, it doesn't really mean a lot, it just means that zombies have a little more health on average.

This is a really hard problem because there are a lot of examples of games that give you horror-feels when you're looking, but it's much more difficult to have off-camera stuff give horror feels, and the nature of RTS is that details of the situation are missable. You only have so much attention, and the strategy part is partly in choosing where that attention goes.

I don't have any answers for you here, just questions, and problems Tongue How can you make it scary to choose where to pay attention? How can you play with the player's attention in a way that evokes horror?

Yeah, these are issues as well. I think this style of game really incentivizes keeping your characters grouped together. Maybe there can be objectives or level designs that force you to split your team into 2 groups, leaving one team behind to hold the door while the other dives deeper in pursuit of a key or something.

If this is anything like other RTS games, the characters themselves will have their own AI and automatically fire at enemies when they get too close. Perhaps you can allow the player to adjust their individual perimeter distances to keep from agro-ing certain enemies, but they'll always fire at enemies that come within the perimeter regardless. If you were to combine this with a sanity meter, a crazed character could ignore the perimeter setting and get the whole group killed.

Another idea is being able to issue specific commands to the unit AI's on how to act without direct commands. Like establishing a certain perimeter (cover this room), and all units in the area will fire on anything that breaches the perimeter, and maybe adding directionality commands (ordering specific units or groups of units to cover everything in this direction, with both gunfire and flashlights. Might work well if you implement vision cones). And maybe a "retreat if" command that will allow units to back off and retreat to a designated "safer" area, or rally to a "leader unit", or "objective" unit, if they are below a certain amount of health/ammo/sanity. You can use them like mobile turrets, moving groups up one after another, leapfrog style, using an established group to hold ground defensively and cover other units that are advancing forward into the unknown, up to and beyond their range.


There's always the Starcraft half-solution of a mini-map and an alert when a unit is under attack, with a hotkey to quickly center on the action. This solution breaks down when there is a lot going on all at once, but that's more anxiety-inducing panic, which could be good or bad.

Another thing might be finding new characters in levels to add to your party. You maybe want to keep a heavy consequence of not paying enough attention or making poor choices with character permadeath, but then you can find new ones to add to your party later to make up for some of the losses. Perhaps the characters can level up like in X-com, so when you loose an experienced member, it's a real loss?

Another thought, if a crawler is leaving a trail of blood, perhaps other zombies in the level that have not been triggered can smell the blood from far away and the trail will lead them toward your team's location, so you want to make sure to focus-fire the crawlers?
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Ramos
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« Reply #6 on: January 15, 2021, 07:38:33 AM »

@JimmyBee

oh man, I am so sorry I totally forgot to check this topic!
Thank you so much for the kind words and the huge constructive criticism!

Darkwood - yes I am familiar with that game.
Sight cones - We did some testing with sight cones but they seem to add frustration rather than horror for this type of game and they also made some performance issues.
Visibility - sure I totally agree that part of horror is the fear of the unknown so we made now multiple types of fog of war. 1A. Total dark - used on-screen edges, beneath this unremovable fog of war creatures get spanned
1B. - some rooms got unpenetrable fog of war that can only be removed if the player fixes a power generator,
2 semi-transparent areas with a low view of sight that may hide danger(example pic under)
PS: we do not have a lighting system, all are pre-made hahaha





darkest part of the night - YES! I do have a perfect scenario based on what you suggest: a house in the middle of the forest surrounded by fog with just 1 enemy and the squad must survive, I was thinking of pus some algorithms like if you move 1 character alone near the window a tentacle will come from the fog and instant-kill him but if you move 2 on the window the tentacle will just damage him and retreat and if you move 3 tentacles will not generate.

Duskers - yes I am familiar with this game also.
lack of information - I totally agree and I made a semi-optional design based on this. For example, all upgrades are optional and player stats with total lack of information and later he can choose if he wants to unlock a minimap and have more information or spent resources on upgrade combat equipment.
control remotely - yes I agree, we just added such a stage, a NASA rocket station where you can control and use to your advantage the rocket blast but this requires the player to have an engineer in the squad.
Aliens/shadow monsters - will do
hunger/food - we currently use food for saving game cost and some random encounters but we also got morale that works in a similar manner to what you just explained although mostly it affects travel map elements such as random encounters rewards/penalties
Ballance - yes we are going to have serious work on this topic



@droqen

Thank you for the constructive criticism!

You have a solid point regarding player attention, we decided to completely lock access for the player for access on other menus during building explorations, unfortunately, this experience may also vary on how many people the player got in the squad because surely if he only got 1 or 2 soldiers he will be more receptive to thriller while if he got full squad(6) he will concentrate more on tactics
 But basically, during exploration we want players to forget alt+tab exists.

My solution to this was:
With the unique text and equipment loadout for each character aka each one is unique + perma-death + saving
cost resources = to make player care of each character => player gets more invested that he keeps squad alive.

Some testers were so invested that they only explored 10% of the map & resources just to be sure they take a low risk
of losing characters. Others who risked more had some losses but the resource rewards kept them playing


@JimmyBee #2

split your team - yes that is one of the core strategies of the game, the player can split his squad members as he wants.
I usually split into a looting party 2 people and a defense party 2 people but during tests, I saw many strategies, some testers placed 5 soldiers in defensive positions and just 1 for looting, others did not care as much for looting and wanted only the main objective and the guys who did not take risk usually left 2 soldiers near exit zone to cover retreat or used engineer to build some defense for retreat purpose. The problem was with a few testers that did not know when to exit, they tried to get ALL resources and stand ground until they got overwhelmed with monsters and could not escape anymore

AI commands - don't you think it would be scarier if player choices are more limited?
Like each character got his own reactions and player cannot control only where to move/attack/interact

characters can level up like in X-com - funny, we used Xcom lvl up system for equipment upgrades, and yes we
also got a standard level up skill screen
new characters - you can find more characters but the main idea is having a full squad is not always better
Also what type of characters you get in your squad really affects your game experience
can smell the blood - good one but this is a bit overcomplicated taken into consideration how the current spawn system works now




Thank you again guys !!!








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