Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Game Translation: Alone In The Dark (New Nightmare)

While I was going to translate Borderlands 2 I was given a verbal request to do an old survival horror so I'm going to go with that - especially since I think I need a bit more time to truly come to understand the strange joys of Borderlands 2.  So instead I'm going to look at Alone in the Dark (the New Nightmare) which I found to be a particularly atmospheric and evocative game.

I loved the rich level design.  The devil is in the details as they say and a quick Google Images of the games' locations can show just how lush and detailed the areas are.  There are ancient masks, stacks of books, antique furniture, and a general sense of a lived in museum that has slipped from the passage of time.  The shadows are richly drawn and add a real sense of foreboding.  In truth, I think they sat down and really thought about what could make each room deeply evocative and what would be quite creepy additions to both the manor and the islands.

So bring out your list and jot down the name of the location at the top and then brainstorm everything you think might be evocative for that sort of place (I'll do one later).  Shamelessly plagiarise movies, television shows, books, and photographs.  Feel free to grab some Google Images as well as inspiration.  Perhaps use Microsoft OneNote to put it all together in a comprehensible manner.  You might put down location details, NPCs, actions, events, and pictures.  Don't censor yourself.  Put down everything you think would catch your attention because if it bores you its more likely to bore your players as they tend to feed on their Game Master's excitement (to a point).  Then go through it with a critical eye and highlight anything that you think would work really well for the mood, give background, or provide for interesting highlights.  Take what works and see if there are places where it might be put.  Perhaps one particular encounter would work really well for the foyer.  Join inspirational elements together.  The hedge maze could be joined with the violinist with the dying man who dragged himself behind a statue and left a bloody trail behind.

I've already covered a bit about light-sensitive creatures in Alan Wake, but I can also point out that this game includes ammunition that damages such creatures such as phosphorous and magnesium rounds.  Such special ammunitions adds an extra bit of nervous resource management tension, I feel, as it shows that regular bullets alone aren't enough to fell these terrible creatures.  Since you pick up around the mansion it also suggests that the original researchers also had to worry about such things.

You can try to run around the enemy in Alone In The Dark rather than expend precious ammunitions so its worth making use of any tumble checks, dodge rolls, or athletics checks that your game has in order to allow the players to dodge around them.  These creatures can hardly be called sentient so leaving them trapped on the other side of the door could be plausible - though you might want to also put up a barricade if you don't want them to simply slam it open.  This can also add tension when the players have trapped themselves in a room and are now left to wonder if the creature has left before they pull down the barricade and attempt to leave.

Sound is important in this game.  Moans signify zombies out of view.  Creaking floorboards point out an enemy's approach.  These creatures may be surreal but they are also quite real and have a weight to them.  Remember that.  Give them a scent and a sound.  Considering that they don't appear to eat, drink, or defecate (makes sense considering their crystalline structure) it makes them all the more disturbing when you reinforce how real they are.

On that note, ensure you have a top-notch background for people to discover.  Pseudo-scientific discussions about crystalline structures mimicking organic creatures add a disturbing sense of surreality to it by allowing players a vague understanding of something that is still difficult to reconcile with our true reality.  This disconnect can often be more disturbing than something that is wholly outside of this world or our understanding of it.

Nothing like relaxing in ice cold monster-filled waters, eh?
Try to make each new monster species' first appearance memorable.  In truth, your best off making every monster encounter memorable but the first one should be the best.  In this first encounter you get to lay the groundwork on how dangerous it is, what it's like, and what it's been doing.  Be sure to include a lot of foreshadowing. 

In the Carnby side of this game, after a short stroll through ominous woods Edward comes across a mausoleum where he meets an injured man propped up against a wall with a dead dog beside him.  He gives the traditional warning and Carnby heads off.  Carnby has barely gotten several feet away from the mausoleum where there's a scream, a shot, and a flash of light (which I interpreted as the muzzle flash).  When you return, the injured man is gone and only a key remains.  The dead dog is a hint of the upcoming corrupted dog monster and the first encounter with it (or at least with some monster) is entirely off-screen.  Very disturbing.  It gets better, though.  Carnby can hear barking dogs but when he gets closer he sees an Ophtalmicid monster that's killing another dog.  Later, two dogs break loose of their chains but flee past you in terror.  Its only once you get to the top of the stairs that you get attacked by dogs.  Build it.  Pace it.  Make it scary.  If you're not running a horror game, same thing but build it and pace it to make it exciting.

A campaign based around Alone In The Dark, or including elements of it, should appeal to Explorers because the place is quite exciting to move around in with some intriguing notes, equipment, puzzles, and places to explore.  Everything is so richly drawn that you really get a sense of being there in this strange and exotic place.  Investigators will get a kick out of putting together the crimes and horrors that occurred on the island as well as piecing together the monstrous hints and foreshadowing that can clue them into what sort of monsters they may face.  Expect to have your monsters predicted.  That's fine.  Tacticians will do the same thing to you.  If you allow people to hide behind doors and barricade them as well as dodging or distracting monsters rather than kill them, then Tacticians will have plenty of opportunities to show off their skill and plenty of obstacles to set their minds to it.
Action Heroes will enjoy it so long as they understand the excitement of a fast-paced chase scene or a tensely acrobatic moment rather than simply craving combat.  People sometimes forget that Action Heroes are often looking for epic or at least high adrenaline moments and that these don't have to revolve around combat.  If you give them enough dangerous moments to surmount then they could thrive in this game even if they only rarely confront the monsters directly.  Just be sure to let the game have a quick pace.  Their characters might wait around but the player probably won't want to unless they have to.  If they are big on combat, then have the monsters happen to end up nearest them or coax them into holding off the enemies while the others sort out a puzzle.

Communicators would enjoy the game more if it were a bit more Bram Stoker.  If you arrived while the mansion was still properly inhabited and while the monsters were nipping around the edges rather than after they had taken over the building.  They would enjoy the slow reveal and the terror of being trapped in the location trying to talk to the inhabitants and survive to suppertime.  However, so long as you give them a chance to tap into the faux lived experience of being in that sort of place and give them the time for character growth and character defining conversations than it should work out. 

If you have Action Heroes and Communicators in the same party, its worth simply mentioning to both parties that one needs time to get their kicks and the others need a quick pace to get their kicks so that both can be more tolerant of the others needs.  In the end, the Action Heroes will love those moments of character growth and faux lived experience that add depth to the game (so long as it doesn't go on too long and so long as they do get their adrenaline fix often enough) and the Communicators may well need a nudge to put down their mugs of tea and get back into the heart of the matter rather as its often through the crucible of the plot that their characters get to experience the most growth and change.  The two really are quite complementary and can help sort out your pacing for you so long as they respect each other's needs and can have faith that you won't ignore one in favour of the other.

You can find the trailer for the game over here. If you'd like to read the sort of tropes that Alone in the Dark used, you can find them here (though its not strictly about the New Nightmare only).

For the next Game Translation, you have a choice of these: Left for Dead, Half Life 2, Project Zero, Forbidden Siren, Gears of War, Mass Effect, Dracula: Origins, Realms of the Haunting, Dragon Age 2, Borderlands 2, and pretty much any survival horror or horror game. If no one picks anything by next week, it'll be Borderlands 2.

If you want to see the list of games I've done thus far, you can find the Game Translation series starter over here.

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