"All war is deception"

Friday, October 21, 2016

Game Design: The Inky Darkness, A Horror Real Time Strategy Game (subject to change)

Jam version, downloadable and playable state

Second recent mockup


Very early game mockup

Download the Jam Version!

As my bio states, I am a game developer of sorts. I often do game jams occasionally, where one will try to make a game in under a prescribed time limit. Not a lot nowadays, but I used to.

So, with Asylum Jam coming up from Game Jolt with the theme of psychological horror or mental issues outside of a context of an asylum (which makes the name ironic), I had a lot of ideas: A game based on writer's block; a game based on the Five Stages of Grief; a 2-D version of Luigi's Mansion; etc.

I recently was playing around with an unfinished RTS engine of mine on Game Maker, and so I thought, maybe I should create a small horror RTS. RTSes are hard to make, but I have done them at least twice for different game jams. Also, I've been fascinated by Lovecraft recently.

Introducing, the Inky Darkness RTS concept!

Tagline: "The Survival Real Time Strategy of Lovecraftian Horror"

Core Pillars:
Comprehensive, nuanced Story
Approachable: No complex UI (less than three clicks), no math, no spreadsheets
Darkness and Psychological Horror
Survival, Not Power Fantasy: limited items and resources
Strategy over tactics: basebuilding, resource management
Choices that matter: story and gameplay
Replayability: multiple endings

Story:
You are a commander of a small military base outside a settlement. Whether suddenly or with warning, a dark fog has covered the lands and is increasingly darker and darker. In the fog are terrible, slithering things, and areas covered with the fog are impenetrable. The few that come back from the fog have been reduced to one babbling with insanity... or worse. Escape, get rescued, turn back the fog, or succumb.

Setting:
Deciding whether Victorian steampunk, World War I, Cold War, or the modern era.

Cold War has the advantages of the Soviet Red Menace atmosphere, and earlier wars such as the Vietnam War as a backdrop for flashbacks.

World War I has gritty trench warfare and gray drab atmosphere. Since chemical warfare was commonplace, the Fog is not out of place.

Modern era can be molded to anything, but has no context to history. Technology such as drones would be available. The war on terror in the desert is possible as a flashback.

Victorian steampunk is just cool, and fits the Lovecraftian sensibilities.

Whatever the time setting maybe, it would probably be somewhere in New England.

Decided finally on Cold War, as to reference the Colder War story, but also the possibility of using flashbacks to Vietnam.

Fantasy and Theme:
The fantasy is a power fantasy of a disciplined military, but taking that power fantasy away to despair and dread of the unknown due to the horrors of war through PTSD.

The theme is bright colors and tone of militarism and patriotism slowly turning into depression with drab colors and darkness.

The game aims to touch on the PTSD aspect in veterans, especially in the end. The Lovecraftian horror is an analog for the PTSD. We are researching on how to sensitively shed light on this.

Fog of War:
The Fog of War is your enemy. Literally. Once it is thick enough, you can shoot at the fog which might grow shadowy tentacles and hold it back until you run out of ammunition.

Strong lights can also hold back the fog. The fog is more of a "liquid" fog than an airy fog that covers everything. Think of Zerg creep or the Creeper World creep combined with a Fog of War.

The thicker the fog gets, the more aggressive the enemies it spawns will be and your range will get smaller.

There will be a day/night system, though a thick fog will make daylight very scarce. Your men, and yourself, will need sleep. And sleep causes nightmares, not only on your men, but on you. Unit speed slower at night.

Gameplay:
Units will have limited ammo, limited fuel, limited supplies, and limited men. Units may venture out in your own peril to find supplies and survivors.

Units can hide or take cover behind something to ambush or not. Units are limited to moving in their range of sight, unable to move beyond that circle of visibility.

Units can experience friendly fire and be ordered to kill allies or civilians. This has consequences like court martial.  Also useful for insane units. Sane units ordered to kill allies will refuse.

You and your men are affected by insanity as determined by the thickness of the fog; eldritch horrors each men has encountered; loss of morale, supply and troops; and nightmares at night.

A simple RPG squad unit editing and equipping and upgrading like XCOM, DoW, and Warcraft 3.

Smart unit AI, more like a top down shooter AI. Will also limit the unit head count.

Sort-of fourth wall breaks as evidenced by the insanity and the monsters in-game. Undertale-type 4th wall breaks like game hacking. RUSE or commander effects like invisible or fake armies. A "fun" value that changes the game based on each playthrough. The Ancient horror speaks to the player as it is aware of them/one of them.

Some sort of random generation for characters and other things. Small bios for the characters to relate to.

Enemies include lumbering Lovecraftian zombies/mutants, lots of tentacles, and other cosmic horror. Enemies can corrupt your infantry units and even vehicles.

Insanity might also be an infestation/corruption meter, or separate.

Each unit may have a secret desire or objective. Insanity might cause traitorous actions or a break down. Someone might be a traitor or spy on a purpose.

Sort-of open world sandbox RTS as there is a city nearby for looting and other landmarks.

Flashbacks of previous wars. Maybe the commander has PTSD. Increases the hallucinations. Flashbacks are interactive and playable. Provides practice for player commander for warfare.

Instead of a bird's eye view like a satellite uplink, there will be only surveillance cameras. Or even, the increasing activity destroys the satellite uplink and that player now has to rely on surveillance cameras.

Insanity affecting the landscape. Things will become more out of place as time passes by. Might flash into an alternate dimension.

Commander being attacked in the command station. Structures are not small, but huge enough to warrant firefights inside. Indoor gameplay.

Base-building is standard RTS building, however, structures have interiors aforementioned, sort of like Prison Architect/Rim World with preset building layouts.

Planned rhythm. To shake off predictability, squads may be sent missions to check on completely harmless things. And the harmless things may clue in to a darkness coming, or actually something completely random comes out that is not harmless.

Being attacked by a horror (as opposed to a cultist or zombie) will not result in death, but maybe in Inception type flashback. Monsters also don't seem to be interested in attacking you, at first.

Locations may be randomized. There may be illusory locations.

An Undertale/Risk Legacy sort of permadeath or permanent game changes; the game remembering past actions.

Commander has special abilities in his office, such as setting AI for guarding, shooting, etc.

Combat is precise and slowed. Enemies are like puzzles to be solved rather than simply throwing units at them. There may be a paused strategy mode. You can target individual parts of a unit when paused (head, torso, legs).

Units/characters may have cartoon/comic balloons to dialogue with you to show lore or comments or wallbreaks. "Converse/Talk" action can be enabled to talk to horrors instead of shooting at them.

Limited time span/countdown (a week, maybe). Decide to explore or bolster defenses.

Units do not die enmasse until the end (or another trigger). If a unit dies, the monster attack halts.

Horrors will patrol. Some will not cause alarm to others. Others will cause a swarm.

The RTS can be paused. When under attack, it can automatically pause for more combat orders. However, once playing again, you cannot pause to give orders until combat ends again.

Atmosphere:
Claustrohobia through darkness.
Units saying random stuff in a surreal type dreamlike state or paranoia, talking over each other (as if they have their own world/reality).

Jam/Barebones Version:
No story/little story
Hostile Fog of War
Just the military base under attack, no other locations
Insanity mechanic
Waves of enemies

Trope Breakers:
Structures are not instantly built.
Units cannot be trained out of thin air, but must be recruited or taken from reinforcements.
Units are scaled.
Units must be healed over time and some wounds are permanent.
Research becomes "downloading files".
Upgrades are not instant and must be equipped.
No arbitrary unit head counts, but is pretty hard to recruit units, anyways

Locations:
1. Military Base/Outpost
A. Command: Contains office, research, intelligence, surveillance cameras
B. Barracks: Contains bunks, clinic, canteen, armory, sanitarium
C. Radar/Uplink: Needed for Nuclear Retaliation (needs to be built)
D. Guard Towers: Contains machine guns, spotlights
E. Supply Docks
F. Generator: Powers Uplink and lights
G. Airstrip/Helipad: Needed for Escape/Rescued (needs to be built)
H. Walls/Fences
I. Bunkers
J. Warehouse: Contains supplies
K. Hangar: Contains tanks, vehicles, aircraft (needs to be built)

2. City/Town
A. Hospital
B. Library: needs to be investigated
C. Market
D. Apartments
E. Square
F. School

3. Forest
A. Cabin
B. National Park Service
C. Power Plant

4. River/Bay: fish people
A. Piers
B. Docks
C. Factory
D. Bridge: Heartbeat bridge

5. Suburbs
A. Mansion
B. Houses

6. Mountain/Hill Evott
A. Summer camp
B. Mine: contains a secret, Undertale references

7. Country
A. Farm
B. Country Church: protected by holiness, required for Hopes and Dreams
C. Cemetery: undead, weeping angels

8. Supermarket/Mall
A. Warehouse
B. Mall

9. Portal/Hive: a source of the infestation, may lead to alternate dimension

10. Alternate
A. Alternate Dimension
B. Dreams/Nightmares
C. Flashbacks: Vietnam, WWI

Character/Units:
Commander/Colonel (you)
Officers: Captain, Sergeants
Survivors
Regiments

Abilities:
Hide (auto)
Cover (auto)
Shoot (toggle)
Crawl/Crouch/Prone (toggle)
Silencer (close range stealth kill)
Snipe (long range)
Grenade (area of effect)
Flashbang (blinds)
Trap/Mine (anti-patrol)
Distract (look away)
Bait (attract to a spot)
Lure/Whistle (attract to own location)
Artillery (long range area of effect)
Remote/Timed Demolitions (area of effect)
First Aid Kit (healing)
Setup Radio (long range effects)
Setup Turret (machine gun)
Setup Light (lamp, spotlight)

No climbing or other floors?

Horrors:
Roaches: insects driven to frenzy by the infestation
Bats: bats driven to frenzy by the infestation
Zombies: Mostly townspeople reanimated
Silhoutte: Dead shadow soldiers back to life
Eyes: stares from fog
Grell: hallucination, jockey may control minds
Tentacles: attacks from below, smoker, may pull from afar
(name pending): a tank
(name pending): a charger
(name pending): a jockey
(name pending): a boomer
(name pending): a hunter
(name pending): a area effect spitter
Yellowking: Vietnam flashback monster
Batwitch: Vietnam flashback monster, made up of bats
Ancient: Boss
(name pending): Dr. Gaster-like monster

Ancient Boss:
Resurrects all people you've killed or sacrificed.
Can manipulate the menus and player controls and cursors.
Can shut off the game.
Talks to you, the player, directly.

Resources:
Supplies/Material: Used to build or repair things.
Fuel: Used to power things like radars and lights.

Endings:
Outpost/Base consumed
World consumed
You consumed: Colder War ending
Surviving and Protected
Rescued and Escaped
Nuclear Retaliation
Disaster averted: Requires confrontation of the Evil One
Hopes and Dreams: A Machenesque ending

Modes:
Story mode
Endless/Sandbox mode
Lone Survivor mode

Risks and Challenges:
The trick is how to make a strategy game scary. The survival part should theoretically lend to that idea.

There's also feature creep as a horror game requires a lot of atmosphere, and RTS has a lot of moving parts. The Jam version will set the core game.

Features to possibly cut:
Secret objectives
Randomization

Inspiration:
Call of Cthulu: Wasted Land
Fear Equation, Deadnauts, Zafehouse: Diaries
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Darkest Dungeon
The Consuming Shadow
Creeper World series
Prison Architect/Rim World
Don't Starve
Escape from Aliens from Outer Space! (board game)
Nullpoint
Blood Roofs
Undertale
The Last Door
This War of Mine
Fallen London/Sunless Sea
Home/Uncanny Valley
FTL: Faster Than Light
Spec Ops: The Line
The Darkness II
UFO: Aftermath
Alien: Isolation
Other games which I do not remember the name of.

(Some links may be affiliate links in support of the blog)

Useful Links:
https://www.quora.com/Im-creating-a-horror-game-and-want-to-know-What-elements-make-games-scary-Good-ideas-will-get-you-a-free-copy-when-I-release-it
http://thefederalist.com/2015/03/03/six-elements-that-make-for-a-quality-survival-horror-game/
http://tay.kinja.com/six-things-the-new-silent-hill-needs-to-have-to-succeed-1626630082
http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/223931/game_design_deep_dive_amnesias_.php
http://tay.kinja.com/what-makes-the-perfect-horror-game-1619847904
http://www.fullyramblomatic.com/conshadow/
http://www.cracked.com/article_15660_the-ultimate-war-simulation-game.html
https://maketheconnection.net/conditions/ptsd
http://science.howstuffworks.com/green-beret3.htm
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJdEqssNZ-U
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aberdeen_Proving_Ground
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TElCy6BMLxU
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8D36OxR9fA
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glP-gH_n3Yc
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nt1XmiDwxhY
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AA6tFn66IuE

Tropes:
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/StrategyGameTropes
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HorrorVideoGames
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/TabletopGame/CallOfCthulhu
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RealTimeStrategy
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/VideoGame/EternalDarkness
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SurvivalHorror
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/SoYouWantTo/WriteASurvivalHorrorGame
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HorrorTropes
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/YMMV/Undertale
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CosmicHorrorStory
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/LovecraftianTropes

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