Friday, May 11, 2012

Amnesia: The Dark Descent (PC)

Time Played: 30min OnLive Demo

What Happened:
I'm definitely not counting this one as a real game journal entry, since I didn't get far enough to get a real grasp of the game - but I learned some things, and I wanted to capture my notes.

To start, I'm a super-huge chicken when it comes to horror. I've always had a talent for scaring the crap out of myself with my own imagination (I had night terrors when I was 5), so it's been a general policy of mine to avoid adding anything new to my repertoire of Terrifying Things that pop into my brain at 3am when I'm alone in the dark. Really, it doesn't make a lot of sense that I even tried to play this game - but I was just so curious! Particularly as someone who is interested in alternatives to combat, and ways that games can explore emotion, I had to at least try to check it out. (I definitely recommend watching Thomas Grip's GDC Europe 2011 talk about the development of Amnesia here:

Luckily, the demo was short enough (and I moved slowly enough) that I didn't see anything particularly damaging. Simply put, Amnesia is a first person survival horror game. You walk through a dilapidated castle, finding messages from your 'former self' who gives you general hints about where to go, and fills in the story a bit. You are avoiding some sort of mysterious monster that you cannot kill. You find things like tinderboxes and oil to light your path - which is important, since your character's sense of reality breaks down when you stand in the dark for too long, or if you see something particularly disturbing. (I don't actually know what happens if you let it run down... the effect generally panicked me into moving as fast as possible towards a light source to calm Daniel down.)  

It's neat because I've been considering some similar techniques for an arty game I'd like to make! The subject matter is much different, but it deals with the idea of nerves. This game is a great reference point for me to learn from.

Focal length. There is a constant, slight movement to the camera that's super unsettling. Even if you are standing perfectly still, the focal length is animating just enough to make you feel perpetually slightly off balance. It also makes the castle feel a little more alive.

Camera moves. There are times that the game takes camera control away from you for a moment, as though you're involuntarily jerking your head towards the source of a scary sound. It makes a surprising sound sound much more startling - and is much more like how you would react in real life.

Speed. Similarly, sometimes your speed is also out of your control. I think I mostly just noticed it in the beginning, when you are waking up and are in some sort of stupor. I believe that I've seen this in other games, but I like the idea of unbalancing the player by removing control that they are used to.

Distortion. The more panicked you get, the more the visuals distort. You can see it a little in the image above - particularly on the bookshelves. You're already scared, and it becomes increasingly difficult to see what is happening around you.

Audio. Sound is always a vital part of horror! It's the stuff you can't see that scares you the most. :) I think sound was used effectively - but since I've never played any other horror games, I can't say too much about it.  

My friend, Daniel. Weirdly, I didn't ever think of Daniel as 'myself.' I don't know if it was because of the amount of control that was taken away from me (I hope not, since I would like to play with those ideas!) . I'm hoping that it had more to do with the noise that Daniel made when he started to get scared. I might have been breathing a little faster than normal, but his panting & whimpering made me feel like it was my job to take care of him and lead him to well-lit areas. I don't know how many times I actually said out loud "it's ok, buddy, let's just go over here..." This separation is probably also due to the fact that I built up a lot of walls in order to have the courage to play this game. Perhaps it caused me to draw a line between myself and Daniel that I wouldn't have if I'd been willing to let myself fully experience fear. I will never know!

How Do I Feel About Continuing: 
After googling for some images to stick on the blog, I realized that there is some pretty messed up stuff in this game that I have no intention of ever seeing in context. I went into it not ever intending to play more than the 30min demo, and my plans have not changed. I am simply too much of a wuss. :)

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