Sex, death, and Haunting Ground

•March 1, 2016 • Leave a Comment

There’s this young girl inside a cage, covered with a blanket, sleeping. Then, we see a weird looking man who tries to touch her leg, but is scared away by a lightning. The girl wakes up and exits the cage. She leaves the room and reaches a garden. As she walks, she holds on to the blanket so she can cover herself. Finally, she gets into a room, where she meets this mysterious woman who was doing the bed. The woman hands her a short dress, so she can put it on, and leaves the room.

When she was alone, the young girl puts on the dress. However, she was not alone. Someone was looking at her from behind a painting.

Very recently, I (finally) had the chance to play a game titled Demento (or Haunting Ground). Truth be told, this was the first game to really get me since I played Silent Hill 3. I’d even dare say Demento is on my “to-play” horror games just below Silent Hill (the first 3 Silent Hill games take the top spot, in case you’re wondering). I am a big horror fan, so I hate to see the horror genre reduced to jump-scare fests like Slender or FNAF (you’re free to like those games, but personally I like my horror games to have some substance).

I’ll just say it: “jump-scares” are not scary. They are just an unexpected event that takes you by surprise. This means that there isn’t really a difference between a jump-scare in FNAF and someone blowing up a balloon behind you. But, for some reason, the modern “formula to create a perfect horror game” is to simply throw jump-scares every now and then.

I found Demento very disturbing from the start, and it just got weirder and weirder by the minute. Take the intro to this blog, for example. We’re controlling a half-naked girl wandering in an unknown location. She then is given some clothes but nearly half of the time her butt is showing because the skirt is really short. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that she was forced to wear that outfit (“you either wear this, or walk around half naked” – BTW the outfit change is mandatory). We’re also hinted that someone is always looking at her, or rather, stalking her. 5 minutes into the game and I was already thinking to myself “I’m so getting raped…” which is an interesting choice of words, because “she’s going to get raped” was actually a thought that came in second. The only explanation I can think of is that the game did such a good job with immersion, that I didn’t feel like the “big brother trying to protect little Fiona” but rather that I was Fiona (somehow).

Then, you run into the first of the “stalkers”: the man from the beginning, Debilitas, who sees Fiona and wants to make her “his doll” (yeah… that…). Debilitas chases Fiona everywhere, and after you “die” you get one of the most disturbing game over screens ever. It’s not visual at all, and it doesn’t need to be, because the sound itself hints what Debilitas is doing to Fiona. The rest of the stalkers are not better at all. Daniella, the second one, at some point and tells Fiona that she wants her “azoth” (the Demento wikia comes up with a very extensive definition for “azoth” but if we want to keep it simple, the “azoth” is the uterus… yeah…). Before that, she had already groped her, and performed a “heart-pull-à-la Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” although it wasn’t exactly the heart that she was trying to pull out…

Demento has all these weird disturbing sexual themes everywhere, so it’s not about a monster trying to cut you in half. It’s about a group of sexually-perverse people and a would-be victim trying to escape them. This reminds me of what Sato Takayoshi says about Silent Hill 2 (minute 25:59):

 

And Demento does what Sato Takayoshi says pretty well:

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(Minute 28)

 

Or…

Did I mention Daniella wants your uterus?

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However, in modern games… Well, I could make a comparison to modern horror games that use “sexual themes” but in fact they just flat-out throw disgusting sexual imagery to the screen and call it “psychological horror,” but, out of respect, I won’t.

(To be fair, if you visit the Enola screenshots area, there’s a chance you’ll find many screenshots of a woman in razor-wire bondage. It’s a shocking image, but those actually paying attention can know who she is and why she’s in bondage. She’s not “Female NPC number 42” or something like that. She’s also the only one in the entire game).

Another element I found really interesting is this: Fiona can fight back.

Yes, Fiona is this somewhat-helpless young girl, but there is one very specific aspect I liked about her: every time one of the stallkers were very close, I could shove them or kick them (I kicked Debilitas in the nuts more than once). I specially liked it because it was realistic. I don’t know about you, but girls I know would try to hit their attacker if they get the chance. This was a brutal reminder on how modern horror games turn your protagonist into some sort of punching bag, taking away any mean of defense (for some reason, an 18 years old is perfectly capable of kicking her attacker in the nuts, but a 30-something years old man is only able to stand there taking it).

On a side note, If you’re working on a horror game, please stay away from this and at least give your protagonist the ability to punch or kick the bad guy, even if it proves to be useless. The helpless protagonist is an idea that sucks, and I don’t care what games you cite, it still  sucks and needs to stop.

 

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So, yeah, Demento is cool and all, but that was 11 years ago… About that…

While I was playing this game, I couldn’t stop wondering why they don’t make games like this one anymore (besides the fact that many horror games nowadays are aimed to youtubers who’ll flail their arms and scream when something pops-up with a loud noise, so people can say “ZOMG this game is so terrifying!😄😄😄 LOL”). At the same time I remembered a rejection email I got from a gaming event because our game, Enola, supposedly used sexual violence against women just for shock value, a subject that deserves a blog post of its own (which is ironic, considering sexual-violence victims have sent me messages to tell me how they could identify with the protagonist, having gone through similar situations themselves).

Maybe the reason why we don’t get more games like Demento is because we’d get a bunch of people ranting about Fiona and objectification of women, and how the stalkers and their disturbing sexual themes were used just for shock value, which would be utter crap, considering the game has extremely good character development, so you know exactly what Debilitas wants, and how it’s completely different to what Daniella or Riccardo want from Fiona.

According to what I’ve ready, Demento was somewhat of a “risky” move (and maybe even an afterthought since it seems like it was some sort of Clock Tower spin-off), but it was worth the risk IMO. Not because it sold millions of copies, but because it dared to do something different and memorable (it even has a cult-following, just like the old Silent Hill games). I finished the game around 2 months ago, but it still lingers, something that “modern” horror games haven’t managed to do.

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As a developer, I find Demento to be an inspiring game, because it made me think outside the box and see other things that can be done with horror games. We have enough horror games about “killer monsters from hell.” We need horror games that go that extra mile and try other ideas, even if those ideas sound too “risky” or if those ideas mean that someone from a certain gaming event will reject your game because “it uses this and that for shock value.”

I’d like to see horror games like Demento or Silent Hill come back, because it would be a welcome change to the current trend of jump-scare fests and haunted-house simulators that we’re getting, and not because “Oh, I’m so smart, I’m the Roger Hebert of videogames,” but because we need more modern horror videogames that become classics in a way that, 10 years from now, people will still be talking about how you should play X horror game that was released in 2016.

The next game on my list is Rule of Rose. I’ve heard a lot of things (good and bad) about that game, so playing it is going to be interesting…

DianaSmile

Violence is OK, but sorta-sexual content isn’t?

•February 15, 2016 • 3 Comments

Well, it is time again for me to come up with those stupid questions more people should be asking. This is something I had been thinking about some time ago, and it was reminded to me after I watched this video where the guy pretty much asks why is it that people don’t really have a problem with ultra-violent videogames, but cry censorship every time a boob appears on the screen.

To be honest this is more of a rant than anything else, because I don’t expect to get a good/definitive answer.

I am not going to discuss anything about the video itself, since I believe the guy does a pretty good job explaining the whole thing, and I don’t have anything to add. I does remind me that violent and sorta-sexual content in videogames are seen completely different.

Note that I’m not even speaking about sexual content as in “a sex scene,” “a dude going all sexy in his underwear” or “sexual violence.” I’m talking about something as simple as a girl with a somewhat revealing cleavage or yoga pants that show the shape of her butt (a topic that was important last month, for some reason). Just as an example, please someone explain to me why this happens: In “certain videogames online store” there’s this monochromatic game, and on its product page you can see screenshots of the protagonist shooting people in close range, but that same store contacted me asking to remove a screenshot of a half-naked MANNEQUIN.

Also, I focus on the female protagonist for two reasons:
First, because 2 of my 3 past projects featured female protagonists, 2 of our 3 current projects feature female protagonists (the third one features a full cast of men and women), and all of the “4 future projects I want to make some day” feature female protagonists. Yeah, that’s a lot of women…
Second, because, being honest, nobody will care about that dude going all sexy in his underwear, because “sexual” or “sexy” are only worth discussing if the character is a woman.

Violent and gruesome deaths are not uncommon in videogames, at all. Sometimes you can even find death montages so you can see the “cool ways” enemies or protagonists are killed.

However, if a game features a girl showing too much skin, things will be a little different.

Well, of course violence in videogames is not nearly as important as Cammy or that other girl (can’t remember her name) showing too much butt in Street Fighter V.

There’s this “game” I want to make (it’s some sort of exploring-simulator, really), about a really pretty social network-addicted girl who’s thinking about her life while wandering around. To be honest, part of me wants to make the game because it will be fun, but part of me doesn’t want to make the game because there’s a chance I’ll get complains about how the main character is not realistic, because pretty girls in real life don’t post their lives online.

That is a good question, though. Why is it that I don’t really need to explain myself if I make the most violent videogame ever, but will surely get a lot of questions if my main character happens to be a way-too-attractive girl showing too much skin?

Or maybe I should try to keep a low profile and go for the violent game with gruesome deaths instead?

Rant is over. Thanks.

Maybe an update before anything else?

•February 2, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Hello all!

Well, there were a couple of things I wanted to write about, but I figured it was better to give you all a quick update on what I’ve been up to.

In January we began to work on The Nightmare. If you remember the 3d platformer we were working on, it’s “somewhat” the same thing, but we decided to reset the entire project a few months ago, for various reasons. I think it was for the best, since this new iteration has a better concept and direction… and also a better story.

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I will make some “official news” soon. It’s going to be interesting.

There’s a small sideproject I’m doing just for fun, and for testing the 3d platforming gameplay. It’s going to be a very small project, so it should be ready in a few months.

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The thing is that, after Enola, I’m trying to move away from “big” games and make smaller things instead. Smaller games are easier and faster to finish. That’s not to say I plan to go the “crappy games assembly line” route. I still want the games to be cool and all. I just don’t want to spend 2 years making a “big” game while I could spend one year making two “smaller” games.

There are a couple of things I wanted to talk about, but first, I just wanted to share an update.

See you soon.

Supergirl and how not being so ‘super’ is cool, part 2

•November 24, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Hello again.

I couldn’t write this blog post before, but maybe it was for the best because I watched “Livewire” before writing this. That episode was interesting because it showed yet another part of the character: the family. In some ways, this show reminds me of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, because it was not just about stabbing vampires left and right, but about the Scooby gang, their lives, relationships and all that. TBH, as a writer, that makes the entire thing more interesting because you get to know who the characters are.

So, what about that game I was talking about last time?

I’ve been thinking about a game about a would-be super-heroine for some time, but rather than making it a Batman Arkham kind of game, I was thinking about making it about an origin story, and how that heroine gives her first “baby steps” into heroism.

Know that I love the Batman Arkham games that I’ve played, and I’d certainly like to make a Batman Arkham kind of game with a heroine, but there’s a small problem: there’s no chance our team could do something like that.

So, origin story and everyday life…

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Maybe we have our heroine, and at some point she’s told about her true nature. She needs to learn how to fight, how to defend herself, but at the same time she has to deal with everything related to her “day to day” life, like going to school (or being home schooled, because her parents are actually trying to “protect” her, keeping her in a “safe” environment), meeting friends and at some point maybe having a boyfriend.

I keep going back to Buffy episode structure, where you have the antagonist’s introduction, and all the fights, but you have all the inbetweens when Buffy is doing “regular girl stuff” and then the whole “prepare for battle” stuff. It’s not about kicking ass all the time, since you do have enough time for character development.

Supergirl does pretty much the same. Granted that a lot of people know who Supergirl is, but there’s a lot of people watching the show who have never read a comicbook (like me). We can get into the whole debate about the Supergirl from the TV show being “faithful” to the comicbook version, but that’s not the issue here. The issue is letting the audience know the character in that specific world.

Also, what if the game was actually episodic? I don’t mean “episodic” in a gamey way, but rather in a TV format way, with around 20 – 30 minute episodes that are self-contained but also share a larger theme that holds the entire “season” together. Since you’d start from the origin story, you could see her changing from this “not so super” heroine into a stronger and more capable one at the end of the season. This could also help introduce new gameplay mechanics. She’d be getting more resourceful and skilled, but also she’d learn new secrets or “powers” and you could gradually put those into the game.

However, this could be somewhat difficult to pull off. The biggest problem I see is that maybe players wouldn’t like to wait 4 or 5 months for the next 20 minute episode to show up. Also, branching storylines could be a problem, because they add to development time and could be really problematic when managing a 10 episode season. On the other hand, this origin story could be treated as a slightly larger stand-alone game.

Personally, I’d like to see something like this being made.

Supergirl and how not being so ‘super’ is cool

•November 10, 2015 • Leave a Comment

So, I’ve been watching Supergirl. Some people like it, some people don’t, but personally I find the concept very interesting, specially after the catastrophe that was Meh of Steel.

Let’s just get this out of the way: Meh of Steel is trash. Thanks.

Also: I’m not a comic book fan, so I don’t intend to compare the show to the comic.

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Also: I’ve seen some people complaining that Supergirl is some sort of feminist propaganda. TBH, I’ve only found a couple of lines that were completely pointless: one of them is when she’s training, being followed by missiles, and she demands if she has to go through training because she’s a woman. The other one, I can’t remember, but it was also very “yeah… whatever…” And yes, Calista Flockhart has delivered a couple of those, but I don’t care, because she’s Ally McBeal and she can say anything she wants.

Now that we took the obvious stuff out of the way…

The most obvious difference between Meh of Steel and Supergirl is the sense of humor. It reminds me of the Superman movie from 1978. Supergirl is actually nice to watch, because it’s fun when it’s supposed to be fun, and serious when it’s supposed to be serious. Superman (1978) was a very good blend of action, drama and humor (ditto for Supergirl, IMO), while Meh of Steel was like a single gritty tone for around 2 hours.

However, there’s another thing that really got my attention: the fact that Supergirl isn’t really “super” in the show. When she was going to rescue the plane, she had trouble flying, and then when she tried to do other things, she pretty much screwed up (like when she caused the oil spill). What’s interesting to me here is that sometimes she’s trying to do good, but she’s never fully in control so she screws up.

The same happens during her first battle: she is overpowered because, even if she has superpowers, she doesn’t know how to use them.

To me, that’s what makes the show interesting, because it’s more realistic. We’re talking about a girl that hasn’t used her powers in a long time (she didn’t remember how to fly, for example), and is trying to go through a crash course of super-heroism. On the other hand, in Meh of Steel, Superman puts on the suit, and next thing you know, he’s destroying an entire city like a badass…

This means we also get a completely different view to the whole “they are not Super yet, so that’s why they make mistakes.” Supergirl “isn’t super yet” so she causes an oil spill. Superman (in Meh of Steel, obviously), “isn’t super yet” so he destroys two or three cities, killing a bunch of people in the process.

We still haven’t seen how Supergirl would react to a situation where she needs to fight a foe in a more populated area, so it would be interesting to see if she is smart enough to take the fight away from the city, or if she’d go full Meh of Steel and destroy half a city.

To me, Supergirl makes kryptonians watchable again.

But the story doesn’t end here. I wouldn’t be much of a sorta-game-developer if this show hadn’t gotten me thinking about a game that follows this same formula (just like Cast Away got me thinking about how a different story could have served as an origin story for Lara Croft and her “a survivor is born” motto), and how such game could present the “origin story” of a super hero, or super heroine. After all, I’m all for story-driven games, and I believe a concept like this could be an interesting one for a game.

However, it is time for me to leave, so I will talk more about this would-be game next week.

The Renderosity Magazine launches

•September 29, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Hi all, just a quick update. As you know, I’ve been writing for Renderosity for A LONG time. Well, they recently launched an online magazine (AKA an online platform for articles related to art, animation, techniques and stuff like that). My latest articles have made it there: the ones about OneRender, Substance Painter, and an article about using Daz characters in Unity.

http://www.renderositymagazine.com/

I really want to devote a lot of time to the Game Development Tips and Game Development Tools series, since that’s my main point of interest now. Besides, I think it can be a good thing to share some of the experiences I gain as I work.

The one about using Daz characters in Unity is about making things easier for small developers, so they can add human characters to their games without having to go through the pains of modeling those themselves.

And that’s it. Not much to share about the current projects, as we’re still testing, and finding bugs. Luckily, almost all bugs are gone D:

See you soon.

New Project: The Nightmare from Outspace

•August 17, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Well, some time ago I briefly posted about the new project. It’s been under development for some time but since I’ve been away I haven’t posted anything about it here. That new project finally has a title, it’s “The Nightmare from Outspace”

The idea for this game was somewhat of an evolution. I first got the idea after playing the Tomb Raider reboot and thinking “well, I didn’t like it.” Long story short: I didn’t like the game because it didn’t feel like a Tomb Raider game, but rather it felt like a Gears of War game with some tomb raiding here and there (at least they seem to be adding some actual tomb raiding to the upcoming game). So I thought “what if we could make a sorta-tomb-raider game where the acrobatics are the main point, not something that is used between the shootings?”

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The first iteration was to take place on an island, then we moved on to some idea about an actual tomb raider girl, then that evolved into some sort of space-tomb raider girl discovering ancient alien tombs, and now you’re “doing acrobatic stuff” in some sort of space station.

The game will be some sort of fusion between Tomb Raider and Metroid, because you will have to do all sorts of acrobatics and platforming, but at the same time you will be exploring, finding items to access new areas, and unlock other areas with those items or skills.

We had spent a lot of time working on the story, but we have to change it because we had problems with a team member who had been working on the story (basically, she showed she didn’t really care about the project and not doing what she was supposed to do). That means we have to rewrite the entire thing so that nobody comes to us later saying “hey you, the story was mine so you owe me part of the revenue” or something like that.

We do know, however, we do know the story is going to be inspired by cosmic horror, specially from Lovecraft and authors like him. That’s not to say you will see Cthulhu (or some Cthulhu-like space brother), because, as you know, the Lovecraft mythos is not just about Cthulhu.

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We will launch a Kickstarter soon-ish, so I really hope you can help us reach the goal and make this game possible.

And that’s it!

You can see more of the project here.

 
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