Last night, up late and desperate for biscuits, I found myself navigating to the kitchen via the light given off by the lock screen of my iPhone, which is predominately white.  I’d held the phone up above my head and had to constantly rotate the little source of light, as it was not only fairly dull but also had a very low falloff distance. It did not illuminate the world around quite as much as give the outlines of things in an eerie blue-white. Every fifteen seconds the lock screen shuts off, so the there’s maybe half a second of complete darkness before I manage to again hit that button.  This struck me as a fun mechanic in a survival horror game grounded in real life.

Metro 2033. Any excuse for screen shots.

Imagine your house suddenly goes black, one night as you’re up far too late suffering from “one more turn” in Civilisation or perhaps creeping yourself out in Metro 2033.  Hell, to make this topical you could even by watching the World Cup or E3. Whatever light you live by suddenly cuts out so you figure that a fuse must’ve blown out or something. You pull out your iPhone and the game teaches you the particulars of using it as a light source while you walk slowly to the fusebox, being careful not to trip on the stairs or whatnot. Upon reaching the fusebox you can see that it’s in fine shape, so you guess that the power has gone out. So you light the way to your bed and lie down, silently lamenting the loss of the enrapturing soccer game. As you lie in bed staring at the ceiling (as the player, you may look about here and open/close your eyes) after a few minutes you hear a sudden tinkle, the shattering of glass.  A man swears loudly. You can hear footsteps.  Grabbing your phone, you must now stay alive for the next hour through a mixture of stealth and escape until the power is restored to the area.  You crouch by your bed and dial 000 (911). Nothing, power must be out there too. Or perhaps they’re merely overwhelmed with calls. It’s academic to you though, as the man is getting closer. You tiptoe to the side door, hoping to avoid detection. It’s all going smoothly until he hears your key turning in the lock. You run out into your front garden and hide behind a tree. Your phone’s reminder to sleep goes off and alerts the man. You jump over the fence and fumble the landing, rolling your ankle and letting out an involuntary yelp.

I picture the game as having a more natural darkness than Doom 3, with object outlines visible while the entire thing stays pretty dark. The iPhone on the other hand is a whole lot dimmer and has a very quick cut off compared to the flash light. Less environmental light than Doom 3 as well, being in a blackout.

I envision the game lasting for only an hour or even less perhaps. The high level of anxiety I’m looking to instil in the player would become exhausting after too long and the longer the game goes for, the more cheap reasons why they can’t find anyone to help them I would have to devise, ruining immersion. I like this idea of very personal, one to one horror relationships that games cannot do due to their length.  The everyday scenario also appeals to me because it’s relate able and horror seems most influential when it’s devoid of any abstraction from the audience’s life. The iPhone mechanic would work well with move, although I wonder whether it would be scarier with the ball glowing in a way reminiscent of the iPhone in game, so that the player grabs glances of the environment around them or whether it be off to increase their immersion in the game. It could also work well with Kinect, assuming that the whole “it can scan objects” thing is still a feature, despite not being mentioned at E3.  The player could simply pick up a phone shaped object then, maximizing immersion. Shattered Memories has already proven that the Wii could do such a thing, although Motion Plus would be a requirement so that it need not be pointed at the screen constantly. A recalibration message every half hour might ruin the game.

Uncool part of "The Darkness"

Upon mentioning this idea in “the” Steam chat last night, someone pointed me to a game called “The Darkness” being  facetious.  The same guy also pointed me to “Tunnel Rats” when I thought up a subterranean game after watching the Daily Show a few days ago, when they interviewed a caver. Anyway, upon investigating The Darkness, I saw that it included the ENTIRE film of To Kill a Mockingbird and that some guy said that watching that through was the most authentic romance scene he’d ever been a part of in a game. I’ve clearly not played the game and I have no idea how the scene actually plays out and whether the player has any interactivity. However it’s a damn cool idea.

The cool part

Can you imagine a DS game where the top screen is a movie playing out in real time and bottom screen is a Mass Effect style dialogue between you and a romantic interest, watching it on your couch? Where the game last just as long as the movie does and has dialogue trees miles deep? Where over the hour and a half you really come to understand a person? All the dialogue is spawned off contextual things happening in the movie however it quickly branches off into other things. You might make your love interest laugh or cry, you might get into a fight or end up making love. Because this much time is allocated to a single character, they can be as complex and troubled as a real person and as difficult to read. To get the “best” ending, you’ll be required to really start to understand your partner and there would be no single approach that could work for the entire game.  It’s sort of glorified interactive fiction, not anything revolutionary. Still, it could be a cool thing.  Writing these ideas out really helps to flesh them out, so there might be more of these in the future.