Friday, January 14, 2011

The Experiment is over: Anthology of Horror is cancelled with good results.

The idea for this project was to see if the horror told through creepypasta like stories could translate well to "flesh and blood" experience. The answer, in short, is no. There are too many margins for error here including visuals, sound, depth and atmosphere all being dramatically different and harder to control than a simple text narrative is. But why?


People perceive what they see usually as fact, which is why it is hard to scare a lot of people with movies or games. When you rely on audio and visuals to guide your thinking process you get one of two reactions. The first is the negative or cynical one, where the person observing the events or structure you have created is analytical of a ton of flaws that draw them out of the immersion, ultimately lowering and eventually destroying the intended experience's scale of depth. The other reaction is one a branch of horror relies all too much on: The brains defensive mechanism. Making you jump, yell, sceam, feel ill, try to focus, etc. is what many, many creature flicks or "cat out of the bag" horrors need in order to get a reaction. This causes a certain thrill that many people seek, and which is why some people watch the same slosh over and over in theaters like Saw.
But when you're perceiving what is on text, you lose that anayltical value, you lose that cynical attitude, and you only have one companion: your imagination. It is true that the fear of the unknown is the oldest, greatest fear, and when you are describing events so uncanny or so shocking, you can directly manipulate--hell, you can control--someones imagination. This is done through grammar, narrative, linguistics, choice of words and the division of acts to slowly immerse the reader into your concise little nightmare.
Because when you describe something through text, or use minimalism in wording, it makes their imagination run wild. What is the monster? What does the castle look like? What is the protagonist seeing when he went insane? And so forth and so on. Direct control of imagination is literally impossible through something like Anthology of Horror, which is why it has been closed down completely as a project.


In closing, it was a fun experiment. People liked the atmosphere and likened the minimalism of level design to the half life 1 days, which I appreciated, as that was the intended goal. However some people--like on here--were negative about that. I was amused when people had troubles reading the directions, misinterpreting the ending, flying off a purposefully left in cliff edge instead of ignoring it, etc. Shelter was a good experiment though, all things considered, even if the facts I learned disappointed me. I was able to beta test my book reading system which has been refined for the Newport series, as well as introduce myself to modern settings, which I will no doubt use in the future when making mods not set in the 1930's of all things.
Seeing your criticisms and reactions to Shelter was fun. I learned a lot as a game designer and through intentional manipulation of incorrect minimalism and narrative, have learned both what kind of bugs people notice most, and also how creepypasta does *not* work in a game.

Monday, January 10, 2011

62 Days: A look at niche modding, and the future of Newport

 Of Modding

Almost six months ago I embarked on the task of creating my first mod, choosing Crysis as the platform, choosing horror as the genre, and choosing my own writing, lovecraft, and a mixture of others as the inspiration for the then unnamed project. I took to learning the Crysis level editor, relearning ropes I had long forgotten, and looking at ways on how to best put my own ideas into gameplay form.

That is how any modding project is born. Inspiration, dedication, then sticking with a cycle of design. But there is a rapid anomaly I have noticed as I've been around this scene for these 62 days, and it's that modding is quite simply an oversaturated business. I was curious to see the release of Call of the Fireflies impact Crysis modding like few other projects have, and for it to even win an x category mod of the year award, and it still has an extremely dwindling download and view record. Another project, winning a multitude of online awards, Mechwarrior: Living Legends, went on to garner almost zero real life recognition.

But the biggest surprise for me had nothing to do with my own creation or it's tools. It was learning the mod community. How reserved, how quiet, how bizarre and how almost random it is. How isolated a lot of modding teams are from the millions of others, and how there is almost no coherency between any two projects.

But something like Nightmare House 2, for example, has actually gotten the developers real life recognition and awards, presentations in festivals, and so on. I find it really strange that Cryengine 2 is so down in the dumps compared to all other forms of modding that exist, perhaps with only unreal 3 being the most esoteric until very recently, with the recent update and also The Ball and other titles getting business fame.

I think a very large problem is that projects such as Mechwarrior and Nightmare House 2 garner higher publicity and even awards due to the team approach whereas Call of the Fireflies developer' and I have one thing in common: We're alone in what we do, and we don't do it for that.

Or maybe that isn't it? Maybe the engine has something to do with it. Between Source, Cryengine 2 and Unreal 3, there is no question when you ask which is the most popular or which garners the most fame. Now we're coming to the point I've been wanting to make:

To me a mod is best off as a niche project. I believe in the power of small numbers and of projecting your own work to people who actually care about it, rather than throwing it into orbit. I will do nothing in my own power in order to achieve traffic for this blog, for moddb, for crymod or for anything I do modding wise besides talking to my friends about it or making a forum topic here or there. Why is that, though? It's because I feel there is a higher connection in silence then there is rampant feedback or award nonsense. These things give the modders delusions of grandoire, when we do nothing more than create mods for a small community of people.

Even while I am working on three projects at once, I keep them on the down low, under the radar, to the point of them barely appearing on anyone's. And that is where I want them to be. To illustrate a terrible metaphor, there is a difference in experience and quality of getting a pie off grandma's windowsill, or running down to TastyKake and buying six dozen chemical filled preservative pie's.

Of Newport

The flagship of my modding still roots itself within the Worry of Newport series. A fragile, almost theoretical game which combines story telling narrative with sheer boredom and glitches. A series which, currently, hangs at the skin of it's teeth so to speak, as far as people's interest and actual publicity is concerned. It is interesting to think that while my enthusiasm for developing this series has almost tripled since November 9th, actual input and criticsm from the audience I broadcasted it to has shrunk three times, or more, to the point where I'm getting less than one bit of feedback a month.

Newport is a niche if there ever was one. Interestingly enough, even now that an entirely new lighting and level design engine is being worked with and the moddb page is literally being flooded with news and feature updates and screenshots of part 2 and part 1's remakes in an attempt to electrify interest, nothing has been happening. And while I appreciate this silence, I also fear it, because I know if I rerelease Part 1 as polished and consistent as it is even now at 80% done, and no one says anything or bothers to illustrate feedback again, I will lose hope against all odds.

So I find myself, as a new modder, caught in an interesting bind. I appreciate being in a niche and very, very small circle of horror fans. I also appreciate silence and know that award or publicty only drags down a project. But I also know that when the Newport saga is all said and done, and if barely anyone bothers themselves to talk to me about it, it will drive down my enthusiasm to ever mod again quite substantially.

I will undoubtedly throw all of my effort as a modder into finishing the remake and designing part 2 to the extent of my knowledge of cryengine 2, but as for future projects on this platform? I cannot say for sure. Or even maybe as a modder. I will know for sure when Part 1's remake is done and out. Until then, I can only speculate how the tides will turn. Part 1's first release has been cold, at best, reception wise, with the only few people giving feedback negatively eying it or impossibly comparing it to full fledged developed games unfairly like Amnesia.

So we shall see. Until next time, readers.