After the infamous Playable Teaser — or P.T. — demo was pulled from the PSN store earlier this year, there has been a great deal of attention being placed the horror genre. Even so much that a new upcoming game called Allison Road has been making waves and exciting fans. With that in mind, the Daily Reaction crew discusses the current advancements in horror titles, and how modern technology could be playing a big role in what we see from the genre over the next few years.
Dan: Having been one of the many people who enjoyed the P.T. demo, but also having never really been a fan of the horror game genre as a whole, I started to ask myself what it was about it that made it so appealing. Not to discount the direction of the team behind the demo, as they did a fantastic job in producing a small but incredibly potent experience with very minimal content. But, I do feel like we have started to reach a point in technology where are now capable of maintaining an illusion of reality in modern games, and that is one of the biggest factors that made P.T. possible.
While the mere concept behind P.T. is something that shouldn’t look impactful on paper, its ability to produce an environment that not only felt real, but also one that they were able to manipulate subtly enough so that players could not just see a change, but sense it. This concept of interaction with a player requires so much more than simply a well written story, as the user literally cannot be removed from the experience for the true narration to occur, as that happens within the user’s head. That alone is the biggest success I could imagine for a horror game, as the sensation of fear is more about what is going on within the person playing the game, than what is going on in the screen.
To best understand how this was accomplished in a demo, you really need to pull it apart and see how much work went into actually creating a false-positive experience. What I mean by this is that while we can easily discern that the game isn’t real (because it’s a video game), many of the details used in the game did a great job of mimicking how our bodies move and with enough visual fidelity to trick our brains long enough for events to become impactful. This is how you can become scared of something that isn’t real, it is all about believing it, even if it is only for a fraction of a second.
Going past what we have seen out of P.T., I think looking forward, we are going to be seeing some of the best content yet. The biggest evolution in the industry we are starting to see is the push for virtual reality on a true level. One that goes beyond the T.V. and keeps players senses saturated long enough so that we can see some very interesting things being done. While VR isn’t for everyone, and neither will be scaring yourself into purchasing nightlights for your entire house, but the concept is very real, and is something that isn’t exclusive to fear.
Chandler: I don’t know if I will be able to do horror on VR. Not because I don’t think the idea will work, but because I think the idea will work all too well. P.T. itself had me cowering on my couch and my wife laughing at how terrified I was, but the level of immersion that VR introduces to the equation is enough to make me consider not even trying it out. Ok, so I will try it, but I’m going to be a huge baby about it, you can count on that.
Graphically, P.T. was incredible which helped with the immersion into the experience. It also didn’t show much, but left a lot to be questioned. Why am I stuck in this loop? Who keeps opening and closing doors? What is trapped in that chained up fridge that is now leaking blood? There was a sense that there was no escape, a sense of the familiar, yet subtle changes to the familiar that knocked the balance out from under your feet. Games like the original Silent Hill employed this kind of trickery to cause fear, breaking the fourth wall and having the game seem to affect your TV or your console. The game’s graphics may have not been enough to scare on their own, but the methods used to make you question reality led to a terrifying experience.
VR has the benefit of having immersion built right in. Horror games practically don’t have to try anymore. Come up with a scary situation and let the user convince themselves of the reality as they don a headset and a pair of headphones. Combine this level of immersion with the graphical fidelity of modern gaming machines, and you have something that may as well be reality. A horror type of Matrix, if you will. Watching the Allison Road demo didn’t strike me quite as much as P.T., perhaps due to the relative openness of the house compared to P.T.’s hallway, but I would still be a chickenshit the moment I had to put on a VR headset and explore the terror lying in wait.
Horror games could see a resurgence soon as new technologies provide additional methods of trickery for developers to use against players. Graphics and VR are just the tip of the iceberg. Additional processing power not previously available could open pathways to things we may not even be able to think of right now. Somewhere, some creative director has a board full of ideas that are going to be the next horror thing that we are all talking about and we have no idea what we’re about to get into. The mansion door is open. The entry is dark. As we step inside, the door slams shut behind us, trapping us in this coming whirlwind of horror technology. Are you brave enough to survive the night?