Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
The Design of Consuming Shadow

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 3 Dec 2013 12:30
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Consuming Shadow 06

And then there's sanity meters. I once expressed that I'd rather a game didn't use stats to explain how I should be feeling emotionally, and the problem with games like Eternal Darkness where sanity is a resource that goes up and down is that it's a rather mechanical approach to something unquantifiable. And when the game has sanity effects, such as blurry screens and funny noises and pretending that insects are crawling on the camera lens, they lose their impact once you've gotten used to it.

I added a sanity meter to Consuming Shadow because I wanted to give a sense that the journey your character goes on is constantly wearing them down, even while medkits and hospital visits routinely restore them to full health. So there are plenty of things that chip away at sanity, but there are very few things that restore it. You can inject recreational drugs to numb yourself to the horror and receive a big sanity boost, but that gradually trickles away over time, and each time you inject yourself you build up more of a tolerance and get less of an effect. If memory serves, the only thing that actually restores sanity is an encouraging text message, but those are random. Whoops, tell a lie: also if you attend an inspiring church service in one of the random road events.

The other important thing was that low sanity should actually create problems. The thing about Eternal Darkness is that it had clever notions to pretend it was deleting your saves or have the main character sink into the floor or explode, but once I understood that these were sanity effects, I felt more motivation to go around with as low sanity as possible to see if I could trigger new ones I hadn't seen yet. I thought they were fun to watch, and they had no lasting effect. It was like collecting trading cards.

But I felt low sanity is something the player should want to avoid. The random monster spawning in Consuming Shadow created the issue that you can avoid having to fight anything by leaving and re-entering the room each time a monster spawns, so I made sanity go down if you run away from them. A mechanic which only works if sanity loss is an effective punishment.

To that end, sanity effects are deliberately designed to be a nuisance. Illusory monsters spawn, upon which you can potentially waste bullets before they disappear. Menu options outside of dungeons randomly change to 'Shoot Yourself' in such a way that you can very easily click them accidentally, and the less sanity you have the harder it gets to wrench the gun away from your head in the suicide minigame. Being insane becomes a struggle for control with an alien part of the mind.

Some testers have expressed frustration at dying from suicide after coming quite far. Well, good. That's the idea. Maybe next time try clinging onto your sanity for longer. Take more drugs. They're good for you.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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