Sanity Meters

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Sanity loss is more interesting in the pen&paper-game though since it's in actuality a measure of how far detached you are from your humanity. As your character comes closer to what is actually true you start going insane. As a side effect, the lower your sanity the better your character is at performing magic rituals and the like. In a game where there really is no role-playing it's almost impossible to make a meaningful representation of your character going insane.

What we really need is a lovecraftian RPG. Having dialog options and similar choice paths open and close depending on your sanity sounds workable to me.

Yahtzee doesn't believe in my religion! I will now refuse to ever pay heed to his opinion ever again!


I like the Eternal Darkness approach the most of the bunch but I think sanity meters should be invisible. Don't tell us how sane we are, that way when crazy shit happens I'll be like "Holy shit what the fuck" rather than "oh my sanity is low".

Also I think if your sanity gets too low the game should start conjuring things like fake enemies that disappear when you attack them or something like that. Get you to be unsure as to whether or not you want to use your ammo on the monster as it might be fake.

I approve and endorse this fleeting thought that will never be implemented.

I have ideas for games and concepts I'd like to see implemented in games. Alas I can't program for shit and many if not all of my ideas will never end up in a real game. It sucks :(


That was a lot to digest. I understand well your opinion and you make some good points. But allow me to explain that Alice wasn't a horror game. At least not in the sense that they exist today. It was a bizarre FPS. I realize that it was a health meter on the most basic level, but the labeling of the meter as "sanity" is more in line with the plot. Also Alice was released in 2000 and I don't think sanity meters had been used in the current fashion at that point.


It was a throwaway joke about the fact that while he was talking about sanity meters in games, Alice had a "sanity meter" which was really a health meter and nothing more. You might not have been the only person to think it was a dumb joke, but you're probably one of the only ones who cared enough to post about it.

I'm hoping you're defensive enough to think that it was in any way a knock on the game.

As far as I go, I probably would've enjoyed Alice moreso if it didn't feel like Hot Topic: The Video Game.

Considering Yahtzee's track record of hating 99.5% of games, I think it was a safe assumption. And don't give me that "Hot Topic" crap. Back then Hot Topic was for more for punk kids who wore blue hair and screamed anarchy at passersby or grungy dinguses who worship at the Altar of Cobain and hate life and... Ok, I see your point. But this game is nothing like that dipshit abortion from the mind of Tim Burton. Unless you want to insinuate that Burton stole the plot from McGee in order to mutilate it for the benefit of his kooky fangirls.

Alice wasn't an FPS;it was third person. And it wasn't particularly good at that. That game was a triumph of atmosphere and nothing else....and I still think it was supposed to have been a secret that it was all a hallucination until you figure it out yourself rather than it just telling you this in the intro movie.

Nitpick... It wasn't the greatest game ever, I'm certainly not going to go there. That kind of comment is best left to Nintendrones and Valveheads. If there was any real issue I'd take with Alice it was the overuse of annoying jumping puzzles. But I'll let that slide in consideration of how awesome everything else was.

but Yahtzee you charasmatic devil! Id's FPS-powerhouse-legendary-NIN-sountracked-genre-father QUAKE showed dramatic overtones of Lovecraftian writing! The ominous Quake slurping up every moment of human suffering by implanting his own beings into the human world for reasons floating widely between placing an visceral yardstick up to our capabilities/resilience and simple sadism.

Amnesia is the first game since ALONE IN THE DARK (1992 ed) that has truly made me feel helpless and therefore terrified in every stride I take. Games like DOOM 3 shock the piss out of you, but eventually you feel like Bill Paxton from aliens pouring rounds from the SAW loving the blood and pieces flying every where.... right up until they grab you through the floor boards. Dead Space was basically a gorier and less shocking 3rd person version of DOOM 3... with a terrible love interest sub-plot.

Amnesia made me feel like a shrieking little girl running away from the harry man who just offered me some sweeties.

Ugh Regardless of what you say about Clock Tower 3, that game scares the bloody shit out of me so much I actually feel like said school girl.

The only game that has really frightened me in recent years is the first Condemned: Criminal Origins. I have always imagened that was how Silent Hill would be, if it was in first person.

Lets face it the only truly worthwhile insanity mechanic was playing a Malkavian in VtM:BL where what you see and hear gets twisted.
This us true to Lovecraftian ideals as well and would actually add to the fear of the setting as you (as in the books) really would begin to doubt what is real and what is not.

Lovecrafts books are what is called cumulative horror. That is the first reading, doesn't really scare you. The second is slightly creepy but ok. By the 4th or 5h reading it will give you night mares..
He does this by using the authors insanity. By not telling the reader things and in some cases outright lying (well the story teller is lying) to the reader.

Successful use of insanity as a mechanic would allow this to be translated into a game, ofcourse it would be damn hard to write but thats another story...

Eternal Darkness was great. It had a solid enough story that you could pretty much ignore the sanity mechanic's ridiculousness. That's my opinion, at any rate.

but I agree that sanity meter should not be a bar. Instead, you should have a slight indication of your sanity level by having an enemy that just fades into smoke when hit or the game pretending you've lost control. You know, like in Eternal Darkness, but without the meter.

Its not the meter that simplifying it to much, its what happens when X or Y happens a meter ques a random event the higher the meter goes the higher the rate of events. The trouble is with that you will need meds for sanity and meds for health a one size fits all regeneration system can not handle it thus we will never really see a good exsmaple of it. I think COC:DCOTE went in the right direction. Only the player needs to be aware of the meter like games that use radiation. And most events will not kill you, incited you get one a few random things bad aim,bad sight,better sight,no sound,more acute sound,the ability to kill a thing with one hit and knock you to your feet, the ability to damage self as you hurt others,the ability to damage others while being hurt. Ya you might now and then put a pistol or gun to your ehad but unless its happening in a fight it wont kill you.

The trick is balancing it with meds and positive "rolls".

If the meter is the real problem then health meters need to go by same logic....I say thats madness!


We're all entitled to our opinions, and my reason and logic leads me to a different place then yours does, and that's fine

No, you aren't, and no, it isn't.

It is not OK to be wrong(be definition), and you don't deserve to live in a safe little bubble if someone tries to argue that you are.

Oh, okay. I see we all have to believe like you do, because you're perfect and we're all wrong forever.

Sheesh, you're as bad as those religious nutjobs trying to prevent evolution from being taught.

You're totally right. I'm not allowed to arrive at my conclusion using the facts and logic that seems correct to me, and I'm wrong for stating the statistic that most people believe in God.

What was I thinking, talking philosophy with my atheist friends in order to gain insight into their arguments and so arrive at a conclusion with more knowledge and logic?


I propose we keep sanity, but agree it needs to do something new and snappy, like not appearing on screen.

If they want to represent a player going more insane they should just tie this invisible bar to the game progress and present you with your complimentary jacket. But if they insist on doing something more interactive then perhaps make these events sensitive to play style.
A stealthy non-confrontation type might see more wispy shadows sneaking about, they will have their heavy scare from the horrors already present, put them in positions to be afraid of those horrors.

The macho hack and slash type that's obviously to good at this game to scare with normal enemies now gets hunted down by a pyramid head mirror image of themselves, twisted by the devastation they cause, the flesh and blood they bathe in to continue their existence.

The player that reads to many books and twists their mind outside of reality and it's proper bounds should be confused, overwhelmed, the scenery could gradually become more convoluted and disorienting, like a blood soaked Escher carnival.

Though, I guess that would be better without the sanity bar, just mixing all of the above in Silent Hill 2-2.

It may not have been that scary...well actually it wasn't very scary at all...
but I will admit that I shat bricks when I though that my save-game had been erased in Eternal Darkness...
Although, the sanity effects did start to get a bit...annoying I will admit.

Lovecraft was a cheap pulp author back in his day, maybe his works just were never scary.

Most of the classics revered today were cheap pulp back in the day. Shakespeare and the Sherlock Holmes stories are a couple of examples that spring to mind. Plus countless penny dreadfuls published at a time when the majority of the common people were just discovering that those squiggly marks you find in books corresponded with the words that might come out of their mouth.

Yahtzee Croshaw:
Extra Punctuation: Sanity Meters

Lovecraft doesn't translate too well into videogames.

Read Full Article

For those not familiar with it, Infocom published an excellent Lovecraft story titled, "Lurking Horror." It didn't have a sanity meter, though it was innovative in the sense of being a text adventure with sound effects.

I agree that Call of Cthulhu: DCotE had a strong start that declined into being a simple shooter. In the original novel, "Shadow Over Innsmouth," which the game draws upon for inspiration, the story ended when the protagonist miraculously escaped the town. To its credit, the game introduced much more adventure before escaping the town, though it could have concluded at that point and been stronger in terms of story.

I like the Eternal Darkness approach the most of the bunch but I think sanity meters should be invisible. Don't tell us how sane we are, that way when crazy shit happens I'll be like "Holy shit what the fuck" rather than "oh my sanity is low".

Also I think if your sanity gets too low the game should start conjuring things like fake enemies that disappear when you attack them or something like that. Get you to be unsure as to whether or not you want to use your ammo on the monster as it might be fake.

Cover that part of the screen with a piece of paper >.> pretty sad I know.

Oh, it's true about the bit in Call of Cthulhu: DCotE, where insanity could cause your character to shoot themselves. Part of the plot involved being trapped in a puzzle room that contained a Cthulhu statue. If you spent too much time solving the puzzle, the constant sense of dread from the statue would cause you to use the handgun on yourself.

To picture how this worked in gameplay, you're trying to push a pedestal around, whilst your vision is becoming steadily blurred and movement sluggish because of the Cthulhu statue. So you might have an idea of how to solve the puzzle, but you're fighting the sanity mechanic all the while.

Aside from that puzzle room, most other hits to your sanity would recover over time.

Sanity meters didn't "extend" to the pen-and-paper game Call of Cthulhu... they began there. And in a role play environment sanity rolls and sanity levels totally enhanced the fun of the game, and have an appropriate place.

Much as I love Lovecraft and the pen-and-paper game, I've never played a specifically Lovecraft-inspired computer game--the closest I ever got to that was the original Half-life.

For those who want to read Lovecraft, which I applaud, most are short or medium-sized stories and there are a couple anthologies out there that I recommend: "Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre," (as the better one to start with), and "Dreams of Terror and Death" if you want more, which you should. Both are published by Del Rey and mine are 20 years old so I'm not sure are still in print. Just get an anthology with The Call of Cthulhu, The Dunwich Horror, and Shadow Over Innsmouth--at least those.

I like the Eternal Darkness approach the most of the bunch but I think sanity meters should be invisible. Don't tell us how sane we are, that way when crazy shit happens I'll be like "Holy shit what the fuck" rather than "oh my sanity is low".

Also I think if your sanity gets too low the game should start conjuring things like fake enemies that disappear when you attack them or something like that. Get you to be unsure as to whether or not you want to use your ammo on the monster as it might be fake.

Obviously you didn't do the play through where the sanity spells were the last you receive. That did happen. But besides the extremes, your moments became more jerky and the screen was always looking a bit different. I played a level long enough and it wasn't until someone came in and told me that it was tilted 30 degrees. It was slowly morphing and just set the mood for the eerie temple that made it good.

A hidden bar would be good, but if it goes down to 0 you cracked and were deemed unplayable (read dead). To have a hidden meeter that would "kill" you when it hit the bottom would be deemed cheating or just stupid.

I'm iffy about any gameplay mechanic that imposes an emotion upon the player character, because if the designer did their job properly then the player should be feeling that emotion anyway.

Seriously? You're seriously saying you expect the designer to drive the player insane? Wow. Even ignoring the impossibility factor, how the hell much would that limit designers if their narratives and character responses were confined only to the things that the designer could make the player feel? A wounded character moving slowly? No sir.. after all, the player isn't moving any more slowly, why should the designer impose that just on the character?

Perhaps what you meant to say is that, currently, designers attempts to implement insanity or horror have been piss-poor, and they should stop it until they figure out how to do it better. Okay. That's a little more reasonable, but I'd still have a problem with it as how are they to learn if we keep them from doing anything that doesn't work well?

Really, Shadow Hearts only gets a brief mention, and in a one liner in this thread?

Shadow hearts(1, 2 and 3) had a really interesting take on sanity, IMO. It WAS an rpg, but don't hold that against it for the purposes of the sanity mechanic. It had sanity along with the traditional HP/MP setup, and you lost points each turn, and some attacks (by monsters, usually bosses) and choices made by players during battle would cause that sanity to decline at a greater rate.

The Idea was that even the most hardened heroes would eventually lose their minds and revert to their most base state if they were forced in to battle with Eldritch forces for too long. (in the game, it was sort of a berserk/confuse state)

I think their take on sanity is worth a mention.

On the flipside, I think Fatal Frame (or Project Zero for us european types) is the only game that has managed to seriously freak me out. Playing the first one, I had to make a rule of never playing it after nightfall. Not only did I jump through the ceiling whenever a spook popped out of a door, but I had nightmares about small orange lights following me around.

And by the end of the first chapter I wondred if the kindest thing I could do to my poor protagonist wouldn't be to stop playing, because you just knew that everything was about to go horribly, horribly wrong for her.

That damned game messed with my sanity in ways a meter could never do.

Also, incidentally, CT3 contains some of the most spastic character animations I've ever seen in a game. In some cutscenes people throw absolute fits while conversing with each other. It's like they stuck all the motion capture balls on an octopus in an electric chair.

Hahaha. Reminds me of this:

Why don't Bathesda do a sequel to Dark Corners, imagine a sandbox R.P.G set in Lovecraft country!

I would never leave the house! It would be for me like the unholy union of Wow and Fallout3 two things I am addicted too even to this day!

Though I can manage my addiction, or has my invisible sanity bar just dropped and I haven't noticed!

I have long been fascinated by the Cthulhu mythos, so I guess I'm going to have to disagree with Yahtzee's assessment of the lack of impact of Lovecrafts' work nowadays.

Then, as much as now, there is an underlying idea of a True Benevolent God, a reflection of the perfection we should all strive to acheive, and no logic can ever shake the foundation of the Human Ego. Astrophysics do not correlate in any notion of our daily lives, and, as such, deep down most people still have an inconscient notion of being in the centre of the Universe.

For me, the lack of moral of the Outer Gods and Elder Ones was, and still is, a strike at those morals. Why, yes there are most certainly greater things than what our minds perceive, but our lack of capacity to understand them would make it all seem abhorrent and impossible for us to correlate with (unless you were driven insane). Sure, in Call of Cthulhu it is given the impression that Cthulhu will rise and eat everyone, bringing down insanity and fire and blahdly blah. But most of the stories are not so clear cut in the Evil department. We are just insignificant and THEY are so much greater, so eternal, so multi-dimensional, that our mere gaze at those fascinating creatures has a devastating impact in our psyche.

The main problem with Cthulhu games, lies not with the fact they decide to add an insanity meter (for me it is just a silly way of having a second heatlh meter). The blurry camera does nothing for me, that much is true, but the attempt of Eternal Darkness was a good one.

The main problem with a Mythos game lies in the fact, that in the books, the horrors which lie beyond the veil of our reality are never fully decribed. The picture is painted by explaining how utterly impossible for our feebles minds it would be to try and describe the eternal horror that was rising upon the character. The surrounding environments shift to geometries that are not related to this world, the air vanishes becoming a vile miasma, and even in blindness the astronomical horror can creep inside the mind of the viewer, forever etching a sign that would make sure that the routine world that we all live in is shown for what it truly is - a façade to keep us all sane.

Now unless you were playing one of those text-adventure games, it's hard to not show the monster, hinting at it instead. Even with groundbreaking graphics, it'd be hard to make a shift in the environment that would ammount to anything more than being slightly darker. In a videogame you cannot leave holes and hope that the imagination of the player fills the gaps, which the books and pen&paper can.

The monster will be shown eventually, and as big and ugly it will be, it will actually just be a giant blob with tentacles, something whose fear-inducind abilities have loooooong been destroyed by hentai.

I have no idea what sanity meters have to do with Lovecraft. As Yathzee said, it risks harming the elements of horror rather than infusing it.

A Lovecraftian horror game with more focus on actual horror and not the gameplay mechanic of... strangeness would add to the potential of the genre greatly I'm sure of.

Personally, I didn't mind the Call of Cthulu: DCotE's sanity meter. I've managed to get Mr Walters to kill himself by constantly examining bodies in the morgue of the prologue. (He strangled himself.)

Allow me to come up with an alternative sanity meter.

Your character can only endure X amount of insanity throughout the game.

For example, your character will have 100% sanity. Differing things will take away different amounts of sanity. You can recover some of that sanity by leaving the area - but you can never truly recover it all, ever.

Say you end up rubbing shoulders with Cthulu or something he will take away 1% of your sanity per second upon contact and the longer you stay with him he will end up taking away 2 or 3% of your sanity.

Say he's taken away 10% sanity, you can only hope to recover something like 8% sanity. Seeing him has well and truly scarred your character's mind. The game can tweak the endings slightly judged on how much sanity you have left.

For example...

Good Ending - High Sanity: Hero saves the world, gets the girl and lives happily ever after.
Good Ending - Low Sanity: Hero saves the world but ends up in the local nut-house.
Bad Ending - High Sanity: Hero joins the bad guy as his right hand but keeps the girl.
Bad Ending - Low Sanity: Hero joins the bad guy but serves as a lowly mook.

I swear Alice wasn't a shooter at all. Loved the Atmosphere, but the damn thing was a jumping platformer lol.

Spent more time falling off stuff than busting heads.

Now unless you were playing one of those text-adventure games, it's hard to not show the monster, hinting at it instead. Even with groundbreaking graphics, it'd be hard to make a shift in the environment that would ammount to anything more than being slightly darker. In a videogame you cannot leave holes and hope that the imagination of the player fills the gaps, which the books and pen&paper can.

The key to horror, IMHO, is never fully showing what is there--just pieces of an incomplete puzzle.

Your FPS horror-game will need to have minions and cultists to eat shotgun shells and generate some mild sense of threat and impediment to foward motion, and then evil lieutenant "bosses" to bring in the occasional difficulty-spike, but there needs to be a sense of something beyond that, some great and terrible mastermind lurking in the shadows, some greater evil going on all around you, that you can sense is there, somewhere, but never quite have the whole picture.

Insanity in video games should work like dark-side points in star wars games. Basically they affect which story path the character takes. Too many insanity points and you get the 'Bad End.'

Sir John the Net Knight:
Yahtzee took a shot at "Alice"... Oh good lord, is nothing sacred to this guy?

(Short answer: No...)

Well he never said it was a bad game. I loved that game with the brilliant trippy artwork that was insanely good, especially for 2000. Actually I go back and still play it sometimes.

But Yahtzee's right, while from the context of the story it made sense to called it a sanity bar as Alice is never physically hurt; she's just going insane. However, as a gameplay mechanic yeah, it's pretty much just a health bar.

It did look cool though.

I have been thinking about maybe reading through some lovecraft someday, is the any book in perticular which would be the best to start with, or?

Any one of the collections will do you fine. They are all short stories, and there's no actual "books" per se, just collections of his work. There are actually a couple online sites where you can read through ALL of his work for free :)

I thought out of all those games, CoCDCOTE did it the best, as there was no physical "meter" on your screen -- the stuff just happened to you. Logically it never made sense though. You lose sanity when you see a dead body, but not when you kill people. Huh?

I think Indigo Prophecy's was probably the worst. First of all, you could only max out at "Neutral," which is completely stupid, considering some of the tasks you could perform to increase your mood included having sex (you'd think that would put you above neutral). Then other trivial stuff would lower your mood and make you depressed, such as standing around in a room a minute too long. Similar to Eternal Darkness, there were so many constant opportunities to refill your meter that it never really presented itself as a problem.

Lucifer dern:
my ed games design teacher worked on call of cuthulu, will have to show him this :p

I'm bit disturbed that anyone involved in making that insanely-buggy piece of crap is now teaching people how to make games. The beginning 1/4 of the game was fantastic, but the rest was complete garbage. Severely broken garbage. In fact, I have yet to finish the game because of a bug that prevents you from moving on near the very end.

Eternal Darkness scared the noodles out of me, I thought the sanity meter was incredibly clever.

he totally forgot to mention scooby-doo:classic creep capers!_Classic_Creep_Capers

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