Horror in Roguelike Games, Part 1 : Gore
"I remember when I was with Special Forces, seems thousand centuries ago, we went into a camp to inoculate some children. We'd left the camp after we inoculated the children for polio. This old man came running after us, he was crying, he couldn't say... We went back there, and they have come and hacked off every inoculated arm... There they were in a pile. Pile of little arms, and I remember... I.. I.. I cried, I wept, like some... grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out, I didn't know what I wanted to do... And I never want to forget... I never want to forget."
-- "Apocalypse Now!", Francis Ford Copolla
Gore as a theme for a roguelike game. Not impossible. Althoughthe best effect one would achieve using graphics (for most of the elements of gore are purely visual) the "feeling" can be also achieved by the proper use of standard ASCII.
Oh, check out a RPG system called Violence. That's pure gore...
So you want to make a game with elements of gore, huh? Well, go to your local Video Renting place and rent a bunch of "horror" movies. Watch them all night, and I grant you, you will be able to think gore in the morning. What is gore, I already described in the previous article. Today I'll talk about some details of implementation. But still one has to remeber that gore is mainly a visual theme, so if you use plain ASCII implementation might be tricky.
The gore theme is not suitable for all settings of roguelikes. It goes the best with modern or near-future games with supernatural beings. Of course you can do a medieval gore game, but it would be trickier. You can also do a science-fiction gore game, where instead of zombies and living-dead you have aliens that spill ther entrails all around. The alien theme is quite good actually, if you aproach it with Geiger-like wierdness -- concentrate on biological things then, on eggs, on alien-mothers, and the like. Use Aliens II as a reference (The Alien sereis isn't pure gore though).
Forget about skill-systems, forget about realistic combat. It's only the bloodshed and carnage that counts. Choose a setting that allows you maximum combat, with small risk. The character supposed to face tons of enemies, and emerge victorious out of a pool of blood/acid and a pile of bones/organs/brains/whatever...
Systems with guns work especialy well, because of the carnage you can do with modern weaponary. Let the player carry around as much weaponary as he likes.
The descriptions in combat should be bloody and full of disgusting details -- you should be able to severe the enemies limbs, heads, cut them in half, make them explode and the like -- you don't need a detailed limb system though -- the descriptions will be enough. Remember about splattered brains, hearts, heads.
You have to decide on a proper enemy for your player. The more the merrier. Decide on some cannon fodder enemies -- let it be zombies, skeletons, living dead in a modern or ancient setting, biologicaly animated dead people and animals in a near-future setting, or aliens in a science-fiction setting. The rule is that there should be plenty of them, and they should be relatively easy to kill. The player should be attacked by hordes, and i mean HORDES of them.
You also need bosses -- the arch enemies you encounter from time to time. They need to be though. Also it's nice to surround them with cannon fodder or, even better, let them spawn cannon fodder. In a medieval setting it might be a deamon. In a modern setting, a master-brain... or a living evil Heart of the Dungeon. In an alien setting, an alien-queen. It's always nice to make the enemies as wierd and digusting as possible.
Enemies need to have names (or descriptions) that make them wierd and disgusting... Like the Living Brain-Heart of Darkness, a Brain-Eater, Skull Deamon, Animated Rotting Corpse, Living Flesh Wall... or whatever. Hellish creature names also work well.
In a modern game with guns, it's nice to make the player paranoid about the creatures getting too close -- make hand-to-hand combat deadly for the player.
A good idea for gore enemies are floating/crawling/walking bodyparts like flying brains, four-legged hearts, crawling hands and the like.
Add enemies, that can be only destroyed in certain ways, like only with a direct hit in the heart, only damaged by holy water or fire. For example you can add zombies, that stand after a while up, unless killed by fire, oor unless you cut their heads of. Add semi-immortal bosses, like creatures that you cannot kill unless when you kill their heart which is on a pedestal somewhere in the old mansion.
In futuristic settings a great idea is to connect flesh to machinery, to create half-living monsters. I loved Doom for that. Just remind yourself of the Cyberdeamons...
Blood and bodyparts
Lot's of those. Make normal eneemies leave at least a red dot on the floor when they die -- arch-enemies should splat and leave lots of their interior around. You can even make a modern game, where the player has no guns, and must use fallen zombie bodyparts as weapons. Leave bodyparts on the floor as items.
Blood is also important. Track the amount of blood on the floor and serve the player with a description from time to time: "You are knee deep in blood.", "Your movement is slowed, the blood is very thick.", make him swim in blood. The more the better ;).
As a twist for futuristic games, you can make some monsters (e.g. aliens) spill green acid instead of blood. Make the player have problems with that acid -- it causes damage (if you don't have good boots), destroys armor when you kill an alien hand-to-hand, and creates pits in the ground when acid melts through a metal floor.
This realy depends on the setting, but is a realy important in the gore genre.
Medieval and the like -- swords, axes, halaberds, the bigger the better. Also crossbows, and bows. If you go the spiritual way, add blessed weapons, holy symbols and holy water. You can also use torches (a great idea), and "burning oil" (it isn't historically accurate, butr who the hell cares?). A lot more can be introduced with magic. Create special "holy" artifacts with gore names (like "Skullcrusher", "Brainsmasher" and the like), add some disgusting effects to them when used (like an acid spitting crossbow, a chainsword like blade, vorpal blades (snicker-snack!)). A whole new world opens with the introduction of spells... remember to add infernal spells with gore-like effects like "blood boilng", "body implosion", "sign of blood"... Also thing like "sanctuary" come in handy. Some spell should go well with the blood ideas -- the enemies should die in an effective display of bloody fireworks. Fire spells are also important.
Modern -- You can either go for high-tech, low-tech or both. High tech would be guns, rifles, and (yes!) shotguns! You may also add automatic rifles, and bazookas (just imagine the tons of enemies being splattered around). All kinds of explosives are also welcome -- explosions produce a lot of gore, and grenades are rely good for blowing things up. For me the double-barreled shotgun is the thing... (ever played Doom II?). Low-tech modern weapons would include tools (shovels, hatchets, jackhammers, drilling devices and the like -- they are very gore producing), especialy chainsaws (oh, yes). When implementing motor propelled tools remember that such things are loud, and they produce realy disgusting effects. Don't make the chainsaw just another weapon. Remind the player from time to time that he's using a chainsaw "The chainsaw vibrates in your hands... Vroom!!!". Also add some descriptions of the feeling the player has for his weapon ("Vroom!! The chainsaw demands blood!"). Add fuel -- it makes the player value his weapon. You can also go fully low-tech -- pipes, baseball bats, planks with nails and the like.
Science-Fiction -- use the futuristic versions of weapons mentioned above, and add some new interesting devices like vibro-axes, living bullets, acid sprayers and flamers. Yes, the last one is realy important (also in modern-tech). Burning is the second best thing after blowing up (remember Aliens II?). Also add some gore-related cyber-tech like claws mounted in the hand, or a built in chainsaw. The bigger and more Frankenstein-like the better.
Also depends on the setting. In modern and older settings, you would probably use old-mansions, deserted cities (no one left living :), dungeons, caves, sewers, old factories and castles. If you use a lot of magic, then the action later in the game can travel beyond the natural world to places like hell, inferno, pandemonium, the abbys, and the like. Make those places realy hellish, though.
In a more advanced world you can use high-tech factories (which produce living-dead for example, and living half-machine complexes.
In science-fiction a nice way is to first guide the player through massacred human complexes, then bring him on board of alien bases and ships. Aliens can have bio-technology, so even doors, or even whole spaceships may be out there against you. A nice boss for a science fiction alien game is to destroy the literal Heart of the alien spaceship.
Yes, there may be place for humor in the gore-genre. First type is the humor of weaponary -- those chainsaws may produce wierd messages, and the named weapons may have realy gore-funny names. Blood, blood everywhere. The second type is dark sarcasm. Ironical messages, or not-on-place remarks by NPCs or "player thoughts". 'Well, he was dead anyway'. 'Oh, a normal humanoid! Two hands, two legs, a head and a torso. Bang! Two hands, two legs, a head... no torso. Damn' those modern shotguns!'
You need a supernatural and wierd/disgusting story as a background for your game. You also need a known (or unknown?) arch-enemy, that is disgusting, huge, and menancing. It's noce too add stories about an end of the world if the evil isn't stopped.
For medieval themes, the main plot elements would be undead or infernal creatures. You may have the mission to kill the Devil, or the Plauge Lord. It may be also smaller in scale -- kill the Apostol of Disease or the Plauge Bearer.
For modern times you just need an evil spirit/being that innfested the local sewers/old mansion/factory.
In science fiction it would be either an alien base/ship, or an invasion of evil.
Cut your plot idea into episodes, and make the episodes visible for the player. Give him a feeling of accomplishment.
One of the examples that I mostly like is Doom.
Episode I: Knee deep in dead -- you land with your co-soldiers on Phobos, one of the moons of Mars. There have been strange experiments going on about interdimensional portals. You are assigned to guard the ship. After landing, after a while the radio goes silent. You take you're trusted gun and enter the base alone...
Episode II: The shores of Hell -- after clearing the base you get transported by the portal to the lost Deimos Base. There you meet the CyberBaron of Hell (or something)
Episode III: Inferno! -- after you kill the badguy on Deimos it turns out that the base is floating over Hell itself! You take on further carnage and finaly stand against the lord of the hellish invasion himself -- the Arch-Vile brain-on-spider-like CyberDeamon.
I think that a gore-themed roguelike game isn't especialy hard to achive, and despite of the lacks in story, it may be really fun to play. I still enjoy playing Doom from time to time... I'm looking forward to see a Gore RL.
As always I'm open to comments, suggestions, ideas, and death threats.