Living With Consequences In The Uncanny Valley

By Alice O'Connor on April 30th, 2014 at 12:00 pm.

Don't mind the skeletons.

Dying in video games has become an awful lot more interesting in recent years, with a wide spectrum from permadeath in roguelike-likes to the die-restart-go-die-restart-go of Super Meat Boy and Hotline Miami. Something I’ve been keen to see more of, though, is games where dying isn’t the main failure state, where things go wrong and we need to roll with the consequences.

Side-on survival horror Uncanny Valley is having a crack at this, not killing the player (mostly) but instead affecting the character and the story. Given that this story appears to be about nasty things going on in an android research plant, that sounds pleasingly dreadful.

Starring a security guard who gets bored at his job in a strange facility then starts poking around, Uncanny Valley’s looking back to ye olden golden days of survival horror. It’s said to focus on exploration, puzzles, and occasional awful things attacking you rather than the shootiness that’s more common nowadays. (The ‘uncanny valley,’ I’m sure you already know, is a term referring to how how things which look almost-but-not-quite human often give us the screaming abdabs.)

That not-dying, then. The developers explain, “dying and repeating the same section over and over is tedious and leads to frustration. The game stops being scary if you’re angry and just want to rush through it, so we think that adding such a system will still keep the tension while adding a new layer to scariness.” They give the example of dodging an attack then ending up moving slower, though a few potential deaths are still planned.

I bet £20 you won't eat a bit of that roboskin, Tom.

Several games have dabbled in undeath including later Fable games, where ‘dying’ saw you knocked out and left with a lasting scar. The idea often frustrates players. Something about knowing we’ve cocked up and have to live with consequences nags at part of us that wants to ‘beat’ the game systems and play the ‘best,’ not wanting to continue in a way we deem suboptimal rather than simply different. It’s not how we’re trained to understand games are, so this jabs at our jellycomputers. That’s perhaps a good feeling to inspire in survival horror.

The dev team are asking for €5,000 (£4,100-ish) on Indiegogo to pay for things like a Photoshop license and that daft Steam Greenlight fee. They’re using Indiegogo’s flexible funding option so they’ll still get whatever’s been pledged if they don’t hit the goal, and say they’d just go ahead and finish Uncanny Valley more slowly anyway. If all goes grand, they hope to launch around Halloween.

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11 Comments »

  1. Nevard says:

    I wish they’d given more examples because I don’t really get how this is going to work.
    If a scary monster gets you then it bites you and develop a limp? But then what? Does biting you also kill it or can it bite you again? You’re moving slower now anyway, so after a point aren’t consecutive bitings going to make avoiding becoming further food almost impossible? How maimed can your character get?
    I’d imagine there’s just not a lot of situations where scary monsters bite your character but it still could have done with more explanation.

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      Rizlar says:

      Yeah, it would be interesting to know how they plan to tackle the issue. Really great idea, and not just for horror games, though as the dev points out dying and repeating a section really does ruin the core tension of that type of game. Games I can think of that deal with failure well seem to be simulations/management style games. You can fuck stuff up and spend the next several hours trying to recover from the mistakes. Like the Dwarf Fortress idea of ‘fun’ – a fort that runs smoothly is probably a boring fort!

      So it would be cool if failure comes through in the story, by effecting the world. Like through failing a fight you miss the chance to activate something important, or someone gets killed who could have helped you, or an object in your possession gets lost/broken/eaten by a maniacal android, meaning you have to take another route. Probably need to hint at what the player is missing out on, so they can appreciate the consequences of their actions. Of course you don’t want success to make things boring, so perhaps what you don’t show the player who fails is that success at a task actually leads to even more intense and difficult situations, encouraging players of all skill levels to fail at some point. Couple that with some physical side effect of getting your arse handed to you, like a limp, and failing could be very emotive. Obviously both the fail and success paths would need to feel complete and enjoyable in themselves for it to work.

  2. Eight Rooks says:

    Please do not hold Fable up as an example of making the player live with any kind of consequence whatsoever. There was absolutely nothing that happened to your character in Fable 2, at least, which you couldn’t undo with minimal effort (if that). So many developers seem wilfully blind to the reality that if you want players to live with the consequences of X, Y or Z, you’re going to have to force permanent changes (or at least very long-lasting changes) onto their avatar which many of them are not going to like. That’s part of what makes “living with the consequences” meaningful. I hope this game doesn’t fall into that trap, but I’m not holding my breath or anything.

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      Bugamn says:

      A game that I feel has succeed in making consequences was Dark Souls. You can kill the NPCs, but they won’t return. Some bodies will even stay far longer than I would like.

  3. Stardreamer says:

    Is this the very first time a game has used that title? If so, HOW HAS IT TAKEN THIS LONG?

    • Unclepauly says:

      1st thing that came to my mind as well. Whoever came up with the name should get 25% of the profits based on this alone.

  4. Kittim says:

    There isn’t anything daft about the Greenlight setup fee. Not if your Valve at any rate.

    • The Random One says:

      I suppose there isn’t anything daft about paying $100 for nothing if you’re a megacorporation that makes millions every day. There is for normal folks who like to use their $100 for eating and paying rent.

  5. Baffle Mint says:

    Something about knowing we’ve cocked up and have to live with consequences nags at part of us that wants to ‘beat’ the game systems and play the ‘best,’ not wanting to continue in a way we deem suboptimal rather than simply different.

    Well, I would argue that in many games it’s not so much that we deem certain options as suboptimal as that they just are suboptimal.

    In a lot of games the only consequence for failure is to make failure more likely in the future; you miss the hidden weapon, so the boss is a lot harder. You use up all your ammo and you can’t kill guys too well by punching them. You don’t rescue all the hostages in the level so now you won’t get the good ending.

    In a lot of games, non-death failures either lock you out of achieving your goals, or just make the game more difficult and frustrating. There’s not much reason to embrace either of these things.

    • Josh W says:

      That’s true, one of the problems with lasting consequences is that each one produces a change in the ongoing game, and although that’s really cool in general, many versions of it can make the game unfun. People go around bug-fixing more complex games when emergent effects make things uncomplete-able, but a similar problem arises when accruing enough problems makes the game unplayably difficult, or just boring.

      Those games that dwarf fortress you from one disaster to another work because they give you flexibility in how you respond, flexibility that only really kicks in when things start to go wrong and you have to adapt. They change the domain in which the interesting gameplay is happening. Wario is another good old example, every effect applied to your character is a change in gameplay, but most of that gameplay is in itself interesting.

      I think any game that embraces this has to give up on a whole set of precision requirements that people make of players, and replace them with choices based on assessment of your own capabilities. In a game that’s not this, a simple platformish one for example, the skill might not be in making a precision jump, but in judging whether you can make the jump at all. In a game like this you could do it more subtly, and I think there’s something brilliant for a horror game in making players aware of their limitations, giving them opportunities to test them, but keeping that slight edge of uncertainty about the exact regions in which they are safe or unsafe, similarly to how the old thief games worked.