A Dying Art: Man Versus Machine

What if your computer wanted to kill you? Imagine entire worlds that contain nothing more important than a terrifying machine intelligence that absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead. Through the filter of aliens, robots and an Atari 2600, here are some thoughts on why it’s good to run, to hide and to die.

A bullet ricochets off a wheel axle and the onlookers fall silent. The splinters of wood that kick into the air could just as easily be splinters of bone, shattering from a wrist or a skull. Billy scrabbles in the dust, fires another shot, hears a coughing gasp. Clenches his fist tighter around the gun, clenches himself tighter around himself, feels warmth flood down his thighs, the waters of life broken, red soaking through the thickness of his chaps. He didn’t even hear the shot.

That was David Crane’s Atari 2600 port of Outlaw, although it was more of an adaptation than a port, adding two-player support and obstacles like the wagon that was pathetically implied in my verbal meanderings. Along with Joust, it was my first experience of multiplayer gaming, before I had a crack at Pong and long before LANs and Doom became a teenage obsession.

It’s weird to remember how important multiplayer games were to me back then, but as the years (decades) have taken their toll, I’ve become more of a singleton, fascinated by systems and simulations, which I’m much happier studying when I’m alone with them. I’m like a monk in my cell, poking at pretend history and occasionally writing a screed about how important and fascinating it all is.

Thinking back to the days before Doom got me thinking about playing games side by side and, more than that, games in which the setup is one vs one, whether both agents are played by a human or not. Beyond beat ‘em ups and some sports games, it’s not something I come across very often. Nowadays it’s all 42,000 vs 65,002, or a fictional world with so many people from the real world in it that sometimes I think I might as well have stayed there. I tend to enjoy reading about those games more than I enjoy playing them.

Flip Outlaw on its side and there’s a gun at the bottom and a gun at the top, with obstacles scattered about the screen to hide behind. Replace that top gun with twenty and counter their numerical advantage by having them move and fire predictably and you’re looking at something similar to Space Invaders. What if the one smart opponent was more popular than the many stupid ones? What if there had been just the one Space Invader, cunning, resourceful and intelligent?

Two of my favourite films have never been made into games and I reckon they’d both suit the one vs one style of play to perfection. They are, of course, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Sleuth. The first, a bitter and eviscerating dialogue-based investigation of a relationship in which every word is a needle directed at the heart; the second, a mystery about character and the workings of the mind, a nightmare in which neither player can be sure, until the end, whether they are winning or losing, or even what the rules of the game really are.

Bullshit. I actually want to talk about Alien and The Terminator. But haven’t there been loads of games based on those two? No! The hypothetical person asking that question has fallen into my trap. I’m talking specifically about the first films, Alien without an ‘s’ and The Terminator that cast Schwarzenegger as an inhuman, terrifying killing machine rather than Edward Furlong’s creepy uncle.

An unbelievably true life story

The Alien series, as seen again in the upcoming Colonial Marines, almost exclusively translate across to the interactive realm in “THIS TIME IT’S WAR” mode, although Alec just brought my attention to the Spectrum version, which does utilise the Nostromo. I love that ship. It’s a ramshackle, industrial coffin and an ideal setting for a game. One player, one alien, a smattering of doomed NPCs. You could even ditch the NPCs, make it an even lonelier and more terrifying experience, but as long as they’re mainly meat for the meatgrinder, I reckon they’re allowed to take part.

The xenomorph though? That bastard is computer controlled. When it tears through a vent and rips your face off, you shouldn’t be high fiving your buddy because he/she mastered the ‘wall pounce’ and you shouldn’t be able to see through its eyes. You cannot understand how it works and when it kills you, you won’t have anyone to congratulate. The only ‘gg’ that you should ever say will be contained within an ‘arrgggghhhh’.

Think Amnesia but with a persistent, intelligent monster and a branching maze that turns back on itself, inward, up and down. No linear progression and barely any chance of survival. Even if NPCs dying all over the place, chances are it’s going to come down to a horrible game of hide and seek between you and the monster. I’d like my Alien game to be a sibling of System Shock rather than Doom, even if there is an aesthetic appeal to hordes of the horrible things scurrying across a ceiling that I won’t deny.

I will never get tired of this picture

The Terminator would provide an entirely different experience and one that two players could enjoy together. It’s only natural that games have concentrated on the robot war aspect of Terminator’s story because there are people in the original film who don’t have guns. In fact, the film’s hero is a woman who is terrified but brave, who has no combat training but nevertheless faces down overwhelming odds. A bit like Ripley in fact, although Connor does have a bit more help, in the form of sterling future-man Kyle Reese.

I’d rather play Reese running around the 1980s than a grunt in the war against Skynet – better music back then – but putting the solo player in soldier’s shoes, even if he does have to borrow them, would be a mistake. Congratulations, you have made not just an escort mission but an escort game.

No. The game must begin in blood and terror, at the moment that Sarah first realises that she is being hunted. Run and hide, player one, your friend has been killed and you are next.

basically imagine the exact opposite of this screenshot and you'll have an idea of the kind of thing I'm talking about

Then it’s hide and seek again, but this time across a city, packed with people. The Terminator knows what Sarah looks like and it (probably) cannot be stopped, at least not with THESE weapons. As with the xenomorph, the methods by which it hunts and tracks are a mystery hidden in the code because you cannot be the hunter, although a second player could be Reese, I guess, although I’m enough of a bastard to plead for an alternate timeline in which he accidentally went back to 1884, 12 Monkeys style, and ended up punching a particularly lifelike marionette.

Sarah would have to survive – eating, drinking, sleeping. The city could be managed in discrete blocks, as she moves from one, another is generated from prepared components. The Terminator strikes randomly and she could spend hours of playtime without seeing it, but it’s always out there somewhere. At first it might stalk, a silent assassin wanting to be sure it didn’t attract unwanted attention, but eventually, if she survived its initial attempts on her life, it would cause wholesale destruction and bring down the attention of the law and perhaps even the military.

Is it a first-person game or isometric? Does it focus on resource management and survival, or finding a means to fight back? I reckon there’s room for several interpretations. Heck, do it in ASCII and serve up a Terminator Roguelike!

ain't no party like a spy party party

All of this is quite a leap from Outlaw, sure, but when I play with the technologies we have now and think of these stories that are so much a part of our culture, I want to see how we could tell them again. And again and again and again. Howard Scott Warshaw dealt with the limitations of the 2600 by converting an adaptation into the bizarre and brilliant Yar’s Revenge (also E.T.) and Geoff Crammond’s The Sentinel had thousands of environments and one, sinister enemy.

The limitations of technology today are incomparable but when so much is possible it can be instructive to set artificial obstructions. What if procedural worlds were possible but they could only contain one artificial intelligence? Who or what would it be? How would it discover the player, or the player discover it? We don’t necessarily need new genres or even franchises – although I genuinely would like to see the Sleuth game – but a shift in scale and perspective on some well-worn ideas would be wonderful.

Terminator and Alien games are about people shooting things, but it’s not much of a stretch to see them as games about a single person evading a single thing. Spy Party is a brilliant example of one person facing another in a thoughtful arena, and this is a brilliant dissection of how it can work, but let’s clamour for more. Aliens and robots will always want us dead, that’s one of the first things games taught me, but if we must die, let’s hope to do so in a thousand fascinating ways.


  1. RedViv says:

    I myself did wonder about the lack of one-on-one, PC vs AI games, not too long ago, while scribbling down ideas for a Cthulhu RPG session. One incomprehensible and very alien creature, one last survivor of a group of way too nosy investigators. These always end so interesting, so why not bring that to digital games?

    Then again: Amnesia – A World of Kaernk?
    I am not entirely sure…

    • rhondalance13 says:

      up to I looked at the bank draft saying $8267, I didn’t believe that…my… brother trully bringing home money part time online.. there aunt haz done this for under twenty months and by now paid for the mortgage on there villa and got a brand new Chevrolet. go to.. link to zapit.nu

      • SocraticIrony says:

        1. They can afford to pay for you to have a private English tutor then.
        2. If they’re doing so well why did they buy a Chevvy? Its the american equivalent of Kia these days.

  2. Raiyan 1.0 says:

    Meanwhile, The Man is planning to kill our Beautiful Machines.

    Yeah, Intel’s next processor, the Broadwell, will not come in an LGA package. CPU soldered directly to motherboards. Can’t see integrated audio and video far off either.

    Better not fuck up this chance AMD.

    • soldant says:

      Except there are a lot of holes in that theory, namely that it doesn’t mean all future CPUs won’t use a socket, and although semiaccurate has a source they’re still not the best place for news. They think enthusiasts use ARM CPUs!

      • ulix says:

        This could either be a bot, or some really good and fitting trolling. Probably a bot.

      • Premium User Badge

        james.hancox says:

        That’s because they are… how many young hackers do you think are working on phone jailbreaks, and custom ROMs, instead of playing around on a PC?

      • Sparkasaurusmex says:

        Yeah, enthusiasts will have a couple of those! If you’re an enthusiast and you can get a Pi for $35 why wouldn’t you have a few?

    • SuicideKing says:

      I somehow doubt. Will haswell/broadwell be used in SoCs? Yes. Will processors eventually be transformed into SoCs? Well, yes. You have the memory controller, GPU and CPU on the same die already. It’s the next step in CPU evolution, i think.

      But then you’ll plug the SoC into the mobo, i’m guessing. I doubt Intel’s going to destroy the openness of the PC platform all too soon.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      i3/i5 have had integrated video for a while now, and just because a leaked roadmap of dubious provenance doesn’t mention socketed CPUs, doesn’t mean Intel will suddenly insist on soldered CPUs for evermore.

  3. Nick says:

    You should maybe try this: link to terminator.wikia.com

    • Oculardissonance says:

      I made mod back in the day link to fallout3.nexusmods.com we were all set to make a new version in new vegas with new models and everything but the new vegas enviorment and engine were kinda shit to be honest, I lost interest.

    • Oozo says:

      Also, Friday The 13th on the Commodore 64. It’s pretty much you against THE MONSTER. Even though you eventually learn how to take it down, it still ranks as one of the most intense gaming experiences of all time for me. (And, come to think of it, there was something Spy Party-esque to it. Somebody should remake it.)

      • Kefren says:

        I loved that game. Would turn the brightness down on the TV as the game went on to simulate night coming. I remember the first time there was a scream and an image of a bloody head, we all jumped.

  4. Radiant says:

    “We built them so that we could move on to other things… unfortunately that meant the afterlife”

    • Radiant says:

      “We opened up our hearts and minds to create them. They opened up our hearts and minds to defeat us”

    • Radiant says:

      “My sheen gleams under the sheen of the machine’s gleam”

    • Radiant says:

      “Machines run the world. Humans just run.”

      • Radiant says:

        Humans run the machine world. Machines run the world, humans run.

    • Radiant says:

      “In creating an electric city we created an eclectic city till the robots left nothing but electricity”

    • Radiant says:

      “We gave them our faces to help them fit into our lives. They took our places and replaced us with lies”

    • Radiant says:

      “We created games for us to play. How long before the games play us?”

    • Radiant says:

      “He made the machine to better look at the world. He awoke one day to find the machine looking at him.”

    • Radiant says:

      I feel I can write these forever.
      I’m quite the machine.

      • Squishpoke says:

        For awhile I thought you were actually quoting from books or movies.

        They are quite good.

    • SuicideKing says:

      I thought these were references from Foundation and Earth, i haven’t read that but i know there’ll be lots of robots. :D

  5. musurca. says:

    You know, I assume, that one of the earliest open-world games was Bethesda’s THE TERMINATOR, in which you moved around Los Angeles as either Kyle Reese or The Terminator himself, stealing food and guns to survive? Not a perfect game, but way ahead of its time. Not sure why it hasn’t been remade yet.

    • HadToLogin says:

      Licence/money. And add no new movie coming along, poor reception of Terminator4, lack of comics or TV shows, which means it’s not popular enough to generate profits, and that’s your reason “why nobody remakes it”.

      • mckertis says:

        The same can be said about Aliens (except Terminator did have a TV show), yet we keep getting pretty much the same Alien-based game over and over and over and over and over and over. Or Ghostbusters game. Or the Lego LOTR game just the other week.

        • HadToLogin says:

          From what I know, Aliens still have comics. And they nearly had a movie not-so-long-ago (Prometheus was meant to be prequel, and that something changed). And those games sold pretty nice, so they try to sell it again and again – which can’t be said about latest Terminator games (not those Bethesda games), which were crap.
          Wasn’t there a single game about ghostbusters (like every movie tries to get game, in case enough will be be tricked and buy it, seeing only it’s name?).
          And Lego is friggin popular alone, add some licenced movie to it, and you have good selling name without much trying. And add good gameplay (because those LEGO games are actually playable), and it’s no surprise people want to buy them.

          • mckertis says:

            “From what I know, Aliens still have comics.”

            They do, a couple issues every five years or something. Same with Terminator.

            “add good gameplay (because those LEGO games are actually playable)”

            Lost me there.

    • iucounu says:

      Oh, sorry, you’d already mentioned it. I think Adam’s penance for missing it ought to be a diary series based on playing it.

    • tensegrity says:

      The Terminator was a fantastic game and incredibly hard. I still remember one of the few times I was able to complete the mission in either role. I was the Terminator and Reese had already put many rounds into me, I could barely walk, and vision was failing. I managed to steal a car and point it toward Sarah Connor as she fled on foot across a grassy lawn. The car swerved wildly due to the primitive controls, but I managed to run her down. Good times.

  6. Scroll says:

    I would love to play both of these concepts.

    Going up against a more powerful Artificial opponent, in an open environment with no set goals sounds fantastic.

    I would hope that Creative Assembly’s Alien game they sort of half announced a while back does play around with these ideas.

  7. Squishpoke says:

    There is a source mod called The Hidden, which involves one player playing as an invisible flying madman versus a squad of gun-toting soldiers. Yeah, the Hidden isn’t a single player game, but it is definitely worth checking out.

    “What if procedural worlds were possible but they could only contain one artificial intelligence? Who or what would it be? How would it discover the player, or the player discover it?”

    You know, this got me thinking of a I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream spin-off. It would be neat if you were a player in AM’s world, and AM’s total existence is to make you miserable in a generated world of its vision.

    • I_have_no_nose_but_I_must_sneeze says:

      I like that idea. There are so many imaginative – and more importantly, horrific – ways it could play out. Like a System Shock taking place entirely within Shodan’s mind, with all the resulting mind-fuckery that implies.

  8. Fede says:

    Very interesting read, thanks.

    I have only read Who is Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, but I have enjoyed it immensely. If you happen to stumble on it, try reading The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, of the same author.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      I can confirm that The Goat is a thing of brilliance.

    • hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

      Having both read and seen the film adaptation of WAOVW?, I highly recommend the film as well. It’s the same dialogue, almost done as though it were a play, but with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton doing an amazing job, and it’s shot in some of the most stunning black and white film I’ve ever seen.

  9. hermpesaurusrex says:

    anybody else have fond memories of Bethesda’s SkyNET? I can’t understand why they don’t have it listed on their website. It was so badass!

    • Premium User Badge

      Waltorious says:

      The demo of SkyNET was my first introduction to mouse-look controls. I think that impressed me far more than the actual game. It seemed like such an obvious idea once I encountered it.

      (OK just checked wikipedia and I’m actually thinking of The Terminator: Future Shock. SkyNET was the sequel. Pretty sure I played a demo of SkyNET too, at a later date, but I never played either game in full.)

      • Prime says:

        I love those games. Still have them archived somewhere, too. They had such great atmosphere, really giving you the feeling of being trapped in a ruined future world. Exploring derelict houses, fire-ravaged shops and smoking, radioactive crater-strewn landscapes was tense like nothing else I remember at the time. It’s criminal that they have not even received the blessing of modding to keep them alive. Two lost gems.

        • Rawrian says:

          Those were great indeed, I replayed Future Shock a couple of times just because of the atmosphere. Oh, and also shooting the Moon.

  10. iucounu says:

    One of the first PC games I ever played was The Terminator, by Bethesda Softworks. It was a very ambitious, very hard-to-play proto-open-world-FPS – years ahead of its time. But it was pretty faithful to the core of The Terminator; it let you play as either the T-800 or Kyle Reese, driving about the city trying to complete your mission and having to buy or steal supplies. It was kind of nifty, though my friend and I never managed to get further with it than GTA-style doomed rampages.

    I mean, I think one of the games Adam is asking for has already been made, though in very rudimentary form.

    • sinister agent says:

      I only know of this game via a video I watched somewhere, but it’s what came to mind for me, too. Exactly as you said, a primitive form of what Adam’s suggested.

      There’s also the game on an island that was mentioned on here a while back, with the mystery creature tracking you, and you having to explore and research various plants and that to try to stay alive and escape or what have you. Sounded promising.

  11. Dilapinated says:

    I’ve longed for a while now for stealth games with more dynamic AI. Games in which “Must’ve been a cat” is not an adequate response to someone shooting out the lights above you. Games in which a glimpse of the player character is enough to send enemies into full-on alert, and keep them tense and wary for the rest of the encounter. Slightly tangential, but I think the two definitely would have to go hand in hand. I would dearly love the kind of game you describe.

  12. Low Life says:

    Just a while back there was a news article here about a game in which the player was alone on a jungle island with a single powerful monter hunting him. Unfortunately, that’s just about all I can remember.

    • Rusty says:

      I think you’re thinking of Miasmata, referenced here:

      link to rockpapershotgun.com

      Which does seem to fit the bill, even if it has a silly name.

      • Low Life says:

        That would indeed be the game I was thinking of. And it’s out tomorrow, too. Coincidence? Conspiracy? You decide!

  13. lordcooper says:

    I’d absolutely love the opposite of that Alien game. Let *me* hunt that one powerful, intelligent creature. Imagine Monster Hunter with a single enemy that is both faster and stronger than the player character. Let me track it, set intricate traps, and run like hell when they fail and it spots me.

    • Panda Powered says:

      ‘Predator 2: You are the Gary Busey Character’ or Alternatively the other way around: ‘Gary Busey: Deadly Prey’.

      • slerbal says:

        I’d play that. I’d play any game where you got to be Gary Busey :D

  14. Ian says:

    For the reasons stated in this I loved the Dahaka sequences in Prince of Persia: Warrior Within. The music played during them was a bit shit and it was probably the weakest game of the three but man did I like the Dahaka chase bits. All of a sudden you can’t stop to ponder the environment, there’s a thing after you and it’s going to destroy you if you don’t keep running. The obstacles in those sections weren’t the most complex but they were just complex enough to keep your brain whirring, working them out even as you sprinted towards them.

    It’d never get made because it’d have too much potential to go horribly wrong but I can’t think of many imaginary games I’d like more than an open-city (just one big, properly detailed city) Terminator game. You as the hunted, not knowing what you’re looking for until it tries to kill you. Exploring the city while you can, trying to find a way to definitely kill the thing so you can try and lure it there.

    I also like the idea in reverse, I guess. But not Terminator. Hitman. 47 knows he has to kill somebody but all he has is a picture or a name and some rough details and he has to go into the city to find them. Fully formulate a plan, decide how he can get at them. One, massive Hitman level.

    • Bhazor says:

      “..an open-city (just one big, properly detailed city) Terminator game. You as the hunted, not knowing what you’re looking for until it tries to kill you. Exploring the city while you can, trying to find a way to definitely kill the thing so you can try and lure it there.”

      Funny you should mention that
      link to pcgamer.com

  15. deadbob says:

    here you go, a game based on Alien, though how I managed to play it then without smothering my zx spectrum with a pillow due to the shitty sounds I don’t know :)

  16. Skabooga says:

    Well, the Sleuth game does exist, in the form of that old ASCII classic murder mystery, whose download is here: link to calcaprt.com

    Granted, it’s not your Sleuth game, but it is a Sleuth game. Really, it’s one of the best party games I’ve ever played. Use the names of everyone in the room for the NPCs, and see which one of them is the backstabbing murderer. It’s quite tense.

  17. subedii says:

    A game that comes to mind, surprisingly enough, is Resident Evil 3. It was an interesting concept, and I do wish it had been taken further.

    Like the other previous games in the series, RE3 was set with you wandering around a location (RE1: Mansion, RE2: Police Station, RE3: Streets of Raccoon City), gradually exploring and opening it up as you achieved objectives, frequently backtracking over areas you’d been to previously.

    The twist in RE3 was that early on in the game you were introduced to the Nemesis, which was a boss monster specifically designed to hunt down and kill STARS members (i.e., you).

    Unlike the other monsters in the game, it was actively hunting you. Wandering the streets it could all of a sudden appear and you’d have to either flee from it, or take it down. The key thing was that you could never actually kill it, only dump a TONNE of ammo into it in order to knock it out temporarily. This would also give you a brief window of opportunity to escape before it woke up again (and occasionally a bonus item. You could eventually assemble a bonus weapon or two if you “killed” it 8 times during the game IIRC), but in general you were far better off trying to evade it. They also tied this in with a minor branching plot system where they’d give you a time limited choice of actions, and it would slightly alter how the following events proceeded.

    It’s appearances were still semi scripted, it would still appear at specific points in the plotline, but you never knew whilst you were wandering an area whether it might turn up, and unlike the other monsters it could also follow you through transitions between rooms as well.

    It was a really good touch in that it gave you this constant sensation of being hunted. If it appeared, you RAN, or at best tried to stagger it so that you could have a chance to run. I really do wish we’d seen more of this sort of thing in the RE series. Dead Space also had something similar in the Hunter, but not nearly as prominent.

    • sinister agent says:

      The problem I had with that game is that a friend had it, and early on I watched him faced with the Nemesis, and instead crapping himself (as I was doing), my friend said “NO”, and charged directly at it. Then at the last second he swivelled to the side, and it blundered helplessly past him while he ran off like a toreador who’s just remembered he left the oven on.

      We just couldn’t take Nemesis seriously as a threat after that. Every time we saw him, we’d try it again, shouting “Olé!” whether it worked or not.

    • Ruffian says:

      I agree, they should’ve pursued something like that in RE a little more. I, too remember fondly my first encounter with the “StAaAaArS!!!” killer. It was a harrowing experience to be sure. I actually think that Nemesis makes that game stand out in my head more than the first two. He was just a great bad guy/monster all around IMO.
      I don’t recall if they were still in game by the time 3 rolled around but I think I was more terrified of the lickers than anything else, though. Just the way they could be on the ceiling or walls and hit you or grab (?) you from across the room.

    • Kefren says:

      Good call, I loved that game as much as RE2. Starting off in a flat where you’ve been hiding, finally running out of supplies and having to face the world outside, a lone survivor in a zombie game.

      • subedii says:

        I always liked to think of it as more along the lines of RE2: Disc 3.

  18. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    If I had any programming skill, I would make a game where you are a monster created by a mad scientist on an isolated island. The opening would be similar to the opening of Fallout 3, with you cobbling together a critter from different elements before escaping. The rest of the game is you, as the monster, growing stronger and stronger as you pick off local wildlife and, increasingly, the mad scientists’ mercenary army and maybe some villagers.

    The benefits of AI are evident in this inverse scenario as well, since you will never be able to terrify other human players.

    • sinister agent says:

      Yes… of course. A game….

      • Drinking with Skeletons says:

        Are you implying I want to horrifically modify myself and hunt the helpless in real life?

        Because [insert tasteless Michael Jackson joke here].

    • Jakkar says:

      Yes please. This. Find me a programmer, I’ll write and design it, you sit on the empty money-box until we fill it.

      • Low Life says:

        Sometimes the bedroom (not to forget living room and kitchen, since they’re all the same for me) programmer in me wishes I had the balls to hook up with a random art guy and have a go at making a proper game.

  19. Gap Gen says:

    I should really give AI Wars a proper whack at some point…

  20. StranaMente says:

    Well, quite surprised I haven’t seen anyone talk about Routine: link to lunar-software.com ’cause it looks exactly like the Alien (without “S”) game you want.
    I mean, it is so similar that at one point I thought you were speaking of it.
    Here’s some of your word on it link to rockpapershotgun.com

  21. JackShandy says:

    I’ve thought this for ages! Great minds think alike.

    Here’s an example of this stuff done well: The battle against The End in Metal Gear Solid 3. It’s not a classical boss battle because you both have almost the same amount of health. It’s a stealth-VS-stealth thing, trying to find him and snipe him before he can do the same to you.

  22. Soon says:

    I want a survival game in a city. And the other resident is some sort of giant. A giant giant. Not the standard not-actually-that-big game giant. Godzilla-esque. War of the Worlds tripod. Fleshlumpeater. Something BIG.

    You’d mostly be aware of it’s presence because you can’t miss the thing. It could be actively hunting the local populace. Little groups would be huddled in basements of broken buildings. Scavenging for supplies always risks coming under its gaze. No cover is truly permanent because it’s too strong. And I think it would have to be first-person.

    Also, I’ve had actual dreams in the past of hiding from a giant. And I want to play my dream.

    • Hillbert says:

      It was always Daleks in ruined cities for me. Up the stairs and hide underneath the window so I couldn’t be seen from the road.

      Until they heard me.

    • Kefren says:

      Cloverfield: The Game. I remember when I first read about Half Life 2 and the way a Strider would follow you, smash in a fall, duck and look inside a building – sounded great. Like much of Half Life 2, the idea didn’t live up to the execution, sadly.

  23. justicarphaeton says:

    The problem with this sort of formula is that for a modern audience, it’s hard to perceive any progress being made. This an immediate turnoff for the vast majority of gamers who don’t feel they want a ‘hardcore oldschool’ game, even if it may not be difficult.
    Another issue is programming and replayability. The reason why MP titles are so popular is because it’s hard to program a consistent AI. To be immersive, the AI must be able to be anticipated with human logic, and when it can, the gaming community will boil your AI down to a series of contingencies and thresholds parameters which can be gamed. And ultimately interaction with people can be fun. It creates good stories, word of mouth advertising, and extends the shelf life of a game . From a designer and publisher perspective, there’s little incentive to focus on a game like this.

    I do like the idea, though. I think it would be fairly interesting if a third-person action/stealth game was made, based upon 1979 Alien. You have control of one of the stranded crew members, and the AI alien moves through the ship, methodically killing the crew. If your character dies, your control moves to another survivor. It could follow the roguelike model of 1-2 hour playthroughs. Perhaps the other crew or even the Alien could be controlled by other players in MP mode.

    • Ruffian says:

      i don’t think the progress thing is like etched in stone or anything though, necessarily. I mean i CANNOT play the sims for that reason, I just play for like 5 minutes and I’m like, “what’s the point?” Yet it’s one of the most popular games of all time. Though I guess it’s probably not the best example (just what I had in mind at the time) as it’s a simulation of regular human life, which is questionable as a source of entertainment, to me, personally, as it is.. Minecraft is in the same vein as well. All that said, I completely get your point – there just definitely are some exceptions.
      The game Idea sounds badass though, it’d be a cool mechanic for a game in any setting, I think.
      I really like the idea further up about the godzilla-in-an-open-world thing, too. With so many great ideas just in this little thread, it really is a shame we don’t see more varied gameplay these days, though It’d be hard to say that things aren’t improving.

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      Harlander says:

      Seems like indie or hobbyist devs are the best hope for that kind of game

  24. brotherthree says:

    “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Sleuth” ??

    I’m all for retro but Adam’s stuck so far in the attic he might as well be finding boxes of C rations.

  25. KDR_11k says:

    1v1, gun at the top and at the bottom reminds me of the Game Boy game Volley Fire that’s on practically every pirate cart ever.

    • sinister agent says:

      That game annoyed the piss out of me. Play it perfectly for hours, against an AI that is immune to environmental damage, then get killed once and be downgraded, thereby rendering you utterly hopeless. Bastards.

  26. Themadcow says:

    One of the most recent games to provide this effect was probably FTL. Constantly running from a more powerful enemy, trying to slow it’s progression down while doing all you can to prepare yourself for the inevitable last stand. However, I never really feel that threatened by the rebel fleet in FTL so the similarity stops there.

  27. brulleks says:

    I’m very surprised and disappointed by the lack of reference to ‘Sir, You Are Being Hunted’ in this article.

    Such a great opportunity to plug Jim’s game.

    • Prime says:

      Absolutely! And while they’re at it why not some chuck in Doritos and Mountain Dew plugs, too?

  28. Kefren says:

    I always wanted a game of Halloween to be made. Running from house to house, making decisions about getting help or hiding or fighting, never sure in which shadows The Shadow existed, listening out for rasping breath and purposeful footsteps. One malevolent and intelligent menace that you knew you had little chance of surviving, but you would try anyway.

    I love that kind of scenario. My first novel was survival horror in that sense, trying to survive when faced with danger from every corner. Since part of the novel was based on a role playing game session I ran (“We’re all Going To Die”) I always thought it would be fun to convert it into a PC game. Set up the island, the main characters and NPCs, insert a player, then turn the magic lantern on and let things play out. One time the game could end with a shootout in the church; then next time the villagers might get lost in the dark and the player tries to swim for shore; another time the player(s) find the lair of the Bwystfil and decide to hide there and hope it doesn’t come back. A short game (one evening to play) but with many replay options and different stories. Maybe Sir, You Are Being Hunted will give me a bit of that.

  29. Nidokoenig says:

    The stuff about how it hunts and tracks being a mystery makes me wonder if procedural monsters might be the way to go. Put enough variables into a roguelike and you can’t game the system unless you pick the save apart, since any experimenting you do will have to be in-game against a monster that refuses repeated experiments. You’ll have to manage with guesswork and intuition. It’s basically the thing that makes Chess infinitely replayable, make the system complex enough that the human mind can’t swallow the whole concept space and absorb its power. Trying to grapple with the system should make your brain itch, like X-Com.
    The alien could be organic, mineral, energy or mechanical, with some weighting of capabilities to each, but never be perfectly predictable. Biped, quadruped, more? Animal, insect, slug, cube?
    Does it hunt by vision, smell, hearing, sensing tremors? Is it telepathic within a certain range? Is its vision motion based so standing still helps you hide from it, or do its eyes only send data to the brain in blinks, so if you’re moving at speed it’ll only see a blur spread over that exposure? If it hunts by smell that bulky environmental suit makes you invisible unless it gets something smelly on it, but if it hunts by tremors it’s just more weight to give away your position.
    Can it turn invisible? Which wavelengths? Is the cloak strong enough to resist laser weapons?
    Can it phase through walls, or smash them? How thick, what materials, does it leave a residue, can it repair a breach to be stealthier? Is it weakened or strengthen by doing this?
    Is it damaged by hot or cold? Arsenic or Selenium? Country or dubstep?

    An Easy mode with a set menu is also a possibility, so people can get to grip with the mechanics in relative safety, but the standard rule would be that you shouldn’t have a hugely better idea what manner of horror is going to try to ruin your day when you play for the hundredth time than you did on the first. Basically it should be a Forgotten Beast.

    • maxriderules says:

      Not sure about total randomisation, but that’s still a bloody good idea. Maybe a point- buy system? so the player can set the difficulty by the number of points the monster has, from one (fear the evil caterpillar chasing you!) all the way up to a flying, invisible, immortal assassin which can fit minside your nose without you niticing and is deadly poisonous. As a bonus, this point buy system would make your life easier if you could see the monster- you’d know ifi it would be obvious, so you could be a lot more methodical and run off when you heard it coming, or if you had to keep on the move because yu’d get no warning if you stayed still for too long.
      Also, how would the AI differ? Maybe it’d link into the monster creation. So the AI would be chosen before the monster was created, and it’d be optimised for that. So maybe a stealthy AI would favour cloaks and high damage single attacks to strength. Maybe a brute would just hulk out and charge around looking for you, but you could see it.

      And now I really wish I could code…

  30. Panda Powered says:

    This made me think of Haunting Ground (related to the clock tower series). An unarmed girl with a dog being chased by a mentally challenged man who hugs her to death.

    • strangeloup says:

      The Clock Tower ones themselves were pretty interesting on that front. I think Clock Tower 3 (on the PS2) was probably the best, although it was very hard. In that you’d have a different, invincible foe on each level — based on real-life murderers, for extra bonus fun — who you could only defeat with the macguffin at the end of the level, but would try and kill you throughout.

      I don’t think I ever got past the second or third mission.

  31. Malibu Stacey says:

    Methinks Adam has never heard of the game which coined his predecessors moniker of “No Iron” -> link to arcengames.com

  32. pixelrevision says:

    If you’d like to try the ascii style version of that alien game you described this may be it:
    link to lemon64.com

    Also check out slender. It’s this game mechanic in it’s most raw form:
    link to slendergame.com

  33. Tiax says:

    Hey guys, about the two ideas mentionned in this article (big world, single creature hunting you), Miasmata is out on Steam and the first reviews are really enthusiastic !