Roguelikelike Horror FPS Phantasmal Haunting Kickstarter

Hey, leave that alone! It's not harming anyone.

I can only write boo! so many times before it stops making you convulse in terror. I’ve probably exhausted that. But what if I were to say wooOoOOo! or the sound of a dracula laughing? Why, look at you: you’re shivering and shrieking all over again! Unpredictability can help sell scares, see, which is why frightful FPS Phantasmal‘s spooky mansion is made of procedurally-generated levels, different every life. It’s aiming at Lovecraft-tinged survival horror with few guns, breakable melee weapons, limited supplies, a need to sneak in shadows, and plenty of growing dread. And Kickstarter money. It’s after Kickstarter money.

Procedural generation + horror sounds like a fine fit for livestreaming and YouTubing too.

Developers Eyemobi are looking for $15,000 in New Zealand money (£7,600) to finish Phantasmal, which includes making more level modules to bang into the generator as well as creating more-bespoke bits like set pieces, bosses, and an actual ending. That’s nice. A few carefully crafted bits can really tie procedural levels together. Pledging enough to get a copy of the finished game, expected in March 2015, will cost you $15 (£7.60) or $25 ($12.75) depending on how fast you are.

Semi-related rambling: I’m fascinated by game design reacting to, and in parts embracing, people watching other people play video games. I like to think of games with procedural generation or randomised bits (I couldn’t draw a line between the two) as panel shows: comfortingly familiar even with different hosts and guests doing different things each time. Horror games, meanwhile, are the Beadle’s About: viewers enjoy watching someone scream.

I’m not saying Phantasmal is knowingly courting or responding to all this, but it’s the sort of thing that could be gamewatching’s Ghosthunting With… Oh, I do wish Girls Aloud would play it.

13 Comments

  1. GameCat says:

    I’m worried that horror games genre turned mostly into:

    a) Call of Duty shootouts but with monsters (Resident Evil 5/6)
    b) Amnesia clones
    c) Slender clones

    Where are games like Silent Hill: Shattered Memories that actually had characters to care for (as opposed to blank slate player avatars), good plot and where scary stuff weren’t just made of jump scares and playing pac-man with monsters and less pellets (Amnesia & Clones).

    :/

    • joe_eyemobi says:

      Haha, you’ve hit the nail on the head GameCat!
      While I appreciate Amnesia/Slender (and they do scare the crap out of me!) every now again I just want to pick up a chair and smash Flappy Face/Slendy rather than figure out their patrol patterns:)

      Don’t get me wrong Amnesia is a fantastic game – in fact I really look up to Frictional games – Thomas Grip is a real genius when it comes to horror game theory (check out his blog). I am terrible at adventure games though (ADHD, not very observant!) so I didn’t make it all the way through, so when we started designing Phantasmal we kept that in mind. We kept the objectives pretty simple (get to the exit) but the way you get there is totally up to you – e.g. when dealing with the creatures you can choose to fight, sneak past, hide, run away from them or a mixture of all approaches. And I think that is the key to fun – giving the player as much choice as possible rather than limiting them to just one “right” way of winning.

      Re: jump scares I agree – I enjoy the slow burning dread and the fear of the unknown far more. That’s also a core principle for our game to maximise the player’s unease/tension.

  2. plugav says:

    I can stomach a wooOoOOo!, but the sound of a dracula laughing really got to me. *shivers* It also reminded me of Nosferatu: Wrath of Malachi, which did procedurally generated survival horror before it was cool. Never got past the first boss in that one…

  3. Kefren says:

    I used to like this horror game, which had random layouts: link to en.wikipedia.org

    • Shadowcat says:

      Yeah, I was going to mention it if no one else had! Sadly, Nosferatu remains the only first-person game I’ve ever played with that feature (also a big reason why it’s still one of my all-time favourite horror games, despite its flaws).

      Most first-person game engines simply aren’t geared to produce randomised architecture, so I’m excited to see it in another game, and doubly-excited that it’s another horror game (the two go so very well together).

  4. HiFiHair says:

    I don’t know why, but I love the animation on those cupboard doors.

  5. gabrielonuris says:

    My god, when will developers learn that procedural anything doesn’t add substance at all to the game? The horror genre, most of all, should rely solely in modeled levels and a good story to keep you immersed. And please, let’s stop mimicking titles like Outlast, Machine for Pigs (which I deny to call it Amnesia) and Daylight; those are bad examples of horror titles, they’re more like tech demos (but not Machine for Pigs, that one is just a walking simulator).

    By the trailer I saw that Eyemobi is adding melee combat, so I encourage you to take a look at Condemned Criminal Origins; it’s an old game, but surprisingly no one was able to make a better melee system in first person.

    And Eyemobi, if you happen to read this, sorry if I sounded a little mean with my comment, but horror games were my favorite genre back at the time when Resident Evil and Silent Hill used to make me have bad dreams, with all their dark atmosphere, adventure-like puzzles and inventory management. It is sad to see titles as the ones above being called “horror”.

    • DrollRemark says:

      My god, when will developers learn that procedural anything doesn’t add substance at all to the game?

      This is the very definition of wrong.

    • joe_eyemobi says:

      Hey gabriel, that’s cool man I’m not offended – everyone is entitled to their opinion and it’s great to have different perspectives on things. Sometimes that gives us a way to improve our game further.
      Personally, I think there are pros and cons to both a crafted horror experience vs. a procgen one.

      The main thing about the former is they are intensely scary the first time through, but once you’ve experienced it once, heard about, watched a Let’s Play etc… it drastically reduces the terror.

      On the other hand with procgen, the main advantage is that you’ll never know what to expect. Although you will still figure out patterns like creature AI, weapon stats, etc the combination of randomness can mean a high level of uncertainty – which contributes to the tension and fear. Take The Binding Of Issac as an example – I’ve played that a ton of times and each time I can’t guarantee I’ll make it through – and that gives me this delightful feeling of dread!

      Of course the drawback with procgen is that sometimes you could get a really crap and unfair level – that is a different challenge that will require exponentially more play testing and balancing than a traditional crafted game.

      So sorry for the essay, but long story short – I love both types. I enjoyed both games like TBOI and the likes of Silent Hill, Dead Space. We will most probably implement a mixture of both in the end. There will be some set piece levels interspersed among the randomized ones.

      Re: Condemned, that is a good observation – we will flesh out the melee combat rather than just have the same monotone swing-until-they-die combat.

      Anyway, if you have any more suggestions, feel free to pop by our SGL page, we have a Game Design suggestions forum you can chat to us on!

      link to steamcommunity.com

    • Coinfish says:

      Outlast…bad example…Haha sure. Lazy setting sure, but that’s quite about it.

  6. joe_eyemobi says:

    Hey Alice, this is a great article – well written, succinct and highly articulate!

    It’s funny that you mention the fascination with watching other people playing horror games. There is something really comedic about watching (via facecam) or hearing someone get freaked while playing your game :) I guess this was more a helpful byproduct for us rather than an intentional feature, but the procedural level generation does mean every Youtuber review is a different experience which adds to the anticipation as a viewer. With some of the more jumpy YT’ers it scared me sometimes just watching their reactions! :)