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The Dreaded Co-op Horror: History

The Dreaded Co-op Horror: History

The Dreaded Co-op Horror: History

Survival horror games have been around for quite a while now, even predating Resident Evil series. I personally consider the original Alone in the Dark to be the pioneer of the genre, but others would argue that Capcom’s Sweet Home is the founder of what we now consider to be the “Survival Horror”. What I intend to cover is the evolution of the genre, up to what I expect to see in the not so distant future.
When typically speaking on the topic, it’s hard not to mention the Resident Evil franchise. It easily grew to popularity due to its cinematic style of gameplay, which could easily be described as a mix between a budget film, and a stage play oppressed with aspiring actors.

Although the game was extremely unconvincing, it still somehow managed to actually be unnerving. Perhaps it was the mixture of the music and creaky muffled sound effects, or just the all-around scenario the game placed you in. Regardless, you always felt vulnerable. Sure you had weapons, but never enough ammo to properly defend yourself. Yeah you could run, but the mansion was very narrow and left you no room to maneuvers around or from your enemies. This caused you to feel defenseless at almost all times. Elements such as this, coupled with extremely scarce resources, helped to make sure you never felt too powerful.

I can remember my first time entering a room only to be greeted by the sound of a shuffling zombie moaning about. The camera was placed in such a way that I couldn’t see where he was, and caused me to quickly jump into the menu and equip my virgin shotgun.

Scenarios such as this play on your psyche, causing you to equip stronger weapons, or even use a green herb (Health) just to feel safe. These well scripted and executed situations made us all fall in love with the series and the genre, only to leave us begging for more.

So how do you capture that essence of fear and share it with a friend?

Hydravision Entertainment released Obscure back in 2003, with the intention of capturing all of that heart racing anxiety with a buddy. The concept sounds great on paper, especially with the insane amount of teenage slasher films that plague the US, but it was poorly executed. While the game was designed for a single player, it needlessly allows for two players. In no way does it accommodate for either or, which causes the game to seem lifeless and clumsily developed. There is some fun to be had in Obscure, but it’s just not scary with a computer A.I partner or a friend looming over your shoulder with nothing relevant to bring to the table. At no point do you feel as two people trapped in a hopeless scenario with nothing to rely on but one another. The game went under the radar unnoticed by many, and eventually made a sequel a few years later. Needless to say, it did nothing to redeem itself, and in some cases botched what made the original unique and charming. What this game can be credited for, is stepping outside the comfort zone of the typical survival horror to take a chance.

I personally had hoped veteran Capcom would have taken notice of their mistakes as an example of how to properly execute a multiplayer horror title, but they didn't.

By this time, Resident Evil had become a household name, even spawning multiple sequels and (Sadly) films. With this success, they were in the clear to take a leap of faith with 2004’s Resident Evil: Outbreak. Also known as Resident Evil: Online by majority of the community, RE:Outbreak decides to take the series renowned gameplay and turn it into a co-operative affair. While this particular title got a lot of things right, I also feel as if it got much more wrong. The game allowed for up to 4-players to try an escape specific scenarios, which were broken into episodes. These episodes are fairly lengthy, but also linear with little to no room for exploration. This causes the game to lose its immersion and overall buddy-system factor, since it all inevitably ends up being a gang of players charging down hallways and into random rooms.

The communication was limited to remote speech actions that were vague and left your partner more confused than informed. (Think the Left 4 Dead speech wheel) Capcom intentionally removed microphone support, since they felt using these remote voices would keep from breaking the immersion, but it ultimately lead to disorder. If you somehow got left behind by your team because you weren’t fast enough to see what room they went into, you were screwed. The overall game design was poor, but it did manage to get a few things right. Key items for each scenario were randomized each session, which means for great replay value. Documents and other items were also shuffled around the levels in order to give you something to search for, although they were completely useless. Perfectionists would easily be left behind to die as they searched frantically for memo 12/16 to fill that particular episode's log. I would know, I was one of them. The overall experience was memorable, and even though it wasn’t that great a game, it felt really good to pull through a long chapter and survive, sometimes alone. Unfortunately, the game just didn’t deliver that fear and anxiety of the single player titles, which is what we all bought it for.

Here we are staring down the barrel of almost a solid decade later, and how much have we evolved as far as co-operative survival horror titles go? Well, they’re practically shooters with a fresh coat of survival horror paint. I won’t bother going over games such as RE5/6, SH: Books of Memories, Dead Island Left 4 Dead ect. The reason being, these games are not Survival Horror titles, they’re derived from them. Most of those games are just horror shooters. (Many of which are pretty good games) Even games such as the more recent Dead Space 3 have tried their hand at balancing fear horror and action, thought I've been told it did nothing to help the franchise. A Visceral employee claimed the Dead Space series has always intended to have co-op, even having adding it mid-game to Dead Space 3. He went further into detail citing System Shock 2’s multiplayer as the inspiration for it. Something I find strange seeing as System Shock 2 was not intentionally meant to have multiplayer, and was only added last minute in an attempt to further please fans. Needless to say, it was buggy and an overall horrible addition to the game. Though if it were fleshed out, I believe System Shock 2 could have made a sleeper hit co-op survival horror title. 

So what are these companies doing wrong? Is it even possible to pull off the dreaded co-op horror?

I believe it can be done with a bit of experimenting and an open mind from the community.
First and foremost, we need to bring horrors back to the basics. What people commonly forget is fear can appear in many forms. Something as simple as failing can be a fear, it all depends on how much you have on the line. Games such as Demon Souls have almost refined this sense of desperation and anxiety down to an art form. For people unfamiliar with the series, I will give a small example of how the Souls universe works.

You start your journey as a frail wanderer of whichever class you choose, be it warrior, mage ect, and are forced up against what feels to be unstoppable odds. You're only as good as you play, which means while gear and stat increases help, it's never enough to help you plow through the game. One false move can cause you to die, and when you die you become Hollow. In this ghost like form, you become a shell of your former self, almost 1/4 your base stats. This means, if you thought the game was hard before, you're officially in for an awakening. The only way to become human again, is to kill an extremely overpowered boss, invade the universe of another living player and kill him or invade his universe and help him kill a boss. In such a weakened state, this can take hours or even days to pull off. After having gone through hell and back with only the reward of being granted life once more, you literally have a completely different outlook on the game and how the universe works. You fear death, because you see what lies ahead if you make one small mistake. There have been instances in which all I was tasked with doing is crossing a shoddy bridge, and the entire time I slowly trudged along, my heart raced in hopes of it not breaking from underneath me. 

I didn't want to die or be the guy to take the life of another player in exchange for my own, not again.

Being placed in these scenarios gives you a mixture of adrenaline and anxiety. A feeling that should be standard in horror games alike. If a universe is structured in such a way that you're almost meant to lose, it makes for a bit of easier balancing in co-op difficulty. It must be beat into the minds of developers and players alike, that you are not playing the role of an action or movie star.

CommentsComments

  • D Wade
    D Wade 04/06/2013 01:53

    Very well-written. And now as a side-effect, everything I look at is a lovely shade of green.

     
  • Saejima Kouga
    Saejima Kouga 04/06/2013 02:10

    Thanks, D. I've been working on the second part for a few days now, and it's almost complete. As soon as I get it up, I'll post it. It was meant to be two parts, but it might have to be three with the rumors circling The Last of Us and such.

     
  • D Wade
    D Wade 04/06/2013 02:22

    The more the merrier, I say. Was a good read. Looking forward to it!

     
  • Anthony Harrell
    Anthony Harrell 04/06/2013 20:04

    I enjoyed the read. It was rather entertaining. I look forward to future entries.

     

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About this blog

Survival horror games have been around for quite a while now, even predating Resident Evil series. I personally consider the original Alone in the Dark to be the pioneer of the genre, but others would argue that Capcom’s Sweet Home is the founder of what we now consider to be the “Survival Horror”. What I intend to cover is the evolution of the genre, up to what I expect to see in the not so distant future. When typically speaking on the topic, it’s hard not to mention the Resident Evil franchise. It easily grew to popularity due to its cinematic style of gameplay, which could easily be described as a mix between a budget film, and a stage play oppressed with aspiring actors. Although the game was extremely unconvincing, it still somehow managed to actually be unnerving. Perhaps it was the mixture of the music and creaky muffled sound effects, or just the all-around scenario the game placed you in. Regardless, you always felt vulnerable. Sure you had weapons, but never enough ammo to properly defend yourself. Yeah you could run, but the mansion was very narrow and left you no room to maneuvers around or from your enemies. This caused you to feel defenseless at almost all times. Elements such as this, coupled with extremely scarce resources, helped to make sure you never felt too powerful. I can remember my first time entering a room only to be greeted by the sound of a shuffling zombie moaning about. The camera was placed in such a way that I couldn’t see where he was, and caused me to quickly jump into the menu and equip my virgin shotgun. Scenarios such as this play on your psyche, causing you to equip stronger weapons, or even use a green herb (Health) just to feel safe. These well scripted and executed situations made us all fall in love with the series and the genre, only to leave us begging for more. So how do you capture that essence of fear and share it with a friend? Hydravision Entertainment released Obscure back in 2003, with the intention of capturing all of that heart racing anxiety with a buddy. The concept sounds great on paper, especially with the insane amount of teenage slasher films that plague the US, but it was poorly executed. While the game was designed for a single player, it needlessly allows for two players. In no way does it accommodate for either or, which causes the game to seem lifeless and clumsily developed. There is some fun to be had in Obscure, but it’s just not scary with a computer A.I partner or a friend looming over your shoulder with nothing relevant to bring to the table. At no point do you feel as two people trapped in a hopeless scenario with nothing to rely on but one another. The game went under the radar unnoticed by many, and eventually made a sequel a few years later. Needless to say, it did nothing to redeem itself, and in some cases botched what made the original unique and charming. What this game can be credited for, is stepping outside the comfort zone of the typical survival horror to take a chance. I personally had hoped veteran Capcom would have taken notice of their mistakes as an example of how to properly execute a multiplayer horror title, but they didn't. By this time, Resident Evil had become a household name, even spawning multiple sequels and (Sadly) films. With this success, they were in the clear to take a leap of faith with 2004’s Resident Evil: Outbreak. Also known as Resident Evil: Online by majority of the community, RE:Outbreak decides to take the series renowned gameplay and turn it into a co-operative affair. While this particular title got a lot of things right, I also feel as if it got much more wrong. The game allowed for up to 4-players to try an escape specific scenarios, which were broken into episodes. These episodes are fairly lengthy, but also linear with little to no room for exploration. This causes the game to lose its immersion and overall buddy-system factor, since it all inevitably ends up being a gang of players charging down hallways and into random rooms. The communication was limited to remote speech actions that were vague and left your partner more confused than informed. (Think the Left 4 Dead speech wheel) Capcom intentionally removed microphone support, since they felt using these remote voices would keep from breaking the immersion, but it ultimately lead to disorder. If you somehow got left behind by your team because you weren’t fast enough to see what room they went into, you were screwed. The overall game design was poor, but it did manage to get a few things right. Key items for each scenario were randomized each session, which means for great replay value. Documents and other items were also shuffled around the levels in order to give you something to search for, although they were completely useless. Perfectionists would easily be left behind to die as they searched frantically for memo 12/16 to fill that particular episode's log. I would know, I was one of them. The overall experience was memorable, and even though it wasn’t that great a game, it felt really good to pull through a long chapter and survive, sometimes alone. Unfortunately, the game just didn’t deliver that fear and anxiety of the single player titles, which is what we all bought it for. Here we are staring down the barrel of almost a solid decade later, and how much have we evolved as far as co-operative survival horror titles go? Well, they’re practically shooters with a fresh coat of survival horror paint. I won’t bother going over games such as RE5/6, SH: Books of Memories, Dead Island Left 4 Dead ect. The reason being, these games are not Survival Horror titles, they’re derived from them. Most of those games are just horror shooters. (Many of which are pretty good games) Even games such as the more recent Dead Space 3 have tried their hand at balancing fear horror and action, thought I've been told it did nothing to help the franchise. A Visceral employee claimed the Dead Space series has always intended to have co-op, even having adding it mid-game to Dead Space 3. He went further into detail citing System Shock 2’s multiplayer as the inspiration for it. Something I find strange seeing as System Shock 2 was not intentionally meant to have multiplayer, and was only added last minute in an attempt to further please fans. Needless to say, it was buggy and an overall horrible addition to the game. Though if it were fleshed out, I believe System Shock 2 could have made a sleeper hit co-op survival horror title. So what are these companies doing wrong? Is it even possible to pull off the dreaded co-op horror? I believe it can be done with a bit of experimenting and an open mind from the community. First and foremost, we need to bring horrors back to the basics. What people commonly forget is fear can appear in many forms. Something as simple as failing can be a fear, it all depends on how much you have on the line. Games such as Dark Souls have almost refined this sense of desperation and anxiety down to an art form. For people unfamiliar with the series, I will give a small example of how the Souls universe works. You start your journey as a frail wanderer of whichever class you choose, be it warrior, mage ect, and are forced up against what feels to be unstoppable odds. You're only as good as you play, which means while gear and stat increases help, it's never enough to help you plow through the game. One false move can cause you to die, and when you die you become Hollow. In this ghost like form, you become a shell of your former self, almost 1/4 your base stats. This means, if you thought the game was hard before, you're officially in for an awakening. The only way to become human again, is to kill an extremely overpowered boss, invade the universe of another living player and kill him or invade his universe and help him kill a boss. In such a weakened state, this can take hours or even days to pull off. After having gone through hell and back with only the reward of being granted life once more, you literally have a completely different outlook on the game and how the universe works. You fear death, because you see what lies ahead if you make one small mistake. There have been instances in which all I was tasked with doing is crossing a shoddy bridge, and the entire time I slowly trudged along, my heart raced in hopes of it not breaking from underneath me. I didn't want to die or be the guy to take the life of another player in exchange for my own, not again. Being placed in these scenarios gives you a mixture of adrenaline and anxiety. A feeling that should be standard in horror games alike. If a universe is structured in such a way that you're almost meant to lose, it makes for a bit of easier balancing in co-op difficulty. It must be beat into the minds of developers and players alike, that you are not playing the role of an action or movie star.

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Saejima Kouga
Saejima Kouga
  • Member since: 31/05/2013
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