The Horror of Condemned: Criminal Origins
After coming off of tongue-in-cheek titles such as No One Lives Forever 1 & 2 and a sci-fi game based on the cult-classic movie, T.R.O.N., with the critically acclaimed game, T.R.O.N. 2.0, we were longing for a different style of game while still capitalizing on some of the core skills we have such as first-person shooters and the ability to tell strong stories. We couldn’t have swung further away from our previous games by doing anything other than tacking an Action-Horror title – thus began Condemned: Criminal Origins.
Once we hit upon the subject of horror, our Lead Game Designer, Frank Rooke, immediately began researching the subject of horror itself in today’s culture. He watched and recorded moments from hundreds of movies for inspiration. He read numerous books and kept his eye out for anything particular related to what we found to be the creepiest and darkest of all real horrors in our world – the sickened and twisted mind of the serial killer.
While developing the storyline, we looked closely at the types of horror that we felt would present unique challenges and opportunities to the player.
The first horror is what we call In-Your-Face horror. Something jumps up suddenly and scares the hell out of you. A classic cliché, true, but still very effective when you least expect it. The trickiest aspect is to provide these moments when the player doesn’t see them coming. These don’t have to be actions but can be simple visual cues – a bloody limb, a body hanging from a doorjamb. When working a fully-realized space, it is very hard to ensure the player is looking in the direction that you need them to pull off effective in-your-face moments. This is also where strong audio can help make all the difference in the world.
The second horror we have played with extensively is the horror of suspense – you see something move in your peripheral vision, a noise behind you makes you turn but there is nothing there, you hear a sudden yell down the hall but you don’t know where the threat is – your heartbeat quickens because you know something, somewhere is waiting for you – but you don’t know when. This apprehension to conflict is as powerful and rewarding as conflict itself. It is a major element of the pacing that that we continually tweak.
The third horror is psychological horror – a horror that is directly related to and influencing of the player. This is being handled in different ways: through hallucinations that the player will experience but not quite know they are hallucinations at the time; the ‘influence’ of a greater evil that plays with the main character’s mind which propels the main character into getting more violent as the game progress; and the ramping up of violent interaction with the gritty, dark world of the Condemned: Criminal Origins.
In the beginning the player is examining evidence and trying to solve some crime scenes but by the end the player is trying to maintain their sanity as the world apparently seems to spin out of control around them.
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