Opinion: Sound Of Silence – A Horror Game To Make All Your Nightmares Come True?
If you haven’t already seen the quite awesome concept video for a horror game called Sound Of Silence, then I urge you to check it out now. The work of Swedish graphic designer Michael Chiniquy, it makes sublimely atmospheric use of cool 3D artwork and music by Silent Hill composer Akira Yamakoa to propose a terrifying experience with a novel twist: a game that tailors itself to each player’s specific fears, so that the end result is a kind of individual, personalized nightmare.
It is, in my opinion, a truly excellent idea. And given the justly-celebrated work of Amnesia: The Dark Descent’s Frictional Games and Cry Of Fear creator Andreas Ronnberg, you have to wonder just what inspirational mind-juice the authorities are pumping into the water supply over in Sweden.
It’s true to say that some games have attempted a form of this in the past. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, for example, gave the player a psychological test at the start of the game in order to alter certain aspects of environments and creature-models depending on the given responses.
However, what Sound Of Silence aims to do is something altogether more subtle and fluid. According to Chiniquy, the title will be “a psychological horror game that aims to deliver an intensely frightening experience, by remembering the player’s actions and altering the flow of the game accordingly.”
In other words, the experience will adapt and alter according to what the player does, and the way in which they do it. Demonstrate that you are particularly afraid of the the dark, and you can expect even more dingy environments and sporadic lighting. Show that you are really, really freaked-out by spiders? Say hello to more of your scurrying, eight-legged friends.
As well as getting serious props for pointing out that combat is unlikely to feature prominently, if at all (the best horror games recognize that if you empower the player, you dilute the fear), Chiniquy’s idea demonstrates a real willingness to try and push the envelope of horror gaming and the fearful experiences it can offer – far beyond the current deluge of action-centric zombie shooters that squander the considerable potential of the genre. With plenty of people already contacting him to try and get the project off the ground, I’ll certainly be keeping a keen eye on proceedings, and look forward to learning about further developments as and when they happen.
But above and beyond the specifics of this highly intriguing indie endeavour, I would like to suggest that the core concept of Sound Of Silence is one that could be potentially groundbreaking – and revolutionary – for horror gaming as a whole.
From the point-and-click chillers of the ’80s, through the survival-horror boom of the ’90s and on to the psychological masterpieces of the early noughties, the best horror titles have always played to general anxieties: such as fear of the dark, fear of death, fear of the grotesque and fear of the unknown. Indeed, the sublime and seminal Silent Hill took this one step further, with the visionaries at Team Silent actually taking the time to thoroughly investigate and research the most commonly-held phobias among the general public, so that they could better design their game to push all the right buttons.
However, the idea of tailor-made horror experiences takes this to a whole new level. A central theme of the Silent Hill games is that protagonists are generally plunged into a nightmarish, uncannily personal hell, which plays to their own individual subconscious and fears. If horror games could start doing this to the players themselves, then we really could find out what it is like to enter our very own personal Silent Hill.
Implementation may be a challenge, but the potential results could be mind-blowing. Claustrophobics could find themselves navigating increasingly confined, restrictive environments such as sewers and ventilation shafts; those who use a flashlight constantly in the early stages of the game could have it run out of battery, or break during a cut-scene. The monsters themselves could alter heavily depending on past actions, with the game perhaps throwing out more of the creatures that the player generally flees from rather than confronts, for example.
The key would be to find a way to adequately assess what players are most fearful of in-game, and then gradually shift elements of the experience to directly tap into their very worst fears. It might not be the easiest of tasks, but if the likes of Shinji Mikami, Ken Levine and other indie creatives like Mr Chiniquy would be interested in taking up the challenge, perhaps we’ll see an entire new sub-genre of horror emerge – and then, finally, all our wildest nightmares can come true…
Mark Butler is the author of Interactive Nightmares: A History of Video Game Horror, which is available to download for Kindle, PC, iPad, iPhone and Android.
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