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Season 1 Transcript

013: Roll for Sanity

Our heroes are suddenly interrupted by a jump scare, which forces them to run, hide, and navigate various horror mechanics.

Games talked about in this episode:

  • 5:11 The Thing
  • 6:31 Call of Cthulhu
  • 7:19 Silent Hill
  • 8:58 Lit
  • 10:00 Outlast
  • 16:00 Resident Evil
  • 17:39 Thief
  • 20:32 Zombies Ate My Neighbors
  • 21:17 Dead Rising
  • 24:42 Fury of Dracula
  • 25:50 Outlast 2
  • 27:15 Dead by Daylight

Introductory Guy  

Welcome to Design Thinking Games, a fantasy and user experience podcast. Each episode, your podcast hosts, Tim Broadwater and Michael Schofield, will examine the player experience of board games, pen and paper roleplaying games, live-action games, mobile games, and video games. You can find every episode, including this one on your podcatcher of choice and on the web at designthinkinggames.com.

Tim Broadwater  

So, this is the only time that happens this year.

Michael Schofield  

We’re talking about Friday, the 13th.

Tim Broadwater  

Correct. My favorite holiday, and also a floating holiday? Sometimes you don’t even get it a year. And then sometimes you get it only once. Or sometimes you get it two or three times. So being topical. One of the things for Friday the 13th that I like is like scary movies and being scared, and you know, kind of, I’m that type of person. I find that there are very few people that like horror out there or like being scared. What about you?

Michael Schofield  

Oh, yeah, I mean, it may be that I surround myself with people who think the way I think it’s probably true. I mean, it’s factually true comedy performs way better at the box office than horror. But I gotta tell you, the people I talked to, are horror people, even my daughter who is 10. She and I are watching the new IT movies, chapter one, and we’re partway through chapter two as well. We just watched earlier this year the Haunting of Bly Manor on Netflix. She’sseen Pet Sematary, the original one, etc., and at age 10. These are questionable parenting choices. 

Tim Broadwater  

No judgment. One of my best memories as a kid is my dad had to work a Thanksgiving one time. And so we didn’t have like a Thanksgiving dinner, which sucked. But he got paid like two and a half times or, you know, whatever. Yeah, exactly. Not the end of the world. My mom took us out to the theater to see this Child’s Play or the second Child’s Play. Chucky films. So no, I, I’ve watched horror since I was a kid. I think it’s, I think it’s weird. And we can have a whole other conversation about, like, why in our country we want to hide people from horror, or Gore, or whatever, people are jumpscaring or whatever. But we want to protect people from like, like, sex or sex is okay. But horror is not okay. You know, it just seems like a weird landscape out there. So no judgment on my part. But I guess so you’re a horror person. I’m a horror person.

Michael Schofield

In our last 13 episodes, half of the games we talked about were somewhere in this category.

Tim Broadwater

Like disturbing, or horror.

Michael Schofield  

Ultra tense, ghosts. Phantasmagoria, Call of Cthulhu. The Man of Medan. This is definitely a trend. This is what we do. Not only that is interesting, though. But I think one of the cool things about capital H horror as a genre, which, of course, can be subdivided into gajillions of different facets. What’s really neat about horror, in games, is that to give you a sense of helplessness and a sense of real danger, they have to get pretty creative with the mechanics. On the other hand, most of the games out there are really about empowering, right, putting you into the shoes of someone badass, or, you know, giving you the high, like highly dexterous controls to really take advantage of your badass twitch reflexes, even in games that don’t have a narrative, but horror is about putting you on your back foot. 

Tim Broadwater  

Oh, it’s the helplessness, right? It’s like the exact opposite, not empowering you but making you to some degree, it’s making you feel restricted or limited or that you know. They’re definitely mechanics that lend to that that are like jumpscares or lighting or music in games or you know, there are different metrics. That can be used like, I remember. I know this is popular and like the Call of Cthulhu games, but it also like one of my favorite movie franchises is John Carpenter’s The Ting I love the movie with where it’s the alien that kind of can assimilate people and

Michael Schofield  

Lovecraftian alien creature.

Tim Broadwater  

Then it has a prequel to it, which is a movie that came out like X amount of years ago, but it’s more recent. But most people don’t know that there’s actually a sequel to the original one, which was in a video game, which was written by john carpenter and had the same actors and voices and stuff. Yeah, and it’s a Canon. It’s called The Thing, and it came out for PlayStation 2, I believe, or 3. You had a sanity meter in that game. I mean, like, literally, when you were exposed to much of crazy or too many crazy things happened. Like, you know, that happened. But then, like every other game, you had a health meter. So if that goes down, if sanity goes down, you go crazy. If health goes down, you die. There was also a cold temperature meter because you were in the Antarctic. Yeah, wherever that Arctic was in the movie. And so, dude, that game was difficult because, like you had, I can’t get too cold, I can’t be exposed to too much crazy. So it limits. It makes me hesitant to walk around and explore. But, you know, so

What happened when you got a little crazy? Because there are certain games where you know, if your sanity meter gets to zero, you die, or in Call of Cthulhu, the tabletop games when your sanity drops to a certain point, which may be zero, your character you forfeit. So, like your, your character becomes an NPC.

Yeah, correct. Call of Cthulhu, which I hate the roleplaying game, but I love the video, but I love the video games is because maybe it was just a bad experience with it. But you’re correct, like sanity is a giant issue. And it has that whole Phantasmagoria kind of, I think, is the punishment, right? So like when your sanity goes, it’s like, Am I crazy? Am do I know what reality is? Do I know? What can I tell the difference between what’s real and fantasy? And I like that. That’s to me, is very Silent Hill. Yeah, it is exactly what Silent Hill is to which it’s like Phantasmagoria; you don’t know if this is a dream or reality? Or you’re crazy. And then I think in those games when you lose your sanity, it’s just like, you lose control of your character or like you do something crazy or you killed some your friend because you thought they were a monster, or whatever.

Michael Schofield  

Oh, that’s an excellent mechanic there. Where? Where? Yeah, you. Like in game design, you could literally skin a colleague or friend as some evil creature trying to get to you. They do this in movies, too. Where oh my gosh, somebody is trying to, you know, shake you awake or something like that. And you look you open your eyes, they’re a vampire or something. And only when they’re dead bleeding on the floor, you realize that they were really, you know, your long-lost sister. Or, Oh my God, love it. Yeah. And

Tim Broadwater  

it gets even worse if you saw Annabel, but I’m not going to even tell you what that is. If you haven’t seen it, it’s clear to crazy. But yeah, I think that’s like that sanity metric. But then some things are like, I think music, and this is horrible. You know, I understand that there are deaf people in the world. And I understand there are people with visual acuity, kind of, you know, accessibility issues. And so you can lighting and music are also two big things that are used sometimes, but I almost feel like those could be chucked to the left or right for the accessibility reason so, but I’ve played some great games that toy with lighting back on the Wii, there was a game called Lit to where you had to negotiate your way through a high school, but you can never step in the shadow and that thing to where you found like oh no my bad my flashlight turning my battery or like I need to turn on this switch to turn on the lamp on a desk, but I can’t get across the room. I’m gonna have to knock a hole in the wall to make a light to walk through, you know? Yeah, it was that’s, you know, that was scary. Creepy in the music to like with it made it really creepy.

Michael Schofield  

Alright, so you hit on like three different things. I want to rotate back and talk just about like sanity as a mechanic. And then the next thing I want to follow up with is this idea, this kind of like mechanic of ultra-limited resources. Resident Evil, for instance, has, you know, you have like five bullets the entire game or something like that, you know, so it’s really hard to come by but specifically, things like Lit where your battery runs out or Outlast where you are using a camcorder, and your battery runs out, so I want to kind of like rotate back to and on top of that resources.,

Tim Broadwater  

In Outlast, You can not also fight back.

Michael Schofield  

Oh, that’s a big one as well. Correct. So back to sanity real quick. So the interesting about like sanity as a mechanic is that sometimes it’s done poorly. And I, at some point, I’d love to hear like, what about your experience with Call of Cthulhu the roleplaying game soured for you, but maybe that’s

Tim Broadwater  

that’s a bad GM? Okay. I think it kind of conversation, you know, well, maybe not like, that’s not a game mechanic. That’s

Michael Schofield  

 But I think the sanity mechanic of Call of Cthulhu isn’t great for it being as central as it is. For those who don’t know, the idea is that your character. Based on, it’s actually like a cumulative value from different attributes, your character has ranked charisma; I think I’m actually rattling off dungeons of dragons that attributes because it has very similar plans, right? But you have a sanity metric between zero and 100. And, and Call of Cthulhu. When you roll a die, you’re not trying to beat a score; you’re trying to come under a score. So if you have a difficulty of 60, on a scale of 100, you roll the die, and it comes up 59 or less, you have succeeded. So insanity is the same thing. Your GM is going to make you roll for sanity. Whenever you encounter a Lovecraftian Horror, you turn the corner, and the shadow of the coat rack there actually moves to come to get you BAM rolls in. Yeah, the penalty for failing is, I think, kind of stupid. But it’s also interesting in that,

Tim Broadwater  

What’s the penalty? Just remind me. 

Michael Schofield  

So very simple, like low level, I don’t know if that’s the right word, but like minor sanity rules where you miss by two or three, sometimes the penalty is just reducing your sanity, sanity score. Remember, once you get to zero, you, you effectively lose, you are an insane part of the so you’re 60

Tim Broadwater

Goes down to like 40 or 50.,

Michael Schofield  

It’s even like, you know, by points 60 goes on to 59. So you don’t really even feel at that certain point. But if you have what I think is called an extreme failure, you accrue some kind of madness. And there’s like madness tables. And maybe every time you walk, you have to stand and stare every time you cross a mirror. And maybe that runs the risk of seeing something else in there. There are some really good roleplay mechanics, but it relies on the DM to like and be good at it.

Tim Broadwater  

What I like about that is that the thing is, is like you have some onus to some degree, like do you want to look at the worms, or do you want to look in the mirror, you know, so that’s the selling point, right? I guess, like when you were saying like the bad, like, to me, and this is just my thought the inverse of that is when like, I’m just gonna encounter x things in the environment that I’m currently in, and those things are just going to drop my score, you know.  

Michael Schofield  

Call of Cthulhu scenarios are like that, like, Oh, you open the door role sanity. And, you know, you have to have like, you know, just being able to pick up the book. And play means that you’re going to like have your first experience now playing with a GM maybe who hasn’t done it if you’d like to often and which is I think, a common experience with like Call of Cthulhu I don’t know that a lot of people do like huge long term campaigns in this world.

You’re supposed to die. But like everything, like open the door sanity, and it just becomes a chore, right? Like it is so, but there’s

Tim Broadwater  

so for me, let me just speak to that really quick like most people I find as a game master or GM or a dungeon master dm or whatever. storyteller or as it was in dungeons and dragons, original referee. (Wait, really?) Yeah, the very original version of Dungeons and Dragons. I think it’s got a referee. So the referee

Michael Schofield  

Boy, that doesn’t roll off the tongue.

Tim Broadwater  

No, no, but essentially, to what you’re saying, there is that? I guess, you know, I completely lost what we were talking about. I’m sorry.

Michael Schofield  

You’ve just rolled you failed your sanity,

Tim Broadwater  

I feel that I wrote a one. Oh, yeah, what I was gonna say is like generally, and I’m sorry, I just thought of it. But like generally people I find and tabletop roleplaying games want to keep their characters and grow them and grow their experience so, so playing games like Mork Borg or I mean Call of Cthulhu definitely, but to a lesser extent, some of the White Wolf games are like your character can’t really survive. I mean, your characters are kind of cursed or limited. And it’s just so difficult and sanity being a metric or whatever. But

Michael Schofield  

it’s supposed to chip away at the longevity of your character, ultimately, where it’s not like, like sanity has like a roleplaying mechanic. Super interesting. But in these games, you’re right. They use sanity as a way to get you closer to game over.

Tim Broadwater  

Yeah. And no, the other thing you were talking about is like, the resources, right? So this is a reason why I think people love it. Like, I think old school and like new school. And like the people who want to scare or people who want the scare, but also some of that tear comes from resource management, which is how many bullets so how do I find the guy and am I conserving my shotgun sales? Can I run around the zombies, you have a flashlight? Exactly. And so you know, that’s kind of scary, you know, when now when you earn Outlast, and you’re out of batteries for your camera and, or your flashlight or whatever, I think it’s a camera that has a light on it. ,

Michael Schofield  

it’s kind of, like, a mid-2000s handheld camcorder, right? And you can open the screen and look through it and night vision, which makes it even scarier, right, because it’s got that green hue.

Tim Broadwater  

Yeah, and if you’re out of batteries, you’re in the dark. Now you can get really close to something like you would when you’re in the friggin dark, you have to feel. Oh, that’s a stove. Oh, that’s a bed; this is a wall. So you can run around without the resources, but you are doing it so encumbered, or like at such reduced visibility that you have to crawl the wall, because that’s the only way you have to kind of feel yourself around. The other

Michael Schofield  

the thing that’s really interesting about a mechanic like that, right? Which forces you to go slow because going fast would run you into an opponent or something is that it lets the frankly, lets the level not be too big, right? And passing a level still might take, you know, one or two, two hours. Did you ever play the Thief games, the late 90s, early 2000s PC games? (no, I haven’t).  So we have the term first-person shooter. So thief was a first-person sneaker. And I like to think, although I believe there are many different people in this lineage or lineage. But things like Splinter Cell, etc. Really inherited a lot of the shadow mechanics from Theif – actually think Metal Gear Solid predated it. But it’s one of those things where you’re a thief and kind of like a medieval city called The City. And you are not a fighter; you can fight one or two people. But if you come up against like a cluster of guards, you’re toast; you got to run away. You’re built for speed and lightness, and you’re just, you know, kind of like a roguelike cloak, and you stick to the shadows, and it had a light mechanic, and you walk around to the dark. This isn’t a thief talk. But one of the things about this kind of mechanic like staying in the darkness because the darkness is safe or playing with light and some games like you know, stay in the light because the light is safe. Like Lit. It forces you to take the level slowly, and it can take forever. And what that actually does, I think you know Dishonor does this, right. I don’t know if you’ve played any of the Dishonored games. They’re made by many of the folks who came from Thief’s Looking Glass Studios. And it’s sort of like the spiritual successor. So in the dishonored games earn thief, you have to take your time navigating the level, and in so doing, it forces you to really invest yourself in the level when you’re waiting for – like in Outlast when you’re waiting for someone in the asylum to finish their pre-programmed patrol You have to kind of like, you know, wait on the edges of a hallway and just watch the flickering light in the distance to see someone pass so you can time your movement.  ultimately, this level isn’t super big, but Because of the pacing, it feels huge, and because you’re taking it slow, you see every single chip in the paint or flicker of the light, and it really works on your mind.

Tim Broadwater  

Yeah, so I think you made a good point there because there are two things. And it’s kind of like, visibility, you know, I would say to some degree and the resource management of it, like if it’s, but also pacing, like it slows you down and puts you into that creep, there’s also the exact opposite, which is, you are like Zombies Ate My Neighbors, where it’s like, dude, it is constant pressure, it is on the exact opposite. So the pacing is forced upon you from time and monsters, and you’re running around, and it’s also like resource management, you’re, you’re literally trying to run around and get as many missiles and guns and weed eaters and like anything you can use to fight off anything that’s going to come at you and everything that’s going to come at you. And it is you’re not going to the game is notoriously difficult is to beat it’s really there are timers on each level as well. And then you know, at some point you’re never gonna make it, it’s like how long can you last? Because they’re pressure pressuring you?

Michael Schofield  

Dead Rising? Yeah. So you know, there are games that are similar Dead Rising has a total timer. It’s not per level, but you have, I think, something like 72 hours, then, and then you’re toast, right? (Oh, Wow.) And so, but in this game, like Dead Rising, it is semi-comical. And so the idea is that you’re you are resource-limited, but you also have plenty of opportunities to like, replenish. And the real danger of something like a Dead Rising is the Horde. Like one zombie, two zombies. Heck, 10 zombies, not a whole lot. But 20 zombies 30 zombies getting from one side of the mall to the other? You’re toast. And that’s kind of an interesting thing, too. It’s funny because when I think of Dead Rising, I don’t really think of it as a horror game. But the reality is that you have the time you have, you have all of the all the mechanics there to make it spooky, A.) you have a monster, B.) you have a pacing element. And you know, the stakes are big, you’re going to die, or unlike Dead Rising 2, your daughter is going to die. Because spoiler for a game that came out, you know, 11 years ago? But like Dead Rising to your daughter is infected. And you can hold off the zombie virus, provided that you have one of these vaccinations, but those were off. You know, they have this zombie build-a-bear, or something like that, you know, was a pandemic joke. But, uh, but that’s one of the things that are at stake to you. And there are very few of those vaccines. But as but with Resident Evil, like and specifically the earlier ones PS 2 era, you move like a snail. Like the monsters are faster than you have almost zero ammunition. It’s super dark. And, and the cameras suck. So even the constraints of like the game and again, trolls make you feel like you’re on death’s door at every corner.

Tim Broadwater  

And kind of circling back to one of the things that I think we both kind of mentioned at some point sound I think there’s a two-piece or two sound right one part of it is the jumpscare right where it’s just like you’re going along and it’s like oh my god yeah, doing something for you. And the music escalates that right it’s the same in horror games as it is in horror movies. To where it’s just like keep you very silent walking around all you hear is dripping water in your footsteps and then essentially, then something pops out makes it loud and that scares you. But then there’s also the sound piece which is like you can’t put off sound, or you know, you can’t make too much sound or, or there’s a synchronous horror game to where if you make too much sound like the killer, the monster will find you right.

Michael Schofield  

Yeah.

Tim Broadwater  

And then, like the whole horde thing you were talking about like this unstoppable force, you know, I feel like it’s their games that have this unstoppable force how like this is going to happen eventually. Or it’s forthcoming, or it’s a timer. Yeah, it’s either something is going to happen. Yeah. And

Michael Schofield  

it’s either like many many, many monsters, or you know, you come face to face with Dracula, and the old Sherlock Holmes Dracula games like Dracula is gonna whoop ya. Yeah. Like, there’s a, or that’s, that’s like Fury of Dracula to Dracula is way more powerful. When you encounter a Lovecraftian horror in  Call of Cthulhu, say goodbye, dude. Right, you know, so you’re part of it. Oh, that’s a great mechanic. Like part of that is not drawing attention to yourself. Like you don’t run around. Yeah, you don’t run around and Outlast. Because those little guys will hear ya.

Tim Broadwater  

Yeah. It’s Yeah. The tome, Outlast, is very and I’m talking about. I’m a fan of Outlast and the prequel whistleblower. Although I liked to I’m not it’s, it’s I in my opinion, it wasn’t as good as the first one. What

Michael Schofield  

do you what do you think the differentiators were? Why was the first one so good? And what well, what about this next one? Like

Tim Broadwater  

you’re trying to survive and run away and creep around like this mental hospital where you find out like things have been going on like experiments, and then you find out that it’s even more you’re

Michael Schofield  

A journalist, right.

Tim Broadwater  

Who gets called in an investigation, and you’re in your dress trying to get out? Do you know what I mean? So the second one is like it goes a little like, okay, crazy. Appalachian country called town, you know, version and you’re trying to survive, and you don’t you’re trying to find out what’s going on. And it has loose relationships to some of the things you find out in the first one, but it’s kind of just like, it’s like, I don’t need to play. You know? What is that? The movie about the inbred heck wants to deliver? Well, no, no, no.

Michael Schofield  

The Hills Have Eyes.

Tim Broadwater  

It’s kind of along that Disturbance may be or the one like oh, Wrong Turn with Eliza Dushku cue or anything? Like puffy. But yeah, so it’s kind of like that. I’m like, what I found more creepy is trying to get out of the mental hospital and not draw attention to myself, you know, and that was like, I’m lost, like, the other one just felt contrived, you know, and I tried to make it scarier. Yeah, yeah. And the creepiness of Outlast was like, you’re trapped in the dark, you can’t see you need to find batteries, and you’re trying to get out, and you know, you and then there’s you just take, it’s crazy. But all you can never fight back. You can only hide, you know. You’re just trying to survive. And that’s, to me, those guys have great jumpscare. But they also like you can’t put off too much sound like you’re saying so they really that game really, to me, is an effective use of sound Dead by Daylight is too, and we talked about that all the time. Because when the killers close, you can hear his heartbeat. And as it goes away, you that’s how you can tell if he’s going away. And that’s the same in Outlast when somebody you’re someone searching for you, you know, or you’re trying to hide. So they’re really cool, I guess disturbing horror or sanity bass game kind of mechanics. Yeah. And then we talked about music and sound and jumpscares. And then this unstoppable force, you know, and there’s also Resource Conservation or resource management, right?

Michael Schofield

Just the different facets of what makes you like the mechanics that horror writers or horror game designers use to make you tense. And one of those is one where you are you are not empowered, you are weak, you die. So like, again, the journalist and Outlast where you all you can do is run. In Call of Cthulhu, you get shot once you’re toast man is pretty like real life, right? You’re not going to rise up heroically? Yeah, it’s really sort of like, sort of like the antithesis of a lot of the games that we play, where oftentimes we step into the shoes of somebody who is a hero, who can bite off the Horde, you know, Aragorn can murder, like, you know, like 100 orcs, or, or whatever, but it’s when you step into a character, which is that you are entering the shoes of a character who has who is not? Who is not weaker than who is probably as weak as you. It reminds you about your own helplessness, which I think is compelling and spooky. Yeah, if you’re in the if you’re an asylum, or, you know, you and I last Yeah, like, Tim, you’re gonna you’re a fighter, like you. You were a martial artist. Do you could probably take a couple of the inmates out? Well, you couldn’t take them all right, you know, and plus would be really scary, and they have nothing to lose and, you know, stuff like that. Me? I’m toast, man. I’m hiding under the bed.

Introductory Guy  

Thank you for listening to the design thinking games podcast. To connect with your hosts, Michael or Tim, please go to designthinkinggames.com, where you can request topics, ask questions, or see what else is going on. Until next time, game on.

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