It's something I think about a lot these days. I never really played survival horror back in the day, and only recently (the last couple of years) have decided to delve into them. Frankly, being scared isn't entirely my bag, but, something does keep calling me back for more: how the games handle their resources. As I'm sure pretty much everyone here knows, the standard formula for survival horror (Resident Evil, Silent Hill, etc.) is to pit the player against an obstacle, and provide the them with some type of resource (ammunition, healing items, keys, batteries, and the like) that allows the obstacle to in some way be surmounted. Which is about as standard as a game mechanic gets. The catch is that there isn't a lot of the resource available, and, the game acts as a 'closed system' (there's no way to generate more of the resource, you can only find what's already there). A good comparison, I think, would be something like the pieces you're given at the beginning of a chess game. They're your "ammunition" and player all in one, and despite being able to change pawns from one form to another, you're not getting any more pieces. Every loss is permanent, as it is in classic survival horror (there are some exceptions like the random drops in Resident Evil 4, but for the sake of the argument, I want to keep things simple, and stick to the original design philosophy).
Now, what this mechanic does (to me) when I play- is that it creates this… sense of severity in every enemy encounter. I feel this intense pressure of having to be "on". That my screw-ups really matter, and that I quite literally can't afford too many, or I'll get soft locked out of the game. I guess it's like a sort of Sword of Damocles feeling. It isn't just the failure of individual combat encounters that hang over my head, but, the possibility that several tiny miscalculations and mistakes will eventually compound, and thus cause me to not lose the game to death, but to the entropy that resulted from my own failures. I feel in ways that these games are long term endurance tests against myself, more than just the enemies.
I would assume at this point some of you are thinking about classic fps design. That there were in fact PLENTY of games that weren't survival horror back in the day that more or less followed the same basic philosophy. I mean, just look at Doom. Any individual level only had so many weapons, ammo, and health packs. And it really wasn't until Halo (to my knowledge) that that attitude began to shift. But games have come a long way since Quake and Goldeneye and Turok. And this mechanic didn't really manage to come with them (save a few modern renditions of survival horror like the Resident Evil 2 Remake). As action games evolved, and regenerating health/near limitless ammunition became the norm, combat encounters became a series of disconnected sprints, as opposed to the endurance challenges of the past.
So what's my point in all of this? Well, what I'm wondering, is what would happen if we took a more modern game, and didn't really change much about it on a gameplay level, BUT, switched the resources to survival horror standards? I'll give an example that I've considered: What if we take Dark Souls, and just switch up a few things? Enemy permadeath, for one thing. Every time you defeat an enemy, it stays gone for good. The amount of souls you get from enemies would have to be adjusted (or the requirements for leveling would, either or). This would of course also make losing souls upon death extremely devastating, but, extreme is sort of the point I'm trying to make. Bonfires would work as more standard save points, and instead of respawning enemies/resetting your estus, will just give you… let's say ten flasks each. Ever. (I realize that that number is pulled directly out of my butt, and a lot of effort would have to go into balancing it correctly, but, I think you get the idea). Because what I think these few changes would, without altering anything else about the gameplay- is essentially turn it into "Hyper Dark Souls". I think in doing this every action could potentially be given so much more weight and consequence. Severity, I suppose. It would be very hard, but, I think potentially very rewarding.
And really, the potential for something like this is limitless. It could apply to really any sort of action game (and probably other genres as well). Right now, I'm going through Red Dead Redemption 2 for the first time (and loving every second of it), and I couldn't even imagine how much pressure I'd feel if there were only so many bullets and health tonics to be had in the game. How much more focused I'd have to become during those shootouts. But this is again, just an example (I wouldn't ever touch Red Dead 2, it's just too perfect). So do I think it belongs in every game? Hell no! But I think that it has potential, and it's a technique to add additional pressure, and focus, to gameplay that most devs seem to ignore. And I think more than anything, what I'm attempting to suggest is that these mechanics don't have to just stay with survival horror, and can find a place in other genres as well.
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