Titles like Alone in the Dark and Resident Evil birthed the survival horror genre more than a decade ago. Since then, horror-themed games have seen little in the way of evolution.
Though it pushed the genre forward with its effective use of psychological terror, Konami's Silent Hill series nevertheless features much of the same combat-oriented gameplay as the Resident Evil series. Resident Evil itself, meanwhile, has continued to stray further from its horror-based origins, with some criticizing the latest entry, Resident Evil 5, as being more of a shooter than a survival horror game.
GameCareerGuide challenged its readers to come up with a game design concept that explored horror in a fresh way. Though the proposed game could feature many of the same elements that made the genre successful, entrants were encouraged to avoid the more cliched concepts.
Many of the entries focused on creating an experience themed around a tried-and-true nemesis: the zombie. While the undead have been featured in numerous titles, a few entries remained fresh enough to be compelling despite the zombie's recurring presence in modern horror games.
Other entries featured a strong emphasis on psychological terror, and exploited many common themes. Designers crafted worlds that were similar to our reality, but were warped in unexpected ways. Some responses relied on nightmarish imagery, and exploited human fears regarding friends or family members who had suddenly gone missing...or worse. In some cases, the player's senses would impede gameplay -- the threat of blindness was a common element.
Significantly, nearly all entries expressed a common sentiment regarding combat: firearms in survival horror games often provide a sense of safety that ruins the intended mood. The solution proposed by many designers centered around melee-based combat, or the omission of combat entirely.
What follows are the best and most original entries we received. This particular contest earned so many responses that we decided to declare 10 winners in all, instead of the usual five. Here are our top picks:
Tom-Olivier Martin, QA Development Specialist, Grind (see page 2)
Grind's unique setting immediately sets it apart from other entries. Rather than focus its horror elements on a particular character or enemy type, Tom-Olivier Martin envisions a game in which the environment itself is the antagonist. It's easy to imagine how you would fare if you were trapped in Grind's deadly mechanical world. As a game, the results would no doubt be terrifying and memorable.
Jay Gavarra, Game Designer, Keep Your Distance (see page 3)
Jay Gavarra's creation forces players to form an uneasy alliance with a creature that serves as both savior and executioner. In a pitch-black world filled with traps, players must rely on a single light source to survive -- the bioluminescent light emitted by a bloodthirsty monster. The strength of the concept alone would allow for immense creativity in level design.
Theo Brinkman, Westwood College, Left 4 Dead (or Alive) Xtreme Beach Volleyball (see page 4)
Few entries paired horror and humor, but Theo Brinkman's mash-up of the zombie-filled first-person shooter Left 4 Dead and the volleyball/island vacation sim Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball did so to great effect. Aside from its humor, however, the game explores unexpected territory in its imagining of a world where humans are forced to coexist with the undead as if nothing was wrong -- a horrifying thought in its own right.
Jakub Rokosz, Lead Designer, Me, Myself and I (see page 5)
Daniel Lance, Collin County Community College, The Esherick Incident (see page 6)
Abhishek Deshpande, Game Designer, Amnesia (see page 7)
Kelsey Garman, Westwood Online, Fear of Clowns (see page 8)
Angus McQuarrie, Software Design Engineer, I Know Your Deeds (see page 9)
Samantha Temple, Digital Media Student, Trapped (see page 10)
Greg Webber, Vanderbilt University, Point of Return (see page 11)