Bloodlines – Haunted House

I’m still playing away at VtMB (Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines). I’m still loving it.

I’ve just unlocked the taxi cab. For those who have played, you understand that means I can now travel about the region. I quit-and-saved shortly after arriving at the new location (downtown. Downtown where? Uh… LA?) so I don’t know much about the new downtown area, but what I want to take a moment to comment on is the haunted hotel you visit in Santa Monica. What well done horror! I was completely on edge as I played through the level.

For those who haven’t played and don’t mind spoilers… vases fly through the air at you, flashes of light go off around you, doors slowly open or slam shut, the floor gives out, you see people running off in the distance, you hear voices warning you (“Watch out! He’s coming!), and there are old newspapers scattered about that tell the story of the hotel (a jealous husband killed his wife there) – to name but a few items.

To name one more, at one point I wandered down a long hall to a door but found the door locked and barricaded shut. My attentions had been focused on that door so when I turned around to backtrack across old terrain, I didn’t assume anything would happen. Except – there was a man standing behind me. I think I hit every key on my keyboard while simultaneously squeezing (crushing?) my mouse. My character in the game lurched forward, sword drawn, hitting just about everything in site – everything except the man who disappeared as quickly as he arrived.

Awesome. Just pure awesome.

I’m going to wrap this up by commenting on two things this horror level makes me think:

  1. Horror doesn’t work if you die. If I walk around a level and am constantly beheaded, then I am constantly re-loading and losing tension. The horror dissipates. The illusion is broken. Horror works best when – even if the player knows nothing really bad will happen, he believes something just might. Of course, to accomplish that you effectively are removing all challenge from the level and turning a game into a movie. But I’m fine with that. I don’t mind short, essentially non-interactive mood enhancement. Speaking of, Myst is a good example of this; you knew nothing would jump out and kill you, but you always worried it would happen.
  2. Story-based RPGs are like an escalator. These is an illusion that your decisions are progressing the story, but there are no alternatives. You can only move forward. In Bloodlines, I’m told to enter the haunted hotel and retrieve a locket. I can’t “get scared” and leave, returning to the quest giver and saying “I can’t do it!” I can’t refuse the quest and, in fact, once I’m in the hotel – I can’t even leave it. At that point, the only choice is moving forward triggering every horror sequence until the mission is complete. It works here because the mood is so well done, but it’s always a risky move.

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