Should the player be able to walk through monsters?

This is a pretty straightforward question.  Our current build of the game, and the first build that will be publicly available to any backers, will have monsters that the player can dash through.  It drains your sanity like crazy, but monsters don’t physically impede your progress.

Should it stay this way?  I’ll go over my current list of pros and cons below.

Why should the player be able to walk through monsters?

  • It reduces the number of unfair situations :

We try to make sure that the game never (or at least rarely) throws you into impossible situations.  Un-winnable scenarios are an interesting tool that I’ll probably talk about in another post, but for right now suffice to say that they ought to be used sparingly.

If players can be pushed around by monsters, or monsters can jam up corridors, there’s much more potential for the player to be trapped somewhere and have nowhere to go.

  • It’s another mechanic for the player to learn and master :

Being able to dash through monsters is actually kind of cool – it invokes this feeling of just blindly rushing through a dark room.  You need to have your eyes closed to do it, which is fun, and it gives you a fairly significant hit on your max sanity, which is also a cool feature in that the more you do it the harder it becomes to pull off.

There are good, interesting mechanics here that add a level of depth to the game.

  • It simplifies monster positioning and reduces bugs :

If we do allow for monster collision, it’s probably going to be a universal system – something where collision applies to all creatures equally, not just the player.  Some monsters will push each other out of the way, and some monsters will be too big to push around, and we’ll need to figure out how to make things like forces interact with each other realistically.

That’s a tough thing to do, not just in the sense of getting a pseudo physics engine working between objects on the screen, which is relatively straightforward, but in making it an elegant system that doesn’t crash or mess itself up.  If two bugs slam into each other in a hallway, how are they supposed to react?  If two object clip into each other or spawn on top of each other, does the game break?  Do monsters need to be able to pathfind around eachother now?

The nice thing about having creatures and players ignore each other’s physical constraints is that it’s really really simple on both the programmers and the players.  That’s why a lot of games, like Binding of Isaac or the 2D Zelda series, just don’t do monster collision.

Why should players bump into monsters instead of walk through them?

  • It’s a more intuitive mechanic

We’re trying to minimize the number of mechanics that we need to explicitly explain to the player.  You should be able to predict what happens in the game, and you shouldn’t be surprised by the world working a certain way.  Running through monsters is weird.  It doesn’t make sense with the rest of the world, and it thus requires us jam the mechanic down your throat.

That reduces tension for the player and redirects what could be nervous energy into confusion.

  • It adds to monster presence

I want monsters to feel physical, to be a force that is very tangible and very real and very intimidating to players.  As it stands, monsters in the current game feel more like holograms.  They’re dangerous to touch, like clouds of gas, but they aren’t so much “entities” as they are areas to avoid.

Since so much of our horror comes from the creatures themselves, they need to be able to assert themselves into the world – they can’t feel like optional pieces of the level to the player.

  • It allows us to add more detail to the monsters themselves

Now we can give monsters some mass and weight.  Large monsters should push small ones out of the way, some will be small enough that the player could push past them.

What starts out as a kind of isolated mechanic becomes a central characteristic of the monsters themselves, which is not only cleaner and simpler, but also allows us to put even more character and personality into the environment and its inhabitants.

  • It more naturally fits with the theme of feeling your way around

I’ve talked before about how we’ve focused a large portion of the game around blindness and how people walk around when blind.  A lot of that is wrapped up in the player’s ability to feel around the level – the sense of comfort when you’ve got your back to a wall, and the sense of isolation and danger when you don’t have anything near you to grab hold of.

It seems weird to make that randomly different when dealing with monsters.  You should be able to hit a monster and feel your way around them, albeit with a hit to your sanity to accompany the risk.  This might come more into play as we build stranger and stranger creatures – sleeping monsters that you can bump into, creatures like the Chirper that actively trip you up and get in your way, etc…

I mentioned this under monster presence, but I’ll expand on it even more, even though I’m still kind of working out how to say it.  One thing that I really want to capture is the feeling of bumping into something living and having about a second or two before you process and realize what you just did.  Phazing through monsters doesn’t allow for that; it encourages you to rush through rooms when your eyes are closed and just make belines for the exit.  It’s too fast paced, and it removes a lot of the tension.  The blind feeling of opening up a door at night and stumbling towards a wall and instead having your fingers brush up against hair, or fur…  I want players to be able to experience that.

Will the player be able to walk through monsters?

Currently, our engine allows players to phase through monsters.  We’ll need to test both methods, but at the moment, I’m going to guess no.  There are some decent arguments both way, and more of them than I’ve listed here, but, until I write another article talking about when and why I’ve changed my mind, the pseudo-official stance is that monsters are going to be much more solid and much less permeable in the final game.

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