Dead World

The gaming industry has drastically changed over its fifty year-plus stint; video games have become a giant that few would have imagined back when “Pong” was the hottest thing, (and even more-so to “Tennis for Two” creator William Higinbotham back in 1958) and some even stack up against Hollywood’s finest films in terms of substance.  Perhaps the biggest change thus far is the MMO (massively multiplayer online) genre, where people from all over the world can come together and play the same game in a world that is evolving around them.  Games have evolved from a series of pixels popping back and forth on an analog screen to completely fleshed out worlds that we can explore and immerse ourselves in –some more than others.  One thing that remains similar between these games is the ability to play with others simultaneously.

Multiplayer has always been a big part of video games and their success.  From “Tennis for Two” to “Call of Duty,” multiplayer has been key in making the experience new and ever-changing.  It’s not to say that single player games are not as captivating, but there’s something about always being in a battle to best your friends in an all-out war, or working together as a coherent team to overcome the greatest of odds.  In the horror genre we have yet to see much of this, “Left 4 Dead” being the closest thing to a significant team experience.  There are other titles, “Resident Evil 5” for example, allows you to play with another person to go through the campaign together and fight off everything that comes at you.  The problem with these titles is that they are more action than horror; with zombies running full-force at you it becomes more of a scramble of button-mashing than legitimately being startled and using precision to get away.  Believe it or not, zombies are just scarier when they lurk in the dark.

artwork copyright of Brian Schroeder (Pushead)

So how is all of this relevant?  I have been mulling over some ideas and I feel that the MMO genre, which seems to have centralized itself in medieval and sci-fi games, has overlooked horror for the most part.  So this piece is generally going to be offering suggestions and ideas (we want your input as well) to what would make a great, horrific MMO.

To bring it all the way back the zombie heyday, I would make player-constructed barricades a must; imagine holing up with your buddies, manually boarding up the doors and windows for the night, after having spent a long, threat-filled day gathering rations and supplies.  Upon entering and leaving the house, one of your mates stands watch on the rooftop, clearing the area around your house of any looming terrors waiting to pounce.
The atmosphere would be a combination of changing weather –from warm and sunny days, to fierce thunderstorms.  Fog would encase the forests after a long shower and the days would fade in and out of dusk and dawn ala “The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.”  The daytime would be just as terrifying as the nights, only different terrors await you during the day: raiders who would just as soon kill you than let you take any resources that they could claim for themselves roam everywhere, both NPCs and human players.  Other player groups could come to your house or bunker attempting to kill you and steal your rations, taking your residence for their own.

When night falls, your daytime enemies become your allies as you fight for survival from horrific creatures.  Zombies, vampires, werewolves -whatever the epidemic is, it lurks in the night and waits to feast on human flesh.  A raider that was once attacking you and your friends is now turning his back to you to fend off a lumbering zombie, waiting to eat his brains.  Do you help him in an act of humanity or let him die for fear that once dawn comes, he will come back for you?

The possibilities are endless and a survival horror MMO would fit nicely in the mix of current MMO’s, adding its own elements of gameplay and story.  Could your characters gain levels?  Perhaps, anything is possible.  Would it be an MMO without upping your characters’ attributes but being able to find and create your own weapons from the environment?  Think about the possibilities and what you would want in a game like this.  I look forward to reading your comments and thoughts!!

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  • This is the kind of thing I’ve thought about for a long time. I think one of the things that makes horror scariest is grounding it in reality– Think about the Evil Dead series, where 1 and 2 are pretty scary, but by the time you’ve moved on to the third movie where there’s time travel and almost a fantasy setting, the horror is pretty completely gone (it’s still a good movie, just not scary).

    Because of that, I think a lot of the MMORPG stuff that has become standard would need to be jettisoned– specifically, all the swirly pretty magic particle effects that seem to constantly be surrounding every character.

    I actually think that a leveling system should be traded in for skill progression (god knows you’d need a lot of skills to survive that kind of world), and maybe a system that works more like Fallout’s.

  • LeonKennedy

    I wanna say it was a member of the team that created Jak and Daxter, or maybe Ratchet and Clank – maybe that’s the same guy – who had a bit about a horror mmo in game informer a few years back. The article he was part of was asking different game designers what it would be like if they made someone else’s game. His was Resident Evil. If you’ve got old copies of Game Informer lying around, I recommend hunting for the article.

  • Mak

    The closest thing to what has been detailed above is, “The Secret World.” You have a lot of the options above, except of course you can hold your own if you have to.

    That’s where I would love to see this Horror MMO come to fruition. It would definitely be better if there are no levels, or if there are levels, it’s mainly for the fact that you improve within mortal capabilities. Such as improving your firing, learning more of occult knowledge and more.

    To live in a world where you can die from the supernatural should you make a foolish mistake would prove interesting. People all over the world can come together to form cells to combat their enemies or each other, or even to investigate further into the unknown world.

  • Yeah I have heard of “The Secret World,” but I haven’t seen too much about it. Keep the ideas coming!

  • Mak

    Since we are considering Horror as the main aspect, perhaps part of the experience is fighting against yourself. Consider having a system where you must balance your sanity and morality.

    If you keep the idea that we are all mortals surviving in a dark world, then say you decide to take justice in your own hands and hunt down a “demon” because it has killed someone important to you or something related to your history. You find it and it is a little girl that’s possessed and your only option is to kill it. When you kill it, you know it’s the right thing to do, but you also just killed a little girl, it ends up haunting your character.

    If that could be too complicated then perhaps have a system of derangement’s (Hysteria, narcissistic, paranoia, etc). For example, you managed to kill a vampire, no doubt your character will feel quite badass and start growing more narcissistic. He’ll be harder to deal with in social events without having to feel the need to boast about his achievements.

    The given idea already is of course to have the game terrifying. Horrific creatures, haunting environment, and the fact that most of the times, you will feel powerless against the abominations of the world. All while knowing that you don’t have many to turn to, because frankly, it’s an unseen world to the general public.

    I’ll post more info should you need it in due time.

  • good ideas! paranoia goes hand in hand with horror a lot of times, im sure that would be a great addition!

  • Mak

    Unfortunately, MMO is accounting for the general public so as free as the world would be desired, we should assume a system where to have people start off. Which I mean a number of ways to begin your character in the Horrifying MMO world. Perhaps a system where people can choose from a number of jobs and the status they reside with, from store clerk to CEO.

    That in itself can be too much to work with. So perhaps there can be factions people can join for certain causes. Or “ideals” people have that can guide the players through their starting quest in which they can eventually branch off from and do whatever they feel they must do to survive in the grim world.

    Another idea could be the general history they choose. Family/loved ones were murdered and the case was left unsolved due to the fact that it was due to supernatural causes that the character later discovered him/herself. Or maybe they were part of a group had studied the occult and let their curiosity guide them, which could work well with your aspirations. Because of their curiosity they discovered a little too much and were threatened by a dangerous force in which they had to hide and barricade themselves within a safe house. Etc.

    The starting point of any game should be the selling point. So if we can solidify the grounds on this, I’m sure we can build up ideas from there as to what kind of survival horror the MMO world can become.

  • Patrick

    Years ago there were ideas being thrown around about online games where you get to be the monster (vampire, werewolf, etc), and you had to successfully get victims without getting caught. It was like GTA from the Evil Dead point of view. It fell to wayside, but I keep kicking myself thinking “Why aren’t there more games like this!?” Wouldn’t it be great to BE Dracula?

  • I just searched around for a new horror game to play last week and feel stuck between REQUIEM: MOMENTO MORI and waiting for THE SECRET WORLD for now. Both are lacking in what I’m truly looking for, which Patrick has touched on: When do I get to play the creature? When do I get the opportunity to cast a dark shadow over the city, send the citizens into a panic, and know that other players are ultimately going to try to do away with me because I’ll eventually become too powerful to be contained?

    Certainly the WORLD OF DARKNESS MMO promises to lean closer to that, but does it really? I hope so but I don’t think we should have to limit our options to survival horror norms, this week’s outbreak of zombie hordes, and one offering from White Wolf every decade.

    I think the mistake in horror gaming is to continue limiting the player to the role of survivor. I think the innovation here – and its simply too basic to continue to be overlooked – is to free up the option for players to choose whether to embrace the darkness or rage against it. Why can’t I be Dracula? Why can’t I be The Thing? Why can’t I mix my own caustic formulas that turn me into something hairier and scarier than Hyde? And if I want a change of pace, why can’t I hunt those monsters down and know that on the other side of the screen is a clever player who’s ready to come at me with tooth and nail?

    Tell me that’s the game you want to make, and I’ll support it.

  • Nathan

    Several points really hit the nail on the head here.

    First off: It’s true that a starting point is what would spiral the rest outward and this really connects back to the world itself and the scope. How big and elaborate should the world be? Should it be a large and highly detailed town? A medium sized city, not too different from how Manhattan was created out of scale but effectively for Prototype? Should it be the edge of the madness, or some post apocalyptic world of burned out cars and buildings?

    Next: with the creation of the world, what kind of character variables should be allowed to link in with the above? Others have suggested being the evil – which I’ll get to – as well as suggesting morality/sanity meters, which I’m a fan of. For example, let’s go with zombie mmo. Your character’s creations would have access to ‘former occupation’; letting you choose something archetypal such as medical field (the healer), survivalist (the scout), maybe even red neck (the hunter) for nifty access to shotguns. All of these things would just be a beginning and there could be many, many more. To link this to the first, what you choose would make for the type of car/truck you wake up inside, as it’s stuck in go nowhere traffic on the only road out of town. Something bad is ahead of you and you have to turn around and go back into the city in order to survive.

    Third: A Zombie mmo and a general horror mmo would need to be separate in my mind. In a zombie mmo I truly see that it could be scary and induce a world of panic. With a generalized horror mmo with factions of evil to be chosen by human players… I get the feeling it would not be as scary. It would be as scary as a pvp battleground in world of warcraft. When the enemies are too eclectic, it tends to dial down tension. Vampires aren’t scary. Too many shows and movies in recent years have rendered them impotent. Werewolves are difficult as well. On the one hand you have the possibility of being a fearful creature, but the horror from a werewolf story comes from knowing the humanity within the creature and watching the character be a slave to the monster. Not easy in an mmo. This of course becomes compounded with the need to avoid repetitive gameplay for the ‘monster’. What exactly do you intend to have them do day in day out when they log in? Go out and eat humans? That would get old mighty quick. What’s worse is that the more you give to the monsters to do, the less effective they become at being tools of fear. Fear comes from the unknown.

    Lastly: Hope. There needs to be hope and so it comes around to the big old’ question… what is the point? Is it simply to survive? Is there something the characters know about that would drive them forward? How long can you expect to keep it scary, before the novelty wears off? I think the real reason there aren’t many horror mmos on the market is because fear is solitary and hope is communal. How do you infuse the sense of impending doom into a world that by design has to allow for community? To illustrate this, let’s look at the most common design within mmos: the hub. Mmos are made up of a series of hubs that all work around a level range – or a demographic and success in the game is made by moving from one hub to the next. The hubs exist as a constant – because new players would ideally be jumping into the fray on an ongoing basis. In a level oriented game, this would be necessary.

    Where am I going with all of this? Simply put: We need a Zombie survivalist mmo in order to actually have a game that is scary. Let’s use a city as an example. You make your human, wake up in a car/truck that appears to have been rear-ended and are faced with a legion of undead. Your vehicle defines your starting weapon. You find something to use and duck outside into the dead of night. The horde keeps you from leaving town and so you turn around and go back into the city. Escape is out of the question so you resort to basic and simple survival. Player guilds would be based around creating hubs by barricading streets or buildings. These barricades would have a time limit on how long they last, forcing the guild to up and relocate – or fetch new supplies to fortify.


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