Development Blog – Post One – How I Came to Understand Survival Horror

Hi everyone!

For a while now, I’ve been offering help to people who want to create their own games – pretty much ever since I realised how difficult it can actually be, how much money can be wasted, and how underrated most of the really reliable artists are. I have thought a lot about why I actually wanted to do this, and it didn’t take me long to find an answer that resonated: I wanted to help new, great games get to the market. One of the things I could do to make that happen was to offer the benefit of my experience to people that asked for it. I don’t think that’s everything I can do, though. So I’ve decided to start a development blog.

I might not be posting every week, or I might – I don’t really know yet. What I will try to do is post every time I make some sort of decision that affects the development of the games I’m working on. In some cases, of course, I won’t be able to name specific names (or even games!), but I will try to give some insight into the core of what’s happening in my mind, as a game developer.

I have no idea if people want to see this, to read it, but if even one person gains benefit from each post, I’d say that it was worth it!

I’m going to kick off with a bang – something that really made me rethink my rule set – which, anyone who’s ever met me or played with me knows, is something I am really proud of. I don’t believe in massively crunchy rules, stuff that take half an hour to look up and then is worded so oddly that there’s then an hour of debate. I believe in rules providing a framework to the roleplaying, something that stops you being too powerful but really is just an engine to support the development of your character. Why? Because that’s how I play (on the rare occasions I get to do so!).

Some of you might know that I christened this month “EraWriMo”* – a month to write Era Games material. I had initially aimed at 1000 words per day but am now floating at around 50,000 words total and it’s not even the end of the month yet!

During this month, I’ve worked on three games primarily: Era: The Consortium (mostly writing sessions for the ongoing Time Travel Campaign), Era: The Empowered (mostly writing stories for the upcoming full rulebook, describing the history and fleshing out the characters) and Era: Survival.

Era: Survival is my newest game and my first foray into the RPG world of Survival Horror (outside of the computer-based likes of Resident Evil and similar). My Era d10 Rule Set works in a certain way. Fundamentally, the mindset is to ignore the petty, pointless details that slow down gameplay. A punch is a punch is a punch – you can narrate it how you like, and I certainly encourage people to do so, but the mechanics don’t change depending on whether it’s an uppercut punch, a flying kick or charging headlong into the enemy**. I figure that any person with skill attacks in the way that their fighting style allows – something that, oddly enough, I was inspired towards by Buffy the Vampire Slayer fighting alongside Angel!

So, get to the point. I don’t encourage people to monitor ammo for every shot, or count experience points for every kill, or figure out the difference between a flying kick and a punch. The minutiae of administration of combat, I find, are generally extremely boring!

In a Survival Horror game, a genre which is defined by a constant teetering on the edge of death, this makes no sense. You have to run out of ammo, your weapons have to break when you hit that random enemy, meaning you have nothing for the next one. You have to run away and risk being grabbed by the massive alien, which will mean certain death… or it’s not Survival Horror. So many of my normal aims with the rules have to go out the window to make this game work.

I think what I’m trying to say is this: Sometimes, you have something that’s perfect for you. It applies to everything, it works, as my rule set does for me. And then you apply it to something and it works. But it applies in such a way that it hurts the overall game.

I’m not getting rid of the Era d10 Rule Set – I’ll talk sometime about core mechanics and how to design them and why they work (in my opinion) – I am just removing some of the principles I’ve been using until now. In Era: Survival, guns will have limited ammo, grenades and home-made molotov cocktails will be very limited in number, and every weapon you use (including guns!) will wear out after being used a certain number of times, meaning you have to repair it at a proper facility with proper tools. It just wouldn’t be Survival Horror otherwise.

Thank you for reading my blog. I hope you consider coming back for more sometime. Until then, may all your rolls be 10s, and may the explode more times than you expected!

– Ed

*Random comment: I was intended to do NaNoWriMo, but the amount of outstanding work (2 new games, 3 expansions, a significant proofread of a major book, an extension of another game, 3 games I’m actively helping developers with and a convention right after this month ends!) I had made it feel silly to work on a novel at this time. I plan to come back to my novel next year – hopefully things will be a little quieter in terms of development then.

**Before you recoil in horror, a grapple is different to a punch!

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