Shudder is a survival horror and psychological horror RPG set in the present day. The emphasis in Shudder is on mood and atmosphere, mystery and exploration. Shudder takes its inspiration from diverse works, including H.P. Lovecraft, Kafka, Asian horror cinema, Jacob's Ladder, Silent Hill, and Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth.

Shudder is not your typical survival horror: most survival horror games are tightly linear, and Shudder is an open world, sandbox game. Shudder is also not your typical RPG. You will not be able to 'max' your character to make him or her invincible: your character will never stray (too) far from the normal. The emphasis in Shudder is on role-playing, not grinding. I should also warn you that, although I enjoy a good Zombie Apocalypse as much as anyone, Shudder is a distinctly NON-Zombie Apocalypse game. The emphasis will be placed squarely on creating creepy and disturbing situations and environments in which the player will often feel in real danger of losing life, limb, or sanity.

Role-playing in a World of Survival Horror

Survival horror games are typically about ordinary characters facing overwhelming odds and having to use their brains and the environment to solve problems that brute strength alone won't solve. The goal, plain and simple, is survival. When the player's character is no longer in danger, the game is over. While there is usually some element of combat involved in a survival horror game (and typically poorly implemented), the focus of survival horror games is usually placed squarely on the creep factor: moody lighting and sound effects, gruesome graphics and sudden, startling creature attacks are the bread and butter of survival horror games. To overcome obstacles, players are typically required to find weapons and items, combine inventory objects to create new tools and weapons, and solve puzzles involving logic (using conveniently placed clues) and physics (moving around boxes and statues and the like).

Role-playing games, on the other hand, typically focus on combat, character development, interacting with NPCs, and collecting loot. They are typically quest-based: the player's character speaks to an NPC quest-giver who issues a quest to the player; the player completes the quest, collecting loot and building stats along the way by fighting monsters, and returns to the NPC to claim his or her prize. RPGs already share some elements with survival horror games, particularly the gameplay objectives of finding useful items (and combining these items to make more effective items), problem solving (in the form of puzzles and mini-games), and combat. Survival horror RPGs expand on both genres by combining the mood and menace of survival horror games with the long-term character development and NPC interaction of RPGs. It's like a nightmare that you just can't wake up from. You'll probably think I'm weird for saying it, but that's a kind of experience I'd like to have (in a game!), and I think there are other people out there who share my peculiar interests.

The unique role-playing possibilities provided by a world of horror are different from those of traditional RPGs. In traditional fantasy RPGs, players typically develop their characters into invincible heroes of epic proportions, often able to single-handedly defeat gargantuan bosses in single combat. In horror RPGs, the emphasis is placed less on developing powerful characters, and more on peeling away the layers of mystery and secrecy that conceal the true nature of the universe like the layers of a decomposing onion. The core role-playing tasks of Shudder will involve the player in quests to uncover the sources of the terror springing up all around them, and in finding ways to put an end to them. While the goals are similar, the emphasis is different. Think X-Files with less science fiction and more Lovecraft. Mulder and Scully make good analogs for well-developed horror RPG characters. If you could wrap L.A. Noire around a Lovecraftian supernatural horror-thriller, you'll have a fair estimate of what I want to accomplish with Shudder. (Only with RPG elements.)

Last updated November 8, 2011

© 2009-2011 Dave Finch