"A stylized horror shooter.
The frenetic gameplay of Devil May Cry meets
the horror setting of Resident Evil and the
immersive game-world of Half-Life."
So began the two-page pitch document
that marked the start of Surreal's development of
The Suffering. It is odd to read it now, two
and a quarter years after it was written, especially
given the various twists and turns the game took along
its road to completion. But it is even more remarkable
how little the game's concept changed from the basics
laid out in that initial document.
Like most projects The Suffering
had many of the classic successes and failures with
which long-time readers of Game Developer postmortems
will be keenly familiar. Though The Suffering
employs many game mechanics that are well established
(it is a shooter after all) a number of design decisions
were made early on that we hoped would make the game
stand out. Thus it is interesting to look back on
the game's development purely from a game design standpoint
to see what worked and what did not.
In many ways, The Suffering
emerged out of the ashes of a game I had spent the
prior two years on, an action/RPG Western called Gunslinger,
a game that ultimately fell prey to the market's aversion
to its setting in the old West.
The Suffering was planned
from the get-go to be more focused and conservative
in what it tried to accomplish than the extremely
ambitious Gunslinger. I realized that in the
end part of what sunk Gunslinger was its lofty
aspirations, and with The Suffering we had
a game I knew we could pull off, including its drastically
stripped down morality system. From the start, however,
I had very concrete design goals for the project that
I hoped would make it stand out.
Most important was that The Suffering
was to be an action horror game, instead of a survival
horror game. This meant we were going to focus more
on combat and avoid the long cut-scenes, frail central
characters, clumsy controls, fixed camera angles,
and sparse ammo of many console horror games. Losing
those elements we knew we would not be able to pull
off the cinematic style of horror employed by Silent
Hill and Resident Evil, and would need
to instead focus on establishing a more disturbing
and unsettling tone, taking horror novels as our inspiration
instead of films.
We also felt we could be more effective
at keeping the player tense and on-edge by immersing
them in the game-world as much as possible. In addition
to our improved controls and limited cut-scenes, we
wanted to immerse the player through player-empowerment.
A number of our decisions reflected this: control
of the player character would be as smooth and intuitive
as possible; the player would be able to interact
with the game-world in a believable and consistent
way; the player would make their own way through the
game-world via multiple paths and numerous optional
side-areas; there would be multiple ways to accomplish
a given task; players would be able to explore the
game's story as much or as little as they want; and
players would be allowed to make important choices
about how they act in the game world, thus tying into
our morality system. Through these important choices,
the player is able to determine the main character
Torque's guilt or innocence of the crime that landed
him in prison. We felt this was our strongest element
of player empowerment, allowing players to determine
not only Torque's future but also his past, something
altogether unique in games.
Finally, to have a disturbing and
unsettling tone we knew that creepy monsters alone
would not be enough. Therefore we wanted to tie into
real-world horrific events. Thus the storyline is
suffused with the darkest elements of American history,
including prison life and culture, slavery, racism,
unethical medical experimentation, mob-mentality executions,
and the death penalty. This is fairly serious subject
matter for a videogame, particularly an action-adventure,
and it amplified the horror of our world tremendously.