In my last post I hinted at a game concept I wanted to develop that incorporated some of the sanity system features I discussed. What follows is that game concept. It is a loose outline of ideas for a video game. I don’t have the knowledge or resources to make anything out of it but it is something I wanted to flesh out and share. The pictures I use are not exactly what I anything is supposed to look like but are used to convey the tone of characters or locations I am describing/outlining. Now come and enter the City of the Nightmare King.
The Opening Scene:
It is a stormy night. Lightning flashes over a rundown house that looks like it is in a bad neighborhood. The windows have bars over them. The player then sees within the home as an elderly black woman is locking up her home. Thunder sounds in the distance. She passes by some family photos. One is a middle aged man in military uniform; her husband who died in war. Another is her son who she hasn’t seen in years. She thinks he is rotting in prison somewhere. The gangs got to him. She wishes could leave this neighborhood. It was a good place to live when she was younger. Since then it has deteriorated. But she has no way to leave. She slowly shuffles to her bed.
As the storm rages on the player sees the woman sleeping. The player starts to see her crying in her sleep. There is a dark mist that starts to form over her. Her body stretches out unnaturally as she quietly begs for her life. Gun shots are heard but no source is seen. Bullet holes form on the woman’s body. The dark mist dissipates. The Nightmare King has feed for the night.
The City of the Nightmare King takes place in an unnamed metropolis that sits beside a massive river. The buildings within in the game should have a distorted design to provide a feeling of unease. Everything should just feel a little off. The city is covered in smog. It is in this city we find the characters of the game. None of them are perfect. They all have nightmares to feed the creature that has begun to haunt it.
The Wayward Son:
The player plays an aging detective: William. He grew up outside of the metropolis on a farm. His mother died while he was young and was raised by his father. He drew strength from his father and entered law enforcement as his way of putting the ideals he learned into action. He wanted to protect and help people but he has become jaded. He has seen the corruption that runs through all levels of society and the amount of suffering human beings can inflict on one another.
The victims of the Nightmare King are just more files of unsolved homicides that end up in the basement archives. There is no link between the victims and the method of killing varies between victims. William only becomes embroiled in the affairs of the Nightmare King by chance and a threat.
Nicholas is William’s lover, though their relationship is strained. Nicholas still maintains a hope in humanity that William has lost. Nicholas is a history professor at the local university. His specialty is in the study of Early Colonial American Folklore.
Nicholas tries to come home and tell William about his student’s efforts but William only half listens and makes comments about what is the point; they will just become corrupted or become victims. Nicholas has tried to uplift William’s spirits but nothing ever seems to work. Lately William has been spending less time with Nicholas and William won’t talk about it.
As William gets drawn deeper into the world of the Nightmare King it starts to bring the fears the lovers have for each other to the surface.
The Iron Maiden:
Julia heads the precinct William works in. Her precinct has one of the highest unsolved homicide rates in the metropolis. Since her appointment a few years ago she has tried to improve the part of the metropolis she has been tasked with watching over. Her methods draw lots of criticism as they are seen as brutal and draconian. She fires and humiliates any individual within her precinct found to have connections to criminal activities. There are also rumors that she turns a blind eye to the beatings of those who have committed more serious crimes. She has torn the checks and spit in the faces of the gangsters and mobsters that have tried to bribe her.
As the story starts William and Julia barely know each other on a personal level. Julia considers to William to be a good detective and wishes he would aspire to move up. What little hope William has in the system of law enforcement in the metropolis lies in Julia. But he doubts she will last long enough to make any permanent changes for the better. There have already been several attempts on her life and he’s just waiting for the day when her life is finally taken.
As Julia’s connections to the Nightmare King slowly emerge William must struggle to understand what is happening and work to gain her trust.
Marcus believes he has found the key to moving up in the criminal world. He has been the laughing stock of the criminal world for always trying to use occult practices for criminal endeavors. His methods rarely worked and if they did it was a fluke. One day he beat a homeless man to death and while going through his possessions found several handwritten pages bound together into a booklet. In it it described a creature that killed by feeding on nightmares. Marcus decided he would try his hand at being a hitman by harnessing the power of this creature. After a couple of small time hits were pulled off successfully people started to take more notice of Marcus, entrusting him with more important hits.
Marcus has become drunk on the power he has gained, believing he is in complete control of the Nightmare King. But the Nightmare King is a creature that is never truly in anyone’s control. As the story begins for the player there are signs that the Nightmare King is acting of its own accord. As the story progresses Marcus has to come to terms with the fact that he was never in control and that the power he had gained is quickly draining through his hands. By the end he is a desperate man that will do whatever he thinks he must do to not lose that power.
The Nightmare King:
The Nightmare King is a creature ultimately incomprehensible to human beings. Its motives for showing up when Marcus called it are unknown. In the waking world if anyone sees the Nightmare King it appears as a human shaped cloud of dark mist. It cannot be interacted with physically. It will leave you alone as long as you don’t try to attack it. Attacking it will cause it to induce hallucinations in its victims and kill them with fear. It never speaks and any sound that emanates from the creature sounds like howling wind.
In dreams where it attacks most of its victims it appears as their fears. If it speaks in dreams it is only ever as the character they are playing, never as the Nightmare King itself. When the victim dies in the dream their physical body will manifest any injuries the Nightmare King inflicted on them in the dream.
At first the Nightmare King attacks only the victims Marcus directs it to but as time passes it starts attacking random people. It even starts to turn on Marcus, invading his dreams. And in the end when it takes its last victim it will leave with no explanation. It reasons for bothering with human affairs will always remain unknown.
The bare bones of the story are that a high ranking individual in one of the gangs has been assassinated. William is the one placed on the case. Through investigating he learns about Marcus and the gossip around him in the criminal underworld. This leads him to look into other alleged hits by Marcus, also leading him to other strange unsolved homicides that are ultimately revealed to be other victims of the Nightmare King.
The climax takes place when William discovers that Marcus’ and the Nightmare King’s next hit is supposed to be Julia. All the while William is struggling to deal with his own demons and the nature of the events taking place as the Nightmare King slowly starts intruding in William’s life.
The story can end in various ways depending on how the player played the game. Different choices include whether or not William lets himself get killed/sacrifices himself to the Nightmare King, whether he let the Nightmare King kill Marcus, and whether or not the player let William lose all of his hope and sanity in the end. Ultimately the Nightmare King leaves off to unknown corners of existence, to one day return and feed again.
The game would take place from a third person perspective. It would have a control scheme like Alan Wake. But combat would not be the focus. In fact any discharge of William’s firearm will require an explanation to his superiors. Depending on his sanity level the dialogue options will vary from reasonable lies to “Oh my god there were monsters!” The game would focus mostly on investigating. Combat might be used in encounters with criminals encountered throughout the game but it will have consequences based on how things play out.
The sanity system would have three components. The first part would basically be something like sanity resistance. These are things that reinforce William’s perspective of reality and his place in it. At the start of the game he hasn’t completely lost hope in the ideals of making the world a better place and helping people. The player can have William go out of his way to help others or intervene in negative situations. These actions reinforce William’s conviction. Actions where the player has William ignoring the plight of others or committing heinous actions himself makes him more susceptible to sanity loss. He would be losing his conviction and a weakness to sanity loss represents him grappling with his certainty of things and himself.
The second part of the sanity system would be the things that actually cost William his sanity. Most situations where William would lose sanity, is in confronting the Nightmare King. These situations might be in the waking world or at some point William might be able to enter dreams to confront the Nightmare King but doing so would require high resistance to the possible sanity loss. Depending on the situation and based on the resistance factors from above he may or may not lose sanity.
The final part of the sanity system is the actual effects on gameplay William’s sanity has. His sanity level will affect what dialogue options he has. Lower sanity means he is having major issues with what is happening causing him to talk in what sounds like non sense to others. This can have a negative impact because he might lose access to resources that can help him, meaning the player would have to find a way to finish the game without the support of Julia or any other law enforcement resources. Lower sanity also means William will be less likely to effectively defend himself, feeling that there is no point in resisting death.
On the flip side a lower sanity might make some clues more obvious to William because of a growing sense of paranoia. This way the player could fast-forward the narrative but it would be toeing the line to make sure his sanity didn’t drop to low.
Keeping sanity up lets William keep himself together to have dialogue options that are reasonable lies about what is happening in order to keep the resources he needs the most. Sanity level would also play into what options are available to William for the end game and ultimately the ending.
There you have it, the City of the Nightmare King. It’s not perfect by any means but is one of the frameworks in which I was thinking about a more complex sanity system for video games. Anyways I hope you enjoyed this slip into what if territory.