A Solution to Call of Cthulhu Sanity in Video Games?

Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land info pageYesterday I chatted a bit about why Sanity is an issue for video games. I think that as games consoles get more powerful, developers will get better at dealing with emotions in a gamic context. More powerful machines will mean better facial animation systems and more scope for actions. Its also going to cost much more to develop – the $23 million a game like Call of Duty: Black Ops costs will not be enough for this future development…

However that is then and this is now. So how to we deal with it? Our issues are that as well as Sanity being a hard concept to place in a game we’re making games that need to run on mobiles, we’re an Indie developer and don’t have a fraction of that Black Ops budget….

The solution was originally proposed by Mike (our coder) after we’d considered a number of possible options – which is to focus on mania (a state of abnormally elevated or irritable mood, arousal, and/or energy levels). To explain; In Call of Cthulhu, when your character goes into a state of ‘Short Temporal Insanity’ there are a number of possible outcomes you can roll, such as panic, hysterics, phobia, stupor and mania. Now mania is an interesting emotion from a game perspective. A manic character can be stronger, faster and less susceptible to pain; all helpful characteristics in a fight!  Yet, and yet, that extra power comes at a cost…

But how can you pick and choose your loss of emption like that? And is there not a cost to mania on your body via the extreme exertion? Good questions. This is a problem that one of the game’s key characters, Professor Brightmeer, has been working on for some time now:

He has been developing a mixture of meditation and medication to protect against madness. Initially he tried to train the recipient in how to avoid it all together, however the human mind has to process the horror somehow. He switched his research into trying to channel madness into more predictable routes and has developed a basic regime of meditation and medication for use in the field. His method re-routes the madness within the mind so that only one behaviour dominates when madness does appear – mania.

In the game this means that when insanity comes, your character may manifest a behaviour that is, in the short term, helpful. They may get a brief burst of power, energy and become more powerful for a little while. This gives you as the player a chance to do things that you’d not normally be able to do. However the cost of this burst of mania is that unconsciousness follows soon after…

(I should note that this discussion of mental states is related to the game and in fiction but should in no way be read as an attempt to belittle the real conditions that exist and that people suffer from.)

About Tomas

Design & Production Director at Auroch Digital. Designer of Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land. Writing and blogging things that surprise, entertain and interest me...
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5 Responses to A Solution to Call of Cthulhu Sanity in Video Games?

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  4. Jim Blanas says:

    I would have liked to see what Phobia and Hysterics would have been like for in-game mechanics. One thing that strikes me as odd is that killing Mythos creatures also drains sanity. In the RPG, killing monsters GIVES you SAN.

    • Tomas says:

      You loose SAN for interactions with monsters, so either getting attacked or having to attack them. So you will loose SAN by killing them as a side effect of this system. However as you gain XP from killing them and can buy POW (So giving you SAN) you can get SAN from killing them. This was one of the trade offs we made in converting the game. Thanks for raising the point though, it is a good one!

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