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Stratomsk

Cosmic Horror Story Feedback

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The story I've been working on for quite awhile, so I'll post that to see what you guys think of it.

 

It is around the late 90's period. The main character is a high school student who happens to be living with his brother/guardian. What he doesn't understand is that years before, his brother went to a certain college but dropped out before graduating. His brother never really explained the reason why to his little brother. He simply told him vague answers and dodged the question. Due to the main characters young age, he didn't question it. Neither did he question the college's abandonment shortly after.

 

 

Years later, at the main characters high school, rumors circle about the high school getting renovated after being in use for a very long time. The main character is reminded of what his brother told him years before. When he is picked up at school by his brother, he decides to take a nap due to the high school being a little under an hour away from their house. He has a dream of a damaged black obelisk in a clock tower. As he ascends the tower, the rooms become more and more grotesque as fleshy appendages dot the walls and a slight ringing in his ears occur. Being able to choose whether or not he touches the obelisk will have some impact later in the story.

 

 

Whatever he chooses, the dream will end. He will have a conversation with his brother about the college and question him as to why he dropped out. Naturally, his brother will give vague answers. When they get home, the player will be able to convince the protagonist's brother to come with him to the college or go alone depending on what they choose.

 

 

Either way, the main character goes to the college to unveil the secrets the college holds and try to understand what happened there. What he doesn't know is that the force against him is the obelisk itself, which holds an imprisoned being that was uncovered by a team of interns working for archeologists in another country. It slowly became more aware of its surroundings, driving some at the college insane, especially the students that were examining it. For others, it killed them, manipulated them to kill others, and caused physical decay of the actual school itself. The main characters brother was one of the few to survive because he escaped the school. After then, the school was considered abandoned. No bodies were found, and the few that survived lost their memories of the incidents.

 

The being warps reality to show what it wants others to see, or nothing at all. The main character will be for all intents and purposes its plaything as he explores the school. It is the cosmic horror the story will be based upon.

 

Any plot holes, constructive criticism, etc would be appreciated as I want to nail this story down well.

Edited by Stratomsk

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Did I just hear-... -Cosmic Horror Story?!?!

 

*Dive-bombs into post*

 

Okay, it's not Lovecraftian, but it's still something great!

The story reminds me a lot of the first Dead Space, if you know it, with the Black Obelisk similar to the Marker. Several properties kind of strike the same chord.

 

Just reading your little synopsis, here's a few of my thoughts...

  • Sounds like an interesting build up. I can't see gameplay yet though.
  • Why 90s? Nothing wrong with it, but why 90s?
  • What does the high school's renovations have to do with anything? Do you mean the college? If it is the college, why was nobody sent to investigate the place?
  • Why was the mass murder and disappearance of so many people not a national incident? Why did the college not go the way of Devil's Reef (bombed to dust)?
  • Handle the choice in the dream with care, especially if there is a punishment down the line for making the wrong choice. An unclear choice is hardly a choice at all.
  • With so much build up, I'd be wary of an overly long introduction. Choice within 3 minutes, gameplay within 5 minutes please.
  • This is a kind of story especially that will lend itself better to "showing" than "telling". The Obelisk potentially beings a lot of very cool visuals to mind, and don't explain mystery and suspense away by "telling".
  • This story lends itself to horror well, don't screw it up with endless or repeated jump-scares, and make your first enemy an event.

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Did I just hear-... -Cosmic Horror Story?!?!

 

*Dive-bombs into post*

 

Okay, it's not Lovecraftian, but it's still something great!

The story reminds me a lot of the first Dead Space, if you know it, with the Black Obelisk similar to the Marker. Several properties kind of strike the same chord.

 

Just reading your little synopsis, here's a few of my thoughts...

  • Sounds like an interesting build up. I can't see gameplay yet though.
  • Why 90s? Nothing wrong with it, but why 90s?
  • What does the high school's renovations have to do with anything? Do you mean the college? If it is the college, why was nobody sent to investigate the place?
  • Why was the mass murder and disappearance of so many people not a national incident? Why did the college not go the way of Devil's Reef (bombed to dust)?
  • Handle the choice in the dream with care, especially if there is a punishment down the line for making the wrong choice. An unclear choice is hardly a choice at all.
  • With so much build up, I'd be wary of an overly long introduction. Choice within 3 minutes, gameplay within 5 minutes please.
  • This is a kind of story especially that will lend itself better to "showing" than "telling". The Obelisk potentially beings a lot of very cool visuals to mind, and don't explain mystery and suspense away by "telling".
  • This story lends itself to horror well, don't screw it up with endless or repeated jump-scares, and make your first enemy an event.

 

 

The high school renovations part I guess doesn't make much sense. It could instead be rumors about the college and what specifically happened there or maybe its potential demolition. Its set in the 90's because of my personal preference. It feels like a good point for the main character to be exploring the college's shrouded history.

 

I'm thinking that the incident at the college was essentially covered up by the creature to make it look like a mass disappearance. Obviously there would have been a mass search but they would have been unable to uncover anything, even the obelisk itself which likely would have been able to manipulate the people to render itself invisible. The only other option would probably be to close down the school permanently.

 

The game will start with the dream and have them approach the clock tower that features prominently within the college. After that will follow the car part and onwards. Really what I wrote up there is a lot of the back story which will be explained piece-by-piece as the game progresses. The choice in the dream I'm really grappling on, wondering if it should really be there in the first place. Perhaps it shouldn't have any real affect other than give the player an idea of what to expect from the rest of the game.

 

Jump scares I will avoid like the plague. Atmospheric and suspenseful gameplay is the best way to do horror in my opinion.

 

By the way, do you think the Cosmic Horror holds too much similarity to Dead Space? I'm wondering if I should change that. Its never going to be on the same level as a Lovecraft story, but that's what I'm shooting for.

Edited by Stratomsk

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What is the Obelisk thing trying to accomplish? What makes it horrible?

 

Or rather what makes it a cosmic horror and not just an alien serial killer with tentacles? Lovecraft himself struggled with this in some stories and it wasn't actually the point of others but if you really want a cosmic horror it should pose a threat that can be barely comprehended and not something an earthly creature would threaten. Of course it's all the better if the cosmic horror mirrors more Earthly ones (be they committed by human, other animal, or tentacled monster).

 

Is the Earth actually a cog from some vast ancient machine and the life on its surface mere grime? Does it wish to drag minds back to its own world to be tortured for aeons until they become copes of it? Logical but alien motivations are the key.

 

 

 

  • Handle the choice in the dream with care, especially if there is a punishment down the line for making the wrong choice. An unclear choice is hardly a choice at all.

I think this could be a good replay value/establish character section where you determine a lot of minor flavor tweaks or one or two lynchpins but there are no bad choices.

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Cosmic Horror is one of the few genres in which your antagonists don't need motivation, that's where the 'Cosmic' part comes in. There isn't much to understand when something is so cosmically, and fundamentally different than you. Cthulhu's motivations are vague at best. What exactly is Nyalathotep's motivation? We don't know, maybe it'd be nice to figure out what it's goals are first. Too bad that'll never happen. Does Azathoth even think? Let's hope we never find out.

 

Tying this back to Dead Space a little, perhaps it is good to at least have intent for your villains at least, especially if you want the Obelisk to be "sealed evil in a can". While interesting, The Marker in the first Dead Space had a really convolved and mixed up motivation that I'm sure gave Viceral a hard time in trying to write continuations of the story.

 

As for the dream with the monolith, those are good ideas Anarch. It could be an unwitting choice to see slight variations in the story - you need to play through the game twice to get the whole picture.

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Yeah I need a bit more on the cosmic horror itself. Perhaps its like this: The obelisk is a mirror to a separate dimension that is populated by a formless being. The obelisk is a manifestation of its attempts to escape into our dimension.

 

I'm thinking that perhaps its power is steadily growing over time and has the ability to erase the existence of those that come in contact with it. The main character over the course of the story will slowly realize this and attempt to destroy it, ending in failure as part of the beings plan to show one human being what is to come for the fate of the earth.

 

I don't know if this is the best way to do it, but after many revisions this is what it came down to.

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 There isn't much to understand when something is so cosmically, and fundamentally different than you. Cthulhu's motivations are vague at best. What exactly is Nyalathotep's motivation? We don't know, maybe it'd be nice to figure out what it's goals are first. Too bad that'll never happen. Does Azathoth even think? Let's hope we never find out.

 

Cthulhu is honestly one of Lovecraft's least horrific and original characters. Vague unease, vague danger. It's more superstitious than scary or horrific to me. Strip away the mumbo jumbo and he may as well be Smaug. He's cool, he's impressive, but he's really just a big monster and Lovecraft's assurances that he is not, coupled with the not entirely reliable narrators only serve to make Cthulu seem overblown within the Mythos world itself.

 

Nyalathotep, much better. We can never be sure exactly of his motivations, and that's great, but we do know he serves the beings like Azog-Thoth and doesn't really like it. He does like Chaos and either doesn't like humanity or really like messing with us. Alien, but logical and understandable in some way.

 

Dunwhich Horror is a really good one and does the mirroring/multiple levels quite well. We get a bit of Wilbur's viewpoint and through him some of his brother, we can sort of understand what Yog-Sothoth is about through them but it is clearly on another level. We get just enough of an understanding to make our inability to put all the pieces together feel frustratingly painful rather than something to simply move along from.

 

What make it cosmic I always figured was the insignificance of human desires and morals in the scope of the vast universe.

 

I think an alien entity escaping/exploring and wantonly destroying humans in its search is pretty appropriate but it needed that explanation.

Edited by AnarchCassius

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I dunno, I think my favorite Lovecraft horror is Azathoth, maybe because it is such a perversely warped idea behind a creator god, a mindless, almost formless, idiot that sits in the center of everything that is and is lured to sleep by various beings who know if it ever woke up it would mean the end of everything that exists.

 

Nyalathotep is way way to "human" to me compared to all the other mythos beings. Of all the other various gods and beings he is the only one who seems able to actually relate to humans. Doesn't mean he isn't interesting, but he is more like a cool but creepy uncle who is offering you candy. Maybe it's just candy, maybe he just wants to get you in his van. Either way he still is understandable on a human level, even humans are more like unsuspecting children to him. Yeah this comparison went to a very dark place, but you get my point. Is Nyalathotep better then an unfeeling monstrosity or could he be even worse because he is more relatable? I don't know but it isn't the same kind of thing.

 

I also kinda like the King in Yellow. Who actually is the King in Yellow? It has a name but saying it is probably a bad idea. Isn't the most powerful or most well known mythos character, but still rather interesting how it's one of the only ones where even saying it's name is really really bad news.

 

Cthulhu is probably a lot more horrific with the understand that the squid-headed dragon man thing we associate with Cthulhu was never intended to be anything but a artistic representation of Cthulhu. What it really looks like is something else entirely. I think popular culture have sort of ruined Cthulhu in that way, but that's okay because yeah he is mostly just a big monster.

 

Though really to me none of these monsters are that horrific. I actually find myself more interested in asking something else: What would these monsters be scared of? What would monsters born in the darkness before the universe have to fear? What would things older then the stars from lost eons run from? And of course the answer is pretty obvious, the same thing as anything else. Notice how they try their damnist to keep Azathoth from ever ever waking up. Azathoth it's self is too stupid and unaware to fear anything, but I imagine if it would it would fear that too. Non-existence. The Void. The End of Everything. Death. For all their terrible power and uncaring in the end they are the same as us, lost children scared of the dark.

Edited by KilloZapit

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This is starting to get off topic, but Azathoth isn't 'idiotic', just as it/he isn't 'nuclear'. Nuclear in the sense of being in the center of the universe, an idiotic god, as in a god of idiots. You would have to be an idiot to worship something that may or may not end reality on a whim.

 

Steering a bit more on topic, I suppose the idea we're trying to get at, is that cosmic horror is always about the villain - and wither or not it's motivations make sense, your villain must be compelling to have a good story.

Subtext is also very important in a cosmic story, perhaps looking over yours you might find room for some theme. 'Humans are insignificant' is popular, but overdone, and I'd prefer if general xenophobia was a theme less explored - but Cosmic Horror offers a lot of room for some thread, if you think you can write it.

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I always interpreted the whole idea of Azathoth was basically "god was more or less a dumb animal that created the world by randomly dreaming it up without really knowing what it was doing", hence, an idiot. But that's besides the point I guess.

I guess the point I was trying to make is there are kind of different kinds of villains in cosmic horror. There are beings like (my idea of at least) Azathoth that more or less are basically mindless doing everything purely out of instinct. Then there are beings that do have a motivation and aren't mindless, but are so alien that it's hard or impossible to comprehend them. Then there are beings who are just powerful enough that they think themselves above good and evil but are otherwise quite understandable. (warning: all links go to TV Tropes, standard disclaimer applies)

 

Or to put it another way, if you are going to make a cosmic horror villain and refuse to explain or at least put a framework on anything they do, you run the risk of the game seeming more like an excuse to do random crap to the player then actual actions by a character You don't need to explain everything, but I think a good cosmic horror villain I think is still a character, even if it's one that is kept distant form the audience. On the other hand, a cosmic horror story can also be effective if the antagonist is a force rather then being personified into a character. It all depends on what kind of story you want to tell.

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In this story I want some interaction and Dialogue to exist between the Cosmic Horror and the main character by proxy. Its intentions I'm going to make sure are not fully understood in the few instances it does talk to the main character.

 

It will be shown to be very interested in the concept of knowledge and to a lesser extent humanity, but ultimately disregard them as insignificant in relation to its own desires to escape its own dimension into ours.

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Having extremely hard to understand conversations with a cosmic horror is always fun.

And yes, no matter how silly and friendly they my sound, Orz are cosmic horrors. They refuse to tell you anything about the vanished Androsynth who's space they took over, you find something on the Androsynth planet about an experiment they did that drives someone insane and makes them smash all the research and then seem to get attacked by invisible things well yelling about "them", and all another rather creepy race that seems to have done experiments on humans in the past will tell you is they were trying to make humans invisible so they couldn't be seen, and "The Androsynth showed themselves, and something noticed them. There are no more Androsynth now. Only Orz." And these creatures are all to happy to join your alliance for some reason they never really explain.

 

Edited by KilloZapit

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I can't think of too many actual conversations with Cosmic Horrors in Lovecraft specifically...

Of the ~50 big things he wrote, I can only think of two instances..

 

Nyarlathotep at the end of the Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath,

and the Mi-Go in Whisperer in Darkness, I suppose, if you want to consider them a horror. They're pretty small time.

 

If you did want dialogue, the best conversation I could compare it to would be with Sovereign in Mass Effect 1. It's pretty good, arguably the best in the series, and it's kinda how it would go down with an Eldritch Abomination, I think.

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I always thought the conversation with Nyarlathotep at the end of the Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath was interesting because I am still not entirely sure Nyarlathotep actually meant badly. Nyarlathotep always stuck me as at worst a prankster and at best a active protector. Doesn't help that Nyarlathotep makes a decent anime girl.

 

Hehe, come to think of it there are quite a few conversations in the same game the Orz are from that are very eldritch, like the Mycron. I guess it depends on if you want something more humanish, or more alienish. and in what way.

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Can't go wrong with cosmic horror. No, wait, you absolutely can. But once you've got the elements of a good cosmic horror down, you can get away with pretty much anything.

 

At the moment, the only part that's standing out to me as unnecessary is memory loss. It's a complicated thing and an overused plot device, drawing immediate parallels to certain other cosmic horror stories. That, and it doesn't seem like the kind of luxury that the Obelisk would grant. Isn't it more frightening if the survivors are left to doubt their own memories, unable to get their stories to match up with each other, and knowing that they'll have to spend the rest of their lives never talking about it? It's a small thing, but the abomination's in the details.

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Can't go wrong with cosmic horror. No, wait, you absolutely can. But once you've got the elements of a good cosmic horror down, you can get away with pretty much anything.

 

At the moment, the only part that's standing out to me as unnecessary is memory loss. It's a complicated thing and an overused plot device, drawing immediate parallels to certain other cosmic horror stories. That, and it doesn't seem like the kind of luxury that the Obelisk would grant. Isn't it more frightening if the survivors are left to doubt their own memories, unable to get their stories to match up with each other, and knowing that they'll have to spend the rest of their lives never talking about it? It's a small thing, but the abomination's in the details.

 

I was considering having the main characters brother simply lie to him in order to protect him from the "horrible truth." Thanks for the feedback.

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I've been thinking about the ending.

 

At some point, the brother comes back to find James if he isn't already with him. What the Cosmic Horror will do at the end of the story is show the protagonist what he is capable of by taking James. "I took him. He's inside." (just an idea of what it is capable of) The protagonist will throughout the game be making an effort to cause the obelisk to reveal itself unintentionally by learning more about the events at the college in the past , causing it to become more interested in the protagonist as a direct result. Sometime towards the end of this James will be taken.

 

I know the best way to end the story is to leave the story with several open ended questions based upon the events of the game, but it came to mind this may come across to the player as a cliffhanger.

 

How can I avoid this? Ideas for the ending are also appreciated.

Edited by Stratomsk

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Honestly I think if you are going to give the horror some personality, I think maybe the best way to end it is, well, kind of like a break up. I mean, imagine the whole game is kind of like a weird antagonistic relationship. Both sides, the human and the horror seek to understand one another. Maybe the horror starts playing games with the human, the human desperately tries to understand why it is doing this. The horror could threaten the human, make it clear it could rip apart it's mind with no effort at all. The human could try and desperately reason with the horror, invoking moral ideas the horror does not understand or care about as the horror mercilessly deconstructs them. In the end the horror get's frustrated lashing out in spite to get a reaction. The human gets angry trying it's best to find what ever small victory it can. In the end though the horror goes to far, the human breaks down and yells that the horror should just kill them already, just come through and kill the world. And then the horror could, it threatens, but in the end it decides it's pointless, whatever goal it had was not met, and it just decides to leave. The human of course doesn't really understand why, can't really understand why. They are free again but only with the tampered knowledge that whatever it was let them go, that they weren't even worth the effort of being wiped out. The horror is still out there, and it's still looking for something the human does not understand. And that something is LOVE!

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