Context: Nachtmahr is an asymmetrical multiplayer horror game set in an abandoned mansion. While three players take on the role of survivors trying to find clues that unlock the exit doors the fourth player takes on the role of the hunter who builds the map as the game goes on and materialises on it from time to time, hunting down the survivors.

Design Process:

Early during development we ran into the problem that the idea of having a 2 vs 2 model with two survivors in one team and a ghost and the hunter in the other team did not flow very well. There was hardly any interaction between the ghost, hunter and the survivors. They only acted on each other resulting in a not engaging gameplay loop, which became clear once we mapped the gameplay relations.

Mapping the gameplay relations clarifying central gameplay actors with size and grouping different elements to gameplay themes with colours proved useful to increase readability. First the model was created of how we expected these elements to influence each other (indicated by arrows) and was then tested against real playtests to uncover hidden dynamics that were not anticipated.

Redefining Design Goals:

Giving the hunter the abilities of the Ghost helped to some extent by creating a more versatile flow of interactions between survivors and the hunter but also created new problems that the interest curve for a typical game revealed. The curve was plotted by observing playtesters and interviewing them about how they would rate certain critical gameplay moments.

The conclusions drawn from this data helped creating three new design goals:

  • Increase number of strategies availible to survivors
  • Decrease map pressure generated by the hunter
  • Increase gameplay variety

Some other observations that came up during testing were:

  • Walking around until the hunter stumbles into survivors is not fun for either side
  • Hiding and finding clues is very difficult for the survivors with the given room designs leading to many quick hunter victories
  • The game is more engaging for the hunter

What was missing in the design was a cycle between tension and release for both survivor and hunter players to feel like a powerful hunter and its prey. With the new design goals and observations in mind I created a system in which the hunter needs to alternate between building the map and hunting survivors on it, allowing them some room to “breathe”.

This helped reaching our design intention of creating scary/intense chases as well as getting closer to reach the design goals.

Revisiting modular Room-Design

One issue that kept coming up however was survivors struggling to find clues. While changing the unlocking conditions helped, the rooms had to be redesigned as well. Goal was to make it easier for survivors to find their way and to get clues. For each room I created maps showing areas players passed through more likely and where they would go in case of a chase. With these visualisations clues, items and drawers acting as additional hiding spots could be added in positions where they had the most effect on gameplay.

Adjustments

While most issues were addressed a few things needed to be adjusted to create a more fair and fun experience for all players. One of our early goals was to create an equal chance of winning for both teams. Implementing adjustments to values like number of spawned items, battery duration, clue visibility or curse durations/costs helped evening out the playing field as wins in our playtests got more evenly distributed. The new gameplay map helped visualising how other parts of the game might be influenced by strengthening certain elements.

After more testing a few more observations were made that could be fixed by a couple of adjustments. One example is that matches were too short and it was difficult for players to recover from a heavy attack of the hunter. So the win conditions were slightly altered and the number of heals at the survivors disposal increased to effectively giving them second chances.

Clearly defining out design goals as well as problem statements greatly helped steering the development process into a desirable direction.

Conclusion:

Using an analysis of the game’s flow as well as gameplay relation nets I developed a game system that has an inherent cyclical pacing while the stakes are constantly being raised as the match progresses. After some more refinement and additional balancing, the game provided a fairer and more fun experience to all players in a match.

Boiled down to a minimum a core Gameloop can be created from this graph that follows its basic structure:

More Information: More details about the project can be found on my blog here.
Below is the teaser trailer we made for Nachtmahr