So, I'm working on a video game wherein there's a lot of supernatural stuff "legitimately" going on around the player, but the player character is also schizophrenic, and realizes as much. So what's really happening, and how much the player is actually contributing to solving the problems presented in the plot will always be questionable.

The player's schizophrenia manifests as voices and hallucinations. Some characters in the story will be revealed as fake, and others won't. The game takes place in a near-future war-torn world, riddled with dangerous unexploded ordinances, automatic turrets, maybe even some robots (maybe), and such.

At one part in the story, the player will be traveling cross-country with 3 or more comrades who do not realize that the player has this problem. The player character can't tell them, because then the player would be a liability on the group and would be cast out. One of the comrades is a hallucination, and the player has to find out which one.

For this part of the plot, I plan to put pressure on the player to find out which friend is a hallucination, using situations where the player has to depend on his friends. For example: the player and two friends are separated from the rest of the group; they find themselves needing to cross a mine field, and the two friends take separate paths through the field, both urging the player to follow them for safety (I might not use that idea; it's just an example).

I've got ideas for how to give the player clues as to which friend is a hallucination after the player already knows that one of them is, but I don't know how to initially make it clear that one of them is definitely fake without telling which one.

What do you guys think? How can I reveal to the player that one of the NPCs in his party is a hallucination without revealing which one?

ETA: I'd like it if your answers didn't take into consideration any mechanical gameplay limitations necessarily. Feel free to also consider the question as if I told you I was writing a book and wanted to reveal something to the main character. I'll use what parts of your answers I can use in order to work out my final product.



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    $\begingroup$ The first rule of Fight Club... $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Aug 6 '18 at 21:50
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    $\begingroup$ Do you want to provide some ways for the player to test "reality" of other people, or how, in a first place, alert the player to the fact that some of the people are not real? By the way, have you seen "A Beautiful Mind"? $\endgroup$ – Alexander Aug 6 '18 at 22:04
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    $\begingroup$ This game sounds awesome! $\endgroup$ – Starpilot Aug 7 '18 at 5:54
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    $\begingroup$ You can look at movie and tv adaptations of the same premise for further ideas on how to depict the hallucinations. A Beautiful Mind and Mr. Robot spring to mind. $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Aug 7 '18 at 17:15
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    $\begingroup$ a hallucination cannot interact with physical world. Show real characters picking up stuff, breaking walls, making barricades. Or if your protagonist can hallucinate his imaginary friend building a barricade, real people will not hide behind it. $\endgroup$ – Bald Bear Aug 7 '18 at 18:11

Have someone refer to the number of people in the party.

E.g If you have a party made up of Alice, Bob and Charlie, but Bob is hallucinating that there's also Debbie, everyone always refers to "the three of us".

Bonus points is that it's subtle enough that it might escape notice the first time, as the player might not count themselves.

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    $\begingroup$ Haha this is a cool idea! Very clever. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – boxcartenant Aug 6 '18 at 21:37
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    $\begingroup$ Alice, Bob and Charlie being in alphabetical order bugs me a bit that you went for Eve instead of, say, Debbie. $\endgroup$ – Skyler Aug 7 '18 at 14:56
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    $\begingroup$ Changed names and rearranged! Though if I was feeling spiteful I would have changed it to"Faith" or something $\endgroup$ – Chromane Aug 7 '18 at 22:03

You could have supplies (food, water, ammo) decreasing as they are used by the real humans, leaving potentially a very subtle clue to the player who may not notice the rate of consumption is apparently wrong. A clever way to make it more visible might be if they find a pizza with eight slices -- which should be evenly divided by four people, but somehow they end up with 2 slices after everyone gets two. You could increase the obviousness of the clues in stages, eventually getting to the point where someone refers to "the three of you", or charges them for three tickets on the train, or something.

  • $\begingroup$ Good feedback! I like the idea of starting small and building up to more obvious clues. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – boxcartenant Aug 6 '18 at 22:01
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for the pizza idea. $\endgroup$ – Arcanist Lupus Aug 7 '18 at 6:09

I've run across this, or something like this, about twice where it was done well.

The first is Hellblade, which while I never played, Mr. Wendle On Games did a great exploration into it. Among some other things the game did that tied it all together.

In terms of hallucinations and how the game achieves that, the other answers here have it pretty well covered: whispered audio, visuals that only exist for the character (and the player), and the complete redaction of standard "4th wall" aspects, like a health bar. The health bar isn't reimagined as some feature on the character's model, no, it's gone.

Everything about the game works to immerse you in being the main character, along with all of her insecurities and hallucinations. The game never tells you to press keys or move your mouse or anything like that. Instead you get an audio track of whispered voices telling you to "look around" and if you don't, those same voices get angry asking, "why won't she look around? Just look around!"

The second time was the anime School Live!, I highly recommend watching the entire first episode before reading the details below. Try and spot the hallucination--and who's doing the hallucinating--before the reveal.

p1. about episode 1

One of the characters is so far in denial about the fact that she and her friends are trapped in their school due to a zombie apocalypse the entire first episode never shows anything but her delusions until the final seconds. Additionally, one of the other characters is a hallucination, showing up in every scene in nearly every episode. The other characters do interact with the hallucination, or appear to, making it much more subtle for the viewer (and thus work well).

p2. about the rest of the series

Even after the first episode it's hard to tell that the teacher, Megumi, is a hallucination, even knowing that the Yuki lives in her own little world. Megumi died a horrible death before the first episode and there are occasional interactions with her from characters other than Yuki, though usually when Yuki gets upset that the others didn't say good morning or thank her. Its played so straight it ends up looking like they don't respect Megumi and just ignore her, when in reality she doesn't exist at all: Megumi looks sad and starts crying when she doesn't get the response she wants, but never overtly tries to get the other girls' attention, just moping in the background, because she's so quiet and not much of an authority figure. It's so well built into the who Megumi is that it feels natural.

It was done so well that I was not convinced that there was the one hallucination for several episodes. I could tell that something was "off" but I hadn't been able to put my finger on it.

  • $\begingroup$ Interesting! I'll definitely check out those recommendations! $\endgroup$ – boxcartenant Aug 7 '18 at 15:27

A known hallucination tells the player about the other hallucination, but doesn't specify who it is.

Not subtle, but sometimes you need a hammer.

The friends go ahead, leaving individual but anonymous traces.

The player follows two sets of footprints to where three friends are standing. The friends themselves are standing on rock so the footprints end before they can identify their owners.

Three people fit in a space for two.

After a brief separation, the player comes across the three friends standing by the wreck of a two-seater car.

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    $\begingroup$ Haha, these are really clever. I really like the way you gave the ideas on principle and followed up with examples; I feel like I can do a lot with your answer. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – boxcartenant Aug 7 '18 at 15:31

Each of the three companions has a distinct personality. Two of the comrades interact with each other, and with the player, but never with the third. This entails conversations, sharing, helping etc.

The player eventually is given clues as in other answers (for example a reference to the number in their party, a failure of person in the line of fire to be hurt) that the third companion is a hallucination.

Actually the other two are also hallucinations. This becomes evident later - for example the character crosses soft ground and on turning, only one set of tracks is evident. The character is alone.

Realizing that the others are hallucinations does not dispel them. The hallucinations themselves, once told, may or may not be ok with their nature. They continue on with the character. Their insights and interactions may still be helpful.

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    $\begingroup$ Really interesting thoughts. I like the way you anthropomorphize the hallucination by considering its feelings about its own nature. I'll definitely make use of your tips in the final product :) $\endgroup$ – boxcartenant Aug 7 '18 at 15:29

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