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Games Entertainment

Making a Horror Game Scary 129

GameSetWatch has put up an article about the characteristics that give games in the survival-horror genre the ability to unnerve, startle, and scare players in ways that most games don't. The genre has seen a resurgence lately, with titles like Dead Space, F.E.A.R. 2, and Left 4 Dead posting strong sales numbers. What triggers your fight-or-flight impulses in games like these? From the article: "Being visual creatures, humans are most comforted by sight because of our ability to discern objects, action and consequences based on a picture. As a result, cutting visual stimuli and sticking purely to audio or speech is one of the best ways to keep a player on their toes. Even with weapons, it's very hard to find what you cannot see, and what you do not know. Even if visual stimuli is used, limiting or obfuscating the player's view can enhance the horror in a game, especially if the player sees it for an incredible short time. This can hint both at the difficulty of an upcoming encounter, or even allude to matters earlier in the narrative that the player will soon have to face."
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Making a Horror Game Scary

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  • Gameplay mechanics (Score:5, Interesting)

    by KDR_11k ( 778916 ) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @04:51AM (#27028339)

    Low tolerance for failure (taking a lot of damage or even dying when messing up), uncertainity where enemies are (whether a facehugger jumping out of a corner or a ghost that can teleport around you) and generally a feeling of "ohshitohshitohshit" when an enemy engages you. FEAR wasn't scary, you've got a gun and you shoot people with it, neither was Doom 3 (though FEAR was more of a tactical shooter while Doom 3 was just "eat lead, motherfucker!"). The situation must be life or death, not life or slightly less life. You simply can't have a horror game when your main character is a supersoldier with bullettime, massive firepower and lots of health who murders an entire platoon before breakfast.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 01, 2009 @04:58AM (#27028361)

    Wiki on Blood [wikipedia.org]

    I think one of the most interesting things about this game which made it scary was it's sound effects. The designers went out of their way to make the zombies in the game either nearly silent or give off just a small amount of noise. You would turn around, and there would be one. I had the shit scared out of me so many times when I was younger. It was very Michael Myers [wikipedia.org] (the horror movie, not the comedian.)

  • by MrMista_B ( 891430 ) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @05:17AM (#27028433)

    This: http://zarat.us/tra/offline-games/eversion.html [zarat.us]

    Don't let the screenshot fool you. It is anything but a Mario clone. If H.P Lovecraft and Stephen King got together, and decided to make a 2d sprite-based platformer, with the intent to CREEP YOU THE FUCK OUT, it would be that. Short game, you could beat it in under an hour if you wanted, though to get the 'good' ending needs a little more work.

    Seriously. If you want an example of a game that starts cutsey, but ends on the other side of screaming horror, play that. Preferably, at night, with the lights out. Just don't let a young child play it, or you'll be dealing with a kid having nightmares.

  • Re:Stealth (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Velocivus ( 1376797 ) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @06:37AM (#27028661)

    I would agree with that. The most intense "ohshitohshitohshit" moments I've ever had in PC gaming go to Splinter Cell vs. Mode

    Being one of two unarmed* spies trying to sneak through the shadows to get by a couple of trigger itchy mercs, searching for you with flashlights. It was a combination of both the sound and the visuals, but in that 0.5 second of time from when the flashlight hit you - to when the bullets started ripping past your face... well it was just the most intense thing I've ever experienced in a game. I think my heart almost exploded every time.

    Now that was versus human players, and not a horror genre. What I can take from that though, is that out of the 'fight or flight' response, 'flight' is definitely the scarier. So this run and gun thing may in some cases be taking away from that element.

    This is not to say that in a horror game YOU have to be the one lurking in the shadows, but how awesome would it be in a game that if in some encounters you were actually trying to flee from what was chasing you. Running for you life looking for somewhere to hide, evade, or get through a doorway fast enough to slam it shut on your pursuer.

  • by G3ckoG33k ( 647276 ) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @07:19AM (#27028785)

    I think it is important to know that culturally specific items such religious items which are supposedly scary are not universal. Things like the Devil, angels, and demons are only scary in a particular setting. Very few people outside that world even understand WHY it would be scary.

    Why is a pentagram scary? I have no idea. They are nice to look at, but why they are used all over id Software games makes no sense to me.

    Skip the pentagrams for more universal items.

  • Fatal Frame (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Keyper7 ( 1160079 ) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @09:15AM (#27029167)

    To scare the hell out of me, I absolutely love the Fatal Frame series. Some people say its strong point is having a camera instead of some powerful gun and some people say its strong point is having to look at the ghosts face-to-face and very close to effectively defeat them.

    Though I kinda agree with those two theories, I think its "scare power" comes from something else: the fact that the ghosts are "innocent". In FF, like in some Japanese horror movies, the concept is that the spirits are not aware that they are dead, how scary they look and that they can hurt people: they just want to make contact.

    For the sake of comparison, consider F.E.A.R.: Alma surely is scary, but there's little doubt she's one fucked up girl trying to kill you. In FF3, however, you have to deal with the ghost of a 5-year-old girl who keeps screaming "daddy, where are you" and whose attack is pulling your arm to call your attention and look at you pleading. That attitude, plus the realisation she's dead, creeps the hell out of me.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 01, 2009 @10:35AM (#27029541)

    You obviously have not played Thief 3. There you learn that the scariest enemy is the one you make up in your mind. And you don't even expect some surprising attack out of a closet that instantly kills you. When you enter THAT level you just fear what kind of enemy the game designers could possibly have made up for THIS, given the enemies they already introduced to you in much more peaceful levels.

  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @12:01PM (#27030115) Homepage

    Care to elaborate?

    Surely, these are the most elementary aspects of "scary" but really, I am unsure it should go much further than that. Another aspect of Doom3 that was pretty awesome was the flying attack babies! Those cute little pupae could swarm on you and disturbingly make quite a meal of you if you are not good with a shotgun and have a place to run away to. But "fear" comes from the desire to avoid unpleasantness or otherwise shocking, jarring stimuli. I'll agree that it is very elementary, but what else might be put into games that are considered scary?

    I suppose if they adapted some of the cinematic styles of The Ring or The Grudge into a game it might be interesting. But there was a game like that in the past... can't recall the name, but I am sure others will know the one I speak of... in this game, you carry a radio that detects the presence of bad guys by making this horrid static noise... when you heard it, you know bad things will happen soon. This was an aspect of horror where the anticipation of unknown bad things were about to happen brings about a fearful reaction. I never actually finished that game... not because of fear, but because of other reasons...

  • by OSXCPA ( 805476 ) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @12:08PM (#27030149) Journal

    In the GameCube title 'Eternal Darkness' the devs. used all kinds of tricks, ranging from subtle control 'issues' to a full BSOD, unbeatable enemies, and flies crawling around the screen that looked like they were in your living room (versus artificial game constructs). The overall effect was to render the gamers perception of the game state in doubt during play - reinforcing the game rule that exposure to supernatural creatures would drive a character insane. There was an antidote to this as well, so this was no cheat. It was tempting, however, to forgo the 'sanity potion' just to see how bad the progressively creepier 'bugs' got.

    Oh - and it was actually very difficult to permanently die during these episodes, although during play, the character appeared to die, but immediately 'flashed back' to where she was right when the possession/demon encounter/bug began.

    Combined with the generally creepy atmosphere of the game, thanks to very good art and design, made the game scary and fun to play.

  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @12:32PM (#27030387) Homepage

    A core component of fear is "what you don't see" may get you. Darkness would seem to be requisite to that end. But I am sure other methods could work as well. There was this movie where this glass house was actually some sort of hell machine driven by a bunch of captured spirits. It was scary because not only were the spirits ghoulish, but you could only see them through special goggles! That could easily be exploited in a game... not the special goggles, but the simulation of them. The movie causes one to imagine there are lots of spirits around them that simply cannot be seen... "what you don't see..."

  • by Sean0michael ( 923458 ) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @01:01PM (#27030591)
    Mod Parent Up Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem was a very scary game to play. It's standout feature was its Sanity Meter [wikipedia.org], and when that dipped low you'd get all kinds of effects in game as well as ones that broke the fourth wall like fake error messages from the GameCube. As your Sanity meter dipped lower, things would start to change, like fake enemies, blood dripping on the walls, the camera angle wobbling, the screen blurring, your body exploding while casting a spell, a roach on the TV screen -- very scary and creepy. Nintendo's first M-rated game deserves a nod here.

Nondeterminism means never having to say you are wrong.