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How to Unsettle a Player


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#1 epicpunnum   Members   -  Reputation: 454

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Posted 26 October 2012 - 09:44 PM

Hello world! For a game in development, I am given the following limitations:
  • The game itself is a side-scrolling puzzle game, and thus has a camera suited to that.
  • The game is presented without words, and so there will be no dialogue (grunts, wordless screams, breaths, etc. are okay)
  • Can produce animated cutscenes, but sparsely (will only be included while acquiring items/major story points)
Despite these, the genre is a horror game focused around various monstrosities; for the sake of this, just imagine there monstrosities as amorphous shadows. Throughout the game you will be entirely defenseless to them, and instead must run if need be. For this game however, I want to rely on more than just cheap jump-scares, as those require no finesse to achieve. Rather, I want the game to unsettle the player, make them nervous for what's to come, and be scared/conflicted at what they face.
So far, my ideas are as follows:
  • Have the enemies eventually begin to sob/act afraid of you towards the end, creating uncertainty over reality.
  • Have a rare breed of enemy that is invincible to anything. Can kill you instantly, but moves at a slow rate (think Slender or SCP).
  • Areas in which being seen creates a deadly chaos of enemies that must be escaped.
  • Creating an enemy type/boss that would be seen as controversial to attack (eg: innocent-looking children)
  • Bodies strewn about, sometimes housing an enemy type.
  • Rooms that come before important parts, left completely silent compared to the other rooms, making suspense.
  • Avoiding presenting the mysterious threat at the beginning of the game, until enough buildup.
  • Being unable to attack, forcing flight instead of fight.
  • Offering fewer save points, and giving lower non-recovering HP on player, to make death more of a fear. (debating)
I would like your input. Which of these seem good/how could I improve upon these ideas? Moreover, to keep the game fresh, rather than constantly puzzle-based, what other ways can I affect the player in such a way? Giving examples from other games and personal experience is highly recommended.
I check fairly frequently, so if you require anything on my part, I'll try to help clarify or explain!
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#2 Tobl   Members   -  Reputation: 363

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Posted 27 October 2012 - 05:08 AM

Hello,

Is surviving the sole motivation in the game? Or are there other goals/plots? If so, you could have the enemies play with them, for example: If you have a typical "rescue the princess/boyfriend/friendly janitor"-story, add enemies that resemble that person and act as if they're relieved to see you.
concerning "non-recovering HP": How about two "healths", one physical and one mental. The physical would be as you described, the mental would go down whenever an enemy jumps out of his hiding place, the nearer to the player, the more drastic the health-loss. However, imo such a mental health would then be best to be refilling. I think Amnesia had a similar system, however I didn't play the game so I'm not sure about that.

bw,
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#3 Michael Dinolfo   Members   -  Reputation: 248

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Posted 27 October 2012 - 09:41 AM

I would add in events that represent common fears amongst people.
  • Unknown - The less we know and see, the better. Ambiance. Creaking, walking sounds. Scratching. A flickering shadow in the corner that vanishes. Some of these should actually represent the monsterous elements, though some could be happenstance.
  • Mirrors - Some people are terrified of mirrors in the dark. I think the fear could be related to seeing something behind you or more with your features being off. Again, players should not have the opportunity to stare, evaluate, and deem the event as a non-threat.
  • The Dark - Something moving. Looking out the window and seeing something slowly swim up from the blackness.
  • Mental Degradation - As already mentioned by Tobi. I'd suggest keeping the effects subtle until a full mental breakdown so it doesn't become laughable.
  • Stalked in a Place of Safety - Attacks in a bathroom or other places in extreme privacy. In a game setting: maybe have certain conditions protect the player (ex being in full light scares the shadow creatures away, though they should menace from a distance for effect) but eventually that stops working (ex. player hides in a lit garage, door ripped off by the slow, invincible baddie you mentioned)
  • Being alone - There should be a depection of safety, harbor, but it should be rare. No one is there to save you. Things we take for granted for contact are shown to stop working: internet, cell phones, television. Maybe the player finally finds a CB radio in the shed and something happens to prevent them from calling for help.
I would move away from endless chase. I find it gets tiring after 20 minutes, so maybe break it up with other events.

Just some thoughts. I'd love to hear more about the progress on your game!

#4 lithos   Members   -  Reputation: 413

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Posted 27 October 2012 - 04:20 PM

Changing the players animation when something is about to happen. IE the players avatar senses it and the hint is it getting tense, and similar.

Having the players decide between fast areas that render you unable to attack(or use some attacks), and slow areas where you can.

Choosing between areas that you know will have an ambush predator, and one that won't.

#5 sonicarrow   Members   -  Reputation: 411

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Posted 28 October 2012 - 04:26 PM

Offering fewer save points, and giving lower non-recovering HP on player, to make death more of a fear. (debating)


While this may indeed create a fear of death, you don't want to overdo it. After a while, it will become more of a nuisance than a fear, and people will just quit the game in frustration. I've had some issues with this before =)

Mirrors - Some people are terrified of mirrors in the dark. I think the fear could be related to seeing something behind you or more with your features being off. Again, players should not have the opportunity to stare, evaluate, and deem the event as a non-threat.


^^ Good Idea here - seconded. To add to this, you could make things appear in the mirrors that don't exist in reality. Just imagine the psychological effect of not being able to even trust your own reflection.

#6 Rybo5001   Members   -  Reputation: 487

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Posted 28 October 2012 - 05:00 PM

Stalked in a Place of Safety - Attacks in a bathroom or other places in extreme privacy.


As someone who's always considered making a horror game but never had good enough ideas: this is really, really fascinating. I never considered this before, it such a simple concept but it makes so much sense.

It gives me the idea of having a "safe room" where no enemies can enter, it's a place to heal/rest/save etc but maybe later in the game an enemy unexpectedly bursts in which is totally unexpected because you were told this place was safe from them.

#7 Mario D.   Members   -  Reputation: 198

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Posted 29 October 2012 - 01:46 PM

Just posting real fast so I don't know if anyone else has posted this:

You want to "unsettle" your player? I would think about it in terms of topics. What kinds of topics are you going to present the player?

Present revolting topics. Topics we wouldn't want to face in reality.
  • Suicide
  • Genocide
  • Rape
  • Excessive (I'm talking showing organs) gore

Juxtapose them.

Murderous evil; Innocent child
Strong man; deep, debilitating pain

More and more and more.

Thinking about how to unsettle a player based on topic (and how it was executed) worked for me. I made a small game recently about a man with schizophrenia (the player was the cause), by the end the man wanted to kill himself to get rid of you, asking the player to "take them home". Through various events (and hopefully some inner turmoil) the player jumps of a cliff to the sharp rocks below. The sound cuts as you fall, everything feel like its in slow motion even though the fall is only 2 seconds long, and the screen cuts to black.

So I guess my final point is not only should you think about discussing specific disturbing topics, but think about hitting all the senses to emphasize the event.

#8 Nypyren   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 3673

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Posted 29 October 2012 - 02:08 PM

Innocents being mind controlled or transmorgrified (permanently) into enemies are some of the more unsettling things for me, personally. Particularly if there is a lot of screaming involved.

Edited by Nypyren, 29 October 2012 - 02:11 PM.


#9 Prinz Eugn   GDNet+   -  Reputation: 3516

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Posted 30 October 2012 - 07:02 PM

The only really scary games I have played is the FEAR series, which had some pretty interesting elements (along with the standard BOO! type scares).

I remember in one of the expansions, you walk to a door in a completely normal hospital hallway, like 80% of the hallways in the game. The door at the end is locked... but when you turn around, you are suddenly in a completely different place. with this false door juxtaposed in an otherwise alien environment. That could easily be translated to 2D by the player finding a false door, and turning around to find essentially a completely different level out of nowhere.

I believe FEAR also had a sequence where you were inches from being rescued, but the helicopter (or whatever it was) got shot down. I remember that being extremely disturbing, since escape seemed so close and suddenly I was felt more alone than I did before.

Miscellaneous:
  • Have elements that are completely unexplained and non-interactive. Have ethereal lights floating in places just out of reach.
  • Have a shadowy figure following you that always disappears when you try to intercept it.
  • Similarly, have the player catch a glimpse of something that moved out of the field of view, disappearing into a solid wall or some other barrier (I'm thinking the G-man from Half-life 2).
  • Enemies that are invisible except for glowing eyes. Gets me every time.
  • Have unescapable traps where the player is killed, only to find out that it was a hallucination. Might be hard to pull off without the player reverting to saves before the illusion is revealed.

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#10 epicpunnum   Members   -  Reputation: 454

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Posted 30 October 2012 - 07:40 PM

Thank you so much everyone so far for your input, and I'd certainly love to hear more! For a more refined sort of direction in terms of story telling, and types of fears, I will clarify that the game itself takes place in Earth's orbit; however, the clarity of this setting is blurred throughout the story to other locations in space (think galaxy backgrounds, rather than other planets).
Because of the setting and the ideas already in place for the story, I can definitely agree more with ones that are more ambiguous, or eerie.
If it helps the discussion, I'd like to say that these worked best (in no particular order):
  • Tobl: Mental Health
  • Xemmy: Stalked in a Place of Safety & Mirrors
  • Rybo5001: Breaking Idea of Safety
  • Mario D.: Contrasting Revolting Topics
  • Prinz Eugn: Mystery Things & Death Traps
In terms of mental degradation, I would like to show this as it is a key part to defining the ambiguous story of the game. However, I'd rather keep it from being an interactive element. Most of the fears themselves can exhibit a sign of insanity however.
As for the terms of two types of health, I would want to stray from that. My reason being is that I wouldn't want to distract from the puzzle aspects. But I do understand people saying that a high death rate would be bad/frustrating. Perhaps a middle ground then?

It goes without saying though that I really appreciate all of your posts, and that I would love to hear more on the topic of fears, not just methods, as Xemmy made a good point about that, and having some common fears could really play on more than just the unknown could.
-Cheers Posted Image

#11 makuto   Members   -  Reputation: 828

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Posted 02 November 2012 - 09:48 PM

Music really helps making a moment more intense.

Also, any flipping of the player's expectations are always very disturbing, such as making the player think they have escaped some location then realizing the escape was all an illusion.

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#12 Yikitama   Members   -  Reputation: 117

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Posted 02 November 2012 - 10:15 PM

Bodies strewn about, sometimes housing an enemy type.


Only problem is that if the player has no knowledge of when a body has an enemy inside of it, it could easily make them feel like they're being punished for something they can't prevent. This can be done right, but I just wanted to give a word of warning to limit this to a somewhat fair experience. (player being given a chance to escape if they accidentally trigger a confrontation.) Sounds like it'd make me shit my pants though, and it definitely would make me feel uncertain/uneasy whenever I'm around dead bodies. I like it.

#13 Yikitama   Members   -  Reputation: 117

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Posted 02 November 2012 - 10:19 PM

Having the players decide between fast areas that render you unable to attack(or use some attacks), and slow areas where you can.


Oooh, i like that idea, especially if the player is forced to make that kind of decision in a snap, it could add some well-balanced tension to certain moments.

#14 dakota.potts   Members   -  Reputation: 455

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Posted 04 November 2012 - 03:48 PM

Like music, I find emotions are best presented in themes. A melody and then a crescendo is cool. Repeated, slightly altering melodies slowly adding up to a crescendo before a huge climax is pretty much the scientific formula for "goosebump" music.

It would be cool if maybe the beginning of the game saw the player with a couple of allies with weapons. The allies fire at the big invincible SCP type thing and do no damage before dying. The first level would be the character escaping this. Then they could get to a safe point without being attacked by monsters. There is nothing scarier in that type of game than being in a safe place and being forced to leave to cross an area with enemies you know you can't kill. This invincible bad guy (along with other monsters) should show up in larger amounts as the game progresses. Each time, it should feel familiar, yet unexpected. They know what to expect -- the fear. The unexpected should be occasionally giving new reasons to fear leaving the safe zone.

#15 dtg108   Members   -  Reputation: 394

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Posted 06 November 2012 - 05:52 PM

This could happen in reverse of what you would think. For example, you could make it silent instead of noises you hear. Have people die in front of the players, instead of just the player dying. Let the character see the entity from time to time (mirrors, shadows, etc.) but don't let them die right away. The key is to make the players want to quit before the game is over. Maybe as the character is getting closer to the entity, a noise increases. Make it an odd noise like a buzz, or a beep. This would really unsettle me. Also, make the character appear in different places. For example, say the player sees the entity in front of them. Then, when they turn around, make the entity transport to in front of them again. Make more than one later on, so they think they've conquered their fear of one, then they see something different later, making them unsure.

#16 Leziath   Members   -  Reputation: 117

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Posted 27 November 2012 - 10:12 PM

I don't know if this is still of use, (Registered specifically to reply several days ago, but there was a problem with my account) but if your monsters are shadows, having them blend in perfectly with innocuous shadows cast by objects in the room would be ideal - allowing convoluted routes around some of them more so, causing the player to weigh up risking injury/death in the dark or going to extremes to stay in the light - much like the character would be doing.

Alternatively or additionally, adding some more monsters in, identical to the regular ones, that behave in exactly the same way but cause no damage or other effects to the player, thus simulating a 'jumping' at shadows feeling.

Oh yeah, maybe provide a few very well lit points in which the player is safe and enemies can't enter, just in the middle of a room, directly under a light or something. Even if there aren't any visible enemies, it still means that players might hesitate, and then that means that they have to force themselves out into the darkness again.

Personally, I dislike the idea of relying on controversial or disturbing topics to disturb the player, at least relying on these things specifically or too much. Admittedly, when it's well done it really IS well done, but there's nothing quite like having elements of gameplay, or the player themselves, causing the unsettlement. (Is that a word?)

Anyway, I had other ideas, I think, but it's four in the morning and time for bed, but I just remembered that I never posted. Hope it helps in some way.

Leziath.

Edited by Leziath, 27 November 2012 - 10:16 PM.


#17 NoAdmiral   Members   -  Reputation: 503

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 01:49 AM

You could recreate the feel of first-person horror (like someone mentioned the area in FEAR where you turn around to a different level than was there before) by having the camera offset from the character, such that the player him/her-self can't see behind the character. Since you're thinking 2D, maybe the camera would swing about when the player turned the character around so that the player could see what is in the other direction.

I just know when I play scary games I'm always looking all around me... it's the thought that there's something there I just can't see...

Edited by NoAdmiral, 28 November 2012 - 01:50 AM.

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#18 Waterlimon   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2351

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 05:54 AM

I think another scary element is if you know the enemy is there but dont know where.

(=put them in da wallsss)

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#19 epicpunnum   Members   -  Reputation: 454

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Posted 02 December 2012 - 12:51 AM

This could happen in reverse of what you would think. For example, you could make it silent instead of noises you hear. Have people die in front of the players, instead of just the player dying. Let the character see the entity from time to time (mirrors, shadows, etc.) but don't let them die right away. The key is to make the players want to quit before the game is over. Maybe as the character is getting closer to the entity, a noise increases. Make it an odd noise like a buzz, or a beep. This would really unsettle me. Also, make the character appear in different places. For example, say the player sees the entity in front of them. Then, when they turn around, make the entity transport to in front of them again. Make more than one later on, so they think they've conquered their fear of one, then they see something different later, making them unsure.

I actually like a lot of what was posted here. Some of the aspects, like silence and loss of direction, I had considered before but in a different way; rather, I saw them as a means to subtly hint at things coming up so that the player could build up tension. Some things however - given the constraints listed above (mainly the 2D perspective) - would make it harder to implement.

One way to help with that would be to partially shift the camera to the direction that the player is facing much like Cave Story does (seen below). At about 0:52, you can see the camera shift forward to face the player's direction, giving them more space. Given that my game would be more puzzle based and required some decent amount of character movement, this similar camera style could be useful and provide what NoAdmiral mentioned (not knowing whats behind you as much). This might also tie in with the enemies that slowly follow you.
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I don't know if this is still of use, (Registered specifically to reply several days ago, but there was a problem with my account) but if your monsters are shadows, having them blend in perfectly with innocuous shadows cast by objects in the room would be ideal - allowing convoluted routes around some of them more so, causing the player to weigh up risking injury/death in the dark or going to extremes to stay in the light - much like the character would be doing.

I find it very cool that you'd register just to reply to my thread! Posted Image And might I say that this point also intrigues me a lot. When I was thinking of how to present the monsters, I thought of it in a traditional platformer sense in that they simply existed and the player knew that. However, this idea of the enemies hiding in shadow could result in interesting presentations. Primarily, it serves as a mean to cause unsettlement, but also would serve as an interesting way to introduce them, rather than breaking gameplay with a cutscene.

Opinions? Thought's on my input?
I'm very glad that this discussion can keep going, and I believe that it can be creative fuel for many.
Love to hear more, and don't be afraid to critique other member's theories. Multiple angles on the same issue are always welcome.

-Cheers!

Edited by epicpunnum, 02 December 2012 - 12:55 AM.


#20 TheChubu   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 3698

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Posted 02 December 2012 - 02:44 PM

Not a sidescroller but it dealt very well with limited technology back in the day. Silent Hill 1 for Playstation. You could draw some inspiration from it, the scary barely visible scenery, scary situations with and without violence, etc.

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