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Communicating "scariness" without openly showing the enemy


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#1 jbadams   Senior Staff   -  Reputation: 19425

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Posted 23 April 2014 - 07:15 AM

In a survival horror game, how can we ensure the player fears their enemy without openly showing them how scary it is.

 

I'm thinking of a game where the player is pursued by a horrible monster; it's smart, deadly, and completely impossible for the player to defeat -- the only option is to escape.  I'd like to harness the player's imagination to ensure the player is genuinely scared of the pursuing monster, so actually showing the monster is out -- once it's been seen the mystery is gone and the player knows what they're really facing.

 

 

Killing off the player quickly if they're caught is a simple measure to prevent a good view of the monster if they get caught, but given that what techniques are available to show that it's getting close and keep the player on their toes?

 

 

So far I know I can use audio cues, and I know I can make use of shadows -- especially if they're exaggerated and suggest varying features.  Obviously the game's mechanics will also play a role, keeping the player under pressure, designing the environment to confuse, etc., but I'm trying to think of other ways to strengthen the suggestion.

 

 

Any other ideas or suggestions? 



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#2 C0lumbo   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2501

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Posted 23 April 2014 - 11:58 AM

Audio, music and shadows were going to be my main suggestion, but you already mention them...

Have a second badass looking monster, that gets to see your monster, and is absolutely terrified of it?

Camera shakes associated with the monsters footsteps? Maybe dust shaken from the roof too.

Have lots of physics objects (barrels, crates) in the corridors you run through, that get smashed into by the unseen monster so that they fly in front of you?

Dolly zoom as the monster gets closer?



#3 Kryzon   Prime Members   -  Reputation: 3314

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Posted 23 April 2014 - 04:31 PM

You can make the monster 'notice' when it's being directly looked at, like a supernatural power, so that the player wants to know where the monster is but has to avoid looking at it.
For the player to know where the monster is located, there would need to be some form of display or information. This could be a radar that shows a 'blip', or maybe some sort of power that lets the player see through the walls a smudge or a coloured region of where the monster is.

Speaking more in theory, there's also a difference in the fear caused by the knowledge that we have of the monster.
In some games we know what the monster is like and we know where it is.
In some games we don't know what the monster is like and we don't know where it is.
Both these situations can cause fear, but may evoke a different set of reactions from the player. In either case, you can contribute a lot to the fear by making sure that you have a proper atmosphere (visuals, audio, general presentation etc.).

Even if the player does see the monster, this does not mean that the atmosphere is ruined. For instance, you can arrange the lighting to never reveal much of the monster, or you can design the monster in such a way that it slouches and has an indiscernible form, or it has a dark colouring.

I'm not sure if this helps, but there's a "Developer Session" from EGX Rezzed 2014 on fear and horror in games:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sFOPIMyLtMM&index=7&list=PLTZXfIDHhP2uQ9t_52Q59RhbvlUhqfDdG

#4 Seongjun Kim   Members   -  Reputation: 227

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Posted 23 April 2014 - 04:34 PM

How about showing the things that this monster has destroyed? Other humans, who, the player's character knew before, just massacred, torn apart, and scattered around, might help the horrifying setting, especially if the dead ones were stronger than the player.

 


but given that what techniques are available to show that it's getting close and keep the player on their toes?

 

Things such as only showing only limited view of the monster might help. You see a massive claw reaching out from the corner of the room for you but you can't see the whole monster? That would be scary if done right. You hear the monster walking around, stops, starts sniffing the air, and then you hear the monster suddenly start running towards you. You're at a dead end and you hear someone or something cry right next door and you have nowhere to run except towards the screaming.

 

That's all I can think of for now.



#5 Wai   Members   -  Reputation: 1002

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Posted 23 April 2014 - 11:40 PM

You could make the game music-less and use the screams or sounds of gunshots to cue the distance.

 

I don't know what the theme is. If it has to do with ghosts or the super nature you could have the environment starts to bleed, mirrors start to shatter, or have words or zombies start to emerge from walls.

 

If it is a huge monster then maybe the ground would shake.

 

If it is a fast monster maybe it would shoot darts and the player would see the near-miss.

 

In some arcade game where the player is supposed to dodge bullets, the game shows the location where a bullet would hit so that the player could dodge it before it hits. That kind of gameplay dictates where the player needs to be to be safe. It keeps the player moving. You could implement something that shows the trajectory of the monster's attack. Maybe a flash of light passing through the player's torso. If the player does not dodge somehow, the player gets sliced in half.


Edited by Wai, 23 April 2014 - 11:52 PM.


#6 Mouser9169   Members   -  Reputation: 401

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Posted 24 April 2014 - 01:59 AM


How about showing the things that this monster has destroyed? Other humans, who, the player's character knew before, just massacred, torn apart, and scattered around, might help the horrifying setting, especially if the dead ones were stronger than the player.

 

This is my thought as well. Don't show the monster, but show what the monster has done (proving that it is, in fact, a monster in the process).

 

If you can have something/someone the character's valued be destroyed in the process (iconic example: Aeris), so much the better.


"The multitudes see death as tragic. If this were true, so then would be birth"

- Pisha, Vampire the Maquerade: Bloodlines


#7 jbadams   Senior Staff   -  Reputation: 19425

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Posted 24 April 2014 - 03:10 AM

Fantastic, plenty of good ideas there, thanks for all the input so far -- any additional thoughts are still more than welcome! smile.png

 


Have a second badass looking monster, that gets to see your monster, and is absolutely terrified of it?

I don't really want to involve multiple monsters, but I'd completely forgotten the (quite obvious in retrospect) idea of having other characters interact with it; I don't want other monsters, but I can use other victims!

 


Maybe dust shaken from the roof too.
Have lots of physics objects (barrels, crates) in the corridors you run through, that get smashed into by the unseen monster so that they fly in front of you?

I guess these can be broadly categorised into "environmental effects" of the monster, again a good way to show what the monster can do without necessarily having to actually show it.

 


Camera shakes associated with the monsters footsteps?
Dolly zoom as the monster gets closer?

Interesting, I was thinking about a "blacking out" effect as the monster actually attacks to help maintain the mystery if the player dies, but I hadn't thought about other camera effects at all.  Definitely great ideas for a movie, but might they break suspense in a game where you're supposed to be the character rather than watching a camera?

 

 


Speaking more in theory, there's also a difference in the fear caused by the knowledge that we have of the monster.
In some games we know what the monster is like and we know where it is.
In some games we don't know what the monster is like and we don't know where it is.

Absolutely!  I'm thinking more of the second situation.  It will become abundantly clear to the player that encounters with the monster are deadly and that it cannot be defeated, but I want to keep the specifics of the monster a secret so the details are left to the player's imagination, and I'd like to keep them on edge having to second guess every turn of a corner or entry into a room not knowing if the monster might be there.

 


Even if the player does see the monster, this does not mean that the atmosphere is ruined. For instance, you can arrange the lighting to never reveal much of the monster, or you can design the monster in such a way that it slouches and has an indiscernible form, or it has a dark colouring.

Excellent ideas.  I've realised I can look to some older classic horror films for inspiration, as they often kept their monsters mostly hidden because they didn't have the realistic effects needed to make something they could show.

 


I'm not sure if this helps, but there's a "Developer Session" from EGX Rezzed 2014 on fear and horror in games:

I haven't watched it yet, but thanks so much for sharing this -- I'll let you know if I find it useful! smile.png

 

 

...and I've got to run for an hour or so, but I'll reply to the remaining posts shortly!  Thanks again! cool.png



#8 jbadams   Senior Staff   -  Reputation: 19425

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Posted 24 April 2014 - 04:28 AM


How about showing the things that this monster has destroyed? Other humans, who, the player's character knew before, just massacred, torn apart, and scattered around, might help the horrifying setting, especially if the dead ones were stronger than the player.

Yep, seems like a good idea -- I don't have to stick to characters either, the same trick would work with props and parts of the environment the player is in.

 


Things such as only showing only limited view of the monster might help.

I like this idea, and as mentioned above it's one that was commonly used in older horror movies.  Along with the use of shadows, fog, etc. I can show some of the monster without having to reveal all of the details.

 


If it has to do with ghosts or the super nature you could have the environment starts to bleed, mirrors start to shatter, or have words or zombies start to emerge from walls.

Zombies wouldn't fit, but the rest are good ideas.  Reflections in broken mirrors might also be another way to give a scary view of the monster without having to reveal all of the details.

 


I don't know what the theme is.

I'm not sure on this myself yet.

 

 

Thanks again for all on the input! smile.png



#9 Kryzon   Prime Members   -  Reputation: 3314

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Posted 24 April 2014 - 01:20 PM

Another excuse for adding occluding effects and the like is that you're not controlling a human in the game, but rather a drone or a surveillance machine that has a video camera. You haven't entered the environment where the monster is located: you sent in a machine to verify.

The game would be over when the monster catches the drone and destroys it - at this moment you can play some footage that you prepared of flashes and video-freeze effects that only show select parts of the monster, like its sharp teeth, very close to the lens of the camera.

Something like the exploring of the Titanic comes to mind:

Edited by Kryzon, 24 April 2014 - 01:20 PM.


#10 Durakken   Members   -  Reputation: 535

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Posted 24 April 2014 - 03:17 PM

At heart all those things you've mentioned are tools, they miss what is actually going on. The survival horror game is all about being stalked, lead into a trap, and eventually being killed or tortured in some gruesome way. You have to play on the psyche of the player and make them feel watched, make them feel like they have less options, and give them ideas of what may happen to them if they're caught. You can also add in the progressively getting weaker aspect in there as well. Depending on your story you can make it so at the beginning you are your strongest or if as you progress and get more gear it is shown that even though that gear is "more powerful" it has equal or less power than previous gear.

 

As far as things you might be able to do is have things approach from behind the player, but then when they turn, nothing is there.

You can have it so that cameras appear to follow you when they are at the corner of the screen, but whenever you turn towards them they don't move any more and if you examine them it seems they are not functional.

You can have it so that when you go back over an area which is supposedly devoid of anyone it has changed or there is a victim or you can no longer go back that way

You can make it so that starting off you can go in several directions, but as you progress some of these areas get cut off.

You can have journal entries

You can show the victims in multiple ways

You can have messages to the player

 

I can name ton more, but really how and when you use something should be based on the monster and what they are ultimately doing and going to do to the player so really it just sorta takes getting into the mind of the monster and the player character and seeing how each would act and tweaking your idea till you get what you want.



#11 Infinisearch   Members   -  Reputation: 316

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Posted 24 April 2014 - 05:49 PM

1. Foreshadowing If the scenario where the stalking begins is not from the beginning of the game, use the PC's hero or character with god like insight or a team of more trained and more equipped characters telling the PC there's no hope.

2. Telepathic link or visions - overlay the monsters actions to the PC's screen in realtime on occasion - you never see the monster but you see it on a rampage or becoming aware of the PC's presence and evolve the stalking over time.

3. If your graphics team can do it dynamic and animated tonemapping/contrast/exposure/brightness for the monster.  In this way the monster can be in the PC's FOV and the PC sort of know it or think they know its there. Exactly how to incorporate into game depends on map lighting conditions - is the visual of the monster something akin to the predator in the movie or does this partial visibility only happen in the dark i.e. shadows, nighttime, or large dark areas.

4. Loss of control - if the PC's personality is from a certain set you could justify a loss of control (can't run as fast...) or change in control system such that the only real option for the player would be to run because an inability to defend one's self easily.

5. If the monster eats it's victims loud "eating" type sounds might be nice.

 

Thats all that I could think of off the top of my head.

 

edit - 4. Loss of control - if the PC's personality is from a certain set you could justify a loss of control (can't run as fast...) or change in control system such that the only real option for the player would be to run/hide because an inability to defend one's self easily.

 

3. If your graphics team can do it dynamic and animated tonemapping/contrast/exposure/brightness for the monster.  In this way the monster can be in the Players FOV and the Player sort of knows it or think they know its there. Exactly how to incorporate into game depends on map lighting conditions - is the visual of the monster something akin to the predator in the movie or does this partial visibility only happen in the dark i.e. shadows, nighttime, or large dark areas.


Edited by Infinisearch, 24 April 2014 - 10:27 PM.

-potential energy is easily made kinetic-

#12 jbadams   Senior Staff   -  Reputation: 19425

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Posted 25 April 2014 - 06:30 AM


At heart all those things you've mentioned are tools

Exactly what I'm looking for at the moment!  I'm trying to discover all of the tools available to me so I can properly craft an experience.



#13 Infinisearch   Members   -  Reputation: 316

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Posted 25 April 2014 - 06:34 AM


3. If your graphics team can do it dynamic and animated tonemapping/contrast/exposure/brightness for the monster.  In this way the monster can be in the PC's FOV and the PC sort of know it or think they know its there. Exactly how to incorporate into game depends on map lighting conditions - is the visual of the monster something akin to the predator in the movie or does this partial visibility only happen in the dark i.e. shadows, nighttime, or large dark areas.

 

Oh and if this is to direct you can also add visual indirection by adding silhouette changing geometry (ala goku in super saiyan mode in DBZ).


-potential energy is easily made kinetic-

#14 Tutorial Doctor   Members   -  Reputation: 1693

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Posted 25 April 2014 - 08:41 AM

Alfred Hitchcock was a pro at creating suspense without showing anything. He used camera angles and sound, as well as appropriate lighting to do it.

I'm sure there might be some Hitchcock tips on the internet somewhere.

Edit: found a link

http://www.borgus.com/hitch/index.htm

Watch this video series:


Edited by Tutorial Doctor, 25 April 2014 - 09:08 AM.

They call me the Tutorial Doctor.


#15 Kaneydien   Members   -  Reputation: 124

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Posted 26 April 2014 - 05:56 PM

Does not look like anyone has mentioned this yet. For me, the key to being scared is being invested in the character. Proper character development and back story plays a key roll in whether I care enough about a character to be scared if anything should or could happen to them.

 

Also, does your game have other NPC's in it? If so, and you can communicate with them, they can easily create tension for the main character with their actions and behaviours. If everyone else is on edge, you will be to.

 

Hope that helps!



#16 jefferytitan   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2246

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Posted 06 May 2014 - 03:53 PM

Okay, a few more options:

  • Limited PC mobility, e.g. I considered doing a short horror film from the POV of a guy on a stretcher who has been badly injured previously and can only watch and interact with the others.
  • VFX when creature is near, e.g. violent camera shaking, bloom, distortion, static (if on a camera), focal distance, extreme SSAO or other darkness effects.
  • Creature only appears in areas with nearby occluders so it can disappear as required.
  • Looking at it enrages it or harms the player.
  • False positives, e.g. noises, sudden movement, non-harmful objects with scary silhouettes.
  • Lack of control, e.g. lights that flicker/go out, weapons with random failure modes.
  • True bravery required, e.g. you must compromise your safety to achieve things.


#17 Kryzon   Prime Members   -  Reputation: 3314

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Posted 07 May 2014 - 05:41 PM

  • True bravery required, e.g. you must compromise your safety to achieve things.
That one is interesting, and you can expand it to something even more terrifying: having safe zones in the game, areas where it's guaranteed that the monster/evil is not able to enter.
Then just before leaving a safe zone to continue on to the dangerous parts a certain fear out of anticipation will strike, especially if the safe zone is a very small, open place - like you can watch the dangerous area from a few feet away and know that you're safe.

#18 jefferytitan   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2246

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Posted 07 May 2014 - 06:26 PM


That one is interesting, and you can expand it to something even more terrifying: having safe zones in the game, areas where it's guaranteed that the monster/evil is not able to enter.
Then just before leaving a safe zone to continue on to the dangerous parts a certain fear out of anticipation will strike, especially if the safe zone is a very small place without doors - like you can watch the dangerous area from a few feet away and know that you're safe.

 

A simple example of what I was thinking of is a safe room that has a door with a squeaky hinge and a squeaky bolt. Opening and closing the door can attract attention. You can open/close it slowly and carefully, but you're out in the open longer. Or you can do it quickly and potentially attract a lot of attention. If you go the quick route and attract too much attention, they could bust down the door before you can finish locking it, and you're trapped in a tiny room. If you go too slowly, you could be crept up on by something while your camera can only see the door.

 

I do like the idea of a guaranteed safe zone, but mainly so you can occasionally subvert it. Nothing like being attacked in your guaranteed safe place to give a scare. ;)



#19 yusef28   Members   -  Reputation: 164

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Posted 23 June 2014 - 09:49 AM

Well I think making it the experience novel would give the sense of unpredictability and unknown. So for example, I'm not sure any games have made it where the monster is dangerously close to the character for long stretches of time, just teasing the character. For example, if it was 3rd person, you could make it so you could see part of the back of the monsters head as it stalked directly behind the character while the character ties to run away at full speed. If first person, you could make it so the monsters tentacle(if it has) or whatever, caresses the weapon you are holding from behind the character but if you turn to face it you'll die. If you want other ideas for scary monsters maybe watch the Bezerk anime movies, especially the third one. Pretty original which might inspire more originality. Also it might help to research different phobias people have and try and use them, like very narrow hallways, hieghts, clusters, audio hallucinations ect.

#20 ShiftyCake   Members   -  Reputation: 569

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Posted 06 July 2014 - 08:39 AM

one of the scariest things I can imagine is being lulled into a false sense of security. the second you drop your guard you're dead, yet you cant help but think you're safe.

 

Accentuating on seongjun's comment of showing previously afflicted victims, perhaps you could use that as an opening. Employing what I'm saying as well, you start off in a neutral-friendly environment. This continues on for a short span until you happen upon the other victims etc. in some form or another. then you just have to stimulate the concept of a monster through visual and audio queues, their imagination will do the rest.

 

Which is another thing, never reveal the monster. A persons imagination will always be far more horrible then the reality. Playing on this strength, or weakness, of humans is a great way to instill fear without revealing identity.


If, at any point, what I post is hard to understand, tell me. I am bad at projecting my thoughts into real words, so I appreciate the knowledge that I need to edit my post.

 

I am not a professional writer, nor a professional game designer. Please, understand that everything you read is simply an opinion of mind and should not, at any point in time, be taken as a credible answer unless validated by others.

 

I do take brief bouts of disappearance so don't worry if I either don't reply to you or miss certain things. I am quite a lazy fellow.





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