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What makes scarey games...scarey?

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...what is it about scarey games that has the ability to scare you s**tless? I've heard that sound has something to do with it but silence in a dark hallway can be even more ominous that a slow funeral-esque march... I've heard darkness has something to do with it but it is just as ominous to have a corner ahead of you in the gorey techno-wired space station in daylight as it is with only a flashlight(you know you'll just keep the flashlight on the corner, anyway)... Graphics, I know, do need to be somewhat good because a charachter with a 3 x 3 pixel head and a 2 x 7 pixel chainsaw isn't scarey at all, but graphics make many-a games (although some games with bad graphics are better than ones with awesome graphics) so what is it? I don't get it! How are scarey games scarey!? -Ajain

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Scary games are games that make you think somethings going to happen but doesn't happen and when you feel safe something bad happens. They give hint to something is going to happen and always keep you not knowing whether something is going to happen (In resident evil remake you can see silhouttes of zombies in a hallway because they are outside, and at one point they bust through and attack you but this happens later). Also you can use sound to make a game scary like using moans or walking noises to make the player freak out and get paranoid.

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Original post by SumDude
Scary games are games that make you think somethings going to happen but doesn't happen and when you feel safe something bad happens.


Moreover - scary game make you forget you are safe (in your comfortable armchair beside the monitor with cup of coffee/tea/whiskey/whatever). Doom 3 scared me alot that way - even when I knew there SHOULD be a monster behind the door, it scared me.

Wow, would STALKER beat DOOM3?

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Example of one of the creepiest things I saw in Doom3.

I was sitting around, catching my breath after a demon encounter (a.k.a. eating pizza and chatting with some people on my other computer). Now, I was used to hearing demonic voices and odd sounds.. which are creepy in themselves.. but there was this kid's voice.. and I saw bloody footprints making their way across the hallway and the voice said "follow me".

I think what this enounter did was scare me into thinking that something was going to happen had I followed the bloody footprints. It also seems like there's more going on to this whole thing than marines and demons. It really was a bizarre contrast..

Another thing I loved was when I went into a security room.. there was a corpse that got up from lying on the console. I have to admit that I saw it coming.. I had been shooting dead bodies in the head just to make sure.. but I didn't bother with this guy. Go figure.

Other things that do it for me are when there are things that move out of the corner of your eye. Now this doesn't do much if that's all that they do.. but if it's actually something crawling in the dark behind those pipes.. that's just sitting there waiting.. that's scary. It's the knowledge that something bad will happen.. but not knowing how or when.

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Ah yes, and one more creepy thing:

Once I was playing good old Daggerfall at late night (2 or 3 am). City Daggerfall was invaded by ghosts and specters. Every 1 or 2 minutes speakers emittted a whail. Every time it gave me a shudder :F
Can't forget that feeling...

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I think this can be summed up in one word : Immersion. There is no particular 'scary trick' that will make your game scary; you need to create immersive gameplay in a world that happens to be horrifying.

My personal favourite is Thief; there is nothing quite so scary as being Garrett and creeping around a temple filled with guards who are ten times your superior in combat. "Halt, infidel!" It makes me jump out of my seat.

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Or subliminal flash horrofic images on the screen, ala that game, whose name i forget ... where the guy can turn into a monster.

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To me, the scariest game wouldn't be one where you see lots of blood and guts and monsters with stomachs sticking out of their heads. That's just gross, not scary. Maybe not even gross, if your graphics aren't good enough.

The scariest game would be set in a world of hints and subtlety. The first time I meet a monster, I don't want him to be standing over a dead body, with talons dripping blood and fangs dripping slobber. I want to hear him breathing in my bedroom closet. If I'm traveling with a companion who has creepy abilities and will later turn on me, I want to see lights flicker or go out as she passes them. I want to see sillhouettes of things flying across the stars, carnival workers who for some reason always keep one hand hidden, a child's ball bouncing down the steps of a haunted house.

I want things that make me wonder, things that make me imagine. Because what I imagine will probably be scarier than what's actually there. Even monsters with stomachs sticking out of their heads can get old if you see them every 5 minutes.

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Which games have you played that were scary?

I had 4 games total scare me (with over 15 years of gaming experience).

Those were:

a. Alone in the dark
b. The seventh guest
c. Daggerfall (elder scrolls 2)
d. System shock 2

Alone in the dark scared because it was easy to die and monsters took me by surprise. Every single monster was a life threat. However, a large part of the scare was the lousy camera being stuck at ineffective places where sometimes you couldn't see the space 1 meter in front of your character. Not a very effective method.

The seventh guest scared me mainly because of the discordant piano playing on the background (coupled with the fact that I was rather young when playing that). However the concept of ghosts wasn't scary, but being alone and being in spooky place was. There weren't any sudden scares but the general atmosphere of the seventh guest is scary.

Daggerfall dungeons scared me because of the sound engine. You could hear monsters before you saw them. Suddenly they could be in front of you and even though you knew it was near, they could scare the hell out of me. Although this was limited to the scarier creatures, such as skeletons, vampires and liches (who cares about bats & rats?). The other important scare factor in this game: Sometimes you met creatures that were way more powerful than you could handle where the only option was running. If no monster can kill you in one blow, why would you be afraid?

System shock is a beauty when it comes to scare factor. It also featured a similar sound engine as daggerfall where you would sometimes hear creatures before you saw them (it was way more effective in system shock). The things these creatures said were also horrifying. Coupled with the fact that the weakest creature of the game could still kill you at the end of the game if he managed to hit 4 or 5 times. The whole game you were very much alone, ammo and weapons were finite (weapons could break and although repairing was possible, nobody likes to mend a shotgun while being shot at), creatures could kill with ease and the both the background as the sounds your enemies made made your toes curl and your heart pump faster. I sometimes just listen to the sounds and it still gives me goosebumps. I wanted to finish this game a second time with a different type of character but I was too afraid.

If you want to make a scary game, this game has it all.

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I remember playing Clive Barker's Undying. I saw a hallway that had four large windows (two on each side). I closed my eyes and cringed as I ran between them, expecting them to shatter.

I don't think a game that has things jumping out at you all the time would be scary. There has to be something to distract you - learning about someone else's tragedy or trying to understand more about something seem to be common themes in scary movies. And being given time to wonder about the nature of what you're facing without being offered any answers can increase the fright.

When you aren't given the opportunity to decide whether you should be scared all the time or trying to bravely understand something also keeps you more open to be frightened.

There is also an artistry in sounds that can keep you in a state of unsettledness if done right. If sounds lead to rest or conclusion, it relaxes you and removes the fright, as if there is something larger telling you that you shouldn't be frightened.

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Sounds and music can add alot to the atmosphere. Thief 3's mission, The cradle, does this nicely. For anyone who hasnt played it, the mission takes place in an old orphanage later converted into an insane assylum which is quite scary in itself. The sound effects are awesome(Crying children, banging, etc) which creates tension and the player creeping and every corridor and when looking around each corner.

Anyone who enjoys scary games, I recommend Thief 3 just for this level.

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Anticipation is what makes a game scary. Your imagination will always make something seem more scary than it is. hearing noises coming from around the corner will always be more scary than actually confronting the creature that made the noise.

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I don't exactly know why,
but while so many newer games can't scare me,
I sometimes got scared so that I held my breath for some time by the old WOLFENSTEIN 3D (1991), although you can't exactly say it hat realistic graphics and a good sound engine *g*
but sometimes when there came a nazi around the corner standing right before me, and I didn't expect it...

realms of the haunting could also be quite scary sometimes.

the guy mentioning "the game where the guy could transform into a monster" or something, are you talking of Lands Of Lore 2 ?
That could also be scary, yeah.

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There was a great article (quite a while ago I think before System Shock 2) in Computer Games Magazine about this. I can't recall if it was by Warren Spector or just included lots of quotes from an interview. But one point that was brought up was creating the feeling that around every corner there *might* be something to scare you. Sometimes having nothing there can be scarier than a bunch of blood and gore. So in the Thief games, Dues Ex, and System Shock games, they use this approach. I wish I could remember more from the article. I couldn't find it online.

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The scariest game i've played to date is definately "Project Zero" by tecmo..

The reason for this is because of how much the game plays on the natural fears that come instinctively to human beings.. In the game you play as a young girl (that has the unusual ability to see ghosts) who goes into a haunted mansion in search of her brother who went there and dissapeared (he went in search of someone else who dissapeared in the mansion too)..

The game fills you with a sense of impending danger when you journey through the mansion armed with nothing but a flashlight and a mystical camera which u can use to fight the ghosts by taking pictures of them (sounds silly i kno but it really works)

The fact that the main character is just a young (maybe 16 yr old) girl makes the player, from the start feel helpless and vunerable against the powerful ghosts that inhabit the area (not to mention 'the calamity', but we wont go into that).. Also the fact that you as a player is armed with nothing more than a camera (which wouldn't be the first weapon i'd pick up in a fight against supernatural evil) also bring a sense of aprehension and fear to player.. I mean, if you look at scary games in the past, they could get away with using zombie's and fleshy monsters to frighten the wits out of people because it was something new to video games that hadn't been done before.. But to be fair, when ur battling slow-moving zombies (that can only harm you at very close-range) with a rocket-launcher or minigun it sort of defeats the object of feeling scared and helpless in an area filled with vicious hell-spawn..

In my oppinion, the scariest games are those that kno how to make you the player feel vunerable to the point were you would look at the main character of the game and say "man!! if that was me i'd either kill myself or run and hid under a bush for a very very long time!!"

To create a scary game you need:

- An intense atmosphere (utilising a mixture of 'eerie' and 'violently terrifying' sounds as and where appropriate)

- An engrossing and complelling storyline which is as vivid and as disturbing as you can possibly imagine

- a collection of the most disturbing and uncomfortable backdrops/stages/scenery/environments that have ever been thought up

- Darkness.. as much as possible.. humans naturally fear the uncertain and that which we do not know so having darkness in a game makes the player feel like at any point you could be only three or four footsteps away from the most terrifying creature ever imagined and you wouldn't be able to see it until it was too late..

I hope this helps!!

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I think what I'm getting at is, if you have highly exaggerated "scary" stuff, a lot of players will see it as a farce. Also, people can only experience fear for a certain amount of time before they block it out one way or another, so you can't make every single minute of the game scary. If you have a happy scene every now and then, the scary stuff will seem even scarier by comparison.

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Original post by ArchangelMorph
- Darkness.. as much as possible..


I felt Doom3 failed to be scary because it was *too* dark. Having to strain your eyes is annoying, and annoyance breaks immersion, which is the key to frights. System Shock 2, as others have mentioned (hey, have you read the reviews on Amazon?) is terrifying, and doesn't feature a single dark area in the whole game.

Quote:
Original post by onyxflame
I think what I'm getting at is, if you have highly exaggerated "scary" stuff, a lot of players will see it as a farce.


Don't wish to beat on Doom3 too much (except that I feel it was a textbook example in how *not* to make a game scary), but this is a good point. Some 'horror techniques' are so cliched that people will spot it immediately. Doom3 used the techniques that ID used 10 years ago. Result=predictable.

Having said that, I remember I got scared by Catacombs 3D, so what do I know? :)

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Guest Anonymous Poster
Doom III wasn't scary. It made you jump a lot, which isn't the same. Sure, for the first 10 minutes after the accident I was a tad scared, but being in a constant high of fear just dulls it. All of the "fear" in DoomIII doesnt rely on tension, it just relies on you jumping when something pops out of thin air in front of you. After 30 minutes I was so incredibly bored that I uninstalled it and gave it back to the friend I borrowed it from.

Now Aliens Vs Predator 2... That's a perfect example. Excellent music, excellent pacing, excellent sounds, excellent lighting and perfect event timing. Just after teh start of the game, you're cut off from the rest of your squad and you start hearing things, seeing things which freak you out. For example, you're walking along a coridoor and you hear a Predator. Of course you stop, because you're immersed and you're already scared by the darkness, and music. You walk forward and hear a guy screaming. You step into the room, just in time to see a guy being pulled into a vent by something. You walk around the vent, keeping your eye on it and keeping your distance and then you hit something. You turn around and there's 3 skinned bodies hanging from the ceiling.

A few tips as a level designer:
+Darkness != fear. Contrast = fear. Try to create a stark contrast in the brightness rather than making everything dark. Strobing/flickering lights can help, but don't overdo them.

+Being able to hear something, but not see it is fantastic. Also quick glimpses of something before it scuttles away are great. For example, in one of my levels a player is moving through a vent and they can hear something running around in it with them. They go around a corner and see something dark run off. The actual thing they saw was just a black box. They only see it for a split second, so make sure they cant actually make out what it is. Also note in Aliens Vs Predator 2 you have the motion tracker, so you can tell that something's moving, but you have no idea what it is. Unfortunately, there isn't a way of replicating this without making it a complete rip-off.

+Music can make or break the immersion. A steady pulsing beat with slight techno/groaning can scare the living bejesus. Also having a quick buildup track can do well, if used sparingly to try and fool the player into thinking that something's gonna happen.

+You have to completely immerse the player, so no hints that they're in a game. Nothing breaks immersion more than stopping and thinking "Ok what am I meant to do now?" or "Where do i go now to complete this level?". Puzzles dont do well when you're trying to build tension.

+When something's about to happen, make sure the player knows it. A perfect example is in the origional Unreal. You walk into a coridoor and the door in front of you slams shut. You try to walk back but the door you came out of slams shut. One by one, each light in the room turns off.

Do these tips, and create tension rather than saying "boo" every other second and you'll have loads of people banging on your door complaining about brown trousers :)

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Original post by Kuladus
Or subliminal flash horrofic images on the screen, ala that game, whose name i forget ... where the guy can turn into a monster.


It was The Suffering, and it was a terrible idea (at least the way it was implemented). It was annoying, not scary.

In fact, the game is basically a catalog of what not to do in a horror game.

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Kinda new...completely and totally...to horror games...

Is it immensly difficult to fall onto the margin of "good horror game" or is it just that everyone is doing it wrong?

-Ajain

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Original post by Lysander
Quote:
Original post by Kuladus
Or subliminal flash horrofic images on the screen, ala that game, whose name i forget ... where the guy can turn into a monster.


It was The Suffering, and it was a terrible idea (at least the way it was implemented). It was annoying, not scary.

In fact, the game is basically a catalog of what not to do in a horror game.


Hmm, I quite liked that game. The first couple of images were scary, but then yes, they kinda over did it. The other thing they did, was freeze your character and have monsters/dead ppl etc appear right next to you, alo slowing the game down. Much like Doom3 did.

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Sound for me stands out in a scary game. Doom3 for example (and yes it scared me to hell !), the darkness would'nt have affected your senses if it weren't for the eerie voices all over the place (like the devil going muh hah hah hah hah imedietly after the first outbreak takes place).

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I think that you can if you really want to scare the player you might want to break the 4th wall. Like in Eternal darkness:

Your character is in front of a door. Opening it, you enter another room... and there are 3 monsters comming you way. You shot this one in the head and he falls on the floor. Suddently your character doesn't moves! A message saying "Input failure, please reconnect the gamepad" appears on the center of the screen. You hurry like like if you had a demon inside to disconnect the gamepad and to get back to action.. but unplugging and plugging it back doesn't fix the situation! You see your HP is nearly zero now and you reconnect again and mash the buttons at lightning speed.. but your character is dead...

But then again you appear just before you opened the door and your character screams "This can't be happening!".

True fear ;)

But then again, after playing for a while you could recognize the fake situations from the real ones. But I bet there is a way of making this kind of thing work for all the game... like only saving when you exit the game and everytime you play it get's erased... you die and it really is game over..

[Edited by - Coz on November 5, 2004 2:06:48 PM]

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Here's an idea: You are forced to venture into a completely dark room. A sudden flash of lightning reveals this huge monster inside the room, just sitting there. You have to walk right past it to open the next door.

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Quote:
Original post by Ajain
...what is it about scarey games that has the ability to scare you s**tless?

I've heard that sound has something to do with it but silence in a dark hallway can be even more ominous that a slow funeral-esque march...

I've heard darkness has something to do with it but it is just as ominous to have a corner ahead of you in the gorey techno-wired space station in daylight as it is with only a flashlight(you know you'll just keep the flashlight on the corner, anyway)...

Graphics, I know, do need to be somewhat good because a charachter with a 3 x 3 pixel head and a 2 x 7 pixel chainsaw isn't scarey at all, but graphics make many-a games (although some games with bad graphics are better than ones with awesome graphics)

so what is it? I don't get it! How are scarey games scarey!?

-Ajain


Well there a number of things that can make a game scary. First, the graphics MUST be dark and misty, this makes the player feel depressed. Second is the element of surprise. A scary-looking monster must come out from somewhere where you least expect it, such as a wall or floor. This will scare the heck out of you. No scary game is good without blood, of course, because it can make some people feel a little sick when watching it. Last of all, music is probably the most important part. Play a horror game without the music and you'll see what I mean. Proper sound is needed to bring emotion into each scene. Well that's pretty much it.
-fantasydragon

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