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How far can scary games go?

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Im developing a game at the moment (FLARE - Age of Destruction) you may have seen it in the Help Wanted forum. Anyway its a horror game, set in the near future, but its not as unique as i had hoped, the story is new, its set in the UK, not a popular setting for games today. It has those 4 armed mutants and zombies that creap up on you from all angles, it even has an evil faction trying to take over the planet, but what else do people look for in horror games? Im working on an idea at the moment, its that all you can see is what your torch is lighting up. this would make for good gameplay, as you would get scared S***less when a mutant jumps out of no where, or a creature that hisses from the bright light of your torch. The game is set mostly outside, and so there are levels in the day, which can ruin it slightly but it makes sense. Looking for any comments, what do YOU want in a horror game? providing its unique. Thanks FLARE_Project

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Darkness can be a very powerful element on a horror game, but it can be overused and reduce from the experience of the game overall. Doom 3 for example - I found the game very difficult to play without the flashlight mod. Often small details emerging from darkness can be very useful as well, including things like glowing eyes, scritchy noises and footsteps, etc.. Darkness doesn't always have to be omnipresent, either; in fact, it's generally not a good idea for everything to be dark. Shadows and silhouettes of monsters walking or scampering around the corner get me every time. A light area can also give a player a sense of safety, which is necessary at intervals.

Audio can also play a huge role in a horror game. "Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth" does a great job with this. Conversations amongst the townspeople can be listened in to, revealing small details about what's really going on in the game and pointing to events which can put the player on edge. Ambience, and lack thereof, is also very important. Wind, faint laughter (sinister or innocent), and screaming can do a whole lot for your game. But, in the context of a game with a good amount of ambience, taking it away can be a great way to come up upon a particularly frightful moment.

Another thing Dark Corners of the Earth does particularly well with was visuals. Scattered around the game there are objects and signs of events that cause visual, audio and control distortions. For example, a rusty trashcan in a dark alley with a single source of light dimly illuminating blood splatter on the wall. Looking at the blood splatter would build up the level of insanity, adding the previously mentioned distortions and adding ambient noises. Not necessarily from an actual presence in the game, but purely to add to the suspense.

Power is something to be closely monitored. Controls can be touchy, as well - you don't want the player to feel immobile or unable to retreat, but you don't quite want to put them in a position to simply skip past all of the monsters and other elements. Overpowering the player to make them feel superior to the enemies in the game isn't a good thing to do in a horror game. That's not to say that rewards shouldn't be had, though. Throughout levels the player should be given access to better offense and defense, to give them some accomplishment to negate being scared all the time, and perhaps have some taken away temporarily. This can cause the player to plan ahead more intently, adding to immersion of the game. Intimidation is scary! I would be terrified if I wandered into a dead-end room to scour for supplies, and upon turning back toward the door saw a snarling, aggressive monster. But I would not feel any pressure if I could simply outrun it and unload dozens of shells into it without much repercussion.

Another thing worth mention is that heads-up displays can take away from the immersion of any game, and with the horror genre this is indispensable. But keeping the player away from their vital statistics, such as health and ammo, isn't good either. I suggest showing these in the pause menu and whenever their values are changed (getting hit, firing a shot, picking up ammo) to minimize HUD usage but keeping the player informed. Percentage-style health meters aren't so great either - experiment with a vague "you're doing fine" / "you better get a health pack NOW" display, perhaps with color or noticeable limping, slowed movement, and/or heavy breathing.

I hope this has provided some biased help. Just remember what is horrifying to one person might not be worth a second glance to others. What you want to achieve is keeping the player's attention and leaving them immersed in your world.

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Don't take away the hud. It isn't worth it. How is it more immersive to have to pause and stop the action to see your status? It's annoying as hell. Silent Hill did this and I'd have to pause the game every so often to see if I needed to use the medicine yet.

And don't over use darkness. That's also quite annoying. I want to be able to see where I'm going and if you have to resort to cheap tricks like stuff jumping out of the dark then I don't think the game is really worth playing.

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Original post by tstrimp
Don't take away the hud. It isn't worth it. How is it more immersive to have to pause and stop the action to see your status? It's annoying as hell. Silent Hill did this and I'd have to pause the game every so often to see if I needed to use the medicine yet.

I suggested hiding the HUD if there's no reason to show it. Do you need to be reminded of how badly you're hurt when you're limping around and bleeding?

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Original post by oscinis
I suggested hiding the HUD if there's no reason to show it. Do you need to be reminded of how badly you're hurt when you're limping around and bleeding?


If there is a difference between injury states that is hard to tell simply by looking at your character, then yes. In Silent Hill is was hard to tell if your health was in the orange (can take another hit from most things) or if it was red. That makes a difference between whether to heal or not. If you make your player stop and pause the game just to see if it's time to use a health pack or not then your players are going to get annoyed with you.

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Horror games... seems to be the growing game design topic just about everywhere.

Ok, so here's soem of my ideas and comments :)

First, darkness is, like said before, VERY overated. Light can used to cause even more fear, but people just don't seem to see it. In the light people can see where they are going, and go which way they want... or so they think. For example:

A classic walk in a plains field. Dusk, daylight just coming. Previously, the player has been running away from a nighttime/darkness only evil scarecrow (yes, corny, but just an example). So it's daylight, and the player can see where they are. They see traps, weapons, whatever, and wish to avoid these things (leading them on a path where you want them to go). through the maze of 'the player choosing where to go' the player gets to an appointed trap. They suddenly fall through a trap door in the ground. The sunlight shines through the hole. The palyer see some more light spots ahead. Now timing must be tried, and tested, but give the player a short period of time to try and discover where they are (no movement, just looking). As soon as the figure out their surroundings (1-3 seconds probably, maybe not even that long) the scarecrow comes flying and tries to attack, but is blocked by the ray of light the player is in. So after a while the player realizes that they must move onto to the next light spot. So they make a mad dash to it (while the scarecrow is preoccupied with doing...watever). After a while of this, the player gets to a final ray of light. All others go out. The ray the player on starts slowly to get smaller. This is the climax of this exmaple. Panic. To get a person scared, they must have a 'chance' to survive (which would be the light dashing) and then the panic of the 'hopeless' situation. While the ray is getting smaller, have the scarecrow nearby, nearly hovering. Now a 'hero'. A farmer comes, and falls through a different trap, which just happens to be above where the scarecrow is. The scarecrow is crushed by the farmer, and a ray of light shines on him. He tells the player to leave. Player leaves, but the road is blocked by the hole the farmer left. So the only way is to patch up the hole (luckily, supplies are very close). Player then moves on, but stops. A little dialogue or noise or something comes up almost as an 'oops.' The player realizes he just killed the farmer, by removing his ray of light. "guilt" another fear builder. so then in a cutscene type thing, the scarecrow jumps out of the was-newly-covered hole, holding the dead farmer. and yeah, you can from there.

But the point of that example is prove a couple things.

1) Darkness is over rated, when over used. Some elements can use darkness, but if you can scare someone in light, it will be truly scary.

2) Catch them off guard. Like in the example, the first trap the player falls through. The player gets into the game, and suddenly 'SNAP' something happens. DO NOT over use this as well, it could ruin your game

3) Fear, panic, guilt, and many more can make the player scared or feel helpless, which is desired in a horror game


Just a quick example (kind of based off the movie 'Darkness Falls') but yeah, you get the point, hoepfully that helps :)

Matt

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tstrimp makes good points, I believe that I do as well. Take both opinions as you will.

Reading Crimehawk's post above (which is good), I started to recall some moments in Half-Life 2 and other games. Moving with teammates (or otherwise benevolent characters to you), it can be quite a shock when one of them drops dead in front of you, or is grabbed by an enemy, buying you some time in an intense situation.

Just a quick note. Again, take this all as opinion.

Edit to include one more thing: MUSIC. Skipped over it before. Music can be very important. Have you ever tried to watch Jaws without music? It's quite a different experience. Watch horror movies and pay attention to the soundtrack.. you'll see what I mean.

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Original post by tstrimp
Quote:
Original post by oscinis
I suggested hiding the HUD if there's no reason to show it. Do you need to be reminded of how badly you're hurt when you're limping around and bleeding?


If there is a difference between injury states that is hard to tell simply by looking at your character, then yes. In Silent Hill is was hard to tell if your health was in the orange (can take another hit from most things) or if it was red. That makes a difference between whether to heal or not. If you make your player stop and pause the game just to see if it's time to use a health pack or not then your players are going to get annoyed with you.


when you get attacked it tells you your health. Riddick, escape from butcher bay did this and it worked fine. I like the resident evil health system aswell.

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Have you ever had a nightmare? What scared the crap out of you?

Personally, the scariest thing I can think of is when you try to get away, but you just cant... you want to run, but youre moving slowly, and the thing thats coming for you is hauling ass ,mean and looking to devour you. A series of tight holes and snares that slow you down as the approaching enemy smashes through them would be good.

What about "close calls". Environments and hazards that make it seem like you barely escaped, even though in reality they will not hurt you. Falling walls, fires, explosions, traps and incoming attacks all pre-scripted to make it appear like you just scraped through.




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Personally, the scariest thing I can think of is when you try to get away, but you just cant... you want to run, but youre moving slowly, and the thing thats coming for you is hauling ass ,mean and looking to devour you. A series of tight holes and snares that slow you down as the approaching enemy smashes through them would be good.


I'm not sure this applies as well in a game as in a nightmare. It's terrifying as a dream, since you can't escape and you can't fight back. But as gameplay, it's lacking. The real terror is in the helplessness of the situation, but you're never actually helpless in a game.

As for my suggestion, I think you should make sure to not rely too heavily on enclosed spaces to generate terror. Not everyone is claustrophobic and small areas, when done poorly, reduce tension by being easily defensible. When done correctly a large open space can be just as terrifying, especially if empty.

I also once read an article (I can't remember where), that discussed horror games being predictable. The main point was to mix up your scares. For example, if a monster jumps out from behind every window and never from behind a door, the player will quickly adapt. He'll carefully watch windows and ignore doors. To avoid this, have the player be ambushed inconsistently. Don't always scare him at an obvious spot. Sometimes you'll want to scare him a little early (before he's ready) or a little late (after he's relaxed).

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