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MRECKS

Creating a frightening enviroment within a co-op shooter

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Hello Gamedev,
While i recently decided to further pursue one of my idea's, I've hit a bit of a roadblock. In this idea, four people are trapped in a haunted house
and need to escape. These four have access to various weaponry from different time periods in order to defend themselves from all manner of monsters that reside in this house. My question to you is-
How do i create a game that is both co-op oriented, and frightening? games like left 4 dead did a great job in introducing the idea, but its linear design and near unlimited amounts of ammo didn't really help in the "scare" factor. Why bother running away or sneaking around when you can just pump it full of lead? One suggestion i got from a friend was to limit the amount of supplies available, is there anything else i could do to help balance the spook to shoot ratio?

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This is part of what the Resident Evil (especially the first in the series) games did as one of the facets of creating tension. I wouldn't say scare ammo causes FEAR, but it definitely causes stress/tension. When you go into an area knowing good and well you have 3 bullets, and there's 5 zombies - you're extremely worried about the outcome, sometimes even having 5 bullets and 4 zombies was disconcerning, what if you miss, what if you miss twice. But like I said, this isn't really 'frightening'.

I think most research indicates fear is much more heavily affected by audio. You can be visually frightening but those tend to end up as jump scares (I'm looking at you F.E.A.R). However, thinking of F.E.A.R., they did some genuinely creepy things that weren't jump-tactics, a memory is walking through a culvert or tunnel where you see the shadow of a girl in front of you, projected by a fire barely out of view, and the accompanying noise of her, yet when you round the corner nothing is there.

The problem with co-op environments is that being alone inherently makes almost any situation less frightening. You have support, even if the other person isn't Rambo, you have another functional set of eyes, ears and hands. I think the correct response if you're going for fear, is to make the players feel their teammates are NOT reliable or safe. However for every avenue of communication you provide them, you remove fear. If you make one player 'hallucinate' by showing them enemies that aren't there, them firing off wildly at something no one else sees would startle the others and make them curious, but if they're in voice chat, it's quickly defused as "oh, tim is seeing the hallucinations, no problem". Where if they can't talk to each other, there's more tension remaining. If they're allowed to stick together all the time, you lose even more opportunities. If they are forced to split up frequently (say, to solve puzzles), you have opportunities to cause them fear. Maybe player A working on his objective is making noise player B can hear through the wall, distort them and make them creepy - they're freaking each other out. In certain circumstances, maybe make player A look like an enemy for a moment, player B might fire at him.

Anyway, those are just simple ideas but, I think you'll find in a co-op environment the answer to fear is finding ways to make the co-op players fear each other, otherwise it's 4 calm people against whatever you have.

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[quote name='cmdnvs' timestamp='1329865597' post='4915305']
The problem with co-op environments is that being alone inherently makes almost any situation less frightening. You have support, even if the other person isn't Rambo, you have another functional set of eyes, ears and hands. I think the correct response if you're going for fear, is to make the players feel their teammates are NOT reliable or safe. However for every avenue of communication you provide them, you remove fear. If you make one player 'hallucinate' by showing them enemies that aren't there, them firing off wildly at something no one else sees would startle the others and make them curious, but if they're in voice chat, it's quickly defused as "oh, tim is seeing the hallucinations, no problem". Where if they can't talk to each other, there's more tension remaining. If they're allowed to stick together all the time, you lose even more opportunities. If they are forced to split up frequently (say, to solve puzzles), you have opportunities to cause them fear. Maybe player A working on his objective is making noise player B can hear through the wall, distort them and make them creepy - they're freaking each other out. In certain circumstances, maybe make player A look like an enemy for a moment, player B might fire at him.
[/quote]

This portion just gave me a bit of inspiration.what If the enemy is smart enough to try and separate the group, forcing them to take different paths? Of course they would meet later on, but the sudden isolation after a hectic firefight would leave me pretty creeped out personally. As for the communication aspect, we could make voice chat proximity based so when the players are separated they won't be able to hear one another.

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I've never played a frightening game, and I've played all the games widely hailed as being scary (Silent Hill, Left 4 Dead, etc...). From my standpoint, what you ask isn't possible. The very things that make a game a game, make it incapable of causing anything even remotely resembling fear. "Oh no, my pixels are in danger of changing from this pattern to that pattern! Oh, the terror!" There might be stress and anxiety ("Sweet hell, if I die here I'll have to endure that g-damned cutscene AGAIN!") but no actual fear. Add co-op (as a previous poster mentioned, now I'm no longer alone in here) and the possibility of actual fear becomes so remote as to be non-existent. Sure, you might startle me a bit with cheesy burst-through-a-brick-wall, but only once, and startlement isn't fear; merely a cheap substitute.

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Hmm, I think miscommunication and seeing different things is definitely one angle. Have in-game chat that sometimes features cut-outs or audio distortion if they want the full experience. One player sees a handle they have to wind as opening a portcullis to free their friend; their friend sees them as an enemy winding a handle to crush them.

Separating them is always good. Refer earlier portcullis. ;) Enemies designed to separate them like the... I forgot the name... from L4D. Areas where they have to go single file then blam something happens. Maybe airlock-like situations, one person at a time.

Maybe a game mode where one person gets to be evil. Whenever out of site of the other party members a whole new menu of creepy stuff opens for them to play on their team-mates. Everybody suspicious who the bad guy is.

Some horror games have good mechanics for fear, e.g. the player literally has NO attack button, or the player suffers "madness" if they spend too much time alone near monsters. I recall in one you don't "die"... you pass out then appear somewhere else in the house but some of the stuff in the house has moved. Fear of the unknown freaked people out more than "losing".

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Several questions for you.
[list]
[*]How large is the house?
[*]How old is it?
[*]Is the environment contained only to the house or are there external elements i.e. on an estate, tunnels below the house etc.?
[*]Are the hauntings a generic supernatural theme or is there deeper back-story enabling more unusual/exotic elements?
[*]Are you restricted to simply a shooter i.e. ammo for a ghost?
[/list]

The reason I ask these questions is fairly straightforward. If the house is in actual fact a mansion then the scale of choices of
available increases accordingly. If the mansion sits on estate then more options open etc.

Getting into your game and dividing it into the two main themes you ask about: Co-op and fear inducing.

Co-op:[list]
[*]Separation of the co-op players this can be a trigger for an attack or alternatively a lore element, this could also happen when all the co-op players get back to each other.
[*]Requirement of independent actions in different parts of the houses to cause an event to trigger.
[*]Current number of players together at anytime can create different events to trigger i.e. a trapdoor opens, an attack occuring.
[*]Independent mapping i.e. each player only knows what they have explored. Define rooms in such a way as to be immediately identifiable i.e. the library, the kitchen etc it allows communication between players:
[/list]
P1:"Help I am in the library being attacked"
P2: "Umm where is that compared to the kitchen?"
P3: "OMW"[list]
[*]One way passages.
[*]Limited objects of role requiring the co-op person with the axe to break a door or the co-op person wearing the scuba gear to dive into the well etc.
[*]Immunities in certain monsters i.e. give the co-op players 10 million bullets which do absolutely nothing to ghosts
[*]Action roles arising out of an event P1 Fighting the monster, P2 & P3 are barricading the door from more monsters.
[/list]
Fear

The hardest element to reproduce in a game is that of the tactile i.e. the feel of spider's web in your face or stepping into a cold spot, in some ways
you can effectively trigger memories of such experience in people's minds though. i.e. suddenly your breath mists in front of you with the sound of ice under foot.
Not easy and definitely should be used sparingly.

Disorientation, confusion, stresses, disgust are not fear but they can comprise elements which can create it. The true success of fear though normally arises out of the not knowing. Use scenery, back stories (think Bioshock 1 tape recorders for an example of enriching environment but leading to more questions than answers). I would also suggest using elements from this list to cater to a broader target [url="http://shareranks.com/2773,20-most-common-phobias"]http://shareranks.com/2773,20-most-common-phobias[/url].

The most effective form of generating fear though is to slowly take everything away from the player piece by piece until they literally are creeping around with no ammo, scared of their own shadows. At this point it is less about confrontation as it is about avoiding their own deaths. Every piece should be as subtle as possible though, the most effective environment is the mind of the player themselves and that is what you want to get working.

I am interested to see how you do with it. I think developing fear in a Co-op game will be tricky but if you can manage it, you would have a game that gets referenced to by others. Good luck.

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[quote name='MRECKS' timestamp='1329864541' post='4915302']
Hello Gamedev,
While i recently decided to further pursue one of my idea's, I've hit a bit of a roadblock. In this idea, four people are trapped in a haunted house
and need to escape. These four have access to various weaponry from different time periods in order to defend themselves from all manner of monsters that reside in this house. My question to you is-
How do i create a game that is both co-op oriented, and frightening? games like left 4 dead did a great job in introducing the idea, but its linear design and near unlimited amounts of ammo didn't really help in the "scare" factor. Why bother running away or sneaking around when you can just pump it full of lead? One suggestion i got from a friend was to limit the amount of supplies available, is there anything else i could do to help balance the spook to shoot ratio?
[/quote]
I think that the fear in the sense of scare comes from [u]knowledge about the unknown[/u], that is, we know that there is something unknown awaiting us and we have "fear" until we get knowledge about it.

Think about a wall of darkness or fog which hides some unknown entity, as well as a group of people approaching you, and you don't know what they are planning to do.

To translate this into a game is simple at first, just add some unknown events/monsters etc. in a obscuring environment and let the player know about something dangerous out there. But translating this into a co-op multiplayer game makes it incredible hard. The reason is, that in a co-op multiplayer game you need communication between the players, but this will lead to players who have more knowledge about the situtation then others and who will share this knowledge increasing the knowledge base of every single player. More knowledge equals less fear.

So, "story" driven fear in a co-op is a waste of time in my opinion, but there're other ways to archive it and here shines L4D.

The first assumption is: in a multiplayer game all static knowledge is know, that is, the player knows what creatures are luring in the darkness, how to battle them, where to get more ammo etc. So, to recatch the fear factor you need to take away some of this knowledge.
One way is procedural content: weapon placement is unknown, creature encounters are unknown etc.
This helps alot. Further on, creature behaviour is unknown, that is, instead of some predictable AI controlled NPCs put real player into the role of the evil opponent. The lacking knowledge about the position or hiding place of an enemy, even knowing that he will always know where you are currently, contains a "fear" factor.

So, in fact, L4D is really great when it comes down to creating a scaring environment in a multiplayer game, thought the lacking static/story driven "unknown" knowledge limits its possibilities.

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[quote name='MRECKS' timestamp='1329868358' post='4915326']
As for the communication aspect, we could make voice chat proximity based so when the players are separated they won't be able to hear one another.
[/quote]

[quote name='jefferytitan' timestamp='1329874583' post='4915353']
Have in-game chat that sometimes features cut-outs or audio distortion if they want the full experience.
[/quote]

The problem with this approach, as it comes up regularly. Anything you don't provide, or provide in a way people don't like (and, the majorit yof people will become quickly irritated by in-game voice/chat that only 'works' sometimes), they're just going to use ventrilo or teamspeak which you can't control. In fact, the majority of people who play in groups regularly are already going to be using a third party system (why use your in game feature when they were using ventrilo to play Trine 2, and are now switching over to your game.)

Which leaves you back at, if they can communicate by voice freely with no problems, you've lost any tension your cutting-out voice system causes.

Stormynature offers some good insight and options, however I disagree with Ashaman73 (respectfully of course), I don't consider lack-of-knowledge to be or cause fear. I don't know a lot of things, but that doesn't make me afraid of them. When I'm in scuba diving 100 feet down in the ocean, staring at the absolute darkness below me, I have no idea what's down there, but I'm not afraid, I'm curious. Now, if something suddenly appeared out of the darkness, say, a great white shark, which can rip me to shreds and I'm utterly defenseless against, now I'm probably feeling a little bit of terror, but if he and his hundreds of friends would've stayed in the dark, not knowing would've never made me scared, even if it's possible that's all that's down there.

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Yeah, that's why I said "if they want the full experience", it's always optional when there are other tools available.

I think the difference between the unknown we're talking about and the scuba situation is that in your scenario you have no particular reason to believe something bad waits below. If however you saw other divers fleeing, blood in the water, or a human hand float by, your expectations may be different.

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[quote name='jefferytitan' timestamp='1329945619' post='4915665']
Yeah, that's why I said "if they want the full experience", it's always optional when there are other tools available.

I think the difference between the unknown we're talking about and the scuba situation is that in your scenario you have no particular reason to believe something bad waits below. If however you saw other divers fleeing, blood in the water, or a human hand float by, your expectations may be different.
[/quote]

I guess my brain doesn't work the way other peoples do, in your scenario. I wouldn't be frightened to then see something terrible, I would be like "well that explains it". I guess that situation doesn't really instill fear in me. I was in New Orleans after Katrina (3 days later, to take photographs of commercial property that was damaged), there were still bodies floating in the street and plenty of atmosphere others described as creepy, to me, it was exactly what I expected, there weren't any abnormal feelings about it. That said I'm not unscareable, even some movies come to mind that genuinely scared me (not jump scares either), but it was more a situation of utter and complete helplessness that makes me feel fright than anything else.

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[quote name='cmdnvs' timestamp='1329946672' post='4915674']
I guess my brain doesn't work the way other peoples do, in your scenario. I wouldn't be frightened to then see something terrible, I would be like "well that explains it". I guess that situation doesn't really instill fear in me. I was in New Orleans after Katrina (3 days later, to take photographs of commercial property that was damaged), there were still bodies floating in the street and plenty of atmosphere others described as creepy, to me, it was exactly what I expected, there weren't any abnormal feelings about it. That said I'm not unscareable, even some movies come to mind that genuinely scared me (not jump scares either), but it was more a situation of utter and complete helplessness that makes me feel fright than anything else.
[/quote]

I'm not sure we're on the same page here. I'm not talking about an aftermath like Katrina. That's sad or gross, not scary. I'm talking about "Something was eating people here one minute ago, is probably still nearby, and may try to eat me. I don't know where it is."

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Most suggestions so far are plot-related and based on the premise of counteracting the inherent comfort of having the support of a team by making the game more similar to a single player one: ignorance and distrust between partners, forced splitting of the party, betrayal.
There is, however, a specific way in which a cooperative game can be more frightening, or at least more worrying, than a single player one: fear of being hurt by teammates. [list]
[*]An idiot opens the wrong door at the wrong time.
[*]Someone greedy steals weapons etc. you need.
[*]You could be stealthy if you were alone, but there isn't enough cover for two.
[*]Plenty of grenades and, generally, other splash damage and hard to aim indirect attacks. Are you safe from eager or fumbling friends?
[*]Traps, triggered by one and affecting the whole group.
[*]Is your stranded or lagging companion worth rescuing or waiting for? Climbing out of a pit can take enough to be reached by monsters.
[/list]

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[quote name='LorenzoGatti' timestamp='1329989586' post='4915820']
Most suggestions so far are plot-related and based on the premise of counteracting the inherent comfort of having the support of a team by making the game more similar to a single player one: ignorance and distrust between partners, forced splitting of the party, betrayal.
There is, however, a specific way in which a cooperative game can be more frightening, or at least more worrying, than a single player one: fear of being hurt by teammates.[list]
[*]An idiot opens the wrong door at the wrong time.
[*]Someone greedy steals weapons etc. you need.
[*]You could be stealthy if you were alone, but there isn't enough cover for two.
[*]Plenty of grenades and, generally, other splash damage and hard to aim indirect attacks. Are you safe from eager or fumbling friends?
[*]Traps, triggered by one and affecting the whole group.
[*]Is your stranded or lagging companion worth rescuing or waiting for? Climbing out of a pit can take enough to be reached by monsters.
[/list]
[/quote]

^This. Everything about it, that's what I was trying to get to but LorenzoGatti articulated it much better than myself.

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For me a scary coop would be where you and you're team mates are sometimes separated , what i mean by that is like say you are running along , the guy infront doesnt know it yet but the floor is going to give way , he falls down the hole then the hole would refix it self in some way , not sure how but you have to prevent the others from going down there, then the guy below has to find another path alone and meet up with the others latter, while all this is going on you can hear him on the mic struggling to kill what ever is down there, and you have no way of getting to him , things like that would make coop really good.

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[quote name='LorenzoGatti' timestamp='1329989586' post='4915820']
There is, however, a specific way in which a cooperative game can be more frightening, or at least more worrying, than a single player one: fear of being hurt by teammates.[list]
[*]An idiot opens the wrong door at the wrong time.
[*]Someone greedy steals weapons etc. you need.
[*]You could be stealthy if you were alone, but there isn't enough cover for two.
[*]Plenty of grenades and, generally, other splash damage and hard to aim indirect attacks. Are you safe from eager or fumbling friends?
[*]Traps, triggered by one and affecting the whole group.
[*]Is your stranded or lagging companion worth rescuing or waiting for? Climbing out of a pit can take enough to be reached by monsters.
[/list]
[/quote]

I agree that these are good angles to look at. However it doesn't necessarily mean the tone will be frightening. I can just picture the chat during gameplay: "Don't open that... oh you dick! Why the hell did you do that? Okay, everybody shoot. Retreat. Regroup. Damn, that Jenkins is so stupid *fill in joke*". Just like something going wrong in a WoW raid. More frustration and joking and re-working tactics than fear.

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As I was reading this, I realized that L4D did something good in the example of having lots of enemies that do different things. It's obvious but that is very scary especially when the structures are narrow. I'm not saying you need 10 or 20 enemies bum rushing you but it's something to think about--the amount of enemies can be scary without ammo and separated friends.

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