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Horror Mechanics

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by RobAnthem, May 29, 2019.

  1. RobAnthem

    RobAnthem

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    So I am creating a horror game, and some of the mechanics for horror come easily and make sense for me, but some are less obvious. My biggest problem is telling a story through horror, and giving the player a legitimate reason to fear. I don't necessarily want it to be the kind of game where you run from a monster and hope it doesn't kill you, I played a game a while back by Betheseda called The Call of Cthulhu (the original one) and it had some very interesting horror mechanics, for example your character itself could be driven insane and kill themselves. This was a nice mechanic since it forced the player to not witness too much horror at any given time, and gave them a sense of fear for dying.

    So essentially, I need advice on what to do to instill fear of death into the player, without making it some cheesy rehash of a monster chasing you. As well I have no intention of adding a combat system or any enemies.
    My entire game takes place in an apartment and a medium-sized asylum. There IS a monster and I wrote an entire story for the game, however I didn't necessarily want the player to realize the monster is REAL until later in the game. So far my only solution is a heart-rate system that increases fear levels based on events and things you see, I thought about making it so the player could have a heart attack and die if the fear was too much, but that also seems kind of lame.

    Any advice his appreciated! :)
     
  2. RobAnthem

    RobAnthem

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    After a bunch of research I am realizing this is a very difficult subject.
    So far I have come up with the following ideas.

    • A mechanic that makes the player want to avoid certain situations because they may make things more difficult.
    • A mechanic that essentially cripples the player without breaking them, for example being attacked and injuring your leg, leading to a gait, or being forced to crawl. Now the idea seems okay, but no player will enjoy it without a solution to the problem, either giving them medical supplies to fix it, or allow it to fix over time.
    • Easy way vs hard way: I make the easy way difficult in skill, but quick, and allow the player to fail, and at the same time offer a longer path that takes no skill so that even failure is not absolute failure.
    • A mechanic that allows players to form their own idea of what is going on, and if they are wrong, then things don't go according to plan. This seems more difficult to implement, and would likely yield little in the result of feelings of failure.
    Ideally I could find a way to penalize the player for making wrong decisions, but give them an alternative way out, or force them to the proper way, but that's just giving them options A, B and C, etc., and letting them choose until the picky the right option... Seems less helpful and more of something that should just be mixed into the system.
     
  3. angrypenguin

    angrypenguin

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    There are also a bunch of board games based on Cthulhu and so on. One of the cool mechanics they commonly use is that it's actually pretty hard to die, but there's a strong sense of loss and sacrifice along the way. So rather than the fear just being fear of death, it's fear of each individual step along the way.

    For instance, rather than just losing health and sanity, you can also lose items and abilities and companions. Each one of those things has a significant effect on the gameplay, so each one makes a big difference when it's lost. The games are also usually balanced quite well, so once you've played once or twice you also know that losing any one thing could potentially be the difference between victory and defeat.

    My concern here is that it would be very difficult to resolve that confusion in a satisfying way. Here you would need to make things difficult, and yet so clear in hindsight that players don't feel like it was unfair and/or blame the game when they get it wrong.



    My own thoughts are to do something to separate cause and effect where you can. A part of fear is anticipation, which is why it works in the Cthulhu board games when you lose gear or companions. Rather than "oh no, I'm now closer to death" the player is instead left anticipating "drat, am I still able to meet the victory conditions?" Yes, players can die, but that's not usually how the game ends. Generally it gets all the way to the climax of the scenario and then you find out if the players' or the antagonist's plans worked. Stretching out that tension is what makes those games scary. Without that, they're just any other board game with monsters in the artwork.

    So yeah, there should be things that result in immediate danger which the player has to deal with. But I don't think that should be the main scare factor. Underneath that, the player is doing things or making choices to reach some goal, and that goal needs to be meaningfully at stake in a way that loading an earlier checkpoint or saved game doesn't (easily) resolve.
     
  4. MrArcher

    MrArcher

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    One masterful example of horror in games I always bring up to anyone who'll listen is a level from 2004's Thief: Deadly Shadows. The game itself is a pretty decent stealther, but definitely not a horror. Robbing the Cradle has a number of great moments that really up the tension, but it's been better explained than I ever could in a 10-page article on PC gamer, the pdf of which can be found at http://gillen.cream.org/thecradle.pdf. This also includes an interview with the lead designer, so gives some nice insights into the theory behind the practice.

    It's worth taking a read through the wikipedia article here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robbing_the_Cradle

    There's also a retrospective that sets it up nicely here:https://www.goombastomp.com/the-cradle-gamings-scariest-level/

    The gist of it is a mixture of subversion, anticipation and tension that really help to bring home the feeling of horror, most of which is done without any combat. Much of the tension building is done purely through sound design, environmental themes, and readable clues. They let the player's imagination really take the lead on this. The first time I played this level is the only time I've ever noped out of a game until I could muster the courage to continue.
     
    iamthwee and angrypenguin like this.
  5. RobAnthem

    RobAnthem

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    Thanks, I'll take a look at these. I also just bought Amnesia: The Dark Descent because I hear it was a well made horror game without combat. This is definitely a more difficult project than I originally envisioned lmfao.

    I really like the idea of this, and it may be difficult to implement but worth it. Also I've been really struggling with the idea of whether or not to just go the Cthulhu route lol. I feel like its a copout though, because its easy to make Cthulhu stuff scary, and it's not really relevant to my story, though it wouldn't be difficult to implement because of how my story is.

    Thank you guys for your input, I appreciate how helpful the Unity community is. Usually I spend my time on UA helping people with programming problems, but when problems become more complex than programming, I have to come here lmfao.
     
    angrypenguin likes this.
  6. BrandyStarbrite

    BrandyStarbrite

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    All of a sudden, I remember that online horror survival game, where you and other players, are trapped in an unknown area. And you have to work together and run away from a monster, and you have to fix generator things, to open a door to escape.:eek:
     
  7. AkiraWong89

    AkiraWong89

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    @RobAnthem
    Maybe you can checkout this game which is developed by Taiwan company.
    It's a FPS game without any combat system just like what you are looking.
    Lots of western YouTuber stream this game and got them freaked out.:D
    Warning: Full spoiler ahead, for those who wanna play.

    You can also check out Silent Hill series 1, 2, 3 and 4:The Room.
    These 4 games are good on relying SFX & ambient to bring mental horrors.

    Such as after you had checked all floors and go back to the elevator...
    A new uppermost floor button suddenly appeared on the panel, strange and curious.
    Such as you heard a loud bang noise from behind the toilet doors...
    After you examined it, the door slowly open but you realized nothing inside.

    The SFX on Fatal Frame series also not bad.
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2019
  8. Volcanicus

    Volcanicus

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    I'd recommend you narrow your style of horror.
    I have seen too many horror games ruined because the devs couldn't keep to a singular style and commit to it. Instead they mix and mash things.

    If you want a good classic horror, play and study Alien: Isolation. You have several elements in there that fulfill your needs and commits to a "hopeless combat" mechanic. It starts off with uncanny, then there's a boogeyman mechanic, then there's a metroid-vania model of exploration, you confront the threat and can only ward it off and reach an apex.

    If you want survival horror, then We-Happy-Few would be a good example. Albeit, it was poorly executed in some areas and procedural generation is not a thing well applied... You can use that as a learning experience.

    If you want a hide-and-seek horror, then try A hat in time, in the woodland level with the haunted mansion. It captures the feeling of "Omg I will get found out!!" very well and the way they apply the angst is genius.

    If you want an jump-scare style, then make a movie or clone 5 nights at freedie's :p Seriously though i highly recommend AGAINST jump scares.

    If you want action horror, Doom?

    For disgust and gore horror, probably watch a top 20 show on fear or fear factor and just make levels around it. This is probably a hit-miss though...

    In any case, figure this out first and then the mechanics. Some work some don't.
     
  9. Murgilod

    Murgilod

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  10. angrypenguin

    angrypenguin

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    Messing with the (un)conscious division between safe and unsafe areas is genius.
     
  11. Murgilod

    Murgilod

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    The only time Dead Space ever actually got me was when I was going up to one of the save terminals, terminals that had all been safe until that moment, and got jumped by a necromorph right as I was saving.
     
  12. Not_Sure

    Not_Sure

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    It sounds like you're not sure if you want it action based or puzzle based.

    They're two different experiences, I assure you.

    If you're going for action I suggest going for anxiety.

    Slender and Freddy's does this great.

    They present a definite fail state, then present the situation as a constant scramble from it, peppered with random jumps towards the fail state.

    In slender you see the bad guy and it makes it clear this is bad. You get to flee and rework your plans as you go, but then the game randomly teleports slender towards you for a jump.

    Poor game design for this is a bunch of dark rooms, then a "cat" jumps out to startle you.

    Darkness only works if it requires you to work through it (Doom 1). But it's annoying when used all the time with no consequence (Doom 3).

    One of the better tension moments is in resident evil 4 with the chainsaw enemy.

    When you get attacked the game does a slow drawn out animation that results in your character getting their head cut off. It leavesbthe player with just enough feeling of "I can get out of this" but then your head comes off. Not something that is supposed to happen in a traditional narrative.

    But after that first, let's face it, scarring experience you are now PETRIFIED of them and don't have any experience to draw from to know how to handle them.

    So next time you see them you're freaked out and scrambling to address the situation.

    Tensions followed by scrambling.

    That's good horror.

    EDIT: another good mechanic from re4 is the tentacle head zombies. It’s presented as a simple zombie coming at you, a palette cleans moment (something simple and easy). Then you shoot them in the head and you’re thrust into a panic state with absolutely not planning.
     
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2019