Horror game concept connundrum

Hey real quick observation. I feel like the main point of failure for a horror game is that more time is spent trying to make my character seem frightened than frightening me. Now VR seems to be promising for jump scares but a real feeling of dread seems difficult to create, if in reality there are no stakes for the player himself. I don’t need an insanity meter. My brain should have it’s own. I need to be genuinely terrified of what is behind that closet. The reason I am not is because if i die I just go back to the last check point and try again. I believe i need a very real and tangible thing to lose if I am murdered by that shadow I saw run passed the hallway.
So my solution if i was to make a horror game would be good old fashioned permanent death. I would allow you to save your game so you can take breaks to sleep and work and such but if you stupidly waltz right up to the crying fear monster in the corner of the room then not only are you asking for jump scares but your save data will be deleted and you will lose all your progress. Next game you’re a new character. You’ll probably find the remains of the previous one somewhere in the house. Or even better it’d be an enemy to encounter now.
Essentially what I’m describing is a rogue like so it’s not anything ground breaking but I think if you want the actual player to be terrified during his experience every time he hears a creak in the floor upstairs then perma death is the solution.
The major pitfalls i can think of right away would be how many players would find that entirely too punishing and would never pick up the game again after they lost five hours of gameplay.
And while we’re at it the game would have to have a near zero percent chance to kill the character due to unfair circumstances. every time the player died it would be imperative that it was only the players fault and not a bug or an unclear design.
This was much longer than I thought it would be but that’s my idea. If i ever decide to hop on the horror wagon i’ll give it a test a roo unsure emoticon
Whaddya yall think?

You pretty much nailed the big problems in your last two paragraphs. Though, some other issues with horror games are the concepts that people come up with. Most of them just aren’t scary.

For instance, I can’t count on one hand how many crappy Steam Early Access horror games feature “scary girl” as the monster. That simply doesn’t cut it, for a few reasons. One, it’s overdone. Very overdone. If you’ve been scared by it once, it’ll probably never work again unless you’re a master psychologist that can MAKE it work.

Two, a big fear in one-hit monsters chasing you is that, as soon as they get close, you can’t do a thing. Look at Amnesia or Slender. The former has an array of big scary monsters that WILL kill you with one swipe, and the latter has those stretchy arms and that paralyzing, faceless glare. Little girls and generic women have neither of those things, unless you’re a generic “dem dames” 40-something married guy. I simply don’t buy the fact that I’m stopped in my tracks because some creepy little girl is standing behind me.

And three, they’re usually poorly animated, modeled, and presented! Poor horror games trying to piggyback on the Jaws/FNAF philosophy of “less is more” forget that the “less” part sometimes actually means “more work to do”, with things like fog, better AI than just “Now I’m over HERE!”, atmosphere development, etc etc. Jaws worked because the acting was solid and the beast revealed only exactly what it needed to. FNAF works because it sells the creepy environment and animatronics, plus it took away your freedom of movement. That’s an important part of it.

ANYWAYS, sorry I went off track, I just wanted to get that off my chest. xD

Your death mechanic. I think it might be a bit too punishing for your players, and permadeath is only really worth it in short games where you’re not losing potential days of progress, only an hour or two at the most. If your game is Slender-short, it could totally work. Otherwise, I recommend a checkpoint system.

(OR, this just popped into my head: A party of survivors, each with a special ability. One dies, you’ve lost that ability and are playing as a different one. They all die, back to the beginning or checkpoint depending on game length.)

have escape moves like resident evil, if the enemy gets close enough
or in line for a range attack

you fail the escapes… you loose body parts or just large amount of blood or teeth.,

There is an idea… injuries you can’t fix that really effect your locomotion and or abilities…

Games aren’t scary because games don’t look real. Fear is an emotion that all animals got, to protect ourselves from predators. What exactly do I have to fear when I start a game that doesn’t even look like real life. A movie is different, because it looks real and the camera is manipulated in such a way that the viewer starts fearing what angles he can’t see. The only way to make a game scary would be to take away as much control from the player as possible. No weapons, no control over the camera and ideally limited control of the character you’re playing as. Also as many scripted scenes as possible, not monsters chasing after the player mindlessly, the less you see of the enemy the better.

If the game is supposed to be in first person perspective you would have to take away the player’s ability to control the camera. As many blind spots as possible and then have the player react to what’s happening possibly by controling the ingame character’s hands. But as I said games will never really be scary because they look fake, it’s hard to take the threats seriously.

Well if sales weren’t my primary goal then I could just understand that I would be servicing an extremely niche market. A game like this is the kind that could potentially generate a lot of buzz but not move copies. People would probably be more inclined to watch a lets player play it than play it themselves. Especially if it was free or something.

Also if any of you have played betrayal on the house on the hill or whatever that board game is called, there’s pieces one could steal from there too.
For instance if the core game is traverse through the haunted house then the house could be procedurally generated. In the board game the map is tiles and every time you open a door you flip a random room tile. We could use a similar method here so if you die and start over then the house will change and maybe make the experience feel a bit fresh. Having to go back the exact same route and through the same rooms as you already have would be frustrating.

Longevity could also help with this too. If the entire goal (which could really be anything, find the picture the monsters soul is hiding in and burn it) is something you could accomplish quickly but being wary of how you tread lengthens the experience, then it might not be too punishing. But still punishing enough to make the player leery of being homicided by the monster.

So brass tacks example.

You go to stay at the haunted house for a dare (tale as old as time) turns out to be haunted.

You’ve been briefed on the ancient tale in the beginning about the witch/vampire/Dorian Grey who’s soul is in a picture and if it is burned then he will be rid of once and for all.

Once inside, the doors and windows obviously lock due to the “Evil” and you have to find the picture all the while not getting murdered by the “cat&mouse” style predator. If you see the predator the mechanics must leave room for you to escape whether thats running away or shining light on it or something to that effect. you can never EVER be killed by what players would describe as “total fucking bullshit”. If you fail the super easy task of running or purposely confront the predator then you lose. Erase saved files Etc.

when you walk into the house there is only the foyer but every time you open a door a random room either proecdurally generates or a random room from a list of rooms generates. Eventually you’d find the room with the famouse picture.

once you retrieve it the predators activity would become twice as aggressive and the creepy environment stuff could become much more intense as well. Now off to the Fireplace/Basement Furnace to dispose of the horror and “win”. Walking out into the sunshine and thanking your twitch followers for joining you on the experience.

Stupid idea?

Well that’s why i dont think we should make the player afraid of ghost, we should make them afraid of losing 20 mins of progress. imagine how scary that ghost at the end of the hallway is when you know it can make you start your whole game over. you’d be as careful as humanly possible.

The only recent horror game that I can think of that did the horror part good is outlast, you do have limited control, no weapons and the chase sequences are the most frightening in my opinion. I think it also has to do with setting that environment and atmosphere, so its not just jumpscares here and there but you stay on edge the whole time.

It doesn’t punish you though, I think a punishment mechanism wouldn’t really scare anyone it would just be a kind of an “inconvinience” if you get what I mean. After a point the player will just get annoyed.

Fear of losing time is just annoying not scary at all.

I think the best thing to do is trick the brain into thinking it’s actually there - like when you feel cold on that snowy level even though it’s blazing hot IRL.
Good ambiance makes a world of difference, and breaking the third wall with a save system kinda kills it.
Starting over is a viable penalty so long as it’s not too monotonous.

i agree that outlast is probably one of the best for atmosphere. they’re also one of the ones who used VR. but still the disconnect I have is the fact that I know there’s no real stakes/consequences. in mass effect it sucks when i lose a friendly character cause i’ve developed a relationship with them and when they’re gone they’re gone. But the concern in a horror game is that the monsters will kill me. but if i die i just restart from ten seconds ago and try and again. and even checkpoints can be scary if you have to keep going back to the same check point over and over cause the game is too hard.

well i disagree. i dont think those two things are antonyms. avoiding the annoyance is what makes you nervous. but like i said it should be easy enough that you “should” never die. just the underlying feeling that the consequences are very severe adds to the dread. I don’t think fake monsters in my computer who can’t hurt me are scary but plenty of people do so i think your statement is probably too obtuse.

no one’s saying replace ambiance with permadeath. I’m in essence just adding a small mechanic to the already established horror formula. take outlast then just add perma death. Like i said it’s not even a new idea. Slenderman is nearly the same thing just a bit shorter than I’m going for. Mumrik said

Fear of losing time is just annoying not scary at all.
but Slenderman was wildly successful.

Unpredictability is also a big thing. You know something is about to happen but not how or when.

I have never found games scary. As soon as they offer the possibility of jump-scares, I abstract, lose suspension of disbelief, generally get bored, and stop playing.

The most important thing that you need to do is build an association between the player and his avatar. Make it so that he is so immersed in the game that he feels like he is actually there, that he feels the emotion the character is showing.
So we have to build immersion to unheard of levels.

The environment

  • The graphics must be consistent (not necessarily realistic, but consistent). Stylized is fine.
  • The sound must match the environment perfectly. Get the player shivering with the wind sound, let them know the size of a cave with reverb

The Avatar

  • The avatar must be ‘human’ enough to show character. He should not do things outside of this character.
  • The avatar must be perceived as vulnerable. Giving the player a knife or gun or magic will give the player confidence in his player. We don’t want him to be confident in his avatar. We want him to know how avatar is weak. Make the avatar cough, stumble, have issues seeing properly in the dark (not completely though, keep it playable)

Making it scary
So now we have something the player can get immersed in. We have a weak, vulnerable character. If the player associates strongly enough with the avatar, we can scare the player by scaring the avatar. Don’t jump-scare them unless the location actually would (a person popping out of a crate may be scary the first time, but it is hilarious and will break suspension of disbelief).
You could create a very scary game where your player is constantly fighting the ice intruding in his cottage in the arctic. You could make a very scary game being lost underground without any monsters or spooky occurrences. Find things that people are actually scared of.

Another important consideration is to never, ever, insult the player. Never assume they are dumb and have to be told things. A narrator? Forget it. Prompts telling you how to survive? Won’t help make the player feel vulnerable.

A final note: Games need high points to have low points. If you’re exploring underground trying to get out, put in a massive cavern the player can look over, show light streaming infrom some place far above. Let the player feel hope when they see light in the distance, let them feel disappointment when it’s the last embers of a burned down building. Create emotion, atmosphere and attachment first, create horror and scariness later.

all great points

I don’t really understand horror movies or horror games. It’s just for kids right?

The best example of scary fiction for adults I’ve encountered recently was 11/22/63 by Steven King. The TV show was genuinely chilling in places, but it wasn’t King’s trademark supernatural horror which affected me but the scaryness of ordinary people. The charming working class guy who kills his family with a hammer, the charming bookie who orders someone beaten in to a coma for winning too much, the respectable door to door salesman who disfigures his wife for being unfaithful. How everything is hidden under the mask of small town 60s America.
Why did it work so well? Because the characters were well drawn, they had back story and you got to know them as people.

If you want a mature game with emotional depth it has to have fully fleshed out characters. Most of the game needs to be about interacting with those people, creating shared experiences so that you bring them to life. That way when they are in danger it really affects you.

I think that horror movies and games usually try to take a short cut by using stereotypes who their audience can relate to. The jock, the prom queen, the stoner, the nerd. You’re supposed to form an instant connection with these characters without the need for any character development. These type of stories usually apeal most to young people without much life experience, it would probably work in a game if that’s your target audience.

would be how many players would find that entirely too punishing and would never pick up the game again after they lost five hours of gameplay.

I’m one. I hate games like that. I’ve played a lot of games, “The Last Of Us” comes to mind, was scary as hell to me. But for others probably not. Any (Good) game I play, I immerse myself in the game, and I hate to die. For me, if you make the level hard enough (But not impossible) I will not want to do the level over again, dying and doing the level over is enough punishment for me, and I would continue playing the game, as long as I didn’t lose everything I collected, losing what I collected in that level I died in, is expected, and would be OK by me.
But that’s just me.
My .02

P.S. I don’t scare easily. In real life, or watching movies. I’m not afraid of ghosts, I haven’t seen a good scary movie in a long time. But some video games do. “Dishonored” was another one, those things on stilts got me a little scared when they shook the ground as they walked. :slight_smile:


Next game you’re a new character. You’ll probably find the remains of the previous one somewhere in the house. Or even better it’d be an enemy to encounter now.

The more I think about this, the more I like this idea, as long as I can loot the body to reclaim some, if not all, my collected items.

Another point about the whole fear thing, something that genuinly is scary is to identify with a victim. A mother who buries her daughter alive, a woman stoned to death by an angry mob. The mob isn’t as scary as realizing what the victim is going through, same kind of horror that you’re seeing in the saw movies. You’re not very scared of jigsaw but you’re scared FOR the victims. But if you’re able to control the victim that fear would instantely go away, it breaks the fourth wall.

So other than how unbelievable games look, gameplay is really important. It’s hard to imagine a horror game in which you’re not the victim but an observer fearing for victims.