what makes a game scary

hey there everybody iv been working on a horror game for awhile know but iv came to the conclusion that my ‘Horror game’ just isnt as scary as i wish. So i come to you, what do you think makes a game scary?

Stuff popping out of the ceiling on you or in front of your face worked pretty well in Doom 3, the problem is that it’s also stressful and might not make the player want to keep playing.

Good pacing is what makes a horror game, loads of silence and then a sudden attack from behind for instance, instead of a constant stream of people jumping at you, which isn’t really all that scary, is just a pain in the ass. you want the player going “holy ****” not “oh god another one”. Also, you don’t have to turn the lights down, brightly lit abandoned spaces can be just as scary, especially if say, you occasionly see enemies standing in doorways or something, but then they disappear.

For the adrelin rush scary go with keeping the player on his toes. No corner is safe, and he is always in danger of being overwhelmed. (Contrast is good though, parts with nothing going on are worse on the nerves than the action is.)

For the psychological stuff your game just has to be twisted. Not sure that is something that can really be taught .

Either way lighting and sound have a ton to do with the mood. Try watching a horror movie sometime with the sound off. It loses it’s effectiveness. Mournful echoing sounds are good for horror. Experiment with colored or dim lights. (red blue, and possibly green especially)

Hope this helps.

Not sure how you are with the music, but it is an important part. If you can’t do it yourself don’t be afraid to find someone who can put together some soundscapes and backgrounds for your game. They will make all the difference.


You can always make most rooms dark , without strong lights, but that sometimes annoys players. A good idea is to make a house (for example) that has all lights turned on (some may be broken or something) and when u enter a room suddenly a monster attacks u.

Another way is to make enemies run a little faster than u or they can jump near u , so if a player is running backwards he will see enemies coming closer to him :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

Suspense. Nowhere is safe.

Another good thing to do is say, have a recognisable type of vent and have a monster crawl out of everyone you find for a while, then have a long stretch of vents with no monsters, then suddenly bring them back once the player has left his guard down. Doesn’t have to be vents, it could be corpses gettign back up, or subway stations always containing a certain monster or anything really.

Basically, play through doom 3, and make a checklist of things they do; now, make sure to never do anything on that checklist.

A good reference for making a game scary would be to play silent hill 2- rather than resorting to monsters just jumping out from vents or behind the player, which gets flat out boring after the second time, work to get in the player’s head, and make them really paranoid. Scariness has a lot to do with atmosphere- a very good trick is to make a place that seems normal, except for certain subtle things which are just wrong enough to really put the player on edge.

I wonder why people think Doom 3 is scary. It might have been scary for about the first 10 minutes. Sure it startles you, but in my books, that is not horror. It’s just some cheap trick you do over and over again. Making monsters appear suddenly behind the enemy is one of these tricks. It works when done very rarely. If every enemy you encounter sneaks up on you from behind, it gets boring.

When you have less enemies to fight, the meaning of those encounters is way higher. And when the enemies are different (you can’t just simply blast your way through all of them), you have to be on your toes all the time.

Environment has a strong part to play on how scary the game is. When the game hints through the environment that there is something wrong, it gets the player on his toes. It doesn’t have to yell it straight to your face. In my opinion subtle hints are way more effective. And of course sounds. They can really make the mood or they can destroy every bit of it. I’ve noticed that when you have a silent and scary background music you can see monsters in every corner.

So in my opinion cheap trick are lame and only work for some time. Better use more subtle ways to set the right mood. Let the player imagination do the rest. And never ever release the pressure. Enemy encounters release it a little. At least I’m more relaxed after I’ve killed a monster.

As for an example, I might say Alien vs. Predator 2. Now that game wasn’t so scary when you played on alien or predator, but for the marines. The radar is just a pain in the ass :D. The beeping sets a nice mood. And when it starts to beep faster and you see something on it, now that’s scary.

Because to some players (me included), there’s nothing else that can be scary in a game, as we have total control over what we’re doing, mood and suspense don’t mean much to us. Something can be scary only if the player can’t do anything against it.

And AVP used aliens popping out of nowhere a lot, even if you have the radar with you.

Now, something else that can be “scary”: have the player constantly run low on everything, which will make him have to make good choices in a rush.

Another question… Should i use first person or third person?

If your game has checkpoints or another mechanism that means repeating sections randomise whether and where the enemy is there, it helps keep the suspense.

Well, I think that things that make a game scary is the paranoia. Like, when you get used to enemies coming out of nowhere, that gets boring after a while, but you need that to create the incredible suspense later when there are no enemies, just puzzles that leave you in vulnerable places. As for the 3rd or 1st person mode, use a combination of both. It creates a nice contrast. Create a baddie that grabs you and puts the camera in third person mode. Or, occasionally, in the parts with fewer baddies, change the camera from first person to looking through a crack in a door, or a vent or something. This especially works to keep a player away from something. I know that i won’t want to go near that door if suddenly I’m looking through the eyes of some unimaginable terror, just waiting for me to continue. Also, if you switch the camera like that, it can give the impression that there are baddies waiting in the side lines even though there are none around.

First or third person doesn’t really matter. Think about the game mechanics and what would work better for it.

First person does make the game a little more immediate for the player though… They are the character. Just something to consider

I’m not that experienced with that. But I suggest to search for information on making movies. Especially horror movies. All that technics can be used within a game.

My personal opinion is that special effects do not necessarily makes a game or movie scary. Somtime it is better not to show the scary things. The human mind can create the biggest horror in itself.
For me “Alien I” was more scary then the other parts, because the Alien was hidden. With “Alien II” there were so many aliens that I got used to…

Just my opinion.
I hope it helps

Pacing, believability, and fluidity.

Make the pacing sensible. Don’t flood the player with enemies, nor leave them without interaction for too long. Keep the player away from enemies long enough to build some tension and maintain a creepy atmosphere, then spring a couple of enemies on him.
Make the story believable. If your story’s too disjointed and confusing, the player’ll end up losing interest and no longer be freaked…
Make sure the controls work…flawlessly. If the player’s fumbling with the controls all the time, they’ll just end up getting pissed and quit, never experiencing the fear you wanted…

As far as perspective goes, I lean towards third-person since it gives the player a larger field of vision, letting them more easily soak in the creepy atmosphere. Third-person also generally controls better than first-person, though that may just be me… :wink:

Third person is probably better for psychological horror, as you get to see how the character interacts with the environment, as well as being able to see more of the environment itself at once. First person is better for tension, as the player is right there- when a monster claws at their face, the monster is clawing at their face, not the face of some guy in front of them.

Pick which one better fits what you want to do. However, if you do third person, be certain to make a really good animation system for your character- remember, the player has to look at that person run around for the whole game. Make sure the animations are fluid and believable, and transition nicely.

Personally, I’d take a look at silent hill 1 for good camera work- there’s a lot of standard third person, but they also often pin the camera to certain places (like the corner of the room) which is good for creepiness, as well as directing the player’s attention. Also, a really good moment is right in the beginning of the game, as the player walks down an alley, the camera follows him but moves like something crawling along the walls- you almost feel like you’re a monster watching yourself.

Sound is important. Low and subtle sounds, whispers, voices out of nowhere…sudden appearances of the “enemy” – my favorite survival horror game has to be the Fatal Frame series. Very suspenseful…like most have said, no corner is safe.

Also remember that lack of lighting doesn’t make it scary. The earlier RE games were in a mansion with many lights. It’s not the lack of lighting but how dramatic the lighting is that makes the game freaky.

AVP as a marine is pretty freaky. Doesn’t matter if you’ve got the radar or not.

Take a look at the penumbra game series. That’s really scary. And awesome! :slight_smile: