Creating a horror atmosphere.

Nekohime1989

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Just was wondering on what kind of game mechanics would be useful on sprucing up the atmosphere for a horror rpg.
Edit: Yep. I so should of figured this out ages ago.
:VXA2:
 
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gstv87

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general darkness and a very inadequate light source seems to be a recurring (almost mandatory, I'd say) trope.

another one I seem to remember from some game I can't quite place (but I can place in one movie: Signs) is half-truths, or incomplete action sequences.
namely, in Signs, there's a couple of scenes that make the viewer go "WHAT THE FFFFFFFFFFF!!!!!!!!!!", because they only show incomplete actions, that the viewer can't quite resolve, not *blurry* action that one can't identify, but *visible* (but, incomplete) action that one can't establish as a threat or out of place.
specifically, "the thing that moves among the crops", "the shadow atop the barn", and "the noises outside the house".
in those scenes, the thing that causes unrest is half-defined, we never see the complete picture: a foot and a leg that makes it's way into the crop line, in a way that implies a number of things:
-it moves, so it belongs to a living creature.
-it had been *outside* the crop line, and in that case "outside the crop line" implies "right in front of the protagonist", with the protagonist never realizing it.
-it had been right in front of the character, without making any noticeable noise or movement right until the point where it's discovered, which makes it even scarier.
the thing is right there, but the character (who is *actively looking for it*) doesn't see it, and most importantly, the viewer doesn't see it either, so the viewer finds out about it at the same time as the character, and can relate to the surprise through the expression of the character.

in the game I speak of, sometimes when entering new areas, a small cutscene moment would play where part of the scenery would shift, or partial images would flash passing by windows or corridors.
typical "blink and you'll miss it" moment, but never directly aimed towards scaring the player, it's always more of an ambient action, as if it was meaning to say "this place has a whole different idea of reality, and you're way out of your league here".
I can't remember the title, but I might be able to find it. I'll link it here when I do.
 

mathmaster74

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@Rachnera I made my zombie survival game disable dashing throughout the overhead map and disable escape from battles. I also gave limited inventory options: no stores, controlled drops, controlled map power-ups. I turned MP into "Stamina" and made every skill use require 1 point (2 if the skill was "strenuous") without any regen, so...when your stamina is gone, your skills are gone. Better have items or not need them. This is not meant to frustrate the player (although it tends to). It does create a sense of helplessness. The most difficult thing is the sense of timing. I couldn't pull that off. The player needs to feel safe at first, then things go wonky, then things get harsh and there's a narrow escape to relative safety...until things go wonky again, etc. Maybe you make the player feel trapped/cornered by a rushing enemy, but give the player a stealth option to "lose the pursuer". They still feel helpless, yet they're safe. The enemy leaves with "Must've been the wind" syndrome. You sneak on to a new area. Uh oh. Too well lit to sneak! You find a key. You know the door is back the other way. You turn around. There's the big bad. You move around a table and down the hall...a beeline for the door. The key gives you trouble but the door closes behind you just in time and you feel safe. All's quiet. Then "Pound! Pound! Pound! Scream!" You have to search this new area for a way out of here...etc. It's calm, then adrenaline, then calm, then adrenaline. Some things are tropes: the chase, the hiding spot, the narrow escape, obscured view (night/shadowy/foggy) but tropes can still be effective if used well. Really, horror is all in the presentation and in the audience's perception. What makes the skin crawl? What makes looking over the shoulder a necessity? What keeps people up at night? Fun stuff to ponder. :eek:
 

Hyouryuu-Na

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1. Subtle creepy ambient music. Not too loud and not too low... just there...
Try to use audio plugins like Java Hut's Audio extension or QAudio (the ones that make it like sound is coming from a direction, fading or getting louder as you get distant or nearer)

2. Enemies should be very unpredictable. Use a lantern or flashlight and keep it so that the player can't see much outside the light. If enemies come from any direction, it'll be hard to see and that's very scary. Also you can hear their footsteps...

3. Use save points. Don't let the player save at anytime but arrange autosaves before hard stuff like boss fights or puzzles that can kill or something.

4. Limit dash. Use a dash stamina plugin.

5. Stealth and hide and seek stuff are pretty good at creating suspense.

6. Use a dramatic or slightly cryptic way of show message than just being very straightforward. "I saw a ghost" doesnt sound as good as "I saw something... over there..."

Just go see a horror movie at night with the lights off. You'll get plenty of ideas.

I can't think of anything else... Good luck!!!
 
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GLM

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Take a look at the old Virtual Boy game Innsmouth no Yakata (yes, there are actually decent games on that thing).

It's essentially a labyrinth with a strict time limit, but the way it makes you feel is pretty unique. You're always low on ammo, you're racing the clock and the items and enemies change location each time so you can't memorize the placements.

One thing I can say for sure is that games where you just run from everything do nothing for me. It just makes you go "oh, I guess I never actually fight anything, so I'm not too anxious."
 

xoferew

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Knowing there is a timer you can't see, in a shorter game where the expectation is to play it several times and do better as you get more knowledge. I'm remembering the old game Septentrion that used to scare the pants off me. You were in a sinking Titanic-like ship and as time progressed rooms would fill with water, the ship's tilt would increase, eventually it would break in two, and finally it would sink. The suspense made a lasting impression on me. Do I have time to finish climbing up the inside of this massive smokestack before that sudden lurch I know is coming? Do I have time to try and save the girl I think is still alive in down that corridor? I'M NOT SURE!! ^_^

Another thing that sticks in my mind as creepy is in a Shadow Hearts game there was an old lady narrating a ghost story and she described a girl coming out of the ocean "Shlooooop... shlooooooooop...." It was the perfect balance of descriptive and vague to be terrifying.

(Okay, I'm easily scared. :D)
 

kairi_key

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For me, it's the player knowing that things can easily turn to worse combine with knowing what the character feels in their sensory and the obscured atmosphere.

Knowing things can easily turn to worse means that the character is weaker than what the person is facing. And the suspense will come when you realize how out of place you are and how danger it might possibly get.

Knowing what the character feels means that the player can feel the same thing that the character might be feeling through presentation. How gross something can be or how terrifying something can be is purely through player experiencing the things the character feels. Make it so that the player can't see things the character cannot see or know things the character won't know. How much difference in players' perspective and characters' perspective can dictate the creepiness.

Obscured atmosphere is..... well it's self-explanatory and play into the 2 points above.
 

Korthulhu

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I played a tabletop game a long time ago, can't even remember the name now, but the concept was that you create a character knowing that the character will be dead by the end of the game...just not how. It really gave everyone at the table a sense of impending doom and paranoia. So maybe giving that expectation of death without explaining how its going to happen would help? Never really seen it done in a video game.
 

gstv87

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So maybe giving that expectation of death without explaining how its going to happen would help? Never really seen it done in a video game.
Zomboid.

"These are the end times. There was no hope. This is how you died."
 

Treynor

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I think jump scares are cheap. They don't scare and unsettle people, they just startle them and the feeling after is generally one of laughter because the built up anticipation has now been released. I find that a general feeling of discomfort at something laying just beyond sight is far scarier.

For example:

Imagine a rocking chair in a place you're exploring. It's rocking on it's own. A gentle squeak with each rock. No one there. You approach it slowly, finally bracing yourself for the jump scare, but nothing happens. Then you think "Oh, now when I walk away the jump scare will come". But it doesn't. Instead it keeps quietly rocking in that room. You leave, you come back, you go past it, and nothing changes. It still rocks in that room. Then, you progress to a certain point in the story, and when you go past that rocking chair again, it's gone. No sound, no rocking, no chair.

That will unsettle you. You'll have all sorts of questions. Then you'll continue exploring the mansion. You continue to feel tension for a while, expecting that the rocking chair will jump out at you at any second. It doesn't. You eventually kind of forget about the chair. Then when you're in another room exploring, you suddenly hear the sound of the rocking chair again. No chair. Just the sound. Still no jump scare.

You can create an atmosphere of fear around a simple chair doing something it's not supposed to. That's what people fear the most: when things just aren't right. Jump scares will actually give you a safe feeling after they happen, because they usually don't happen in great frequency so you know that the next one is far off so you can relax for a while.
 

Kes

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@Treynor I think that's a very good example of a way to build unease, apprehension, without doing anything outlandish or blatant.
 

CraneSoft

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There is a trope 'Nothing is Scarier', which is generally true. An effective horror atmosphere involves creating a situation where nothing happens most of the time but you keep seeing things that are out of the ordinary, so you are constantly feeling you are in danger.
Musical cues also contribute to the fear factor, there's nothing more unsettling than dead silence in any room with poor visibility.
 

Skoops

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With horror, it's less about going down a to-do checklist than it is about knowing what component elements lend to the overall atmospheres and setpieces you're going for in each instance, and striking a balance that is always changing.
It's not "always be dark, always be claustrophobic, always have item scarcity, always have creepy ambient noise, always obscure your creepy things," etc. Those are all good things to have if they help amplify the moment, but if you're just stacking them together for the sake of it or you don't know what else to do, your audience will likely find the game predictable or formulaic. Contrast is how you keep things fresh, so mix it up; always ask yourself if you're being too predictable, too withholding, etc.

There ARE some constants that are good to consider:
-points of no return: areas that become comfortable after extensive exploration either fundamentally change or become inaccessible (Visage does this very well)
-Extra creepy spots you can avoid for a while, but not forever: give folks glimpses into areas that pose a clear escalation of danger, let the thought of having to eventually go there loom over them. (RE7 does this a lot).
-Force the player to force themselves forward: what makes horror games unique from horror movies is that you're not watching some dummy fumble around a haunted house, you ARE the dummy! Make sure the majority of the scares are due to the player choosing to interact with the world and push ahead.

-Instant 2-point score deduction if someone closes the bathroom mirror and a spooky thing is suddenly behind them. Bad form.
 
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TheOneEyedOne

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A good trope in storytelling for horror games is the "unreliable narrator" trope. An example being Amnesia: The Dark Descent
The monsters are just hallucinations

This can join into storys where the Player is actually the killer/monster but they are unable to tell as their perception of reality is altered.
 

Skoops

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A good trope in storytelling for horror games is the "unreliable narrator" trope. An example being Amnesia: The Dark Descent
The monsters are just hallucinations

This can join into storys where the Player is actually the killer/monster but they are unable to tell as their perception of reality is altered.
Gotta be careful with that though. Putting your narrative at odds with the will of the player is powerful magic and can easily backfire.

Citation: "No John, you ARE the demons! And then John was a zombie."

Beyond the hackyness, there's also a good chance your players are going to feel cheated or pranked if you reveal that you're the bad guy at the end or something like that. It's not impossible to avoid, there are a few examples of media that threads that needle, but just be aware of the risks.
 

TheOneEyedOne

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Gotta be careful with that though. Putting your narrative at odds with the will of the player is powerful magic and can easily backfire.

Citation: "No John, you ARE the demons! And then John was a zombie."

Beyond the hackyness, there's also a good chance your players are going to feel cheated or pranked if you reveal that you're the bad guy at the end or something like that. It's not impossible to avoid, there are a few examples of media that threads that needle, but just be aware of the risks.
Very true. It can be a powerful plot device if used correctly but becoming over reliant on it for a good story is a downside. Something like that should add to the story but it can't be the story.
 

kovak

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The only game i can think on the moment is Bloodborne for inspiration, there are many videos about how it caches the Lovecraftian hero's journeyish view where humankind is frail and cannot comprehend nor fight against eldrich horrors.

There's no cheap tricks, you get scared because things are really weird and they build up slowly into more and more bizarre things.
On the beginning you can understand enemies shapes and the enviroment helps with the tension, you can hear them breath wile stand still in the dark. Not that latter they have so many eyes, tentacles, unique and unease anatomies...The music, sound effects, scenarios also helps a lot, it doesnt need to be filled with gore to give a weird vibe.

Imagine a victorian city during the night with a weird giant insect with 5 legs and tons of eyes spread over its body attached to the main building of a cathedral, looking into your direction no matter where you go and it does nothing, just stares at you untill you get pretty close this insect decides to grab you and lift you in the air and then it breaks your body by accident since humans are fragile.
 

NinjaKittyProductions

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Phobias are also a good place to look when coming up with ideas for horror games. While there are a plethora of phobias out there, try and read some of the stories people have left explaining what they say and why. People with Nyctophobia (like myself) are afraid of dark places and tend to see shadows that aren't really there. The more you leave it up to the player on what they think they see, the more power you will have over their overall experience with a horror game.

Seriously though, do look up stories where people talk about their phobias/manias and the different anxieties they had/have to go through and the different things their mind tricked them into believing.
 

Nightblade50

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music is extremely important. get some creepy music that by itself could freak out a player. but have the volume fairly low so the player can hear it but so much that it seems like background music. you'll want it to be very near silence but still hearable.
then you'll need fog effects and lighting. Make the area dark and foggy, it'll make it better. lighting is definitely very important.
 

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