What mechanics make a game scary?

BonneChance12

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I'm working on a horror project at the moment and just wanted peoples thoughts on what they think makes a game scary and what mechanics can achieve it. I love writing horror and I've got lots of ideas for scenes and set-pieces that could scare the player, but if the mechanics don't allow for it to happen...

Incidentally, you know that mechanic in Alien: Isolation, where if you hid inside a locker and the alien walked past you could hold your breath so it couldn't hear your breathing? Can that mechanic be replicated in RPG Maker?
 

Hyouryuu-Na

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OMG IS THAT JUNJI ITOU'S MANGA IN YOUR PROPIC? Isn't that The Hanging Balloons? I love all his works specially the Oshikiri series... *0*

*Ahem* Hello there ^^ I love horror stuff though I get scared easily so I'll try my best to answer your question.
For me, I guess games can be made scary by:
-Lonely, unsettling ambient sounds in the background. Not music, but more like a steady sound that's just there and helps to make the player immerse in the game.
-Lighting. Good use of light and shadow.
-Building up tension. A lot like Alien: Isolation... The player doesn't know where the enemy is (Well there's a radar but I don't think that really helps much). If I recall correctly, the alien just pops out of nowhere and is almost always able to find the player unless they're really really well hidden. So, make the enemy unpredictable.
-Art! The graphics should fit the game. I've seen a lot of cutesy graphics in horror games. Sometimes they're a hit (The witch's house, mermaid swamp, Re:Kinder) and sometimes they just don't look right.

Btw, you're talking about mechanics? Well, I guess mechanics depends on the plot a lot. Think of a setting first and then figure out what the player must do to survive...
If I remember all the games I've played or known, some were like this:

Slender- Ah, the classic slender game. You gotta collect 8 items while avoiding slenderman. It's very basic but it's scary.
Among the sleep- The game is about a baby and his teddy who are in a paranormal world. What makes this game scary is that babies can't do what adults can do. He has to stand on objects to reach heights, he can't walk cause he only knows how to crawl and so movement speed is low, doesn't have enough strength to move heavy things etc. So when you're playing as a baby, everything is extremely dangerous and that's what makes it scary.
Yume Nikki-I played this a kid. I don't remember much. But there's nothing to remember. It's so weird and so abstract that it didn't make any sense to me. The girl can't leave her house. The only way she communicates with the outside world is by dreaming. And those dreams are super weird with weird characters. Maybe I'll replay this someday... Anyways, it's very weird and that's creepy. It has a certain charm to it.
White Day (the original version)-This game is creepy because of the janitor constantly chasing you. The AI is ridiculous and he's almost always able to find you. If you wanna hide from the janitor, you gotta hide in a room with the lights off. And there are ghosts in the dark. So, you're pretty much trapped in both ways. Turning on the flashlight, running and opening and closing doors can all attract enemies.
Baldi's basics-...This game is plain weird. But it's also scary since Baldi is always onto you. The more books you collect, the faster he is.
Home Sweet Home-It starts off like any other unity horror game but it's terrifying. You're chased by a girl who appears out of nowhere from time to time. It depends mostly on stealth.
Resident Evil 7-The graphics alone is creepy. But having to fight the same enemy again and again as they get stronger when you have limited resources is very stressful.
Dreadout- You're stuck in an old old rural town filled with ghosts. You cannot see them, but your camera can. Take pictures of ghosts to defeat them. You have no other strengths. Each picture reduces the ghost's health and that's all you can do to defeat the ghosts.

And the mechanic about holding the player's breath, Yep! It can be implemented. It'll be hard but it's possible.
 
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gstv87

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don't use in-your-face creepy-image jump scares.
typical "BOO!" moment? ... don't.
be subtle: don't say "here's the monster", hint "here *was* the monster"

good sound design is a must, if your sprite quality is meant to be low.

take a look at this series:
https://armorgames.com/search?type=games&q=the+last+door
 
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Do your best to make sure that characters make natural choices instead of choices that are simply convenient for the story, otherwise there can be a potential emotional disconnect for the player.

There's a design strategy in games (as well as stage and film) where you can use the player's imagination to make a scene more intense. One example would be to go to a black map and just have dialogue and sound effects, letting the player fill out what's happening in their mind, guided by the writing and sound design. It's useful but also easy to overdo so I'd recommend using it only sparingly.
 

BK-tdm

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What was really done in alien isolation was to give the alien 2 separate AIs, one knows where you are, the other hides this info from the first and starts passing your approximate location to it to simulate "searching", as time goes by the second AI starts being more accurate in passing your location until your exact coordinates are given to the first AI and you're found.

All of this happens while some actions speed up the accurate position giving speed like doing loud noises, running and the like, some other actions like leaving quietly will make the second part of the AI still relay info about your old position instead of your new one but after some time it will update the location relay and the search continues.

It also takes into account your patterns, like hiding a lot under desks or vents makes the alien start searching there first as to avoid falling into predictability so even if the 2nd AI hasnt relayed the exact location yet, the alien will start its search closer to your favorite hiding places, and sometimes it will find you whitout the second AI relaying too much info if you're repeating your hiding patterns too much.

Its a really nice gem on programming and creates a good sense of "looking for you".


Other game that had some "horror" elements that people dont mention too often is the SA-X parts of Metroid Fusion (GBA).
How does this metroid game create fear?
For a "short" summary (spoilers btw) a clone-samus is lurking around the ship looking to destroy you, for plot reasons you are now super-weak to cold-based weaponry and weakened (aka lacking special abilities like double jumping) while this clone is a Samus at 100% power, including tiple shot wall piercing ice beams and one shotting spinning jumps that kill you on-contact, also your weaponry is completely innefective against it so when the "mission control" tells you to run on sight, they mean it.

Along the way on some ship sectors you can be doing your sphere bomb puzzle thing to get more missile capacity or life tanks just to hear a shooting sound, the same one you do, and a door opening sound, then you hear the most terrifying sound in the game: Footsteps... you see the SA-X (clone Samus name) has an iconing slow walking footstep sound that you hear and learn to recognize, as sometimes you dont even see it but you can hear its walking.

Sometimes you have to keep quiet, dont move and it will just pass by to the next room, if you ever make a single shot, a bomb or sometimes move, this thing will shoot trough walls with the same power and speed you will have at the endgame so not even using secret passages in ball form will save you, one wrong button press and you're guaranteed to go back to the save point.

Sometimes though, you will have to shoot a door or put a bomb to open a passage while this thing is in the same room, because it simply wont leave, you will have to race against it, so you will have to open the way and run before it either jumps into you (one shotting you) or shoots you to death, which is pretty much 2 or 3 shots (you get invincibility frames though).

This enemy creates fear as the first times you only see it passing by but are warned of what it is and what it can do, then you have to wait whitout making any noise or sudden movements so it goes away and then they make you risk it by clearing a route and using that route to move away from it before it catches you, it escaletes tension pretty good.

Only at 95% of the game you get the means to fight back against it which also gives a good climatic battle/closure, as you can finally defend against the thing that has been terrorizing you for half of the game.


Those 2 are my best examples of the "lurking thing that will end you", im not really a fan of horror games so i might be a bit limited, but for me those 2 take the cake.
 

NinjaKittyProductions

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Try to disempower your player. Remove combat completely. If you do have combat, give the player limited resources. By having limited resources, the player must now manage their inventory and be aware of threats that will cause said inventory to diminish.
As stated before, isolate your player. Make them the only person to play as. Give them no support and no party member. Give them hope that someone might be coming to help them or that help might be around the corner, but do not allow them to receive said help.
Be sure to present danger in an intriguing way, making the player want to go towards it. Do not spoon-feed danger to them.
If at all possible, try and make your main character relatable. If you can make the player sympathize or empathize with the main character, the more drawn into the game they will be and the better the horror experience will become.

There are many techniques you can use to make a horror game fantastic. But please, PLEASE stay away from the cheap jump scares. They are not scary... they are startling and therefore annoying.
 

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