This article will have some tips on horror modding.
Also, "Keep it simple, keep it stupid".
First of all, horror styled games are probably the hardest to make for a simple reason. Not everything scares everyone and not everyone likes to be scared. The trick is to leave the thing for each person to make out what the want.
Before setting out to build the story, you must research, research and after that do even more research. After this, if you haven't found anything interesting yet, you research a little more. Search mostly for places. As said before the place where everything happens should be as close as possible to one's reality.
There are a ton of things that get scary and it varies from supernatural, to scientific aberrations, post apocalyptic mutations and so on. What's important here is to choose a story adapted to the theme you chose. Don't make a scientific monster built on supernatural forces.(Unless you explain the supernatural as science like in Amnesia).
For what I researched and have seen on polls what mostly scares players is the supernatural, or better said, the things we don't yet have discovered and are yet to be known. Ghosts for instance can make someone loose the grip of reality, and insanity is quite something you must be careful when messing around with. But what's most important independently of what theme you choose is to keep the story glued together... just naturally. It should fit together and be completely understandable, until the point where you want the player to not understand.
The main character must also fit in the game very well. Children are usually awesomely good for secondary roles or reason for someone becoming something or something happening and parents usually fit in the other role associated in these situations. Just make sure there is a reason for everything. Chance isn't usually a good thing(if used directly as reason for something), for example, someone went to explore a cave and that happened. Keep it impossible to get to know something before it actually happens. These are the best stories. Certain scenery instantly tells you that something bad is about to happen, so you must be careful when using them. Choose a character, and give him a reason to visit the place you want him to visit. Love, friendship and that kind of deep emotional connections should be used because they mess around with the player emotions and thus, improve immersion.
Now, the enemy. What should it be? I believe it should be as unexpected as possible. There are different options at this level, but in my opinion only three should be taken:
- The first is to have nothing at all but making the player believe there's something to be terrified about. This is easy to achieve, but it must have an extremely full and supporting story to keep the player interested in the mod or he/she might loose interest.
- Another option is to have only one enemy for the whole game, but then you must make sure the player barely sees it, is afraid to look at it and mostly that the enemy never uses the same strategy(for killing, appearing, disappearing(...)) twice, because if they do so, or if they are seen the player will know them and you never fear what you know. So, remember, you fear what you don't know.
- The third option is to have a wide variety of enemies in the game. But don't let each appear more than once/twice, because the point in this choice is to have the player believe something created these, and two exactly alike things are not something we would see in the real world. So, if it's not an action game, keep things as singular as they come. This is the best way of doing stuff, because the player will never know what to find, will never know the ways of the beast and will always be scared to death.(During my experience with Amnesia, the monster I feared most was the Water Lurker, and OH DAMN whenever water appeared. Remember, you fear what you don't know).
- The OPTION is to make something quite usual become the enemy. One awesome movie that managed to do this JUST right is the movie the "The Ruins" which uses plants as the horror enemy element. It's totally unexpected and it makes it worth the time of watching it.
The ending, as mentioned before is one of the most important things in the mod. It must be a moment of revelations, of understanding why someone did something. Keep it real tough and don't explain what is best unexplained. The player will choose the best interpretation for most things and will get a better perspective of your mod if you give it an ambiguous meaning. Again, keeping friendship, love(father-son relationship, for example is awesomely powerful for certain situations) as main elements and reasons for something that happened will contribute extremely for immersion. Give it an intelligent ending, not some randomfinish it thing. If the ending is bad, your mod is bad(sometimes it really gets this simple). The player dying and suffering is a powerful ending.
Keep in mind that it is the story that will make your mod be remembered for later. Just don't make all the story an alternative(White Night missed a bit in this part). Force the main reasons for everything into the player, but force it in a way it looks like something you want to know. Notes, Diaries are awesomely horrible ways to tell the main history of something. The best way is to have a person tell it to you, because you associate to that person and automatically fit it into your mind.
At first you must know that to mess around with someone you must make that person feel at home. If you place that person in a place that he/she would never go to, then he won't get scared at all. A good example, we have the Mountain of Death, but people don't go there, so it's not scary although everyone who goes there dies. You see what I mean?
So, using recognizable, home feeling environments is of major importance. This, in my opinion is one big fault in Amnesia. Horror games should be in the present, not future nor past, although Amnesia managed to get a few workarounds to make the feeling stay.
Another important thing is to make the fear progressive. What I mean is to never make a monster appear in the beginning of the game. That instantly ruins the mod, unless you did it for the sake of story and IT is not going to appear commonly from the beginning to the end. Starting out with a story filled beginning and allowing the player to acknowledge what's really going on as the story progresses is the best idea. The player should be kept in the dark for the whole time of the mod and be enlightened in the end. The ending is of utmost important to determine how good your mod is, and leaving it as a story changing part of your mod is extraordinarily important. You may not have liked the mod very much, but if the end is awesomely unexpected you'll be stuck with an awesomely good image of the mod in your head.
Amnesia did this last thing right. But then it failed to change on the monsters. Once you played with the grunt one time you will never fear it again. A good example of what fear is based on is the play trough of SCP(stairwell one). You know not what is there to come, so you are terrified to death before it comes and you get an heart attack when it comes. Of course that's no example of a game because it is too small although the idea itself as potential.
Another factor of major importance for a good atmosphere is the time of day. Nighttime is mostly used, but a foggy evening is as much as scary, mostly because in normal circumstances you wouldn't be scared of it at all. Take as an example the movie "The Mist". Making the player loose track of time and keeping daytime as the safe haven and nighttime as the bad thing is also a good way of scaring the player(check silent hill/alan wake). The player will have an awesome release(which is needed otherwise the player will get full of it and quit) when daytime arrives and will be under extreme pressure only because it's night. The weather also allows you to mess around a bit more in this part of daytime-nighttime, since the day will have more/less light depending on the weather and the light is the most important factor. You fear the dark because you don't know what's there(That's exactly what the fog does, use it for your advantage).
Now comes the sound. If you made a list listing the importance of all the factors, the sound would certainly be in the TOP 3. The sound is important for a thousand things, but in what relates to horror, it beats it all. If it's a recognizable sound you use, you must make sure it has a unrecognizable source, but if it is a unrecognizable sound, then the player should find the source. But beware of how he finds it. A strategy to keep the player under pressure using sound is to always keep the sound source behind him. But in most cases this is too much pressure(I guarantee the player will be afraid to look back). Make sure that at least once he sees something when he looks back(first time at least). Having a sound come from a room also makes it quite a lot harder for the player to enter it. Keep abusing the sound, but never repeating it's use with the same consequence. Something quite deadly for the user(the guy in front of the computer) is to make it come from behind a wall/corner or locked door where the player thinks nothing will come from, or even making it and something else come from the upside.
The light is also of extreme importance. Don't ever fail with this or everything will fail. One thing is for sure, there MUST be a light source. And no, there is no natural night-vision. The capacity of someone to see better after adapting to the dark comes because you let more light into your eyes. So there must be a light source. The only source of light in a cave for example is either the player flashlight or a supernatural effect. If you don't do this you'll remove the option to have a light where there shouldn't be a light(which will certainly scare off the player, and generally the player goes towards light). Outages of power, turning lights off, blowing out power generators are all good ways of turning off the lights(winds in amnesia), but let the player see at least something. Remember that a shape is a lot scarier than a perfectly distinguishable monster. Flickering lights, unexpected shadows, unexpected lights, lights following the player or darkness following the player are good ways of keeping the player interested in what will come and of scaring off the player.
I could go on with any of these factors forever if I wanted to so I'll just make an effort to proceed.
Globally atmosphere is extremely important in an horror mod game. If you fail with this, you fail with your mod.
AND PLEASE REMEMBER: It's not the monster that makes the tale scary.
Thanks for reading this.
A note: You probably noticed that I don't just make tutorials explaining things. Well, the truth is that I'm against that. One important thing to keep in mind is that once you know something, you'll do it that way. If everyone was taught one way to do something(possibly the best), we'd be stuck in the same state of ignorance. What we need is people that think out of the box, and to do that you just need the basis(what I attempt to provide). I'm sorry if this is not what you're looking for, or if you find this useless, but I'll just end this by citing this:
"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."-Chinese proverb.
Today I dreamt the life I could live forever. You only know that when you feel it for you know not what you like until you've experienced it.
(This post was last modified: 04-22-2012 12:14 AM by nemesis567.)