Designing Horror Games for the (Teenage) Masses

I’m pretty interested in Five Nights at Freddy’s and Slender.  Both are low-budget indie horror games that have, in the last few years, reached incredible levels of viral success.  The two titles are very different: Freddy’s is about a security guard who must survive the night in a department store full of killer animatronic animals, and Slender is a game about finding […]

Ransacking

When we describe games like Resident Evil to others, we probably say something like this: In Resident Evil, zombies have taken over a big mansion and you have to stay alive by shooting them and solving puzzles.  You have to conserve ammo and read documents to uncover the mystery behind the mansion and the zombies. While […]

Outlast

There’s a lot to like about Outlast. It’s a non-combat stealth horror game made by a small team of veterans that sports super high production value but keeps things simple. The sound quality is fantastic and the graphics are nice and it manages to be pretty scary now and then. It’s got a great mechanic […]

The Interaction Feint

Fatal Frame 4, which I keep coming back to every few months but never seem to complete, has a neat item pickup mechanic. Your character, a young woman trapped in a dilapidated hospital on a forbidden island full of moon ghosts, slowly extends her hand to reach for an item when you hit the A […]

Virtual Reality Horror is Amazingly Great

I played Alien: Isolation at the Oculus booth at E3 last week. Alien is a high-end experiment in the genre I’ve been calling “exploratory first-person horror” for the last few years. Mechanically, it’s a lot like Slender or the hiding bits of Amnesia: you are running around a dark space ship with an obfuscated radar, […]

Feature: Useful Tips for Horror Game Designers

A few months ago I had a discussion on Twitter with Thomas Grip, the brains behind Amnesia: The Dark Descent, the Penumbra series, and now SOMA, about overused elements in horror games. Turns out there are a whole lot of trite, cliché, and downright dated design elements that show up again and again in horror […]

The Problem with Dark Souls

It took me a long time, but I finally figured out why I can’t play Dark Souls. I tried to play it–put a good 15 hours into it, which is longer than it takes me to complete most of the games I play. I even played a bit of Demon Souls before that, so I […]

Inventory

With a grunt the man pulls himself up over the ancient stone ledge. The passage is small and narrow; he proceeds on all fours, drawing centuries-old air in ragged breaths. Just as his exhaustion nears its peak he reaches the end of the tunnel and pulls himself upright into the secret chamber. The artifact is […]

The Value of Uncertainty Part 2: Negative Space

In the last post I wrote a little bit about the value of uncertainty in the mechanics of horror games. The idea is that the game may obfuscate certain game play systems (health, remaining ammunition, the location of enemies, etc) in order to keep the player off balance. A key trait of effective horror is […]

The Value of Uncertainty

My TV was hissing. It was a small set, 15 inches across, set on a short table in one corner of my ten-tatami-mat room in Kyoto. It was 1998, the middle of the night, and though my hosts were two floors below me, I worried that the sound would reach through the thin walls and […]