Horror Game Design

Kevin over at Game Hermeneutics has written an interesting guide to “generic” survival horror game design. Kevin seems to be mostly talking about Resident Evil, but his points are still valid. I’ve been thinking of writing an article in a similar vein for a while now. I think Kevin’s done a good job of scratching the surface, but there seems to be so much more we can generally state about the genre.

What kinds of design ideas do you think make an excellent horror game? What ideas should be avoided?

9 thoughts on “Horror Game Design

  1. http://www.shij13.net/frightening
    Kevin`s article is very interesting … but you`re right: There seems to be more. Survival Horror is difficult to explain, it`s more complicated.
    I thought about writing an article, too (in german). At the moment I got little time for it, maybe in the next weeks.

  2. The article covered a lot but strangely music and ambient sound was left out.
    Survival horror is kind of tough to meter
    but a good horror game is most likely to be
    a good videogame period. It should suspend
    your disbelief, challenge you in fair ways
    and compell you to finish it no matter what.
    When I first played Silent Hill it messed with
    my sleep and how I perceived sounds it in the
    dark but I just had to know. If you “must” complete a horror game inspite of the scares
    you probably picked a winner.

  3. Yes, but the design of horror games is pretty different than most other games. Usually games give you a repetitive skill (like, “jump on goombas”) to master as the main focal point of game play and then simply increase the difficulty as you progress. Horror games (and the now mostly dead adventure genre) differ because the in-game mechanics are typically simply there to slow you down. The focal point of these games is not controlling the player, it’s the telling of the story and the creation of tension. Even Silent Hill 3 has pretty poor fighting mechanics, but it is still a great game because fighting is a means rather than an end. Compare this to say, Jak & Daxter, where the entire game is defined by the player’s skill with the controller. The difference in focus really changes the design of the entire horror genre, I think.

  4. There’s so much that goes into a scary horror game that it’s hard to encapsulate my ideas into one brief comment, but I’ll try my best.

    *Realistic, logical problems. (No more stupid medallions!)
    *Multiple solutions to most problems. (I can kick this door in, or find the key to it, or climb through the window on the side.)
    *Intelligent monsters. (Yeah, I know you’re in the closet, Jennifer. Come on out.)
    *Subtle environment details. (Did that doll just wink at me? Did I just hear someone whisper my name?)
    *Plot choices with lasting effects. (Do I kill the evil villain now, or later? Do I use the anti-zombie medicine on Chris or Leon? Decisions, decisions.)
    *You are not safe anywhere. (They can get you even in the typewriter rooms!)
    *Spend more time waiting for the monster than dealing with it. (Hearing the monster roar far off, and seeing fresh victims, is just as effective as him popping out unexpectedly.)
    *Stake others’ lives on it. (I can take care of myself, but if I have to protect my half-crippled sister too, well, I’m screwed, and thus scared.)

  5. On the topic of SH games having “poor fighting
    mechanics”- Bad SH games have poor mechanics
    but the good ones have cleverly handicapped ones. Harry Mason wasn’t a Navy SEAL. He isn’t
    supposed to be a good shot or a kendo expert.
    But it is a workable system that adds to the game.
    Perhaps the the trouble with SH games is that
    there is a lot to get right (atmosphere,music
    control,jumping,shooting,hitting,puzzles,story etc.) If a developer screws up on even one element of this in his game it can go from
    classic to crap.

  6. You are right about limiting the character’s movements as a form of game design, but I’m actually talking about the ease of control. For example, though Resident Evil has been around long enough for most people to become familiar with it, the control scheme is still pretty awful. It is certainly fine once you learn it, but it takes far longer to learn than other 3rd person schemes. This doesn’t ruin the game because moving the character around deftly isn’t as important as it would be in a different genre.

  7. I wonder if you put an “A” grade first or third
    person game engine onto a Resident Evil-type game would it still be survival horror?
    It might be tough to see a good story and fully
    appreciate the atmosphere through a set of
    gun sights or a sniper scope. Is there a horror
    game out there with such a design?

  8. That’s true, but it is also important to realize that different player control does not necessarily imply a different-looking game. I am suggesting that the control scheme (i.e. left/right rotate player, forward moves them forward) is much more awkward than other schemes. In the RE Remake, you can select different control setups (I personally like Type-C, where the stick rotates and the R-Trigger moves you forward). This does not mean the game has become a first person shooter, only that the method of controlling the character is slightly different. I am not suggesting that RE do away with scripted camera angles or the like.

    The point of all this was to point out that as bad as it is, the RE control scheme doesn’t ruin RE because unlike say, Jak & Daxter or Tomb Raider, controlling the character is not the main source of fun in the game.

  9. Was this a survival horror design page or a walkthrough to Resident Evil?

    *cries with laughter*

    ok so I’m foul..

    What about setting up scenes that would seem impossible? this is a mind f***. By re-entering a once empty/normal room .. seconds later could be full of blood.. candles on the floor.. ghostly moving objects and so on.. or not the same room..

    unbelievable.. so you can’t push it too much..

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