The Common Mistakes of Horror Games

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MisterColeman:

Capt_Jack_Doicy:
"Whenever a film has been adapted from a game, it has, without exception, resulted in something so hideous that only rampant fun-haters from the planet Puritan could tolerate it to exist."

Golden Eye was ace, Spiderman 2 was alot of fun, and alot of the star wars games have been good.

I don't mean to troll, but you're not the first so I would just like everyone to maybe try some reading comprhension tests or something, and I mean that in the nicest please don't ban me for coming off mean way possible.

Perhaps you should take a spelling test first!

Mackheath:

The man is the arbiter of truth in this thread. Hoist his Creepiness back onto a pedestal and worship him. But just don't look away from his magnificent gaze.

Aw shucks. I try :)

SilverUchiha:
"Whenever a film has been adapted from a game, it has, without exception, resulted in something so hideous that only rampant fun-haters from the planet Puritan could tolerate it to exist."

Didn't you once say in a review way back that you liked Spiderman 2: the Movie: the Game? And what about all the various Star Wars games that people seem to be crazy for? I'm not saying all movie-based games are great (in fact, I'm inclined to agree with the above statement that almost all of them suck). But to say 100% of them are awful is a bit much.

But Spiderman is a game adapted from a movie, not the other way around. It's much easier to turn a movie into a game than to turn a game into a movie.

Sovvolf:
I think in horror games they should take a minimalist attitude to the score. See in a movie that works all fine and well, setting up tension and such. In a game it's used as a warning indicator... which kills the scare out of it. I shouldn't be warned that there's a monster near by, that make me more alert and I'm expecting the monster. The music should be cut down so I'm mostly hearing ambience of the setting. That creepy silence mixed with the sound of the wind slamming doors shut, floor boards creeping and twigs snapping would make the scares unexpected, adding to immersion and the scream factor when you turn a corner and find your self greeted by an axe wielding maniac or a monster that has a face like your mums vagina.

I think that such a game would be pretty tiresome to play, to be honest. Valve's dev commentaries (especially L4D's) are littered with comments on the importance of pacing and how to best alternate between tension-building, action and wind-down periods. L4D's not strict horror per se, but I believe this is still relevant for horror games. I'll get to that in a sec.

In my mind, the reason creepy "warning" music works in movies and not in games is because horror movies usually only feature a handful of really intense "oh shit monsters in your face!" scenes, whereas even the most conservative horror games will feature dozens of them (which is fine, as games are by their very nature more action-driven and last longer to begin with).
If developers keep using the warning music for every enemy encounter, though, the player will eventually get used to it and it'll just become a gameplay mechanic like any other instead of the unsettling event it's intended to be.

Another problem, which kind of ties in with the pacing I mentioned earlier, is that games often use the scary score to accompany the action instead of building up beforehand. That doesn't work. When the monster's in my face and trying to eat said face off, I'm (ideally) scared by the monster, not by the music, and the game just wasted a golden opportunity to creep the fuck out of me a couple of minutes in advance free of charge, no monsters required. Think back to a good horror movie of your choice and you'll probably notice the same thing: using the music for build-up is a staple of the horror genre; it's a guaranteed way to scare the bajeezus out the audience and lead to an intense encounter without relying on cheap, jumpy scares.

To sum up the two paragraphs above: Creepy music in movies means "I REALLY don't want to see what's on the other side of that door, but I know I will."; creepy music in games means "Great, another fight against random Spawn of Darkness #534. Say, how much shotgun ammo do I still have?"
So how do we solve this? My ideal solution wouldn't be so much about doing away with ambient score altogether, because then you're simply missing out on a great pacing tool (although ironically complete silence could probably work very well as a way to ramp up tension in key spots) but to only use the creepy music to set up the really scary events.
Think about it for a second. Wouldn't it be awesome if creepy music you'd never heard before started slowly fading in as you were exploring a completely abandoned building, gradually building up as you made your way to the payoff, making you fear every single corner and door in your way?
I know I'd love and yet curse my way through every second of it.

I'd like to live in Yahtopia. The games are better, the women are hotter, the critiques are harsher, and I get regular rations of grilled cheese sandwiches and Branston pickle.

All hail glorious Yahtopia! Where the bears are sexually frustrated and the hookers are thrice-cunted! All other countries are run by little girls!

Yahtzee:
Cutscenes should never contain action. Or at least, they should never contain action being performed by the playable character which we could have done ourselves within gameplay.

I don't know about that, I really liked the initial action cutscenes in Devil May Cry 3.

Capt_Jack_Doicy:

MisterColeman:

Capt_Jack_Doicy:
"Whenever a film has been adapted from a game, it has, without exception, resulted in something so hideous that only rampant fun-haters from the planet Puritan could tolerate it to exist."

Golden Eye was ace, Spiderman 2 was alot of fun, and alot of the star wars games have been good.

I don't mean to troll, but you're not the first so I would just like everyone to maybe try some reading comprhension tests or something, and I mean that in the nicest please don't ban me for coming off mean way possible.

Perhaps you should take a spelling test first!

His bad spelling doesn't make his point any less valid; Yahtzee was talking about games that had been turned into movies, but you started listing movies that had been turned into games. Not the same thing at all.

I can't stand those cutscenes where you are being forced in a direction, and you simply have no control over.

For instance, you're watching a cutscene and your character is being completely oblivious and somehow doesn't see that badguy coming up behind you .. and bam! You're unconscious and taken prisoner. I would have looked over my shoulder at least ten times in that situation, because it's so predictable.

Yahtzee:
"Whenever a film has been adapted from a game, it has, without exception, resulted in something so hideous that only rampant fun-haters from the planet Puritan could tolerate it to exist."

I feel he's being a little harsh with this, it's not generally the source material or delivery being "incompatible" that's the issue with game to film adaptations, but rather the complete morons that seem to continually be given the projects, for some inexplicable reason.

Take resident evil for example, a good example of a horror game to film transition. Yes it was a bit pants, but not due to the game's influence, more due to them forgetting it was actually supposed to be a fairly tense, suspense based horror, not a zombie killing action extrrravaganza!

The only really "resident evil" style bit of the film, was the creepy, slightly unsettling, actually rather good, first few minutes in the mansion. Unfortunately, they immediately left. Call me cynical, well because I am, but it's almost as if the writer/director had no idea what the game was all about, and had no knowledge whatsoever of it beyond a half page description. They could almost have cobbled it together from a generic action film kit to try and make as much money as possible, from an existing audience, with the least amount of effort :)

Had they been more true to the game, you know, actually played it before making the film, and had 60mins in the strange old mansion, trying to find out who they were, and what was going on, then only entered the high tech underground bunker in the last 30 mins for the surprise finale. It would have been an entirely better film.

Not necessarily incompatible mediums, just lazy money grubbing film producers, phoning it in.

Painfully correct article with zero chance of affecting anything, anywhere. 9 times out of 10 people don't even know why they like something; your average gamer might thoroughly enjoy the tension created by non-telegraphed enemies while simultaneously damning the game for being "cheap". It's that dreaded sense of entitlement growing across the top of everything now. I should know where the monsters are hiding. I should know exactly where to go and what to do in this sequence. I should easily understand this story. Developers capitulate and compromise interactivity. That's how we got to this point, and I don't think anyone in a for-profit position will do things differently.

The salvation of this industry lies in accessible, easy-to-use content creation tools. Then, and only then, can someone like Yahtzee put into practice these sorts of principles.

I'm not sure if that's what people mean when they say "cinematic." Speeding up music and giving sound cues is typical game structure to help guide the player. Your examples of sound may be used as cinematic but I don't think camera changing focus is really the developer trying to be movie like. It's more just trying to be over the top... or simply just show you something.

I think the best example of cinematic is just when intense, pre-scripted (not always) events are going on. Uncharted 2 is the best example I have. The thing is extremely cinematic just because of the things you do. Jumping out of a falling building, running and shooting a car behind you, hopping from roof to roof while getting shot at by a tank. A movie does things like that. Normally games rely on doing mostly similar things (shooting people, jumping). When something REALLY awesome and out of the ordinary happens, that's when I think it's being cinematic. As for non pre-scripted things, I think Battlefield and just the battles that happen. Running from mortar fire or trying to flank a tank is just... AAAAAAAAAAAUGHERURME! I'm not sure what noise that is, but you get it.

There's one game that did horror well (for the first hour anyways)...
Call of Cthultu: Shadow Over Innsmouth.

The "cinematic" problem has become an epidemic in all genres.
You're playing and that comes a half hour cutscene. Worse! You dropped the control and in the middle of the cutscene you dies because of a QTE and have to watch it again.

If Yahtzee ever makes his own country, I will be first in line to apply for citizenship.

SilverUchiha:
"Whenever a film has been adapted from a game, it has, without exception, resulted in something so hideous that only rampant fun-haters from the planet Puritan could tolerate it to exist."

Didn't you once say in a review way back that you liked Spiderman 2: the Movie: the Game? And what about all the various Star Wars games that people seem to be crazy for? I'm not saying all movie-based games are great (in fact, I'm inclined to agree with the above statement that almost all of them suck). But to say 100% of them are awful is a bit much.

He said whenever a film has been adapted from a game, not a game from a film such is the case in that spider man game he liked.

I actually enjoyed Dead Space.

To me it was a pretty good horror game. I mean, sure, it was based a lot on the who shock factor due to things constantly poping out of different places, but the atmosphere, the creatures and just the whole story was god enough to be horror, or at least inflict horror on in viewers, well at least thats my opinion on the game.

He's speaks truth!!

I recall playing F.E.A.R in which every time the freaky stuff happened I was worried because;

- The camera wasn't taken away from me so I needed to keep vigilant for whatever might attack me instead of let my guard down and watch the movie.
- I wasn't stuck with an annoying quick-time event (mashing B like in F.E.A.R 2) so I had to think fast with backing myself into a corner ready.
- music/sounds played when both nothing was going on and when loads of things were going on keeping me turning around and looking up and down.

Yeah sure it was low graphic, linear gameplay. But it had the horror!

The scariest place i've been in a game was a haunted house in Vampire: The Masquerade. No sound cues to indicate "scary part", no slow motion or cutscenes or

Just pure horror. I think it won a level design award or somethin'.

It was an interesting read with some good points.

The Saviour of the "Horror" game actually being tense in my mind is STALKER; Shadow of Chernobyl. Some people don't reagard it as a Horror game becuase it has so much else going on and that's true but when it does do horror it does it well.

People usually demand cheap jumps/ twists/ monster closets whilst playing horror games. This is the wrong philosophy. Tension needs to build slowly in the world it's self. The Zone of STALKER is uttely hostile and unforgiving, it builds and it builds heaping sparce music on top on unnerving iccidents and overwhelming gunfights. Then you are underground and begging to be out. It really effects you as a a player.

I think the sound is one of the most important things here, sound should be used well and sparingly in a horror game. Violins are something horror movies use becuase they think they are supposed to. In a game they just break immersion and make it look like it is TRYING to be scary but it's.

Take a listen;

STALKER invests in a world where the player feels utterly alone, outnumbered and constantly under pressure. Resources are scarce and the very landscape is filled with anomolous danger.

More games need to stop investing in holywood stlye cheap trill type 'horror' or just gore and need to make something that is psychologically pressuring to the played. A slow burn punctuiated by unscripted feeling moments of utter terror.

Chaos Engine, so that makes it 1993. That's the first game I played (or even read about) where the music was dynamic, changing up and down depending on whether you were fighting or not.

But Chaos Engine was an action game, not horror, so it suited it perfectly.

You may not know the exact moment when they started to add responsive music swells to games, but I do. They made it an advertising point that they were the first to use it in the game Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb. Didn't need to know that? Too bad, neither did I, but because I did, I'm going to make you suffer in that knowledge with me.

Kilowog17:
There's one game that did horror well (for the first hour anyways)...
Call of Cthultu: Shadow Over Innsmouth.

That's Dark Corners of the Earth. Shadow Over Innsmouth was the name of the book it was loosely based on. :)

And you're quite right about it. It did some aspects far better than others, and petered out after the first few sections. Still love it though :3

Those are pretty good "rules" you pointed out. I've been thinking about these before. Some consciously (the music-bit), some I've only been noticing unconsciously (like the action-in-cutscene-bit), but now that you point it out, it's true.

I haven't played many of the Final Fantasy games but I remember in FF8 there was a part where you escaped from a prison in the desert that was shaped like a giant drill and could drill itself entirely into the ground. When that happened, there was a pre-rendered cutscene in which your character (being the only non-pre-rendered part) was hanging from a bridge and you had to climb to your safety to your safety by basically only holding down one button. But the fact that it was interactive made it super-tense (plus the fact that I didn't realize I wasn't just watching a cutscene and started a good 10 seconds late)

Now of course nowadays that's problematic, with games that don't have pre-rendered backgrounds all over the place, but I was surprised it wasn't done more often back then. At least I haven't seen much more of it.

As for cinematic aspect - I think I like a cinematic experience, to a degree. The pre-defined camera angles in Silent Hill 1-4 were pretty film-esque and their absence was totally noticable in Homecoming (that and the fact that it was shit all together). But then, I guess that's not really so cinematic as it's just a device to present an environment, real or CG, and it never takes interactivity away from us.

Noobstick:
Snipped

don't think you've got what I mean about creepy silence, probably my fault for not really explaining it as deeply as I could. Creepy silence doesn't always have to be 'silent', you can have music score in there... just not an overly loud score with violins and drum clashes everywhere. The score which I think of when I say creepy silence, is the score from Resident evil two when you enter the police station. The music is creepy and it set's the whole game for being creepy. Resident Evil also had complete silence at times which added to it. The music didn't warn you of a zombie... it didn't change to loud violin plucking for the zombies... you heard the zombies shuffling and moaning, that's what scared you.

Though I think we are talking about two different horrors here. L4D's horror is more apocalyptic than psychophysical, the music worked for L4D because we expected zombie hoards all over the place, we know zombies are going to be around the corner so we don't need the music to surprise us. Imagine L4D's music in Resident Evil 1 or 2... it would spoil the atmosphere... while the music in RE would spoil L4D's atmosphere because it would be too quite. Two different types of horror (both ironically featuring hoards of zombies) means two different approaches with music. Actually to add the example... put L4D's music in Silent Hill too... just wouldn't work would it?.

I totally agree with the bit against dramatic music surges when action comes about. I played EQ2 for a while, and like a few people mentioned about Oblivion, getting into a fight with anything, be it a bee, wolf or sentient pile of rocks would queue up epic swashbuckling music. It was cool music, but not everytime a bat the size of your head swooped down on you.

I hate to fall back on the old Silent Hill bit again, but the first few games really did it well. The first game had very little actual 'music'. The metal-on-metal screeches were usually programmed only to a room, and sometimes without any real necessity. There were times when you'd go into a completely empty room and be 'touching cloth' because the music had (up until that point) been preparing you for imminent scariness. Silent Hill 2 did this too, and it also did a cinematic bit that I really liked.

Spoiler, maybe?: In your first really nasty encounter with Pyramid Head, after he commits double-aggravated-sexual-assault on the mannequin halves, he corners you in a closet. James gets frantic (understandably), then looks beside him and sees a clip for his gun, loads it, and opens fire. Although the moment was tense and held me for its duration, I laughed in retrospect because the game had the cheek to say 'just in case you're a trigger happy maniac, here's some bullets when you actually NEED them, weirdypants'. TLDR; I lol'd.

One thing I really do agree with though, isn't so much in the Extra Punctuation, but in the Zero Punctuation video. That bit is the bit about the narration track. That would ruin all sense of immersion for me. Now, this is not to say I don't like it when a playable character or even an NPC chimes in with some necessary information or character development driven dialogue, but those aren't usually outlining what's happening like it's just being read from a storybook. Did you know that there were two versions of the movie Blade-Runner? One had the narration track, and one didn't. Being given an option like that is one way that I would hope video games and movies DIDN'T differ.

[Edit: Because anytime before noon, I'm so not a comprehensive writer.]

Quick question Yahtzee: How is the that Fun Space Game going?

Also I agree with the points, but would expand this to include all games, even RTS and FPS. Another tirade i whole heartedly agree with is a demand for a decent single player campaign. Serriously, I dont play a game to listen to a 12 year old who forgot to take is riddallin because his mommy doesnt love him, causing him to bury his feelings by obbsesively playing COD.

Very well said, Mr Croshaw. It's all about immersion. 'Cinematic' is something that interferes with immersion, imo, but then, the third person view is one step removed from 'full' immersion anyway, and some people like that. I like it myself sometimes. Red Faction: Guerilla is a personal fave (of course, the phrase 'biscuits and cardboard' always comes to mind when I play, but that just adds to the enjoyment)

I'm playing through Metro 2033. Holy Fuck is that an immersive game. It's you, alone in dark caverns and tunnels, no sound other than the howls of a monster that might be at the other end of the tunnel or RIGHT BEHIND YOU!

Regarding Slow-Motion killings - There were two games that have done this amazingly well.

The top-game that comes to mind is Batman, where I *loved* the slow-mo final killing blow on the final dude in the room. For me, at least, that never get old and even on the fourth play-through, it managed to evoke the occasional "wow"-moment.

The other "headshot!"-nearly-slow-mo game that pulled this off (for me) was XIII. Whenever you pulled of a headshot or managed to get a particularly spectacular kill, a short comic-style cutscene would pop up, very much in spirit with the game. It simply worked, for me.

So, it's a force for good - if wielded well. I admit that Alan Wake and many other games don't.

Changing difficulty in game would be handy but it would likely cause some glitches, not to mention it would create scenarios where some Xbox troll would complain that I don't deserve the achievement for completing the game on hardest difficulty since id dropped down to normal whenever the bosses got to frustrating.

Straying Bullet:

- Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Oblivion had a beautiful soundtrack and sometimes I gained something that was quite rare in Oblivion. Immersion.. Walking down a forest with a soothing tune was excellent but god, any challenge or excitement was thrown OUT of the window when I heard a heart-pumping song, knowing an enemy found and is trying to get to me.

At this moment, you draw your sword and look around like a maniac to see where the enemy actually is. Because you are prepared, it takes away that 'WTF" moment when you find yourself mauled by some zombified creature.

I fixed that by turning music off. Musical cues just feel like cheating and frankly I think silence is its own atmosphere's setter too.

SFR:
I'm not sure if that's what people mean when they say "cinematic."

When a game is being called "cinematic", they are saying that the game focused on the dramatic (by dramatic I mean a composition, especially one telling a serious story, that is intended for representation of the characters and performing the dialogue and action intended by the director) aspect of the game. This apples whether it has be done good or bad regardless; but when a game focuses on being cinematic, it begins to neglect the whole interactive/game aspect of the game, often to the point that your interactivity becomes little more than being the play button for the story to continue. The player character no longer is the personification of your ability, identity, skills and values but instead comes with his own that you must ascribe to.

An interesting point (that someone else may have already highlighted in the 5 pages written so far, damned if I'm going to read them all to find out) is that the music starting up when the enemies arrive and going away when they're dead... is basically what Silent Hill did with static instead of music. And it's one of the most lauded aspects of the series, as it adds to the atmosphere. On the other hand, Silent Hill also subverts it, such as with the enemies in the sewers in the original which DON'T trigger your radio and can subsequently try to rip your head off without even the slightest warning, or the bit in the prison in Silent Hill 2 where you're in a corridor with your radio blasting static and you can hear an enemy moving above you but there's nothing there.

Silent Hill is also a great example of what Yahtzee says about not putting action in cutscenes or using them to highlight horror set pieces. Look at the first game- when the first monsters attack you in the dead-end alley you don't even get a warning before they swarm over you in real time and drag you down (and then you wake up in the diner). The only other monsters that get cutscenes are the first flier (where the scene quickly shows it crashing through the window and then leaves you to fight it) and some (but not all of) the bosses. Other monsters just walk up to you and start ripping at you without so much as a "how do you do"- and that makes them INFINITELY scarier. You panic and start blasting or clubbing at them and only when they're dead do you have the luxury to ask yourself "what the fuck was THAT?!" Same goes for the sequel. When Jaaaaaaaaaaames Sunderland first finds the radio in the dead end and gets cornered by the first patient demon, he grabs the plank- but then you're left to club it to death yourself, so you better not have put that controller down in the hope the game would do it for you. Again, the only other monsters to get introductory cutscenes are the bosses and even then they can surprise you- at least twice in the game you meet Pyramid Head with no warning whatsoever and the scene where he suddenly appears and starts chasing you and Maria down the corridor in the hospital basement is one of the scariest scenes in survival horror HISTORY. Yahtzee is right- in a horror game it's the GAMEPLAY that should be scary, not the goddamn cutscenes.

Capt_Jack_Doicy:

MisterColeman:

Capt_Jack_Doicy:
"Whenever a film has been adapted from a game, it has, without exception, resulted in something so hideous that only rampant fun-haters from the planet Puritan could tolerate it to exist."

Golden Eye was ace, Spiderman 2 was alot of fun, and alot of the star wars games have been good.

I don't mean to troll, but you're not the first so I would just like everyone to maybe try some reading comprhension tests or something, and I mean that in the nicest please don't ban me for coming off mean way possible.

Perhaps you should take a spelling test first!

No, he shouldn't. Right is right, regardless of whether he makes any typos or not. And he's right.

A little late to the conversation but I must say that there were things that Alan Wake did very well as a horror game, and one in particular that I feel has been missing since (early) Resident Evil:

"Here is a location where you are safe. You are safe here, my child, listen to the soothing music, let it calm your nerves. When you go back out there, you are not safe. You are prey. You are dead. But you must go back."

For me, this heightens the tension. I've just scraped into this 'safe haven' by the skin of my teeth, but now I can relax. If the tension state is maintained throughout the game, I find I become acclimatised to it - it becomes a base state and no longer has any real effect on me. Once you have these havens though you have moments of calm that prevent you adjusting to the tension. You also have a tool for raising the tension of "that long bit where you're low on ammo/health/energy/resource" by having a much larger gap before the next safe haven. If I find myself thinking "Oh my god, please let there be a haven soon" because I'm feeling overwhelmed, trapped, exhausted, etc then you've succeeded. If I'm thinking "where's the checkpoint, this level is taking forever", you've failed. I was happy to find that Wake fell into the former category.

As for the idea that you can't put players in danger by threatening their save file, didn't Resident Evil 2 give you certain rewards if you could do it without saving (or at least, without saving more than a few times)? I seem to remember finding that mechanic very appealing - suddenly your avatar's life really is on the line.

Action is ok in cutscenes as long as it's progressing the story at the same time, such as that billboard getting smashed in San Andreas or the chat/all out gunfight in the casino at the start of Just Cause 2.

And for the record, situationally aware music is one of the main reasons that Goldeneye, Driver, Mercenaries (1) and Tie Fighter are among my favourite games. Though to be fair none of them are horror games.

I would probably have to agree with a lot of what he said here, but one thing I should point out that is in Silent Hill 1, 2 and 3 you had a radio and/or music to show that a monster was in the same room as yourself. I mean I never played Alan Wake, but I will say I think Silent Hill was still scary as fuck even with this. I don't know maybe they did it right, but I think maybe a bit further detailed explanation would have been helpful.

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