The Common Mistakes of Horror Games

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Silent Hill 2 really beats the player over the head [or at least it did me] with the fact that you should not inherently identify with the main character. There is a chance he's not what he seems. This is of course old news in books and movies, but it's still fairly fresh on the gaming front.

-And I'm mixed on the idea of changing difficulty mid-game. It's nice as an easy way out, but it just seems to dampen the experience a bit when you shamefacedly switch it to 'beginner' rather than tearing your hair out figuring out how to do it on 'Hurt me Plenty'. I'm probably just bitter though.

Absolutely dead-on about the "scary" music which conveniently chimes in when bad guys are near. Nothing breaks the flow or immersion then when that tell-tale music kicks in and tells you to be alert.

RobfromtheGulag:
-And I'm mixed on the idea of changing difficulty mid-game. It's nice as an easy way out, but it just seems to dampen the experience a bit when you shamefacedly switch it to 'beginner' rather than tearing your hair out figuring out how to do it on 'Hurt me Plenty'. I'm probably just bitter though.

I definitely agree with you there, but if you think of it in the reverse, it's a pretty good idea. I know there have been alot of times when, playing a game for the first time, I start on normal or easy, and then wish I'd started off on hard mode.

I'd usually also rather not start out with hard mode, just in case the game turns out to be a real unforgiving monster. Maybe have it as an option upon loading the game from a saved point? So you'd actually have to restart the system to change, and couldn't just do it willy-nilly, like JUST for a boss or something.

In the name of Yahtopia, I sack this terrible level design!

I actually like cutscenes, even action ones. But I see where he is coming from in that regard and Valve are definitely the masters and delivering story without exposition and letting you see everything they want you to see without a single break in the action.

Everything else in the article I agree 100% on.

I was ready to give you a rant, but you saved yourself with that bit at the very end. The biggest thing I was sick of when playing through Bayonetta was having to watch cutscenes over and over because they had quick time events in them. I blame every critic who demands involvement in cinematic action sequences, and until this article that included you. That rider should become part of some official manifesto.

GothmogII:

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

Everyone always puts the latter parts of CoC:DCotE down. I don't think it's deserved. Sure, they second half wasn't nearly as scary as the first half, but I still got quite a few good scares out of it.

You know how I would deal with the scary-music-means-monsters thing?

Have the first quarter or so have the scary music kick in when you see a monster. Y'know, just long enough so that they get dependant on the ability. Then, mind-screw the player over by:

1. Starting the scary music at random
2. Have the scary music start up only when the monster is on-screen. Meaning that ones behind you, or waiting in that closet beside you don't trigger the music until they're eating the back of your head from the inside out
3. Mute the music altogether, or play one music track constantly.

Great article, pointing out how good Valve is drawing the players attention, an the issue of cutscenes vs gameplay.

I used to be against cut scenes, period, until I saw the trailer for Left 4 Dead. That is the single most best cut scene ever, because everything that happens in it, is something that can happen in the game.

1) I don't see the problem with literary references in games (even if they are Stephen King).
2) Pulling things like the flare out or dodging an enemy are player controlled camera as much as moving an analogue stick.
3) "Psychological action thriller" is not synonymous with "Horror"; its like saying 'No Country For Old Men' isn't a very good horror... good point its not a good Biographical picture either.

On the music side you are dead right, but the problem before was when tense music came on in games the player could merely sit it out until the score ended (yes I realise that could be easily solved but its still a valid point).

Agreed. Gaming and Film are two separate things entirely!

my guide to building a controllable cutscene
1 no quick time...EVER
2 see valve but add voices (but if you stare at alex's breasts or ass in a non action sequence she says "at this rate ill shoot before the combine does, eyes up here, or wtf are you looking at" you respond. yes character is responsive
3 no "cut scene" should last indefinite hours-days(mgs4)
4 no boring rants, at least make it interesting w/ pictures and crazy mindf*** like g-man in half-life 2 intro
5 non-repetitive anything
6 do not treat the gamer like they are on meds that make them wanting bland. try a 8-bit approach its not a mindf*** but it's original

movie games suck with no exceptions? That's a pretty big exaggeration. I guess nobody remembers a game like "the warriors", what were the huge game destroying flaws with that game?
I guess as long as its named after a movie, people will complain about it. But say one bad thing about MGS4...

rddj623:
Agreed. Gaming and Film are two separate things entirely!

Yes just like plays and film are two different things, but they constantly take things from eachother. All entertainment does. If you want games to have nothing from movies, well please name one good game (or even one game) that does that.
They are not two separate things entirely, games became more than sports simulations when they started using movies as inspiration. Would you rather play GTA, or madden?

Mysnomer:
I was ready to give you a rant, but you saved yourself with that bit at the very end. The biggest thing I was sick of when playing through Bayonetta was having to watch cutscenes over and over because they had quick time events in them. I blame every critic who demands involvement in cinematic action sequences, and until this article that included you. That rider should become part of some official manifesto.

Interactive cut scenes are a great idea, QTE are not interactive cut scenes. It's just a stupid little test to make sure your paying attention.
Don't blame people for wanting something good because lazy game designers screwed it up.

I'm on board with these criticisms 100%
The musical-cue thing is especially getting out of hand with modern games. The enemy-signaling music has become so overbearing that it lends an artificial atmosphere to the game and sucks me out of the experience. It completely undercuts the suspense!

derelix:

rddj623:
Agreed. Gaming and Film are two separate things entirely!

Yes just like plays and film are two different things, but they constantly take things from eachother. All entertainment does. If you want games to have nothing from movies, well please name one good game (or even one game) that does that.
They are not two separate things entirely, games became more than sports simulations when they started using movies as inspiration. Would you rather play GTA, or madden?

Agreed to a point, the key word you said is inspiration. Art will (and should) always inspire other art, but trying to "cinematize" video games is not the way to move forward. Portal is a great example. Phenomenal story, but it would never translate to film, and had one short ending cut scene to wrap things up. It didn't try to be cinematic. Though I can name a few films where inspiration could have come from in regards to story or aesthetics etc.

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.

You quoted him saying that when a movie is made from a game it turns out bad, not when a game is based off a movie.

Extra Punctuation: The Common Mistakes of Horror Games.

From my perspective there are some mistakes, formally known as officials, too.

1.) The attempt to legitimate the own mental disorders by being the protagonist in something declared horror, which actually isn't.

2.) The claim that one must be frightened by typical horror creatures... if they wouldn't fascinate instead of frightening, then who would buy the stuff?

3.) Repetition and Plagiarism... badly copied return of the already known in cheapest new disguise...

4.) Life. Sometimes watching a film or playing a game is only fun on 1st try, not just because low replay value but because the enticement was temporal. Once seen through it is mostly crap.

Book of Unremitting Horror was a cute discussion of a known principle... unique monsters, not another or, another vampire or such...

PC-Games: 1st chapter of FAHRENHEIT was spooky, as it touched me, thrilled me. Phantasmagoria had a unique moment for sure... Alan Wake? I saw the film in the 70's and one of the remakes... cooked up waste of time... Vampire Bloodlines, the Malkavian mansion 1st eye contact spooked me...

Compared to fantasy horror RPG is often badly made and weaker in system, which I find sad. I made a research on dark and deviant art and there are plenty of people worthy enough who get no chance in the industry because of their own way of life... It is the product which sells, not the person.

The music thing is a good talking point. Anyone who's played Redisent evil: Survivor will know that the music in that game was fantastic (It'd have to be, the rest of the game was pretty bad altogether). There's one part in the Umbrella Corp building where the music is constantly like you're being chased down a corridor, filled with epic strings and random noises. Hell, even the doors opening shit me up, even when there's nothing there. Alan Wake could learn from this.

It was a good game though, and has spouted much "WHERE'S MY WIIIIIIFE!?" from me and my friends.

Great article Knowing these a monster still unseen roaming around. while u walk on you start hearing a chainsaw get closer and closer and u turn around nothing there and boom he's right in front of you Severing your Shoulder thats terrifying.

Great article, except:

1) In my experience, the music only starts when you SEE the enemy, not when enemies appear. So it only signposts the end of combat, and even then sometimes more will pop up. Agreed on Dead Space though.

2) They don't take control away from what I recall, you just react and move in slow motion. I don't wholly condone it but it does help.

Good point about the music and the violin shrieks in Dead Space, though to be fair those shrieks were the only thing that kept me from consistently soiling myself. Yahtopia sounds like a no-nonsense place.

Time to apply for a Visa for Yahtopia.

Thing with Alan Wake is that I was unable to get out of my head just how good it SHOULD have been long enough to give what we actually got much of a chance. As a result it was just very average, slightly stilted and unconvincing story and character wise and though there were decently bright storytelling ideas they were stifled by dodgy game play design choices and those daft chapter recap efforts. The slips into slo-mo never upset me nearly as much as thinking "God, I wish this had the full open exploration/investigation we were promised all that time ago" or "I think this would be miles better on my PC contrary to the condescending bollox they told me about why it wasn't"-to be honest. The Steie King thing wemnt way too far as well but over all of this the big problem was that it was jst damn samey. The actual action wasn't just predictable and Yahtzee conplains but downright repetitive at times and there were just way too few variations in there to support a full game to my mind.

Some elements of the found story were really clever and in another situation with better writing could really have shone but the slightly over light tone, imo, for a game of this kind just left it feeling a shell of what we were once asked to get excited for(my mind goes back to promises of individually designed interiors to ever house which we were free to explore-every last one in Bright Falls and beyond!)and while his assertion about DS's monster arrival sounds is bang on that game is still head and shoulders above AW in terms of visceral thrills, narrative pacing and as an action AND survival horror game and also had much more variety and for a game largely set in similar confined spaces that's a bit of a sad thing for AW to have as it's fate.

not that AW was bad, it was fine, it just wasn't what it should have been and a wasted chance is worse than a game which never had one to start with as potential is rare than most of us think. AW had miles more of it than DS but DS trumped it on the basics of gaming and as a result AW's biggest advantage, atmosphere, was frittered away on a raft of altogether too dam similar encounters with the shadows. It didn't even have as clever a mechanic as the dismemberment in DS let alone carrying off it's light kills nasties mech. A shame but not indicative of any other game's failings as you suspect that MS had a hand in it's downfall by limiting it to the point making it 360 exclusive was a last option rather than a nice, system selling choice.

Can't believe people eat this garbage.

aesondaandryk:
Can't believe people eat this garbage.

Actually, most read it...

I'm glad this review lightened up a little next to the video. I love the horror genre and after Yahtzee panned it I decided to give it a pass. Maybe I'll give it a crack when it hits the discount rack.

I've been turning the music off on my video games for years. Even if the music's good, after a half hour it's going to get on your nerves. Suppose you really like Bohemian Rhapsody. It's a great song until your freaky upstairs neighbor buys the album and starts playing it over... and over... and over...

And let's face it. There's a lot more Bangles in video games than Queen.

As for cutscenes I've lost patience with them. Elite Force 2 was on the right track, but the industry missed it. In EF2 cutscenes were interrupted when a PC action was called for. You got to select from up 3 or 4 options.

For example:

Cutscene: Fat idiot says "Well, looks like we're trapped and surrounded by soul eating monsters. Lets get drunk!"

1. Say "Sure! Let's get lit. That flimsy door will hold out the shadow monsters."
2. Shake your head "no" in disgust and give him a dismissive wave.
3. Punch him in the nose and pour the bottle out on the floor.
4. Throw his stupid ass to the shadow monsters certain in the knowledge that your chances of survival just improved substantially.

It's possible that this has just been overlooked by devs, but more likely it's just plain laziness. Not only does it mean writing 4 different cutscene endings, it also results in changes to the way the rest of the game unfolds. Great for the gaming experience, but a lot more work for the devs.

I agree that mistakes are often made when trying to make a game "cinematic" but I strongly agree that developers should simply avoid the techniques you discuss.

For example, I like when a game offers multiple levels of tension. If the tense music played all the time, it would not be a factor in the tension level at all and it would be annoying as crying babies. Thats no fun. I agree that the music should not predict or ruin the initial tension of an enemy encounter but why can't it add to it? In some games (Oblivion) it often starts before you even see the enemy (which is crap) but what if it was more intelligently queued after you realized you are in trouble. That could be done well and would still allow the music to play a role in the tension. As for having it die down, why not have it die down more gradually and sometime play on for a while even when there is no danger so you are guessing. And also, break the rules but not all the time. For example, have the music die down and then have another attak!

Even though the word cinematic refers to the cinema, I think dramatic is really what we are looking for in games. So, instead of just removing these cinematic elements, make them better and make them work better in games. Then maybe, someday, there will be a word that describes dramatic impact in gaming the way that the the word cinematic does.

I know its in no way a horror game, and people hate it, but one of the things I did like about MW2 was the 'Juggernaut music' in Spec Ops, which really helped. I don't know how useful it is in horror games, as I'm not really into that genre.

I agree, I noticed this when playing Splinter cell conviction, that whenever you have eliminated all of the enemies in an area he says some gruff one liner, and i realise now that if they spawned in enemies after this then i would have shit my pants if you know... it wasn't so easy

on mistake in horror games and films is the infamouse quotes "lets split up"

L4hlborg:
As a scientific fact, you can't keep the same music on without the player becoming so used to it that he/she doesn't notice it at all. The scary music would become normal music.

Actually there is a way around that, you can have a new music piece when you start a new level. Or change the music half way in if its a long level. This is why some older horror games that do horror well, come with their own soundtrack because the game really needed it and made good use of it.
But yeah silence or using ambiance is a excellent option (sounds of nature itself can become creepy especially in old buildings.)

Video games should ALMOST never take the control from the player. I really hate these things. Because when the game takes the time to show me something like monster, I could be already shooting that thing!

I also have died few times in games because the camera control has been wrestled from me to show something "cool" and the game just goes on in the background. Last game this happened in was Batman Arkham Origins. SPOILERS: in the Firefly fight EVERY time you toss a gluebomb at him, the camera zooms in and films the villain in sticky goo for 5 seconds. The problem is, that once you have hit him few times he starts tossing these bombs around, and if you toss a glue-shot at him AND he happens to toss a bomb: You can't avoid the bomb because you can't move and the bomb goes off in your feet and you lose hp!

This is propably one of the worst examples of this, but still. Keeping "LOOK AT THIS!" to minimum would be great. :p

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