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Article - 'The Survival' by KaosTenshi

An item about Game Design posted on Aug 9, 2003

Blurb

Do you like scary games?

Body

The Survival

Do you like scary movies?

Who cares? On a more important note, do you like scary video games? Well, it gets hard to scare someone with a 2D, 256 sprite, but it’s not impossible. After all, there are people out there that can be scared by a textured polygonal model. The secret is in setting the mood. You too can follow in the footsteps of games like Fatal Frame, Silent Hill and the Resident Evil/Biohazard series.

The World
Contrary to popular belief, your horror-survival game doesn’t have to be in a haunted mansion… but it can look sweet. Whatever setting you decide… a haunted mansion, an abandoned town, an old train, dense forests, a sewer, etc… Make sure that your chipsets are dark and moody. As long as your maps aren’t bright and cheerful, they don’t have to actually be dark, but they do have to be moody, which means lots of shadows, rusty metal, blood splatters, and murky water, and as for lighting sources use candles, lanterns, and other dim light sources.
Don’t put too many other non-threatening NPCs in the game. If there are too many perfectly healthy people around, you loose the feeling that something here is very dangerous and hunting you. Also make sure that your characters don’t look too bright and cheery… A wise course of action is to also make/modify several character sets of the main character so that as the game progresses and more events take their toll on the character, they can increasingly look like they’ve gone through hell… Shedding articles of excess clothing, adding bandages, dirt, and dried blood, and letting their hair down and messing it up a bit.


The Music (Or Lack Thereof)
One thing you’ll notice if you play the Resident Evil series much, or even games like Tomb Raider and Rainbow Six, is that there isn’t a lot of music. When music is played, it’s usually quiet orchestral pieces that don’t particularly stand out, but set a chilling and mysterious mood. When the music changes to something more pronounced, the player immediately knows something is up, thus creating suspense. They know they’ve unlocked a door somewhere, or something is going to burst out and attack them from out of nowhere… they just don’t know what!


The Sound
Where a lack of music may drop the ball for the atmosphere sometimes, ambient sound picks up all the slack and can really make a game shine. Distant echoing footsteps, howls of wind, dripping water, quiet sobs, far away screams and screeches, and the rumble of rolling thunder added to the background can make a mood even creepier. The key is making sure these sounds are fairly quiet. Like music, when something does change, the player becomes excited or startled. Make windows crash and shatter when something bursts into the room, make monsters screech and moan in your ear when they attack, and always, always make doors squeak when you open them.


The Atmosphere
Cliché as it may sound; nothing quite says ‘gloom’ like a muggy, rainy evening with rolling thunder, falling rain, and flashes of lightning.
‘Set Screen Tone’ is your friend. Many other articles and tutorials say that using Set Screen Tone is a big no-no, and editing your map chips themselves is the way to go, but that’s said when you don’t want your character sets to start looking washed out and dull. Most of the time, you will want your character sets looking washed out and dull so they fit the glum mood of the game. A bright character running around in a dark map isn’t only ugly; it’s also illogical.
Use the music and sound I already talked about to your advantage in common events, and make sure that you make things random. Always hearing the zombie-groan right after the clap of thunder can get really annoying.
Water is just begging for you to play with it. Reflections and splashes trailing behind characters in shallow puddles can be very nice eye-candy, and all survival-horror games need eye candy to distract the player long enough for them to get eaten by something.


The Hunted
You can’t have a survival-horror game if there’s nothing threatening your survival. Be it natural or supernatural, something has to be out to get you, turning you from the hunter to the hunted in very short order. This is a very rare thing for me to say, but sadly, DBS works very poorly in survival-horror games. In fact, most CBSs handle it poorly. The way they mess things up is by removing you from the map and taking you to a new screen to battle in, which destroys the mood unless the sound and music flows properly from one to the next. This is why adventure-style systems work extremely well in this kind of game, especially if you can outfit your characters with guns, grenade launchers, and knives for short-range combat incase they run out of ammo.

Another very good way of adding fear to your game is the threat of random attack in many areas… You might run through a room twenty times and not find a single monster there, but run through it once and find a monster ready to slay you. If you do choose to make a monster like this hunt you down, make them either extremely hard to kill or make them immortal so you face them as a final boss.

Remember, scaring your players isn’t just about making them jump when something crashes through the window and attacks them… it’s about making them wander around in a safe area a while because they’re wounded and nervous about going into an area they know is probably dangerous when they aren’t at full strength… and making them think about the game long after they’re done playing.