Monday, 11 July 2011


"Feel terror cloud your senses, feel its power to distort and know that this power can be yours!" Ras Al Gul, Batman Begins

Manufacturing fear isn't like it used to be. These days it's all about the cheap thrill. The schlocky gross out scenes or long drawn out torture porn movies. Take me back to the days of good old fashioned scares. A better word is creeps...

I've heard friends say that fear is a very personal thing. That what scares one person won't necessarily scare another. I disagree...

Somethings are universally scary and with the right timing and atmosphere you can put anyone on the edge of their seat.

Lets look at some great examples of game based fear.

Left 4 Dead

For all its Romero homage gore based gaming, Left 4 Dead does have a key element of fear to it. The tension is generated by the ever present threat of a zombie rush at any time. The games randomness of zombie spawning thanks to the built in Director gives the players really no place to hide because a rush could come at any time.
I'm sure that many folks who have played Left 4 Dead over and over have become numb to its scary charms but if you recall your first campaign ya gotta admit you were shitting it!

Verdict Fear Type: Fear Of Randomness

Thief 2: The Metal Age

Creeping about hoping to god you don't get discovered by guards is pretty nervewracking stuff at the best of times. When you replace the guard with a steam driven robot that fires deadly cannonballs but talks in a creepy Droopy style mechanical voice you're pretty much hitting the fear button dead on. Even better is a whispering corpse with a sodding great mallet!
Thief took a basic premise "don't get caught" and simply upped the stakes of what might catch you and what they'll do to you when they do. Nice...

Verdict Fear Type: Fear Of Discovery

System Shock 2

Yes those Looking Glass boys again but this time they flipped the idea of Thief on it's head. Rather than the maps being filled with baddies to avoid System Shock 2 filled the map with well... er nothing...

It's you, alone on a sodding great spaceship. Well you're not alone but the creatures are very few and far between. Looking Glass realised something that no other game seems to have twigged onto. Being alone is bloody scary!
If you've ever been in a very large space alone (say a shopping mall or a school after hours) you'll know what I'm getting at. It's freakin creepy...

Verdict Fear Type: Agoraphobia?

Bad Examples Of Fear Based Gaming

Resident Evil

OK Resident Evil started the whole console survival horror genre but the execution was just plain annoying. It wasn't the environment or NPCs that created fear, it was the shitty camera and control system. In a moment of panic you could walk out of shot, change camera angle and end up running back towards the bad guy.
There is a lesson we can learn here, loss of control generates fear too!

Verdict Fear Type: Loss Of Control!


Having played through the original and the sequel I can honestly say that I didn't find it scary at all. The slow motion action was fun though!
F.E.A.R made a fatal mistake when implementing it's horror elements, it took control away from the player. Many of the flashbacks and clever screen elements that were supposed to mimic a modern horror simply didn't work because the player had no interaction with them. Once the flashback was over the game simply returned you to the same drab warehouse or whatever you were doing before. The actual maps themselves and gameplay did nothing to even make you hesitate when moving forward.

Verdict fear type: None at all!

So what have I learned from all this?

1: That if you want the player to experience fear the scares must happen around them while they are in control of the game.

2: That a constant threat of attack builds a great atmosphere in which fear can flourish

3: That knowing that something is coming for you and there's nothing you can do about it is damn scary.

4: That a creature that stalks you rather than attack is scarier than the attack itself.

5: That an empty open space with a hint of threat is scarier than a room full of creatures

6: That being hunted, for any creature is terrifying

What scares the hell out of you guys?


Frohman Zelinsky said...

The thing that scares me most is if you are walking trough a corridor and suddenly the music starts being like "YOUR GONNA PISS YOURSELF".
You open the door at the end of the hallway , the musig does "YIIKUM" and nothing scary appeared.
Then 5 seconds later the shit happens in a delay.

Aazell said...

Ahh yes, the incredibly old fake out trick they use in movies.. It's always a sodding cat in films isn't it. The cat makes the audience jump, then they relax, then BOOM, big scare.

I've never seen it in a game though.,,