Horror Design

Hello everyone, we’ve been hard at work finishing up the core of Shiver and for our update here we would like to take a moment to talk about what makes a game scary.

In order for us to design a great horror experience we need to understand what actually makes something scary. When asking people this question you might get a response of blood, guts and monsters popping out everywhere. While this might work for the first bit of a horror game, it can get repetitive and ends up desensitizing the player. Horror is a special category where less is definitely more. You want to maintain mystery about what is going on around the player, and what is happening to them.

Tension and fear are best created using the player’s own mind against them. We want to set up a situation where the player’s imagination can create a horrifying image of what is going on. One of the best tools for accomplishing this is a focus on sound. Whether it be the sound of a stick cracking behind someone as they walk down a dark lonely forest path, or the sound of a door being rattled when you are supposed to be alone. This is why while making Shiver, we are putting an emphasis on our sound design to make sure we take advantage of this. Another extremely useful tool in creating fear is to imply that something bad has happened through smaller visual queues. This relates back to the idea of using the player's own head against them. An example of these smaller visual queues that can lead to increasing the fear that one might have in a situation is leaving a tattered sock that is stained red with blood on the ground for them to find, or to have them come across footprints that do not belong to them.

Even though we may not want to shower the player with jump scares and gore, they still do hold an important place in a horror environment. We want make sure that while designing the game that these big scares take place at peak moments where they will have the largest impact. While designing a good horror game you have to make sure that you don’t reveal all your cards at once and spread it out through the entire experience so that the player does not get bored. It is achieving this balance of passive terror with immediate fear that creates a great horror game.