Game Development Reference
thing. After all, there's no better way to prove that the monster is, indeed, mon-
strous than by having it chow down on a hapless sidekick or two. But it is a genre
convention that can easily slip into parody or cliche if not watched carefully.
11.3 Defining What Needs to Be Written
The writer's first goal on a horror game is defining what actually needs to be written.
In large part, this consists of figuring out, in conjunction with the rest of the team,
what needs to be done to support the horrific nature of the game: how many in-game
artifacts are needed to support the gameplay, how much character design needs to be
done, how much backstory needs to be written, and so forth.
It's always a good idea to start with the world backstory and integrating that with
the gameplay so that the secret history supports the features. If the game's central
conceit involves a body-switching mechanic, the story needs to support and empha-
size that by building a world wherein body-switching is believable and consistent. If
the horror is something that suddenly mutates allied NPCs into monsters, then the
world needs to provide an explanation for why and how this happens, in a way that
matches the gameplay.
11.4 Mood, Tone, and Atmosphere
Then again, the setting needs to match the gameplay for pretty much any game.
What, then, makes writing a horror game special?
The answer is fear. The writer on a horror game has an added responsibility.
In addition to supporting gameplay, creating an engaging story, and writing good
dialogue, the horror game writer must help create and sustain a feeling of fear. And
that means working with mood and tone in a way that can be different from other
games. Military jargon and modern weaponry are generally what's needed to define
a tactical shooter in the minds of the audience; keeping a mood of fear going in a
game can be sometimes a little trickier.
Setting and Backstory
In addition to working with the game, the backstory and setting need to support the
possibility of fear. That means more than just creaky architecture, fog, and deserted
streets. It means building the possibility of bad things happening into the space and
the context. The history of the horrific events of the game needs to be supported, so
that there's a solid answer to the question “Why is this happening here, of all places?”
Silent Hill used to be a “sacred place,” Innsmouth is the closest town to Devil's Reef
and the Deep One colony beneath it, and so forth.
Saying Enough—Or Too Much
Horror thrives on understatement. E. B. White's famous statement about dissecting
a joke—that it's a lot like dissecting a frog; you may understand what makes it tick,