Game Development Reference
spouts off the protagonist's life story and 16 ways to kill a man with a spork is just as
monstrous, just as much an exaggeration as the Giger-esque nightmare that stalked
the decks of the Nostromo .
Identifying the characteristic or characteristics to blow out of all proportion is
one essential part of making the monster scary. Along with that, however, is mak-
ing sure that its actions, moves, words, and appearance match and support that base
wrongness. That's where the job of monstermaking becomes collaboration with con-
cept artists, animators, designers, and the rest of the team, to make sure that all of
the elements to produce a good scare are all available and incorporated.
11.6 Plot and Payoff
Narrative, particularly the payoff of the narrative, is key in horror games. If the
payoff at the end doesn't match the buildup throughout the game, then the letdown
is tremendous and the ultimate effect of the game suffers irreparably. Horror works
by continuously ratcheting up fearful tension past the point where it is comfortable,
ultimately leading to a (hopefully) scary release. There's a reason the monster is less
effective if it lumbers out in Act I, Scene I. The stage needs to be set properly. The
ominous hints at its true nature need to be delivered. Its hapless victims need to
be displayed. Evidence of its presence—creaking floorboards, distant cries, vague
glimpses in the distance, fuzzy video footage—need to ratchet up the player's tension
level to where the actual appearance of the monster is a form of relief, a chance
for the player finally to act. If the buildup exceeds the release, then the player is
disappointed. If the release exceeds the buildup, then the player is unprepared and
overwhelmed. In either case, tuning the scenario is vital.
Making Sure It's Scary
There are people in this world who are terrified of, among other things, the number
thirteen, standardized tests, and pickles. In other words, what's scary to one person—
or the writer—may not be scary to the audience at large. Since fear is such a tricky
emotion to generate and sustain, it pays to double- and triple-check the response to
the writing, in order to ensure that the scary is really there.
Originality versus Homage
Using classic horror tropes and figures has drawbacks as well as benefits. The main
benefit is that everyone knows how, say, Dracula works and who he is, and so the
writer can get straight to the point without having to waste a lot of exposition on who
the guy in the opera cape with the bad overbite is supposed to be. On the other hand,
drawing on that knowledge means actively engaging the player's knowledge base,
instead of the character's, and this can break the player's immersion immediately.
They've seen it before, they know how it's supposed to go, and as a result, they're
thinking about the last time they saw that trope instead of thinking about the game.