Game Development Reference
In-Depth Information
Even individual sequences or character names can be a double-edged sword. On
one hand, they can bring with them strong positive connotations and the intimation
of shared knowledge between player and game. On the other hand, if they're handled
poorly, it's easy to have the player decide that the writer's lovingly intended homage
is really a cheap knock-off.
Ultimately, it comes down to whether the writer can come up with a concrete
reason to be using that particular homage. If you can say without hesitation or regret
that there's something that using Dracula adds to the game by virtue of his being
Dracula and not any other vampire, then go for it. If not, it's best to think again.
Mind you, the benefit that is brought can be as simple as giving a little something
extra to the educated player who knows where a particular reference came from with-
out distracting the players who don't, but it must be something. Otherwise, it doesn't
bring anything to the fear quotient of your game and potentially subtracts from it
instead.
Establishing the Monster—And the Threat
If the game's going to be scary, then something in it has to do the scaring. That's the
monster's job, and it's the writer's job to demonstrate how threatening that monster
really is. A large portion of this involves leaving evidence around of just how nasty the
threat can be. Partially devoured corpses, messages smeared in blood, screams that
are abruptly cut off—all of these are tried-and-true techniques. Recorded evidence
works well, whether it be the radio relay from the soldier who's hopelessly fighting
the monster or the surveillance video that shows the critter's handiwork in suitably
blurry imagery. All of these serve the same function—to show how dangerous the
monster is. If the player doesn't believe the monster is a threat, then he's not scared
of it, and the game's horror will be lost.
Reveals and Pacing
It is impossible to talk about tension without talking about pacing. The rate at
which information is revealed—or scares are doled out—is the heartbeat under the
floorboards of any good horror game. Too fast and it gets frantic, spinning out of
control. Too slow and it's a lifeless hulk. A good technique for establishing a solid
pace is outlining. Sitting down with the mission flow and figuring out what reveals
need to be made when allows the writer to divvy up the information leading to those
reveals and to realize how much time there is to get them out there. That allows not
only for doling the information out at the right time but also a way to check on the
right amount. The target should be just enough to keep the player moving forward,
except after a major find or victory. At that point, information can be used as a
reward. Whether it's a dying threat from a defeated foe or the trove of documents it
was guarding, a reveal is a useful reward to give the player. Furthermore, it's one that
can be given without fear of affecting game balance. Learning more about the world
may help the player solve puzzles or understand the game better, but it doesn't jack
up his combat percentages.
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