Game Development Reference
Keeping It Punchy While Delivering Information
Punchy dialogue and horror often fight against each other. Because there is so much
to explain in most horror games, the dialogue can get overstuffed. Overstuffed dia-
logue, in turn, can wreck the mood of horror that the writer is trying to deliver. If
the player has to sit back and listen for too long, they lose the intensity of fear that
leads to a good horror game experience.
The risk is always to try to pack too much information into any given line. This
can be a mistake; too much information is, well, too much. A better approach is to
list out the information that needs to be doled out and to give a maximum of one
to two points per line. Trying to cram in more than that is self-defeating, as the
useful information gets lost. “The creature is an unholy blood-drinking spawn of
Vlad Dracul himself, and only with a wooden stake through the very heart will you
lay the beast to rest!” is one way; “It's a bloodsucker. Pack your stakes and aim for
How to Deliver Fear
Delivering fear is in large part allowing the player to scare himself. Telling the player
how scary something is—how horrifying the monster, how dangerous the situation,
how mind-blowing the insanity—ultimately ends up as a challenge, one the game
will always lose to the player. Instead, the writer should seek to engage the player
in a cooperative agreement with the player to scare him, encouraging him to allow
himself to believe in and discover the horror himself. After all, the player wants to be
scared. That's why he bought the game in the first place.
So instead of announcing that there's a titanic hell-spawn underneath the house,
it's better to hint at something strange going on. Having some characters deny the
strangeness helps, as do the disappearances of helpful characters, the refusal of others
to talk about what's going on, and references to legend or history as opposed to
straight-out “on the nose” description. A creature that is described in detail is not a
monster; it's a problem to be assessed and solved. A shadowy presence lurking in the
fringes, to be discovered slowly and at the worst possible time, is much more likely
to be genuinely frightening.
How to Make the Character's Actions Seem Believable under the
It goes without saying that characters in horror fictions of all sorts seem, in many
cases, to be unbelievably dumb. After all, they do things like voluntarily offer servi-
tude to genocidal monsters who want to wipe out all humanity, ignore the mounting
evidence of monster activity to say, “But that's impossible!” right up until the mo-
ment they get chomped on, and go down in the basement alone, often right after
having had sex.
This is true, and yet it is the writer's responsibility to make sure that characters
don't seem dumb, even when they do dumb things.