Game Development Reference
is to find the underlying reason for the cliche and attempt to come up with another
method of producing it. Mindless repetition of old-school stuff will rarely produce
11.9 In-Game Artifacts
One of the staples of the horror game is the in-game artifact. Diaries, voicemail
messages, ancient tomes of nameless evil—they're all integral to the genre. By this
point, players expect to find them and to find them useful sources of information.
In practical terms, this means that the writer on a horror game can expect to have to
write not only the game dialogue but also a positive raft of supporting documents.
On the bright side, these in-game artifacts provide text-only room for the writer to
really stretch out and go wild. They're often pure writing with few limitations, a
rarity in game development.
Diaries in all their many forms are the most venerable form of in-game artifact in the
genre, going straight back to horror's literary roots. Most in-game diaries show a pat-
tern of discovery, followed by increasing madness, until a final, shrieking conclusion
that's often ended mid-sentence. The implausibility of this aside, diaries also provide
an excellent method of providing plenty of information wrapped in flavor text.
Writing diary entries is in large part a matter of voice and pacing. The voice of
the diary's in-game author needs to be consistent and believable, while the pace at
which the diarist—and thus the reader—uncovers the horror needs to be carefully
Note that diaries don't just have to be diaries. They can be lab notes, log en-
tries, patient observations, or any other form of serial narrative that serves the same
Ancient Tomes of Evil
An ancient tome of evil is another standby of the genre and is typically trickier to
write than a diary, in large part because the temptation to go over the top is much
greater. An ancient tome of evil serves as an authority, a primary source on whatever
horror is skulking about, and it usually comes encrusted with age and pseudo-archaic
phrasing. Again, the best way to write one of these books is to outline what exactly
it needs to communicate and then build the framework of the artifact around that.
Perhaps the most frightening thing about horror game writing is the prospect of
having to do it, and do it well. After all, good horror game writing means establishing
and maintaining a mood of fear on top of all of the other tasks of good game writing,
none of which magically go away once the horror comes out. However, through