Game Development Reference
fighting game music with Mozart's Lacrimosa . Play the Happy Days theme
song over Doom . Drop Britney Spears over a survival horror game like
Dead Space 2 . The results can be weird, unsettling, or funny.
Ice cream and pizza are both great, but they're not so great together. In
the same way, some kinds of emotions that work individually don't coexist
easily because they're antagonistic toward each other.
For example, shared social enjoyment is often harmed by adding ruth-
less skill-based competition. Intense competition draws all of a player's at-
tention as he struggles as hard as he can to win, but laughing with friends
requires us to relax. This conflict is why friends playing skill-based games
will often agree to play only “for fun,” thus turning down the skill inten-
sity of the game to make room for the social experience they really want.
There's a fine line between juxtaposition and antagonistic emotions.
Sometimes attempts at juxtaposition fall flat when the two feelings just
end up annihilating each other. Other times, what seems like an antago-
nistic combination can squirt out an entirely different feeling.
For example, a friend of mine had this experience in a shooter: near
the end of the game was a key cutscene of the death of a major character.
It was a tragic moment that obviously attempted to pull at the player's
heartstrings. The game transitioned back into gameplay. Upon picking up
some ammunition, the character exclaimed, “Sweet!” My friend burst out
laughing because the emotion of tragedy was inadvertently forced too close
to the emotion of manly confidence. The result was a ridiculous mixture
that turned into laughter—an unintended but oddly entertaining result.
The word atmosphere is used when the emotions of the experience aren't
focused around specific events, but rather permeate the whole experience
in a spread-out haze. It is the emotional background that we only notice
when nothing more salient is happening. Stop and wait in a game and just
feel for a minute. You'll discover the game's atmosphere.
Some games de-emphasize the emotional punches of individual events
and instead focus on growing a thick atmosphere and letting the player
sink into it. For example, LIMBO , DEFCON , and Flower are atmosphere
games. Usually the atmosphere in such games is serene and contempla-
tive, though it can be given either a positive or negative flavor: Flower is
about drifting through fluffy clouds in a dreamscape, while DEFCON is
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