“Stupid Sexy Indonesian Girls” or “DreadOut is very cool”
Ok, I shouldn’t need to explain where the title comes from, but just in the very unlikely case you don’t know, this is the explanation:
And yes, it has nothing to do with a horror game, so I should mention the title was rather inspired by a video I found on Youtube (it’s in spanish, BTW, so maybe you won’t understand a dime… the title of the video is “stupid sexy japanese girls” and then the guy says “this is a game from Japan, or some Asian country, but it’s scary!”
Aaaaanyway, let’s talk about horror here.
If you know anything about me, I think I don’t need to explain my interest in this game (or any horror game for that matter), specially if you’ve seen me writing about our own horror game, Enola, for around a year now.
You should know by now I am not the kind of player that gets scared easily. I didn’t find Amnesia particularly scary, and I think the last game that actually scared me was Fatal Frame 4 (on a side note, Fatal Frame is pretty much the reason why I decided to play DreadOut). And don’t even get me started on why the only thing that’s scary about Slender is wasting time. So when DreadOut scared me even if I was playing ON BROAD DAYLIGHT then I can say that game IS very scary.
Now, this is a game development blog (among other things) so this post would be worthless if I was just writing about how scary it is. If you’re like me, you’ve read many game reviewers or whatever write about “the formula to make a good horror game” and it usually goes something like this:
- Take away all the weapons because players that can’t defend themselves = scary game.
- Add a cool monster that can’t be killed (because you don’t have weapons) because the only option is to run = scary game.
- Use limited stamina so players can’t run forever because a monster that can catch up = scary game.
- Use on screen distortion effects to simulate “insanity” = scary game.
- Make players collect a lot of stupid pages/generators/whatever in an open environment = scary ga-wait… scratch this last one…
Well those are “the horror game commandments” and now I am going to say forget about them because a “horror game checklist” is the stupidest idea ever. Yes, really:
Take away all the weapons? In Silent Hill you have everything from pipes to grenade launchers (sorta), but that doesn’t make the game any less scary because Silent Hill is all about the twisted world and the dangerous monsters. In Fatal Frame your weapon is the Camera Obscura, no need to say more.
Add a cool monster that can’t be killed? Generally this is a cool idea to increase the sense of danger, but it’s better used as the exception, not the rule (I’m looking at you, Amnesia and Slender!). In the Fatal Frame series you always have “the one hit wonders,” ghosts that trigger a chase sequence and cannot be killed (during that chase sequence). Kirie, Sae, The Kusabi and Sakuya are one hit wonders.
Use limited stamina so players can’t run forever? Yeah, only if you’re “smart” enough to make your entire game a freaking chase sequence (again I’m looking at you, Slender!). Going back to the Fatal Frame chase sequences, you have no stamina there, and you can run GREAT distances. However, Fatal Frame likes to do their chase sequences in sorta-slowmo mode, so it actually feels like you’re not running, or running very slowly (BTW the FF girls DO run slow…). In Alan Wake you have stamina and you can’t run for more than 10 meters. I’ve died enough times to make combat in Alan Wake a source of frustration.
Use screen distortion effects? Yeah, because NES games were so scary thanks to the distortion effects…
So what’s my point here? My point is there’s no “checklist” to make a horror game. Playing DreadOut for the first time was like playing Fatal Frame for the first time: you know the premise, you know there are ghosts, but you don’t know what to expect half of the time. I know it’s very hard to judge DreadOut because the demo is really short and the second playthrough is as, if not more important, than the first one simply because it’s harder to scare players during the second playthrough (because they already know what to expect).
Even if it’s a very short demo, the thing I liked the most is how the developers tried to keep things interesting for those who replay the game. On a side note the thing I hated the most was that freaking mosquito because it moves way too fast for me to actually shoot it with the “Cellphone Obscure” (see what I did there?) to make it go away… and it almost made me rage-quit the game.
One of the things that was very refreshing during the second playthrough is that freaking ghost lady laughing like a maniac. That took me completely off guard. Also, when I “died” and was sent to that otherworld of whatever, there was a time when I saw a white cat, and another time when I saw this huge female ghost. I also got the impression that every time I died the “angel” was farther away. Those are the little things that kept me off balance and made it a very scary experience ON A SECOND PLAYTHROUGH… again during broad daylight…
Please take note, making a horror game is not about popping some weird face or whatever on the screen while you play some loud and high pitched noise. I can assure you the static sound in Silent Hill, the red filament in Fatal Frame or the red weird rim + not-so-loud high-frequency sound in DreadOut are far more horrifying than a loud blast + screen distortion from “certain” games. Making a horror game is about “planting an idea into people’s mind” (à la INCEPTION), meaning it’s about making them feel this bad vibe they can’t control.
It’s hard for me to comment on what I didn’t quite like about DreadOut because the game is still under development, because I wouldn’t like to sound like “the guy trying to tell them how to do their job.” Also remember I come from a Fatal Frame background, and I can’t help to compare one game to the other, I just want to make it clear that I’m not saying the game “needs fixing” because it doesn’t.
It’s just that some things kinda confuse me.
First of all I got the impression you can’t actually “die” in the game, because every time you get your butt kicked you’re sent to this “otherworld,” and I wonder if there will be some sort of “punishment” when you die other than restarting from the last checkpoint. There’s also the fact that the camera doesn’t seem to have a “warm up” time, so I would frenetically press the mouse key until the next shot was fired. Another thing I didn’t quite like was the lack of some sort of “distance sensor” that let’s you know when the ghost is in shooting range (in Fatal Frame the camera only “activates” when the ghost is close enough).
Also, sometimes controls can feel very clunky…
But I’m willing to forgive all of those simply because the game is very well done.
I’m very curious to see what DreadOut brings to the table, and I have very high hopes for this game. I’d even back their Indiegogo campaign now if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m broke at the moment… well…
So, going back to the unwritten list of horror game “how to’s.” There isn’t a “formula” to make a horror game. However, there are a few things that I think can help.
- It’s about what you don’t know: even if you know the premise of a game, give away just enough information so players don’t know what to expect. In Enola the premise is very simple “your girlfriend is missing and there’s a serial killer,” I’ve designed the game so that you are organically discovering clues and you actually never know what to expect from that killer (some people even jump to the conclusion that you, the player, must be the killer, even if the game gives no reason to think that may be true… or false). On the other hand, DreadOut uses a (seemingly) simple “where the hell am I?” premise, and being in a strange place full of ghosts means you never know what’s around the corner. This is not the case in “certain page-collecting games,” though because right off the bat you know something is already chasing you so it’s not a matter of wondering what’s around the corner but rather a matter of “when will that pale bastard show up?”
- It’s about the build-up: in Fatal Frame 2 you spend I don’t know how many hours learning about Sae and The Kusabi but you don’t run into any of them until after halfway through the game, and by then you really, really, REALLY don’t want to face them. I wonder how the devs will implement this in DreadOut, but I have to wait until the game is finished to find out, heh.
- It’s about what YOU know: ok this may sound weird because I first said “it’s about what you don’t know” but here I’m talking about the developer. I know nothing about Indonesian ghosts, but I see a ghost wrapped in a blanket and I can’t help to wonder WTF is that!? I see the ghost of a woman WHO HAPPENS TO BE PREGNANT and I can’t help to wonder what the hell happened to her. I’m not saying you can’t have “generic enemies” (like the generic “villagers” from Fatal Frame 2), and I’m not even saying “make cool meaningful monsters” either. I’m saying “use what you know.” These ghosts are unnerving because they are based on Indonesian culture, but you can apply that knowledge to any element of the game (like the environments from Silent Hill… yeah, I’m a big Silent Hill fan). For example, the reason why I decided not to use monstes/ghosts/brain eating zombies in Enola is because, to me, humans are far more frightening than zombies or 10 foot monsters (hence the idea behind the serial killer).
- BONUS!!! Also remember players CAN WIN in horror games… so please, please, PLEASE, stop the “well the game only has a bad and a super bad ending because, well, it’s a horror game, biatch!” nonsense… or else I will be forced you to show you this to prove bad endings are just “lazy unoriginal ways to finish a game” (unless it’s a bad ending that doesn’t suck):
Chitose!!! >_< T_T
So anyway, that’s it for this week. Feel free to check out DreadOut for yourself, you can’t go wrong with this one. Personally I can’t wait for this one to be released.