The scary horror game "that wasn’t really that scary"
Enola is a weird game, and I have to be the first one to say that. I began working on this game with the idea of making a “scary horror game” but the more I worked on it the more it became a nice but bittersweet love story between two girls. Logical convention says this was completely wrong because, instead of making the scariest horror game I could make, it was turning out to be “less and less scary.” However, it makes a little more sense when you consider (why) my biggest influences were Silent Hill and (to a slightly lesser degree) Fatal Frame.
Silent Hill is all about dealing with the protagonist’s past and learning stuff, and while it has combat it is not about “scary stuff after scary stuff.” Fatal Frame is a little different, because it’s also very story-driven but the gameplay makes it extremely scary. Silent Hill ends when you make the protagonist face whatever issues he/she has, but with bittersweet results. The game doesn’t usually offer a “good conclusion” to the story, but rather a “not so bad” ending (the ending in Silent Hill 3 comes to mind). Fatal Frame is always about redemption, in one way or another, because you always try to put and end to a curse and help the spirit of the one causing it.
But “the rebirth of horror games” was all about bad endings and non-stop “scary stuff after scary stuff.” For good or ill, many times a horror game is about how much it makes you shake or jump. I think I could have done the same, but the final product would not have been what it is now. At least to me I think the game ended up being better because, depending on what ending you get, you find there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
I mean, IMO there’s enough material in Enola to make a “scary stuff after scary stuff” when you consider one of the main elements is related to how scary and evil humans can be. Since Enola is a psychological horror game, everything you see is a reflection of someone’s mind, so I could have gone 100% Silent Hill and use monsters to represent everything in the game. Implied sexual themes in Enola could even give me a free pass to pull out my own Pyramid Head-like scene, or come up with my own set of “pervert monsters going after you with obvious intentions.”
That would have brought the game a lot of over-critical-critics, because gaming-people usually question almost-any kind of sexual content in games but are perfectly OK with murder, mutilation and providing a gazillion (male) enemies to shoot because… fun…
But we are not here to talk about THAT, of course… so back to the subject…
Anyway, over-critical-critics were not really my concerns, and the reason why I didn’t pull out my “Pyramid Head-like-pervert-monsters going after you with obvious intentions” was because it was not compatible with the game I was trying to make: dealing with your loved one’s past and traumatic experiences, and showing there might be light at the end of the tunnel (if you happen to get the good ending, of course).
Considering the plot, there’s no logical reason why there would be monsters (meaning weird-looking things) trying to kill you or ripping your head off. From a gameplay perspective, it would be good, but no matter how it was presented, you end up with weird monsters trying to kill you because… reasons…
On the other hand, while adding the “monsters going after you…” relentlessly might have made the game scarier because they would keep players on their toes, I’m still not sure it would have been good because, at the end of the day, it is not the player character’s story, and it’s not about scaring the player character, but the girlfriend’s story and her struggles and fears.
I speak about “monsters” on this post, I specifically mean weird-looking-creatures-or-humans that are unpleasant to look at (deformed humans, human/animal hybrids, ghosts, nightmarish or pseudo-Lovecraftian creatures, and so on). Also, this doesn’t mean the playable character is never attacked. In fact, she is attacked a few times (by a non-weird-non-deformed human being), and it’s somewhat violent, but it’s not graphic or gory (she is punched, pulled, kicked, but she doesn’t get her head chopped off).
So, the game became “less and less scary” because it became more focused on the story about two girls, and less on being a game about “show scary stuff and MOAR scary stuff.” Was that the best choice? I think it was.
Besides, I can always try to make a more traditional horror game dealing with more trivial subjects that can be used for shock value, like murder, mutilation or shooting a gazillion (male) enemies. After all, nobody will complain if I just come up with a “Hostel-like” or “Hellraiser-like” videogame and use torture porn for shock value (and I think people would actually like it a lot).
If you are curious what this scary-but-not-so-scary game is about, you can get Enola on Steam.