This week, I wanted to try my hand at a horror game. Horror is a genre of any medium that I’ve always had a soft spot for, and as I’ve never tried to create an experience like that, it finally felt like the time to take up that challenge.
I very much enjoy the type of horror games that create uncomfortable and slightly claustrophobic situations. To achieve this feeling in my game, I wanted to create a situation that required you to use your ears instead of your eyes to determine where the danger was located. I envisioned a dark environment where you had limited sight to achieve your goal of getting somewhere and very much wanted to place the player in situations where their movement was limited (thus, creating a type of tension when trying to escape from whatever dangerous creature was around you).
What went right
About halfway through the week, I had a bit of a crisis of faith about my game. I had these ideas in my head (as explained above), but couldn’t quite place my finger on the ‘game’ portion of it. Luckily, I have a wonderful Lisa around to talk me through my design process. She sent me over this extremely helpful article, and guided me through my thoughts until I was able to settle on a mechanic that made the game feel more complete. I settled on creating an environment where you had to locate a moving object (a rat which held a key), and keep your flashlight on it for a certain number of seconds. At the same time, the enemy creature that was moving around would only be able to sense where you were while your flashlight was on. This created a nice tension between your ability to complete the goal as well as your ability to keep the enemy creature away from you – you had to trade off one for the other constantly.
What went wrong
Even though this game is mostly played with super limited sight, I think it loses a lot having no real graphics. This is a 3D game, and the best graphics that I could create on my own were spheres and capsules. I believe that having an actual creature that you see once you finally turn on your flashlight and gain visibility would have improved the horror quality of this game a lot.
What I learned
I learned a lot about creating tension and balancing the various components of your game. Utilizing the flashlight as both a negative experience as well as the only way to complete you task created a really interesting tradeoff. More generally, I learned that when working on a game, the most elegant solution often feels the best. When I was thinking through all of the various ways to implement this game, I continuously threw extra items, rules, and mechanics at it to make it feel real. It wasn’t until I stripped that all away to focus on just one major gameplay element that it all felt like it could come together in one cohesive experience.