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Little tiny subtle things.

Posted: Mon Oct 07, 2013 7:44 pm
by Grabthehoopka
Something that I was thinking about recently that I think not enough horror games do is make little changes that the player probably isn't going to notice.

What made me realize it is Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, which I thought was brilliant, even though I know it's not everyone's cup of tea. On my first playthrough, which was slow and fraught with dread, I felt like the machine parts of the game were alien and disturbing. Apart from the audio and visual design making it seem like the machine is a big, living, monster, there was something disquieting and disorienting about them that I couldn't put my finger on, and it got worse and worse as the game went on.

I didn't realize what exactly was going on until I came to an area that was basically a hub area, with three hallways, each leading to an area that contained 1 of 3 puzzle pieces that you needed to finish a puzzle in the hub. I went down one hall, got the thing, came back, and went through a door back to the hub area. I tried to re-orient myself to keep track of which hallways I had gone down, because I didn't want to waste time and safety going down a hallway I'd already done, and I circled the room, and counted two hallways. Confused, I walked around the area maybe 10 times, counting and re-counting, but there were only two hallways. The corner that I was positive I had just came out of through a doorway was a blank wall. And, worse yet, I could swear that one of the hallways I'd yet to go down was the one that I had previously entered, only now it was a different hallway. And the door I had just come out of and had now disappeared was on the opposite side of the hub area from that hallway, and despite me leaving that hallway from the same way I had entered it, it ended with a doorway back to the hub, and I didn't enter through a door. It was then that I realized that those crafty little turds had rearranged the entire layout of the area without me noticing.

Upon my second playthrough, I kept an eye out, and sure enough, they rearranged the layouts of rooms several times over the course of the game. It's more subtle early on, where they'll flip a room around or change the path you go down when you backtrack through it, and it gets more and more obvious as the game goes on.

Couple that with the pig masks that mysteriously appear in the environment throughout the course of the whole game, and I think that's why the game felt so disturbing. Even if it's something I didn't notice, my brain and body could still tell that something was wrong.

Now. Tangent over. In Neverending Nightmares, I think you have an opportunity to do something similar. Not only with the levels, which you obviously already did in the demo with the hallway that seems to loop back on itself, and judging from some let's play videos I watched on youtube, I'm far from the only one who felt like they were going in circles.

But the scariest part of the whole demo for me was the rooms with the dolls and the toy soldiers. And not because porcelain dolls are creepy. Which they totally are, but still. But it was because of the art style. Because of the way you chose to present the game, the animated game assets are completely indistinguishable from the pre-rendered backgrounds. Because of this, when I first went in the room with the toy soldiers, I crept through it so slowly because I thought something in the environment was going to move. I breathed a sigh of relief and went in the next room, which was filled with porcelain dolls, and promptly did a 180 and went back to the toy soldier room. I eventually explored the doll room, but I was still terrified, anticipating some jump scare that never came. And worse, when I went through the area again, I saw the doll in the hallway leaning against the chair, and I wondered if that had been there before and I just didn't notice it. I went in the rooms again, still anticipating a jump scare, and wondered if everything was in the same place it was before - I had been a little preoccupied last time to keep tabs on where everything was, and I couldn't shake the feeling that something was different the second time around that I couldn't put my finger on. And I was paying extra close attention to that doll with the veil covering her face.

Evidentally, I was just scaring myself. But that is a good thing, a very good thing. What I'm saying is, you've created an art style where the things that are supposed to move are indistinguishable from the things that aren't supposed to move. Take advantage of that.

Also, riddle the game with little, subtle things. Even if you don't think the player will ever notice, like the Munch Scream faces on the floorboards that you mentioned, don't be afraid to put it in anyways. I'm not saying have rooms with dolls and the player walks through and a doll jumps up and says aboogyboogyboo and a very scary 9,000 decibel orchestral sting(tm) happens, but if something in the background moved just a tiny bit, with no accompanying music or sound to draw attention to it, but didn't do anything, or if you change some things that you don't think the player will notice, I think you're going to unsettle a lot of people.

Re: Little tiny subtle things.

Posted: Mon Oct 07, 2013 8:51 pm
by Lachian
Very cool idea. The thing that unnerved me in the doll room was the rocking horse. What would have unnerved me more was if I could click on it (not as a colored item) and it stops moving...for a while, like 3 - 5 seconds and it just starts moving again.

Or little things like if you click on one of the dolls it blinks or moves its head toward the screen.

The thing with horror is it is the things you don't see that are the worst, which is why the old movie Psycho is still so creepy. I know it sounds like they could be the Easter eggs that others talked about in the kickstarter so maybe it is the same idea. I am thinking something that players will already click on it anyway and if some do small things how much scarier. Of course you wouldn't want a ton of these in there maybe twenty total so they are unexpected.

Also like the idea of the rooms or backgrounds changing after a key event, ie picking up the candle or walking through the bathroom. Bathroom on the way back through now has the shower curtain drawn, was it open when I went through last time? Do I dare click on it?


Re: Little tiny subtle things.

Posted: Tue Oct 08, 2013 7:50 am
by matt
Thanks! That is very good advice. We'll keep that in mind when making the rest of the game.


Re: Little tiny subtle things.

Posted: Wed Oct 09, 2013 10:41 am
by gagaplex
I had a similar experience in my Let's Play while walking back with the candle. Unlike some other people, I hadn't noticed the skull-wallpaper in the manniquin-room upon first entering it, so when I spotted it upon my return... I thought the room had changed at first. I simply wasn't sure whether or not it had always been that way. Reviewing the video, it became obvious that it had always looked that way, but I'd still love to see small, subtle changes to happen for real like that!

Re: Little tiny subtle things.

Posted: Thu Oct 10, 2013 8:25 am
by matt
Yeah, I think it's a good idea, and something we should add. It is pretty cool that even though we aren't really doing that, people "feel" like we are. I think that's the best type of horror where your mind fills in the terrifying details.

I appreciate the feedback! :)

Re: Little tiny subtle things.

Posted: Wed Jul 23, 2014 1:55 pm
by Zigg
Talking about subtle (intended or not ?) effects, I found myself staring at dark corners and their ever-changing shapes, wondering if what I saw were glowing eyes in the distance, or just random sparks of light between the moving tip-pen shadows. The fact that certain rooms _do_ contain "living shadows" and some do not really added to my puzzlement.

Re: Little tiny subtle things.

Posted: Wed Jul 23, 2014 3:41 pm
by matt
That is intentional. I spent a lot of time on the darkness effect, and I wanted to give it character. I think having this oppressive blackness surrounding you that feels alive is really scary and a good analogy to what the world can feel like when struggling with depression.

I'm glad your enjoying the game!