There is nothing preventing us from doing a scare when reading a document.
I don't think I was backpedaling. I just think because of our setting, we get a little more leeway. I disagree that we shouldn't remind them that it was just a dream. I think the dream feeling of the levels like Final Descent worked really well in the last game. There is no way they could believe that they would walk down a staircase inside and end up in a graveyard outside. I think we are on the same page though. I think if there is something out of place perhaps there should be a reason why it is there.
One of the ideas I was toying with for Neverending Nightmares was the idea that you had to work to find a photograph that would completely change the nightmare. Because your mind was trying to block that thought, the photograph would be nested deep in the dream. I think stuff like that can work in Devastated Dreams. Maybe you find a photograph in the heart of the jungle and that triggers something new.
I've read about the fake out scare, but I'm not sure how many "jump scares" I want to have. It is a good suggestion and something I'll think about. I appreciate the feedback.
I definitely think the writing is going to be more challenging this time because I have to come up with a good story, and then tell the story in an entertaining way that fits in with the gameplay. I always look at Gone Home as a great example of this. I thought the story was just "ok", but the way they told the story was brilliant. Considering most game stories are awful, I think it really made Gone Home stand out. That's sort of the approach I'm looking at. As you explore the space, you find out more about the world outside the dream, which is the cause of the dreams you are having. Pacing the elements and giving just enough information to keep people interested without spoiling surprises is going to be tough.
However, there are some aspects that are easier. The story is character driven, so I sort of took Tim Schafer's approach (he mentioned making mock facebook pages for the characters in Psychonauts, so he could know the characters well). I have a really good understanding of who I want the characters to be, so when writing for them, it is easy to make decisions about what they'd say/write. Little touches like that can contribute to the player's impressions of the characters. Neverending Nightmares didn't have characters - they were symbolic. What does Thomas like? What does Gabby like? Are they nice or mean? There aren't answers to this questions because they are supposed to be something you can project your thoughts and feelings on - just like the silent protagonist trope like Gordon Freeman or Link. Thomas is you (or perhaps a version of me only colored by mental illness), and Gabby is supposed to be the character Thomas longs for, but in the nightmare he can never get her or she ends up being twisted to be malicious.
If you don't want to give ANY more personality to them than that, how do you write believable dialog? I don't think you can, which is why the conversations are short and unnatural. You can take that as a positive or a negative, but if you don't like the writing, it was deliberately awkward.