Have you ever played a horror game where the atmosphere is so tense that you find yourself holding your breath? Your heart races as you crawl through the darkness, listening for any sign of the monster that surely lurks around every corner. What makes these moments so effective isn’t necessarily what you see on screen. Sure, the monster itself can be terrifying, but it’s often what you don’t see that’s really scary. Think about it: when the monster is right in front of you, you can at least see it and get an idea of its size and power. But when he hides off screen, your imagination has to fill in the details and it can be even scarier. This is why sound is so important in horror games. The squeaks and whispers coming from the dark can be just as frightening as the monster itself.
Another important factor in creating a scary atmosphere is disorientation. When you can’t find your way easily, it’s easy to panic. That’s why games like Silent Hill use fog and weird camera angles to confuse you. If you’ve played this series before, you might have noticed that every time you enter a room, the camera faces the player. This is done intentionally to limit players’ ability to gather information about the room they just entered. This forces the player to enter a potentially dangerous situation completely blind. So the next time you play a horror game, pay attention to the things you can’t see on the screen. They might just be the scariest part of the game.
Integrate these tricks into a modern video game
In my game Whispers of West Grove, I use a similar technique with the third person camera to disorient and scare the player. This was not always the case however. When I started development, I encountered an issue with the player being able to scan and instantly assess the danger of many rooms. This was due to the smaller nature of the rooms and the inability to manipulate the view due to the modernization of the third person camera. Despite this, I knew there was another way to achieve this effect and that’s where I came up with the idea of using multiple dimensions to restrict players’ ability to instantly rate a piece. I added 3 flashlight modes: Normal, UV and Off. I then programmed it so that certain mobs are only visible in certain flashlight modes. It worked perfectly because now you’re filled with a sense of unease because you’re never quite sure what’s in the room with you until you check the 3 dimensions. I also used a mix of diegetic and non-diegetic sounds to create a truly unsettling atmosphere. Non-diegetic sound is music that the character cannot hear, but the player can hear. I used this to increase the tension and make the player feel like something bad is about to happen. Diegetic sound, on the other hand, is a sound that the character can hear. It could be anything from footsteps to doors squeaking open. Diegetic sound is important in horror games because it can help the player understand what is happening in the game world and make them feel like they are really there.
In conclusion, sound design, camera angles, and other atmospheric elements can be just as important as the monster itself in creating a truly terrifying experience.