Blog

Creating a scary situation

Creating a scary situation

Following on from my previous blog post, I want to look into how to create a scary situation so that I can translate that information into my level designs, and finally into playable levels.

Continuing on from Mike Birkhead’s piece on Gamasutra, he states that during the presentation of the level, there are two main concepts; Something that is unsettling and something that is threatening. Something unsettling being something that is close to normality, however distorted in a fashion to throw the player off; Whereas something that is threatening is a hazard, such as enemies, dangerous environments and the like.

My thoughts on this: It seems that focusing on the unsettling would be more effective in evoking fear in a player than focusing on something threatening. My justification for this is that in a threatening situation, the player would generally have an immediate response or reaction to something: For example, say the player finds a scary enemy. The player is scared for a brief moment before realising that they either have to deal with the situation there (By either killing it, hiding or escaping) or be killed. It’s a situation that can be “solved” quickly in most cases, whereas something unsettling would remain with the player, potentially evoking other emotions that together could stress them and increase the tension in the scene.

There are many methods of creating a scary situation:

Building suspense – The perception of danger even though there may be no actual danger. This can be established by unexplained occurrences, such as a previously open door in an otherwise empty room suddenly being found closed.

Startling – The easiest way to creating a scary situation, these encompass jump-scares, things like lights going out, sudden sounds and so on.

Tension – When a player struggles with what choice to take when faced with a threat. If something is coming after the player, does the player run and hope to get away? Does the player fight, with the risk of their attack going awry? These stressful decisions cause tension and keep the player on edge.

And finally, as mentioned earlier, having an empathic connection with the character/protagonist – Having the player care for them, intensifies these feelings. This is useful to know, however developing a connection with the character will be beyond the scope of this project as I will be focusing explicitly on the level design aspects of this.

Thanks to the following articles for the valuable insight:

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/126963/Opinion_How_To_Make_A_Scary_Game.php

 

Posted by thomasm in Creative Research Blog, 0 comments
How do you scare a player?

How do you scare a player?

Seeing as my research project is about creating the ideal scary level, it goes without saying that I must look into what techniques and elements come together to scare someone. Admittedly, last week I jumped the gun looking into lighting in level design.

Firstly, I feel it’s important to collate and distil various factors people consider make up a scary level. My reasoning for this is that if I can discover these individual factors, I can create a survey displaying these elements, and ask those who take the survey to rate, from highest to lowest, what scares them the most in games. With that knowledge at hand, I’d be able to use the information as a framework and integrate more of the scarier aspects into the final level.

“Create scary situations for an Avatar with whom the player feels an Empathetic Connection.” – Mike Birkhead, Lead Designer, Section Studios

In an opinion piece written on Gamasutra, a respected Game Development website, Mike Birkhead compares horror games to horror films, and explains that something horror games rarely get right compared to films is that horror games rarely manage to successfully create an emotional connection between player and character, and as such players may not fear for the protagonist/their avatar and their protective instinct may not necessarily kick in.

Birkhead then argues that the feeling of fear doesn’t come from the location or a character, but rather from the situation the player/protagonist would find themselves in and the overall context of the situation, and presents an aquarium as an example. He says that you may be staring through a window, looking at sharks in the shark tank, and all is well and normal. However, if you found yourself on the other side of the window and bleeding, knowing the sharks would be drawn towards you, the entire mood would change though the setting remains the same. It’s an interesting way to think about it, and as such I’ll have to investigate how to create a scary situation.

Thanks to the following pages for the valuable insight:

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/126963/Opinion_How_To_Make_A_Scary_Game.php

Posted by thomasm in Creative Research Blog, 0 comments

Level Design Theory: A look at lighting

Lighting is a very complex discipline spread across many medias, not just restricted to games. Art, theatre, film and games are just some mediums that highlight the importance of lighting, and lighting alone could be the focus of an entire research project due to all that goes into it. However, as this project is looking at the overall elements that go into building a successful horror level for a game, we will try and narrow down specific points and analyse them.

Creating effective lighting

Before looking into other aspects (Such as guiding a player with lighting), it is important to understand how to create a level with “nice” (Or effective) lighting. Lighting can make or break environments, and is one of the most important tools available to a designer to set the mood of a scene.

Light sources

More often than not, to create a believable environment (To create a more immersive experience for the player) one of the key elements is for a light to always have a light source. To demonstrate this, I’ve created two test scenes in Fallout: New Vegas’ editor, the Garden of Eden Creation Kit (Developed by Bethesda Game Studios and Obsidian Entertainment), using exactly the same pieces and the same shape, except one has light sources:

LightScene

(Screenshot from within the editor)

And the same scene rendered in real time within the engine:

Hallway with light nodes placed, however no light source meshes used.

Hallway with light nodes placed, however no light source meshes used.

The same scene, however light sources have been added (However the actual light emitters themselves are the same and have not been edited)

The same scene, however light sources have been added (However the actual light emitters themselves are the same and have not been edited)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Colour variation

We have lights and light sources, however the scene is still rather bland. Having the same colour light throughout results in a repetitive level and could lead to the player becoming bored, or end up hiding important details in the level. With this in mind, mixing colours throughout a level is a fantastic way to draw attention to specific areas, or simply create a more engaging environment. Equally, however, you need to take care not to “overdo” it, as too much colour could result in a lack of cohesion and result in a jarring scene.

The same scene with different lighting setups,

The same scene with different lighting setups.

I went ahead and created two variations based on the previous environment, with different lighting setups. I presented the image to various people and asked: “Which scene do you feel presents the best lighting?”

The majority preferred B (As expected), with C being second and A being third. However, a very good point was made about A. One person stated that were the lights slightly brighter in A, they’d prefer that, as the alternating lights didn’t seem realistic and in fact went as far as breaking potential immersion. Expanding on this, it seems that the lights must serve some sort of (perceived) purpose in the scene as opposed to just being placed, such as complimenting props.

Thanks to the following articles for providing valuable insight:

http://www.moddb.com/tutorials/lighting-in-game-environments-the-hows-and-whys

https://www.smu.edu/~/media/Site/guildhall/Documents/Theses/Brownmiller_Thesis.ashx?la=en

Posted by thomasm in Creative Research Blog, 0 comments
Software Usage

Software Usage

As discussed in the first presentation, as my research project will be focusing entirely on the design of a level (And not asset creation), I will be making use of existing game assets, giving full credit to the owners of said assets. The way I’ll be doing this is creating my levels as mods (Or, modifications) for Bethesda Softworks’ and Obsidian Entertainment’s Fallout: New Vegas.

By creating a mod, I won’t have to spend time setting up core mechanics or creating assets as I’ll be able to build off the existing game. The only drawback to this is that the mod(s) can not function as stand-alone builds, and must be run from within the game. Additionally, due to the nature of making a mod, some game functions may be hard-coded and I’ll have no control over them, however as I will be focusing solely on level design, the impact of that will be negligible.

With that said, the software I’ll be using is:

  1. Fallout: New Vegas, where my levels will be run from.
  2. The Garden of Eden Creation Kit, the content creation tools for Fallout: New Vegas, a free tool available to everyone that owns a copy of Fallout: New Vegas.
  3. Nvidia Shadowplay: Screencapture software to record footage of my level. As I won’t be able to submit a build (As that’d require the game too), I’ll have to record it.
Posted by thomasm in Creative Research Blog, 0 comments
Feedback from the first presentation

Feedback from the first presentation

After presenting, the main feedback I was given on my presentation and the project as a whole was to not just look at horror elements in games, but to also look into certain films (Such as Alien) and note how they evoke fear, and why it’s so effective. They suggested I then incorporate some of those elements into my final level as well as elements from horror games.

Posted by thomasm in Creative Research Blog, 0 comments
Preparations for the first Presentation

Preparations for the first Presentation

In preparation for my first presentation, I finalised my vision statement:

I want to look at level design in the context of horror levels. How can you approach level design to facilitate a scary game?

Planning out the presentation, I decided a good way to open it would be to explain the field I was researching – What actually is level design?

A common misconception is that level design is “just” drawing out a level, and then have it implemented by a programmer. The truth is level design is a long process centred around iteration. It begins with a concept – What sounds like it’d be fun? Once a concept’s been settled on, the level designer would then create various designs, incorporating level design theory and considerations for flow.

Once a design has been agreed on, the level designer would then talk with artists on the team and discuss the assets needed to build the level. Once the artists finalise the assets, they’d pass them on to the level designer who’d then begin constructing the level within the game engine.

Following on from that, I’d then go into the specifics of what I’ll be investigating (The usage of lighting, layout, pacing, ambient effects and sounds), how I’d investigate it (By playing and watching gameplay of select acclaimed games, and noting down the elements I mentioned prior) and the games I’d be investigating.

I’d also demonstrate some concept levels I made as an example, as I’d create various levels on paper as part of the project before building a playable prototype.

Finally, I’ll explain what I hope my final product will be – A playable level capable of evoking fear in the player, incorporating elements from my research findings.

Posted by thomasm in Creative Research Blog, 0 comments
Introduction to the Research Project

Introduction to the Research Project

Hi! I’m Thomas David Mitchell, student number 1303497 – Welcome to my Creative Research blog for my 3rd year Game Design and Production Management module.

For my research topic, I have decided to conduct a level design-centric project; Specifically, how do level designers create effective horror levels in games? By utilising an array of different research methods, including:

  • Studying level design theory
  • Watching and playing acclaimed horror games and noting where, how and why certain areas evoke fear
  • Creating questionnaires asking people what they class as “scary” in games

The final aim of the project would then be to use the gathered information to prototype and create a playable horror level, incorporating feedback from testers along the way. The level will be created using assets from existing games (With credit being given) in order to be able to quickly prototype and iterate them.

My reasoning for wanting to investigate this is due to the fact that I have a huge interest in level design, and find that this would be a fantastic opportunity to further my knowledge in the field and the associated theory.

Posted by thomasm in Creative Research Blog, 0 comments
Creating a scary situation

Creating a scary situation

Following on from my previous blog post, I want to look into how to create a scary situation so that I can translate that information into my level designs, and finally into playable levels.

Continuing on from Mike Birkhead’s piece on Gamasutra, he states that during the presentation..

Posted by thomasm in Creative Research Blog, 0 comments
How do you scare a player?

How do you scare a player?

Seeing as my research project is about creating the ideal scary level, it goes without saying that I must look into what techniques and elements come together to scare someone. Admittedly, last week I jumped the gun looking into lighting in level design.

Firstly, I feel it’s important..

Posted by thomasm in Creative Research Blog, 0 comments

Level Design Theory: A look at lighting

Lighting is a very complex discipline spread across many medias, not just restricted to games. Art, theatre, film and games are just some mediums that highlight the importance of lighting, and lighting alone could be the focus of an entire research project due to all that goes into it. However,..

Posted by thomasm in Creative Research Blog, 0 comments
Software Usage

Software Usage

As discussed in the first presentation, as my research project will be focusing entirely on the design of a level (And not asset creation), I will be making use of existing game assets, giving full credit to the owners of said assets. The way I’ll be doing this is creating my levels as mods..

Posted by thomasm in Creative Research Blog, 0 comments
Feedback from the first presentation

Feedback from the first presentation

After presenting, the main feedback I was given on my presentation and the project as a whole was to not just look at horror elements in games, but to also look into certain films (Such as Alien) and note how they evoke fear, and why it’s so effective. They suggested I then incorporate some..

Posted by thomasm in Creative Research Blog, 0 comments
Preparations for the first Presentation

Preparations for the first Presentation

In preparation for my first presentation, I finalised my vision statement:

I want to look at level design in the context of horror levels. How can you approach level design to facilitate a scary game?

Planning out the presentation, I decided a good way to open..

Posted by thomasm in Creative Research Blog, 0 comments
Introduction to the Research Project

Introduction to the Research Project

Hi! I’m Thomas David Mitchell, student number 1303497 – Welcome to my Creative Research blog for my 3rd year Game Design and Production Management module.

For my research topic, I have decided to conduct a level design-centric project; Specifically, how do level designers create..

Posted by thomasm in Creative Research Blog, 0 comments