Month: December 2015

Deciding on a setting

Deciding on a setting

With my survey data in, I’ve spent time thinking on where I want to finally set my level in. I’ve had to make various considerations with this – Firstly, environments that leave something to the imagination. For example, I’d like to avoid doing a ruined house or an asylum as people immediately associate those with horror levels and will be going in expecting scares from the get-go. I’d like to be able to toy with their expectations, leaving them not knowing what to expect.

Also, as I’ll be using existing assets from Fallout: New Vegas, I’ll be limited to what assets the game actually has. For example, I’d not be able to easily make a futuristic space station as the game doesn’t have any of those assets.

With these constraints in mind, I feel like going with a Science Lab/Research setting would be ideal. As I stated in my previous blog, as people don’t inherently find it not-scary, but most place it in the middle (at a rating of 3 out of 5), it’ll allow me the most chances at designing a level I can play with expectations. Using some cliches but then adding a twist to them and trying to keep things unexpected and keep the player on their toes.

With a setting established, I should now start creating a more comprehensive survey to establish what horror elements and techniques are worth including in my level for the best effect.

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Initial survey results

Initial survey results

The Data

I’ve left the survey going for a week. The survey was only open to students of Abertay University. I’ve managed to gather 24 responses:

Ruined House





As a remainder; Those who took the survey were asked to rate what setting they found scariest, from 1 being least to 5 being most scary. The bigger the bar, the more people voted for that “rating” of each setting. Additionally, I provided an “Other” option. Not many people responded to it:


Analysing the Data

The data I received from this survey strongly supported my previous secondary research on cliches. Though people have come to expect such settings and have seen them many times before, the majority of people rated an asylum setting as the scariest, (12 people rated it at 5, most scary), followed by the hospital setting (Just under 12 rated it at a 4).

Interestingly, a ruined/abandoned house seemed to garner fairly mediocre responses – A once very effective trope seems to be dropping off. Perhaps a result of oversaturation of the setting? Resident Evil 1, an acclaimed horror game, took place in a seemingly abandoned mansion, however it was released in 1996. This could be a sign of changing perceptions amongst audiences. A Sci-fi setting seems to be viable, on average getting a higher rating than the ruined house. There is a chance this is due to the Alien franchise – Both the films and the games (particularly Alien: Isolation developed by Creative Assembly and SEGA)

A Scientific/Research lab setting also seemed to gather average ratings, getting 14 people rating it at 3. However, nobody rated it at 1 and it received some higher ones (4’s and 5’s). An interesting way to look at this is that it can be taken as a blank-slate setting. People may not immediately associate it with a horror setting and as such, you can use it to your advantage to subvert player expectations so that once you begin introducing scarier elements, the effect is amplified as it is not expected.

Other settings

Very interestingly, the few people that provided “Other” settings almost universally suggested external environments can also be scary, specifically nighttime forests. Due to the scope of this project and the assets available, I’ll have to stick to interior environments however it is important to note that horror settings don’t need to be constrained to just cramped, claustrophobic spaces but rather can be adapted to a variety of locations.

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Preparing the first survey

Preparing the first survey

With the research project now well under way, it’s time to start preparing surveys and begin my primary research into the field before I start designing my actual levels. With this in mind, the first survey is going to be an extremely short and simple one so that I get a good baseline from which to work from. The first thing you should know before creating a level is knowing the setting – Does it take place in a home? Hospital? Army base?

And as such, I’ll create a survey to find out just that. Based on my previous secondary research, cliche environments are still effective assuming a certain spin is put on it. To test that, I’ll include them as options. The way I’ll set out the survey is I’ll have various different environments with a 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest) rating scale of what people find the scariest.

With this in mind, the settings I will be putting on the survey are:

  • Ruined house
  • Hospital
  • Asylum
  • Sci-fi/futuristic
  • Research/scientific station
  • Other

I’ve included all the usual cliche environments, but obviously there is a near infinite amount of settings, so I’ll be including an “Other” option where people can type in what environments they consider scary – Any recurrent answers will be helpful.

The final survey:


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