Weekend Prototype – The Horror!

Another prototype? Seriously? Don’t you have like 3 other things you should be finishing?

YES! Fine. I do. Shut up.

Making prototypes is fun, and also a great way to learn new frameworks. Armed with 2D Toolkit and 2D Lights, I decided to lay the ground work for a horror game, and you know… maybe I should give it more time.

I love horror games, but I’m also terrible at them. I can’t play Silent Hill on my own, Dead Space needed to be a spectator sport, and don’t even get me started on Amnesia: Dark Descent, but my generally wussiness aside, it’s one of my favourite genres. I started playing around with the lighting library, and experimenting with ideas that could be fleshed into something more.

First up, you can play the prototype here. It uses a combination of the keyboard arrow keys (or WSAD), and the mouse to aim the light. There is no danger here. Or is there? Maybe.

Just to get it quickly out of the way, I thought I’d share my initial experiences with the libraries I bought on the Unity asset store. The lighting library is fantastic, and dead simple to get going. It’s cheap, and solved a problem that would have taken me hours to do. Highly recommended. The other library, 2D Toolkit, I’m still on the fence about. I’ve been working in ex2D for a while, and I’ve found 2D Toolkit isn’t as easy to get going. Making atlases is a dream, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out how to get their magical camera script working correctly. It’ll blow all of my sprites to 320 times the size they should be if I make them pixel perfect. After messing around with it for longer than I should, I got it mostly working and moved on. Adding sprites to the scene, and the tile editor, both worked great. It seems to be keeping out of the way now, which is a good sign. I’ll see how it goes as I start to use it for more complicated features.

Ok, on to the scary game!

Horror is a very broad genre, and there are many many sub-genres, but there is one which I enjoy the more than the others – psychological horror. Seeing zombies isn’t really that scary, I have a fair idea how to deal with them. Most of these ideas involve shotguns. Or crowbars. Horror games focusing on people dealing with various emotional issues (Silent Hill 2), or games that prey on base human fears, are the kind of horror games I enjoy. I’ve been thinking of a few ways I could make something more in line with this type of horror.

If you play the prototype, you’ll see leveraging the very human fear of the unknown – people being scared of the dark. Don’t expect anything scary in the prototype (or should you?) – it’s my programmer art coupled with learning new two new frameworks at the one time. It has me thinking of some different ideas I could run with. I’m considering using the light in one of two ways.

1) Light is safety

If I do this, the game will be about using light to keep the horrors at bay. I’d try to keep the horror always just out of sight. The human brain does something funny when you don’t give it enough information about a threat – it fills in the blank with whatever personal terrors it can conjure up. It’s the bump in the night that’s imagined to be a burglar. Providing people with a blank slate to project their fears is more effective than anything I can personally think up. This mechanic would be based around using light to keep horror away from the player, always skittering away, with the goal to turn on the light for the whole area.

Thematically, I could either go for a very loose definition of the horror, and let people fill in the blanks entirely, or maybe provide a little more context.

Something to do with a doll factory maybe? Where the dolls only come to life in the dark.

Creepy dolls are pretty scary, right?


2) Light is dangerous

This use of the lighting mechanic I find a little more interesting, but it loses out on letting the player fill in the scary details on their own. You can see in the prototype that the green circles only become active when the light passes over them. Let’s pretend they are monsters, and that turning the light on them wakes them up. The player would need to move through the environment, using light to explore, find items and interact with the environment, but the very act of using the light runs the risk of awakening something. Moving the light away from them would put them back to sleep, or slow them down, but you’ll never know exactly what they are doing without making it worse.

Monster state would be broken into the following states:

  • Asleep – Not a threat, the player hasn’t woken it
  • Disturbed – The player has light on the threat, and it will awaken if the light continues to shine on it
  • Awake In Light – The player has awakened the threat, and it’s in light. Very dangerous.
  • Awake in the Dark – The threat is awake, but not currently lit. Still dangerous, but less so than when lit. Player can only hear that it is active.

When playing the prototype with this in mind, I found I was very slowly moving through the map, and when I spotted a monster, I looked away very quickly. If directing light on a monster was dangerous enough, then the player might very well end up only revealing the monsters for the shortest time possible, letting their squishy fear-filled brain flesh out a lot of details that aren’t really there.

Anyway, just some ideas I had after messing around with this prototype. I was impressed with how quickly I could throw together maps using the 2D Toolkit tile editor, so maybe I’ll play around with some more ideas and mechanics. Until then, check out the prototype and pretend to be scared!