Shiver with Anticipation – How Horror Games Create Tension Cycles – Extra Credits

Shiver with Anticipation – How Horror Games Create Tension Cycles – Extra Credits


Welcome to the second week of Halloween because one’s never enough. I gotta say I am shocked We’ve never done this topic before I feel like we must have but I can’t seem to find it in the archive so alright This week we’ll be talking about the tension and release curve for a horror game You remember that video about pacing and interest curves that we did ages ago? If not you might want to go watch that one again to refresh because we’re gonna build off of a lot of the Stuff we said in there. I’ll put a link down below, and there’s probably an annotation somewhere around me all right here We go in horror games the goal is still to build the same basic interest curve you would in other types of games But how you go about that in a horror game is radically different than in other genres. Which is something That’s too often misunderstood. So let me put the question to you How do you ratchet up the interest in a horror title? this is actually a really tough question. It’s the reason that so many horror Games seem to have given up on Horror entirely instead turning to all the [tried-and-true] methods we know from action Gameplay to craft their interest curve and just Layering a horror skin on top of that It’s also why so many horror games fall flat Even when horror games don’t give up on horror many of them think that in order to build up interest they need to pile on The scares and the surprising or disgusting moments, packing the game with traditional horror genre moments at every turn But those horror moments aren’t actually how we build up interest in a horror title They are the payoff the height of an interest peak you see horror is about a cycle of tension and release. It’s about anticipation It’s about those stretches where you know something’s coming, and that something terrible is about to happen But you don’t know when. The build-up to the scare is as important as the scare itself Play One of the first few Silent Hills and compare the frequency of intense action moments with any comparable third-person action title Note how long the lulls between enemy encounters are rather than fighting a new enemy every second There’s often 10 to 15 seconds between enemy encounters. As you play through watch for the sections where they simply let you walk around with nothing happening. In most games this would be the death of engagement, but in a horror game. This is what brings it all together Why? because the best horror lets you do the work for it. So let’s talk about Pt When you look at it, the actual scares in Pt Aren’t anything exceptional the ghost wasn’t particularly horrific and many of the different types of scares it offered were things you’ve probably Seen before. But what made it masterful was its use of tension and release as you were walking down that hallway You knew something was going to happen and you were just waiting for it and every second It didn’t happen you are making yourself more tense Anticipating it trying to second-guess when it was going to come. You were building the fear for yourself with every step you took down that Hallway until just when you almost couldn’t take it anymore WHAM scary thing, and that scare? That’s the payoff It makes you jump and it frightens you, but after it hits some of that tension is relieved You’re actually less tense now less afraid of what lies ahead than you were just a few seconds before Imagine if they just threw those scares or those jump moments or those disgusting scenes at you one after another, after another in fact you’ve Probably seen some game or movie try to do that It loses its impact very quickly. Instead you have to let us build up that tension again. So we’re in the right place Psychologically to really get the most out of that next big scary moment, so how do you set this up? well, there’s a couple of parts that are integral to building tension in a horror product. First they have to set you up with the Expectation of the terrible. Say you’re playing an action game, and you clear an area of enemies But then for some reason you’ve got to reach retraverse through that area which is now completely empty and enemy free That’s not going to build attention boredom and frustration, yes, But not tension. in horror games on the other hand quiet areas make us nervous Why is this? It’s because the world sets up an expectation that something terrible is about to happen. In horror This is a pact that the game immediately makes with the player You get some of this just by knowing what you’re getting into when you pick up the title. After all we know that terrible things are going to happen in Silent hill. Terrible things always happen in Silent Hill But look at how much effort games like silent hill or fatal frame put into making sure that the setting itself is uncomfortable That there’s something not quite right there Next this tension is usually enhanced by letting us into a situation that in some way limits our perception Allowing us to psych ourselves out even more as we try to guess What sort of ghosts or horrors may lurk just out of sight. Silent hill this is done with the fog. Fatal frame does this with the invisibility of the ghosts Slender does this with darkness and many other games, heck even PT achieved this with right angles and closed doors. If you’ve ever had that moment of tension right before you turn a corner or open a Door in a horror game. This is why. Finally crafters of good horror will make sure that you can’t Actually anticipate the real threat. In horror you have to make sure you don’t overdo it But many games will use things like the sound of a door creaking or the rustle of leaves or the sound of a pebble falling Behind you to get your brain thinking there are threats where there are none. we do this with Shadows and Mirrors and Mannequins all the time. These red herring threats keep your brain from feeling safe, from being able to predict when a real terror Is coming. This in turn adds to the creeping unease you feel waiting for the real threat. So to create the interest curve we want in our horror games rather than building in action or even surprises scares or ghastly bits We need to focus on building tension during the quiet slow moments that put the player in the right frame of mind to be truly horrified when those big moments finally come. Only by thinking of this tension and release cycle can we actually create a good interest curve for This genre and this is even more important for us as an industry as we start branching into genres beyond our typical action game While the desired interest curve is similar regardless of whatever genre you’re working in, what actually builds that interest within the genres is not All right, I guess we can pack up the halloween stuff for now until next year

100 thoughts on “Shiver with Anticipation – How Horror Games Create Tension Cycles – Extra Credits

  1. The horrors titles I like are one that don't relly on jump scares. But instead use creepy environments and trough traps and tough monsters at you to keep you on your toes effectively making you the player afraid of the world around you and not bored waiting for a jump scare. Good examples are saw the video game and a great example would be the evil within and I believe resident evil but I have not played those

  2. " the difference between good horror and bad horror is bad horror is loud and in your face and I kills you. But good horror is small unthreatening but still creepy and you kill it but the thing about good horror is that it never stays dead"

  3. I feel that all the time in Skyrim dungeons. Why? Because nearly every one of the dungeons have at least one spider hole, and those are the scariest things I have ever seen in a video game.

  4. 3:33
    You know, there is a term for that automatic expectation of tension. It's the Hawthorne Effect; knowing the context of the circumstances changes your behavior and perception of the situation.

  5. I like how Dead Space stops the scary music after a battle, making you feel relieved before sneakily throwing another necromorph at you.

  6. This is just my personal opinion, but I think Layers of Fear uses tension and release really well. It does have its jump scares, but most of the time you're walking around trying to unravel the story and it is tense the whole way through. The developers also implemented sound design into the scares as well. And it works so well! I think that sound design can really help with tension and release, when done properly.

  7. Whoa okay, your choice of closing music weirded me out because I currently have that album paused in my media player. I was really confused for a few seconds.

  8. I think spookys house of jumpscares does this well. about every 5 or so minutes, after you've become unnerved by the scene, you get a small jumpscare pop out.

  9. I agree with the idea behind this video. I will occasionally run a tabletop game called Dread where the "dice" are replaced with a Jenga tower. In this game, when the players make decisions in a suitably spooky environment, the tension rises. If nothing scary happened, say they check a closet or basement and nothing is inside, tension builds. As soon as someone pulls a block from the tower or encounters the monster, that tension dissipates. Horror is like a roller coaster, the gut-gripping moments are great but you need to lift up the coaster to the proper height before you let it drop.

  10. Any recommendations on good action horror games?
    I've played FEAR, dead space, and someone mentioned bioshock as well. I like horror to some extent but I do not like not being able to fight back. Or at least I get annoyed when my character is not allowed to as I no longer relate to him. Old Resident Evil games just aren't playable for me because the clunky mechanics get in the way of my enjoyment. I do enjoy Dark Souls though.

  11. Nice How FnaF does this in part while not doing so. I mean, there isn't creeping horror there, yet, the players build tension as they play and stress when things are getting harder, near the end or close to the point of losing.

    The moment the Horror strikes is the Jumpscare, a point where players have their build up stress and fear at it's peak. Everything else is just building up tension.

    Never saw it that way before. Cool.

  12. I play goosebumps night of scares and there was no sound and then when I got to the door and I open it a graveyard goul scared me lots so you shoud get the game for free

  13. This is MASTERFULLY Delivered ! 😀

    Well done

    "Shiver with Anticipation" -Rocky horror Picture Show
    and the way it was explained 😀

    Well done indeed !

  14. This goes with the psychological difference between anxiety and fear. Crappy horror games play off of fear, which is preparing yourself for a threat that may-or-may-not happen. Anxiety is what true horror games play off of, which is the anticipation of a threat you know is coming but you don't know when-or-where.

  15. An amazing horror game than was psychologically satisfying would be "silent hill shattered memory" check it out guys it's one of the best and different

  16. One fake sign of danger I loved was in Amnesia, when the cockroaches hissing. I KNOW its the cockroaches, but most let's players and what not don't know that and freak. It's natural, but it doesn't FEEL or SOUND natural and all.

  17. So does Alien Isolation break this starwars graph and the cycle of tension and release by allowing a survival mode? I became comfortable with the alien and eventually only was scared in some instances rather than actually freaking out over the tension. Or is that just becoming used to it and I should go back to it after it's been a while so I get scared all over. I still get scared in outlast and that game is more….predictable with it's scares, at least compared to the Alien's ai in Isolation

  18. You mentioned the ghost from PT is kind of a generic horror trope and PT is scary mainly because of its atmosphere. While i do believe the atmosphere boost the scariness of its only monster, i also think Lisa is easily one of the scariest "monsters" ive ever seen. One, yes, the built up tension they use before she actually shows up is masterful, but also because she technically isn't some over the top hideous monster. She isnt all covered in blood or has her inner body parts spilling out of her or anything that is too body-horrorish. The scariest thing to me about her actual design are her eyes-which are the only things that are distorted in her appearance, and its a smart choice- the eyes are the first thing humans will look at when encountering just about anything, so the lack of ones or a defect in them (she sports both) automatically reads as creepy. But i think the worst part is that she looks like a walking corpse, but NOT like a zombie. Zombies arent as scary because they have the mindset of a wild animal.
    Whats so scary about Lisa is the fact that she's not some mindless monster. She's a supernatural being that is just as intelligent as you and is actively messes up with you for unknown reasons. She knows she freaks you out. She can kill you at any moment and chooses to haunt you and torture you instead. From the moment you enter the game, you are stuck in her trap, like a helpless bug in a spiderweb, and the game does everything to remind you you have no power over her. Shes untouchable, unbeatable, unpredictable, and has a personal grudge against you. Doesnt get any scarier than that to me.

  19. Walking through a dark, abandoned hotel… Suddenly, a sound of rusty metal scrapes somewhere in the distance…
    That early moment from my playthrough of Silent Hill 2 will never leave me.

  20. Cry of Fear is a great example of a horror game. While the graphics are outdated and the voice acting is meh at best, there are plenty of moments that will straight up terrify the player. It has one of the greatest jump scares within the first few minutes of playing.

  21. I may only be finding this video 4 years after it was posted, but I've got to say that this explains a lot about probably my favorite level in a non-horror game…And my most hated level in the same game. Especially the first time I played it. The game was your standard FPS action game with hordes of alien baddies for you to shoot. It had a stealth section, but generally, the gameplay was the same throughout the game. But then a level starts very differently from normal. The AI that was your constant companion throughout the preceding levels was left behind at the end of the previous one. The hordes of baddies are now only scattered groups of mooks, often already injured. You can hear combat in the distance, but by the time you get there, there's no trace of the other side. Where previous levels were wide open spaces broken up with some interior areas, you now leave the open and descend into a silent bunker. What few enemies you encounter are more scattered and almost universally facing away from you. You pass by rooms caked in blood and bodies you didn't kill lie strewn about as you make your way deeper and deeper. When you open a door and get shot by a spooked npc, you're likely to kill him just on reflex. If you don't kill him, he won't stop muttering about shapes in the dark and he keeps taking potshots at you. Finally, you come to a door and a body falls out as skittering is heard all around you. You find a recording explaining what's going on right before the abominations bust down the doors. You gun them down but like a flood, they just keep coming. You escape and find an elevator…but it takes you even deeper down a shaft painted in blood. Cue fighting for your life as you try to reach the surface. Upon succeeding, you find some survivors and must now trek through the jungle to evac. The monsters follow and before long you're all alone again before finally being whisked away at the last moment…Halo CE, the level where you first encounter The Flood was absolutely terrifying when I first played it. Even now, it still makes my skin crawl. The next level, the Library did as well, but subsequent playthroughs didn't retain the creepiness the same way the previous level did. Instead of mounting tension and a desperate fight for survival, the level was just repeating fights for survival.

  22. As a layman with no experience in the game industry, I have no means to make this, nor do I think I could, but this discussion has given me an idea. What if, in a new game, YOU are the one in charge of creating the same tension-and-release cycle? You're the monster hanging out behind a tree, or on top of a cliff, or behind a door, and your job is to build the unfortunate passerby's fear to its maximum before you jump out and… well, kill them? Scare them? I'm not sure, but I think there's potential here. You could have game mechanics like making a noise to startle the passerby, or you could offer them brief glimpses of your marred and abhorrent form before quickly sliding back into the darkness. The whole goal of the game wouldn't be to simply hunt down and kill your prey, but to build their fear to its maximum and drive them insane. Maybe after they reach a certain point you can kill them. Whatever. Just think: how weird would it have been in Dead Space if you were controlling one of the corrupted people? What about in Slenderman, if you were, well, Slenderman? I realize this has been done to some degree with games like Prototype and GTA, because your job is to sow discord amongst innocent people. The difference there is that you're always fighting a corrupt political system or battling against a much greater evil. In the game I'm suggesting, you ARE the greatest evil. Your job is to frighten, terrorize, and mangle innocent people who are just unlucky enough to come across you. Just something to think about.
    P.S.
    If any game dev out there sees this and wants to make a game out of it, go ahead. Just let me know if you are because I'll be on that shit.

  23. “We know that terrible things are going to happen in Silent Hill. Terrible things always happen in Silent Hill.” I’m dead

  24. The Isle is a good horror game for a game about dinosaurs, you play as a dinosaur and if you want the horror, play as a herbivore on a realism server and during night, you cannot see a thing and you constantly need to watch your back because an allosaurus or a giganotosaurus may sneak up on you and you never expect it.

  25. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl was able to do this in their laboratory levels.

    After playing them, I realize that nothing much really happened in there, except for the occasional mutant whom you'll simply gun down.

    But during, man. The dark, derelict complex, the sudden noises like metal objects falling. Making sure you feel you aren't alone in such a lonely place. Really kept me tense.

    I know STALKER is not a horror game but, those laboratory levels just kept raising my hairs on end.

  26. Metro 2033 has that effect on me. The entire game is a survival linear game but walking through the metro tunnels terrified me. I’m walking through an extremely dark area where the only directions are forward and backward meanwhile I have to keep alert for any monstrous creations that want to kill me. It was claustrophobic, scotophobic, and xenophobic all at the same time. It left chills down my spine.

  27. new game visage had me shook because of it's usage of building up tension

    also i know this is for games but im writing horror novels and this was really informative and helpful so thank you

  28. Never found the ''Pacing'' video mentioned on the beggining in the description.

    There it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LScL4CWe5E

  29. I think that there is still a market for those light “horror” games. Take me for example, i HATE horror. I know a lot of people say that but I literally couldn’t play call of duty zombies because I couldent keep my hands steady enough to shoot. I have gotten over this to the point where I don’t have to stop every five minutes else I get a heart attack but i am not lying when I say that a true horror game or movie would kill me.

  30. This isn't a game, but the most effective horror I've ever seen is Dulce et Decorum Est. It's a poem written by a soldier in World War 1 that describes a gas attack in first person. You start in a such a dis-empowered state from the get go, that it's easy to miss the signs of gas until everyone has already fumbled their masks on. Then you realize someone inside the poem missed it too, and they are drowning. Drowning in and of itself isn't a particularly horrifying death, but this guy is drowning on land so it feels uncanny in the worst way possible. The tension barely goes down from there because the poem doesn't finish the drowning, but immediately cuts from that guy clinging to the narrator for air, to his corpse regularly expelling a noisy stream of air and fluid at you as it bumps with the cart. I have only read it three times and I can't get it out of my head.

  31. Back when the first Call of Duty: Nazi Zombies maps came out during the World at War I was freaked out each time a round started. However these days it just doesn't frighten me like it use to. Guess that's what happens when you are exposed to it so much.

  32. When you finally started making a horror game and you remember the video from extra credits you saw one time in your recommendations 5 years ago and thought ”Hmm, that’ll be useful in the future”

  33. "Inside" is a really good example for this. Specifically when you're making your way to the giant water tank. the game uses its perspective to hide what's exactly inside. the level throws you on this very indirect path towards, killing you with curiosity as to what is so interesting that even the enemies of the game ignore you to gawk at. When you finally your way in…………well, it's not very pleasant to say the least

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