Tuesday 15 October 2019

9 Years, 9 Lessons on Horror

By Thomas Grip
Edited by Kira

It has now been over 9 years since we released Amnesia: The Dark Descent. That is a bloody long time, and feels like we should celebrate that by talking about the craft of horror games.

Horror games are quite a different beast when it comes to the game industry at large. Most other genres revolve around what the player does. In a turn-based strategy you take turns doing strategy:

Into the Breach

 In a first-person shooter you shoot things from a first-person perspective:


In a Match 3 game you match three thingies:

Candy Crush: Soda

In a horror game, the activity is not at all as important. What is important is that the experience is a spooky one. This makes designing horror games different from designing within other genres. Many times the standard industry tricks just won’t work, which makes one think about game design in a different light.

In the past 9 years we have learned a great deal about horror games, and to celebrate the occasion, I wanted to share 9 lessons we have learned over the years.

That being said, I don’t see these lessons as only useful for horror games. There’s quite a bit of overlap with other genres, especially any games that aim for a narrative-heavy experience.

And finally – this is by no means an exhaustive list. Still, the lessons here are at the core of the craft of making scary video games.

Lesson 1: Horror is not enjoyable

The basic emotion of horror is not a pleasant one – yet people play horror games wanting to experience horror. This is the paradox of horror as entertainment. This paradox requires game developers to be careful in how they deliver the experience to the player.

You could draw an analogy between horror games and rollercoasters. The basic purpose of a rollercoaster is to simulate the sensation of falling. Under controlled circumstances the experience of falling is thrilling and fun (at least for a good portion of people). But if you put someone in a barrel and push them down a cliff, chances are they will not find the experience fun at all. Even if they survive unscathed, the whole ordeal would be a horrible experience.

The same is true for horror games. If you have a game that only relies on jumpscares – figuratively throwing people off a cliff in a barrel – few people will consider that fun. This became apparent in certain maps in Penumbra. We thought it would be good enough for a scary gameplay section to have a maze and some monsters. Instead of becoming mazes of fear, they instead became mostly... annoying. Amnesia: The Dark Descent had similar issues towards the end, where the monster encounters were just that, not supported by any other aspects. At that point the game no longer felt as entertaining.

Well this is a familiar face.

Lesson 2: Players are working against you

For a horror game developer, the worst enemy is… the players. Seriously, if we could sit around and make games without having to worry about what the players will do and think when playing the game, life would be so much simpler!

As mentioned before, being scared is not a pleasant feeling. Therefore the players will try to optimize the feeling away, often unconsciously. In the end, the players will ruin the intended experience for themselves.

Take the demon dogs from our first game, Penumbra: Overture. The game takes a bunch of time to build them up as creepy monsters that stalk the dark mines. However their AI has some weaknesses that some people are very quick to catch. Hence the dogs become easy to defeat, and are no longer scary.

Can't get me. I'm on a box.

And the crazy thing is that the players complain when this happens! They probe the system for flaws and choose to exploit them, yet want the dogs to remain scary. So their behaviour ends up going against their will.

Some games solve issues of player exploitation simply by making the enemies extremely hard (think Dark Souls): they make sure the monsters are just as hard to beat as they look scary. Another approach is to instead skip much of the gameplay (think Dear Esther): if there are no mechanics, there’s nothing for the player to exploit – problem solved, right?

I don’t think either of these solutions is optimal. Instead I think one should aim for a third route: making the players think about actions in a more narrative fashion. More about that later!

Lesson 3: Scares alone won’t make a horror game

Horror is like a spice that defines a dish. You cannot do without it, but you can’t cook a dish solely out of spices either. That would be just gross.

As an example, let’s take three horror movies I consider to be at the top of their genre: Alien, The Exorcist and Ringu. All three movies deal with very different subjects, have different styles, and are overall different from one another. But there is one thing they have in common: they all have very few scares in them!

Instead each movie is mostly about the characters, the discussions, the anticipation of the horror – building up the atmosphere and the dread of things to come. Very little time is spent actually facing the horror.

Let’s get back to our roller coaster analogy. When you think about it, the actual roller coaster ride lasts a very short time. Most of the time is spent doing things like buying a ticket, standing in line, and hearing other people scream. All these actions are not superfluous extras – they build up for the actual ride, and are crucial to the overall experience.

When we first made the study section of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, we implemented a ton of jumpscares. Books fell down from shelves, doors banged, pianos started playing and so forth. But as the map became more complete, it felt like something was off. So we reduces the scares to just a couple, and instead focused on letting the player learn the castle’s mysteries. At first we were afraid this would make the level too boring – but as it turns out, spacing the scares apart made players much more scared than previously.

In horror, less is often more.

Lesson 4: Fun gameplay is just too… fun

In a horror game more than any other, the players go in expecting to have a bad time. And as designers we want them to feel anxiety, despair, and a whole array of negative emotions. But gameplay – because it’s so damn engaging – tends to counteract all these juicy emotions.

Let’s use Dead Space as an example. When I started playing it, I was really scared, walking around slowly and peeking around every corner. Then, about an hour in, I learned how to kill the monsters, and what tricks I needed to survive.

Dead Space 2 promo art
All of the fun, none of the horror!

Not only did I get good at killing the monsters, I thought it was great fun! The things that used to terrify me now became a source of amusement. Instead of dreading the monster sounds they now made me excited – oh great, another necromorph to dismember!

So where did the fear go? It was simply overshadowed by the rewarding gameplay.

Us humans tend to have this thing called attention, and we only have a limited amount of it. If the game is constantly engaging the player with thinking about their aim, checking ammo, and looking for loot, there’s no room left for much else. In other words, the players’ brain will lack resources to frighten themselves.

The early designs of Amnesia: The Dark Descent included genre-typical weapons, and even guns. We also experimented with very elaborate puzzle set-ups, everything from swinging chandeliers to redirecting rays of light. All these caused the same issues as Dead Space. They were too fun, and took attention away from what mattered: getting scared.

Eventually we decided to reduce the “fun” elements the gameplay had – and it paid off.

We saw this very clearly when watching Let’s Plays of the Amnesia games. Since players didn’t have things like combat to pay attention to, they reacted to things they might not have even noticed in other games. A vague sound, almost like a footstep, was suddenly a reason to look for the nearest cupboard to hide in. Had the players minds been filled with thoughts of loot boxes, they would have never reacted like this.

Lesson 5: Narrative is a core element in good horror

So if engaging gameplay can be counteractive to the horror, and you need to be careful with the scares, what do you fill a horror game with?

While no silver bullet, narrative is a big part of the equation.

By building up a narrative, us game designers can make game worlds bigger and more intricate than they actually are in-game. We can prime the player into doing a lot of the scaring for themselves.

In order to explain this, let’s take a random image let’s take a random image of a quaint town:

Aww, I wanna go there. :)

This feels like a great place for an evening stroll, right?

Now let’s give this image some backstory. Put on some spooky music, like the Amnesia soundtrack, and read the following:

It has been two weeks since a huge storm cut the town from the rest of the world. All means of communication are down.
Today, our emergency services received a call – it just started out as static, a joke that kids would play, but then the screaming started. The screaming of people, then an otherworldly roar, nothing a man nor beast on Earth could make. I had to find out what happened to these people up the serpentine road from us. 
I am now here, yet no one else seems to be. It’s like everyone vanished. But as the cold sun sets down over the mountain, I get a sense of unease…

...And now look at the picture again.

The worst monster of all is leaving the lights you've been murdered horribly.

Not so cozy anymore, right?

A new context leads to re-interpreting the environment based on this information, and get into a different mindset based on it. While you previously admired the view, you are now scanning it for signs of danger.

A big part of horror takes place inside a player’s head. And by fueling their imagination, we can turn a cozy village into a place of terror and despair.

Looking back on which areas worked in Penumbra, this component became apparent. The most loved environments were those where players could use lore and environmental clues to fantasize what happened… and what could happen. The expansion, Penumbra: Requiem, lacked a lot of this background information. So despite us designing some of our best puzzles and implementing interesting visuals, Requiem was received quite badly. Without a strong narrative component, the players didn’t get the experience they wanted.

Penumbra: Requiem, or as we call it, The Marc Game.

Lesson 6: The world must feel real

In order for a horror narrative to have proper impact, the world it takes place in must be taken seriously by the players. But what does “serious” mean? Grey and brown tones with no cartoonish elements? Not quite.

Let’s draw a parallel between real and imagined worlds. If you suffer from nightmares, there’s a trick to that: make a habit out of knocking on walls, tables, or whatever is closest to you. Eventually you will start doing the same when you’re asleep. However, when you knock on walls or a table in a dream, your hand is likely to go through the surface – that’s how you’ll know you are in a dream, and no longer need to be afraid of the world around you.

Making horror games is basically a business of creating nightmares. But it’s hard to be successful when you have a bunch of players (those damn players again!) constantly doing the equivalent of “knocking on surfaces”, simply by playing the game. As soon as they discover some sort of glitch the immersion of a terrifying world breaks, and it takes a long time to build it back up again.

Let’s look at an example from Penumbra again. In Penumbra we want the players to imagine that the demon dogs are “real”, implying all the traits (demon) dogs possess. So, we want players to be worried about encountering a dog, and hiding from it. However, some players “knocked on surfaces” by messing around with the environments, and figured out that the dogs can’t reach you if you camp on top of a box. So, whereas a real dog could jump up on the box and chomp the player up, the AI dog cannot. Therefore the fantasy of dogs as “real” is lost, and the game loses a bunch of its scariness.

The intended reaction when encountering a demon dog

Because of this effect, game developers have to be careful about how they construct environments, and what tools they give to the player. There should be enough things to do to make the place feel real. But not so many as to aid players in breaking the illusion.

Lesson 7: Keep it vague

You know creepypasta and scary photos you can find on the internet? Almost always the thing that makes them scary is that they leave a lot to the imagination. Seeing a silhouette and glowing eyes out in the corner of a photo feels threatening. A close-up glamour photo of the same monster does not.

AAH! What IS that?

Oh, just our good friend Terry bringing us a gift. (by ThiccBoiMyers on Discord)

As mentioned before, much of the horror comes from simply not being sure what the hell you’re looking at. It’s when there is a gap in our knowledge, a certain amount of uncertainty, that horror can really shine. This is especially true when you combine it with some sort of danger element.

It is quite common in games to make sure the player understands the systems in place as clearly as possible. This often results in some really daunting tutorials. Of course for some games, like fighting games, it’s important to have in-depth knowledge about the systems to be able to optimise the game. In horror games we actually want the opposite!

A vague and uncertain game system is like a creepy photo. You can make out enough to get an idea of what’s going on, but there’s still room for the imagination to go wild. Let’s use the health meter in Resident Evil as an example. Internally it is an analog property, a decimal number from 0 to some value, but the player will only ever know that it has “three” states. This strikes a great balance between giving information and being vague, and helps crank up the tension.

The sanity system in Amnesia: The Dark Descent is similarly vague. You know scary things – whatever those are – lower your sanity, and bad things – whatever those are – will happen if it drops too low, so you don’t want to risk it.

This was not always the case. We started out with a pretty straightforward gameplay system, hoping players would play along with it. However, people either game it or got frustrated by it. When we tweaked it so it was much less clear how it worked, it sparked player’s imaginations and it was much more enjoyable.

Alex isn't looking so good.

Lesson 8: Players need a role

All stories are driven by the characters that are contained within it, and how a plot plays out is determined by the characteristics of these characters. Just imagine how different Jurassic Park would be if the annoying lawyer guy was replaced by Judge Dredd! So, in order to get the most of any narrative, it is crucial to establish roles.

Games are no different. The role that a player inhabits will determine what actions they have at their disposal, what their goals ore, and so forth. Knowing the character is a vital component in order for the player to be an active part of the story.

Yet this is one of those components that many horror games forget. You are often thrust into a story as some generic character. Often the thought behind this is that the player would “play as themselves”, but this is not how any narrative really works. In order to properly parse a story situation, you need to understand what kind of person is dealing with it.

Say that you come across a corpse. You are playing as Sherlock Holmes, a corpse means a case! You will want to search for clues and try to solve the mystery of how this person died.

Now imagine you’re playing as a flesh-eating ghoul. Now the same corpse is suddenly dinner - yum!

An alternate universe where Daniel is turned into a ghoul. Bon appetit!

In most areas, horror games are well beyond your average game in terms of narrative. But for some reason, a large portion of horror games just fail to set the player role properly. It’s strange, relying on a narrative backbone, yet losing so much of the atmosphere by not defining the player role.

Another big reason for defining roles is that it can help with some of the issues addressed earlier. For instance, it can limit the number of actions the player feels is rational to take. For example Penumbra’s protagonist Philip is a physics teacher, so while he could perhaps fight some demon dogs, it would be more logical to run and hide from aggressive humanoids.

This lesson we clearly learned in SOMA. At first we thought about having a non-speaking Simon with very little character. However, this made player distance themselves from the events. Things got a lot more personal when they played as a character who was reacting to what was happening. While players previously wouldn’t ponder the strange events in-depth, Simon pushing them in the right direction it worked much better.

Lesson 9: Agency is crucial

When I talk about agency, I’m not talking about the CIA. What I mean is agency of the free will kind. A game that has a lot of agency lets the players make decisions and feel like an active part of the narrative.

This is closely tied to the previous lesson. Not only do we want to give players a role, we also want them to own that role. They need to feel like they really inhabit the character they are supposed to play. A game can achieve a lot by combining agency with keeping things vague – and letting players decide to take uncertain decisions.

Say that you are faced with a dark tunnel – dark tunnels are pretty scary!

Now imagine that the game explicitly tells you that your goal lies beyond the tunnel. There’s no choice, you gotta go in. And if the game forces you do something, it will also make sure you do actually have the means to complete this quest – in this case get to the other side of the tunnel.

What's the worst that could happen? :)

But what if entering this dark tunnel was voluntary, or at least presented as such? The game vaguely tells you that there might be something important there – but you don’t know, and might also be a certain death. All of a sudden the tunnel feels a lot less safe. By adding agency and making entering the tunnel an uncertain choice, all sorts of doubts pop up in the player’s mind.

There’s also a number of other ways to add agency. Say the player needs to do something unnerving, like Amnesia’s Daniel drilling into a corpse to get blood out. In the game it is clear that there is no other option. Overall reactions to this was not very strong.

Just petting a guy's head while the drill drills a hole in it.

Compare this to similar moments in SOMA, where intended course of action is much less clear. Here players are forced to actually think through what they need to do, and get emotionally involved in the process of it.

While SOMA did do this part better, it also had its shortcomings. In Amnesia: The Dark Descent, the game was divided into hub maps, so there was no one path or right order to do things. These choices increased anxiety. Whereas maps in SOMA were way more streamlined, and we noticed a considerable drop in scariness due to this.

In closing

And them’s the rules! As said before, these are not the only ones, but I believe these come out on top when listing the most important ones. You could also go into them with a lot more depth, but I wanted to keep this blog concise. A lot of my previous blogs in the design tag dive deeper into related subjects.

Finally, I want to close by saying that, because of all these special requirements for horror games, I don’t think you can approach them like other games. Instead of “finding the fun” and iteratively building upon that, horror game design needs to start with some strong principles.

When designing a horror game, you want to hone into what you’ve chosen as your core principles, be it atmosphere, theme, or something else. Then, as you progress in development, you don’t want to evaluate the game on how “fun” or “nice” it is to play – but in how well it fulfills its set core principles. And a cornerstone for being able to do that evaluation is to keep the above lessons in mind.

This in itself is a huge topic of its own, and will need to be dealt with in some future post. Stay tuned for more!


  1. Never knew this much thought goes into horror genre! good post!

  2. Great post, the part about hub areas contribute to the sense of unease was especially interesting!

    Waiting patiently for the design tips you'll have after the next game. ^^ Take your time, making good design obviously takes time!

  3. Nice post, there are all interesting aspects I found in Soma, the less you see, the scarier it is :p I loved this game but I will not restart it It is way too scary haha

  4. I'm not a game designer but I do love playing horror games so I just want to post this comment in hopes that you don't completely veer off some wrong direction. Fun gameplay and horror CAN and HAS worked. Please don't think that just because a game is horror it means that the player should have a horrible time playing it.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. No, horror and fun does not work together. But fun is not automatically every combat. Silent Hill 1 or Penumbra Overture have combat and are not about fun.

  5. Really fun write up, good for writers too.

  6. Replies
    1. what? why? cause of the blog?

    2. being mad won't make them release info any sooner xD they'll show something when they're ready

    3. lol I know but it's been 4 years since SOMA released, and we still have nothing at all. I'm still mad nonetheless :p

    4. don't be mad, they're making it good! xDD i don't want them to ship a broken game like some other companies.

      besides it's not time yet, Soma came out 5 years after The Dark Descent, and we're still at 4 yeara after Soma. i'll gladly wait. x3

    5. Yep but we had AMFP in between to keep us busy, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Although it was developed by The Chinese Room, so you're right, it's a 5 year gap between two Frictional's titles. But that's a whole eternity :( oh well.

    6. AMFP is a masterpiece. Story telling even better than TDD. And the story itself is the best of all video games. So sad that The Chinese Room is now part of another developer who makes boring games.

    7. Hell yes, I could ramble on about AMFP for days. Played it on the first day it was released, "studied" it for years later. Many people say they hated how the game refused to tell players what exactly happened in chronological order, but that only made it all more mysterious and interesting to me. I tried my best to soak in everything every time I played, read and listened to every line with utmost attention, yet I learned new things about the storyline years after its release on wikis and different forums. It's pure art, poetry. The soundtrack is out of this world, the atmosphere is fantastic, I loved it to death. I was in high school back then and when I was bored I used to draw cutoffs of Mandus' house showing it from the surface down to the Machine itself, trying to fit all the different levels in between, basement, pigline etc. One of the best parts of the game to me are the recorded conversations between Mandus and the Professor, arguably some of the best quotes in the game are from those. So simple and small part of the game yet very powerful. Really liked the setting, the machinery, engine parts, huge piston rods moving and powering some crazy monstrosity. Everything about it is just perfect, only disliked the bluish fog/tint the game had. Masterpiece is the right word. Thinking of it brings me back to simpler, joyful times.

    8. To make it clear: TDD is a better game, especially in horror. But AMFP has some things that are absolutely genius like the story we already mentioned. But what I dislike is the limitation in the gameplay like less interaction with objects and simplified puzzles etc. And it is less scary than TDD, but has the best story.

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  8. I love this post, and I love Amnesia and especially SOMA. Thanks! Reading your insights energizes me to continue development of my game-and makes me want to make a horror game too!

    1. Agreed! I wish I was better at programming. ��

  9. Such a great post. But I think you as Frictional Games must nothing learn. Most other developers should learn from you, but all your games have already been genius since Penumbra Overture. You already know how to make the best horror games. There's nothing additional to learn. You are right. Horror is nothing to enjoy. Recently I watched the austrian movie "Funny Games" the original 1997 version (not the U.S. remake from the same director) and it shows you how true horror is something that can't be enjoyed. Also great was "Midsommar" and from the last year "The House That Jack Built" and "Suspiria".

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. you learn as long as you breathe, we're all lifelong students in every aspect of life

    3. No, you can also learn wrong things. Not everything you read is the truth. In your theory SOMA must be the best game from Frictional, because they learned from the past. Every movie, every song, every game must be better than the previous. We must get always better games from year to year, because developers learn. But in fact the contrary happens. Most games become worse. Look at the Silent Hill, Need for Speed or other game series. Learning more than neccesary could also mean a negative effect.

    4. I agree learning process can take a wrong turn and lead to a catastrophe, but either way learning whether it's for worse better it never stops, so you're wrong about that. Need for Speed went to junk more than a decade ago because they destroyed Black Box and started pumping out same games every year with only different maps, and also releasing half finished games at that and milking the life out of them via DLCs. In spite of that, they have never been more popular because there are loads of dumb people with surplus of cash they're willing throw at those DLC, preorders and what not. I sincerely hope they go out of business, but they're cockroaches of the gaming industry. Those will survive everything. Because of dumb people.

    5. Well this is stupid. Frictional Games are great, but of course they have to learn new things to keep up with the times. No one stays a genius by staying in one place. Where do you think the good design choices after Overture came, by NOT learning anything new? Some kind of eldritch pitch of knowledge Thomas Grip has possessed since birth that has been untainted by foreign influence?

    6. That's wrong. Nobody has to keep up with the times. A genius is a genius because he does what he want. Making his own vision is what stands for someone becoming a genius. No matter what the mainstream wants. A true genius does not give any attention to the times. And leople like their favorite developers because they want exactly that sort of games and nothing different. Changing a design concept just to keep on with the times and get a larger audience will always mean quality goes down. If you look at the greatest genius in film making or game development their best products were very often their first and not their last.

    7. It's also important to know what's the goal of continuous learning process. Better product quality (in this case better games) or how to get more financial profit?
      Profit and quality are two different things. But you are right dumb peoole are the reason for the profit of some big gaming companies.

  10. "Take the demon dogs from our first game, Penumbra: Overture. The game takes a bunch of time to build them up as creepy monsters that stalk the dark mines. However their AI has some weaknesses that some people are very quick to catch. Hence the dogs become easy to defeat, and are no longer scary."

    - I don't think so. I always felt scared by the dogs and killing them was always a heart shaking procedure. And I never had the feeling the gameplay was designed to kill the dogs. For me it felt like to be just an option and the pickaxe and the hammer were not really intended to be weapons, but just tools. And the combat system was not really a combat system, it was just a feature to solve puzzles, but can be used for combat optionally. I never felt the monsters were just there to kill them. Penumbra Overture is not like Dead Space!!!

  11. I also don't think falling down books from the shelf are jumpscares. In Amnesia that was an incredible good thing to create that creepy atmosphere. Jumpscares are for example in Outlast when monsters jumping into your face and the sound becomes loud. But in Amnesia these things happen in the background, not in front of your face.

  12. Great share, thanks. Fun to read and an addition to any creator.

  13. Alien is a good horror movie, but a lot fun. It's because of the fantastic atmosphere. It's not a very disturbing horror movie. The Exorcist is crap and Ringu is boring. You should watch "Suspiria" (1977 & 2018), "The Tenant" by and with Roman Polański, "The Sentinel", "Goodnight Mommy", "The Eyes of my Mother", "Darling", "True Love Ways", "Amer", "Midsommar", "Eraserhead", "Begotten", "Imprint" (Uncut Black Edition), "Dark Waters" by Mariano Baino, "Funny Games" (1997), "La Residencia" by Narciso Ibanez Serrador, and so much more. They all are the best of the genre.

    1. Great list, thanks! (no, The Exorcist is not a crap, wtf!?)

    2. It is crap. Have you ever seen a real exorcism? This movie is a comedy or a parody of an exorcism. And boring as a horror movie too.

    3. > real exorcism
      my sides...

  14. The best asian horror movies are:
    A Page of Madness
    A Tale of two Sisters
    Acacia - The Roots of Evil
    Cello - Symphony of Death
    Dark Water
    Ju-On - The Curse
    Wishing Stairs

    Ringu was very weak. The problem with that film is at first fhe dull story with a video tape that kills people who watch it. At second there are too much boring scenes and at third every scary scene was destroyed by a fast cut to another scene. For example when the ghost came out of the TV this scene was brillant, but the director failed to keep on that suspense. He destroyed that scene by a cut where you see the other protagonist on another place. Why he did not hold the suspense? This is where most horror movies fail. The remake is not better here. A good horror movie should not have jumpscares nor destroy the suspense by fast cuts showing another scene.

    And The Exorcist is laughable. Every documentation of real exorcism is scarier than this movie! It's absolutely ridiculous where the priests are talking with the demon. The movie felt more like a comedy. And when the bed and the shelf are flying in the air, it's just stupid special effect, but not horror.

    1. calm down man, it's just your opinion xD my uncle saw the exorcist in the 70s and he said he was scared shitless, so you can't just say it's not scary and that's the truth

    2. No, it's not an optnion. It's a fact. But that your uncle got scared just happened because he was not really familiar with the horror genre. And it doesn't matter whether a movie is from the 70s, 20s or from 2019. Quality is not depending on the year of release.

    3. nah, that's not how logic works? the exorcist consistently makes it to top 100 scariest movies, so you can't brush it off as a movie that's not scary and call it a fact. someone could find one of the muvies you listed not scary, how would you feel if they said that the movie is not scary and that's a FACT?

      also nice job making assumptions about my uncle xD he's a horror nut and got me into horror in the first place, doesn't mean he doesn't have nightmares about them afterwards.

    4. Wow, reading the rest of the comments and Googloplex is really full of himself. You're not the god of facts of what makes or doesn't make good horror. Opinions are like buttholes, everyone has one and thinks their is the best.

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    6. That's ridiculous. Who says it's on the top 100 of the scariest horror movies? It's also just an opinion of someone or of a group of people. There aren't even 100 scary horror movies. And when I say "The Exorcist" is a comedy, it's a fact. Have you ever seen a real exorcism??? This is horror! But the movie is a fun experience. And when someone say "The Eyes of my Mother" or "Begotten" or "Goodnight Mommy" or "Funny Games" are not disturbing, then he's simply lying. All these movies are destroying your mind, because they are serious on horror.

    7. "The Exorcist" is just overhyped because it's a hollywood movie. But when you are familiar with the horror genre you know good stuff is very rarely made by hollywood or from the U.S. in general. They just make such crap as "Poltergeist" with tons of special effects and action for 12 year olds. If you want really scary and intelligent made horror movies watch "The Tenant" or "Suspiria" both from european film directors.

    8. Yep, our boy Googol thinks he's a little smarter than he really is. Though he did say some things I agree with, but those are minority. No harsh feelings, we're only discussing here. Anyhow I'm happy to see this much activity on a post here, usually it's only a few comments and that's it, so that's great. We should do this more often, even if we'd fight. It's fun.

    9. Alright, so that's what kind of man you are, Googol. You have "facts" and think everyone else has "opinions". No point in talking to you further.

    10. Mail Snail, then what Thomas Grip wrote is also only his opinion on horror games. Everything is just an opinion. When you say red is red is it just your opinion, because a blind person would say colors does not exist.

    11. Really hit a sore spot, eh Googol? The abstract aspects of art don't have facts, only viewpoints. You have these viewpoints, or opinions, just like everyone else. It's so easy to see through your rhetorical tactic to give yourself some validation by claiming your specific viewpoint is, in fact, a fact.

      Media and art studies, as well as philosophy, wouldn't have such a bustling academic scene if one could just spit out facts about art. Get off your high fucking horse.

    12. Which high horse you are talking about? Are you serious? What you write is absolute bs. Art and media are not viewpoints! When a good movie is called a masterpiece, it's a fact and not a viewpoint. For example "The Good The Bad And The Ugly" is a masterpiece. You can say what you want, it doesn't change that.

    13. You're still in high school, aren't you? Wait a few years, hopefully you'll grow out of that black-and-white thinking.

    14. That's what people say when they have no arguments.

    15. I watched a lot of "top 100" horror movies from 1970's, and they all have disappointed me. I didn't try 'Exorcist', but I tried 'The Omen', 'The Holloween', etc, and it made me feel like I shouldn't even bother trying other 70's horror movie anymore. So I actually kind of agree with Googolplex..

      Except Ringu. I watched the Hollywood remake, and it was creepy as hell. I have to agree the original version is terrible though.

  15. I'm not your boy. And I have no facts. Facts are something that nobody has. They just exist.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Let's just leave it at that. I'd like to hear what do you think what is the new game going to be about, where is it going to be set, what time frame? TDD and AMFP were both very innovative, SOMA while still a masterpiece of its own, explored the already oversaturated sci-fi horror area. No more sci fi please lol. I'm wondering what could be next, I expect nothing less than exciting and innovative from Frictional.

    3. I'm pretty sure they make sci-fi games again. But I like something like Amnesia and Penumbra more, while I absolutely love the under water setting.

    4. The problem is all gaming franchises end in sci-fi. This happens when a developer has no new ideas and then they make sci-fi. While tons of games are sci-fi. This makes the genre oversaturated. I always praise games that are not sci-fi with unrealistic weapons and armors. I love the medieval like "Kingdom Come: Deliverance" because this is a setting which is real, which really exists. Don't understand me wrong. I like sci-fi aswell. I love movies like "Metropolis", "Interstellar", "2001", "Solaris", "Stalker", "Alien" etc. And I love the thematics of SOMA. But most media are boring with that genre.

    5. I never felt attracted to science fiction genre, movie- nor video game-wise, and what you said is absolutely correct, and it is not helping me start to like the genre at all. SOMA is the only sci fi piece I played because it was made by these guys, enjoyed it and absolutely can't deny its excellence but it's not exactly my cup of tea. All said, I'm hoping for something new. I also think SOMA had somewhat of an unfortunate release date timing, because if I recall correctly, it released around the same ltime that Alien game released too, and I remember all the big youtubers play that title and it threw a big shadow over SOMA which made me concerned about FG's future, but I was happy to read Thomas Grip's post here few months later that SOMA sold well and that Frictional would continue to make games. Although in my opinion SOMA never got the attention it deserved, at least that's what it seems like to me. Alien is far more inferior game to SOMA in every aspect yet everyone was drooling over it because of the name.

      In my eyes, for the next game something ideal would be using the core concepts and ideas from TDD (run or hide mechanics and show as little as possible in order to have player's brain do all the work, stimulated by atmposhere, sounds and OST), with a new time and location setting, while being extremely gruesome and shocking, because TDD, even though it was released in 2010, will be very, very hard to top. I sincerely hope they won't fail at it.

  16. Yes, you are right. But "Alien: Isolation" what you mean is not even half as good as "SOMA". It's still a very good game, but nothing compared to Frictional Games.

    1. Okay, it was not clear for me what you meant. Because most people think "Alien: Isolation" is scarier than SOMA. But I think a good horror game has more aspects than just how scary it is. By that way Alien isn't even scarier than the monsters in SOMA. SOMA is scarier and has a lot better story and no dull weapon gameplay.

    2. Well, it is an actual game, for starters...

  17. We don't always make the right choices, and even Amnesia: The Dark Descent could be better. But it's the best horror game so far, in my opinion. Nothing compares. And everything in this blog post details the techniques that are crucial to good horror, albeit explained in a softer, kinder way than I ever could:

    I get angry with today's horror experiences, because they disappoint me so sharply. They're all without narrative substance and filled with jumpscares. It doesn't sate my sensation-gorging desire for fear in the slightest. Most "horror" games just annoy me rather than frighten me, and it's a real shame.

    Thomas Grip is offering these techniques to success (for free!) to literally anybody who cares about making good horror experiences, and manages to keep his cool in the process without slandering anyone in particular.

    What. A nice guy.

    I hope creative horror directors find this. Even if there is so much more to detail (which I agree with), this is a start. Please take notes, future horror developers!

    1. It seems you have missed some of the best recent horror hames:
      - Lorelai
      - Downfall Redux
      - The Cat Lady
      - Neverending Nightmares
      - Inside
      - Asylum (coming soon)
      - Call of Cthulhu
      - The Dark Occult
      - Silver Chains
      - Visage (coming soon)
      - and so much more

      And that even Jumpscares can work shows she game "Pineview Drive" which is scary as hell.

  18. I would be interested to know what Thomas thinks about "Midsommar" by Ari Aster while this is a festival in sweden. It's not that genius as "Suspiria" by Luca Guadagnino, but a fresh wind in the horror movie genre.

  19. "In Amnesia: The Dark Descent, the game was divided into hub maps, so there was no one path or right order to do things. These choices increased anxiety. Whereas maps in SOMA were way more streamlined, and we noticed a considerable drop in scariness due to this."

    - I agree with this. If you ask me I prefer hub maps over streamlined worlds for increasing the scariness. I have no problem with loading screens. They do not rip me out of the immersion.

  20. While Jumpscares do not work in a movie, they can work in a game. Don't understand me wrong. I'm against jumpscares. Intelligent psychological horror does not use them. But if done right jumpscares can work. An example is "Pineview Drive". This horror game is full of jumpscares, but they all work. It has no story, but an incredible atmosphere and it's scary as hell. Amnesia also use some jumpscares and they work too. Falling down books from a shelf are no jumpscares, because they do not jump into your face. But when you open a drawer and bones with a skull came out in front of you with a loud shock effect sound playing, this is a jump scare. And it was scary. But jjmpscares in other games are often dull. That's the reason why I hate them. But in a horror movie they are a no go per se!

  21. You might want to grok gameplay at some point. Stop fighting it like it is an evil ghost taking away your relatives.
    What gameplay does - is it tells you (the player) what you can and can't do, therefore you can decide which situation is dangerous and which isn't. On your own. Organically.
    Without it all you have is... scary pictures. Which do work on some level but not necessarily on others.
    Yes, the player will outskill the horror at some point, but this little bit of growth will be quite memorable.

    Or don't. The audience for gameless games is quite big and From isn't giving away their blood throne any time soon.

  22. OMG, that was some lesson in horror game making. Really good writing

  23. Watched "The Wicker Man" (1973) the final cut, which is a quite intelligent horror movie. Much better and much more intense than "The Exorcist".

  24. any chance we'll see something from new game in next year... :D


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