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  • Employing Creative Suspense In Game Design

    [01.28.20]
    - Yilai Zhao

  • The prologue to horror

    Comparing to jump scares, psychological stress brings more impact to the player. Resident evil 1 was a good example of it. Due to technical restrictions, this game used fixed camera in every pre-rendered 2D scene in order to achieve 3D gameplay while maintaining visual quality. Rather than a compromise, the game has actually made the most out of this design by optimizing the camera placement.

    The most memorable moment of that game for me wasn't the dogs breaking through the windows, but the "shotgun room". When I entered it for the first time, it was a peaceful space with no enemies nor BGM, but the camera brings tremendous anxiety to me: it's shot from above, showing suspicious old bloodstain-like traces all over the walls. I felt being observed and pressured, but nothing seemed to be happening.

    With a question mark in my head, I took the shotgun and left the inner room - and here comes the climax, the famous dropping ceiling trap ! This time, the camera changes to a direction where I could see the ceiling. Suddenly everything was explained, the bloodstains were from previous victims, and the camera was indeed observing me, as the trap itself !

    In fact, the trap could be within the same room where the item was (like in later RE games), and the ceiling could still be hidden if the camera keeps a normal small pitch angle. But without the well-thought configurations, the player would have less bad conscience while stealing the shotgun, and the trap becomes a plain surprise instead of a "punishment", the player wouldn't need to experience that 1 minute full of anxiety and doubts !

    My favorite part in The legend of Zelda: ocarina of time is the well in Kakariko village. Not only the creepy bottom of the well level itself, ever since I visited it the first time as child Link, I kept thinking about what's underneath till I managed to drain the water quite late during the walkthrough. The cherry on top here is the warning message beside the well indicating it's "Dark, narrow and scary", which is supposed to be a prohibition that usually works in an opposite way.

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