cherubi-pie said: Hey, you're someone whose opinions on horror and its production I value pretty highly, so I have a question for you! I'm working on a game that involves horror storytelling. I tried googling for advice on how to tell good horror stories and how to world build neat scary shit, buuuuut mostly it's not great. Do you know where I could get more solid advice? Binging on scary movies is the only thing I've got to go on right now.
My general advice is people are more afraid if they don’t completely understand what all the rules are, what the situation is, and how long they’re going to be safe for. Like, that awesome, eerie atmosphere that brings at least me to horror is the feeling that you don’t understand what exactly is going on, but if you press on maybe you will. And you don’t ever have to lay all the cards on the table and explicitly explain it, but if you hold that carrot of resolution in front of your audience they’ll walk towards it.
I think if you binge on movies the number one thing you should pay attention to is pacing, like how long do the protagonists go without direct conflict with the antagonists, how long does it take before they let you see anything actually scary, at what pace do they drop breadcrumbs of information. Basically, good horror stories are very very similar to good mystery stories, once the audience has figured out the answer they lose interest, unless you can give them enough reasonable doubt for them to press on and see if they guessed wrong (and if you do that, you’d better prove them wrong or find some other way to twist their expectations because nothing is more disappointing than finding out the lame easy answer is the correct one). The most important thing to keep a horror story alive is to figure out the minimum amount of information you can feed out to keep the audience engaged enough to keep rooting around for more.
If you’re speaking from a game perspective, how in-control of the game the player is will completely decide whether it’s an action game or a horror game. When the gameplay is focused on fighting enemies, ammunition is in ready supply, players know exactly when to expect an attack, etc, they feel in control of the situation and it isn’t a horror experience anymore. When the focus is on exploring or watching and waiting and combat isn’t such a common occurrence that players can get the formula down to a science, that’s how you build atmosphere and foster that sense of unease and helplessness.