What makes PT an effective horror game?

PT is a first person psychological survival horror game which was created by both Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro for the Playstation 4. It was released on 12th August 2014 and removed on 29th April 2015.

The game itself starts you in a concrete room which only has one door, in which you pass through and enter a corridor. The corridor loops itself and subtly changes itself every time you complete the corridor only to start back again at the beginning. Over the course of the game, you encounter many scares such as being approached by “Lisa” or being spoken to by an under developed featus. The player is able to collect torn pieces of a photo and assemble it within the frame, if the player manages to do this they are able to leave the building.

There are several factors within PT which make the game successful. Firstly, the game itself focuses on a “less of more” approach to horror allowing the player to expect the unexpected, not knowing when something was going to happen. It allows the trigger and release to work amazingly, as when the player expects something to happen with all the symbolism suggesting so, the player is made to leave and re-enter the hallway feeling a panic because nothing happened. The game does this by using a dreamscape setting, set in an environment which is familiar to everybody, praying on fears that most of us have felt while staying at home alone. Plenty of times have I been alone in my dark house thinking that a silhouette from a house hold object was an individual stood at the end of the hallway.

Room

The game prays on fears that we are unable to understand or rationalise. For example, within the game some doors will open and close of their own accord. We try to rationalise this with the idea of a haunting because then we are able to understand what we are facing and are able to destroy it with an exorcism. This is something we see typically within horror films and is just the general solution to this problem. However, PT puts you in a household hallway in the exact situation you have been in at home, so realistically an exorcism isn’t a thought nor is it available to you anyway so you must face the entity on your own by approaching the door despite your brain is telling you to turn away. There is also the fact we are unsure what is opening and closing the door until later on in the game in which we become face to face with Lisa who screams and shuts the door.

face

There are no “rules” within this game so the player is never sure what to expect. This means that’s people sometimes have a different play through, some experiencing all the horrors within the house and others only getting a select few. Although, this entices the players urge of exploration as the majority of PT focuses on puzzles in order to better understand the environment. Taboo subjects within this game make the player uncomfortable such as a crying featus in a sink or the crying child sound coming from the bleeding fridge.  These are things that are too unbearable for us to think could exist in a video game as they make the player feel extremely uncomfortable as they are only children. When experiencing this game, it made me feel that they managed to think out of the box when developing the demo to offer something which makes us uncomfortable but isn’t cliché.

The game is interesting as it breaks the 4th wall meaning that the game acknowledges the player. It does this by the use of the radio and how it says things such as “Look behind you” and “nows the time! Do it!”. Another example is a talking bloody bag which delivers a short monolog warning the player “The only me is me, are you sure the only you is you?”. Breaking the 4th wall in this way begins to blur the line of reality and fantasy meaning that during this point within the demo the player will have reached a state of flow, and now that they are so immersed within the game it becomes a personal experience with the spooks within the game becoming more real than before. Once you complete the demo, you feel like the game itself isn’t over and you are left feeling uncomfortable within your own house.

There have been a few games inspired by PT and how it approaches creating atmosphere then using that to scare the audience in ways that haven’t been done as effectively within games before. Researching into this, I discovered that the game The Park which I had found influential within my games development used PT as influence within their project. Within my project I will aim to use what makes PT effective within my FMP to help invoke a feeling of fear in order to create good atmosphere and a great experience for the player. I will keep the controls within the game simplistic so that all players of any experience are able to partake and it also allows the player to reach a state of flow quicker as the controls make it easy to navigate through the environment.

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The fear of the uncanny

Researching into the further into the Uncanny, I went to look at Freud’s lecture notes on “The Uncanny”

http://courses.washington.edu/freudlit/Uncanny.Notes.html

Within this, he links the uncanny as the aesthetics of a subject. He goes on to mention it has something to do with a certain kind of feeling alongside some emotional impulses as the subject is so frightening that it invokes fear into those who observe it. He defines the term as “uncanny as the class of frightening things that leads us back to what is known and familiar.” He talks about that many have only chosen to observe the beauty within things yet the focus on what makes the uncanny has yet to be investigated fully.

He breaks down Heimlich (Canny) and Unheimlich (Uncanny) each into two parts.

Canny 1 – known, familiar

Uncanny 1 – Unknown, unfamiliar

Canny 2 – Secret, Unknown

Uncanny 2 – Revealed, uncovered

The Uncanny.png

An example of something being uncanny would be flickering lights within a level as these make the player feel uncomfortable as it is something not expected from the environment. If a light was off at the end of the hall, this would also cause the player to feel uncomfortable as makes the player feel as if something is wrong. Having something like this make the player feel uncomfortable, they naturally begin to explore the environment more to find other things which may be “out of place”. In order for the uncanny to be effective it must be good enough for it to be plausible in the real world rather than disregarded as fantasy.

dark room

Silent Hill series is another set of games/film which is able to grasp the uncanny rather well by flicking between two different versions of the world. The “Fog” world is an almost exact copy of the “Real” world but that barely anyone resides there and it’s coated in dark fog. Within the fog world there are monsters and almost all of the city seems in disrepair.  The fog world is uncanny because it resembles the real world but it is unsettling as even talking to people within the fog world makes you feel uneasy as they are unsettling.

silent hill

Tension and release allows the uncanny to world well as the uncanny helps create the tension which is then released giving the player the shock of their experience. Tension and release is important in story telling as it’s that expectation that something is going to happen, and when it happens you feel as sense of emotion. Defeating an enemy is a form of tension and release as on a game such as Devil May Cry, when you are attacked by a monster you build the tension, and when the monster is defeated that tension is released. Some games prefer to build tension slowly so when the player is faced with their final challenge, they are now equip with more knowledge and experiences to aid them in defeating the obstacle and allowing themselves the release of what they had just been through in order to get to that moment. Within horror games, the player is able to face small doses of cognitive tension in order to get an understanding of what is around them or what they are facing, although with horror games they enjoy this being a continuous experience. The uncanny allows the player to build up tension in a way that it can be stretched for large periods of time until the right moment in which the player is given the payoff.

An example of this in a horror would be the film The Village (2004), within the film you learn about a small village that has been isolated and live in fear of creatures that live outside of the woods. One of the villages leave in order to collect medical supplies, before she leaves she is informed that in fact the monsters are not real. When she gets out of the woods she meets a park ranger who informs her that it’s actually the modern era and not the 19th century. She discovered within that moment that her whole life had been a lie. The uncanny is as Freud explains as “The unknown/secret” is now “revealed/uncovered” now allows the viewer to feel an emotional connection to the people within the village who had been lied too for their whole lives. The director manages to carry the plot twist right until the end in which the payoff is given giving the audience a sense of release.

I am unsure how I will explore tension and release within my FMP at this current point, but it is something that I wish to do especially if I want to continue my game idea to the very end. I feel that in order for it to work effectively I need to know the full story behind my game in order to plan how I will subtly implement this well.

Project inspiration: Left 4 Dead 2

For this blog post I will be discussing the fairground environment from Left 4 Dead 2. This environment can be seen in this video;

This is the level which inspired me to create a theme park horror level for my FMP. There are many reasons for this choice for example the placement of the assets within the level and the thought behind the levels design really comes to life within this environment. I also enjoy how the player can partake in some of the activities within the park allowing them to interact within the environment as if it was a real theme park. Finally, I really enjoy how the environment itself is alive with a lot of the equipment working and with lights, yet the player doesn’t question this despite the level being plagued by the infected and assets looking worn which would suggest this had been abandoned for some time.

There are five parts to this environment these are; The highway, Fairground, the coaster (Tunnel of love), the barns and finally the concert. Although I won’t dwell too much into these as my focus is on the fairground section of the environment, I find it really interesting how the environments flow so well in between each other. This is done by the player starting and finishing each part of the map in a safe house giving the player time to stock up on supplies ready to progress through the next level so that they can be rewarded their freedom. The game uses positive reinforcement within the level by rewarding the character for killing the zombies within the environment.

We know positive reinforcement as:

Do X ==> Y happens ==> Feel good ==> Do X more

So, if X is zombies and Y is points then the equation is simply this. If we kill a zombie and we collect points, we feel good about it so we end up killing more zombies. The player also has other positive reinforcements within the game such as a scoreboard at the end of each round so that the player can see how many kills/points they had received that turn. This can also motivate the player to play better the next turn, or make the player feel powerful knowing they had been so successful that turn.  In regards to negative reinforcement, if your player is killed then they must wait until they reappear on the map and one of their team mates free them. Due to this they won’t be collecting as many points within the level and their chance of being at the top of the scoreboard is less. Also, if the player dies a number of times then they are simply taken out of the game. If all the players don’t survive, then they must start again at the last safe house.

Within the fairground level, the player has the chance to play a shooting mini game. If the player reaches 750 points before the time runs out then they will receive a gnome. If the player manages to carry this gnome to the end of the final level then the player is rewarded an achievement for this and if the player is completing this on an Xbox then they unlock a t-shirt for their avatar to wear. There are multiple parts of this I will discuss on why having this mini game was such a successful idea.

Firstly, it draws away from the main quest and gives the player something different to do giving the level more replayability and also giving a spin to the environment by simply adding an extra challenge to the player. This would appeal to those who fit into the “achiever” category while the killing aspect within the game would be more towards the “killers” category. Also looking at Bartle’s test we can see there are “socializers” and “explorers”. This game level would appeal to both of these kind of people as the map offers the player a unique map to explore and learn more about the map to help their team mates, while the socializer would benefit from this map as they are able to join in games with other people who are playing this map through various game modes which L4D2 has to offer.

Secondly, adding a mini game gives an interactive value to the environment making it seem more real allowing the player to enter a state of flow as the environment isn’t restricting the player. It also gives the player a chance prove themselves by partaking in the mini game in hope to beat their friends score.

Finally, adding rewards for partaking in the small quests within the games environment is something that we do see often, although in L4D2 they keep them to a minimum and the player isn’t required to do them. This actually isn’t mentioned within the games dialog and the player tends to stumble across the mini game and is rewarded the gnome.

With the player working out that interacting with the shooting range they will be rewarded a prize, once they achieve the prize they feel more rewarded as it is something they did on their own with little help from the game. Although, the skills required to partake in this mini game are already embedded within the player due to similar games they may have played or real life experiences with those kind of games at carnivals so the game doesn’t have to teach these to the player as the player instinctively already knows what to do. The player decides to travel with the gnome rather than abandon their prize, in which the player adds an element of challenge as they are unable to fight while holding the gnome.

When the player completes the level with the gnome, they receive an achievement and an T-shirt for the players avatar. These allow the player to feel successful and gives the player the means to show their success to others through avatar clothing and visual achievements which can be displayed to other players. I will consider these different aspects when developing my environment in order to keep the player interacting with the level but also to find ways to keep the player rewarded once they have finished the environment.

Substance Painter and how it can improve my projects

After conversing with many people on the topic, I decided to take the leap of faith and begin looking at using substance painter. My reason for the choice in this particular software is due to the ease of being able to paint decals or damage onto your asset, I believe this to be the best way to deal with adding details quickly for my FMP and may come in handy for my client project. I have used B2M which is one of their other pieces of software which generates images into materials, while substance painter is a 3D painting software. There is also substance designer which allows you to create materials from scratch but this is something I have yet to look into.

My first impressions are that this software is really amazing for what it is and I found the interface really easy to get to grips with. You are able to produce multiple maps very quickly allowing you to implement these within your game as soon as possible.  I decided I would attempt to create a PBR texture for my safe, I uploaded the asset into engine and decided to use the materials they give you within the software as a placeholder during this test. I was able from this to create an alpha mask within the fill layer and use this to add dirt and grime to particular parts of the model. Then I began having issues with the software. The textures I had generated had very strong metallic and roughness maps causing them to look very shiny within UE4, yet in Substance Painter these were looking as intended. This is easily resolved by tweaking the maps within photoshop, but for now these were the results I have achieved so far. The safe on the left is generated within Substance Designer, The one on the right is the same maps within UE4. Will keep posted once this issue has been resolved.

FMP Inspirations: The Park

The Park was developed by Funcom and released in October 2015. The game is a first person psychological horror adventure game. This game is one of the titles which I took inspiration from when developing my FMP as I really enjoyed how the game guides the player through a strong narrative while allowing them to experience the game through interactive rides and finding hidden secrets within the levels. The story itself is based around a mother, Lorraine, who is trying to find her missing son. She is able to hear him yet is unable to actually locate her son Callum within the park, over the course of the journey Lorraine learns of the dark past of the park.

The player is able to interact with items such as newspapers and fliers which tell the player different aspects of the park for example information about its employees to just information about the park itself.  Rides are also functioning within the park so the player has the chance to experience these and also use them as a method of trying to reach Callum. One aspect I found very interesting about this game is how over the course of the game Lorraine’s voice becomes more frantic as her concern for finding her son grows.  I think this is an interesting mechanic and also makes the characters feel more real as any parent who loses their child is bound to become more panicked the longer it takes to find their child. I also feel it adds to the atmosphere of the game when applied with Lorraine’s background which she openly discussed when venturing through the park. She admits her faults and the players become sympathetic towards her because of this, they begin to feel a need to help Lorraine.

The reason I have taken inspiration from this game is due to the atmosphere it captures without having to use traditional clichés all of the time, and due to this I was able to keep hooked throughout the game. Some examples of this being re-entering a room yet every time the player enters, the room changes to something more insane then the first for example hanging dolls, blood and scribbled notes. It takes typical horror clichés such as flicking lights to a new level by adding the chance that the player could be directed into danger rather than being guided into a safe haven. Another reason I find this game particularly interesting is due to the ways it can take the player through a standard theme park environment into many different warped environments that show the characters instability without the player themselves feeling confused or lost at the designers choice or falling out of a state of flow with the game. These two things are things I am aiming to try and replicate within my games development so that my game can capture the atmosphere that is similar to that of The Park’s.

 

Vertex painting – 11/1/2015

I have made the decision to paint the ground within my FMP, the process which I found that I wanted to experiment with and thought that would be the most useful for this would be vertex painting. The reason for my choice of vertex painting rather than just simply texturing the floor is because this allows me to constantly edit the floor material between four different textures and allowing me to edit until I reach my desired result. Although vertex painting has its uses and can be considered extremely useful, it has its negatives. One which applies to me is that the floor itself must contain a large amount of verts meaning that the environment uses more polys then it should but after weighing out the pros and cons I believe for the environment floor, this would be an advantage. I would not consider vertex painting for assets within my environment as this wouldn’t be optimising and would not be the most effective method. This could be used to texture rust onto objects within my environment, although I would either simply have rust on the texture itself or use decals where possible in order to achieve that look with far less poly count.

Vertex painting works by sharing multiple textures on a single material by working between the different channels in order to apply them to the desired model, in this instance it would be the section of floor I have modelled. Within this material, I would lay out the textures as shown below in order to create a functioning material which would work within engine.

vertex1

This material uses two different types of textures which each contain four different maps (Normal, Albedo, Roughness and Ambient Occlusion), each one passing through a lerp and a multiply node and finally being attached to the correct socket. The node which holds all of these together is the vertex paint node, which is the node that allows us to paint between the original state and the alpha state in order to create two different effects.

vertex2

Once saving my material, I went onto the paint tab, deselected the red, green and blue channels leaving only the alpha channel selected. I began painting on my material by pressing the left mouse button and shift in order to start painting grass onto my concrete and began creating my desired look.

vertex3

Visit to Hull’s history centre

We thought it would be in our best interest to visit the History Centre in order to seek out additional information which would help us in deciding the interior of the building or just to find photographs or text which may help us in the development for the overall project. We looked at both books and microfilm and came across several images and text which would be of use. The images I have collected are as follows;

These images show lowgate within 1988 which is very interesting as this was just before Ocean Chambers was created. The other images show the imports and exports of Hull trade within 1890’s. This information tells us that cotton, wood,iron and wool was popular during this period meaning that this was likely used within the buildings design and interior. We also found a statement at the History centre which clarified that lowgate had electrics in 1895. This information will be useful as we can use this to add electricity to the building as previously the interior was lit by candle and oil.

electricity

Meeting with the client: Burstalls

Yesterday we met with Burstalls to showcase how far we have come with our work since they last saw our rough designs. For those unfamiliar with the project, we are set to create the Ocean Chambers building the year of its creation (1899-1901) on a turntable using software such as Unreal Engine 4 and 3dsmax.  We decided for our presentation that we would have at least two videos and several renders of the assets we have currently created to showcase our progression within the project.

Here are my renders which were showcased for the project, these were alongside other team members work;

This is footage taken from in Unreal Engine 4 of our current progress. This video was created by creating a blueprint within UE4 and a matinee sequence. The blueprint triggered the sequence to play during recording allowing me to capture the footage. Below is the blueprint I used alongside the video that was recorded.

Flythrough blueprint

The presentation itself was received well by our client and they were keen to push the project forward as well as we are. After speaking with our client we took some more photographs of the building for additional reference images for our project. An issue I came across straight away was the camera that I had brought with me and sadly due to technical errors and inexperience with working with that camera that the shots were sadly dark. The shots I had taken I will still be able to use due to being able to enhance these so that they can be used for reference. Sadly these photos will be unable to use as textures due to the quality of the photographs. On a positive note, I did receive some critical information about the company/artist who designed the flooring within the building alongside other bits of information which will be of great use when researching into the item being replicated so that we can create something which will match perfectly. It was addressed in the presentation that we would be able to communicate with the client the following month showing more progress for the project in order to keep them up to scratch with the direct the project is going.

How to make the Burstalls environment more realistic

Adding interactivity within the environment allows more options for the player to respond to the environment allowing the world to feel more real and because of this the player will continue playing the game. For example allowing the player to interact with assets within the level would give the player more freedoms within the environment and allowing them to enjoy themselves as they play. One method could be using blueprints for the player to open a door to enter a new room would be purposeful allowing them to access a new area. On the other hand if we used a blueprint such as allowing the player to open every cupboard then this would be pointless as the player has no need to do this and would only become annoying if overused. The player should be rewarded for exploration and experimenting with things within the environment.

One example could be that the player gains an achievement for locating particular assets within the level. Another could be gaining an achievement for using a candle in the basement so that the player is able to see within the unlit room. This is simple cause and effect which gives the player a need to use a blueprint rather than simply having it there. To add unpredictability it could be that dropping a candle or approaching a flammable asset while holding the candle would set the asset a light. This would end the level with the player, unlocking a hidden achievement of “Pyromaniac” due to setting the environment alight. This wouldn’t be a good idea for the Burstalls project as it does not suit the project because our project is a historical piece.

If a player smashes a window then glass should shatter in the place in which it occurred, if people are nearby then they would respond to the broken glass by either making a comment or moving out of the way and finally a sound with be caused due to the glass in which people within a certain radius would be alerted.  Another example is that the player is able to select a book from a bookshelf and that they are able to open it and read dialog from the book. If something is able to be activated by the player then our team should aim to make this possible for example windows can be opened/closed, candles can be unlit/lit and books can be opened and closed.

Creating “freedom” within our environment

There are many methods in order to create a sense of freedom within an environment, in this blog post we will explore different methods of creating a sense of freedom for the Burstalls project.

One way that we could create freedom within this project is by giving the player choices or at least the feeling of choice so that the player would feel freer the more they explore and get to know the level. An example of choice could be the choice to explore the basement before checking out any other room upstairs, or being able to interact with a candle in the basement. Even closing the door when leaving a room gives the player the choice to leave it open or to close it.

Non-Linear games allow the player to break free from the main quest in order to simply explore or to complete an alternative quest. This is giving the player the option to partake in other activities rather than the main quest itself, this could be anything from making an object from resources found in the level or even simply the urge to explore the entire environment to unlock all the exploration achievements before partaking on the main quest.

If the world was larger or contained an in depth story then naturally the player will feel freer. If the environment was to be small, then the creator should reflect on the level of detail within the game environment as having more details could create new pathways for the player to follow. For example if we have a small room within Burstalls solicitors then we should aim to pack this with enough detail as possible to give story to the room and thus possibly expanding the use of the room through a quest. Although, this should only be done with necessary in order to create a meaningful experience for the player as if this is overdone it could take away from the user experience.

Having some level of unpredictability within the level is something which would increase user freedoms as it means giving the player more than one focus. This means that the player will have multiple responses which can be taken further in which the player can be thrown off guard by a situation they didn’t expect. This level of unpredictability can enhance user experience but if too much is used then it can throw the user out of a state of flow and put them off continuing their experience. Players want to have a level of control within their environment but at the same time to not expect everything to be how they intended with some hidden surprises waiting for them. Once a foundation has been created then it has room for a level of unpredictability to be established.