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

Ocean Chambers: Creating a concept document for review

For our major client project for the year, we have decided as a group of 4 to create the Ocean Chambers building for the Heritage open event.

C – Burstall’s Solicitors have commissioned Games Design to recreate their building (OCEAN CHAMBERS) on Lowgate ready to show at next years Heritage Open Days event.

A flypast of a reconstruction of the building in a given period (TBC) will be the expected final result. Client Feedback will be given.”

To start our project, we decided to create an concept document which was to be taken to Ocean Chambers to suggest different routes we could pursue.

The document was put together in word initially and images created with the use of 3dsmax, photoshop and sketches then was handed over to Dave Eccles in which he designed the physical concept document that our team was able to tweak. After small adjustments from myself and our team, we gave our finished document to Gareth who took it to the client. They were happy with our project idea and informed us they wanted us to recreate the building the year it was built. I am excited for this task at hand as it will allow us to hone in on our skill-sets and produce something for a big client which may help us pursue other clients, aid our portfolio and help us into the industry.

 

 

 

FMP Update: 16/12/2015

Since my last post my project was in pieces with nothing really giving much other than being rather still. Since then, I have managed to implement a series of small number of things which will keep the player entertained while exploring my environment.

Firstly, I have added subtle animation to parts of the part for example the park now contains both a moving ferris wheel and a round about which gently moves due to the wind. I have discovered around three ways to add animation within UE4 and I will be showcasing these different methods in my next blog post, each having their own positives and negatives.

Finally, I have added a character model from MakeHuman as a place holder which moves and the player is able to interact with. The only issues with the MakeHuman character is that the animation is very animation and for a living friendly character shouldn’t be doing this as it makes the player feel uneasy about approaching the character due to them feeling that the character is an enemy. The animation ended up this way due to myself manually editing the animation sequence within UE4 rather than keyframing a more realistic animation. Although, on the plus side of this, It made me realize how effectively animatronics would work within the environment.

Reflection on FMP: Sept – Nov

In September I made the decision to create a abandoned theme park for my FMP. The project itself was, and still remains to be. something I am passionate about creating. Since starting the project, I have been able to tackle some research, advancing my 3D ability and developing my knowledge of Blueprint. I would say that my 3D has come a long way since my last major project in my second year, and I have been able to create better models at a faster pace giving me more time to populate my level with a range of assets. On the other hand, I feel this is something that needs to speed up still in order to meet my deadline. Research was my strongest point last year, so I made the decision to make my focus my 3D so due to this my blog posts and research have been fewer than my previous year. My aim is to now aim to have at least three blog posts per week showing reflection in order to talk about parts of the development and how I have been able to overcome areas which I have previously struggled. This will also allow others to critique my work so that I can better my work using suggestions from other individuals (Both industry professionals or hobbyists). I feel this is something that isn’t problematic and just requires more dedicated time to writing which is something I can definitely do. Finally, My blueprints are something that I am struggling with and require my up most attention so this is something that I will be focusing on the most until after Christmas. I have around five blueprints to create by the end of the year, and more can be added if I achieve this goal.

In regards to my design process, I feel that I have been taking to drawing in my sketchbook a lot easier a transition than I did in my previous year. Once I have refined this, then I will have my design process in place. One issue that I have recently had to come to terms with is my inability to draw perspective, so I have decided to approach this by attending life drawing sessions but I will also try draw things from home in order to grasp this in order to improve future drawings to get them to an industry standard. I am currently at a point within my environment that I have a basic block out, I have some models ranging from buildings to assets, plus an animated model of a ferris wheel. Some of my assets have some textures on them although these are still being implemented and in regards to blueprint, currently there is nothing. I have decided for the next two weeks, my focus will be on implementing two of those blueprints to enhance the interactivity of the environment as I feel this is important for my piece to work.

Outsourcing for project

I have decided to outsource a small portion of my project to increase the amount of assets within my environment. David Smith has taken the role of an outsourced 3d artist and has been tasked to create a Hook a Duck stall for my FMP. Within my email I sent him two documents; A design document for the stall and a design document for the environment. Both of these documents would help David to create the asset and aid him in designing it to a similar format to other assets within my environment.

Outsourcing davidOutsourcing david 2

This is as far as we have gotten in regards to correspondence but hopefully will be able to move this a long as soon as possible.