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Creating The Perfect Horror Game -- How thechineseroom Plans To Bring Back Fear In The Amnesia Sequel

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Posted October 16, 2012 - By Rob Manuel


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Creating The Perfect Horror Game -- How thechineseroom Plans To Bring Back Fear In The Amnesia Sequel

When you think back to the great great horror games of our time, few modern games compare to the original Resident Evil or Silent Hill 2, but one modern game, with little to no fanfare and by word of mouth alone, seems to have caught the hearts and fears of gamers around the world. With no ammo, RPG elements, or a massive boss to speak off; one title passes through the lips of gamers everywhere when it comes to horror.

I’m talking about Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

With the sequel, Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs, coming out next year; the team behind Dear Esther, thechineseroom, stepped forward to take on the darkness. Some may question if they have the chops to take on such a challenge. Dan Pinchbeck, creative director at thechineseroom, talked about what made Amnesia so scary at this year’s IndieCade 2012 and their focus for the sequel. The lessons here resonate not only with their games, but also with all horror games and how the player approaches the terror.

Here are just a few of the lessons I gleamed from the Dan's lecture about Amnesia.

Creating The Perfect Horror Game -- How thechineseroom Plans To Bring Back Fear In The Amnesia Sequel

I remember catching a glimpse of it as the creature round the corner. His dark shadow lingered only slightly longer before disappearing into the inky darkness. It’s the kind of moment that catches your breath right in the middle of your throat and won’t let go until you’re sure he won’t turn around. Amnesia leaves a trail of these little “heart stopping” moments throughout the game as it slowly moves you through the world. Dan points out that it’s this slow turn of the knife that makes the final cut that much more powerful.

Amnesia keeps you alive long enough to build the suspense before bringing down the knife. Terror needs to build, to grow, and take root with every move you make in the game. Quick and frequent deaths often take you out of the experience. A slow ride stays with you even after the axe falls.

Maybe it goes without saying, but one of the brilliant moves in Amnesia was to not give the character a way to fight back. No gun. No chainsaw. No magic powers to speak of. The main character’s main defense from the horror seeking him out was the ability to hide and wait. Once you give the player a gun or the power to face the darkness, the terror slips away, only to become another monster to shoot in the darkness.

Not everyone has made it through Amnesia, so I’m going to use a different game for this point – Silent Hill 2. Part of the horror comes from the person you play as, that nagging feeling that something may be just a little off about you. And when the twist hits, it’s far too late to back out. Sometimes the most horrible feeling is that you can’t back out of a journey.

Creating The Perfect Horror Game -- How thechineseroom Plans To Bring Back Fear In The Amnesia Sequel

James Sunderland started out as a man looking for his wife in the town of Silent Hill. As we follow our intrepid hero through the bitter streets and bloody hallways, there’s a feeling that there’s something more to James’ motivation. And by the end, it’s all too late when we find out that we turn out to be the true killer in the story. James’ not looking for his wife out of sympathy, but horror when he finds out his victim may still be alive. Amnesia takes you on the same route as you descend deeper into the castle.

Nothing is stopping you from simply turning off the game. Put it away. Delete it off your computer. Let the memories slip away like the nightmares from last night. But something keeps pulling you back into the darkness. Dan points to the strange beauty that runs throughout the still hallways and twisted rooms. Unsettling and curious, the environment calls to the player as it switches from beauty to horror in the blink of an eye. And by doing so, you keep your audience off balance.

Combine these lessons with the visuals of Dear Esther and you might just have the makings of one incredible horror experience. With the recent batch of horror titles such as Lone Survivor, Home, Routine, and The Intruder on the horizon, it’s clear that there’s an audience out there looking for a true horror experience. So put away those guns and turn out the lights. It’s time that we faced that darkness like real gamers.

Creating The Perfect Horror Game -- How thechineseroom Plans To Bring Back Fear In The Amnesia Sequel
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