Making a horror VN that's actually scary?

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Making a horror VN that's actually scary?

#1 Post by ShinyStarr » Fri Jun 07, 2013 2:35 am

I'm currently writing and doing art for a visual novel I plan on making. It's going to be pretty short since it is my first try and it's mostly just to learn how to use Renpy, but of course I don't want it to turn out too bad. I was wondering how I could make horror more effective using the interactivity of a visual novel. I know music and sound effects can set an eerie mood but when it comes to the actual scary parts of the story I'm not sure if I can present them well enough visually.

The annoying thing is I'm rarely ever scared of anything; especially when it's displayed right in front of me. Like when I was little I really liked that movie Pet Semetary. Zelda use to scare me so much I couldn't look at her (especially when she was hunched over by the wall lookin at me!) but when you actually get a good look at scary characters it's not so frightening anymore. Maybe I would be better off just using cheesy jump scares of spooky faces! :lol:

btw for my story i'm going more for a silent hill vibe (I'll try not to be too big of a knock off when it comes to the artwork); I want it to be grotesque, icky and dark! the main themes are insect infestation and ghosts; i was inspired by that hoarders tv show lol

So anywho; when it comes to scary imagery do you think I should be more subtle or more in your face? What do you think would be most effective in this medium? Also what types of things scare you??

Sorry if this is in the wrong section since it is mostly about presenting art rather than how to make it...

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Re: Making a horror VN that's actually scary?

#2 Post by dramspringfeald » Fri Jun 07, 2013 3:53 am

Read theHorror Tropes and the Horror Index This should help you for really just about everything you are asking.... Also I think this goes in CD or Writing but what ever.

You should also study up on Horror movies, Books and games These will give you an Idea or Blueprint for writing them. Finally study up on Basic Psychology, Phobias and Fear itself. Keep a Log of all your fears. Journal out how you would have reacted from those stores you were watching. THEN write a way

Now that I got those out of the way.

Don't write what you think will scare others. Instead show them YOUR Fears and make them theirs. "From the director's nightmares to yours!" Let them dream in terror of your mind and don't forget to REALLY enjoy it. See if you can be cruel to your players... on the characters. I don't think James was to worried about the little burning children quite as much as you were.

Suspense in a game creates more fear then actually scaring them. The sound or lack there of can wreck us. The Dun dun of jaws was FAR more frightening then the shark itself. Birds lacked a music track making our pre-built mind search even harder until the birds erupted with the calls.

We rely on our senses in games, try removing one or two in game play. Our main senses in a game are Touch, Sound, Sight and (Pseudo)Smell. If you muck with any of them you can affect the way our minds see it.
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Re: Making a horror VN that's actually scary?

#3 Post by Taleweaver » Fri Jun 07, 2013 4:20 am

No, this is quite fine.

First of all, think about how to use the most classic visual scare of all: the jump scare. A few truly frightening games work without it, but let's face it: it's effective, and it's easy to program. Just don't overuse it. Once or maybe twice is fine, especially if used as the final twist: players think they have won and then GAAAAAH! Screamer! Kids love it.

Secondly, from a visual standpoint, deny your players a good look. Maybe check out The Dreaming - for large parts of the game, everything is shrouded by a black haze that only allows for glimpses of your surroundings. Even the most benign graphics suddenly become scary as fuck if you only see bits and pieces of them and the players' imaginations fill in the blanks with the worst they can find. Being afraid of the dark is human nature. Play with that nature.

Use music to your advantage. Go for the creepiest pieces of ambient music you can find on Jamendo or elsewhere. Accentuate by putting in a harpsichord piece here and there, if appropriate. And if you truly want to scare the player, suddenly and abruptly stop the music in the middle of a scene and replace it with the sound of breathing, or maybe a heartbeat. People will literally flinch in expectation of what's coming.

And finally, mess with the player's control of the game. Take away their certainty that the game is always controlled the same way, and that these dialogue choice boxes don't change content as soon as they hover their mouse over it. Make their mouse pointer shake and shiver when their characters get scared, make the mouse pointer flatly refuse to move towards something, or force them to click a choice they know will kill their character. And then don't kill their character but do something worse.

Horror is all about messing with people who, by accessing horror media, agree to be messed with. Do just that.
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Re: Making a horror VN that's actually scary?

#4 Post by Fairy Godfeather » Sat Jun 08, 2013 11:31 am

Someone linked this video series on another forum I'm on. I think it's relevant since it discusses horror in video games, novels and movies.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=da9bQ086lZ8

I think Taleweaver has some incredible ideas though. Especially messing with the player's control.

The scariest episode of Buffy is usually said to be Hush. No dialogue.

I generally find that less is more. Being unable to properly see things, having things look just a little bit off, that sort of thing.

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Re: Making a horror VN that's actually scary?

#5 Post by pwisaguacate » Sat Jun 08, 2013 2:56 pm

Make sure your rare jump scares make sense and not just an in your face thing.

Messing with the player's control are often either bothersome ("lol I delete your saves") or funny (Homer tries to vote for Obama). Affected mouse cursors are fine though.

Some suspense is important in the long run; likewise, don't abuse it.

I don't know how pure fear could work. Disgust, pity, and certain feels play roles in the "horror" genre.

The real question is "What makes scary things actually scary?" I think it involves fears of things that happen or are going to happen but you "don't want them to 'happen'". Slenderman was only "scary" because he's a character who you're not supposed to look at in the game due to penalties (losing the game in this case).

Making a horror VN that's actually scary? That's a good question.

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Re: Making a horror VN that's actually scary?

#6 Post by Trixar_za » Sat Jun 15, 2013 1:24 pm

Music is key. I recently played Phantasmagoria because of the hype around it. Not really all that much of a scary game, but the music freaked me out to the point that I turned it off. It abused my knowledge of the genre and put me on edge because the music sounded like something was coming to get me like they do in the typical movie.

Doing things quickly in a corner of the screen or just flicking quickly from one side of the screen to the other in the background unexpectedly can also throw the player for a loop. The scariest games I've played also never explained what was happening, but left ambiguous clues instead. I think what I came up with is probably scarier than what any writer could come up with.
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Re: Making a horror VN that's actually scary?

#7 Post by dramspringfeald » Sat Jun 15, 2013 2:11 pm

Trixar_za wrote:Music is key. I recently played Phantasmagoria because of the hype around it. Not really all that much of a scary game, but the music freaked me out to the point that I turned it off. It abused my knowledge of the genre and put me on edge because the music sounded like something was coming to get me like they do in the typical movie.

Doing things quickly in a corner of the screen or just flicking quickly from one side of the screen to the other in the background unexpectedly can also throw the player for a loop. The scariest games I've played also never explained what was happening, but left ambiguous clues instead. I think what I came up with is probably scarier than what any writer could come up with.

Saying anything is key is misleading. Alphard Hitchcock's "The Birds" had no music and is considered to this day as one of the most frighting movies of all time. Most books don't come with a audio tracks and horror art makes no sound. It is all the mind, Nothing more, nothing less. try playing your horror game with no music and see how frightening it really is.

Here are some Fear topics to consider

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/PrimalFear
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Horror
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/M ... htmareFuel
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/M ... eFetishist
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HorrorTropes
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/M ... ivalHorror
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/M ... icalHorror
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/M ... orrorStory
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/M ... nTheMirror
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/M ... KillerInMe


Having an understanding of fear is also good, What is it? Why are we so interested in it? How can we mold it? Try looking up how to beat fear. Then simply not allow it to be fixed in your game. Remember the poor sods have come to you to be messed with. Don't disappoint them. Try reading up on how to "cure fear" and then think of ways to destroy them in your game.

http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/fear.htm
http://www.mymotivational-nlp.com/what-is-fear
http://www.nativeremedies.com/ailment/o ... -info.html
http://www.wakeupcloud.com/overcoming-fear/
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Re: Making a horror VN that's actually scary?

#8 Post by Trixar_za » Sat Jun 15, 2013 2:51 pm

Maybe not key, but it can help shape the environment. I recently listened to the 8 Ghostpocalypse tracks and realized just how powerful music can be. Basically, the music - all by itself - was putting me on edge. Isn't that the kind of response from a player you'd be looking for in a game?

EDIT: Hell, just take a listen to the first one. It's 100% atmospheric and sounds like wind with some tones thrown in.
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Re: Making a horror VN that's actually scary?

#9 Post by OokamiKasumi » Sun Jun 16, 2013 5:14 pm

Fairy Godfeather wrote:Someone linked this video series on another forum I'm on. I think it's relevant since it discusses horror in video games, novels and movies.

Let's Gripe about Horror
-- [url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=da9bQ086lZ8]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=da9bQ086lZ8[/url
I suggest grabbing a notebook and completely ignoring the movie in favor of just listening to the voice-over. Expect to use that Pause button a lot. He covers a lot of topics at light speed.
Highlights:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
What do You want to Do to your target audience with your Horror?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
- Unsettle them?
- Surprise them?
- Create Apprehension?
- Convey a message about something you feel is horrifying?
- Disgust them with Splatter?

What does your target audience Want?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
- To think about an important issue?
- Feel an adrenaline rush?
- Be titillated by gore?

What is Actual Horror:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
-- Something so ghastly you have trouble understanding what just happened and/or what you're seeing.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To be effective, your horror needs to Generate: Anxiety, Panic, and Dread on a Personal level.

"You want to make the audience realize what a horrible person they are while you show them a bunch of weird crap that they can never really figure out."

In other words...
-- Offer them something Dangerously Mysterious, and make them feel Bad about themselves for wanting to know more about it. :) Then, when the final reveal comes, deliver on just how bad it is to Know the answers while hinting that even more remains hidden. HP Lovecraft was a master at this.

To do this you need:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
1 To generate Introspection among the audience. ("I really am a horrible person.")
2 A Story Designed to generate that introspection.
3 A Tone of Horror that Supports the Story.
4 A Tone of Mystery that Supports the Horror.

The Steps:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
1 Generate Introspection among the audience
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Make them identify with Your Opinion/Concept.
-- The easiest way to get your audience to support Your opinion is by using their own established opinions as a base to work from.

-- Being studious is Good.
-- Being hard-working and punctual is Good.
-- Being kind to strangers is Good.
-- Defending the weak is Right.
-- Family deserves unconditional Trust.
-- Loving unconditionally is Right.

Subtlety = Audience IMMERSION.

Don't Tell; SHOW -- but Show by NOT SHOWING.
> No Direct hints toward the Horror.
-- No bloody smears.
-- No mysterious notes.
-- Nothing concrete to prove that something really bad has happened.

> Instead, Imply that something has gone wrong.
-- Use little things to hint that something has gone wrong, but nothing definite to point to What went wrong, or How wrong it went.

> Reward their involvement with small affirmations that something has indeed gone wrong, possibly very wrong.
-- Give them Clues, not Confirmation.
-- Make them think they can handle it --> until they actually face it.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
2 A Story Designed to generate that introspection.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Make your story Interesting to the audience.

However...!
-- The audience only cares about two things:

1. Themselves.
-- Their personal circumstances. ("Oh, woe is me!")

2. Their personal interests.
-- Their family. (Their parents, their siblings, their spouse, their kids, their house...,)
-- Their lovers. (Catching or Keeping.)
-- Their hobbies. ("I adore cats, dogs, anime, lollies...!")

You have Two options:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
1. Make something specifically about Them. (Something that appeals to a specific audience.)

2. Get them to LIKE (care about) a character in your story.
-- A likable human character*
-- An animal
-- An Interesting and/or unusual Environment (personification)

* "People will always pick (connect with) the cute (spunky) kid over a tragic victim."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
3 A Tone of Horror that Supports the Story.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Invoke all 5 senses -- and then some.
- Music & Sounds
- Imagery
- Textures
- Smells
- Flavors
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
4 A Tone of Mystery that Supports the Horror.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
What many beginning writers miss is that at its core, a Horror is a MYSTERY.
-- The core value of a Mystery is a Contest between the Author who presents a Puzzle, and the Reader who seeks to discover the Solution before the end of the story.

The sign of a good Mystery is one that Keeps the Reader Guessing until the very last page.

-- Never give anything away until the last possible second. (NEVER give the monster a POV!)
-- The Monster should be the Physical Representation (presented as a puzzle) of the story's Concept AND the final Answer.
-- The final Answer should be More shocking than your Monster.

Why use Horror?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Horror conveys themes involving The Darkness within the Human Soul far better than other genres, (such as Comedy, or Romance.)

Subtlety = Confusion & Misdirection

Personify the story's Concept
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Transform the story's Concept into a MONSTER that:
-- Embodies the idea, (shows how wrong/evil such a concept can be.)
-- Is ambiguous enough to Visually unsettling.

Subtlety in Design
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Don't use conventional designs!
-- A skinless dog, or a dog made of butterflies, is still just a Dog."


However, a shapeless, amorphous blob with strange appendages MADE from dogs is something else entirely.

"Rule of Designing (Horror) things:
-- To convey existing ideas and make it look enough like something to state (that idea,) but make it look so strange, your brain doesn't know what to make of what it's seeing."


"What did I just see?"
"What does it mean?"

Important!
- Show it too long and it will Lose Impact.
- Show it too short and it Won't Convey the Theme.

Condition them to learn New Fears. --> Triggers Jump-scares.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
- Specifically themed music. (Ex. The shark music in 'Jaws'.)
- Specific ominous sounds.
- Specific Actions = Fatal Results. (Ex. In Nightmare on Elm Street, falling asleep = Death) [/list]

Give them strong Negative Results for their actions.
-- Even (or especially) for Positive actions.

Short-term Victory = Long-term Defeat
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
> Ammo/inventory limits:
--- If used to kill this monster, won't have it later to kill that monster.

> Catch 22 Choices:
--- To gain something, one must lose something.
--- To save someone, some else must die.

Keep the audience invested in continued voluntary Exposure to the threat.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
-- Give them an emotional reason (or excuse) to stay and Finish the game, book, or movie.

Tone, Narrative, and so-on all need a Purpose --> need to Support your Main Concept.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
- Betrayal.
- Inability to connect with others.
- Lost in a collective society.
- Etc...

You do this by:
- Establishing the Concept you're trying to convey. (Show it in all it's mundane glory.)
- Associating that concept with something Horrifying.
- Showing all possible results of interaction -- and Non-interaction.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I was very impressed by the amount of research and thought that went into this 3 part series.
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Re: Making a horror VN that's actually scary?

#10 Post by pineapplepocky » Sun Nov 10, 2013 2:25 pm

From the anime I watch and the mass amount of violence and gore I love to look at, I would say horror comes more within the thought behind it than visually showing it. Like, you can have a person bursting inside out with guts spilling it would just look bloody, or the thought of having that person bursting out because he decided to tell the truth about a lawsuit and that no one can ever speak of it sounds a bit more horrifying. I like the stories where characters can barely defend themselves, the antagonist isn't just 'evil' for no particular reason, and the horror is how all these parts fit together. Also, horror often comes hand in hand with mystery themes, because the stories often revolve around an unknown or forbidden path.

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Re: Making a horror VN that's actually scary?

#11 Post by alvissa » Sun Nov 10, 2013 3:13 pm

ShinyStarr wrote:So anywho; when it comes to scary imagery do you think I should be more subtle or more in your face? What do you think would be most effective in this medium? Also what types of things scare you??
Hmmm... this might be too extreme for a visual novel, but I usually get scared by "in your face" stuff like what they did with that infamous Korean horror webtoon! If you've read/watched it (it's a comic with some simple animations and I think that sort of effect could be done with ATL in Ren'py), you'll know what I'm talking about, but if you haven't read it yet and plan to read it, BE WARNED - in fact, the very first page of the comic says: "Since it contains shocking scenes, viewer discretion is advised for pregnant women, the elderly, and those suffering from serious medical conditions." TAKE THIS WARNING SERIOUSLY if you really do plan to read it.

However, I think stuff like this would be more appropriate if you just want to give your audience a really good scare - like, scaring people is the main purpose of your game. If you only want people to get creeped out by your story and you want to focus on that, I think a more subtle approach would be better since people would remember more about the creepy story and less about how scared or surprised they were while reading. The pointers on writing horror stories from the previous replies would really help you.

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Re: Making a horror VN that's actually scary?

#12 Post by qirien » Tue Nov 19, 2013 6:51 pm

If you haven't yet, check out The Madness. It's probably the scariest visual novel I've ever played (with The Dreaming as a close second). Note the slow build-up, the subtle implications of things gone wrong, the not-showing, the use of music for mood, etc.
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Re: Making a horror VN that's actually scary?

#13 Post by fullmontis » Mon Nov 25, 2013 3:24 pm

Fear rises from our unconscious, thus it can't (and it doesn't need) to be explained logically. It's like love, you can't talk someone into falling in love with you. It just happens. You feel it. And in the same way, you just feel fear. But for this to happen, you have to touch on some painful spots of the soul, the parts that we either ignore or are afraid of. Find the dark spots of the soul, set them free, and fear will rise.

Some of these are primordial instincts, like survival (slasher movies). Others are taboos created by modern society (like sexuality in its various faces, violence). Other involve attacking the sacred, like religion (the exorcist) or the sacrality of our body. And then there is the fear of the unknown, like facing the deepest parts of our being, and death. There is a wide spectrum of fear that can be evoked.

The question now is: how do we extract those feelings? Well, there is no checklist to follow to do this. It is more of an art, as in it comes from experience and watching tons of horror, and especially FEELING a lot of fear and being able to represent it in a medium. One shortcut of sort for creepyness is symbolism, but it is starting to feel overused and cliché. Like creepy dolls, or wheelchairs. In the right contest, a few symbols are like H bombs, but now you see props thrown in at every corner because "it's creepy". Try to avoid it, it feels cheap and detracts from the atmosphere that you are slowly buindling.

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Re: Making a horror VN that's actually scary?

#14 Post by Katy133 » Wed Nov 27, 2013 5:30 pm

This article ("10 Ways to Evolve Horror Games") has some good tips and is worth checking out: http://frictionalgames.blogspot.ca/2012 ... games.html
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Re: Making a horror VN that's actually scary?

#15 Post by SadisticWonderland » Fri Dec 13, 2013 5:05 am

I don't know that this is an intelligent reply or not but this is my personal opinion. What makes things scary are:

1. The Storyline
Even though your graphics are super awesome and absolutely terrifying; but if your storyline is not as scary as it should, it won't work well. But I agree with OokamiKasumi words of 'Don't Tell; SHOW -- but Show by NOT SHOWING.' Horror usually is not about storytelling. I read Junji Ito mangas and he seldom tell what the heck is going on. Instead, he apply a disturbing storyline (but in the same time sounds undeniably possible too). Even fungus, balloons and ice cream truck can turn scary if you know how to twist the storyline (honest, that guy did horror out of ice cream truck.)

2. The Suspense & Sound
Suspense effect contribute a lot in horror. Especially when we're using everything Ren'py allow us to. Add suspense everywhere. For example; if you can find the sound of heartbeats it will be super useful. Play steady heartbeat in 'normal' situation and steadily increase the heartbeats when the horror is creeping close. I played a game like this once and when that monster come near, the sound of the heartbeats get faster. Scare me terribly. XD


That is my opinion. If you want to try a horror VN game; I suggest Mad Father

It's a good horror game in my opinion.
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