With graphics quality at an all-time high and with the official arrival of VR, the horror genre has never been more terrifying. But any good horror creator knows that the key to making a frightening experience is in the execution.
We talked to a few horror developers to get some insight on creating the ultimate, terrifying VR game.
1. Get the team on board.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, Image courtesy of Capcom
Capcom gave us the first survival horror game 11 years ago with the first Resident Evil. Now at its seventh release and at its first time in VR, the RE7 team wanted to go BIG. But they couldn’t have done that without a ‘clear vison.’
"Actively introducing new technologies such as photogrammetry was necessary, but I believe the secret of our success was that all of our staff shared a clear vision and strived to achieve our goal." –Masachika Kawata, Producer, Capcom
Learn about the development of RE7 in our interview with Capcom.
2. Immerse your players.
Until Dawn™: Rush of Blood © 2016 Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe. Published by Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe Ltd.
In 2016, Supermassive Games spooked us with their PSVR launch titled, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood. With the release date of The Inpatient just around the corner, we asked Executive Producer, Simon Harris, what makes a good horror game?
"Powerful visuals, diegetic audio, a real feeling of presence - the most important consideration is how you combine these elements to deliver a sense of true immersion. VR lets us control every aspect of the player experience and gives us the ability to build the terror of a scene and deliver on the horror of a surprise." –Simon Harris, Executive Producer, Supermassive Games
Stay up to date on Supermassive Games on Twitter.
3. Fine tune, fine tune, fine tune.
Wilson’s Heart, Image courtesy of Twisted Pixel
As VR is still relatively new, playtesting is a crucial part of making a game. Here’s how the Sean Riley, the Lead Technical Designer of Wilson's Heart solved some VR issues:
"VR presents a whole new set of challenges when it comes to scaring the player. Traditionally we would use camera cuts or motion to frame a scare, but if you try that in VR you end up with the player barfing, and that's not really the emotional effect we were aiming for. Without being able to steer the camera at all, we were at the player's whims for where they were looking. What if we wanted a monster smashing through a wall, but the player was busy playing with their wristband and missed the whole thing? We used look-at regions to try and solve a lot of these issues but even then, the numbers had to be finessed. How long would a player have to be looking at an area before we felt like they were actually paying attention to it, rather than simply sweeping their head past it on the way to looking at something else? We would have many different people on the team try out a sequence and continually fine-tune our settings until we found values that worked. We also had to really think through how lighting, vfx, and sound could draw a player's attention to an area. One of my favorite scares, right near the beginning of the game, relies on the player looking up at a specific point. We put some falling sparks in the area and the warp indicator even had Wilson holding up his hand to feel for them, and that was enough of a pull to have the player look up and start the sequence once they got there." –Sean Riley, Lead Technical Designer of Wilson's Heart
Check out Wilson's Heart on Oculus Home, if you’re brave enough.
4. Make the player work for it.
Left-Hand Path, Image courtesy of Strange Company
The success of Left Hand Path can be credited to compelling game design and story-telling. Hugh Hancock, the one-man team behind the game, advises to make players work for the story to keep things interesting:
"The Dark Souls series has this very clever way of storytelling where it's all in the background and there's a lot of sinister implications and it's a lot of hard work to piece together what's really happening. That was something I wanted to do with this. A lot of it is about making sure everything from the lighting to the level design contribute to this kind of occult oppressive tone, where there's always a sense that there are horrible secrets that you're just skimming the surface of." –Hugh Hancock , Artistic Director, Strange Company