Basement Dwelling and Stairs : Term 2 Week 3 & 4

Last Solus -

Since the Global Game Jam threw of my weekly schedule, I decided to combine weeks 3 and 4 into one post in an attempt to get back on track.    In the last post I mentioned how my game was so poorly optimized that the university PCs struggled to even open it.  I assumed this was because I had a lot of particle effect and massive textures, but even after removing them the game was still surprisingly demanding.  In order to test how much of this was the engines fault I created an exe of the Unreal 4 FPS template.  While my game was more demanding than the template, there wasn't much in it.  This led me to the conclusion that very few if any of the university PCs will be able to run my game regardless.  While it's bad news that I will most likely need to bring my own PC to the honours show, it's great to know I won't need to cut down a bunch of features just for optimization.

As for modelling, I managed to start and finish the concrete base that the lighthouse sits on, as well as the railings and ladder attached to it.  I was really disappointed with how it turned out, but it's going to be mostly covered by darkness so I'm not too worried.

One of the benefits of having the base is that it gave me a very clear understanding of how much spare room I had to work with, and it didn't feel like nearly enough.  Thankfully when originally designing the lighthouse I was very aware that this could be a problem, so had made an area that could easily be converted into a hatch that opened up into a basement.  I feel it's probably a little bit too late to start adding more rooms to my environment but I think in the long run it will dramatically improve the quality of the game.


Having all this extra space also allowed me to dedicate the whole shaft of the lighthouse purely to the spiral staircase.  I had always felt the previous narrow (and easy to fall of) staircase was an incredibly big design flaw, so I was ecstatic to get rid of it.  I've still not textured or even properly modelled the new stairs yet but I am already 100 times happier with them.

I've also started designing some characters that will feature in my game.  I've not finalized the story yet but due to my lack of animating and rigging skills, all the human models will either have to be motionless spirits or dead / decapitated bodies.  It's pretty unsettling creating characters when I know they will most likely be cut into pieces and placed around the level for environmental storytelling, but I suppose in horror these sort of things come with the territory.  While I would have loved to model the characters from scratch, due to time constraints and my lack of experience in that area, it's just not feasible.  For this project I have decided to use the Fuse character creator which is a program that allows users to quickly and easily create the characters for games or animation.  It's not perfect but it's more than enough for what I need.  I started creating a character to try and get used to the editor, it still needs a lot of editing but I feel it's a good start.   My current plan is to have 2 males and 1 female but this may change as the story develops.


As for my dissertation, my supervisor suggested we send him a bullet point list for how we were planning to structure our work.  I found this pretty tough, but I didn't get any negative feedback about how I structured my research proposal so I decided to follow a very similar pattern.

Bullet Point Plan -  

The methods behind creating an unsettling atmosphere in horror games.

  •    Abstract

    • Summary of dissertation.
    •  Outlines main areas of dissertation.
  •  Introduction
    • Define atmosphere. (Include notable directors / game producers opinions)
    • Justify research –atmosphere is a key component to horror games yet there is little research into how it is actually created.
    • Current state of horror games (digital distribution boom- massive lack of quality)
    •  How this research will help designers understand and implement unsettling atmospheres to their games.
    • State aims - explore the methods and techniques used to create atmosphere in horror games.
    • State objectives – how I will achieve these aims.
  • Contextual Review - key concepts in game design that have been recognised to play an important role in the creation of atmosphere in the horror genre.  (I have quotes and research to back up every bullet point and claim but I left them out to save space.)
    •  Visual Obscurity
      •  Fear of the dark represents isolation e.g. child being left alone in crib (Frued)
      • Fog in Silent Hill + camera angles in Resident Evil
      •  "The horror addicts will populate the darkness with more horrors than all the horror writers in Hollywood could think of."  Val Lewton
      • Can’t see what is right ahead of you, constantly expecting the worst. 
    • Sound - Shortcut to emotion
      • How sound  extends into the space around you – changes the air pressure (Ekman and Lankoski)
      • Ambient noises makes the environment feel alive and potentially malicious. 
      • Reference back to visual obscurity, implying something in the dark via sound. (Sipos)
    • Tension Release Cycle (pacing)
      •  How horror games often rely on startling player (jump scares) over actually creating an intimidating atmosphere. 
      • Devendra Varma on difference between terror and horror.
      • How terror and horror must be balanced to create a great horror game.
    • Narrative / Environmental Storytelling (possibly split into two separate sections?)
      • Minimalist storytelling to let audience fill in blanks.
      • Sense of mystery makes player want to explore more and continue playing.  Balance curiosity with unsettledness.
      • Uncovering not narrating.
      • Using subtle environmental storytelling too enhance minimalist narrative
    • Believability (Still researching)
      • Art direction (GDC 2009 Dead space 2 conference)
      • Interactivity?
      • Effect on tension / fear
      • Real life references, CDs, books etc.
      • Two-Factor Theory of Emotion (Still researching)
      •  Frustration and anger linked to fear
      • Methods of making player frustrated.
      • While difficulty can create atmosphere, mechanics like checkpoints completely destroy any tension as player already knows what is going to happen.
  • Methodology
    • Case Studies
      • Defining Criteria
      • Explain how I defined the criteria for judging atmosphere by referencing the information gathered in the contextual review along with other research. 
    • Criteria
      • Explain how each piece of criteria is relevant to my dissertation
      •  Environment Design
      • Art style
      •  Lighting
      • Audio
      • Pacing
      • Narrative
      • Gameplay
      • Perspective 
    • Case studies (Unsure if to have a couple very detailed case study or several smaller one?)
      •  Silent Hill – Playable Teaser, Resident Evil HD, Last of Us, Bioshock, Alan Wake
    •  Practice based research / Final Artefact
      • Using the knowledge gained from the contextual review, case studies and further research I create my own horror game.
      • Analyse my game following the same criteria as the case studies.
      • Explain the theory / reasoning behind key games design decisions.


  •  Conclusion
    • Compare the case studies with my practise based research.
    • Evaluate the effectiveness of my game’s design decisions and how they relate to theories covered in the contextual review.
    • What went wrong/ didn't work?  Was it a problem with the theory or the implementation? 
    • Analysis how well all the games manage to establish a well realized atmosphere.
    • Conclude what key factors play a part in creating an unsettling atmosphere. (bullet-point recommendation list?)

As you can probably see it's still very rough but for the most part I feel confident with the basic layout.  Now I just need to wait for feedback.


I finished watching the Masters of Horror documentary that I mentioned last week, and while it was incredibly interesting it didn't really contain too much that I could use in my dissertation.  However, there was a quote from John Carpenter, which I did find very interesting -

“There are two horror stories that we can tell, and we can imagine ourselves around the campfire listening to the tribal elder or witch doctor or preacher or whoever it is telling us these things at night. The first thing he tells us is about where ‘evil’ is, and he says, ‘Evil is out there,’ and he points beyond the campfire, to the darkness in the woods and the noises we hear at night; the wolves that come and drag us off; those beasts out there; the ‘other’ - the other tribe, the other people - the ones who are different, different color, their eyes are different from ours; those are the evil ones out there. In different countries they have different clothes, different ideologies, or they may be any force of nature we cannot control, so this unifies the tribe.

That’s the first story of horror. The second one is the same setup, but the tribal elder says, ‘Let me tell you where the evil is - the evil is here,’ and he points to himself. And he says, ‘It’s in the human heart.’ That’s a harder story to tell - that we are all part evil, monsters and devils - because the audience is always going to respond to the ‘other.’ It unifies us as a tribe - that’s the way we are designed. We see things in order to find where the predator comes from; it’s survival instinct over all the time we have evolved. So a lot of this is unconscious in a way. We’re driven by it, and our parents reinforce it, our religion reinforces it – ‘Watch out!’ Watch out for those predators, because they are all around.”  

- John Carpenter : 29:35 minutes 

Next Week's To Do List -

  • Return to asset modelling and create some objects to fill in the new areas.
    • Possible models -
      • Boxes
      • Drawers
      • Shelves 
      • Radio
      • Toilet
      • Sink
  • Learn how to add interactive elements to game using blueprints.
    • Possible areas for interactivity
      • Doors
      • Ladders
  • Find and watch more horror documentaries.

Oh!   I also created an IndieDB page for my game. I don't think I'll be updating it that regularly but it was fun to create and makes me feel like I'm making a real game. If you have a game on it let me know as I'm looking for good stuff to follow! You can check out my page here -