The Art of Horror

Horror games are personally one of my favorite types of games to play. Not only is a good horror game usually an immersive, unique experience but the visuals in them truly help drive the tension and sense of panic that one of these games might give the player. Today, I am not going to be focusing on a single type of art style found in gaming but rather a genre and how art is used to build the experience. Some of my favorite horror games are Dead Space, Resident Evil, and Outlast. Most commonly we encounter realistic visuals in horror games. Like I talked about in my previous blog post, realistic visuals are best for when you want the player to be immersed in the experience. You want the player to believe they are in the shoes of the protagonist and that every decision they make will decide their fate. Using realistic visuals is the easiest way to create that immersion for the player. This doesn’t mean horror games don’t work without realism but they generally don’t have the same effect on the player.

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Screenshot of “The Groom” from Outlast (2013)

Without getting too far into game design theory, a first-person view is the best way to immerse a player into the experience and make them feel like they are there. The most common form of horror games we see nowadays is the first-person horror game. In the 1990’s and early 2000’s a lot of popular 3rd-person horror games came out like Silent Hill and Resident Evil. We don’t see too many 3rd-person horror games coming out these days because it creates a division between the player and the experience. Even though they are in control, the player still feels like they are observing the events from the sidelines. Although, Dead Space is a great example of a somewhat more recent game that still used 3rd-person and successfully created an immersive experience. Sound design is a large key on why it was so successful but the art direction was another irreplaceable key. The environments are claustrophobic and isolating and the enemy designs are horrifying. Every corner of the spaceship you are on is dark with flickering lights and you never know when a Necromorph (the name of the enemies in Dead Space) might come down through one of the ceiling vents and sprint at you with murderous intent. It’s a great experience if you love horror games, like I do, but nonetheless a truly frightening one.

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Screenshot of a Necromorph from Dead Space 3 (2013)

When making a horror game it is important to make the player feel hopeless and alone through the visuals. Claustrophobic hallways, hanging lights that are flickering, blood splatters in places that tell a story on their own, and creepy environments that keep the tension high even when there isn’t danger; these are all important things to have in a horror game. Lighting effects also have a large role in horror games too because you want the games to have a creepy aura to them with a single glance. This screenshot below, from an upcoming game named Visage from SadSquare, really shows how a dark and claustrophobic space with the right lighting and something unknown at the end of it is all it takes to give the player a sense of fear and tension. How would you like to walk down that hallway?

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Screenshot from Visage (2018)

Overall, visuals are a necessary component of horror games to scare the player. They add a lot to the games and I personally love to play them. If you’re not into scary games that is okay but it’s always good to observe why certain visuals work for certain types of games and what about them works better than others. This same type of thinking can be applied to other genres of games like war games and role playing games each with their own set of art styles that work best for them. Next week I will dive back into pixel graphics to show you all some cool things you can do with them. Hopefully you enjoyed our little detour into the scarier side of gaming!

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