Ever wondered why some horror games are truly scary while others are just meh? Well, wonder no more because Supermassive Games developer Jez Harris revealed that the successful horror formula only contains five easy to follow steps. Seeing as how he is currently working on Until Dawn, an upcoming PS4 exclusive that looks legitimately scary, we can only assume that he definitely knows what he’s talking about. In case you’re planning to develop your own horror title some day, you may want to listen to what the dev has to say. According to Harris, the first order of business is to make sure that you’re working with people who already know a thing or two about the genre. For example, the script writers for Until Dawn are Larry Fassenden and Graham Reznick who have already worked on a number of scary movies, including The Innkeepers and Stakeland. In other words, they definitely know what they’re doing.
Number two on the list is to make the player feel like they’re in a horror movie, which may or may not be effective depending on the game, but it’s certainly a great tip for something like Until Dawn. “What we want to do is put you in a playable horror movie,” Harris said. “We want to make you feel like you know what’s going on and that you’re in your comfort zone. Then we can yank you out of it extremely hard as the twists and turns play out.” Next on the list is to have the game tested by a lot of people and gather feedback. As you probably already know, once you play a horror game for the second time it’s much less scarier than it was the first time. Needless to say, the folks over at Supermassive Games play a whole lot of Until Dawn so the game isn’t all that scary to them anymore. As a result, “we get players in that are completely fresh to the game, so we can check that we’re still making an impact.”
Once you’ve managed to gather enough testers – or lab rats in this case – make sure you to strap them in good and connect them to all sorts of devices that measure everything from body temperature to skin moisture. Hey, it works for Until Dawn. Naturally, you’ll have to measure the data in order to make sure that all the testers are sweating and cringing at the right times. Finally, the most important thing is to put your own spin on things and make sure that you stay away from some of the staples of the genre as most people are already aware of them. By leaving the audience guessing about what’s about to happen next, you’re pretty much guaranteed to scare the living daylights out of them, assuming you also followed the previous steps of course. “To make the horror as effective as possible you need to telegraph in some of the scares and then obscure others, otherwise players get wise to a formula,” Harris explains. “So a lot of Until Dawn is about the quiet dread of not knowing what’s going to happen next.