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Who doesn’t love a good scary game? Plenty of people, I’m sure, but I’m not talking to them. Nothing is better than matching wits with evil and barely escaping with your life. The art of horror is pretty well explored in the movies and TV, but gaming is a different animal altogether.
“Well, in movies and television, the camera’s locked,” said Glen Schofield, CEO of Striking Distance Studios, in a fireside chat with GamesBeat’s Rachel Kaser at GamesBeat Summit 2022. “So the director always knows where the camera is looking. They can scare the viewer because they know where it’s [the camera] going to be. And they know where the scare is going to come from. In a videogame, the character, or in most cases, the camera is in the player’s hands. And so you don’t know where they’re gonna turn the camera at that time.”
Glen Schofield is no stranger to designing scary games. Being one of the minds behind the Dead Space series, he has had plenty of practice making people uncomfortable. His new studio, Striking Distance Studios, is working on a new horror survival game called The Callisto Protocol.
So, how do you plan a scare in a video game? If you take control from the player, it loses a lot of the impact. That’s when designers turn to engineering scares.
“You’ve got to try and engineer scares,” continues Schofield. “That’s what we call it. You know 80% to 90% of your players are gonna be looking at this one area. Now, I don’t mind if players miss some of them once in a while. A game is a lot longer than a movie, so we’re gonna have a lot more scares.”
Scares are in the timing
Part of the scare engineering, which sounds like a great job, is knowing when and how often to scare people. Having something scary happen every five minutes on the dot prepares the player for the next scare.
“Sometimes we will scare you and then you’re like, okay, now I got a couple minutes to catch my breath and we’ll turn around, scare you right away,” says Schofield. “Try and catch you off guard in a hard game. Timing is really different, right? Like I said, sometimes it’s a gut call. Sometimes we won’t scare you for 20 minutes. And then another time we’ll get you with two scares in one minute, because you have no idea that’s going to happen.”
Glen Schofield’s new game, The Callisto Protocol, is due out later this year. I, for one, am excited about being frightened by professionals. For more on this topic, check out the “Handcrafting Scares with Horror Engineering” talk at the GamesBeat Summit 22.