Welcome back to our second segment of Explhorror. Where we have been expl-goring the subtleties of interactive horror and what leaves us thirsty for more. This round is all about atmosphere, sound design and how the marriage of the two is of the two devices willlive happily ever after. These days maybe not, divorce is rampant after all, enjoy it while it lasts i say.
Stories are ancient things, tattooed into every culture, transcending generations. If you spend enough time with one it could betray you, reveal mysteries or uncover personal insights. Essentially they are experiences as elaborate as we choose them to be and everyone has one of their own. They can find there way into places you didn't want to see them and alter themselves to fit anyones purposes. They attach themselves to every object we've ever had and every person we've ever met. A story is as powerful as the medium wielding it. Strangely, and for some reason the Horror videogame genre tends to spend its energy on all the devices surrounding a story and not the story itself.
It didn't use to be this way, Frankenstein was a thinking mans (or womans) macabre tale of creation, loss and expectation. These days it more like "Hey Sidney...what's you favorite scary movie?' A group of survivors are left stranded in the outskirts of Raccoon City and happen upon an old seemingly well kept, mansion. A father visits a small foggy town with his daughter only to find her kidnapped moments after they arrive. An archeologist finds a strange and powerful object in a middle eastern cave and goes crazy. Even the discriptions share moody settings.The stories themselves are typically an after though to the visual and auditory spectacle that's attached to them. Usually its a 'find the person' or 'get out of the place' or 'find the object to find the person to get out of the place'
In a great Horror game the atmosphere itself takes its own character. The sound fills all the hollow spaces the mood cant account for and boom. You've just pood yourself in the dark and have no real tactical way to the bathroom. Suprise muthafucker!
Great game atmosphere had not really been that exciting at the time i was in film school 15 years ago. The fog in silent hill was the best example.It was during those idle days in Cinematography class that i really began to understand mood, atmosphere and how important it is to get it right. Mostly it was just pumping fog into the woods or wherever it is you happened to be shooting your next scene. The fog would fill in all the dead spaces and soak up the light and diffuse it beautifully. Very effective. Good to know. Atmosphere= fog.
Metro 2033 should go down in the history books. This game has Snarf potential. Snarf is an uncommonly used verb (mostly by myself and maybe one other guy) used to describe any bodily discharge of any kind. If i said 'Metro made me Snarf all over my lap and mechanical keyboard' that could mean puke, pee, spit, poop or other. So i Snarfed many times during my play-through because it was so damn convincing. It could be assumed that graphical muscle has caught up to our imaginations. This game is incredible. I have friends who just say 'nope' to that game. They can't handle the oppressive atmosphere in tandem with the growling mutant sounds echoing down the tunnels. At this point the best thing to do here is just demonstrate.
Another excellent example of great mood is the Resident Evil Remake for the Game Cube in 2002 and it will still blow your dick off. It looks marvellous.
Arguably the most important aspect of anything scary is the sound of the thing. When i'm reliving some terrifying moment for the 12th time in a row i take off my headphones to concentrate. Its just pure nightmare fuel to have the failed moment be relived over and over until its beaten. Its hard as hell not to let the groaning, choffing, slimy noise distract me from the challenge itself. So my reaction is to disassociate with the moment in order to complete the task. Life lessons. Disassociate when times get tough. Being scared as fuck is also another technical term i might use here.
The best sound design should scare you. It should suggest badness is around the corner, it should use your own imagination against you then Snarf on it. All the layered modulation, and distorted sounds are extremely necessary to achieve full immersion. The chainsaw man in Resident Evil 4 is tattooed into many gamers brains. When i hear a tree being cut down i cant help but think of the trauma the audio cue has caused me. The Ying Ying Ying revving of a saw motor behind me now jacks me up into overdrive. Fight or flight they say and in a game either is acceptable but not always available.
Suprisingly many videogame sound designers create their own sounds from scratch for each game they work on. If a sound bite is required for a character digging up something they will do a sound recording for it. If it happens again weeks later for another game they will re-record a separate individual take of that sound again..
Happy Friday all. Here's a few more fantastic audio examples from Dead Space. My dog hates me right now.