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Ignis Affero

What makes a map scary?

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I'm getting ready to start a new map, I'm actually still in the process of planning it out, and I want the map to be as scary as possible. I do have some ideas and I've been experimenting with a couple locations I had in mind, but I want to hear some opinions on what you think would be the perfect horror map.


This is one of my ideas, taking place in a large drainage tunnel.



I wanted to make a relatively large section of the map extremely dark. Dark enough so that the player can only see their gun and a small portion of the floor in front of them. I also wanted a few dynamic light sources to kind of give the player something to follow as well as give them a small feeling of comfort and security being in that light. Most normal people by nature would want to stay in the light, but the map would force them to have to navigate sections of extreme darkness, thus causing insecurity, discomfort and hopefully fear.

So far this is all I have to work with, and my only fear tactic being dynamic light sources. However, I want the map to be more than just pitch blackness and few scattered light sources to lead the player to the exit. So, what are your thoughts on ways to induce fear in the player while playing a map.

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Combination of atmosphere, music, and sounds. The element of surprise is always good, but don't over do it.

Also, maybe a monster that you only see for a split second here and there. Fear of the unknown is the best fear.

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Too much darkness equals immense frustration.

Do not use too many, but do use deadly, monsters. For example, forget about most zombies and even imps and demons use only when they really can pose a threat. Limit ammo and health, possibly give berserk pack early. Pick a good atmospheric song, but avoid the too "campy" horror pieces.

You might also consider ditching dynamic lights for a software port, the fading light-slash-fog can be much more effective for creating atmosphere than the boring uniform lightning in most GL ports (and even in those ports which have emulated the software-like fog it still isn't as good as in software).

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Copypaste trees everywhere and an unbeatable monster that screams at you!!1

But seriously what gives me the heebejeebes are monsters that spawn somewhere in the map and their dumb AI somehow manages to find their way to you when you don't expect it.

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It's not darkness that makes a good scary map, it's the immersion in the environment. The darkness might help with the atmosphere, but creating a dark map and expecting it to be scary because it's dark probably won't work.

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I'm sure anyone who has played the Silent Hill games will likely agree they're quite possibly some of the scariest games ever made.

And, what I believe their secret is, isn't so much in their incredibly surreal and creepy monster design (though they help!), but rather, a deep focus on the anticipation of what's lurking around the next corner.

If you get people to think there's a big bady around the corner, then you've succeeded in making something tense, and if you can keep it up, scary.

Easier said than done, though.

I also think a bigger focus on the sound design, than the visuals, is a huge plus - the visuals can only look so 'real' (especially on a limited engine like the Doom engine), but the sounds, well, you can make those as creepy as you like!

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Insane_Gazebo said:

If you get people to think there's a big bady around the corner, then you've succeeded in making something tense, and if you can keep it up, scary.

Rather, thinking that there's something out there somewhere, but with no idea where exactly. If you always end up being able to guess where the enemies are, then the tension and surprise factor drop a lot.

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Fear, baby! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fear

Immersion is important. If your world is not believable, whatever you do will not be scary. Then there's the senses. You have two main senses that are used while playing Doom, sight and sound. Use them. Lastly, there's two really basic fears, the unknown and death. You can have both of these in Doom, represented as a combination of visual and auditory aspects, or gameplay mechanics.

There are some visual aspects that can be scary. For example horns, sharp teeth and knives are pointy and dangerous. As a result, we percieve pointy shapes to be unsettling, on a subconscious level at least. Red is commonly associated with anger and blood, which are also closely related to fear and injury\death.

As for sound, there are several types of sounds that are percieved as scary. Sounds can influence the state of mind more than you would think. Euphoria, anger and sadness can all be the result of just listening to music. As with visuals we have a bunch of sound types imprinted on us that cause (subconscious) fear. Dogs growling, or certain shrieks\cries for help or pain.

Separately these two factors aren't terribly effective, but it's combining them that makes them powerful. An dog that's angry at you bares his teeth (visual) and growls. I don't know about you, but a dog growling at me makes me afraid of it. Dig into your own psyche and see what makes you afraid.

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I think atmospheric sounds are really important. Howling wind, echoing water drops (great for sewers), monsters in the distance are all great to add suspense. Also, the structural nature of your map can be scary. That dark stairwell into the sewer was awesome. Darkness is great but only in conjunction with light - for example, light pouring out from around some corner or whatever, or a jammed doorway that spills some light into the dark room you're in, are really cool effects IMO.

I would also say that interactive parts of your map are really important. The player should feel they are exploring, discovering something hidden. For example, say you're trudging through the sewers, when all of a sudden you get swept away, down some tunnel, and then you end up in a huge cavern with a demonic fortress inside. The demonic fortress may be pretty cool and creepy in and of itself, but if seems like it's buried and the only way to get to it is some crazy route like a sewer, your player will be a little more excited (and freaked out) about it. Another example would be lights that turn on and off - lights that go off when you enter a room - doors opening behind you - and so on. Even a room where the light turns ON when you enter would be kinda scary.

Finally, demonic imagery. As someone said pointy things are scary (like red spires around the underground fortress). Impaled guys is pretty freaky, and even dead bodies! I think people underestimate the power of these sprites in Doom. If they are strewn everywhere it won't make any difference. However, you can give them a place to be. Impaled humans shouldn't just be anywhere, try to make some kind of altar or weird spot that would actually have an impaled human on it. Dead bodies could be piled in a certain small room or at the bottom of a waterfall.

I would also suggest having tons of secrets and weird nooks. Give the player things to discover - it makes the map feel more "alive" and it will be scarier than a totally unmoving hunk of geometry.

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I suggest having a megasphere (or something) open, but having a linedef around it that opens a fast door behind the player, revealing a huge monster...There's nothing better that that!

EDIT: I also recommend not making it too dark, as I often find myself using idbehohld>l on really dark maps.

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reki107 said:

I suggest having a megasphere (or something) open, but having a linedef around it that opens a fast door behind the player, revealing a huge monster...There's nothing better that that!

EDIT: I also recommend not making it too dark, as I often find myself using idbehohld>l on really dark maps.


What if the dark was punctuated by light indicating where you needed to go?

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reki107 said:

I suggest having a megasphere (or something) open, but having a linedef around it that opens a fast door behind the player, revealing a huge monster...There's nothing better that that!

Predictable trap is predictable. They're good if you want to make easy and convenient maps that shouldn't be too hard on the first try, but they're bad when you want to create suspense, since the player will be able to "read" the map too easily.

Regarding darkness, I find dimly lit areas to be much more atmospheric in general than areas where I can't see a thing. That way the fully bright monster projectiles won't look as silly either.

You could try to create an illusion of roaming monsters with silent monster teleports, with which the monsters teleport in to a nearby room but so that you won't see it coming. And while you're doing something else it'll suddenly creep up to you without making either wake up sound or teleport sound.

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Important note: Darkness ≠ Fear

People are afraid of the unknown. Darkness hides things so you don't know what's there. While that can be scary, it's not practical when you have to kill what's attacking you. It can be dark, but not "I can't see my own gun in front of me" dark.

Shock tactics give people a jolt, but in my opinion it's not actually scaring them. They're surprised for an instant then it's over and they have to deal with their heart trying to jump out of their chest. After this is done enough times it becomes expected, and thus ineffective.

In my experience, fear comes from anticipation rather than the actual object of fear. Again, people fear something when they don't understand it. For example, many people don't like getting shots. I myself am one of these people. The anticipation of the shot is what created fear, not the shot itself. This came from uncertainty of what would happen. Of course in this case it's just an overreaction to something insignificant. But how about when the thing creating fear is in fact something to be afraid of?

So I guess what I mean is perhaps creating a source of fear throughout playing a game would be effective. Something the player doesn't understand.

Oh, also music is like 75% of the fear factor. Get some disturbing music and your half way there. :P

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Okay, my two cents.

First of all, there have been a lot of good ideas in the thread already. I might be repeating some of them, but I don't want to cut anything out of my response for fear of it becoming incomprehensible.

Anyway, first of all, what parts of a Doom level can you alter to make it scary?

- Environment. What kinds of places make you scared? Drainage pipes are good, so are dilapidated, abandoned factories and houses. But people tend to forget that an environment doesn't need to be old and damaged to be scary. A large, pristine, empty city can be very scary too. You can also go for the "alien environment" angle, which in itself isn't all that scary, but can enhance the scariness of other elements when used correctly. Say, the guts of some sort of eldritch abomination or living areas created from an unholy fusion of flesh and mortar. Be careful not to just treat textures as things that go on walls, but don't design an area fully around the textures either. Have an idea of what the level should represent, but tailor it to suit the textures you use.

- Atmosphere. Music and lighting. You will probably be surprised by this, but too much darkness can be very bad for the atmosphere, while too much light doesn't necessarily ruin it. Pale textures and flats and hospital environments, for example, work very well with bright lighting. Otherwise, you might want to make the level dark, but not so much that the player can't see, with a few pockets of brightness to make it more contrasting. As for music, I find that most of the ambient music in Doom 2 works very well, but if you don't want to use them, there are some very good spooky ambient midis on the net.

- Enemies. Monster placement and types. For the most part, the less monsters the better, but there are some exceptions. The regular Doom gameplay, where you are constantly besieged by hordes of monsters simply isn't all that scary even if you make the weapons less powerful. There are a few options for how you can make monster encounters scary:
-Make monsters attack unexpectedly from the dark. This is what is known as a monster closet (although you can make them teleport in as well, just make sure no teleport animation is shown) and while annoying if overused, if done cleverly and sparingly, it can really give the player a fright. Don't have any monsters between these encounters, or only a few weak ones.
-Make a monster or horde of monsters the player can't beat, but can run from. This will give a sense of urgency to the encounter. The player will have to run and hide from the monsters and can't relax. Make an invincible Cyberdemon and put it between a few buildings it can't enter, but which have doors and windows it can shoot through. Then put something the player needs in one of the buildings.
-Related to the previous one, create a horde of monster the player can beat, but which won't end. If the player tries to fight, he will be overwhelmed and if he runs, the monsters will continue spawning behind him. This can work really well if there is a lull in action right before the horde starts attacking. For example, imagine a level where the exit is right behind the player, but he needs a key for it. In front of him is a clean and empty-looking techbase. As he ventures into the base, there are several locations monsters could attack from and he might even hear monster noises from afar (ZDoom is your friend!) but they never attack. Then when he reaches the deepest part of the base and finds the key, monsters suddenly start teleporting in next to him with no end in sight. He has to run back up (maybe even take a few detours because the way in has been blocked) while monsters chase him and the previously empty locations he passed are now teeming with enemies (but always only as he passes them, don't trap the player by bad design).

- Scripting. If you make maps for ZDoom, you can affect the environment in very scary ways using ACS. Maybe turn off the lights for a few seconds, or teleport the player to a hellish location just for a moment. The possibilities are endless.

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Solarn said:

Maybe turn off the lights for a few seconds, or teleport the player to a hellish location just for a moment. The possibilities are endless.

No reason you couldn't do that in Boom either ;)

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Aubrey Hodges' music ;)

Also, item/linedef traps have their place, but the fault with a lot of maps is that they rely too heavily on them. A good map will also have the odd period of downtime - leaving the player wondering what is around the next corner.

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Jodwin said:

No reason you couldn't do that in Boom either ;)

True. I'm quite fond of creating complex scripts using voodoo dolls myself. (One day, I'll create something good enough that I will be able to show it to the community and then you'll all be amazed. Or not.)

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Thanks for the help everyone! I changed the setting of the map, making it an insane asylum instead of a sewer. As soon as I put more detail in the area I currently have mapped out, I'll post some screenshots.

I'm also looking for textures. I'm currently just making my own, but if any one knows of any good hospital textures that I could use I'd greatly appreciate it.

Here's the textures I have so far. It's not many, and they're probably not that good, but so far they work.













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Ignis Affero said:

I changed the setting of the map, making it an insane asylum instead of a sewer.

Just a thought, although an asylum can be a nice setting for a horror map, it does have it problems too. Mainly, it's a real word location that most of us have some half-realistic (or more) idea of what it's like. And since it's a real world setting and we have some ideas of what it should be like we expect that it to conforms to our expectations, while for a horror map you should go for the unexpected. And if you do go for the unexpected on a more realistic setting we (the players) might feel disappointed that the map doesn't actually conform to our expectations.

For example: If you have walls opening or doors closing in places where, from a real world point of view, it doesn't make any sense it might leave some people confused, even if the intent was to make the map more interesting or to cause some scares. On the other hand, if the setting was an old mysterious manor we expect this kind of unexpected, so it's more easily justified.

I'm not saying that you should change your setting, just pointing out that real world settings have their own potential pitfalls, and as long as you're aware of them it should be possible to work around (or with) them. If you can convey the feeling that your asylum was led by a sadistic madman who conducted "scientific medical tests" on the inmates, I'm sure the players would expect that there are secret passages and what not somewhere in there... ;)

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Sometimes when a map lacks gameplay, details, and overall effort, it gets scary enough that I have to stop playing and turn it off.

*shudders*

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Scary you say?
I always get uneasy when having little ammo and hearing the hordes of Hell right around the corner. I suggest limiting the powerful weapons such as the shotgun or rocket launcher and omit the chaingun, plasma rifle and bfg entirely. That'd force the player to use the pistol... which is scary in itself.

I see you have changed your map location to that of an insane asylum. Possibly have an elevator going down with the textures slowly changing to a silent hill type hell.

Looking forward to the map!

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Jonno8825 said:

I suggest limiting the powerful weapons such as the shotgun or rocket launcher and omit the chaingun, plasma rifle and bfg entirely. That'd force the player to use the pistol... which is scary in itself.


Yes, this makes sense.

And I recommend for an author to play level 16 "Mr.X" from Scythe II. It is scary enough.

There are used some interesting techniques. Music, pistol, moving massive mechanics, strange unknown teleporting monster, darkness.

And upon crossing some linedefs player triggers some crushing ceilings in close but invisible area, that kills monsters, who scream before dying. This makes player guessing, whoever kills monsters there? Who goes there? Quite scary.

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Solarn said:

-Make monsters attack unexpectedly from the dark. This is what is known as a monster closet (although you can make them teleport in as well, just make sure no teleport animation is shown) and while annoying if overused, if done cleverly and sparingly, it can really give the player a fright. Don't have any monsters between these encounters, or only a few weak ones.

I used this fairly often in Spookhouse (the teleporting part I mean). Another idea is to have a monster closet or someting open up, and have the enemies inside teleport away to some other part of the map. You might think that you're safe for now, but there will always be that nagging feeling that those monsters will meet up with you at the worst possible moment. This especially works with monsters like arch-viles.

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For extra added scariness, recommend that the user turns off the lights in their room and turn the sound up a little. Also, if they are of age, recommend that they work on a bottle of whiskey or something, it helps the user become more accepting of the environment they are immersed in.

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My Suggestions:

- Monsters that sudently appears from corners screaming.

- Limited Ammo, and use of many melee weapons.

- A good atmospheric music.

- Don't just spam monsters. Make them take some time to show up. So if everything gets too quiet, players will start to think: "It's too quiet! Some shit is about to happen...", and that will create a big suspense.

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Silence, Hallucination, Paranormal shit, Feeling that you are not alone.

those kinds of things can really scare you.

also getting chased by something you know you can't kill. like play hide and seek with some badass monster :P

heres a good video showing of some atmosphere. and creepy shit.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=573gRGbJttQ

i know, thats half life 2. but here, it can be done in Doom too:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ou-M4h-XOaM

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