Thursday, February 28, 2013


I got the opportunity to play through some of the interactive teaser for Aslyum that I mentioned yesterday. It's about what you would expect from a point-and-click game in an abandoned asylum: decaying furniture, spooky sounds, yellowing newspaper articles describing the torture of inmates, and so forth. It's the video game equivalent of a haunted house. However, I didn't play through the whole thing, because it started to seem increasingly likely that the game was going to try a jump scare on me.

I hate jump scares. Not because they're a cheap substitute for actual horror, but because they work far too well on me. I enjoy a jump scare about as much as I enjoy someone walking up and punching me in the stomach.

"So why did you bother playing the teaser?" I hear you ask. "It was obviously a horror game!" Well, first of all, I really just wanted to see how the game engine worked. I went ahead and looked through the Lua scripts and video assets for the rooms I didn't actually play through. I discovered that the teaser makes use of quite a few video clips. The panoramic view surrounding each location is essentially a great big static 2d image; in order to show motion, you have to overlay a video clip on part of the image. In the teaser, when you walk through a door, you actually see the door opening; this is because they've overlaid a full-screen video over the entire screen in order to show the door opening. Given that they've used 3d modelling for both the 2d images and for the videos, it really does seem like it would be easier just to build the whole game in a 3d engine.

But to get back to the whole "jump scare" issue: I don't think you need to have monsters popping out of shadows (accompanied by loud noises blasting out of the speakers) for a horror game. I personally would get greater enjoyment out of something more atmospheric and psychological. Most of the Asylum teaser is nicely spooky and creepy without having to resort to pop-up monsters. To cite another example: the Walking Dead video game is a very effective horror game, and I don't remember a single "make the player jump out of his/her chair" moment (though I've only played the first three chapters so far). It's effective because it makes you care about the characters who are in danger, and because of the fantastic use of art, sound, and lighting, but most of all, because it makes you, the player, do things you'd rather not do. The overall effect is very powerful, and even though I'm not a big zombie fan, I'd say that The Walking Dead is one of the best adventure games I've ever played.

All of which is an elaborate way of saying that I'm a big wimp and I wish games and movies would stop making things jump out of closets at me.