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On Writing: Horror

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Postby Mercury » Tue Jul 30, 2002 5:05 am

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Edited By Mercury on 30 July 2002 at 06:42
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Postby Mercury » Tue Jul 30, 2002 5:27 am

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Edited By Mercury on 06 Aug. 2002 at 12:58
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Postby Woodfish » Tue Jul 30, 2002 9:06 am

:D
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Postby Sockets » Tue Jul 30, 2002 12:39 pm

EeeEeeW! I go with physcological horror.
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Postby Sockets » Tue Jul 30, 2002 12:46 pm

How do you fright?



Oh, I wrote that because it rymed.
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Postby Cannibal » Tue Jul 30, 2002 1:34 pm

This has been a very engrossing and interesting read. Having been an avid fan of things dark since the early 80s I have really enjoyed everyone's perception of the horror genre.

Horror does come in so many forms and to frighten is not to bathe the scene in blood.

I wouldn't claim to be the master of horror and I don't think Sockets should, either, although you certainly make some valid points.

Modern day horror has changed so much because, put bluntly, no one has a real set of balls on them anymore. When Craven produced "Last House..." that took guts. That was as much a horror film as "The Omen" or "Halloween". Glimpses of our rotten underbelly in life is far more chilling and unsettling than any blood dripping fanged monster from the words. How scary was the film "Henry" yet that had no roots in horror ?

I wouldn't agree that the slasher movie destroyed the horror genre because it is an integral part of it. The slasher sequel might well have struck numerous body blows.

How chilling were the stalk and slashes first time round - they were pretty gruesome and we'd never seen anything like that before, either, it's the countless sequels that have ruined the slasher genre - Jason X and Halloween 8 - these are more horror meets Dawsons Creek.

Robert Bloch once said about horror films that "ketchup is just ketchup" which pretty much sums it up for me - you need to go deeper and be far more subtle to scare - producers and writers of Urban Legends please note...

Any text adventure that strays for the standard dungeon crawl - of which there are few about nowadays - really has to have something extra to give it a lasting appeal. Like any respectable short movie it needs plot, characters and good dialogue. If you view a text adventure as a short story then you won't go far wrong in constructing a decent one.

I'm currently re-writing "Woods Are Dark" because of some buggy crashes etc and things are shaping up good because, to me, it has the elements of a good horror game. It has unsettling, creepy and disturbing moments, a storyline that slowly unravels the further you progress, puzzles that are part of the story and not just puzzles and characters that are not too stupid.

This kind of thing makes me laugh...

"You are outside the scariest house on the planet on the darkest of nights..."

Inventory...

"You are carrying nothing..."

WTF - no, you are carrying a torch, food, a cross and a big shotgun.

"the fear of the physcopath is...it could be the person standing next to you."

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Postby Sockets » Tue Jul 30, 2002 2:19 pm

Sequels have ruined our horror movies today. If there is a bad sequel in the series it must be stopped. Once there is a bad sequel, it should be stopped. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 sucked. The series should have stopped after 1. Amityville Horror wasn't scary at all but it had plenty of stupid sequels to follow. The Haunted House was invented.

People added all sorts of twists to the haunted house but they all amounted up to nothing. The Others had you viewing the movie 2 times to figure it out. That movie made good use of sound. Sound is what IF authors misuse. They put it in at places you don't need. A horror game needs to make use of sound. I'm sorry, but justing reading something isn't going to make you jump. Rather, when everything appears to be fine and dandy a loud noise makes you jump and you feel ashamed.

Everyone has a perception on horror. Remember that. Here is a mistake I heard:

Sockets,

Horror isn't about "being scary": it's about entertainment and frightening in equal measures. It's about understanding ourselves and our fears. It's about art.


Mileout tried to make me perceive horror as he did. Never do that.

Horror is what you want it to be, don't always listen to what everyone else says. They may not be right. Listen to yourself. You decide what is horror, and don't go telling other people what it is either(That makes you sound snotty).
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Postby Mick » Tue Jul 30, 2002 3:10 pm

Mercury wrote:
...fear is based on ignorance...


Might be, but good horror is based on lack of control of the situation.
But then again, maybe not...
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Postby DuoDave » Tue Jul 30, 2002 7:05 pm

I've been thinking of this topic.

In a movie, horror can be achieved through either grossing people out or startling them suddenly, or something that is simply abnormal.

In a graphic game we once again have images to work with, and in some games the programmer has the luxury of timing to work with. Also sound.

We arent given the luxury of graphics in ADRIFT - just still images. And the sounds, they are somewhat static background stuff for the most part.

So the text adventure programmer must look at a decidedly more low tech concept - the horror novel.

Read Stephen King. How does King bring horror into his work? Well, one of his manipulations is characterization. He makes the reader feel as if the character is his friend, his buddy - he then kills him or puts him in incredibly stressful situations.

The novelist has entire control of the reader because the novel is a linear form.

So can King's method be used in developing the horror game? Perhaps.

Let's look at Anne Rice. Anne Rice writes rich text, elaborate descriptions, creating worlds that do not exist. She uses long words that make us think of someone with odd speech patterns. Her characters dress in sensual, flowing costumes that give us the impression of times long past.

She develops her "bad guys" as the protagonist, we come to like the bad guy, want to participate in their evil habits. And therin lies Rice's horror - the attractive evil.

Edgar Allan Poe would build up his stories at a steady pace, with a horrifying conclusion.

So the question goes to you, the IF author. If you want to write a "horror" IF, how is it horrifying? What's scary about it? Is it just a stupid haunted house we can explore with spooky music? What's scary about that?

Think of what scares you when you go to the movies. Think of what scares you when you read a novel.

What scares you at the amusement park? Does Disney's Space Mountain scare you, the indoor roller coaster in the dark? How can you communicate that thrill to the player without it seeming trite, contrived?
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Postby En Kerklaar » Tue Jul 30, 2002 7:43 pm

Thank you, Ravenous, for the kind words. And thank you, Mercury, for your comments and that hilarious post. You paint the modern slasher film pretty well.

Any text adventure that strays for the standard dungeon crawl - of which there are few about nowadays - really has to have something extra to give it a lasting appeal. Like any respectable short movie it needs plot, characters and good dialogue. If you view a text adventure as a short story then you won't go far wrong in constructing a decent one.


Right on the money, Cannibal. I completely agree.

Might be, but good horror is based on lack of control of the situation.


This is very true. Not in all cases, but depending on what you're trying to accomplish, it can be. Indeed, this rule also applies to the "less is more" display approach I discussed earlier. Some horror works by showing everything. I still think less explanation is scarier for me, but a lot of the time explanation can work. It really depends on the author, the intended audience, and the overall theme of the game.

Read Stephen King. How does King bring horror into his work? Well, one of his manipulations is characterization. He makes the reader feel as if the character is his friend, his buddy - he then kills him or puts him in incredibly stressful situations.


Exactly. Most of us have been using movies as examples, but our chosen medium is indeed closer to the novel or the short story. Horror fiction generally works because we're made to feel for the characters. We don't always have to; some horror can be scary just by making us fear its central "villain" or "evil", by presenting him/her/it/them in such a way that it frightens, terrifies, or unsettles us.

The best horror, I find, gives us both characters we can care about, and something to scare us.

And that brings a thought to mind. My last post was pretty much just some tripe I put together in fifteen minutes, to illustrate how I personally would have a go at the slasher genre. I used a lot of the same cliches and tropes of that genre, because the point I was trying to get across was originality, not in ideas, but in display.

However, let's look closer at the central idea behind the slasher film, indeed, behind many horror tales, be they films, novels, or short stories. This central idea is that of the "monster", the "bad guy", the "evil", which is primarily supernatural or unexplainable in nature. Stephen King's often-used version of this for example, is the un-nameable evil that takes shape in different forms; in the form of dead cats and people, in the form of a clown, in the form of mysterious vampires, in the form of a car... usually in small-town Maine.

It works because he is excellent at portraying what he does. He uses his unknowable evils in conjuction with his writing skill, his style, his sense of pacing, of character development. He scares us not just with the "monster" but with how he writes about that monster.

In fact, it is that primarily that provides the fright factor, at least for me. Any shmoe can write a story about vampires or about the dead rising back to life. But can they write about it like Stephen King? They might be able to write it as well, but they can never write it in exactly the same way. And that's the point I'm really trying to stress here: you can have the most tired concept in the world, the biggest cliche, and still you can make it effective. It's not really what you choose to write about, but how you write about it.

In other words, don't just focus on the monster. Focus on how that monster is portrayed, how it is revealed to us. Focus on the principal players of your story who will be affected by it.

Originality in concept is a plus. If you can come up with what you feel is a truly original concept for a horror piece, good for you. Write it. Amaze us. But in all honesty, the majority of good writing is not based on original concepts. It is based on old concepts with new slants.

Write what you know, and what you love. Write what scares you.

Most importantly, just write it like yourself.
Why can't you eat soup in the Matrix? Because there is no spoon!
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Postby Cannibal » Tue Jul 30, 2002 9:12 pm

Some very excellent and intelligent posts - this is a good conversation :)

I will add a few more points.

I really don't think you need pictures or sound to make a horror game scary. It might add something to the pot but rarely will it convey what's really in your head. Imagination is far more powerful than any on screen image from any medium. The fear of the unknown is a greater fear. An unlit forest path at midnight might be unsettling. An unlit forest path at midnight where a murder was once committed could terrorfy you.

The way I try to implement the "fear factor" is to build a reasonable story. You have to place real people in real situations and allows the cracks to open slowly and the dark elements to seep in.

Unless the players refuses to immerse him or herself in thw whole mood, there's prob not a lot you can do, but if they don't, did you do something wrong ?

The story I am working on sounds very well worked. An old cottage in the woods. Murder was committed many years ago and several friends have gone missing - they went to the cottage for kicks, against your advice. The terror - of the killer returning to commit more murders - is played on but the central story slowly unravels and the truth of the game is far more shocking, but far more set in the real world...without giving too much away. The fears are brought on through, what I hope, is atmospheric writing and unsettling events...a axe that splits a skull wide open will not make me blink...but a ball that bounces down a wooden flight of stairs followed by a snap of childish laughter would prob make me leave the light on that night :)

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Postby DuoDave » Tue Jul 30, 2002 10:58 pm

That's a good point cannibal.

Along those lines, which is scarier:

1. You're at the edge of a dark crevasse... you drop something over the side... and after a time you hear it strike the bottom echoing...

or

2. You drop something over the edge of the crevasse... and hear nothing.

Physics is an interesting thing. When we bend what we expect - it creates horror. The axe striking someone in the head killing them - that's not nearly as scary as looking out your 10th story apartment window and seeing someone there - and theres nothing for them to stand on.

That's why hearing nothing is scarier. You expect that the pit has a bottom, eventually. And when it doesn't - if you fall... what happens? Do you fall - forever?
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Postby Cannibal » Tue Jul 30, 2002 11:14 pm

...you hear nothing :0

Good analogy that - I quite like the ideal of someone outside a 10th floor window as well...hmmm the wheels are turning in my head :)

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Postby DuoDave » Wed Jul 31, 2002 1:08 am

I have a perverse delight in watching that show "Fear Factor" - its sort of like horror with commercial breaks. But when that show is on I sometimes wonder which is scarier to the player - actually doing the task at hand or watching the other players do it - and sometimes they fail.

Anticipation is a powerful thing.
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Postby Mercury » Wed Jul 31, 2002 4:50 am

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Edited By Mercury on 06 Aug. 2002 at 12:59
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