DMing 101 – Horror

As any good series should do, this week’s DMing 101 will be a Hallowe’en special, and a preview for a set of genre-specific guides on how to give your games specific themes and atmospheres. Before the new series begins, here’s a look at one of the hardest genres to do properly: Horror. Continue reading “DMing 101 – Horror”

Bloversation – Atmosphere 3

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We thought we’d stick to the theme of atmosphere in gaming, as it’s such a broad subject.

What turns me off of a game the most is that feeling that I cannot be in that world; that I cannot sympathise with that world in any way, shape or form. For this, I have one game in particular that I will be picking on and I apologise in advance as this is a popular game and I’m sure many people won’t agree with me.

Before this though, let’s talk some more about good atmosphere in games that you might not necessarily think had any form of atmosphere. How about a game like The Sims? I’m talking about the original game of The Sims, the first in the franchise.

Oh yeah. Let’s… Be people… I guess!

The Sims in concept is pretty bland. You basically have these characters that you create who needs you to hold their hands lest they turn into little slobs and finds life to be pretty tough. The Sims is one of these games that splits the audience somewhat, due to some gamers believing that a game should have some form of action. The Sims does have action for the record, but it depends how you play it.

When you start, you’re looking down at your little Sims and you’re trying to make sense of who and what they are. These guys are near clueless as to what to do and you have to help improve their home, their social lives, their careers and yes, their finances. You can have the walls of the house up, or the walls down so you can look in the house easier. The standard view alone gives you the impression that you are in control of what you’re looking down at. In fact; Compare the view to children playing with their doll set. That is basically the premise of this game: You are playing with some dolls. They’re your dolls, made to your specification. You are in control, not them!

To add to this, you feel like you’re in the world of the Sims. You watch them while they watch TV. You listen to their conversations which is seemingly a language devoid of any true reasoning; Simlish. The scariest thing is: That language is “proper”, it has an actual meaning behind each weird word they say. Check out this blog that I found dedicated to Simlish and tell me that isn’t cool?!

So whilst in The Sims, the world tries to make you believe it’s a real world, there are other games that have atmosphere without trying to make you “believe in the world”. They want to give you that amount of disbelief to where you just happen to think it is indeed a “real world”.

Enter ToeJam & Earl

Toe Jam & Earl was a really simple game, where you literally go around and get pieces of your rocket ship together. The game the whole time is ridiculously silly and over the top. This is why this game has a perfect atmosphere. Your characters are aliens who have crash landed on this bizarre world called Earth.

The game was satirical and yet you could completely believe the world these aliens landed on. See, these aliens were really far fetched, I mean just look at them both in the above picture. It was silly, it was “radical” and all in all – It was fun. These were funky aliens who landed on this strange world that you and I see as normal. It was really well done and the whole point was for you to explore this weirdly different world.Whilst the aliens were different to you and I, they found our world alien and strange. It looked strange to them too – Which is why this game worked so well. It was just a simple, easy to relate to story of an outsider looking in at our (okay now outdated) culture.

So then, those are two games with great atmosphere for the world they built. So what is that popular game that I mentioned that didn’t have such a good atmosphere? I’m very sorry:

Hey there good lookin’, wha’cha got cookin’? Some plasma in the face?

Take this not as an insult to those who enjoy Doom 3 as it is a super game. It’s well done and it’s very, hmm, scary? I’m not really too big on jump scares in games as it never feels like it worked for me, however that was exactly my point.

Each moment the game felt like it was going to open up more and become a bigger, scarier game – Well that was all it did. it just got scarier and didn’t leave me “included” in the game. I couldn’t get behind the characters and it didn’t feel like it was going anywhere any time soon.

Instead all I had was random jump scares and incredibly bland, stale characters. I am afraid to say that the voices of the characters felt like they were done by one man only. It didn’t matter what the character looked like, they were just different octaves of one guy and on top of that: The characters didn’t really react to things or talk in “human ways”. To me, this killed the suspense through the dialogue alone.

For all of its accomplishments and how great fun the game itself is (I’d recommend playing it!), it’s not particularly “absorbing”. You don’t feel connected to Mars and you don’t want to really get involved with the world: Because you can’t.

So, what did you all think? Can you give us any more examples of popular games that aren’t particularly atmospheric? What about older games that are incredibly atmospheric? Alternatively, what games are atmospheric?

Blogversation – Atmosphere 2

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As with any artform, for a game to be truly immersive it must evoke an emotion. A game can be good without being immersive, but when you walk away from a game having assimilated its’ ways and habits as your own, you know that game had you hooked. Games can fill us with wonder, dread, excitement, or even sadness, at times without so much as speaking a word.

Thief: Deadly Shadows, and Mark of the Ninja. Two exceptional games with similar stealth-based gameplay, Thief being first person and Mark of the Ninja being a side-scroller. Now some of you may disagree with me here, but Thief was a substantially more atmospheric game. While both games require you to stick to the shadows, only in Thief did I find my heart in my mouth as someone passed within inches of me before dropping in behind to snatch from their belt gave a  thrill that Mark of the Ninja did not muster. Is Mark of the Ninja a bad game? No! But it lacked in atmosphere.

Continue reading “Blogversation – Atmosphere 2”

Blogversation – Atmosphere

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Atmosphere in gaming is one of these hard to understand concepts that you simply “Just get” rather than plausibly put your finger on.

I mean, atmosphere in a game like… Well, Atmosfear… Is all in the suspense, the drama and the excitement of what’s going to happen next. That sense of “When is it going to happen next?” “What is going to happen next?” and my favourite “Can we skip forward?”

"I am the gatekeeper!" - Gatekeeper
“I am the gatekeeper!” – Gatekeeper

I draw more upon the 2004 version of Atmosfear here, as that game added in the element of surprise. See, the original Atmosfear was brilliant: On your first playthrough. This was due to a limitation in technology. In 2004 however, Atmosfear was redone on DVD, meaning events could (and did) happen at random.

This is a major boost to the atmosphere of Atmosfear, as no more did you know when the next quotes would be said. It truly felt like each game was now different from the last.

So how did Atmosfear make the atmosphere? They had a narrator who set the scene, told the stories and yes: He told you what to do. He made you feel uneasy, as if you had to do exactly as he said to continue with the game. Perfection in atmospheric execution, right there.

In video games however, there are other means to set the atmosphere of a game.

In video games, you rely on the visuals, the audio and the rules of the game. Let’s take a step back in time to 1994 for a moment and all the way back to that lovely console, the SNES. A “psychedelic” hippy-like RPG video game was released, where you play as a kid who fights using a baseball bat. He goes on a journey with a girl who has the power of prayer, a boy who’s incredibly smart and a prince of a foreign land.

Yes, I'm talking about Earthbound!
Yes, I’m talking about Earthbound!

Earthbound throughout the game is quite fun and you get the sense of fun throughout… But the whole game, you feel something is a little bit off with the game. But you just can’t quite place your finger on what. Not until you fight the final boss.

You see, as you get to the final part of the game, you realise you and your friends are alone against what is basically the ultimate evil of the game. He makes his presence felt to you as he morphs around your screen, in full screen too!

WARNING: Watching the above video is riddled with spoilers about the end boss of the game (Because it’s basically a play-through of that event). If you’re okay with that, go ahead and proceed.

You feel as if you’re trapped in this horrible realm, where you and your friends are fighting not just for your life but for humanity, too. You get the idea instilled in you by the words of Porky Minch, then the music which follows. When you’re fighting Porky and Giygas, it’s not so bad – You’ve not seen the true form of Giygas and Porky is making the event amusing. He then turns off the devils machine and bang. You get hit with a slap of video game reality.

Atmosphere isn’t stuck to just one aspect of a game. It can be audible, it can be narrative or it can even be visual.

I’ve given you the narrative and the musical, so now let’s look at how the visuals can display something atmospheric!

For visuals, let's look quickly at Doom 3
For visuals, let’s look quickly at Doom 3

When Doom 3 came out, it was one of these games that you had no choice but to draw your jaw to. Hopefully, your jaw didn’t drop quite as much as our above zombie friend, but you get the point. Doom 3 looked amazing for its time and the whole scenario, the whole place, felt intimidating and threatening.

It felt cold and it felt like you truly were alone out there against the legions of hell itself. You were in charge of getting yourself to the next point and you were trying to help out by destroying the evils along the way. The lights turn off and hell breaks loose in the station. You see things raise in the dark, you physically see things go bump in the night. You know you’re in an imminent danger simply by the lighting alone.

From blood being splattered all over the walls to a broken crate that’s slightly out of place, you feel as if you’re in this damning hellish place on Mars. The metal grates makes Mars City feel cold and unforgiving, whereas the darkness gives the player a sense of hopelessness. The blood everywhere then instils dread into the player. Basically: You feel as if you’re doomed and you’ve got no choice but to fight for your life.

For this post, I’ve focused almost primarily on “scary” atmosphere, but atmosphere doesn’t lie with the scares in gaming. Join us again next week where Joel will be further discussing atmosphere in gaming.

What did you think of my scary sum-up of atmosphere in gaming? Can you list other scary games that really make you feel the atmosphere? As always, do drop us a comment as it means a lot to me and Joel.