With GGJ 2016’s theme being “ritual”, our group took the time to have a thorough brainstorming session with flow maps. I learned through my writing to never commit to using the first idea that pops into your head as it won’t be the greatest idea ever, and IT ESPECIALLY won’t be original, considering the fact that if you though of it first, most likely others would have too.
So we wrote down everything we could associate with the word “ritual”, from topics like voodoo to traditions to cats. We all knew for sure that mundane dark comedy was something we definitely wanted to accomplish. So, we went through and combined the most interesting topics to create an entertaining story. The two that stuck out was “dancing” and “killer”, causing our team obsess over a game about a killer that likes to dance as he commits murders. After realizing this promotes something absolutely horrific we scraped it right away and brainstormed again. That’s when the magic started to happen: we each got a sticky note and each wrote down the first thing that comes to mind when we thing of mundane horror, and that was when our crazy game concept came upon us. Our animator had drawn a scene of a janitor cleaning up a dead body, and our idea was born. I went and prepared the game design document overnight on Friday to start working right away.
Mystery History is a visual puzzle game for elders aged 70+ and teens aged 13 – 18 played on a tablet. The game was designed within 4 days for Sheridan College’s Sprint Week in Fall 2015.
Premise: Given clues of pop culture throughout the 20th century, the players must work together to find out what their clue(s) relate to or how they are related to each other. The game encourages being social and communicating between other players through verbal brainstorming.
How to play: A timer will be running for 60 seconds, while a category and clue will appear in front of the players.Tapping the “CLUE” button will give them another clue, but they’ll lose a star in their rating. The players can have up to three clues. If the players know what the answer it they tap the “I Know It!” button, where it will reveal the answer and offer a yes or no option. The player decides if they guessed the answer correctly. If they get it right, they will earn a certain amount of stars depending on how many clues they used. Refer to the start system:
Correctly guessing with only one clue: = 3 stars
Correctly guessing with only two clues = 2 stars
Correctly guessing with all three clues = 1 star
Incorrectly guessing with any amount of clues = no stars
My Role: Level Designer, Artist and UI Designer
I designed the levels by researching and reflecting off of classic well-known entertainment even younger folks might know about. The clues were centered towards only the 20th century, and were categorized as either film, television, singer, band, etc. For the topics, I would draw out multiple symbols that aren’t so iconic, so that way it would not be too easy and allow the players to encourage discussion. For example, placing a dinosaur as a clue for Jurassic Park would be completely obvious, so I had to come up with other known clues to indicate the same film, such as Ray Arnold’s torn off arm. Furthermore, I drew the buttons and title screen in Illustrator. Using Shneiderman’s Eight Golden Rules of Interaction Design, I carefully designed visual feedback such as the star score glowing, to help indicate to the player that it is their final score. I also designed the buttons so that they are all consistent: base buttons are blue while the “Yes” or “No” buttons’ colours are reflected off of indicators we already know.; green for yes, red for no. I decided to give the game a silhouette of a detective, giving the sense that the player will act like one when playing the game.
Aside from the creation of the game, the hardest part was figuring out the name of the game , so I brainstormed a long list of possible puns and rhymes so it can be memorable. Some of the runner ups were “Mystery History”, “Memory Discectomy” and “Holla Nostalgia”. The group agreed on naming it Mystery History but also mergining it into one word. I then created a “H” and “M” letter hybrid, so that the title looks like it can be cleverly read as Mystery or History in just one word.
Until Dawn is an interactive narrative survival horror game that is heavily influenced and inspired by classic horror film clichés from the 1980’s. It’s gameplay and story shares elements from various movies like Scream, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Saw, Evil Dead, My Bloody Valentine, Psycho, The Shining, and many more. In fact, the game’s cinematography is heavily inspired by these types of films, allowing the player to feel like they are taking part in their own horror movie.
Low Key Lighting
Throughout the entire game, Until Dawn consistently uses a dark colour scheme, complimented with low key lightning. This is commonly used in the horror genre to always keep their atmosphere in the dark, and also make the enemy appear scarier. Low key darkens their shadows and brightens their highlights, giving it more contrast allowing the audience to see them clearly as they lurk through the dark.
A wendigo in Until Dawn (2015).
Xenomorph queen in Aliens (1986).
Killer’s Point of View
A technique that many slasher films used is showing the viewer the killer’s point of view. These are usually recorded hand-held to give an idea to the audience about what they see.
Jessica Robinson mentions in her book Life Lessons from Slasher Films that these shots “forces the audience to identify with the killer. Because they are allowed to see what the killer sees, they, in effect, become complicit with the murderer: stalking victim with the killer, peering through trees and windows, the audience members become voyeurs”.
In Until Dawn, whenever a wendigo is present, it will go to their point of view, with a first-person rig. They have movement-sensing vision with contrasting colours; red for their environment and light flashing blue for potential victims who are moving. At the beginning of the game, they are seen watching from afar behind trees, but eventually, they’ll start to chase after their victims, causing their point of view first-person camera to be more aggressive. After Mike and Jessica witness the attack of a moose, they are then being chased by the horrifying creature.
Another time this has occurred besides wendigoes, was when the game wanted give the player a test-run (literally) by running away from a false enemy. Chris puts on a dark robe and hockey mask (possibly paying tribute to Friday the 13th) and starts chasing Sam and Josh. As the player is running away, there is a brief handheld shot of Chris’s perspective. If the player successfully executes a quick time, they’ll drop a mattress to trip Chris, as well as the camera.
Bonus: If Ashley finds the psycho’s hidden camera, it’ll be shot in the camera’s perspective:
The killer’s POV shows great inspiration from Halloween. The intro to John Carpenter’s Halloween from 1978, filmed entirely in the perspective of Michael Myers as a child:
Enemy is Out of Focus
One of the most memorable shots is while Sam is enjoying her bath listening to classical music, the psycho is seen in the background not in focus, as Sam is the focal point. With the enemy remaining out of focus, it’ll taunt the audience when they noticed their presence. Since the victim is in focus and the killer is not, it gives the illusion that even the camera does not even notice him, freaking out the audience. The close up shot pivots around Sam to balance a rule of thirds composition between her and the psycho. Sam in remains in a brighter and vivid lighting compared to the psycho behind her in a dark palette, with one very faint light source.
During some hiding scenes, the shots first have the killer out of focus to see the victim’s reaction. But eventually it will switch focus, since the player wants to keep their eye on the killer in order to wait for him to leave.
Keeping the enemy out of focused happens in numerous films, such as My Bloody Valentine (2009). Even though one of the characters is not in focus, the audience are still able to view the two subject’s actions/reactions, thanks to using the rule of thirds.
Sarah encounters the miner in My Bloody Valentine (2009).
Enemy Enters the Shot
After the camera has tracked outwards during the very first establishing shot, the camera starts to pivot around the lodge. Eventually, a man with a machete will enter the shot from the right, and quickly rack focus on him, indicating his presence to the player. The man will slash his weapon, quickly transitioning to the next shot.
Through a long shot, Sam is roaming through the corridors, the psycho’s leg comes into focus in the composition from the right. Thus, scaring the player and alerting them that he is about to do something horrible very soon.
An exclusive cinematic technique the horror genre loves using is the dolly-zoom. It was first implemented by Irmin Roberts in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo released back in 1958, thus giving it the popular nickname of “Hitchcock zoom” and the “Vertigo effect”.
Dolly-zoom complimented with a high-angle using a wide-angle lens portrays a distorted and uneasy shot.
Later on when Sam and Mike find Josh tripping, a dolly-zoom is used to warp his shot, reminding the player that he is uncomfortable and terrified of something the others cannot see. The camera is tracking towards Josh, while the camera is zooming out, causing this unsettling perspective. The camera has a wide-angle lenses, almost fish-eye like, to make Josh look even more distorted when near the camera. It is also at a high-angle, causing the subject to look weak and defenseless to his nightmare. Wide angle lenses, high-angles and dolly zooms work very well together to create the perfect unpleasant feeling for an audience to witness.
Many horror films and games place their subjects in remote and isolated areas, so no one can hear their cry for help. Isolation can be interpreted by taking advantage of establishing shots. Until Dawn‘s establish shot trucks in towards cabin, the primary location of the game. It then dissolves to another establish shot, pivoting towards a certain area of the cabin, where the characters are located inside.
Stanley Kubrick, who is known for his camera shots lasting long durations, uses many different shots in his film The Shining to establish where the film will take place; a far away remote hotel on a mountain.
Close-ups of the Recently Deceased
In Hitchcock’s Psycho, after Marion’s iconic death of being stabbed in a shower, she has a very long shot of herself dead on the floor, starting from an extreme close up of her eye, to a normal close up of her motionless face. Showing the lifeless eye of a recently deceased victim is a popular technique. Until Dawn uses this cinematic approach if Matt falls down a cliff. A side-by-side comparison illustrates their similarities easily:
Marion’s death in Psycho (1960).
One of Matt’s possible deaths in Until Dawn (2015).
And of course, the famous close up of someone screaming when they are about to die:
Jessica being taken by a wendigo.
Mrs. Kettlewell being killed by Chucky in Child’s Play (1988).
Since horror films require a subject to be attacked, one way of recording it is the approach of record it over the shoulder. That way, it seem like the killer is not only attacking the victim, but the audience as well.
Robbie getting stabbed by Ghostface in Scream 4 (2011).
In Until Dawn, a wolverine attacks towards Chris but instead of going right his face, the wolverine slightly turns away from him to aim towards the camera, as if it were actually lashing at the player.
Chris startled by a wolverine lashing from the cupboard.
In conclusion, without these famous traditional horror camera techniques, Until Dawn would have not been the great immersive experience it truly is. If games want to succeed at cinematics, looking for their certain genre’s aspects through film, and even television, can help establish a helpful guide to use as a reference. Games should always take into consideration what films have to teach. That way, games can use it to their advantage to create brilliant and engaging experiences.
Robinson, Jessica. Life Lessons from Slasher Films. Scarecrow Press, 2012. Google Books.
Verma, Esha. Techniques To Shoot A Horror Sequence. Pandolin, 2013. Web. 12 Oct. 2015. < http://pandolin.com/techniques-to-shoot-a-horror-sequence/ >
Variant 1: What if air assassinations were carried out dependable on the player’s characteristics?
Let’s say there is an overweight character the player is controlling. If that character was to be set up on a ledge and had to take out the enemy underneath him, he can execute this is different ways depending on the player’s controls. Let’s have it so that the player must jump and kill the enemy themselves, similar to Dishonored. If the player does it correctly and presses the kill button in time, then the player will react faster after killing the enemy and feel more rewarding. If the player does not press the kill button on time after jumping off the ledge, then the player’s overweight character will knock out the enemy in a comedic way, squishing and flattening him, but will have a slower reaction time (he will have to get up slowly). So that way, if the player has an enemy directly below themselves and they press the jump button, they are guaranteed to knock out the enemy. Depending on if the player presses the kill button on time will affect the aftermath of the air assassination. If the player does not land on top of an enemy, and hits the ground (absorbing lot of fall damage) then they will also have a slower reaction and will have to get up slowly. This variant of an air assassination is more character-based, allowing for more interesting gameplay.
Variant 2: Instead of just button presses to indicate an air assassination, how about letting the player feel like they are truly implementing the takedown?
This would only work with a platform that has a console controller. The player will press a button to lock onto their acquired target, and then bring the controller upwards physically. Finally, using however much strength, they slam their controller down resulting in an air assassination that depends on the speed, and how hard the player pulls down the controller. If the player pulls down the controller quickly, it will cause more power towards the enemy they want to knock out. If it was a slower and pathetic strike, it will not affect the enemy as much physically, maybe the player can land on the shoulders of the enemy and try to twist their neck or stab them in the face. From what I’ve had in mind, the player would like to feel as if they are the Invincible Hulk yelling “HULK SMASH” with both fists ready to destroy what is underneath them. This concept of an air assassination can feel empowering for the player and exciting when they realize that it was their real strength that took down the enemy instead of the game doing it for them.
The Assassin’s Creed way of implementing air assassinations is holding down the “high profile” set of keys using a certain button (for Playstation 3, it would be R2) then pressing another button such as the square button to allow for a swift and quick takedown, thus satisfying the player. Overall, this would need two simple button presses and centering the camera on the targeted enemy. The game itself will perform the air assassination as the player watches it. In the case of this game series, there are thousands of enemies (Templars) to kill, so making the assassinations all quick and swift would be better suited for these games. Later on, the Assassins Creed series started to include air assassinating as a mandatory goal in some story missions. For example, in Assassin’s Creed 3, the player must air assassinate John Pitcairn. If they stab Pitcairn in the back, the mission will restart since the player did not do the required air assassination.
Dishonored, on the other hand, has it so that the player must jump and/or use Blink (which is quick teleportation skill), and then press the attack button right before they land on top of the target. Similar to Assassin’s Creed, this also needs two buttons: one for jumping off a ledge and the other to kill the targeted enemy. Though unlike Assassin’s Creed, Dishonored lets the player press the kill button whenever they please, because they are responsible for killing the enemy, rather than the game automatically killing the enemy for you. This allows the player to feel more accomplished because they successfully did it themselves. In this game, it is possible to die from large heights if the player does not kill their target. This portrays a more personal accomplishment towards the player because of this task being extremely risky and possibly fatal. If the player connects to the game on more personally, then that means the game, and its mechanics, are very well designed.
Finally, in the reboot of Thief, the player will press one button once they are close enough to the enemy. After the player presses the button, the game plays a dramatic cut scene of the takedown, showing off to the player how epic they are. Similar to Assassin’s Creed, the game itself targets the enemy without the player having to time the execution accordingly, which is what Dishonored allows you to do. Overall, Thief’s way of a drop assassination seems too easy for the player, making it seem more of a satisfaction element by rewarding the player with a cool cut scene rather than personally rewarding themselves.
Out of all these games, I personally think that Dishonored did the best implementation of an air assassination because it allows there to be a challenge for the player since they are responsible for pressing the jump and kill button in a timely manner, and also because dying is a possibility if the air assassination is not properly executed. This is the opposite of the other two games, where they do the assassination for the player.
In Extra Credit’s video Like a Ninja – What Makes a Good Stealth Game, they mention that these mechanics are “all just tools in the player’s belt. They are logical functions which can be applied to the problems at hand”. Therefore, the player must use these tools the game has provided to succeed in their mission. It is highly recommended to watch their video to understand how to implement tools and mechanics for the purpose of stealth games.
An important element of air assassinations is thinking about the height of drops. It would not seem realistic if the player were to survived a long fall, but if they were to takedown an enemy at the end of that fall, their body’s momentum will be absorbed by the enemies body, providing some realistic sense but also allow for the assassination to be very rewarding by surviving. It would not be fun, or even worth attempting to do, if player ends up killing themselves in the end, thus allowing this extreme risk to become a more personal reward towards the player.
Dishonored (2012), using the mechanic “Blink” to teleport down without taking too much fall damage.
Dishonored (2012), taking fall damage without a target to air assassinate.
Researching and retracing the mechanic’s history is very challenging since it is not consider an important mechanic. As far as it goes, this mechanic would have started off with the establishment of stealth games, as they progressively started to become a genre in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Some early stealth games include Castle Wolfenstein, Metal Gear Solid, Tenchu, and Thief: The Dark Project. Eventually, new mechanics started to arise through this genre such as smoke bombs, throwing objects (to hurt or distract enemies), camera disables, and of most the most satisfying: drop assassinations.
Air assassination, or a drop assassination, is game mechanic where the player dives off a high platform to land on top of an enemy located on a lower platform to instantly kill them. Although this would be a subdivision of the large mechanic of attacking, this mechanic should be more acknowledged because it could have more unique aspects and experimentation to allow this to become a better, or a more independent mechanic in games.
This mechanic is seen in many stealth games. It is a sneaky tactic because the enemies are unaware that the player can come from above to kill them, allowing the player to feel empowering, sneaky and unpredictable; like a bad-ass ninja. Assassin’s Creed, Dishonored, and Thief are a few examples that use this mechanic as a tool to help the player through their stealth missions. Adventure games also implement this mechanic in a minor-fashion, such as the new Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. This mechanic is starting gain more attention which is why it is in almost every video game nowadays. But game developers should take advantage of this fascinating variant of killing an enemy, and let it become something better and dominant.