CHEAP SCARE OR GREAT SCARE?
The reputation of Jump scares being often considered as cheap scares is justified to some extent. I have seen films and played games where the jump scares are more exhausting and less exciting, and they are not much more sophisticated than someone who might jump out of a cupboard and shout ‘boo’. However, Context is everything. Jump scares can be a valid device in the horror genre if it doesn’t feel like the creators are throwing it at you.
The director of movies such as Saw and the Conjuring, James Wan, said back in 20q6, “If you don’t do the suspense correctly, then your jump scares are not going to work.” This same principle should be applied to games as well.
One of the writers on Alien: Isolation at Creative Assembly, Dion Lay was asked about jump scares and he said, “They definitely have a place. One of the reasons I love horror is because the genre is wide enough to be so many different things—slasher, ghost story, even comedy—and there are so many tools to use. Jump scares are one of the minor tools—more like a bit of spice you add to the main course—but used correctly they can help maintain pace and tension without exhausting the player. You can even use a dummy jump scare or fake out to signal to the player that they can relax a little—’you’ve had your scare for now, we’ll let you take a breather.’ They contrast with the prolonged terror of the main threat, or the slow burn of the dread cultivated by the location and soundtrack.”
In 2014, alien: Isolation was voted as our game of the year. The game is of the sophisticated survival horror category where you are pursued by an unpredictable alien foe for most of the 20-hour lifespan of the story. When the alien and android foes try to kill you, there’s no shortage of jump scares, but they will never feel cheap because there is a lot of information provided about what’s going on. You will see drools spilling out of the alien it is in the vent above. You will get an idea of where enemies are at all times with the help of the motion tracker. And if the eyes of an Android are lit up, it’ll probably come to life and grab you. The quality of the space station setting while all these jump scares creates a consistent tension, thus effectively breaking up a long game.
The co-founder of Red Barrels and developer of both Outlast games, Philippe Morin says, “Jump scares are an ingredient. Throughout the development of Outlast 2, we’ve had people telling us the game doesn’t have enough jump scares and others who felt there were too many. Horror is incredibly subjective and good jump scares aren’t easy to do well because it’s all about what leads up to the big scream. You need to stretch the tension for the right amount of time, to the point that the player almost wants the jump scare to happen because they can’t take the stress anymore. Good jump scares should stay with you, putting you in a state of discomfort for the whole game.”
LET’S PLAYS AND REACTION VIDEOS
The Let’s Play and reaction videos that sprung up around games like PT, Slender: The Eight Pages, Outlast and Amnesia suggested that the way of consumption of horror games by people was changing.
Morin says, “When we launched the very first trailer of Outlast in October 2012, we kept seeing comments about some dude named PewDiePie. People were saying how they couldn’t wait for him to play the game and how he would freak out because of the name of our studio, Red Barrels. In finding out who this guy was, we discovered the YouTuber phenomenon. The timing of Outlast was good, so we decided to roll with it.”
With the horror genre having benefits in terms of exposure, reaction videos have become synonymous. However, it also rumbles the all-important surprises of a horror game to a massive audience.
Morin further says, “It is a bit of a weird relationship, because you don’t want your horror game to be spoiled but then as a new studio with a new IP, you need the visibility.”
THE STATE OF HORROR
With both The Evil Within 2 and Resident Evil 7 impressing, the big-budget horror in the year 2017 had a bit of a renaissance beginning. To well-worn templates of the genre, The Evil Within 2 experimenting with more open environments and the videotapes of Resi 7 presenting Saw-style fragments of thrilling horror scenarios, both brought their own inventive angles.
Thomas says— “I think we’ve come through the era of the jump scare to an extent, although there are still thousands of them being produced, and we’re beginning to see horror creep into simulations and games I would actually enjoy.” The survival game The Forest has been cited by him as an example of an open-ended scary game where players can figure out solutions themselves. “There’s no right way to play that game—you’re constructing any success that you have.” However, Thomas liked the idea of jump scares as generated by the system, rather than those scripted events and to create the kind of scary moments that you’d only usually see in cutscenes, he wants his next game to allow four players, in co-op.
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