The Common Mistakes of Horror Games

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Great tension music design is this: At certain points throughout the game the music style (instruments, tempo, etc.) changes, typically at the start of a new zone/level. The first few instances of the music creating tension should be timed or programmed at a point of action, to introduce the player to the idea that the music is an indicator of threat.

Pretty standard right? Here's the genius: After the first few instances, the music plays semi-randomly so as to generate stress in new areas when no enemies are present, and if timed correctly (based on assumed play speed) the random music playing can sync up with actual encounters, further enforcing the construct that the music plays a role in predicting what's about to happen.

Hard to do? Definitely, but worth it since that's the whole idea of horror games.

I'm going to note the Army of Darkness maxim: if you have a horror movie where your protagonist is a badass, it is now an action movie. Goes double for games.

With regards to slow-motion headshots - it's silly, but a lot of people like it. There's a whole honkin' demographic of people that play games just to shoot stuff, and they get a thrill when said shooting gets highlighted. It's like a sticker on an A+ quiz. The sticker isn't good for anything, and might even be said to be a waste of perfectly good paper and adhesive. But we like it anyway.

How about including an option to turn that time-wasting stuff off for the rest of us? Then you make everyone happy.

For the record, I like spectacular kill-shots in games, but not when they break the game's flow a la anime stock-footage. For a boss fight, maybe. Bit-Part Demon #39 doesn't need an Oscar-worthy performance. His head crumpling like a smashed pumpkin in real-time is just fine.

As a scientific fact, you can't keep the same music on without the player becoming so used to it that he/she doesn't notice it at all. The scary music would become normal music.

It pains me to say this, as a musician and as a lover of film scores and video-game music since the original NES Castlevania and Mega Man games, but maybe horror games shouldn't have music then. Hollywood movies of the last 30 years or so have become allergic to silence: every scene needs to be awash in either: a) dialogue, b) some pop/rap/rock song, c) an oppressive Hollywood-sounding score, or d) explosions. Sometimes silence, or just background sound, is more effective.

Damn did you hit the bullseye with your last comment. Silence is treated as a disease by major Hollywood producers, they feel that since the drama and the plot itself is not captivating enough, to grab (and keep) their audience's attention they have to constantly punctuate the scene with music. To be fair though, sometimes the composition is warranted, as it was in Star Wars and TLotR---but I don't think I would want any musical score distracting me from Faustess' monologue,

His comments about Dead Space were absolutely true, and I even found it as I played.

"Hm. A twisting corridor with plenty of entry points for me to be ambushed. Hey, let me try something."
(I close my eyes and walk forward. I hear a violin, open my eyes, blast the monster)
"...Yup. Works like a charm."

FEAR had one or two good moments that went off utter surprise. For instance, they put health and ammo down this small alleyway for you to take. When you grab it and turn back, Alma is there. BOO! (vanish)

these mistakes are true about horror games. but horror games ONLY IMO :
the one mentioned about "Action Cutscenes", well, one of the reasons i enjoyed Devil May Cry 3 were the cutscenes. so i guess they can work sometimes ...


Music that gets more exciting when enemies are around and calms down when they're all dead.

Christ, I can't even begin to speculate when games started doing this. The first time I remember noticing it was in the original Serious Sam, which was a hectic kill-em-all arena shooter where the music thing admittedly served the useful purpose of indicating when you'd cleared up the last few stragglers. But in horror games like Alan Wake, when the experience is ostensibly based around tension, all it does is undermine that tension by signposting it.

Loosely, isn't that what the radio static in Silent Hill does? With Silent Hill, you argued that being told there's a monster without knowing where it is heightens the tension. In principle, there doesn't seem to be any reason why scary music couldn't accomplish the same thing. It'd be a bit less novel, admittedly. And of course it's a metagame reason, so it's less immersive, but the criticism appears to be more about how it warns you than anything else.

Yahtopia also bans "it gets better later" in games, right? I should think so after how many times it's been slammed here (and rightfully so).

If so, I think I want to move there.

For the music, take your cue from some of the good horror films - establish a "scary" track, that plays when danger is approaching. You'll signal a few scares, but it's setup. After a few repetitions to train scary music = danger and other music = safety, start fucking with the player's expectations - play the scare music when they're safe, have them attacked when the safety music is playing.

Have the scary music play when they're just walking along, keep playing it, build it up and up, then nothing. Cut to silence. Nothing attacks. They walk further and the safety music starts. So hopefully they're on edge, but heartrate is returning to normal, then spring the monster, preferably from behind and completely without warning. Make it loud, make it get up in their face, make them need a fresh pair of pants after the encounter.

Music is potentially very powerful at yanking around our emotional state, if all you do with it is confirm what they already know from what they see (or warn them of what they're about to see) then you're not going to scare anyone. The scare comes when the music says one thing and the rest says something else. And as said, it can also be used to induce panic if you've already got them on edge.

The important part, don't let them feel safe too often, and then every so often make them feel safe right before you spring something, then they'll never feel safe again.

What's kind of funny is that I feel like Dead Space did pretty much exactly this. I remember one time when the build up culminates in some spray machinery coming on to water the plants in hydroponics. I remember another scene where you're walking down a hallway, the fans all loudly overload and blow out, signaling something big.... and then nothing at all happens.

What email does Yahtzee take fanmail for Zero/Extra punctuation? I have some stuff that I actually would like to have even a one sided conversation with him about.

Yahtopia? I want to live there. Its the home of the perfect game, where all the characters have engaging, meaningful actions and no scene is wasted on the insipid quick time event of doom!

You'd think there'd be more horror game titles. Horror in videogames is easy. In a film or a book you have to spend time characterizing the hero so the viewers relate when a big hairy monster gives him a purple nurple, but in a game the audience automatically has a stake in the hero's safety. Half the work's been done for you.

I disagree, if anything I'd say you might even have it backwards. When I was reading "Let The Right One In", most of the horror came from when I wasn't turning pages, but when I was thinking about what I'd read. The characterisation in print might require more effort than gaming's "This is Twattycake, he's just like you!" solution, but its in my head, on my mind and is potent.

Whenever I turn on or turn off my console or computer, the experience just flatlines. It is data to return to, whenever, if ever. It can be replayed and despite many games reduced linearity, it all feels predictable.

Few games toy with how we think of the game (The Game) creatively - MGS3 had "The End" and the possiblity of killing him by simply not paying attention (playing attentively?), and Lose/Lose had the (blasphemous!) idea of turning fictious entertainment horror into potentially deleting-a-system-file-and-now-my-hardware-needs-reformating. And the original Tamagotchis had mortality (arguably an all time high point for video game horror, if they weren't so cheap and ultimately a fad).

But I can't think of any else really. What else is there? Getting a WoW account hacked and losing FRIENDS contacts in real life because of it? Otherwise the horror is nicely contained indefinitely, miles from my psyche. I've never had a nightmare from playing a horror game, and thats perhaps the real acid test, and real disappointment.

Without a real sense of consequence or loss, all horror games are just simulations. Who screams in terror instead of frustration when playing a flight sim game and you blow the landing? Horror needs to make the gamers would feel like the sky is actually falling, and there is real reason to panic. Otherwise it will always be limited to Disney horror - like Bambi - instead of real nightmare fuel, like the infamous War of The Worlds radio broadcasts.

I'd love to hear anyone else's thoughts on this. :)

I think "action music" could work in a horror game if they used it more like it's actually used in a horror movie and not like, say, radio static in a Silent Hill game: when something scary happens- like a monster attacking- or when something startling happens, like a cat jumping out or a sillouette of a tree looking like a man with an axe just to the side of your frame of vision. When "scary" music is playing while one of a hundred second-banana monsters tries to figure out how to get around a knee-high fence to maul you, it stops being scary pretty damn quickly. The music stops being mood-setting and starts being an annoyance, like a nagging parent reminding you there's one more thing you have to do...

I kind've liked Dead Space, but I soon realized that any time I saw a more-or-less intact human corpse that I didn't create or see killed, a monster was somehow going to spring out of it. So I started dismembering every body I saw from a distance. And then I'd approach and the pre-scripted "sting" would play anyway- which was highly amusing.

As far as horror games go, it needs to be said that the established framework of electronic games doesn't really make identifying with the protaganist in a way that makes you fear for his/her life easy. The most grotesque abomination the graphics designer can envision can't do much more than cost the player some health kits, or a life, or a few minutes of reloading and retracing. The best horror games threaten the protaganist (of course), but the really effective ones are the ones that don't make the overall menace something that will go down if you just have enough bullets and med-kits. Some of the Silent Hill games get this: no matter how many zombies you kill, the evil that is Silent Hill is still laughing at you; there's some suggestion in SH2 that even in the "happy" endings, you're never really able to leave the ghastly place. Eternal Darkness was infamous for messing with the head of the player at least as much as the protaganists. And then, as I've mentioned, there's the moment in the original Alone In The Dark where you discover what happens if you bump into one of the ghosts...

I would never say that horror in gaming is easy. It's a popular genre in other media; if it were easy to convey horror in games, more people would be doing it.

I don't think that I'd enjoy living in a Yahtopia... I see images of HL2, just all the City Patrol officers would be replaced by black trolls...

Yahtzee Croshaw:
Extra Punctuation: The Common Mistakes of Horror Games

We don't always want to be silent protagonists jumping around on the furniture while an NPC explains what needs bullets being put in next.

You sir, have obviously never danced on a table in your underwear, kicking food around, while NPCs talk about how the high elves are getting uppity.

To the others that complained about the music in Oblivion: turn it OFF. The music in that game is not worth the loss of suspense.

Now speaking of music, the change-ups in games are bad because they don't change. I haven't played Alan Wake but I doubt he shoots any cats, sadly. In the beginning of Friday the 13th Part 2 (80's spoiler alert) a cat jumps through a window (kinda looks like someone just threw it actually) and the protagonist from the first movie gets scared. The music is calm as she goes to the fridge to get some milk but BAM! Mrs. Voorhes head is in the fridge then BAM! Jason kills her. The "scary music" in video games only heralds true danger which is why it fails. Oddly when I played Red Dead Redemption I shot at every critter cuz I thought it was a wolf going for my horse. Horror games need some of that.

Slow motion? Yeah, I agree. Isn't that why Matrix was a great movie but the Matrix trilogy was a failure?

Cutscenes? Someone who didn't understand proper paragraph structure already mentioned your dislike of friendly mortar fire. So I won't discuss that but I have to agree with him.

Sometimes developers expect gamers to understand what they want. I spent a lot of time in my youth playing point and click games (some as an adult *cough*) humping lampposts until I figured out that my common sense didn't match with the developers. Again I haven't played AW, but is there a dark manhole I would be expected to run to that I might not see given that I'm supposed to be humping light in the game? A dark manhole that's barely visible?

"Or at least, they should never contain action being performed by the playable character which we could have done ourselves within gameplay."

--barring completely ineffectual things like laying down suppressing fire so you actually have the time to talk, I'd say.

But then, RPGs with space-time continuum altering conversations are just silly. "Gee, sure is fifty minotaur in here. I'm gonna talk to this guy for fifteen minutes while they all patiently stand in place."

The Cake Is Annoying:
When I was reading "Let The Right One In", most of the horror came from when I wasn't turning pages, but when I was thinking about what I'd read. The characterisation in print might require more effort than gaming's "This is Twattycake, he's just like you!" solution, but its in my head, on my mind and is potent.

Whenever I turn on or turn off my console or computer, the experience just flatlines. It is data to return to, whenever, if ever. It can be replayed and despite many games reduced linearity, it all feels predictable.

Perhaps it's just the relative quality of the material or how it speaks to you. I see no particular reason why a game *can't* capture the imagination in that way. Perhaps most just don't measure up for you.

Few games toy with how we think of the game (The Game) creatively - MGS3 had "The End" and the possiblity of killing him by simply not paying attention (playing attentively?), and Lose/Lose had the (blasphemous!) idea of turning fictious entertainment horror into potentially deleting-a-system-file-and-now-my-hardware-needs-reformating. And the original Tamagotchis had mortality (arguably an all time high point for video game horror, if they weren't so cheap and ultimately a fad).

Few games.... and no books. Personally, I'm not a fan of this sort of thing. When a game scares me, the fear doesn't come from the threat of having to replay a lot of content to get back to where I was. Even lose/lose is more akin to a game of Russian Roulette than proper horror. Sure, there's fear and excitement in such a game, but it's not horror. It's gambling. Might as well call a blackjack table at a casino a horror game.

Basically, I don't want 4th wall breaking threats in a game. I want threats in the context of the game world.

Without a real sense of consequence or loss, all horror games are just simulations. Who screams in terror instead of frustration when playing a flight sim game and you blow the landing?

So, if you were to add a real sense of consequence, like the flight sim game would corrupt itself and require a lengthy reinstall, that would make it a horror game? Crashing your plane would cause you to scream in terror rather than frustration? Surely that isn't the key to horror.


I kind've liked Dead Space, but I soon realized that any time I saw a more-or-less intact human corpse that I didn't create or see killed, a monster was somehow going to spring out of it. So I started dismembering every body I saw from a distance. And then I'd approach and the pre-scripted "sting" would play anyway- which was highly amusing.

That's.... weird. My experience with the game was that there were human corpses, which could be converted by those bat-like necromorphs, and there were necromorphs merely playing dead. Either way, the sting will happen when an actual creature jumps to life. If you shoot a necromorph that's playing dead, it will spring up right away. If you shoot a human corpse, it has no impact. The corpses don't do anything on their own without one of the bat-like things to infect them, and if there's an orchestral sting, it happens when the infector appears.

I did the same thing, though. Only, I didn't shoot them from a distance. I used kinesis to pull them to me and then stomped them in order to save ammo. Actually, for that matter, here's a protip. If you're not sure if a necromorph is really dead or just playing dead, try kinesis on it. Kinesis will only pick up inanimate objects. So if it fails to pull the corpse, the necromorph is still alive.

Argghhh, I totally agree on the music cues thing... It serves no positive purpose in horror games. Although the first thing I did in Dead Space was turn off the music and I suspect the game was a lot better for it.

I have a thought; Have no music in a horror game at all. Just the standard talking and effects. Give no auditory ques as to when the animal headed snake mutant will burst through the floor. When the music starts up, its just as obvious as a little man holding up a sign reading "Be prepared for something scary to happen!"

Same problems as me, I died at least 5 times a chapter on normal... my deaths however stemmed from falling off things...

Also I would like to elope to Yahtopia.

I'm not really sure whether these music-spoilers take away from your suspension. I was always pretty scared when I heard the necromorphs screaming and the music tightening also it did prepare me for some upcoming action. And to be honest there must be some more intensive music playing while you're battling ugly necromorphs it's just the question when it should start.

However I can't seem to like the idea of running around the Ishimura and being suddenly attacked by necromorphs without any previous sign. That would feel a bit like trial and error.
Nonetheless the music could be toned down a bit in Dead Space as it was really extreme at some parts and the necromorphs screams and noise is a better indicator anyways.

There's a simple reason why horror games are less prevalent.

Horror builds as the story ends. In a game we expect, nay demand, a building hero who defeats the bad guy - and the few horror games that have been done - Space Gun, Beast Busters, Darkseed all use either: the ticking clock to death, the big twist reveal or the "it was only the baby/scout, here's the mother"; and then end.

In a good horror, you need to be isolated, alone and scared - while sitting on Steam/PSN/Xbox live, in a bright room drinking beer. The two areas aren't really conducive.

And if you up the stakes, "This time your save file is on the line", people will go nuts because "THIS ISN'T WHAT I PAID FOR."

Either way, you'll lose trying to write a horror game.

So, don't write a horror game : Instead write I Wanna Be The Guy, Alien Versus Predator, MarioKart and all those other games that horrify rather than terrify. Because even John Carpenter can tell you stories of the "one hit kill that you ALWAYS know is coming".

Horror can't be scary unless it attacks the fundamentals of what you trust. A horror game has to be break one rule, but keep to all the rest - and that's pretty tough to do.

The man is the arbiter of truth in this thread. Hoist his Creepiness back onto a pedestal and worship him. But just don't look away from his magnificent gaze.

OT: In any case, yeah. I prefer to characterise horror into three different catagories; Japanese, British and American. Japanese is epitomized by Silent Hill 2; nerve-shredding tension, little to no music beyond the white noise of the radio, and deliberatly retarded controls. British is often darkly-humoured, gritty, balls-to-the-wall with often very realistic killers/forces. And American is basically summed up in "chainsaw, screaming and a lot of tomato ketchup."

Since many people aren't fond of horror-whether they can't stand the scares, the tension or simply the characterisation- most games are indie made, which is a shame because many get ignored or (in Silent Hills case) badly treated.

I remember playing the new AvP the other day and a violin 'sting' went off for no reason. It's the same sting used in the films to represent an alien appearing suddenly and it played for absolutely no reason. I jumped of course, it was loud, but I started thinking. Loud music isn't scary any more than paying someone to yell "Boo!" randomly at you is scary. Scary was the xenomorph crawling out of Cain, scary was the scene with the chains in the cargo hold, scary was the films. The game is jumpy, not scary.

This actually gave me an interesting idea for an experiment; I'm playing through Dead Space again with the music turned all the way down to see if it's any scarier that way. After all, some of the most harrowing parts of that game were when you're in vacuum and you can't hear the enemies coming. So far, results are inconclusive, but it is cool being able to hear all the creepy background noise a little more clearly.

The question then remains why have a single linear narrative in a horror videogame?

Your character must survive under such a model. This is self-defeating.

Surely a better approach would be a pile of discrete Goldeneye style levels most with a different lead character all central around the one plot. Getting to a certain point in the level alive would unlock the next one. Sometimes getting further would unlock another. No save points, just unlocks. Whilst most levels could be escaped alive conceivably, in most, after a certain point it'd be damned well optional. No character is sacred, all could die. And the story is never explicit, instead, clues and hints are given throughout ala Half Life 2, with extra clues for those that survive past the game-progression essential parts. Have (tastefully implimented) high scores for each stage if needbe - minutes spent not-dead, metres ran away from Monster X before it tore your spine out through your shitter etc etc. Extra stages that unlock by max-min-ing the sum total of these scores. Nothing says tension and fear like the fear of losing your chance as a shiny new highscore or potential tiny bit of story related info. I swear, the end of that 10 minute long Control stage in Goldeneye is, despite not being a horror genre game, one of the tensest moments in gaming, period. Because there are no instant save points, the game has established it won't take a cheap shot at you and mostly because you have something to lose.

Straying Bullet:
I can relate with this entire article with two games:

- Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
- Gears of War 2

Oblivion had a beautiful soundtrack and sometimes I gained something that was quite rare in Oblivion. Immersion.. Walking down a forest with a soothining tune was excellent but god, any challenge or excitement was thrown OUT of the window when I heard a heart-pumping song, knowing an enemy found and is trying to get to me.

At this moment, you draw your sword and look around like a maniac to see where the enemy actually is. Because you are prepared, it takes away that 'WTF" moment when you find yourself mauled by some zombified creature.

There were many mods that fixed this issue where you really jumped a little and felt a jolt in your heart when a creature attacked you because there was no cue or warning against it.

Gears of War 2 and it's cutscenes.

As CliffB admitted, the game was masturbating too hard to show off, something I disliked alot. Sure there were plenty of epic moments where you could take the reigns but it still happened a bit too often. I am waiting for GoW3, see if the issue is remedied, the story is told via cut-scenes and the actions reserved for us only.

Here is for wishful thinking.

I don't know, if you turn the music off in Oblivion, you're hearing only the sound effects and monster noises, which is actually I've found more engaging than having the music -have- to come on before you realise something is amiss. You're still prepared, but this way, you don't get the music popping up, the enemy getting stuck on a log over the next hill and you wondering why the hell the fight music is playing when there's no enemies around.

Samurai Goomba:
I'm listening to all Yahtzee's complaints, and I'm thinking "Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth."

Unfortunately, it only kept the real tension at the beginning of the game, when you were defenceless. And, despite some interesting boss battles, like with Dagon and the Shoggoth, the rest of the game was rather all over the place. I know I certainly didn't feel like there was much of a plot after you'd completed your initial investigation of the town. Still, it looked very nice, even if some of the later sections felt tacked on. Some of the best fun I've had been chased by an angry mob and an invisible whatsit though!

I agree with having the player be in control more, nothing promotes this more than half life, yes you may miss a nice set piece or something but these are the things you pick up on in multiple play throughs.
There is one thing i disagree with, when alan wake runs away from that cop, in such a small scene where if you deviate you die... wouldn't that ruin immersion?
It's an irony of gaming, old games punish you with failing or dieing which require that you start again at a checkpoint or at the start of the level, these things are impossible in real life, involve menu systems, saving or loading, removing of experience or items, like a book or a movie the characters need to live/die when the story dictates, here is where you say "oh, now you're being linear like a book or movie", no, i'm saying a story is always a story, unless you make an ai capable of inventing great stories and assets on the fly a video game story will ALWAYS be linear like a movie or book... but at that point nobody plays the same games anymore...

I wonder if Yahtzee's played the Penumbra series, they seem the kind of game he'd enjoy - I certainly did (except Requiem).

Hm, and Amnesia's out soon, I hope he reviews that.

I think in horror games they should take a minimalist attitude to the score. See in a movie that works all fine and well, setting up tension and such. In a game it's used as a warning indicator... which kills the scare out of it. I shouldn't be warned that there's a monster near by, that make me more alert and I'm expecting the monster. The music should be cut down so I'm mostly hearing ambience of the setting. That creepy silence mixed with the sound of the wind slamming doors shut, floor boards creeping and twigs snapping would make the scares unexpected, adding to immersion and the scream factor when you turn a corner and find your self greeted by an axe wielding maniac or a monster that has a face like your mums vagina.

As for the slow down part... that shouldn't even be there at all. Focusing on the monster takes away the scare, sort of like putting a neon sign at the top of it's head and a name underneath. That's what they do in comedies and parodies... not in horrors, it's not scary and it belongs in the action genre not the horror.

I submit another flaw in horror games: letting you fight and defeat enemies. Most survival "horror" does this, which is why I hold the genre in contempt.

Enemies that you can't fight are better. Enemies that you have to hide from or run away from. Example: the Puppets in the Shalebridge Cradle. You have to hide from them because otherwise you will die. You cannot kill them. All you can do is hide, and that's actually scary. If you could kill them like normal undead, it wouldn't be frightening.

I agree with Shalebridge. That level was the stand out in Thief III by a long mile. However a whole game with those things might have been a bit much from a game design perspective. I would love to see it used more often though.

In general I would love to see another Thief game.

That was a good article! It wa sone of those rare cases where his article is better than his video. The Alan Wake review was funny but pointless. I felt it didn't say enough of the game's real problems, but with this article he explains it all the better.

So I will asume that everything else he doesn't mention is perfectly fine, including characters, story, length and any other technical aspect.

I could not agree more with this article! Especially the point about cutscenes. I think it's really boring watching my character do a bunch of fun and exciting things on his or her own in a cutscene, and it only serves to separate me from the character. Worst of all, though, is the cutscene where the character does things that are cooler than the things you're allowed to do in the game. It feels like the game is one-upping you, saying "Hey, good job! You defeated my little lackeys! But I'm still much, much better than you--check this!!" and then doing something matrix-y.

As far as horror games go, I personally think that horror works better as an element in a game rather than the entire game. Horror levels are good, because you can play through them from start to finish in one sitting, which is crucial to establish a good atmosphere. If it's an entire game, being able to stop and come back later undermines this. Also, it's hard to be scared for 10's of hours straight.

But the biggest problem with horror games--and horror movies suffer just as much from this--is that calling it a horror game means you go into it expecting to be scared. You play the game differently then you would play a non-horror game, and can brace yourself against it. This is why I think the Thief games are much scarier than Resident Evil 4, even though they're not dedicated horror games. I got numb to the RE4 zombies after about an hour of gameplay, for the rest of game found them vaguely amusing. But the zombies in Thief made me shake like a leaf in a hurricane because they represent a strong deviation from normality. The game establishes the world as one thing and lets you start to depend on that. But then it yanks the carpet out from underneath you and lets you feel just how frightening and Wrong a zombie is. You feel them as an aberration, an abomination. But in RE4 you get used to them--it would be a deviation from normality to NOT fight zombies.

Horror often comes from establishing a baseline and then forcing the player/viewer away from that baseline, leaving them feeling scared, lost, and vulnerable. The problem is that horror games and movies often establish scary as their baseline, which is self-defeating.

Yahtzee Croshaw:
Taking camera control away to show us something in slow motion.

While they did do this a number of times, I thought the actual slow motion zoom out was fun. Especially because (and few noticed it) it was interactive. You could actually move around and stuff during the slow motion to prepare you.

On all the other stuff, I agree. The queued music was a giveaway and made it easier to not cringe and cower in fear.

But bearing in mind that cutscenes are unavoidable, here's my jackbooted legislation: Cutscenes should never contain action. Or at least, they should never contain action being performed by the playable character which we could have done ourselves within gameplay. Because we're not playing a game to watch a pre-rendered version of ourselves having all the fun. Like that cutscene in Alan Wake where Alan flees from the cops as bullets whistle by his head in slightly out-of-place slow motion - let ME do that. There is admittedly the chance I'll run the wrong way or start humping a lamp-post, but then you just shoot my dumb ass in the head. Seriously. I deserve it.

ADDENDUM: There is something to be said for the impact of a good character intro, even when it's of a Player Character. So the amendment to this rule would be:

...Unless the player can keep on doing stuff just as good.

Nice article, but I disagree with some of your points. Especially the point about developing horror games being easy. It's probably one of the harder genres of games to develop, hence the abundance of crappy horror games. A lot of things you pointed out may make sense on paper, but when it comes to implementing them in game they probably don't work out very well.

Yahtzee Croshaw:
Whenever a film has been adapted from a game, it has, without exception, resulted in something so hideous that only rampant fun-haters from the planet Puritan could tolerate it to exist.

Seen Prince of Persia yet?

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