How To Make MMOs Scary
By Kei Beneza (dividelife), OnRPG Journalist
We’ve discussed why MMOs can’t be scary, now it’s time to see how they can be. As much as most titles tried their best to project the Silent Hill experience, MMOs lack the ability to be scary. One cause would be the persistent plane where players can freely interact with each other. There’s also the lack of ambiance, which greatly affects the experience as it takes away the horrific expectations players have when facing a blind corner.
Although horror-themed MMOs like Requiem: The Bloodymare are extremely fun to play, it doesn’t take away the fact that they have failed to deliver the “horror” part, resulting to nothing but a gore fest MMO. We’re no longer living in the 17th century where people are still afraid of the dark. Blood and darkness =/= scary. Just hope the developers know this, but what could possibly pull players in and force them to cower?
Removing the Hindrance
I’m just not aiming for a Resident Evil experience, for I want sheer gut-wrenching terror. Technically, what hinders these games from becoming absolutely terrifying is the meta of progress. MMOs need players to kill monsters, and by that I mean a lot of them. Removing this feature may make the game not so MMO-ish, but if they can make dance games and Worms Armageddon rip-offs, then a no grinding system can probably be implemented. Players fear what they don’t see (regularly), and getting used to the same combat-oriented background will only make them more RAMBO-ish. Give them more time to anticipate what pops out next. Keep them on the edge of their seats with nothing to look forward to but dead silence.
Alone Time – Hello…? Anyone there?
MMO Persistence… awesome feature overall, but loads of crap when implemented in a horror game. The game should always be instanced for the horror factor to happen. If you’ve played genres mixed with horror like F.E.A.R, you’ll notice that the fear vanishes once the place fills up with soldiers. This also works the same way with anything that uses the horror theme as true horror can only be attained through solitude. Give players more time to build their paranoia.
Keep It Real!
Survival horror games are one of the few genres that demand a more realistic feel. Maybe it’s because encountering a ghost in a dungeon is much different from seeing them on familiar terrain. Horror does not work well with the fantasy background, meaning games like Warhammer and World of Warcraft. Anime characters and cell-shaded elements don’t do much for this aspect either, as horror is better presented through the shade of realism.
Fan Service – OMG! Her Boobies Jiggle When She Shoots!
Believe it or not (and I doubt you won’t believe it), fan service eliminates fear. The simplest booby character can remove the overall ambiance of the game. Horror games need to be implemented seriously, and just like horror movies, it must never be mixed with anything else to avoid ruining the experience.
Comedy – You Were Almost A Jill Sandwich (Jill Sandwich– Jill Sandwich)
Comedy can be implemented in various ways, with some originating from the developers’ errors. This can either be from ugly scenes that look dull and empty and absurd voice acting that sounds like 10 year old kids reading “Bear in a Chair”. Such things can be compared to Capcom’s first Resident Evil game, which is infamous for its crappy voice acting. Dialogue should always be flawless, and text errors that often lead to subliminal messages are a huge no no. For more information take a look here.
Darkness isn’t really the key, but rather the composition of the background itself. I’m not sure, but the wall textures are always different in horror games. They always seem to be a bit rusty, or damp like a swamp. It doesn’t necessarily have to be all dark, but a few well placed shadows should do the trick. Cell-shading is a huge no-no due to its blockiness and lack of shadows. Of course the characters should also blend with their surroundings. We can’t really say that MMOs can’t handle that kind of rendering as we have seen a lot of survival horrors during the PS1 days. It’s all about composition.
What Defies The Visuals – They Are Prepared!!!
MMO characters are well prepared for everything. They can put up a fight even if monsters are a few levels above them. This is perhaps one of the things that hinder the scary feeling. Let’s visit the late Hellgate London which did the background blending well. If you remember, the tunnel areas are way dark, boosting the element of surprise; however, due to the player’s toughness, monsters were barely able to do any threatening poses O_o. The player’s mortality rate also matters a lot in this, especially since there’s no use being afraid of what cannot kill you to begin with.
Music & Sounds
Music is the invisible pillar that holds the entire thing together. Simply getting a slow eerie piece won’t suffice. Music is an art that can work its magic by blending into the ambiance provided. A fine example would be: The red room in Resident Evil & Room of Angel in Silent Hill 4, where perfect sound execution is added to compliment this invisible field of horror. You don’t have to see anything to be scared; in fact, the sound of hammering can be scary when blended with the proper background.
As far as today’s games go, I would say that the current meta cannot be associated with the horror field. In order to make it work, the mortality rate must be toned down first. Some games had potential but often lack the necessary features required to compliment its scare tactics. Don’t you just wish there was a game that could make you look back when playing into the dark corners of your room? A lot of games have tried, but eventually its MMO traits completely ruin the experience. Yes, MMOs have the capability to be horror games; however, the genre must undergo an extreme makeover to cater a well-composed scare.