Sep 26th 2007 The F.E.A.R Effect
I mentioned in the last post about a technique that should help to give the players a bit of a scare, and I feel that it’s worthy of it’s own post, so here it goes.
Essentially I grabbed this idea from the rather excellent game F.E.A.R, which had some really great ways of making you squirm and not want to carry on through the game. If you have played it you may remember at the very beginning when you are assigned with finding someone, that their mutilated face flashes up on screen for just a second as a kind of vision. I really liked this touch and what’s best is it has no explanation at all but you pause and think “Shit, what was that? Something probably isn’t good” and that is a great reaction, fear of the unknown.
Soooo, I tried to replicate it this effect in HL2 to an extent, probably about 18 months or maybe 2 years ago and recently I found the map that I did it in and remembered how neat it was. It isn’t 100% realistic but everyone that played it certainly got a tad shocked.
I think the best thing to do is give you a glimpse of the actual set-piece and then we can analyse it a bit more.
Looks pretty cool huh? I really like this effect as it certainly isn’t expected by the player, especially in HL2.
I think the first thing we need to take a look at is the actual place where this effect is used, you can’t just shove it in anywhere you know, and I’ll explain why.
This map was quite an old design that I worked on long ago, but there are some useful tips you can pick up from it. The first thing anyone will notice is the map is quite dark, dingy and obviously not a nice place to be. We need to inform the player that his or her presence is not wanted in this map and by progressing they need to feel as if they are intruding and they are somewhat threatened. In my eyes this is a great way to get a player tense and uneasy, which is just what we want.
So apart from the obvious room details, I wanted the player to enter this area feeling a bit wary (there were proper soundscapes, but I’ve lost the txt files) and the zombie scream just before is a key indicator that there may be some trouble coming. Secondly the player needs to see their goal, which is the blue door dead ahead.
By adding a spotlight just above it, and leaving it slightly open this gives some big hints towards where they need to go. You should always try to give the player visual clues that they don’t even realise they are picking up on, keeps a really natural flow to the level and stops them being distracted from the tense atmosphere by looking for a door.
The next concerning thing for your player is the “signs that shit has gone down” that are visible in the middle of the room, this goes in the form of some severed legs and a couple of corpses looking as though they have been flung about. It’s important not to over-use things like dead bodies so that when you do finally use them, the player won’t just thing of them as props.
With all these things playing on their mind, hopefully the last thing they want to do is cross that space in the middle and head towards the door. The key thing here is the player knows something is going to happen, they are just gritting their teeth and being extra careful so they can get the drop on whoever finally attacks them.
It’s like if you turned your back to someone who you knew was going to hit you with a stick very hard, you know it’s coming but as you’re waiting the tension kills you. It wouldn’t quite work if they just walked up and twatted you in the face with a piece of wood without any warning, in fact it would most likely annoy you.
The same is when someone decides it’s time for you to fall into a pit of zombies without warning, or get attacked from behind with no clues. It isn’t scary and it just fucks you off.
So with all these things combined the player is being cautious in their movement, they are listening harder and checking parts of the room even closer, with any luck they are probably leaning into their monitor to get a glimpse of an attack. What a perfect time to deliver a shock, except if you give them the shock they wern’t expecting it works even better!
Right, time to stop blabbering on about a screenshot and instead blabber on about the basics of how it works. I won’t give you a step by step guide as I will assume most people that read this have used Hammer and understand basic entities, and that’s all you need to know.
One small tip is that this works great if you have some debris or props to move about after we flick back from the monster, this has the effect of fooling the player into believing they are under attack for a brief moment.
Let’s take a gander at the entity setup:
So all we’ve got here is our delightful monster with a script behind him to make him chuck his hands at you in a nasty way. Two ambients generics, purely for some random zombie noises. I used one of his sounds and a headcrab sound as they are quick and loud-ish.
There is a light spot in there, as it’s handy to see the zombie and it’s aimed up to try and give some shadow effects on the model itself - plus one cubemap to render that. To control the view we need a camera so that’s positioned about head height and far enough back so the swipe doesn’t look silly and we go inside the body. A handy way to test that is to set the animation sequence to the zombie through Hammer, using the tab in it’s properties.
Most importantly (you probably didn’t even notice) are the very brief fade transitions that take the view to and from the zombie. I’ve used two to fade in and two to fade out, the reason being that, one fade takes you to the white and the other one takes you from the white whilst the camera is activated in between.
Fairly clear? I thought so. The hardest bit is getting all your timings down and this took the longest for me to tweak. To give you a hand here is what I used: