🎮️ Game Design

Updated at 2013-04-11 14:22

This note is about communicating different emotions through a game. Related to game design.


Questions will be asked when it is clear there are answers to be had.

Make the dialogue interesting. Will make players ask more questions and increase likelihood that player will not just skip dialogue.

Show things that do not make sense.

Villain A and villain B are rivals with each other Villain A's forces and villain B forces surround you.

What makes them work together?

Emphasize seemingly unrelated events.

Your home was burned down when you were following a bad lead.

Who gave you the lead?

Make NPCs ask questions.

You say you got this from an elf? This clearly is drow design.

Why would an elf have a drow armor?

Make answers matter.

These orcs are too dumb for these dungeon puzzles, how did they get in this far?

Might there have been another route in?


Give players something unique at a town or city. Discounts, or items that you cannot find anywhere else. This makes players more attached to the place and would not want it to burn down. Then burn it down.

Allow players to design parts of a city by themselves.

Make players guardians of a city e.g. sheriff. NPCs should reflect this by giving free drinks and you could see progress of your statue and call the players for help. Or make outlaw NPCs really hate the player.

Try connecting with NPCs rather than the location. This gives more flexibility what you can do with the attachment.


If it has stats, we can kill it.

Typos and repeating can be effective in creating fear.

There is a scatter in the yard. There is a scatter in the yard. There is a scatter in the yard. There is a scatter in the yard. It is something mean. It is something mean. It is something mean. Are you scarde?

Rhyming also works.

The weak are meat and the strong do eat.

Describe the scary things. Do not state that the monster is scary. People feel stronger about a personal conclusion than one that you forced. Avoid forcing emotion in any circumstance.

The little girl turns towards you, her eyes silently weeping blood. She lifts a hand towards you, and you can hear in the silence of the room her bones break during the process.

It is same as in horror created by choices. When you involve the player to make a choice, it creates stronger emotion. Of course you can make so that all choices are horrific in some way.

Friend is swallowed by a monster = Kill friend or leave him to be digested. Monster is coming = Sacrifice yourself or whole town.

Using children to work as medium between the scary things as they do not see everything scary or weird even though they should.

You are feeding a child. The child looks over your shoulder and says "Hello!". You turn around, see nothing, turn back and ask who did the child greet. The child says there was a man in the window, but now he came inside.

Consider making the environment really creepy for stronger effect, not just generic zombie graveyard. Add in zombie babies, rivers of bile or anything else unpleasant.

Creating logical connection from horror to known game lore is really effective.

Daoloth is the god of truth, helps devotees to see the world clearly. A priest of Daoloth cuts his eyes out with a dinner knife because they were getting in the way of seeing the truth.

People are scarier than monsters. When the game ends, real life starts. In there are people, not monsters.

Things that you cannot explain are usually scary.

You hear very loud sound like a mixture of metal bending and singing of whales while riding a bus and none else seems to react to it.

Nobody but you notices that the clocks' hands are actually going counter-clockwise.

You hear and feel breathing behind you, you turn and there is nothing. You feel the breathing getting heavier. Your vision starts to get hazy and foggy little by little. After a while you pass out.

When player is watching elsewhere, move things. Doors that appear from nowhere and seem to lead somewhere.

You step on the brake of the car and it accelerates.

Your phone seems dead when you use it but everybody else can use it fine.

You spent a great night with a girl but in the morning you realize she's just a dead decaying body.

You hear loud scratching on your door but nobody is outside; you later discover huge scratch marks.

Breaking established patterns can be scary/eerie if introduced right.

In FF7 when you get Vincent, there is a fight with zombies but the soundtrack does not change to battle music and there are not sound effects like victory fanfare.

Show loading screen most of the game, on some occasion don't show it or distorted it.

In Resident Evil, you walk past a window several times but sooner or later 2 zombie dogs jump in.

Room which normally always has 2 enemies now has none, you get paranoid.

When people detect lingering fear in the atmosphere, they prepare themselves for it by focusing on something else or making jokes about it. That is normal human behavior. Consider setting up a slightly stressful situation and then suddenly dropping the bomb, making the situation very dangerous. Always use elements that were previously mentioned so they get illusion that they could have seen this coming.

Torches in hand, you arrive close from where your daughter is tied, spots of blood on her white dress. She looks unconscious. That's when the smell hits you. The floor of the pitch black room is not covered in water. Your daughter is not covered in water. It is gasoline.

The PCs are infiltrating an enemy military camp, in order to earn the trust of the enemy king. Finally, they are to meet him in a formal ceremony. It is grandiose, there are hundreds of elite soldiers there to celebrate. The enemy king finally arrives, and ask for the PCs to come and pay their respects. As they arrive in front of him, they recognize him: [drop the name of an enemy NPC they met several stories ago, who has a grudge against the PCs and know they are not soldiers].