Introduction Hello and welcome! I'll start by introducing myself, I am Anthony Peacock and as I write this, I am currently studying at the University of Greenwich taking part on the BA 3D Digital Design and Animation degree course, and currently on my final year. My reason for choosing this topic to research on, is because I wish to enter the games industry when I graduate from University. Then hopefully progressing to be an environment artist on next gen games. Researching this topic will help me understand the horror genre more, how they use environment to add to the horror and entice players to keep coming back for more and more. The question that I am asking myself within this dissertation is "Why is Environment important with Horror Video Games?" and this will be the basis of my research on this question. In chapter one, it will be split into two parts and in the first part, I will be looking at the history of video games, where the genre started and how it has developed over the years beginning with games like Haunted House(1972) up to the more modern Amnesia: The Dark Descent(2010), we'll be looking at what each game brought to the genre and we will see how each game that precedes the other was influenced by the other. In the second part of chapter one, I will be looking at good examples of visual environments from more modern horror games, such as from Silent Hill 4: The Room(Konami) and Dead Space(Visceral Games) and I will be analysing each image for things such as the focal point, if they tell a story and if they visually help push the player forward. In Chapter Two, I will be looking at level design within horror video games, looking at clichĂŠs, relationships with environments and storytelling using the environment rather than a spoken narrative to progress a story, forcing the player to explore to piece together what the situation is within the story. For the second part of the chapter I will be looking at game play, how the game mechanics help make the game immersive and create successful tension for the player while keeping them hooked to the game and continue playing. In the final Chapter, I shall be looking at players and fear. I will do a survey with questions about the dissertation topic, and I will be comparing this survey to a study on Gamasutra which tested 6 people's reactions while playing 5 horror video games, such as Dead Space 2 and Alan Wake. The 6 people selected were made up of hardcore and casual gamers, so the study wanted to find out if games are scary to both casual and hardcore players. Then finally the conclusion, where we conclude it all!, now let's get started!
Chapter One: Part One History Of Horror Video Games In this chapter, I will be talking about the history of video games. Starting with the very first horror games long before 3D graphics of today's games have the luxury of having. I shall also be exploring certain examples of imagery in horror games that I feel are visually interesting and give you a sense of the environment the game is set within. This history of horror video games, most will tell you that the first horror game they played was Silent Hill (Konami) or Resident Evil (Capcom). Long before these games were even developed, there was horror games being developed for the Atari, the Super Nintendo and the PC. Here we will be taking a look at some of the very first games of the genre moving onwards to the current gen. The very first horror video game was made in 1972, it wasn't exactly a video game as it used a lot of items that came with the game, such as a board game. The game was called Haunted House, which was released for the Magnavox Odyssey. Another game under the same name was released in 1981 for the Atari 2600. This game wasn't related to the 1972 version at all as it was purely console based and did not have any out of console pieces associated with it. The first horror game to not use the graphical capabilities of the console it was on, was the text game The Lurking Horror which was released in 1987, for the Amiga console. This type of horror game had to rely on the player's imagination more than anything, as all they had to work with was text. Unlike previous games in the genre where they had some sort of imagery on the screen the player could react with even if it was not scary at the time.
Within the same year, another game was released called Uninvited(Capcom), it was a text game at heart but it was more graphical, so instead of getting the player to type everything they had buttons to interact with and they did not need to rely on their own imagination as much, as the game did that for them. It was then re-released for the Nintendo Entertainment1 system in 1991, with it came the added horse power of the new console which aided in the fear somewhat by giving brighter colours. As shown here in the images below: The old version being on the left and the new improved NES version being on the right.
Going back ten years, in 1981 a game called Sweet Home was released for the Famicom1. It was released at the same time as a film of the same name was released, which the game even made an appearance within the film's trailer. So this could be said as the first horror game to ever receive a film tie in. Sweet Home was one of the first games of the genre to actually have a major consequence on the story of the game if a character was to die. The player had control of 5 characters each with different skills and if one of them died, they would no longer have that skill so it made the game harder if you failed to keep them alive, this greatly added to the tension of the game. It also led to different endings too depending on who was alive at the end of the game. As we go further into the future, the more well know games of the horror genre start to appear. In 1992, Alone in the dark (Infogrames), was released for the personal computer. Alone in the dark was one of the first games to be made in 3D, around this time. The main mechanic this game brought to the genre, was jump scares, the main example of this was the monsters jumping through the windows as the player's character walks past, another important element it brought to the genre, was pre rendered backgrounds. This is when the camera is at a fixed point of each room the player enters, adding to the difficulty as the player may not to be able to see enemies coming unlike future games when they have more control of the camera.
Moving forward, Riverhillsoft's Doctor Hauzer (1992) was released. This was the first fully 3D horror survival video game made for the 3DO console. Following on Alone in the dark's pre rendered backgrounds, by completely building them in polygons, using real time rendering, which allowed the player to change the view of the camera to aid in the puzzle solving, without being limited to the camera position the developer chose for the particular room the player was currently in. The games main feature was the use of sound, with the music changing depending what is happening on screen and the situation the player is currently in. On giantbomb.com it is said "The game is today considered a formative step in the creation of the survival horror genre, improving on Alone in the Dark while paving the way for Resident Evil and Silent Hill." I will agree with this, as a lot of what is currently in Resident Evil is similar or shows influences of Doctor Hauzer. In 1995 a game called Clock Tower: The First Fear by Human Entertainment was released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System1. Clock tower was a 2D point and click horror game, which was stealth based and didn't give the player the power to defend themselves. It brought many new features to the genre, Clock tower was the first game to have an enemy character constantly stalk the player, trying to kill them at every turn. When the stalker finally caught the player, they would enter panic mode forcing the player to repeatedly mash the panic button to break free from his grasp, this mode was used throughout the game on many occasions when the player's character is panicking, for example escaping a monster and having to climb a steep slope, while the monster is crawling ever so slowly towards you. 1996 saw the release of Capcom's extremely successful game series Resident Evil. It is said to be one of the best games of the genre, although a lot of its influences come from many games we've spoken about previously. The pre rendered backgrounds are a nod towards Alone in the Dark, as is the fixed camera angles, Resident Evil also makes use of the jumping through window scare. It also gained influence from Doctor Hauzer in the use sound, dynamically changing the music to fit the action on screen. Most games to follow tried to gain the same success of Resident Evil, but haven't been able to meet the mark. 2 years later after the success of the first, Capcom released Resident Evil 2(1998), with this the director wanted to stay true to the formula of previous games of the genre, but allow players explore more familiar everyday areas rather than abandoned mansions, this game was set inside mostly a police station and the surrounding city area. After Resident Evil 2 was released, was the time around when we saw new games and many sequels to previous horror games being released. Many of these went on to change the genre further, one of them being Konami's Silent Hill for the Playstation. Silent hill was influenced by Resident Evil in many aspects, but instead of being a full on horror game, it focused more on disturbing atmosphere and psychological horror rather than pure violence horror that was seen in Resident Evil. On the gaming website IGN, they stated the "golden age of survival
horror came to a crescendo" with the release of Silent Hill." Moving forward to the past few years of horror games, the changes to the genre have been massive. Many of these new games either developed further on the ideas of older games, or made completely new takes on the genre. In the game Left 4 Dead1 (2008) by Valve software, saw the first multiplayer survival horror experience, where the players would control a survivor each and make their way through the levels to reach the safe house and eventually the rescue vehicle at the end of each scenario. Most players say that due to the game being multiplayer, the game wasn't scary at all as it was far too action based. So what did L4D bring to the genre? it brought story telling through environment and subtle conversations between the survivors as they made their way to safety, as the player progressed they would see messages from other survivors questioning the current state of the world, such as why is this happening and where is the army etc. In the same year, Visceral Game's Dead Space (2008) was released, a sci fi themed survival horror game, going back to the old style of exploring an area you wouldn't or couldn't in real life. As for game play, the game does not include a Heads Up Display1,everything the player needs to know about their character is found on the character themselves, health and ammo etc. This added to the fear massively because it was hard to tell the health of the player if the character was knocked down by an enemy meaning they were not able to see the health bar on the character's space suit. In 2010, we saw independent developers getting onto the survival horror bandwagon, Frictional Games' Amnesia: The Dark Descent is considered to be one of the scariest games ever made. In Amnesia, the player is unable to defend themselves as they are unable to use weapons, all they can do is create obstacles and run away from the monsters that chase them. One key feature of the game is the sanity meter, as the player's characters see things that scare him such as blood or the monsters themselves, the character will start to react on how scared they are. For example, if they have recently seen the monster, the character will start to panic which will then start breathing heavily, this makes it easier for the monsters to detect you. There are several video recordings of people playing Amnesia with their reactions prove enough that this is a very fear inducing game1. To round off this chapter part, the history of horror games has been a long ride which is still running strong! So many games have shaped the genre to what it is today, and new games continue to build on these ideas and help the genre continue to grow!
Chapter One: Part Two Environments in Horror Games For this part of the chapter, I will be discussing some of the games that I feel have visually appealing environments, some not having been mentioned above, while some have been. I will be choosing images that are visually appealing and are obviously good environment design, as not every game has constant fantastic design as they go on, as far as I am aware. The first game I will be analyzing is Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Here is a scene from Amnesia, as you can clearly see from the image, the focal point is the fountain that appears to be made from body parts. Focusing on light to create the atmosphere, the central statue gives a odd feeling of the player not being the only presence in the room, since the fountain has a face which gives a feeling of it watching you when you are not looking. Near the windows are candles, which have been long extinguished, giving the room a sense of past, maybe once those candles had been kept lit and the person whose job it was had long since passed away for whatever reason. The use of the colour blue gives a cold feeling which adds to the candles, since they are no longer keeping the room warm and alight.
Silent Hill 4: The Room
Here is a scene from Silent Hill 4: The room. This is one of the game's more normal looking environments. The focal point in this environment is the door, and the chains that bind it closed. At first glance, the question here is why the door is locked down so heavily and what the reason the room appears to be in a state of deterioration. The light source also leaves the feeling that the home's occupant wishes to see who comes through the door at all times, if the failsafe would ever fail . The chains on the door give a sense of foreboding as if eventually at some point the locks and chains will fail and whatever the occupant is trying to keep out will get them. It could also be the viewpoint of someone who has been trapped in their own home or imprisoned so they cannot harm anyone. Dead Space
There are two focal points within this environment image, the bloodstained floor near the door of light, and the shadow of the unknown figure in the distance. At first it leads me to believe that the cause of the blood splatter is whoever is off in the distance. He could be the predator that killed an unsuspecting victim, or he could be the victim that managed to wound the attacker while being wounded himself and managed to escape.
The environment itself is an abandoned space station, which points us towards the functional lights and what appears to be a control panel to the right of the door. Why and how are they still functional? is the station really abandoned? or is that what the predators hunting its victims want the outside world to believe, so they can draw more towards them, so they can gauge on more victims. Left 4 Dead 2
Not as detailed and visually appealing to look at, this screenshot from Left 4 Dead 2 shows a very good example of storytelling implemented into the environment and game play. The focal point of this environment, is the symbol on the wall, that clearly represents something important to the player or a clue of how to progress with what lies ahead of them, "Nothing is a sign, unless it is interpreted as a sign" (Charles Sanders Peirce). The icon on the wall represents the safe house that the survivors are trying to reach to have their moment of rest before they continue their search for a way out of the hell that is around them, as a player you know this icon represents a safe house, because it is a part of the game as the icon is introduced when you reach your first safe house as a player. The use of the car light to clearly show the symbol is very good level design as its pointing it out to the player but also leaving them the choice of walking into the darkness next to it, not knowing what horrors lie beyond it. It also makes the player question who sprayed the symbol, and where are they now? are they now one of the many zombies attacking them? or did they manage to escape to safety. To conclude this chapter, we can see from the images of environments that it's important for horror environments to have visual cues that tell story without the need of a narrative currently taking place, be it from a narrator or a non-player character within the scene while also helping with game play and helping the player progress forward without actually giving anything away.
Chapter Two: Part One Level Design In this chapter, I shall be talking about two key elements that are involved within environment design in games, these are level design and game play. For the level design aspect, I will be looking at topics such as clichés, pacing, relationships and storytelling. In the second part of this chapter I will be looking in more depth at how game play can affect the experience and instil fear inside the player. As for the game play side, I will be looking at the unique game mechanics of certain games from the genre and mechanics that span most of the genre, and how they make an engaging experience for the player. A cliché is "usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse" according to Dictionary.com Clichés in horror video games, are what make horror video games, they are everywhere and without them then most video games today would not exist. Most Clichés in horror video games were not clichés when we first saw them, as they made an impact on the game play and it was the first time we had ever encountered them, making them memorable. They only became Clichés once we saw them time and time again and normally came to expect them to happen. An example of one cliché that we see used time and time again is, the dog, monster or killer jump through a window the player has just walked past (First seen in Infogrames' Alone in the Dark, 1992). We then saw this cliché used again in future games such as Resident Evil1 (Capcom 1996) when the player walks down a corridor past a cracked window, when they return to the corridor a dog would jump out at them and normally cause a scare to new players. In the remake of Resident Evil for the Nintendo GameCube this cliché is used again "one hallway lined with windows. When you walk through it, you hear a clink, as though one of the windows just cracked (if you're next to the window, you can actually see the glass cracking). Nothing else happens in that hallway, but it makes your blood freeze. The second time you pass through it though..." (tvtropes.com, NothingIsScarier Trope Page) A cliché that most horror games today suffer from is, that the main character is able to protect themselves easily, they are armed with weapons. Normally they are either a cop (Resident Evil) or a part of an armed task force (F.E.A.R game series), in some cases this removes the fear as it gives the player a sense of feeling that they are invincible.
Konami's latest release in the Silent Hill franchise, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, breaks away from this cliché slightly, by not having much if at all any combat scenes, focusing more on running past enemies "We’re getting away from the action-horror trend, where it’s about the guns you have, and collecting ammo, and shooting monsters, and focusing on the survival aspects." said by Sam Barlow1. A level within a game, that contains no enemies and stays this way even after you've completed it or passed the checkpoint for your game to save. This is a popular cliché as it adds tension and makes the player wonder when the enemies are going to jump out of the windows or break down a door to hunt them for their blood. An example of this cliché being used is "The first level of F.E.A.R. has exactly zero enemies, just try not firing your weapon in it. There are also lots of dark, creepy hallways in the rest of the game that would make great ambush points for enemy soldiers and psychic little girls... and most of them are completely empty and no less terrifying for it." and "Dead Space has some segments where nothing is going on, you're just walking through the ship. And it's terrifying." (both quotes, tvtropes.com, NothingIsScarier Trope page) Amnesia: The Dark Descent is one game that sets you completely helpless against the monsters that are out for your blood, it breaks away from the cliché of having an arsenal of guns at your disposal by only giving you a lantern to illuminate the face of what is about to kill you!. An earlier game series that also used this element was Clock Tower: The First Fear, where the player had a panic button that they would have to press repeatedly when their character was panicking on screen to get out of whatever situation they were in, for example when one of the bosses are chasing you through the sewers, you have to climb a small slope but without you pressing the panic button each time she climbs she will fall, but pressing the panic button allows you to proceed up the slope and out of harm's way from the boss monster. Relationship within level design is very important, epically with horror video games. A very good example of Relationship with environment in a game is the game and film, Max Payne. The first environment you see as Max, is his daughters bed room, which is full of bright colours and is very lively, later in the story we revisit this area after a major plot point has happened, and the room has changed completely, it is devoid of any colour and is left in ruins.
So as you can see here, familiarity is important in horror games, since obviously most of them deal with the unknown, so taking a familiar environment normally associated with good vibes, and then remove them with vibes of uncertainty, you can imagine the difference. This leads me onto story telling within environment, in the game Left 4 Dead and its sequel Left 4 Dead 2, there are points in the levels where the players are in the safe rooms, these are safe havens that are used as the breakup between each segment of the level as they make progress, they can heal here, restock on ammo and take a breather before stepping out to fight the horde once again. But if you take the time to look around these safe rooms, you can find story within them. There are scribbles on the walls from previous survivors, messages from parents telling their children to meet them at certain points, regrets from friends who had to leave people behind and even times of death of loved ones. Occasionally within these rooms there are bodies that have been covered with white sheets to symbolize that they are dead. Here are some examples of the safe rooms.
I feel that this is a very powerful way of telling story, when there is no narrative present other than the occasional conversations from the survivors themselves. It would be good to see other games use this way of telling story, that the player can explore and find for themselves instead of having it given to them on a plate. To round off this chapter, we have learned that clichĂŠs are an integral part of horror level design, the same goes for relationships also as does storytelling. If more and more video games use these, then games would be a lot more engaging and immersive for the players, and it would give a much more satisfying experience to play them.
Chapter Two: Part Two Gameplay Mechanics Game play within horror games needs to be engaging and create an experience within the player, if the developer wants the player to continue to play the game and buy future sequels of the series. The first game I would like to talk about is Siren: Blood Curse (Sony 2008) for the Playstation 31, the game mechanic within this game is known as Sight jacking1. This is when the player is able to see through the eyes of others, normally the Shibito1. "You can switch between different enemy perspectives to give you a more complete picture of your surroundings." (Deafgamers.com Siren: Blood Curse Review, 2008) This adds a tactical element to the game, having you work out where your enemies are, what their patterns are and how you should proceed with the situation and while staying alive. "especially when you happen to spot where your character is hiding and you hope that the enemy, whose vision you are currently hijacking, doesn't realise where your character is hidden."(ibid) I would say this adds a real tension to the game play as you never know when you'll see yourself while using this mechanic and I wouldn't be surprised if you jumped out of your seat! "Also, there'll be no music or any indication anything's wrong when suddenly the screen will flash red and you'll hear a Shibito yell from near you providing a wonderful "omg wtf what was that?!?!?!" moment complete with running in random directions and possibly pissing yourself." (tvtropes.com, NothingIsScarier Trope Page) In Dead Space 1 and 2, There is a mechanic called Zero Gravity, when you are in these sections you cannot hear anything except for your own footsteps and breathing, you also have little control of your character when not grounded to the ship's surface with their gravity boots, and since the game uses sound cues for pretty much everything up until these points, you feel lost and have no idea when something will strike behind you. "Where you can't hear any noises except sounds from inside your suit and coming up from the ship, meaning you'll never know the necromorph is right behind you until you see him slashing you across the back." (ibid) In the series Fatal Frame, you use a camera to see ghosts, it is also the only way for the player to actually harm the ghosts and without it they are invincible. You can only damage the ghosts enough when they are incredibly close to you, putting the player in a decision . The camera is the main focal point of the series, which is used for pretty much everything in the game, if you find yourself at a point where you cannot proceed any further,
then you are most likely not using the camera enough to reveal hidden clues. "The camera is a fun puzzle element now and again, too, its powers revealing clues otherwise obscured by illusion." (Fatal Frame review, IGN.com) Eternal Darkness on the GameCube had a game play mechanic called the sanity meter. Whenever you would encounter a monster your sanity meter would lower and the environment would change around you, such as the walls begin to bleed or as you enter a new room you find yourself walking on the ceiling. As you killed the monsters your sanity would slowly return to you and these occurrences would be less apparent until you encountered a monster again. "When you enter a small room with no other exit than the door you came in through, you might go back through the door only to find that it is locked. Usually this happens when something really weird is about to happen, like your character sinking into the floor... but sometimes nothing happens, not even a flash of light or a cry of "This isn't really happening!" (ibid) To summarize this chapter, I have learned that it is very important for game developers to at least try and be unique with their game mechanics in games. When the mechanic works well, then the experience for the player is intensified and gives the player generally more involving game play. Which then leads us on to the next chapter, about Players and Fear.
Chapter Three: Players and Fear In this chapter, I will be looking at how players of horror games, are affected by fear. What is fear to the player? what are the reasons behind to why they are scared of what is happening on screen? I'll be looking at immersion in games, and how it helps to engage the player. Does good environment design also immerse the player in the story? I shall also be looking at a study by Gamasutra, which did a test on horror games with casual gamers and hardcore gamers, to see if who was more affected by fear while playing depending on their gaming experience, and finally I will be analysing information from an interview I conducted to friends about horror games and their views on them. The study on Gamasutra was made up of six people, a mixture of casual and hardcore gamers, they were chosen to play four specifically selected Xbox 360 horror games, to find out which was the scariest. The games chosen were Alan Wake, Resident Evil 5, Dead Space 2 and Condemned. They played each game for 30 minutes each, some were longer depending on the games content and length of objectives. "In this feature, usability studio Vertical Slice measures player reactions to four Xbox 360 horror games to find out which game is the "scariest," how casual and core players react to the same games, and whether or not they are scared in the same way" Here is the list of the games in order of scariness: Casual:
Dead Space 2 Alan Wake Resident Evil 5 Condemned
Dead Space 2 Condemned Alan Wake Resident Evil 5
To conclude this chapter, we can see from both the Gamsutra study and my own survey, that it doesn't matter wither you are a casual gamer who only plays for about 2 hours a week, or a hardcore gamer who plays video games on a regular basis. Whichever you may be, it is still possible for most to be scared by games and the horrors they throw at you, be it on an abandoned space station, a haunted house or a city shrouded in mist. I can also see that environment plays an important part for game play also (see above paragraph). Conclusion Well we have finally reached the end of the dissertation, and it is now time for my conclusion on everything within in it!. I will start by stating my question again "Why is Environment important within Horror Video Games?" well for starters if the video game did not have an environment then there would be no story to be told and it would be very bland and not very enjoyable to play! What I learned along this journey, is that without environment or mood or atmosphere, then a horror game cannot be horror as without environment, then there is no basis for story, a mood or even game play. What I feel as I have researched this question, is that environment cannot just be considered the levels the player navigates, it is much more than that, it is also the characters within these environments, the choice of music and sound that plays, even the game play can contribute towards environment as without it the player would not have a means to step into this horror filled world and travel around it immersing themselves in the story. I feel myself as a designer, I have learned a massive amount from this dissertation, and no doubt I can use all of this new found information within my final major project, and hopefully putting it to use within my future role as a possible 3d environment artist. I also believe that what I have learned here can also be put to use within the last of my university projects, helping to tell the story within any animations we build in the next few months. End.
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Published on Jan 8, 2012