Blackout is an arcade horror game where the player must use their flashlight to stop monsters from approaching. The game is almost pitch black, requiring the player to listen closely to which direction the creatures are coming from.
This game was a solo project for Matt Parker’s Code Lab class.
Blackout was the first video game I’ve made. I wanted to revisit it to see how I could improve it with the game design skills I’ve been learning at NYU, as well as challenge myself to develop it from scratch on my own. Looking back at it after a couple of years, the game was far from being able to be considered good. It lacked visual and audio feedback, winning wasn’t satisfying, and past the first minute of gameplay, it was not scary. That’s terrible for a horror game.
The first issue I looked to address was the feedback that the player was getting attacked and losing health. Originally, if an enemy got too close, they would rapidly damage the player until the player dies or successfully shoots them. This would cause a lot of confusion with players. Since they can’t see anything, players wouldn’t know why they’re losing health, why is the screen flashing red, and this new turn of events confuses them as to what they need to be doing. My solution to this was inspired by a game developed by one of my classmates, called Bloodsport. It’s similar in that you’re also rooted in place and having to turn around rapidly looking for something. But in Bloodsport, one mistake means instant death, and that increases the tension so much more than Blackout ever did. I decreased the health from 10 to 2 in Blackout, and had the enemy disappear as soon as they attacked, rather than attack repeatedly. To add to the impact of being hit, I’ll flash a scary picture and add a creepy scream during an attack. Afterwards, the rate of the player’s heart beat audio would increase. This was hugely successful. Getting hit now was REALLY BAD, and players did everything they could to avoid it.
Another concern with the first game was the tutorial. When I showed the game around to seniors on my first day at the Game Center, they skipped the text explaining what the game is about, then failed miserably at the game. Their reply: “First rule of game design: Nobody reads walls of text”. What I ended up doing having the text appear in front of the player as they play. At the start of the game, short sentences would appear telling the player what they need to be looking out for, but players could still move around and play with their flashlight. People hate not clicking on anything, so it’s crucial to give them the ability to be aware of their surroundings and their controls while you’re teaching them what they need to do. That said, the tutorial’s not yet perfect, as players often struggle to avoid getting immediately hit by the first enemy they encounter.
The final big change was removing guns and simply having a flashlight. This came up when I was thinking about how the heck will I animate monsters, and so settled with ghosts. Guns don’t make sense in this case, so I moved to flashlight. This would mean the loss of the multiplier and ammo mechanics, but it brings some cool stuff with it. For one, having to bash a button to refill the batteries added to the tension, and players get to catch a glimpse of the enemy they just defeated.
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