This episode originally released January 29, 2017. While the full episode includes discussion with three additional co-hosts, below you will find the original script for my episode introduction and my introductory report for the episode’s main topic. 

[intro – 0:00]

When it comes to storytelling, there is nothing more important than creating emotion. If you care about the characters, care about what’s happening, then you’ll feel that, and the story will have done it’s job.

And that’s just as true when applied to video games. Every great game inspires emotion. Feelings like tension and excitement are par for the course when it comes to good game design. But the best developers don’t stop there. Whether it’s guilt, when one of your XCOM characters dies because of a mistake you made, sadness, when you you realize you really might not be able to save everyone in the Mass Effect games, or even joy, when you break through the clouds for the first time in Journey, emotion is a powerful part of gaming.

By putting you in control, games are more personal than other stories. The good, and the bad, doesn’t just happen to some character, it happens to you. And it’s for that exact reason that horror games have been terrifying us in new and inventive ways for years.

From pixelated mansions to the ultra realism of VR, the horror genre has always been changing and evolving. And modern horror games are no different. Thanks to new technology, new trends, and games simply being bigger and more varied than ever, the horror genre is not only an important part of the industry, but an exciting one too.

This… is the Game Café, the weekly podcast from all of us here at Gamespresso.


[main topic – 19:34]

And on that note, let’s talk about horror games in general. Resident Evil 7 is just the latest, but the genre (and game developers trying to scare us) has been around a long time. It’s true, the term Survival Horror wasn’t used until the first Resident Evil released on the PS One in 1996, but the origins of what eventually became horror games go back to the earliest years of the industry.

Before working on Resident Evil, game designer Tokuro Fujiwara made a game called Sweet Home. Based on a Japanese horror film,Sweet Homewas actually an RPG, and saw a film crew go into an old decrepit mansion. Each character had specific items you needed in order to progress, there was a limited inventory, and the main focus was on item-based puzzles. You explored this old, seemingly empty mansion, and found notes revealing the terrible past of the family that had lived there.

For anyone who’s played the original Resident Evil, at least some of that should sound pretty familiar. Now, Sweet Home came out in Japan on the Famicom, Nintendo’s first console, in 1989. And though it was no doubt tame by today’s standards, the game never made the jump to the west because of how gruesome it was.

But before even Sweet Home, we had plenty of others too. Without the graphics or the sound quality we attribute to modern horror games, we had games like The Evil Dead, on the Commodore 64, or Halloweenon the Atari 2600. We even had games like 3D Monster Maze, where the player couldn’t fight back and simply had to keep running from the Tyrannosaurus Rex chasing you.

All of these laid the ground work, introducing the mix of adventure game elements and tension that eventually brought us Resident Evil. And with the PS One and 3D graphics, suddenly games started getting a lot scarier. Pulling from western horror with strong, terrifying enemies chasing you, like Friday the 13th and Alien, and pulling from Japanese horror with more psychological aspects, the genre grew.

But over the years something happened. Horror games were never very defined. That mix of adventure game elements I mentioned ended up leaving a lot of room for interpretation. Any type of game can scare us, so horror games branched out. Action sold better, so that’s the direction the genre moved. That’s how we ended up with Dead Space, Fear, and games like Resident Evil 4, 5, and 6.

There was a problem with that though. It took away the fear. Thomas Grip is the head of Frictional Games, the developer behind Amnesia and Soma, two modern, terrifying games. Speaking with IGN back in 2015 he said, “A game like Resident Evil can become very tense and provide good jump scares, but it very quickly loses a proper sense of dread. In a game where you have a lot of combat, your mind is occupied in keeping track of ammo, aiming, what weapons to use, etc. So you lack the spare mental capacity to really start to fantasize about the world you’re in.”

“But when you remove combat and any explicit core mechanic such as combat, you free up mental space in the player and also make the creatures less knowable. Now all of a sudden the player’s imagination kicks into overdrive and they start scaring themselves.”

Amnesia was one of the first modern games to go back to the run and hide mechanics we first saw all the way back in 3D Monster Maze. And it’s now the main drive behind many of the indie games we’ve seen take over the horror genre in the past few years, from Slenderto Outlast.  Add in streaming and let’s plays, and these new types of horror games are reaching massive audiences.

Resident Evil 7, for a large part, embraces that type of paired down design. Speaking with Games Industry, Producer Masachika Kawata explained, “The market for horror games has changed over the years… But Resident Evilhas always been a series that keeps up, it isn’t afraid to change the style of gameplay. We have evolved a lot over the years in order to meet the needs of the market and our fans. So although the situation with horror games is not the same as it was the last time we released a mainline title, we do still feel we can appeal to a lot of people, including hardcore horror fans.”

And how has the genre changed? First, it has moved toward the less complex design Thomas Grip mention. But also, we’ve seen the introduction of VR. Even more immersion, even more opportunity to scare us silly.

So, just to start things off here, with all the changes horror games are going through, what do you guys think makes a good horror game?