Behind the Curtain: How to Make a Scary Game

Posted by Conor Murphy on April 18, 2013 in Game Art, Game Development -- Share:

Do you like games that make the hair on the back of your neck stand up? Want to learn what makes a game scary? Read the interview below where we sat down with Redemption Cemetery developer Galina Meretina to talk about the how to make a video game experience spooky! If you’re a fan of scary mysteries, make sure to check out their latest game — Redemption Cemetery: Salvation of the Lost when you get done reading this interview.

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Please introduce yourself and your development team…

My name is Galina Meretina; I am a game designer for ERS Games Studio. Our team is a team of professionals: artists, programmers, animators and many others, who develop games for you.

Why did you start making games with spooky themes?

Currently, one can find plenty of games about magic worlds, but we wanted to dive even deeper – beyond the edge of possibility. We immerse players in an atmosphere of mysticism and paranormal phenomena, showing people how the unfathomable powers might interfere with everyday life. Everyone has heard scary stories about cemeteries and ghosts. And we turn such stories into reality– in-game reality, of course.

Where do your scary ideas & inspirations come from?

Our team -all of us- loves scary stories. They are everywhere: we listen to them or invent them on our own. Then we share them with each other. This is our primary inspiration. Then we start studying the story, thinking over every detail, filling it with meaning and introducing it into our game. E.g. Everyone gets the feeling of being watched when they’re in a forest. So, we recreated this feeling in the game – there is a large bush with glowing eyes watching the player in one of the cemetery scenes. Here is another source of our inspiration – we look forward and anticipate, explore and implement. Our final inspiration is the players: their letters of appreciation and forum comments. There is nothing more rewarding for developers than the player’s reaction to solving another puzzle and noticing that it was created specially for them.

Do sound effects & music have a big effect on how scary a game is? How do you pick the music?

Music and sounds in games are extremely important for us. They immerse the player into the atmosphere of mysticism and mystery. The music for Redemption Cemetery: Salvation of the Lost is based on the choir. It contributes to the atmosphere of the otherworldly and paranormal world. Sublime melodies combined with downstream sequences and harmony fill the player’s soul with notes of the supernatural; timpani used in the music create an atmosphere of greatness and at the same time instill the inevitability of the events. Minor symphony orchestra was used as accompaniment.

How do people react when they learn that you work on games set in cemeteries and other creepy environments?

Mostly, people are interested in my work. They try to learn more about game development. They recall the game they play themselves and sometimes suggest their own ideas. This is good, because it’s always important to get the opinion of another player. ERS Games Studio develops games of many different genres, so every game is unique for us, no matter where the actions take place – at the cemetery or in a magic realm.

Does anything bother you about mystical elements in games? What would you change?

On the contrary, games of the mystical genre are my favorite! This genre really pushes the player’s imagination to its full potential. We give players a chance to face supernatural forces, encounter ghosts and go on a journey, which is impossible in real life.

How do you create suspense in your games?

We always try to make the player remember the main goal of the game. In Redemption Cemetery: Salvation of the Lost, the player (together with their dog) finds themselves trapped in a mystical cemetery and the only way out is to help the ghosts. The player will have to travel back in time while overcoming complicated obstacles in order to escape.

What’s the scariest game you’ve played, and what exactly made it so frightening?

Some of our scariest games are: Redemption Cemetery: Curse of the Raven, Redemption Cemetery: Children’s Plight, Shadow Wolf Mysteries: Сursed Wedding, Dark Alleys: Penumbra Motel, and Phantasmat: Crucible Peak. Each of them has many unexpected and creepy moments. And one of our most favorite games is Redemption Cemetery: Grave Testimony – this game is just full of mysticism. The player comes across otherworldly and supernatural things here and there that make them feel scared.

What techniques do you use to make sure that your spooky scenes look spooky?

We try to recall our own fears and use them in the games. We have a very large team, so it is quite hard to choose the scariest things. Each of us has our own fears: snakes, skeletons, ghosts, tombs and crypts. All these can be found in our Redemption Cemetery series. But the spookiest scenes, in our opinion, are scenes with the characters that need to be saved. We always count on the player’s compassion.

How does character development contribute to creating suspense?

Each of our characters has a touching back story. We must be completely sure that a character is needed in the game before introducing it. We make a full story for the characters: their goals, background, appearance, emotional characteristics and even relations to the player’s character and other characters.

Does a believable story matter when it comes to making a scary game?

Any mystical story is a mixture of stories that have already been told before. Of course, it is much more interesting when a story is based on some actual events that might happen to anyone. Such things immerse the player into the game-play even more, giving a feeling of reality to what is happening.

Do you find think that spooky ideas are more powerful than gory visuals? Why or why not?

Of course! Visual effects make the game feel complete, but the main element is always the story! We thoroughly think over every story twist.

What does the team behind Redemption Cemetery do that’s different?

ERS Games Studios is a very large and united team. We all are characterized by love for our work and strive for the best results! We are always willing to improve our games, so reviews and letters are particularly important for us.

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Conor is a Marketing Manager with Big Fish, working out of the Seattle office. In his spare time he enjoys watching science documentaries and playing old school adventure games. Get in touch with him on Twitter! or Google+