If you want your audience to feel fear, start by removing everything they rely on to understand their environment.
Do this in a game, explains developer Branton Lansdale, a lead on horror blockchain shooter The Bornless, and players start to squirm in an unnerving mix of isolation and vulnerability. They’re nicely primed to feel fear.
“A core concept of horror is depriving a player of senses, whether it be hearing, sight… [or] resources,” Lansdale told a recent episode of the Fate Nation podcast. “Just taking things away from them makes them feel isolated and vulnerable.”
But doing that to someone actively engaged in PvP combat is difficult, he said.
Remove too many cues and you could undermine gameplay. Balancing the fear and the fun is crucial.
“[The Bornless] is a horror-themed game. At the same time, we want it to be a fun competitive shooter – maybe not hardcore competitive – but it has the ability to be played fun, [and] be played competitively against people,” Lansdale said.
“With that, comes a lot – a lot – of balancing.”
The Bornless is a pseudo battle royale where four teams of two battle each other and the demonic beasts that lurk in the dark, eerie town of Farmouth.
A new visual map of Farmouth has been released, showing for the first time how its different areas fit together. (See lead image above)
The map was a request from The Bornless community. It will earn its keep balancing the fun and fear when a new build launches in the near future and help new players find their footing.
The new build will re-introduce elements from the game’s early alpha prototype, when the vibe was darker.
“When we started, about a year a go, [the look and feel] was just dark,” Lansdale said. “You actually had to carry around lanterns to see where you were going.”
“Since it’s a cooperative game mode, one person [in a team] carried a lantern and a pistol, and the other person would have a Tommy gun.”
“It was super fun, it was really, really interesting gameplay, but it was really hard to see and it was really hard to balance.
“So over time we slowly made it brighter and brighter and brighter – to where it’s easy to see, fun to play, and you’re not confused by what’s going on on the screen.
“But we realised as we’ve moved away from that, we’ve lost a lot of that horror aspect – the really gritty horror aspect that was so popular in that early alpha update.”
So in the latest update, the game has been re-darkened and Lansdale’s team has also increased the contrast in the environment around the player. For example, in some areas the new flashlights players can access are needed to see, in other areas, there’s more light.
“There’s a massive quality update from… the current live version to what we are releasing,” he said.