“Shock and Horror”
It was the revered Stephen King who said “We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.” Well, he’s probably right to a certain extent. Never has it been truer – LittleBigPlanet is filled to the brim with shocking and spooky levels that are bound to provoke a jump or two. Or five. In the Cool Levels you can probably find three or four ‘scary levels’ per page. As spooky as it all becomes, there’s always a different way that the audience can take the frightening images. That’s a few paragraphs away, though. Besides, there’s nothing quite like a good scare to kick-start the old heart. Or, you know, purge the digestive system. Not everyone has the same tastes, either. Read on, if you dare.
On the other end of this spectrum, the famous psychological thriller “Figment” by ladylyn1 – with an astounding running time of 48 minutes – sits atop all the other ‘scary levels’ that exist. Sure, it’s a film, but it’s very well made and has a brilliant reception. It uses sackbots as actors, but it doesn’t entirely deviate from being scary. It really is. It’s pretty much the exemplar for horror experiences in LittleBigPlanet, but the dedication pays off. I wouldn’t suggest that months of work will result in a scary level, but instead knowing exactly what shocks the player.
Fear is a kind of emotion which provokes the “fight of flight” situation, during which the fear-ee will either choose to dash away from the shock or remain where they are in order to face their fear. We just sense danger, and now you understand why it’s uncommon to be actually scared in a LittleBigPlanet game. Unless it’s forced or well-done. Another great example of ‘scary’ would be “Gabriella: The Iron Nightmare” by Turbo_Egg_Salad – I suppose the convention and juxtaposition here is relevant. Turbo is known very well for his exceedingly strange and wonderful levels which also provoke some form of fear through humour. In ‘Gabriella’, the player navigates a glaring unsaturated world of iron, meeting a scary character or two along the way. Again, I’d hate to spoil surprises, but jumps are most certainly existent in the level. And not the ‘tap X to navigate the level’ kind of way.
Then there’s the circumvention of Team Picks which are not only festering during the likes of Halloween but are manifested in nearly every bloody holiday that’s ever existed ever. We at LittleBigJourney find this fact scary anyway. This is the deviation of scariness. Halloween levels that you’d expect to leave looking like a messy wreck, but come out demanding a time reimbursement. Luckily, these levels are well-made but are unfortunately less scary than most horror levels. They’re even less scary than some costume levels, and that’s saying something.
So where does it go from here? Well, people still don’t expect the unexpected. Which is a strange proverb, anyway. How can you expect what can’t be expected? Well, “horror is the removal of masks”, said Robert Blotch. Sometimes it’s about maintaining the masks. We’re not talking about actual masks here, either. It’s more like the figurative mask – what can’t be seen. Think of the illusions that can be created in LittleBigPlanet now – strings and other connectors can be hidden, logic can trigger sets for the user to experience. And now, we have memorisers, which can remember anything in signal form. Want to shock your user? Give them an entirely different second playthrough. Make one of the non-playable characters remember something. Scare the living bejeezus out of your victims. I mean players. It’s all about subverting expectations.
And finally, a brief overlook of the things that create shock in levels. You’re going to need dark sets, so bright decorations and colourful stickers are a ‘no’, unless you’re going for a grayscale (or unsaturated) look with the global settings. Furthermore, you’ll need some scary music. Unfortunately, happy-go-lucky ribcage idiophones and marching band snare lines aren’t going to ship your players off into an early casket. You’ll need something ambient – think atonal piano riffs, crescendos, sudden volume swells. That kind of thing. Lastly, try to keep everything fresh. Again, it’s about subverting everything the player knows, so don’t leave create mode with a flaming following sackbot. You’re not doing it right.
Heck, if you can pull all that stuff off, then you’re a next-generation Stephen King. Maybe. Then it’s about finding your target audience. I wouldn’t suggest leaving a level until the end of October for publishing, but it’s your best bet for attention. And don’t give it a bad name and level badge. The level title must flow in the middle of the continuum of vague words to pre-emptive exposition. So that’s something between “Afterlife” and “The Ghost Who Died in a Farm and the Farm is Haunted and You Have to Go Into the Farm and See What’s Up”. We’d suggest a level with such a narrative would be called something like “The Poltergeist of Oakwood” or “Spectre Farmstead”. And, no, don’t go for “The Poultrygeist”. That’s just a crude joke and it’s probably offensive to chickens, if they could understand the basic concept of humour. But… can they? Do the chickens know? What are their little beaks holding back? Only time will tell. Keep safe, lest your future be comprised of sleepless nights of being pecked. Stay tuned for episode one of… Wattle Lies Beneath.