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Fear and foreboding are design pillars in The Conjuring House

Former Ubisoft Casablanca developers are tackling the survival horror genre with The Conjuring House. One of Rym Games' co-founders tells us how the studio plans to design for fear.
Over the past several years, big-budget survival horror developers have adopted pure action over intense fear, at the same time abdicating the genre’s throne to smaller, independent dev teams who want to bring the horror back to surviving. One of the latest independent developers to tackle the horror genre is Rym Games, a band of ex-Ubisoft Casablanca developers who together have worked on such frightening franchises as Prince of Persia and Rayman. …All right, that’s not exactly a horror pedigree, but one look at the trailer for The Conjuring House (above) shows that they just might have what it takes when it comes to designing for spookiness. It's the first title from Rym, which is seeking additional funding for the downloadable PC game via IndieGoGo. “Monsters, a cinematic shot and a dose of violence is not enough to make a horror game,” Imad Kharijah, co-founder of Rym tells us. The Conjuring House takes place in an abandoned house, where players will encounter all kinds of evil paranormal activity. Rym defines the game experience as “scary, creepy, worrying,” with an “oppressive ambiance.” “Fear is primarily a feeling and a psychological state,” says Kharijah. “A better horror experience happens through immersion. Our goal is to put the player inside the game, and give the player a feeling of living an experience, rather than playing a game.” One way Kharijah and his team will try to convey that experience is through a dynamic system that will randomize certain aspects of the game, including events, objectives, collectibles and dangerous situations, including an enemy that stalks the player, attacking at any place and any time. It’s not the first time a randomized system would be introduced into a horror game, he admits (e.g. Zombie Studios’ upcoming Daylight will also incorporate randomized elements), but Kharijah hopes Rym will be able to put its own twist on the idea.
The dynamic system will be at the heart of the game’s design, he says, so different people (or the same person) will have different experiences with The Conjuring House. The big challenge will be maintaining pacing and consistency of playthroughs, while at the same time adding those random aspects. The goal is to maintain immersion, and explore the concept of fear within the player’s engagement with the game. In other words, Kharijah wants to stress players out while they’re playing his video game. “The design of fear involves the creation of situations of stress, which generate fear in the player,” says Kharijah. On a more practical design level, Kharijah says Rym uses matrices to tune scenarios in the game. In these matrices, Rym lists the character’s abilities, gadgets, and time and space modifiers. Designers create sequences based on these matrices, then dress the sequences with audio and visuals to crank up the fear and anxiety. Kharijah offered an example of a matrix used in The Conjuring House:
Kharijah explains, “[This matrix] will result in the game by the following situation: The player must escape a danger which pursues him, and reach a safe area. The [flashlight] is off, which forced him to run in the dark (with a light source, anyway), through a corridor with objects on the ground that slow him down. Then we’d add special effects like storm effects, objects falling, background music, and sound effects such as breathing and heart beats.” Designing for fear is also about leveraging the power of suggestion, which if done properly triggers a fear of the unknown, and can put the player in a state of panic, says Kharijah. It’s the same concept used by Lovecraft, or any good creator of horror, who realizes the most crippling dread comes from a person’s own imagination. “Imagination stays very important in creating successful and original situations of fear,” Kharijah says.

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