I've had a few ideas of what would make a "scary" encounter in a horror game, but the one that's stuck with me the most involved an entity "enemy" subtly entering the player's view and notice, and then quickly leaving. Almost as to give them a sense of doubt in whether they actually saw it. In the early design stages of developing Dissonance as a horror, I loved the idea of manipulating this entity's presentation largely based off if the player was looking at it or maybe had noticed it. In VR, what the player's focusing on was one of the major tools we had. It's somewhat less-so the case in simple first person gameplay, but this project built around 4 distinct views and shifting between them seemed to still fit it. That plus the inevitable inspiration of every other forest horror walking sim being the original Slender, I decided to prototype the enemy as an entity that only moves while you can't see it.
It is always moving towards you, halting when you see it, and when you do 'see' it, its almost entirely transparent. It registers being seen and will subtly bleed away it's transparency to be more noticeable. Ideally catching the player's eye as a subtle shock and giving them the instinct to get the hell away. Which when the player inevitably shifts perspective to look away, there is a chance the enemy instantly relocates to a random location equidistant to their previous location and the player. It disappears, but is still following you with the exact same progress as before. Though now you may not know which way to run, so sprint and hope it's further away. If you do unwittingly get closer and then shift to check your surrounding, chances are you'll be GOTTEN by the enemy. Simply put, shifting while within a close range radius of the enemy will place them directly in front of you and freeze all player control away as a "Gotten" fail-state. So the player will need to keep their eyes peeled as to ensure they don't run away towards the newly relocated enemy. I believe I'll eventually give the enemy a set time to bleed in and then out of transparency. Enough so ideally the player notices, and then relocate itself automatically. This because right now it only relocates if the player shifts perspective away from looking at it. Therefore, the easiest way to keep away is to find it, stare at it, and walk backwards. That is certainly not the intended golden path. Right now the intention is simply to have the enemy present itself in a particular manner and pursue the player while not seen, all for the sake of frighting and disorienting the player during navigation. These enemy behaviors plus future systems of visual obscuring like the shift blur and sprinting shaky head should add the proper challenge intended for the player attempting to path through the forest from point A to point B.
Along the vein of challenging the player's navigation, the enemy "GOTCHA" fail state for the player will ideally be a bit less final than something like Slender. I do value the big scare of being seized by the trailing enemy, but really resent the release of tension the moment the player "loses" and has to start all over again. It's yet to be implemented because I still don't have much of an environment to properly test it with, but this fail state shouldn't end with a hard restart. The plan is to provide the immediate shock of the GOTCHA with the enemy suddenly staring them down just a step away, and then sharply transitioning the player to relocate randomly across the map, an equidistant range from their previous location and the end-goal. Sharp spike of frightening failure, immediate transition and maintained tension into continued gameplay, significant progress setback of unfamiliar location, and the setback mitigated by not being a hard-progress restart. Ideally something bound to repeat until the goal is completed as opposed to the game kicking you away for "failing" it. There's still plenty of difficult variables that can [and probably will] change this system depending on it's implementation, but that's the current plan for the core gameplay loop.
You may notice the current enemy has a face [eye and mouth], and that's partially because its somewhat unnerving but largely so I notice it during full transparency while testing. Eventually the final visual should certainly be perturbing, but also naturally camouflage with the environment a bit. This as to only barely be seen by the average player. I also love the idea of having the enemy's face/body/visage randomly change each time it's encountered, either slightly or entirely. Ideally to add a bounty of uncertainty to the player's experience as well as variety of uncanny valley art to the project. Something that hopefully won't be too out of scope if I continue to use 2D facing art assets at the enemy. We'll see.
The next tasks will likely be some systems work to more dynamically present/increase the blur and head shake depending on frequency of shifting and length of sprinting. Some more gameplay feel before I undertake building a proper environment to play in. At least I've bought some assets so I have an idea of what it will look like when I do.
Also the project is called Gaze now.