Summary of topics covered in this blog post:

  • 1. Mythos Research (Circle 5, Anger)
  • 2. What Makes Horror, Horror?
  • 3. Concept
    • Bringing the Mythos into the Game World
    • Theme
    • Boss Design
  • 4. Mechanics
    • Movement
    • Sound
    • Reflections
    • Light
  • 5. More Game Ideas

Mythos Research (i)

According to Inferno, anger has two forms – Wrath (expressed anger) and Sullenness (repressed anger).

Dante’s Fifth Circle of Hell is where the Wrathful and Sullen are punished in The River Styx, a vast muddy swamp encompassing the Fifth Circle: (Inf. 7.109-26)

“The active hatreds rend and snarl at one another; at the bottom, the sullen hatreds lie gurgling, unable even to express themselves for the rage that chokes them.”
-(Dorothy L. Sayers)

The boatman Phlegyas traffics souls across the marsh to the city of Dis, the walls of which contain Circles 6 – 9 and are protected by the fallen angels that sided with Lucifer in a rebellion against god.

What makes Horror, Horror? (ii)


Context is a hierarchy of threat responses: suspense, startling, and tension.


There is a distinct difference between ‘suspense’ and ‘surprise’,”
-(Alfred Hitchcock, the ‘Master of Suspense’)

Suspense and, at its core, apprehension, is created when the player perceives real or imagined danger. Using suspense to its full effect requires demanding action from the player to confront the threat.


There are many ways to startle a player: loud noises, flashes of light, sudden darkness, gratuitous violence, or sudden movement.

Peripheral vs Central vision: Central vision is the ‘focus’ of the player – though effective at processing detail, it is ineffective when sensing movement. Peripheral vision can be used to great effect in horror as it is highly effective at sensing movement. This concept of giving the player something to focus on (central vision) to divert their attention from the true threat (in the peripheral vision) is the core facet of “startling” in horror.

The issue with ‘startling’ is diminishing returns – repeated instances reduce the effect of consequent startles.


The highest level of the context hierarchy is tension – the struggle for resolution, either through fight or flight, against a known threat. (Note: you cannot have tension with an unknown threat.)


Effective execution requires the harmonious combination of game design, creature design, animation, world design, sound, and lighting.

  • Game Design: The more you have to lose, the more you are afraid. Tension is created when there is a struggle to resolve fight or flight.
  • Creature Design: Visual design is one of the most effective and memorable mediums to evoke horror in players.
  • Animation: How something moves is just as important as how it looks.
  • World Design: The world itself may be a threat. Also, don’t underestimate the power of embedded narrative.
  • Sound: Sometimes you don’t need to show anything.
  • Lighting: Lighting can be used to draw the player’s central focus and create fear using darkness. It can be is less about what you can see, and more about what you can’t see.


Bringing The Mythos into the Game World

  • The River Styx will feature prominently in the level design.
  • The Boss concept is based heavily on the Fifth Circle’s tormented souls. (Where the wrathful endlessly attack each other on the surface and the sullen forever drown underneath)

The boatman and the city of Dis will be discarded – the boatman ferries souls to the lower levels and Dis separates the outer and inner circles of hell and holds Circles 6-9, so it is irrelevant when moving up through the upper levels of the pit.


“Children should be seen and not heard.”

The boss should be mostly invisible to create suspense – a threat that the player knows exists, but remains unseen.

The level should feel like horror BECAUSE of it being from a child’s perspective, not ‘in spite’ of.

Inspiration:    The Kaernk from Amnesia




In line with the theme:

  • The Sullen grasp at Lil’ Death from under the surface if he stays still too long
  • The Wrathful are quick to anger – if he makes too much noise on the surface of the water they will try to silence him


Potentially evoking the ‘my reflection/that poster is moving’ phenomena that sometimes affects children.

Creates unique mechanic to interact with boss.
Inspiration: The Magic Mirror from Kingdom Hearts


Level may be resolved using light as a mechanic – whereby the player is unable to see the Wrathful reflections unless light is shone on the surface of the water, and only then can they be defeated.


Played for atmosphere rather than as a core mechanic of the level design.

More Game Ideas

(Ib, 2012)

A new mechanic to implement in the game will be a text box that pops up whenever Lil’ Death and Lucifer enter a new Circle, giving an ominous one-sentence hint as to what the boss will be.

(i) http://danteworlds.laits.utexas.edu/circle5.html, (Inf. 7.109-26)

(ii) http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/126963/Opinion_How_To_Make_A_Scary_Game.php


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