Today’s Art (25th September 2018)

Well, although I hadn’t planned to make any fan art for today, a combination of tiredness and the fact that I’ve been replaying “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” (as a Tremere again too! I still can’t believe I didn’t realise that you could actually live in the Chantry on my first playthrough!) meant that I had the sudden idea to make a completely and utterly silly parody/fan art cartoon based on this amazing game πŸ™‚ And, yes, the cartoon probably won’t make sense if you haven’t played the game.

And if you’re puzzled about the dialogue between Jeanette Voerman and Maximillian Strauss, it might have just been me (or my computer monitor), but Strauss looks slightly blue in the game’s intro movie. And, yes, the glowing purple thing on top of the Tremere Chantry reminded me a little bit of the “Eye Of Mordor” (?) from the “Lord Of The Rings” films too.

Likewise, if you’re puzzled by the dialogue between La Croix and Nines, “Boney” was a popular sarcastic nickname for Napoleon Bonaparte during the Napoleonic Wars… and well, this just seemed inherently funny.

Since this is a parody/ fan art, this cartoon is NOT released under any kind of Creative Commons licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Fan Art – Vampire The Masquerade Bloodlines – Silliness” By C. A. Brown

Using Moral Ambiguity Intelligently In Fiction – A Ramble

Well, since I still seem to be re-playing a classic mid-2000s computer game called “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines“, I thought that I’d look at what this intriguingly intelligent game can teach us about moral ambiguity in fiction.

I’ll be spending most of this article taking a critic-like look at the game, but if you’re just interested in what storytelling lessons can be learnt from the game’s presentation of morality, then skip to the final four paragraphs of the article.

However, I should probably point out that this article will contain some SPOILERS for the game. Likewise, since this is an article about moral ambiguity in something from the horror genre, it goes without saying that I’ll be talking about some fairly heavy subject matter (eg: crime, torture, religious extremism, mental illness etc..), but hopefully not in too much detail.

But, before I discuss the way that morality is handled and presented in this game, I should point out that the game’s well-crafted moral ambiguity does not mean that the game is a “corrupting influence” or anything like that. The moral ambiguity only works in dramatic terms because the player already has moral standards – which contrast with the more amoral world of the game.

Anyway, one of the interesting things about “Bloodlines” is that it’s one of the earlier games where almost all of the characters are morally ambiguous to some extent or another. Even more so, it is a game that pretty much forces the player’s character to be morally ambiguous too. After all, you play as a vampire.

The only vaguely moral way for your character to obtain a regular supply of blood is to obtain it from rats (which is a very time-consuming process). Other than this, your character has to drink other people’s blood (using violence or trickery) or buy blood from a creepy serial killer who works in a morgue. This moral ambiguity helps to hammer home the point that you are playing as a vampire, and helps to increase player immersion in the game.

Likewise, the only ways for your character to earn money are to be a hired hench-vampire for other characters, to blackmail other characters, to sell dubiously-obtained goods or to exploit the gratutide of a character whose life you can save early in the game.

This is a screenshot from “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” (2004), showing a character called Heather Poe who becomes obsessed with the main character after an impromptu transfusion of vampire blood saves her life.

This works well in the context of the game, since it increases player immersion by showing them that they’re a character whose nocturnal undead life means that they can’t earn money in legitimate ways.

Intriguingly, the game also often places you in situations where making an “immoral” choice is often the most rewarding choice (in terms of blood, money and/or experience points). But, it counterbalances this very slightly with a “humanity” points system, which will occasionally penalise you for being too evil. This forces the player to make complex moral decisions on a regular basis and also increases the horror and drama of the game by making the player feel guilty about the choices they make in-game.

But, most intriguing of all, is how the game handles the subject of villains. Although the game’s main villain (La Croix) is the classic megalomaniacal “evil politician” character who, quite predictably, is initially presented as one of the more “good” characters – the game’s other “villainous” characters can be a lot more interesting.

The most intriguing of all is GrΓΌnfeld Bach, the leader of a group of devoutly Christian vampire hunters called the Society Of Leopold.

Although he is the type of character who would traditionally be seen as one of the “good guys” in many stories, he is presented as a fearsome adversary to the player and their fellow vampires (many of whom are interesting, well-developed characters).

This is a screenshot showing GrΓΌnfeld Bach, a character who would usually be one of the “good guys” in many stories but, intriguingly, is one of the villains in this game.

Although the game quickly shows the vampire hunters to be fanatical religious extremists, it explores this subject in a variety of chillingly creepy ways.

In one later part of the game, you have to infiltrate their monastery in order to rescue a kidnapped archaeologist. Whilst sneaking through the caves beneath the monastery, you can overhear two henchmen talking about how Bach once shot a man for refusing to obey orders – which is a chilling example of how authority can corrupt even the most “good” people.

Likewise, an optional side-quest during this level involves rescuing a vampire who has been captured by the Society Of Leopold. When you meet him, it quickly becomes clear that he has been tortured. Although this, in itself, shows how religious fanaticism can make good people evil (and is designed to reference the Spanish Inquisition too) – the game takes this a step further when the vampire disturbingly points out that the torturers actually seemed to relish their work. Again, showing how evil can flourish when “good” people feel that they can do anything. Or just how evil people can use religion as an excuse for their actions.

On the other hand, one of the closest things that the game has to a “good” character is Velvet Velour, a powerful vampire who owns a pole dancing club. When giving the player quests, she constantly warns them not to harm innocent people. She’s a really interesting character because the game presents one of it’s very few compassionate and good characters as being in a line of work that is often criticised by conservatives and liberals alike as being “immoral”.

But, the game then adds a bit of nuance by having one of the vaguely important human characters be the owner of a somewhat sleazy video shop. You need to talk to him (and bribe him for information) in order to complete various quests but, although he doesn’t actually do anything evil in the game, he comes across as a thoroughly creepy character who seems to know a lot of very disturbing criminals.

Likewise, another “good” character is an anarchist vampire called Nines Rodriguez, who saves the player’s life on two occasions. He also talks a lot about the evils of elitism and capitalism too, drawing on his memories of the Great Depression for examples (which seem oddly prescient in our post-credit crunch world). However, his reward for such a moral life is… to be framed for murder.

This is Nines Rodriguez, a character who is good, even at great personal cost. Likewise, it’s rather clever that the game presents him as an anarchist (since these types of characters are usually presented as villains).

An interesting “neutral” character is a vampire computer hacker called Mitnick who hires the player to hack a few computer systems, fake a robbery and plant some surveillance devices.

But, the morality of what he asks the player to do is more ambiguous than it initially seems, since he needs the stolen information because he belongs to a group of vampires who are discriminated against by other vampires – and information-brokering is one of the few ways they can gain favour with, or protection from, other vampires.

Another fascinating example of “neutral” characters are Jeanette and Therese Voerman. They are two vampire sisters who run a gothic nightclub. Therese is very stern, severe and moralistic. Jeanette, on the other hand, is shown to be capricious, manipulative and spiteful. They’re literal opposites, even in terms of how they talk and dress.

Yet, slightly later in the game, you learn that they are both actually just one person with a split personality (caused by a horribly traumatic past).

In addition to forcing the player to make a difficult moral choice at one point in the game (do you save one personality, or do you save both?), this character is also a brilliant example of how excessive external displays of propriety and moral virtue (eg: Therese) are often used to conceal a more “immoral” side (eg: Jeanette).

So what can all of this teach us about moral ambiguity in fiction? Well, simply put, you should only include lots of moral ambiguity if you’re going to do something intelligent with it.

If the moral ambiguity is designed to provoke thought in the audience and make them more aware of their own moral standards, then include lots of moral ambiguity. If the moral ambiguity is just there to be “edgy”, then don’t include it (unless for comedy value).

You should also only include moral ambiguity if it works in the context of your story. In a game like “Bloodlines”, the ambiguity works because the game “realistically” explores a fantastical subject (eg: vampirism) that is often presented in a very simplistic way in horror movies. The ambiguity is justified by the context of the story – kind of like how “Game Of Thrones” is a more “realistic” take on the medieval fantasy genre.

Finally, the game also shows us that moral ambiguity only works when characters have well-developed personalities and motivations. If you have well-developed characters, then any moral ambiguity you include will fit into your story really well. If you don’t, then it will come across as a juvenile attempt at being “edgy” or whatever.

———-

Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

How Much Do You Have To Explain About Your Fictional “World” If You Want A Re-Readable Story?

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about worldbuilding and re-readability. But, although this is an article about writing, I’m going to have to spend most of the article looking at stories told through the mediums of film and computer games – mostly because there are two brilliantly contrasting examples that I really want to talk about.

The first is a classic computer game from 2004 called “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines“, which I seem to be re-playing at the moment. Despite the fact that I’d started playing another game called “Under A Killing Moon”, I got distracted by re-playing this game:

This is a screenshot from “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” (2004). It’s a bit like that “Hotel California” song – you can check out, but you can’t leave…

In addition to being a really interesting mixture of several types of game, one of the most fascinating parts of “Bloodlines” is the incredibly detailed fictional “world” that it takes place in.

Not only does the game have you navigate a secret society of vampires in mid-2000s California, but the game also gives you lots of detailed background information about different types of vampires, different political factions of vampires and many of the game’s characters.

This is another screenshot from “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” (2004), showing one of the characters explaining a tiny part of the game’s backstory.

Even the game’s loading screens take the time to explain even more about the fictional “world” of the game. And, I found myself so fascinated that I not only began to replay the game, but I also even ended up spending quite a while looking at fan sites online in order to learn even more about this fascinating fictional world.

In short, this game explains a lot about it’s highly-detailed fictional “world” and it is fascinating enough to make you want to return to it again and again.

By contrast, my favourite film is a sci-fi film from 1982 called “Blade Runner“, which I must have re-watched at least five times. Although there was a sequel last year that expands more on the futuristic “world” of the film, the original film explains relatively little about the world it takes place in.

Yes, we get to hear a bit of basic backstory and we meet a few characters but, for the most part, the film only shows us a relatively small (but visually-dense) part of an absolutely fascinating futuristic world. It’s kind of like the old writing adage of “show, don’t tell“:

This is a screenshot from “Blade Runner” (1982), showing a tiny part of the film’s fascinating setting.

And, yet, this lack of obvious background information is one of the things that makes this film so fascinating. It makes you search for and extrapolate from the film’s many small visual background details, like you are some kind of detective who is looking for clues. This, of course, makes you want to return to the film again and again.

This lack of explanation also means that you have to use your imagination if you want to “see” more of the film’s fictional world. Needless to say, this also makes it an absolutely great source of creative inspiration too.

So, “Blade Runner” and “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” take completely opposite approaches to worldbuilding, and yet they are both the type of thing that just begs to be revisited again and again.

Whilst both approaches to worldbuilding have their merits, one interesting thing to note is that both creative works not only have a detailed (and atmospheric) fictional world but also one that is populated by fascinating and unique characters. So, characterisation is an important part of making your audience want to return to your story.

But, more importantly, both things rely heavily on curiosity. “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” gives the appearance of satisfying the audience’s curiosity, whilst also hinting that there’s a lot more to learn (through brief descriptions of complex things etc..).

On the other hand, “Blade Runner” presents a tantalising glimpse at a fully-formed fictional world and then just says “you’ll have to work it out for yourself“. Both things rely heavily on curiosity in order to make the audience return again and again.

But, I guess that the best lesson to take from all of this is that detailed, complex, unique and imaginative fictional worlds are inherently fascinating things. It doesn’t matter if you explain a lot about them, or explain next to nothing about them. They are fascinating things that will make your audience want to come back again and again.

———–

Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Review “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines [With Unofficial Patch]” (Classic Computer Game)

2017-artwork-vampire-the-masquerade-bloodlines-review-sketch

Well, with Halloween approaching, I thought that I’d review a classic computer game from 2004 called “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” that I only played for the first time this year.

I bought a digital copy of this game when it was on special offer on GOG earlier this year and, although it seemed to be slightly on the pricier side of things for a game of that age (even when it was on offer), it was money well spent πŸ™‚

Interestingly, the version of this game available on GOG comes with an unofficial patch pre-installed. From what I can gather, this patch fixes many bugs and problems with the original version of the game. I’m not sure if this patch is included in versions of the game sold on other sites (eg: Steam), but it’s probably fairly easy to find on the internet if it isn’t.

One other thing that I should probably point out is that at least some of the minimum system requirements listed for the game on GOG (eg: a 2.4 ghz processor) seem to be somewhat over-inflated, especially considering that this game uses an early version of the Source Engine! I was able to get this game to run on a 1.8 ghz single core processor (with the graphics settings on low). Although, if you’re obsessed with framerates, you’ll probably be dismayed to hear that I only got about 20-30 FPS – but the game was still very playable.

Finally, I should probably warn you that this review may contain some minor SPOILERS.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines”:

vampire-the-masquerade-title-screen

“Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” is an action role-playing game which takes place in Los Angeles.

You play as a freshly-created vampire who is due to be executed because the person responsible for turning you into a vampire didn’t get permission from the city’s vampiric elders. However, the aristocratic Prince LaCroix is feeling unusually merciful, and spares your life on the condition that you serve him.

As you can probably tell from the public executions, these vampires are a rather old-fashioned lot.

As you can probably tell from the public executions, these vampires are a rather old-fashioned lot.

Soon, you find yourself thrown into a web of conspiracies, politics and crime. To say too much more would be to spoil the game’s brilliantly complex story, but – like in any role-playing game – you get to have a certain degree of influence over how the events of the game play out.

The character creation options in this game are slightly strange. In addition to choosing your character’s gender and stats, you also have to choose from one of seven “clans” – each one has different specialities and abilities. However, each clan only has two character models – but your character can find alternate outfits (which also serve as a type of armour) throughout the game.

From everything that I’d read before playing this game, it’s apparently best to avoid the “Malkavian” and “Nosferatu” clans on your first playthrough since these choices cause quite significant gameplay changes.

Although there is also a quiz that you can take which will help you choose your clan, I ended up going for the Tremere clan for the simple reason that I got to play as a cool goth character who wears shades at night and can use magic spells.

 This game is amazingly badass :)

This game is amazingly badass πŸ™‚

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that it is atmospheric. Seriously, it’s been a long time since a game has made this much of an impression on me! The style and atmosphere of the whole game is vaguely reminiscent of a brilliant TV show called “Angel“, albeit with a gloomier and more cynical atmosphere.

Although “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” isn’t the kind of horror game that will literally make you jump out of your chair with fright, this isn’t to say that it doesn’t contain any horror.

Although there are small amounts of many different types of horror (eg: psychological horror, supernatural horror, startling horror, body horror, gory horror, implied horror, gothic horror, Lovecraftian horror etc…) sprinkled throughout the game, most of the horror is almost subliminally subtle and it comes from the bleak and amoral hidden world that your character lives in and the hard choices that you are forced to make.

Often, the “evil” choice in any situation is presented as being the easier and/or more rewarding of the two. So, expect to feel disgusted/disturbed/creeped out at yourself at least once or twice after you finish playing.

For example, you can annoy this character by taking the moral high ground and refusing to vandalise a local art gallery for her. Or you can vandalise it, get money, get experience points, end a blood feud and make a new ally. Your choice.

For example, you can annoy this character by taking the moral high ground and refusing to vandalise a local art gallery for her. Or you can vandalise it, get money, get experience points, end a blood feud and make a new ally. Your choice.

But, a lot of this gloom is offset with some truly brilliant moments of dark comedy, which help to prevent the game from becoming too depressing. Most of the time, the humour is kept fairly subtle, but it’s great to see a game that doesn’t take itself entirely seriously….

Like good old Officer Chunk, a heartwarming beacon of friendliness and goodwill.

Like good old Officer Chunk, a heartwarming beacon of friendliness and goodwill.

 Turning the corner and seeing THIS is pretty much the game's only jump scare. But, it's only an adorable statue, with a hilarious note next to it.

Turning the corner and seeing THIS is one of the game’s very few jump scares. But, it’s only an adorable statue, with a hilarious note next to it.

As for the location design, there are gothic areas that look like something from “American Mc Gee’s Alice”, there are nightclubs you can dance in, there are “film noir”-style city streets, there’s a creepy haunted house, there are… so many cool places.

 Curiouser and curiouser, this is like "American McGee's Alice" all over again :)

Curiouser and curiouser, this is like “American McGee’s Alice” all over again πŸ™‚

And, just look at that cityscape! It almost looks like something from "Blade Runner" :)

And, just look at that cityscape! It almost looks like something from “Blade Runner” πŸ™‚

And this pier :) The music that plays in this part of the game is really cool too :)

And this pier πŸ™‚ The music that plays in this part of the game is really cool too πŸ™‚

The gameplay in “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” is a really interesting mixture of things. You can switch between a first-person and third-person perspective at will, and this allows the game to include a dazzling variety of gameplay types like melee combat, first-person shooting, exploration, stealth segments, puzzles, moral choices etc…

In addition to this, the game includes some vampire-specific gameplay features. For example, you need blood in order to use your character’s special abilities. But, you have to be careful how you drink blood – if a passer-by sees you drinking someone’s blood, then you lose a “masquerade” point and, if you drink literally all of someone’s blood, then you lose a “humanity” point. These are two scores that you have to be very careful about preserving, since bad things tend to happen if either score gets too low.

Of course, you can avoid this risk by either buying blood from a rather dodgy guy who lives in the hospital basement, by consuming any rats that happen to be scurrying through the sewers or by either seducing or paying another character (and pretending to kiss them, whilst secretly drinking their blood). As I said earlier, it’s a game which will sometimes leave you feeling slightly disgusted at yourself after you play it.

The health system in this game is kind of interesting too. Although it includes the dreaded regenerating health, this game handles it in a fairly sensible way that actually helps to add some challenge to the game (rather than just turning it into a toned down “god mode” cheat).

Yes, this game has regenerating health. But, it’s the good kind of regenerating health..

Although your health regenerates, it does this very slowly – giving the player an incentive to avoid damage. Although health regeneration can be accelerated by drinking blood, there aren’t really any “health items” in the game (except possibly the “elder vitae” item). So, combat in the game can end up being more challenging than you might expect.

Although this game is a fairly non-linear thing, it also includes some truly brilliant set-pieces too – which also help to keep the gameplay interesting. For example, at one point in the game, there’s a “Timesplitters”-style area where you have to defend the gates of a cemetary against hordes of zombies for five minutes. This is so cool!

And, yes, there's even a "BRAINS" damage bar when the zombies attack you. This game is awesome!

And, yes, there’s even a “BRAINS” damage bar when the zombies attack you. This game is awesome!

Surprisingly, the huge variety of gameplay types here all work fairly well. Even though I normally loathe and despise stealth mechanics in games, this one isn’t too frustrating. Not only is there a meter that clearly tells you how much attention nearby henchmen are paying to you but, if you increase the right stats, then you can be right next to an adversary and they still won’t notice you as long as you are crouching.

Even though I'm literally crouching next to these two heavily-armed guys, they don't notice me. Finally! A non-annoying stealth system!

Even though I’m literally crouching next to these two heavily-armed guys, they don’t notice me. Finally! A non-annoying stealth system!

Seriously, the only flaws I found with the gameplay is that a few of the game’s puzzles confused me enough to make me check a walkthrough and that some of the quests involve a bit too much “back and forth”, which is especially annoying given the loading screens that appear whenever you enter or leave a defined area in the game.

Yes, some of the messages can be interesting. But, still, these screens can get annoying after a while.

Yes, some of the messages can be interesting. But, still, these screens can get annoying after a while.

Likewise, at two points, the game randomly froze up and demanded that I inserted a disc. Thankfully, closing the program and starting it again solved the problem on both occasions. But, since games sold on GOG are meant to be DRM free, this sudden intrusion from the malingering ghost of the game’s original DRM wasn’t exactly welcome.

Thankfully, this only happened twice and didn't happen when I restarted the program and reloaded my saved game. But, still... it was annoying!

Thankfully, this only happened twice and didn’t happen when I restarted the program and reloaded my saved game. But, still… it was annoying!

The game itself is split into four outdoor “hub” areas, various buildings and a fair number of mission-specific areas. The hub areas are large enough to be interesting to explore, but small enough that you won’t get lost for too long either. You can also travel at will between any hub areas you’ve unlocked by finding a taxi (which is a New York-style yellow taxi, despite the game being set in California).

The "Downtown" hub has a wonderfully 1990s-style "film noir" look to it :)

The “Downtown” hub has a wonderfully 1990s-style “film noir” look to it πŸ™‚

And, later in the game, you also get to visit Chinatown too.

And, later in the game, you also get to visit Chinatown too.

Although there are some missions that you have to complete in order to progress, there are also optional missions that you can accept in order to gain more money or experience points. Some of these are interesting, some required me to use a walkthrough, some I completely missed altogether and some of them can be repetitive and dull.

Interestingly, the later parts of the game switch to a much more action/stealth-based style of gameplay. Amongst other things, the level before the final boss battle bears a strong resemblance to something from “Deus Ex” or “Half Life”. Like in “Deus Ex”, this is a level that you can complete using either stealth or mindless violence. Or both.

In terms of the dialogue and voice-acting, this game is absolutely stellar. Not only is the dialogue realistic, witty and filled with fascinating background information, but it’s accompanied by the kind of voice-acting that seems so natural that you usually won’t even think of it as “voice-acting” (the only exception is a character called Brother Kanker, whose voice acting is unintentionally hilarious). This allows the game to carry off some truly spectacular dramatic moments that might leave you shocked and some moments that will make you laugh out loud:

Glad to see that the game devs haven't let financial considerations affect the game in any way...

Glad to see that the game devs haven’t let financial considerations affect the game in any way…

The game’s story is the kind of deep, complex compelling thing that will keep you playing even during some of the more boring missions. Although I won’t spoil any major plot points, it seems to be one of those games which – like the film “Blade Runner” – makes you feel like you’ve only scratched the surface of something much greater. As you would expect, this is also one of those games that contains multiple endings depending on the choices you make during the game.

In terms of length, this is a full-length game… and then some! Seriously, this is the kind of game that pretty much demands to be binge-played in 2-4 hour sessions. Not only that, you’ll probably have quite a few of these sessions before you eventually finish the game. Whilst the game does a good job with holding the player’s interest throughout it’s marathon-like length, there are a few parts (especially near the end) that feel like unnecessary padding.

The music in this game is, in a word, amazing. Although most of it is the kind of ominous instrumental music that you’d expect in a horror game, it also includes a really brilliant licenced soundtrack too. One of the most amazing moments in the game was near the beginning, when I entered a nightclub (whose lobby was plastered with Bella Morte and Ghoultown posters!) and was given the opportunity to dance to a really cool gothic rock song called “Isolated” by Chiasm.

Yes, I literally spent something like three minutes dancing. It was amazing!

Yes, I literally spent something like three minutes dancing. It was amazing!

Likewise, another outstanding musical moment is when you are standing on the beach with an assortment of other characters and, over the rain and the crashing of the waves, Darling Violetta’s “A Smaller God” plays on a radio in the background. This moment is both relaxing and bleak, mundane and breathtakingly sublime.

All in all, this is probably the closest thing to a “perfect” game that I’ve played in a while. Even though it has a few small flaws, it contains a brilliant mixture of exploration, atmospheric storytelling, dark humour, gothic horror, subtle horror and thrilling combat. It’s a complex, fascinating game that is more than worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as classic games like “Deus Ex”.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

Three Tips For Writing Subtle Horror (That I Learnt From Playing A Computer Game)

(Sorry about all of the recycled title art, I was busy making a webcomic [for late November] at the time of writing)

(Sorry about all of the recycled title art, I was busy making a webcomic [for late November] at the time of writing)

Well, with Halloween only a couple of weeks away, I thought that I’d write another article about the horror genre. In particular, I thought that I’d focus on how to write subtle horror.

This was mostly inspired by the fact that, a few days before writing this article, I’d bought and had started playing a classic mid-2000s gothic horror computer game called “Vampire: The Masquerade- Bloodlines” (Note: This article may contain some mild SPOILERS for it).

Although it’ll be a few days until I review this game properly, one of the interesting things about it is that there don’t really seem to be any moments that will really make you jump or make you feel intensely terrified. Seriously, even moments that could be jump scares just tend to seem more like joyously affectionate tributes to the horror genre. Like this:

 To be honest, I'd be more surprised if creepy writing HADN'T  suddenly appeared on the wall of this haunted room!

To be honest, I’d be more surprised if creepy writing HADN’T suddenly appeared on the wall of this haunted room!

But, if you play it for a while then it can leave you in a slightly bleak, apprehensive and creeped-out kind of mood afterwards. In other words, it’s the perfect example of subtle horror done well. The horror is so subtle that you don’t notice it at the time (since you’re too engrossed in the game’s story etc..) – but it gradually builds up over time.

But, how can any of this stuff translate into horror fiction? Well, the game contains a lot of very interesting horror techniques. Here are three of them – the first one is kind of obvious, but the other two are techniques you might not have heard of before.

1) Atmosphere and worldbuilding: One of the best ways to add subtle horror to any of your stories is to make the “world” of your story slightly creepy and/or menacing. This can be done through lots of subtly disturbing and/or depressing descriptions. But, it’s also worth thinking about the “atmosphere” of your setting as a whole.

For example, although “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” is set in a really cool-looking film-noir version of early-2000s Los Angeles (which is reminiscent of the TV show “Angel), this location is shown to be a place where crime is rampant, where everyone has some kind of agenda, where shadowy conspiracies move in the background etc.. In other words, it’s a bleak and hostile environment. It’s a place that feels hollow and menacing. But, this isn’t immediately obvious to the player, since it looks so amazingly cool on the surface.

All of this horror seeps into the player’s imagination through lots of subtle details. Whether it’s comments from some of the background characters you encounter, whether it’s the ominous disused buildings you see sometimes, whether it’s the fact that your character has to keep their vampiric nature hidden from ordinary people etc.. all of these things add up to a suitably creepy atmosphere. Even if, on their own, none of these things would be particularly creepy.

2) Dark comedy… with a sting: One of the best ways to introduce some subtle, creeping horror into your story is to include some dark comedy which makes the audience laugh at first, until they eventually happen to think through the implications of what they’ve just been laughing at.

For example, your character in “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” is a vampire and, as such, has to drink blood occasionally. One way that your character can obtain blood is to discreetly buy it from the blood bank at the local hospital. The medical technician selling the blood is pretty much the dictionary definition of “probably a serial killer”. The fact that a character like this is somehow working in a hospital without anyone noticing, is a classic example of subtle dark humour.

Of course, later in the game, you can save someone from being drained of blood by this guy. When he notices that you’ve done this, he indignantly storms off in a huff and refuses to sell you any blood unless you find him another victim. The way that this scene is scripted is absolutely hilarious in about the most twisted way possible. But, when you actually think about it a while later, it’ll probably send a shiver down your spine.

The trick to adding a bit of a sting to the dark humour in your story is to make sure that the comedic parts rely heavily on both implications and on character reactions, but to also show some of the reality of whatever horrible events are or were happening. So, when the audience eventually stops laughing, they have something to be horrified by.

3) Morality and circumstance: One way to add some subtle creepiness to your story is to place the main character and/or the supporting characters in situations where they pretty much have to do something immoral.

It doesn’t matter whether this action is illegal or not, it has to be immoral if it is going to disturb the audience (eg: a private detective breaking into a building to solve a serious crime might be illegal, but not always immoral – and it is a common non-scary part of the detective genre. On the other hand, the private detective having to work for someone slightly dodgy because they need the cash would be legal, but immoral.. and much more disturbing).

Contrary to what critics of the horror genre might say, a lot of horror is horrifying because the audience has a moral compass.

Going back to the game I’ve been talking about, there are almost too many examples of this to list. Although it’s probably theoretically possible to play the game as some kind of paragon of virtue, the ridiculous difficulty of doing so pretty much forces you to play as a slightly evil character. In many situations, the “evil” choice is actually presented as the easier or more rewarding one. Even though the game does contain a morality system, it has countless blind spots and a generous tolerance for “breaking the rules”.

And this is how the game can creep you out in a subtle way that you don’t even notice until you’ve been playing for an hour or two. Because you’re so immersed in the events of the story, and so eager to progress – you’re more likely to make moral decisions which, when you think about them later, will leave you feeling slightly disgusted at yourself.

So, yes, morality is a huge part of the horror genre. If you find a way to place a sympathetic character in a situation where they are forced to act immorally (even in a subtle way), then you’ll be able to creep out your audience in a fairly subtle way.

—————–

Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚