Through the ideas stage of designing my game level, I decided that I wanted my cave section (where the enemy will reside) to include horror elements. Following this decision, I began to look for inspiration in various media to find out how exactly horror is achieved through audio specifically. I started by research with Layers of Fear by Blooper Team.
In Layers of Fear you play as a disturbed painter trying to complete his most important piece of work, his "Magnum Opus". Due to his mental instability while traversing his home, scary and strange things begin to occur causing frights to the player. The game has simple gameplay where the player mostly walks around a large mansion-style house, interacting with doors and items. While the game doesn't include any sort of the enemies that I am planning for my game, the way the ambience and sparse use of sound effects build tension as you walk through this building is something I am looking to recreate.
The initial area of the game is the porch of the building where the audio is completely diegetic, consisting of muffled rain and thunder sounds from outside and footsteps when the player moves. This grounds the player into the game world, making it feel believable straight away. As soon as you enter the foyer of the building, the peaceful yet slightly unnerving non-diegetic piano music begins. From this point the player is able to explore some of the unlocked rooms in the house at their own pace. As the music is constantly present throughout this section, it gives the player a sense of security in what is a creepy and lonely environment.
The way tension is built is initially showcased when the player makes their way down to the basement. Upon descending into the darkness, the music cuts out completely. This instantly instills dread into the player, causing their senses to heighten as they become very aware of their surroundings. After clambering around in the basement and hearing the odd rustle and squeak of a rat, it is apparent that this moment is ultimately a red herring. After leaving the basement, the music is introduced back into the mix. As an introduction, this is an effective way of putting the player slightly on edge as a taster of what is to come.
When progressing further into the game, the ability to freely explore is taken away as the perceived architecture of the building warps into a more linear experience while the character's mind deteriorates. The music shifts from the coherent classic piano tune, to a more abstract drone based soundtrack. At this point the game uses similar technique to build tension, now with added jump scares to frighten the player. I noticed an audio sequence loop within the general ambience while playing. It would begin with louder environmental diegetic sounds alongside non-diegetic drones in the background. This would then quiet down as the player approaches an interactable such as a door. Once the door is opened there would either be a loud jump scare followed by a scary visual to match, or the soundtrack would revert to the initial state with the drones. This varies the outcome of such events to subvert the player's expectations, attempting to avoid repetitiveness. However, I believe this trick would more often than not lead to a jump scare which I eventually began to anticipate, reducing its effectiveness.
Overall the soundscape of the game is very impressive. I particularly enjoyed the use of silence when approaching uncertainty. Unfortunately the game often has some cliché jump scares and audio assets such as frequent use of dry ice on metal to create screeches, which I personally think is overused in horror. In my project I will take inspiration from the sparse sound design during quiet moments to build a false sense of security, ready for when I need to ramp up the tension.