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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Amnesia's creative director on what makes a scary video game

Illustration for article titled Amnesia's creative director on what makes a scary video game
Screenshot: Frictional Games

Frictional Games is responsible for some of the scariest video games ever made, from the oppressive and ominous Amnesia: The Dark Descent to the existentially harrowing sci-fi of 2015's Soma. With the latest entry to the series, Amnesia: Rebirth, coming out next week, Ars Technica spoke with Thomas Grip, Frictional’s creative director, about how his studio approaches the task of scaring the living shit out of players.

Grip starts off by describing the surprising popularity of The Dark Descent, which became a viral hit on the strength of the outsized reactions it generated from people streaming themselves screaming and jumping out of their seats while playing through it. (The greatest Amnesia-caused horror is probably that it helped give PewDiePie a career.) He talks about how the game’s scares were dependent on its audience’s imagination, the player not knowing exactly how the experience was designed, and building a relationship with a protagonist who feels both vulnerable and relatable. Grip, with references to The Exorcist, also discusses the importance of imparting lingering fear through a game’s narrative, rather than simply walking them through a spooky “carnival.”


This approach becomes even more clear in his discussion of Soma. Grip says the game intended to make players reflect on “their own place in the world” and themes of “consciousness” by using the longer running-time of a game to allow space to dwell on these concepts. On a more technical level, he also talks about subjects like how to keep monsters from becoming predictable and just how important it is to use light sources like candles, torches, and matches, to drive player exploration while also freaking them the hell out.

Watch the entire video for more of Grip’s thoughts on horror game design and a discussion of how the lessons learned making his studio’s past games have led to Amnesia: Rebirth.

Amnesia: Rebirth releases on October 20th on PC and PlayStation 4.

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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Reid's a writer and editor who has appeared at GQ, Playboy, and Paste. He also co-created and writes for videogame sites Bullet Points Monthly and Digital Love Child.