Anyone whose watched a good horror movie will tell you the best scares are the ones that are timed to perfection.
One of my faves occurs in Jaws. As Richard Dreyfuss's Hooper dives to inspect the wrecked hull of a fishing boat he finds a huge tooth stuck in the hull. As the audience is intreaged by the mystery and wondering if he's going to be gobbled up at any second they don't see the manky de-occulard head of Ben Gardner coming as is looms out of the darkness for a perfect scare.
Its a brilliant moment and one that terrified me as a kid. It's the set up that makes it work so well. The audience know the scares are coming but they're taken completely off guard as the timing is just slightly off. The shot lingers on the tooth a little too long and our brains are programmed to think that the scene is drawing to an end.
In most game environments it's fairly easy to control the timing of events. The mapper has control of when and where bad guys spawn and has full control over the environment where the events will take place.
Left 4 Dead's director makes this a little more tricky. Infected spawn at the directors command and while threat markers can denote areas where witches and tanks spawn its hard to be precise. This is where some cheeky forced spawning can come in handy.
It's possible to spawn any special infected including witches and tanks via a trigger. Here's the link if you want to know how. http://www.fpsbanana.com/tuts/7881
So utilising this forced spawning I'm striving to create a full on perfectly timed horror moment.
The team are at the end of a long corridor at a power box. As they hit the power switch the lights come on one at a time. First above them then a little further down the corridor and eventually lighting the whole length or the corridor.
It's a the timing of the lights coming on that will create the tension here. Accompanied with each light coming on will be a heavy metallic thud. Each light is timed about 2 seconds apart. So the player experiences an ominous build up.
Boom... boom... boom... boom... just before the last light comes on I force spawn a tank in the final darkened area. BOOM! TAAAANK!
I have this working in a proof of concept map at the moment and have been tinkering with the timing to get the feeling just right. The gaps between each light coming on are the key to the tension.
Oh and I'm aware that lights don't generally go boom when they come on but watch any movie with a dramatic reveal and I bet you $100 its accompanied with a big sound.
I'll post the test map here when I'm happy with it. I may even add a panic event just after the reveal to really pile on the pressure!
Cheers for now!