Stake Lane Hotel


Summary:

Stake Lane Hotel is an Unreal Engine 4 Horror game created by me in two weeks using assets from the Unreal Marketplace. My goal with this gameplay experience was to invoke an eerie feeling with the player which would affect him or her after the game was finished.


Specifications:

  • Created in two weeks
  • Made using Unreal Marketplace assets
  • Custom visual scripts created by me
  • Custom sound effects created using Audacity and Freesound

Getting Inspired

During my summer break last year, I wanted to create some kind of gameplay experience using Unreal Engine. After having played the Playstation teaser game called P.T., I felt motivated to make something similar. The mechanics of the game and the scripting seemed relatively simple to me at the time, so that meant I would be able to spend more time polishing my level and less time setting up the functionality of the game.


First of all, I created a concept top-down map using a pen and paper where I specified all of the different gameplay event locations and the functionality needed to bring the experience to life. Once that was finished, I bought a package from the Unreal marketplace that would suit my needs, and I started to block out my level using that package.


Since the package was created by a person and not a company, I was unable to get a hold of the creator. Therefore I had to rely on Googling and logical thinking to get to know the package and its assets. Advanced functionality such as doors with rigged skeletons, layered materials and various post processing effects were available to me via a sample level in the package, so the first-person head bobbing effect, the footstep sounds and some triggers were really all I needed to create to get started.

Creating the features I need to get started

Features First

Making a top-down map with all of the different events I wanted the player to experience enabled me to find solutions online to the different features I wanted to implement. Once I was done creating all of the triggers and functions needed to create my gameplay experience, I started to work on the atmosphere and the lighting.


My main goal was to create an eerie feeling for the player, build it up and then release the tension with a jump scare segment towards the end. In order to scare the player, I felt that immersing the player early on was necessary. The footstep sounds, the flickering light and the subtle buzzing sound coming from the lights were just a few of the additions I made to the level which made the experience more immersive.

Let there be light

Not too loud, not too quiet

Conveying Tension

During playtesting, I felt that the surrounding environment was too quiet. Even in quiet sections of horror games and movies, there is seldom a moment where complete silence is present during longer periods of time.


Therefore, I added a subtle eerie humming noise in the background which was present during the whole playthrough. This sound proved to make a huge difference to the atmosphere and feel of the level. Later I also used the volume of the sound as a way to convey tension during build up segments. An example of this is when the baby starts crying and then suddenly stops when the player gets near a door.

Telling Half of the Story

It was important to me that the player felt uneasy about the environment. I think that one way to accomplish that is to not explain everything to the player, so the level consists mostly of build ups and subtle messages conveyed through triggers and sounds.


I believe that once you show the player exactly what they are supposed to be afraid of, that thing becomes much less scary because you know exactly what it is. If I instead were to allow the player to use his or her imagination however, even the most subtle messages can be easily amplified. Therefore, a lot of events in the level seem to happen at random and there is no real story being told throughout the gameplay experience.


Instead, the absense of logic and context leaves room for interpretation and imaginative thinking.

A strange man seen briefly in a flash of light

The room with the recorder

Structure and Timing

In the final version, the game consisted of three parts; the build up, the jump scare and the eerie ending. The build up is the longest part in the level and it consists of several segments designed to make the player feel more and more tense.


The first segment has a room with a recorder in it. When the player walks up to the recorder a 911 call starts playing and the lights in the room start to die out. At the end of the call, a strange man is shown briefly in a flash of light and then the door to the hallway opens up.


The purpose of this segment is to set up the mood for the player while starting to build up tension. The 911 call is something I found on YouTube and the original unedited version centered around the ever popular slender man character.

After the door opens, a baby starts crying in the room next to the one the player is in. The crying baby from the game P.T. made me feel extremely uneasy so I really wanted a crying baby segment in my level as well (I know, that sounds really weird).


Once the player gets close to the door leading to the room with the crying baby sound, the crying stops and the room is seemingly empty except for a table with some props on top of it. Hopefully, the player expected some kind of jump scare at this point, and the absence of it will make the player feel even more tense.

The crying stops and a new room is revealed

Stacking Emotional Responses

Upon closer inspection of the table, the player can see blood splatters and a fetus in a jar. This is meant to disgust the player, adding to the stack of emotions that have been built up so far. The female laughter occuring while the player is near the table and the door opening by itself at the other end of the room is the final segment of the build up part. At this point the player will hopefully be both immersed and scared, knowing a jump scare could occur at any minute.


I know the props are creepy, that's why I paid money for them

The main jump scare in the level, the one where the woman passes by the door outside of the room, serves as the release of the tension built up during the level. The woman running towards the player before the end is meant to leave the player feeling uneasy even after the game is over.

Are you still there?

Closing Thoughts

Overall, I felt really satisfied with the result given the fact that it was made in just two weeks. Some sounds, including the footstep sounds, are slightly out of sync making the experience less immersive and less scary. Given more time I would have polished the different triggers and sounds further in order to get the timing just right. In my opinion, timing can make or break a scary segment in a game and getting it right proved to be really difficult.


I would also fix the last part of the level, where the woman runs up towards the camera, replacing it with something like the lights turning off after you see the silhouette of the character at the end of the hallway. I received feedback regarding this part where some people felt it was the least scary. The player gets to see too much of the character which makes her much less scary and I agree with them.


I learned a lot while creating this level. I later applied many of the techniques I used in this project to many other projects I created at The Game Assembly. So overall I am very satisfied with the results.

Screenshots

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