Sonophobia as a VR game was based around a game mechanic of navigating a dark environment with a radar-like vision that is provided in spurts rather than a consistent view. The initial goal was integrating this mechanic and gameplay within a VR game and provide a story that would benefit from this mechanic. Looking at other VR games for inspiration I looked at the Stifled for inspiration primarily on how it used a very similar radar vision mechanic. This provided us with a precedence study on how to layout a dark environment that required the use of radar rather than a useful tool. The VR game Face your Fears was a game we wanted to emulate in its use of mood, atmosphere, ambiance and sound design as it really captured a sense of horror. Sonophobia use of sound effects, voices, spatial/ directional sound and background music is in part trying to capture the same unnerving, suspenseful horror motif that can be found in Face your Fears.
The game flow of Sonophobia has gone through quite a few transformations as the initial design was to incorporate complex puzzles that would be a side game that wasn’t necessary until the end of the game. This involved collecting and carrying objects until the end of the game. The puzzles at this point where riddle based and involved the player solving a riddle that corresponds to a symbol in-game.
The game was changed to better incorporate the puzzles into the main gameplay making them essential for progression. The core elements of our game are escaping a demon in a dark room and avoiding him at all costs. The puzzles now come into play as a tool used to escape the level. The player can still navigate the dark space and avoid the demon and finally find the escape door but they are presented with 3 possibilities. How do they know which is the correct door? The 360 video within the level provides tells them the correct door. The puzzles were now much more simple and involved the player looking around a 360 landscape or room for a hidden number much like an “I spy game.”
The last change to the game flow is due to how we were presenting the game upon submission. Originally it would be a performance piece where you can see the player playing the game within a dark room with night vision and as they would walk in the real world they would move the same distance in the game world scaling things on a 1:1 level. Unfortunately, this wasn’t going to be a possibility so changes were made to scale down to 4 levels instead of 5 and expand the scale of the game for the directional pad on the Occulus Quest controller.
With Sonophobia the story was created around the gameplay mechanics and progression structure. Brainstorming ideas, we had come up with quite a few prominent ones listed below:
- Do you enter the wrong apartment? Neighbour has exotic pet ie. creature
- You are being kidnapped?
- You have lost your sight, hallucinating monster?
- Your a thief blackout occurs, the monster is the homeowner
- You have summoned a demon….he took away your sight
- You’ve been cursed in eternal darkness… solve the puzzles in order to regain your sight/light
- Oh no, you accidentally joined a cult and summoned the dark lord Cthulhu, in order to summon his brother Kthanid to defeat Cthulhu and solve these puzzles and complete the ritual
- Enter the dark dimension escape the overlord
- Your an astronaut who has entered a black hole, your senses disappear one by one, you begin to hallucinate a place of comfort (puzzle rooms) the monster signifies your death which is inevitable. Puzzles are your messages transmitting home (2001 space odyssey/ interstellar)
- Blindfolded sacrificial lamb for a cult
The final story for Sonophobia involves the player hired as an agent to investigate a cult that is summoning a demon. Previous failed missions have told you that the cult ritual takes away your eyesight and knowing this you are provided with a device that helps you to navigate the dark with a radar-like vision. Your task is to verify if indeed the cult summons a demon and return alive with this information, unlike previous agents that gave gone missing. To escape you have to navigate the dark environment and escape from the demon who is in active pursuit of you.
Aspects of the game which were developed through countless playtesting sessions were the inclusion of a demo and ending stage as extra parts of the playable levels to ease the player in and provide them with time to practice the game mechanics and get accustomed to the VR experience before starting the game. This also provided us a space to place our story exposition to provide the player with a sense of purpose and orientation mitigating and confusion as to what they are supposed to do in the game and being disinterested because it is overwhelming. Playtesting each build of the game allowed us to polish our radar mechanic and navigation within the game which was key in making the game work. It was also because of playtesting we made changes to the story for an updated script as well as change our game structure to better incorporate our 360 video puzzles.
Another aspect of Sonophobia that I was a part of was in helping with the in-game demon enemy we as a group named “Steve.” Once Steve was sculpted and rigged in Blender by Donato, had an enemy tracking system in Unity by Ermar, and had a voice captured and synthesized by Sam, I added character animation in Blender for Steve. Unlike a smooth moving animation, the team decided on something more akin to a set of poses Steve would jump through as you only get glimpses of him moving with the radar vision so he is always in a different pose. This is can be described as someone moving through strobing lights in a possessed scary manner.
With Sonophobia nearing completion our as a team we are shifting to more on documentation, building upon our website draft, a trailer, and marketing material. Since the final build is still in tuning and testing we are awaiting screencaps and captured footage of gameplay for marketing material for the website. In the mean-time, I was able to create some cover art for the game as a place holder that conveys the basic concepts of the game.