Saturday, November 1, 2014

Happy Day After Halloween!
One of my talks in my level design class is about making scary level design - the same lessons I learned from making physical haunted houses. I thought I'd share these lessons with you for your own scary levels (and haunts)!
1. Set up the scary - the line in is just as important as the haunted house. If you build a scary environment that leads up to the haunted house, you are giving the player the message that this location will be scary. Use lighting, sound and very simple atmospheric effects to build tension. Make sure the player sees the weenie of the Haunted House, so they always know where they are headed - into danger.
2. Empty rooms build tension - Haunted Houses are like roller coasters - you need to go up before you drop down. Not every room needs a scare, put a room or two between each scare to really ratchet things up. Alternate between big and small rooms to create changes in mood - tight, narrow rooms and hallways create mystery and tension, big rooms create relief, but can also cause unease due to scale. The scariest room I ever went through in a haunted house was a closet filled with hanging clothing. There were no scares, but because I had to push through the clothes and into the darkness to get through, it was terrifying - creating an environment that preyed on childhood fears.
3. Create unease with lighting - Many games forget to use basic lighting stage effects like gobos and cookies to create interesting patterns and textures. These lighting effects can be very effective to create mood. Strobes are also good but use them too much and you'll make people dizzy
4. Shadows make monsters scarier - The best monsters are the ones you can't quite see. Think about how little of the beast you saw in the movie "Alien" - that's what made it scary. However, you want to be careful with pitch darkness because that causes people to stop. You want to keep them moving by giving them something to move towards however if you want a monster to jump out of the dark, precede it with light so the darkness seems darker when they get to it
5. Use all available sense - There are two types of scary environments: Terror and Horror. Terror works on fear - fear of the unknown, of darkness of mystery. Horror works on revulsion - fear of death, fear of body, fear of filth. Terror is easy to do with lighting, sound and sight, however horror - gross things - requires touch and smell - trickier to do and not often done. In a physical haunted house, you can try simple things like alternating the textures of the surfaces on the floor or the hanging partitions (I recently went through a haunted house where the "drapes" that you passed through to get into a slaughterhouse felt like rough leather or beef jerky - it was very effective in giving the room some "feeling") - maybe once haptic controls become common, horror will be more effective.
6. Don't overdo the gross - this is my personal opinion, but too much guts and blood becomes numbing. In video games, we don't have the two senses - smell and touch - available that makes horror gross. After a while all those severed hanging torsos start to look like macabre Christmas decorations. To have a greater effect, use gore sparingly.
7. Corners are the scariest places - Corners not only obscure vision but hide things. It's a spot where the player will slow down, but you will also build the tension. It's even better if you can have a sound or a shadow cast on the wall to let the player know their worst fears are confirmed and there IS something lurking around the corner.
8. Let them know it's coming - jump scares are fine, but they tend to wear down victims... er players. I find it's just as scary to have something sitting in the middle of the room that the player thinks might do something, but they are not quite sure if it will or not. These are things like beds or chairs with figures sitting in them. The player knows the character is going to sprung up and the tension of having to pass by or move around it can create an excellent scare. Even better, in video games we can use alternate cameras to show what is coming from behind them or we can use alternate viewing interfaces like motion detectors (like in Alien: Isolation) or special senses (like in the Last of Us) to show us that the baddie is almost on top of us.
Some essential games to play: Dead Space 1 and 2, Resident Evil 2, The Last of Us, The original Alone in the Dark, Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly, Silent Hill, Haunting Ground, Luigi's Mansion

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Second Edition of Level Up! available for pre-order!

Super-exciting! The second edition of Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design is now available for PRE-ORDER at

You'll notice right away something different about Level Up! 2nd Edition - that's right, the cover is ORANGE!
Why the color change? I wanted to let Level Up! readers know that this new edition isn't just a few corrections or a couple of pages of content updates - there is a lot of NEW content throughout the entire book! The gaming industry has changed quite a bit since I wrote Level Up! in 2009 and I wanted the new edition to reflect that. Here's a few of the new topics covered in the second edition:
  • Designing for mobile games
  • Monetization strategies
  • Free to Play and other publishing models
  • Touch screen controls
  • In-depth look at Game Genres
  • In-depth look at combat (and non-combat) mechanics
  • New illustrations!
  • An introduction by God of War creative director David Jaffe
  • and yes... a BRAND NEW CHILI RECIPE!!!
Now before you rush over to buy your copy of Level Up! 2nd edition, I ask that you please consider ordering through the link on this blog. You'll find it located on the right. Just look for the ORANGE cover to Level Up! 2nd edition. 
As a brand-spanking new member of Amazon's Author Affiliate program, I get a small percentage on every book sold this using the link. In fact, I have several links to great items sold on Amazon and I'd appreciate your business when you use the link to pre-order your copy of Level Up! 2nd edition.

Speaking of Amazon, if you like Level Up! 2nd edition and want to write a review on Amazon about the book, I would really really really appreciate it. Every review helps spread the word about the book and I was honored to receive so many great reviews for Level Up! the first time around, I hope you all do it again for Level Up! 2nd edition.

Thanks and happy reading!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


Wiley & Sons is publishing a SECOND EDITION of Level Up!

Since Level Up!'s release in 2010, the game industry has evolved with the rise of mobile gaming, social gaming, monetization and touch controls. (to name a few) Level Up! 2nd edition has been completely revised to address these topics and more - expanding on everything in the first edition. There's even a new introduction by God of War's David Jaffe, new artwork and a delicious new chili recipe! I hope you'll find Level Up! 2nd edition a home on your game design bookshelf.

Level Up! Second Edition will be released this summer everywhere books and e-books are sold.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Not just video games!

Happy 2014!

When I first started Mr Boss's Design Lair, I added the phrase "and other nonsense" just in case. Well, it's time for some other nonsense! Still game related of course!

(not my shelf... mine is much bigger!)

Over the past year I've rekindled my love of tabletop games. Tabletop games is the new term for board and card games. There's something great about tabletop games - their replayability, the elegant systems, the tactility, the toy-like bits, the wide variety of themes and a chance to interact with human beings - that sets them apart from video games.

(It's just like a video game, but your cat can knock it over!)

I remember going into dusty game stores filled with Grognards (Gamers that look like the guys from Duck Dynasty) to try to find a board game that wasn't about World War 2. Or the Civil War. Or the Napoleonic Wars. Of the Crimean Wars. Or the Roman Empire. Usually I was out of luck. But nowadays we are in a golden age of tabletop gaming! They are so easy to find (just go to Barnes and Noble or Target or Toys R Us!) and there is something that appeals to just about everyone.

(For the record, I love games with miniatures, modular boards and dice rolling)

I've always loved playing tabletop games and own quite a few. Ever since I was a kid, I always liked designing them. They're probably part of what led me to become a video game designer. You can learn a lot about making games by making tabletop games.

That's why this year I have issued myself a challenge - to design a tabletop game a month over the year.

I plan on detailing the process of making a board game and publishing the results right here for you to play! My criteria is this:

1) The game can be of any theme
2) The game can be of any genre - from cards to miniatures - from Ameritrash to Euro
3) The game must reach alpha - it must be a completely playable game with very few (if any) bugs
4) The game can be playtest able - most of them will be available as free "print and play" games at this website - or they will be playable by downloading the rules and using stand-in pieces from other games

And if you haven't dipped your toe into tabletop gaming yet, I'll be posting some reviews of some my all-time favorites over the following year.

I'm really looking forward to this! I hope you check back soon in for some tabletop games!