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P.T (Silent Hills teaser) game analysis

by Viktor Eisenmann on 09/18/14 10:27:00 pm   Featured Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
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P.T “demo-game-teaser” was introduced in August 12th during the 2014 Gamescom Edition and shocked everyone with it graphics and horror ambience. Few hours later, lots of people was already playing and sharing their “Let’s Play” video. In this blog post we will analysis the factors that create this fantastic and horrifying experience.

PART I: Architecture and Level Design

After a few disturbing and intriguing messages on the screen, the game starts with the player finding themselves passed out on the ground in a dark and dirty room, and, after getting up, the only way out is going thru a door that opens by itself.

Differently from most of horror cliché games, the player is in a "alright" illuminated house. At first, the house architecture looks normal, it’s L shaped and has three doors, which might lead to other rooms, and a main entrance door.

The player starts in Door 1 corridor and the only possible way to go is in the direction of Door 2.

Non Euclidean Level Design - Disorientation

Non Euclidean Level Design geometries are impossible, and works like warp zones, except that you don’t know what’s behind.

By crossing Door 2, the player is transported back in Door 1. The player’s minds begin to get confused with the Level Design, producing a weird feeling that something is wrong with it. Until the end of the “game-teaser” the player will move endless in “circles”. The meaning is that the character’s mind is so confused about not knowing where he is and what is happening, that he go nuts and changes the house layout.

Guillermo Del Toro, the filmmaker behind P.T is well known by producing Pan’s Labyrinth, a dark fantasy film. Over 30 years after The Shining, a Stanley Kubrick film, we’re still trying to figure it out it’s meanings, and one of the scenes have the same strange feeling produced in the game, as we can see in the big wheel ride scene (0:00 – 0:30):

Inaccessible House Rooms - Confusion

Still trying to make our heads explode of weirdness and disturbance, the house has two rooms that are completely inaccessible: the second floor and the room the game begins. This makes the player ask why are the rooms there, why they cannot be accessible, what are their meanings, why the game creators would include them there, specially the second floor, which is never seen in the whole experience?

I believe this has a purpose… the purpose of having no purpose at all. Are vague questions only to confuse even more the players mind about the background story, the game, the characters and what’s going on with it, and to disorientate players.

This is also a characteristic found in Kubrik film, The Shining. People around the internet created lots of different theories about the movie. And most of them tell us about the impossible rooms. In the following video, Danny rides his big wheel in an impossible path:

 

And this other video, tell us even more details about impossible rooms in The Shining:

Tight and Long Corridors – Claustrophobia and Bathophobia

Really nothing new to say, and pretty obvious cliché, but it works perfectly: Thight corridors, walls close to each other, creating claustrophobia and a feeling of hurry in the player to try to get out of the house. Long corridors create bathophobia (fear of deeply dimensioned volumes, like, long, dark hallways) and a feeling of loneliness.

Don’t Look Back – Chilled to the Bone

Another well done characteristic in the house architecture is that the player is always giving its back to someplace in the house, a hallway, a door, or a window. In horror games or film, we know by common sense (and human behavior) that the character/player should never give his back to a monster (or a killer).

Player’s position in the game: always facing a hallway, a door or a window.

During the gameplay, the radio in front of the Main Door says: “Don’t look back.” and it’s one of the creepiest moments because the player will be giving his back to someplace, which makes believe he is being watching by someone and might really have something behind him.

Ambiance – Fidelity

By bringing a story into a house, a well know environment for every player, the game creates an experience much more real for them. Creating a true realistic house, the player feel more immersed, causing more fear to him. It’s not like a fantasy game in some futuristic world in a far far away galaxy.

Oh, and also… cockroaches, who does not fear them?

PART II: Gameplay

It’s not only level design that makes P.T a horrifying experience, the gameplay increases the immersion and drives the player's sanity to its most degrading level.

Lack of Gameplay Pattern – Awareness

At first, the house is well illuminated. Next, the radio talks. One more cycle and the lights are out. Going thru the door again and the bathroom door is open. Now the character owns a flashlight. Entering the door again and the lights in the house are now red. Next cycle and the house is not L shaped anymore, is a loop.

Lack of pattern.

Causing strangeness and confusing the player, he doesn’t know what’s going to happen next, doesn’t know what to expect, causing even more fear and awareness.

Lack of Controls and Zooming In– Powerless and Facing Your Instincts

You know what can be worse than being thrown into a dark place that challenges your sanity? Being thrown into a dark place that challenges your sanity, with your hands tied. In P.T, the player can only move around and zoom in, and it feels powerless. Feels like you don’t have any control over the environment. And guess what? You have none.

This can produce even more fear to the player, giving him little control, but truly is none. Feels like you almost can do something about it, but you can’t escape that freaking house!

You know what can be worse than being thrown into a dark place that challenges your sanity, with your hands tied? Being thrown into a dark place that challenges your sanity, with your hands tied, and looking even closer to a situation you don’t want to. The little control the player has over the character is to zoom in (look closer), but who in their right mind would want to look closer to a situation that is horrifying? In P.T, the player have to go against their instincts and look even closer to a scene in which all of us would like to close our eyes and turn our head to the opposite side.


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