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I am working on a game and would like to include a few jump scares. So here is a rather simple question — What makes a good jump scare and when and how should they happen?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I would like to +1 this just for the proper use of game-design and game-mechanics... \$\endgroup\$ – Bojidar Marinov Dec 21 '15 at 9:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ Batman Arkham Knight had a very good jump scare. At some point in the game, Batman has to unload 4 chemical tanks to prevent the chemicals from spreading all over the city when the chem plant explodes. The process is simple: Drag the (highly volatile) tanks away from the dock - not too fast, or they'll burst, not too slow or you'll run out of time; turn around and walk to the center of the room (not too fast, not too slow); deposit the tanks in the disposal docks (not too fast, not too slow); repeat for each of the 4 tanks. \$\endgroup\$ – Nolonar Dec 21 '15 at 11:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ After Batman unloads the last tank and turns around, someone's standing in front of him. The jump scare was good, because the player's so focused on unloading the tank, he doesn't expect the guy suddenly standing there. \$\endgroup\$ – Nolonar Dec 21 '15 at 11:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Make it appear combined with an action that is executed many, many times! The original FEAR had a great one: When starting to climb down ladders you'd always turn around towards the direction you came walking from. In FEAR there is one ladder where the creepy little girl Alma appears right before your face after turning around for the ladder. If you want to learn about scary games you should definitely play through the FEAR games, though you should stay critical to how it's done. \$\endgroup\$ – Traubenfuchs Dec 21 '15 at 12:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Some inspiration: whatculture.com: 16 Biggest Jump-Scares In Gaming \$\endgroup\$ – unor Dec 21 '15 at 15:25

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If you give some more details about your game then someone can help you write a specific jump scare. But it's far more valuable that you understand why a jump scare works.

The correct way to utilize the jump scare is to focus on what happens before and after the jump scare. Why would the player take the world seriously enough to be scared by a poorly made skeleton jumping out of a closet?

Tension and atmosphere. You have to build a believable world, one that the player is invested in. Add stress to the player, and the actual jump scare will write itself. The jump scare is simply a release, or trigger for the player. The horror is the stuff inside the player's head as he/she is anticipating the scare.

More information can be found in this short Extra Credits video about horror games

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    \$\begingroup\$ I love Extra Credits. They are a strong resource to any game developer. \$\endgroup\$ – Corey Ogburn Dec 21 '15 at 15:54
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Fight or Flight

Jump-scares abuse your primal instincts. A good jump-scare puts the player in an immediately life-threatening situation. If Pinky appeared in front of you right before you ate the last pellet, you'd be jump-scared! Game design is important to consider. It's vital that the the player is legitimatley forced to fight or fly.

In horror, loud sounds are usually added, amplifying the effect.

Examples of well-placed jump-scares in various genres:

  • Fire-ball coming from bottom of screen in a platformer
  • Mimic chest in an RPG
  • Pin-ball bouncing straight down the middle
  • Sudden obstical in a racing game
  • Slender Man

Additionally, it's important to concider whether your jump-scare is fair. For example, I Want to be the Guy is all about unfair jump-scares.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fight-or-flight_response

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jump_scare

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Nice explanation of the general concept, helpful links and good examples. But since your examples are not common examples of the horror genre, I think they would benefit greatly from an explication of their connection to the general concept and the differences between them. This could help to figure out which different ways there are to implement a jump scare. \$\endgroup\$ – Kronos Dec 25 '15 at 20:56
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I have never made a horror game, but when I play them I get most scared of unexpected jump-scares.

Having a good environment, making the player not being able to see everything clearly around you, maybe fog that stops your vision from being very effective.

Just generally making the player feel like he can't do much about it.


But I think it changes from person to person, this is just how I "prefer" to get scared. :P

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    \$\begingroup\$ [1/2] Although I mostly agree with you, it is not totally true. A while back ago I was playing Slender: the arrival, in the spirit of Halloween (whoehoe). Anyway, I came across this "torn apart" house and upon entering I hear a female crying. Given the type of game, and that it was dark, I knew something was up. I backed out and first checked the surroundings, but I knew I had to enter and face her. So I enter the room and see that "monster" crying facing away from me. I set one step into the room, and nothing happens. A couple more steps, and still nothing changed, she is still crying. \$\endgroup\$ – Mathlight Dec 21 '15 at 22:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ [2/2] I set just another step, afraid of what will happen, but nothing changes. She is still crying, and I'm just standing there. With fear in my fingers, knowing that I cannot escape the doom I'm about to enter, I press the W button again and SCREAM! It turns around instant and start screaming like hell. I jump scare like I never did before, while I trow my mouse away as a reaction. After calming down, I found out that she's gone and left a note. So yes, unexpected jump-scares can get you scared, but this one will haunt me forever \$\endgroup\$ – Mathlight Dec 21 '15 at 22:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mathlight Good point. I honestly don't even play horror games that much. Since I literally get scared to shit when I play csgo and a enemy pops up around the corner. lol. But I do agree with your point. \$\endgroup\$ – BiiX Dec 21 '15 at 22:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mathlight one of the best jump scares I have ever seen was the "look behind you" jumpscare in the original slender. *shudders * \$\endgroup\$ – James Dec 25 '15 at 15:40
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Another technique that it very effective is to lull the player into a false sense of security by having them repeat an action several times, then jumpscaring them on the last time.

For example, in Outlast, I very distinctly remember a scene where you have to walk past a guy who is sleeping in a wheelchair. When I first played it, and in several let's play videos I have seen, the first time walking past him, you are very uncomfortable. Everybody expects him to jump up out of the wheelchair and attack you. He doesn't. 5 minutes later, when you have to walk by him a second time to get back to where you were, no one expects him to do anything. So they will just blindly walk right by him. When he jumps out of the chair and attacks you, it is a lot more terrifying because you were not expecting it.

Overall, anything you can do to make the jumpscare unexpected makes it scarier.

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The best time to "jump" something to scare player, is when player doesn't expect it. I mean, it won't have a meaning to do this when all ambient sound is already scary and environment is dark, player would know something will happen in this situation. But when he is just walking across a corridor and you throw a monster from a side-door, this is a good jump scare.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Totally agree with this one. If the music gets ominous and you take a very long walk down a hallway towards a door, then don't put a jump scare right behind the door. \$\endgroup\$ – Thunderforge Dec 21 '15 at 21:25
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You should probably build the tension first which can be achieved by good ambient sound effects. Then its just presenting the player with the unexpected jump scare :P

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  • \$\begingroup\$ An excellent example of this is the Five Nights at Freddies series. I've never in my life had a game scare me suddenly as those games. You know it's coming, but BOOM, you scream anyway... \$\endgroup\$ – Tim S. Dec 22 '15 at 1:04
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I believe that the most effective jump scare is when the player is focused in doing something else. If it's not unexpected it won't work.

eg. A monster jumping down the ceiling when they are in the midst of solving a puzzle to get to the next room after killing all the monsters in that area.

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I think the biggest way to make a jump scare effective is to make it random. Especially in modern games where it's commonplace for the player to be able to respawn a few rooms back if they're killed, having a jump scare that occurs predictably in the same place every time isn't really all that scary after the first time. For each encounter, pick a dozen or so nearby places it could occur and pick one for each run-through. Not only does this heighten the impact of the scare, but it adds replay-value as they game will feel a bit different every time.

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I'm not an expert, but the golden rule is don't overuse it. And also make it a total surprise, meaning don't reveal when it's expected to happen. Also, it's best used when the player is concentrating at something else, in this case, their guard will be down because they are focusing on something else, so the effect is mush bigger. I hope this helps.

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To make a great in-game jump scare scene you first need to drag player's attention and concentration away from the horror theme, make him focus on some other elements in the game(challangable parts that require 100% of the players focus like searching for element; solving a puzzle...) and execute it once his doesn't expect it at all.

A good example is the one with the Batman game where the game requires 100% of the focus, you probably will fail it a couple of times and once you success you have the feeling of relaxation because you finally passed it, but all of a sudden it happens!

Someone mentioned you need to prepare the player with some pre-scenes of tension. In reality that's not the way to do it but you need to do the opposite.

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