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?
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.