We’ve chatted about writing and mapping for short games, and now it’s time to tackle atmosphere. Why is atmosphere important? Atmosphere is that subtle touch that makes the final boss map feel more dangerous, or the nostalgic cutscene feel more sad. By combining theme, sounds and visuals, you can take your game’s presentation to the next level.
Finding just the right song can make or break your scene. A cheesy fast-paced BGM will make your romantic scene feel like it ought to come with its own laugh track. Yet a slow waltz that accompanies your characters dancing just might make the player smile. You want the right kind of music for the right kind of scene. So, open up your music library and start listening.
Small playlist? No problem! No matter what the situation, you can count on finding something in our store’s music packs. We’ve got an ever-growing variety of themes, moods and beats – and we continue to produce and publish more. You’ll also want to check out our Resource-sharing forum area to find even more talented musicians who love to share their work.
But there are also a few other ways you can use sound…
Sound effects can bring an extra layer of depth to your game. Quiet sound of footsteps makes a haunted house feel more petrifying, while chirping of birds makes the forest seem friendly. With some clever eventing, you can make the sounds feel random (make use of those “wait” commands, people!) or rhythmical.
Also, consider how the absence of sound will affect your game’s flow. A suddenly quiet area in the horror game will put the player on edge (jump scare time!), while a completely quiet graveyard will appear more somber.
Be creative in your use of sound and don’t be afraid to refer to movies or TV shows for inspiration.
Color can be a powerful vehicle for putting your theme and atmosphere to the front. A flashback feels more nostalgic if it’s in black and white or sporting that vintage sepia tone. A map looks more depressing and desolate if it’s painted in monotone grays. And that evil serial killer is even more psychotic when dressed like a clown…
One simple way to add color is to play around with Screen Tint. Aside from helping show the passage of time, a subtle tint can help you add a little warmth to a cozy map or a sickly hue to the poisonous swamp. Remember that subtlety is key, as you don’t want to mask away important details with a tint that’s too strong.
If you want to take color a step further, you can look into its psychological properties. Nick wrote a great article on the way Persona uses color and how color is tied to the overall themes the game is exploring. This effect is very subtle, and not something that a player might notice as they play. However, it might stick with them and give you an edge against your competition.
I’ve touched briefly on contrast in sound and color, but you can take it a step further and work it into your dialogue and characterization as well as the atmosphere in general.
For example, a cheerful and perky character will be more memorable and noticeable if they’re set in a gloomy environment. By seemingly being at odds with the atmosphere, they will draw the player’s attention. They might even make the player uneasy, which is perfect for those horror games…
You can also use contrast to match your atmosphere to your game’s flow. The map could, for example, get darker and darker as the player approaches the final dungeons. Or the map could become obscured and narrow while the music becomes more tense. Starting with a subtle atmosphere that turns into something heavy, you can make your short game evoke emotion that the player will remember (and hopefully appreciate!).
And there you have it! A few rambling thoughts on atmosphere. Do you have any tips and tricks for evoking just the right feeling? Chime in below!