A Glass Darkly
Genre: Survival/Horror, VR
Engine: Unreal Engine 4
Production Time: 4 weeks
Role: Level Design, Audio Design
Production Team Size: 11 People
A Glass Darkly is a VR Survival/Horror game in which players find themselves trapped in an abandoned hotel where an evil creature lurks. Not only must players avoid being seen by the creature, but they cannot look at it as it will feel their gaze and be alerted to their presence. In order to survive, players must navigate through the rooms and corridors of the hotel using a hand mirror to look around corners and survey their surroundings.
A Glass Darkly was created for Futuregames Game Project 2 and was made by 11 people over the course of 4 weeks. Our goal was to create a tense and terrifying experience without relying on jumpscares.
Design Goal and Game Pillars
- Puzzle Solving
One of mankind’s most primal fears is the fear of the unknown. A Glass Darkly was designed to let players know where they should go but not how to get there. Exploring an alien and hostile environment where the creature might pop up at any time adds a sense of urgency and tension. You might be scared of what lurks around the corner, but staying too long in a single place might be just as bad!
Each area is designed with at least one of the core pillars in mind. Exploring the environment adds to the overall sense of tension while the puzzles serve to break up the pacing and usually give the player a short breather. The confrontation segments are all designed in a way that makes the player perceive them to be more dangerous than they actually are such as forcing the creature to patrol in certain patterns that will force the player into a safe area.
The end goal was an overhanging sense of dread and tension that ramps up along with the actual danger over the course of the game rather than quick and sudden jumpscares.
A Glass Darkly floorplan sketch.
Floorplan of an actual hotel.
The initial floorplan draft was inspired by those of actual hotels, but in our case each room was designed with one of the three core pillars in mind.
1: Level start. The player is locked in a room and needs to solve a puzzle, thereby learning about the base mechanics and controls, before they can leave. There is a lot of soft environmental noise (TV static, rain from outside) present, filling the atmosphere and calming the player.
2: The player enters a seemingly empty corridor. The sudden change in scenery and uncertainty of what may be around the sharp corner ahead is meant to put the player on edge. It is almost completely quiet here, almost is if something’s missing or out of place.
3: A sudden monstrous roar is heard through the wall as the player moves past the first sharp turn. The monster is then seen around the next corner, moving away from the player. It can be tracked through the mirror in the corridor and is seen entering one of the rooms.
4: All the doors in the corridor are locked, save for the one the monster left open, guiding the player and putting them on edge as they are forced to follow.
5: The player finds the hand mirror which they can use to discover the code to the door ahead.
6: The next corridor contains 3 sets of doors. The first two are locked while the one in the end can be opened. Players are prone to try the first two, adding a sense of uncertainty as they are unsure where to go, but ultimately finding their way when trying the third door.
7: The monster enters the room as players discover that the exit is locked. The monster slowly walks through the room and unlocks the door on the other side, Giving players plenty of time to hide and observe it. The player feels cornered at this point, but the perceived danger is greater than the actual threat, giving players a chance to learn and adapt.
8: The player is once again forced to follow the monster to make progress. Tension is high, but the monster is already gone. The elevator can now be reached, but it is shut down. A phone suddenly starts ringing in the next room, guiding players and giving them instructions on how to reactivate the elevator.
9: A gramophone is playing in this room, guiding a player to a note with the code for the safe on the table. The code can only be obtained by viewing it through the mirror.
10: This corridor leads to the library section.
11: The library is bigger than any other room and the player must outmaneuver and sneak around the the monster and into the storage room to find the elevator key. Lights are used to guide players to the door.
12: The monster is gone as the player leaves the storage room and players are free to leave.
13: As the player moves down the corridor towards the elevator, the monster suddenly shows up behind them for one final scare.
14: The player is able to make it to the elevator before the monster thanks to their head start. The elevator doors close and the game ends.
A closer look at some rooms
Goal: Teach the player the basic mechanics in a safe environment before letting them wander off on their own.
The phone starts ringing shortly after the game starts and when the player picks it up, a woman on the other side tells them of the monster and asks them to find a mirror in another room as players cannot look at it directly. The door is locked, but the woman on the phone explains there’s a key in the drawer that will open it. Even if the player isn’t listening to the audio, a picture of the Occulus controller will appear above the phone, the drawer and the door handle, urging the player to press specific buttons to operate them in order to leave the room.
Once they have left the room, players will have learned how to operate drawers, doors, pick up objects, search for clues and pick up key items. If they already know all these things, it is possible to go straight for the key and leave the room without answering the phone and listening to the message.
Goal: Introduce the monster without putting the player at risk and foreshadow the use of the hand mirror.
As the player turns the corner, the monster suddenly comes through one of the doors and walks down the corridor before stopping and entering another room.
The monster is scripted not to see the player in this instance as there are a lot of objects in this part of the corridor, partially obscuring the player from view. It walks down the corridor in a straight line, knocks on one of the doors and enters it, leaving the door ajar behind it. The entire sequence can be tracked using the mirror in the hallway even when the monster is out of view, showcasing the monster’s behavior and introducing the use of mirrors.
All the doors in the corridor are locked, save for the one the monster left open, guiding the player and putting them on edge as they are forced to follow it.
The player enters through the door on the left and attempts to leave through the door on the right. The door is locked and as players approach it, the monster enters the room.
Goal: Force the player into the monster’s path but give them a fair chance to escape. The perceived danger should be much higher than the actual danger.
As players enter through the left door, the door at the bottom is locked with a hatch from the other side, forcing them towards the door on the right. The top room has a dividing wall, but it has holes in it and the other side of the room can be seen through it. The monster will make noise as it enters the room and it can be seen through these holes, but cannot see the player. It lazily walks around the room, giving the player plenty of time to escape, unlocks the door on the right that the player couldn’t open and then leaves the room.
The player is forced to escape into the bedroom at the bottom and can either peek through the door using the mirror, or unlock the bottom left door using the hatch and then observer the monster through the holes in the wall divider as it leaves.
It’s a simple sequence, but to the player it will feel like they narrowly escaped the monster as it searched for them.
Once again, the monster leaves the door ajar and the player is forced to follow in it’s footsteps to make progress.
Assets used to create the level
The initial room is designed to feel safe while still moody. Everything is clearly visible and there’s some monotone noise such as light rain on the window and static from the television to add extra life to the scene without stressing the player too much. In order to progress, the door on the other end of the room must be unlocked, teaching players how to navigate and use key items in a safe environment.
This area is designed to feel ominous and introduce the monster’s behaviour patterns to the player. After taking a few steps, a loud roar and loud banging can be heard from around the corner, foreshadowing the monster’s entrance. The monster can safely be seen exiting a room and walking down the next corridor and entering a door further down the hall.
The exit elevator is visible at the other end of the hall, but the path is blocked by rubble. The only door open is the one the monster went through, putting the player on edge as they are forced to follow.
This room introduces two new mechanics in an enclosed and safe environment.The door ahead is locked and can only be opened with a code. Around the corner, the player will find the hand mirror laying on a desk. The code to the door is scribbled on the wall behind them and is clearly visible through the mirror as players pick it up to look at it.
The first two doors in the hallway are locked, adding a sense of claustrophobia and uncertainity as the player is deprived of alternative routes and potential means of escape. Apart from that, this room merely serves as a small breather between puzzles. The final door at the end of the hall is unlocked.
This room is divided by a wall made out of an ornamental shelf. The next door is clearly visible and lit up straight ahead, but it turns out to be locked. As the player grabs it, the monster will wander into the room from the door behind them. While the monster can be seen through the shelf, it cannot clearly see the player yet.
The player can escape into the next room and walk back to where the monster appeared from by unlocking the door. The monster merely unlocks the exit and leaves the room with the door left wide open for the player to follow once again.
The elevator down is clearly visible at the end of the corridor, but trying to use it will reveal it to be shut down. Shortly after entering it, however, a phone in the next room will start ringing, guiding the player to a newly unlocked room.