100 Floors & Spooky’s House of Jump Scares

I was going down an alphabetical list of horror games, and naturally a game named 100 Floors was at the top. When I checked it out I found the description was half given over to insisting it was nothing like Spooky’s House of Jump Scares and definitely totally did not rip it off, no really, it was first, etc, etc, so I naturally checked that out right afterward thinking that vehement a denial was suspicious. Alas, it’s immediately obvious to anyone other than videogame comment sections that the two really are independent and unrelated and only those whose brains were recently devoured would think otherwise.

However, having seen all of both of them, they do turn out to have a common flaw.

100 Floors is the story of you ascending a hundred floors to the top of a spoooooky bunker. You initially have amnesia but slowly remember. Also, the bunker is an afterlife of eternal suffering, and dead people are trapped there until someone selfless enters to save their relative and then makes it to the top, in which case absolutely all of them go free. Unfortunately, the writing is so awful it’s hard to tell what the creator was saying. The bunker was supposed to be a safe hideout, but then it flooded and everybody died, and now people who die under some sort of circumstance (the day of the accident? within a hundred feet? poking the entrance like an idiot?) go there, which happened to Rose, who apparently is your girlfriend so unless something pretty fucked up happened that contradicts the rule about it needing to be a relative.

This one really, really shows off the issues with people grabbing horror concepts without knowing how it works. The beginning of the game has spooooooky objects moving without an obvious actor, except, who cares, it’s a videogame. In real life, stuff moving is terrifying. In an immersive game, you can get a similar effect by tricking yourself into feeling like you’re the one standing there. And a game with skilled characterization, you’re not tricked into thinking you’re personally in danger, but you don’t want anything bad to happen to the character either. Finally, there’s just gore – splatting red everywhere is crude, but does have some impact.

An amnesiac blank slate character seeing ordinary objects move slightly is not scary. More, the character evidently willingly chose to come down here, knowing what’s going on is definitely worse than just being confused, and there isn’t even anything interesting about how they get their memory back, it just happens as they walk up. The only purpose the amnesia ends up serving is setting up for a string of flashback/infodumps as the character gets higher, but if the goal was to spread out the information, the infodumps would’ve been shorter without the character spending half the time on shock he was remembering things and it could’ve been explained by him thinking about this as he went or just not explained at all.

Plus, the fact the story is slowly doled out as a reward for continuing suggests the designer is aware the puzzles themselves aren’t particularly interesting, and when your main mechanic is boring, you have a problem.

I’d guess the root of the problem is the hundred floors gimmick. Instead of designing the game around something fun, the designer has to fill a hundred “floors” – basically rooms – with content. Many of them are completely empty, some have minor effects, and some have sudden death monsters. The designer thought it was important to block saving in the sudden death monster areas, presumably because they figured reloading the game to right where you died would make it less punishing, but they didn’t consider that having to either save every single floor or else redo ten blank floors because you died turns death from frightening into a tedious annoyance. Then at the end you suddenly skip thirty floors, and while I applaud that they apparently realized this wasn’t working rather than churn out thirty crappy floors, they really should’ve taken the hint and condensed the whole thing into a couple longer floors, but they evidently wanted their gimmick of saying their game had a hundred floors more than they wanted a good game.

Then there’s Spooky’s House of Jump Scares. It’s totally different in design (first person, actually challenging, legible if not very good writing, etc) but is similarly wedded to a big number gimmick. In Spooky’s case, it’s a thousand rooms you have to get through, but like 100 Floors, you’ll be seeing a lot of them over and over and like 100 floors there’s little to do but run through them.

Both have chunks of nothing happening, presumably to create tension as you worry about what’s going to happen. And in both cases, it doesn’t change the fact that such tension can only last so long and really doesn’t work for a long slog of a game. (100 Floors isn’t actually that long, but it’s much longer than its story supports.)

It’s pretty clear the repetativeness is being used more purposefully in Spooky’s House of Jump Scares – knowing the layout of the rooms makes it easier to run through when you’re being chased, while the initially silly cardboard popouts can be terrifying after the player has dismissed and forgotten about them. And yet…it’s still incredibly repetitive and full of padding. Numerous rooms are a couple steps between the first door and the last. The monsters come at set points and are pretty obvious about it, as well as when they’ve stopped, so once you’re familiar with the pattern you know when you’re safe and have nothing to worry about, and that ends up being vast chunks of the game. The monster spawn areas are very well done, and there are a number of cleverly designed rooms, so it’s clear the designer knows what he’s doing, but the majority of rooms are low-res short corridors. Both the randomly generated components and the promise of a game forcing you to travel through a thousand of them mean there’s inevitably a lot of chaff in the wheat.

In both cases, what it comes down to is that with modern computers and simple graphics, it’s very easy to create a vast quantity of game and gamers are even more in love with big numbers than the average person, so promising a game will have some huge amount of something sounds like a great idea. What’s missed is that game content existing isn’t the same as game content being enjoyable, and padding so that you can say a bigger number means you’ve diluted the amount of enjoyment with tedium – bad for anything, but even worse when we’re talking about something meant to scare.

2 Comments

  1. illhousen says:

    Oh, hey, I just started Spooky’s House today. I’d say it’s OK for a free game, but yeah, the flaw you were talking about is definitely here.

    1. Farla says:

      What bugs me is that it’s not a flaw caused by being free – it’s not a matter of a lack of money or the designer not having art skills/technical skills/free time necessary to pull off. There’s probably a distant connection in that marketting might’ve pulled for something shorter and sweeter, though.

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