Patryk Polewiak

Gamedev Creative Creature

Fear and anxiety

Fear and anxiety often stand together as synonyms, however there are differences that define the way (or rather the reason) of their birth. In that post I’d like to tell about their place in video games and show their use in horrors. Before I get to the point and state my conclusion however, I’ll talk about fear and anxiety separately. I will not however bring up the morbid aspect, like Freud or K. Horner did.

Fear and anxiety

Let’s begin with common parts of these two feelings. Both of them cause the same symptomes: tachycardia (faster heartbeat), sweating, shivers and trembling. Both of them are a reaction to some danger. Both can be equally strong and in extreme cases cause even death. Now, where is the border between fear and anxiety?

Let me start with fear, which is a lot simplier in it’s structure and concentrates on events and their consequences. You could say, that the fear comes from the outside and is reaction to certain events that put us in danger. For example: Esther decided to take a walk in a park in the midnight to chill a little after day-long studying. In a dark alley her path is crossed by a masked character with a shiny knife in his hand.
In that moment Esther is terrified, she is shaking, adrenaline is pumping through her veins, making her heart beat like a pneumatic drill. The girl either wants to run away or she is paralyzed.
In this case Esther is facing direct danger of getting mugged, hurt or killed which causes her to feel fear. Now, let’s switch to anxiety. We will rewind the time a little to the moment, where Esther hasn’t yet entered the alley. She sees the dark park, really dark alley with trees and bushes overgrowing it. She starts shaking, her pulse is rising and she starts to sweat. She decides to head back home. Even though she has not experienced any real danger she was scared, and that was anxiety.

Before I will explain the source of that, I’ll call upon words of K. Horney in his book „Neurotic Personality of Our Time.” A mother (let’s call her Katherine) doesn’t want to send her child to kindergarden, because of a feeling that it may get hurt there. She feels anxiety, she thinks her child may get sick, kidnapped or choke on some small toy, when the kindergarden teacher leaves the class. The panic isn’t justified, but she feels exactly what Esther felt back near the park alley, but with one difference – Katherine justifies her thoughts with nuances like „in the neighbourhood there was a strange man seen wandering near the kindergarden” or „my sister’s son got infected in kindergarden” and it won’t be easy to convince her, that she’s being irrational. Excluding the morbid aspect of this phenomenon (for more information see the earlier-mentioned book of K. Horney,) you can see it’s coming from the „inside” of us. It means that even if there is no real danger we imagine things, justify our anxiety and reassure ourselves that it is all absolutely possible. Both Katherine and Esther didn’t had any solid proof on what could’ve happened but they were scared anyway. Off course we have to keep in mind that the given examples are simple and I am not even mentioning cases of fear of leaving the house or fear of driving the car (because there are many car accidents.)

Summing up: anxiety comes from indirect threat, which isn’t exactly there or isn’t real at the given moment (as it comes from inside of our heads/from our beliefs) and fear is caused by direct danger (from the „outside” of just our heads, something that happens and we can see/experience it ourselves.)

Usage of fear and anxiety in games

With new knowledge from the examples above it will be easier to tell fear from anxiety in video games. In some situations when player is put in danger he may feel fear (of different intensity.) Some games revolve around this feeling, like in Doom 3, Dead Space 3, Afterfall. In these cases the authors throw different monsters at the player, who has to deal with them different ways (usually with weapons).

And there are no games (or there are just a few of them, like „Dear Esther” or „Gone Home”), which focus only on the element on anxiety. Eventually the feeling ends with the final confrontation with the enemy (either with the element of chase or fight). Anxiety in games, even though is a lot more effective and powerful than fear,  is often put aside in face of „jump-scares.” As Lovecraft once said „The oldest and the strongest feeling of the human kind is fear, and the oldest and the most powerful kind of fear is the fear of the uknown” and the this is a pretty good argument for my thesis right below.

Why is anxiety stronger than fear and, in combination with fear,  unbearable?

Some games perfectly maneuver between fear and anxiety. The player isn’t scared when he is ready to be scared, but in the least expected moment. One of games that mixes fear and anxiety is Dead Space, where we explore an almost-abandoned spacecraft. The authors keep building the tension using lights and sound, so the player could feel that there’s something lurking in the dark. Usually it turned out that it was nothing there – but it was these moments that were the scariest, when there was no monster but we kept speculating when will he jump out to get us.

Second example is Amnesia: The Dark Descent, a creation from Thomas Grip, whom also dedicated the game to building tension and spreading anxiety, instead of simply inflicting fear. When we know, that somewhere in the dark cellars there is a monster we start feeling anxiety – not because we see the monster, but because we aren’t sure if he is there or not.

When I was watching a „let’s play” from the earlier version of Phantaruk (a game I’m currently working on) I could easily see that the players were scared the most when the enemy showed up and then disappeared (for example despawned behind the corner). Some of them even crawled back to the beggining of the game because they were feeling a little safer there. These players felt anxiety mixed with fear – the best combination.

Simple anxiety is felt by the player when he doesn’t want to go to the next location because something scary may be there. Off course it doesn’t necessarily have to, maaaaybe it’s just a little trick from the authors – but the player doesn’t know it.

Before I’ll get to the conclusion, I’ll bring up an example from „Outlast.” At some moment the player is put in a dark, really dim location, that is a little flooded. Before I entered it, I was really scared that something evil lurks there and I’ll have to run, but when something actually started chasing me, I knew how to react – I only felt the tension and need to escape and my imagination wasn’t working anymore.

Why is anxiety „stronger”?

In my opinion anxiety gives better scares than fear, because it enables our imagination and gives our brain a chance to interpret the surroundings. In case of fear we know what is happening and how should we react, but when we feel anxiety we feel helpless – we cannot do anything to protect ourselves because we don’t know what is the(and if there is any) danger. We don’t know if Esther will be mugged by some homeless man, a werewolf or some mutated monster.

Sources:  K. Horney – ‚Neurotic Personality of Our Time’, E. Fromm – ‚Autoritaet und Familie’

Images source: ‚Amnesia: The Dark Descent’, ‚SCP-087’, ‚Alien: Isolation’










BOX the revenge


BOX the revenge, is a funny and fast-paced, action arcade game for two players. You have to eliminate your oponent as many times as you can and reach the kill limit. But remember the loser can revenge you.

The game was made for #MultijamUltra2015 in less than 14h.

Screenshots and Videos:


Medkits vs. Autoregeneration

Recently, while working on mechanics in my project, Phantaruk, I wondered what health and damage system would fit this game. I asked myself: “What does it affect the most?” and “Can I force player to do something with this?

One of the systems is Health Points with medkits. On the other hand, we have variations on recharging health. Generally, the latter can be spotted in games more frequently. But why? The answer is fairly simple: tension. We can easily notice that recharging health is quite fast and in a short time we can go back into battle.

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What do they teach you?

My today’s entry is unusual, because I want to tell you about bad habit of game design students. Taking the opportunity, I will show a bit of my dissatisfaction.

Courses in making games are not as popular in Poland as they are in United States of America (or Great Britain).  In fact, every bigger college offers this specialization and, what’s more, there are special “courses” that will teach you how to make “awesome games” in few years.

From time to time I browse and search for stuff related to the newest available SDKs (like Unreal Development Kit or CryEngine). I usually comment what I find and give some good advice to even poor work which show extremely large ambitions and engagement of a person who created them. But the main problem are projects made by “specialists”, second- or third-year students of game design course. Continue reading

Prototyping with graphs


Before we start a process of prototyping the location in 3D, ussualy using tools from chosen engine it’s good to illustrate our idea with graphs. Of course, it’s possible to draw only a simple scheme on paper (what I personally practice) but that way we might miss mistakes we would find by making graphs. Why? Because graphs give us a specific pattern with which we have a detailed overview on our project. It is because we include all the events which have to happen during the gameplay. It allows us to check if everything works fine like moving through locations and playing certain events.


Picture above shows a simple graph made in program called yED. It is a sample level with arrangement of locations and events for a simple platform game with collecting items and fighting monsters.

At this moment, I have to be honest and describe what this graph shows us step by step. Game starts in a green circle, which is a START point. Yellow rectangles symbolize rooms or separate locations, arrows – how we can move between them. As you can see, in “Library” player has to decide which way he wants to go: through “Demonic Tower” or “Library2″. If he chooses the first location, he can visit “Library2”, but not the other way. Next to “Demonic Tower2″ we can see two additional fields: orange trapeze, which shows the moment when enemy spawns, and a violet circle – an item to pick up. There is also one another element worth your attention, located at the end of this episode of the game. It is a conditional statement, based on a simple mechanics “if player make A, then do B”. In this case, in location “Bridge2″ the game will check if player got a book from “Demonic Tower” location. If he did, an additional enemy spawns and a text is displayed on the screen. If not, nothing happens.

Constructing this kind of graphs is useful because we define how many and what type of blocks we use.  In a moment I’ll tell you about methods of creating such concept. But first, I want to show the same graph as above but modified and expanded for a First Person Perspective game.


As you might noticed, it is very similar to the previous one but contains extra elements. Because of huge possibilities in edition of graphs, it was simple to insert them. 

What is new? I added a script for closing a door (“C_door”, marked in blue) when player moves to a specific location. Also, you can see a “Key” in the white rhombus which informs player that he needs an adequate item to go on. Finally, we spawn main boss (“Bridge Boss”) at the end who player has to defeat to end this level. While fighting, new “Undead_monster” spawns every twenty seconds.

As you can see, such graph gives us a good overview to estimate things like: time needed to end an episode, amount of resources needed to create these levels or what player can or can’t do.

Making a graph at the beginning of a project has the advantage of not leaving any unanswered questions, especially if it’s detailed. We can put there some very complicated conditions or extra events. Furthermore, if we want or need to, we can add things like “play something now” event in a specific time. With one glance we know entire structure of our location what allows us to modify our project easily or slap ourselves for some reckless ideas.

I hope I was able to show you, dear reader, what prototyping with graphs is and you would try using those techniques on your own. But if you mastered this weapon, share your thoughts, please. Or maybe you use other methods?

Graphics implosion

These days, everybody knows how advanced game graphics has become. Especially in such productions like “Battlefield 4” or “Crysis 3“.  However, one moment, evolution in gaming reached a point when people stopped (finally!) pay attention to graphics’ quality. Why so many people started to interest in projects based on pixel art?

Before we go on and answer this question, I would like to explain what is “pixel art” and how it looks.  Pixel art is a way of making a picture with single pixels. This style of art is derived from old games, developed on first personal computers or Atari and Commodore console. That’s why quality of graphics (apart from the fact that it goes with nice effects or more extended mechanics of games) leave much to be desired.

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I want to make a game

Today I want to say something about starting a project which aims at make a game by a small and inexperienced group of people.

This entry is not too large but it’s sharing honest truth.

Do not start from…

The biggest mistake that can make a small, young and non-commercial developer is aiming at too large target. Ambitions and initial enthusiasm for work kill the project sooner or later.

I understand that everyone wants to make a game of their dreams which takes hundreds of hours to beat and months to explore. 

Unfortunately, the truth is that you need luck because only one project per hundred will survive to the end. A good example can be a Polish project “Gloria Victis” (previously called “Ether Fields”). At the beginning it was only one man who built an engine and then gathered a team to complete the game. Of course, you can get much experience with this kind of project but the question is: Do you want to sacrifice a year of your life for something  that would probably be cancelled? Sure, you can but there is an alternative path…

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Glides and path-blockers


In this post, I want to share with you an old and simple but useful trick. Originally it was described by a person responsible for a “Counter-Strike” level design.

Sometimes we face a situation when we move along the wall to prevent being noticed by the person that walks through the door ahead. Suddenly… boom! We stop on the side of the 3D model of the door because it blocks the continuity of our movements. To proceed further, we must move sideways what irritates us and other players that experience similar situations.


We only need to add some “Glides” which allow the player to pass these obstacles smoothly. Adding  two transparent blocks (e.g. “Block_Volume” in UDK) connects borders of the door and the wall.

This issue is presented in the following pictures:

First situation: the player is blocked by protruded entrance. Of course, this entrance can be shifted by some milimeters in relation to the wall – in this case, angle of glides will be smaller. We can also cut corners and make the door inside the doorway.

1) Frustrated player

2) Entrance to the building


Second situation: the player is moving smoothly, directly to his target, without any blockades or being stuck.

1) A happy player

2) Entrance to the building

3) Glides


These days, it is less useful because the entrance is usually very accurate 3d model where you know that an edge is an edge. But who knows, maybe someday you will need to use this kind of trick sometime? 🙂

Workhole map

  • Title: ‚Workhole’.
  • Genre: Single-player map.
  • Editor: ChromED.
  • Game: –


A map made on ChromEd.

Screenshots and Videos:

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