At some point or another, you’ve probably fumbled around your home in the dark, using your phone’s LED as a flashlight. Night Terrors is an iPhone game that wants to add ghosts and psychopaths to this equation. If that sounds like fun, keep reading.
For an iPhone app, it’s more than a little ambitious. Night Terrors–currently raising funds on Indiegogo in the form of a $5 pre-order–uses your phone’s camera to draw a map of your home. Then using that map, it architects a story around you. You turn off the lights, put in a pair of headphones, and stumble through the dark. Using your iPhone as a flashlight, you listen for the cries of a girl who is locked in your house and needs your help.
A Game Played In The Dark
Look through the screen of your phone, and ghosts might pop out, or a painting might seem to fall off your wall. Doesn’t sound scary? Okay, then wait until you hear a ghost call out your name from over your shoulder, and suddenly, your flashlight goes out.
“By playing the game in the dark, the player gives control of the lighting over to the game,” explains developer Bryan Mitchell. “The experience of walking around the house like this, without anything even being augmented, is very unsettling. I’ve scared myself many times.”
A game that controls your flashlight–and thereby your own latent fears of the dark–isn’t just an ingenious bit of game design. It’s also a way that the designers are pulling off the technical execution of the experience. To keep your positioning in sync with the map of your home, they’ve developed code that allows your phone to recognize your walls like a makeshift depth sensor, and that code relies on the reflective light readings from your LED shining on the walls. Neat, right?
Mapping The Haunts
And that map of your home is key to the experience. Night Terrors wants to milk moments of real surprise and suspense–the same moments you get in any horror movie–but to do so, it has to algorithmically map a storyline filled with these moments into your floorplan.
“Because the game knows where the player is, where they must go, and where they must avoid going, the game is able to manipulate the player into setting themselves up in situations that are designed to deliver a particular experience with the same level of quality and control as is delivered in a film,” Mitchell explains. “If the game needs the player to go down their hallway it manipulates the player to go there. If the game doesn’t want the player to see or move, it presents a situation where seeing and moving will get the player ‘killed.'”
But controlling the player is actually the easy part. The hard part is how the game adapts its story around the infinite number of floor plans into homes of all shapes and sizes.
“We’re not going to discriminate against apartment and housing sizes … [but] right now, the way the game is designed, it’s not going to provide the amazing experience I want it to in a one bedroom apartment or a mansion,” Mitchell admits. “This is not a problem, it’s a challenge like everything else involved with this game, something to be solved, and I’m committed to solving it.”
Real-time Feedback Makes It Scarier
If all of this didn’t sound difficult enough to pull off, the team has yet another feature they hope to include: Real-time biometric tracking of your experience, so that the game tailors its scariness to the user.
“If jump scares annoy you and don’t scare you, the game should learn that and modify the experience on the fly,” Mitchell explains. “A really simple example of what we would like to do in the future is have the game modify its events to maximize the player’s heart rate (measured with an Apple Watch), the shakiness of the player’s hands (measured with the accelerometer), or the number of times the player is audibly startled (measured with the microphone). In the far future, the dream is to measure, recognize, and respond to speech and facial expressions.”
It’s Too Ambitious
While the Night Terrors team includes talent who’ve released top selling apps (Tightwire and Geared), it’s hard to read the list of features that the developers are going after and not get a bit skeptical that they can pull it all off. Having said that, there are a lot of great ideas within Night Terrors. And whether or not all of them come to fruition for launch, they’re superb, and represent the sort of deeply personal gaming experiences we should all come to expect within the next 10 years.