The Hollow Hill

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The Hollow Hill is a horror game project created for the Game Design, Prototype, and Production course of CMU, taught by professor Thomas Corbett, at Carnegie Mellon University.

Here's a trailer of the game for you to get a hold of the game.

The theme of the project was set to “when fairy tales meet video games”. Our pitch was “when the tale of Fey meets Darkwood”. Fey was the dark elf in Norse fairy tales (unsettling tales to be exact) who grants wishes in a  deceptive way in order to take away someone’s baby for sacrifice. Darkwood is a third person, top-down perspective explorative horror game, where the player can only see the objects that are shined by the rotatable cone-shaped torchlight controlled by the player.

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The environment was set to a small family in a medieval village. There’s a hill just outside the residential area where rumor has it that some dark fairies, Fey, reside inside, and, as a result, children were warned that approaching the hill is dangerous and forbidden. Our heroine, Maggie, was a 10 years old girl whose mother sadly passed away when giving birth to her baby brother, Bran. Wracked with grief, her father did not observe the traditional safeguards to keep a child from being taken by the Fey, nor does he get the child baptized. As a result, one dark and stormy night, the fey come for the child. Maggie attempted to save Bran, but he was still stolen away. The night was dark without a moon, but she bravely ventured where no one dares to go: deep into the forest, and into the Hollow Hill where the fey dwell, to get her brother back. Upon entering the Hollow Hill, Maggie met a strange and unearthly Sidhe, one of the High Fey. The creature was curious about her, in the way one might be interested in a particularly strange bug, and offered her some salt and a few bits of advice, before wandering off. And so, Maggie had to explore the monster-lurking cave to find the key to the room where Bran was taken. In the end, Maggie successfully found the key; although she was hunted by a Redcap immediately afterward, Maggie ran and hid around the maze-like cave and eventually lost the monster and saved Bran from the formidable place.

The scripting of the story was done by discussion, where the whole team got together to watch the film Pan’s Labyrinth in hoping to get a few inspirations. We reached an idea to inscribe the instruction into the game without too much abruption: Sidhe, the High Fey, is meant to talk to Maggie and so it would be natural for the somewhat kindhearted elf to offer a few tips, a.k.a. tutorials. This game was designated to have no fighting mechanism whatsoever, just like Outlast, but we did need a defense mechanism to avoid being hunted. We thought of salt, an old way of keeping away evils, and so we powered salt to have the ability to temporarily block any close by chasing monster. In the movie, the heroine disobeyed the rule and ate a grape which waken the monster with eyes on his palms. In our game, since we thought having the same idea of a feast is redundant for our narrative, we made the key as the trigger: once the player picks up the key, the Redcap will be released and will automatically chase down the player with a much faster speed than normal monsters which functions similar as a proximity mine but self-wandering.

Other than the game design jobs done before, I was still responsible for everything audible for this game. This was my first-time doing horror sound design and so I went to a few horror movies and games for guidelines. There are two levels for the entire game with a transition cutscene: the first level serves as an introduction while the second level as the main gameplay. The first level, since Fey has not revealed itself, the sound was designed to have a stormy raining sound as the main background ambient. The baby sound should be loud and clear in the rain to alert the player to go check it out and trigger the next stage in the narrative. The lack of any other sounds other than the baby crying in heavy rain serves for the purpose of foreshadowing the coming of something terrible. After Maggie retrieves the milk from the other end of the house and gets back to the cradle, the Fey shows up with jump-scare kind of sound effect composed of dissonant tones and chords. After Maggie leaves the house for the hill, the cutscene plays and a gentle melody of a lullaby fashion accompanied by a humming base, in order to develop an impression that the brave Maggie is heading towards a dangerous dungeon with the risk of not being able to return.

Sound effect examples:

Footstep SE multiple samples:

Door SE multiple samples:

Monster n' Ambient SE multiple samples:

Music samples:

Upon entering the hill, a long hallway guides Maggie into the deeper of the hill while a deep and dissonant ambient music starts to play. The corridor leads to a grand hall where Maggie meets Sidhe and on the right-side wall is the entrance door to the labyrinth. Inside the labyrinth are a number of wandering monsters and after, just like mentioned above, the Redcap appears after Maggie takes the key on the rightmost room of the labyrinth. The sound effects of the monster are my original recording: learned from the movie The Grudge, I tightened my vocal chords and mimicked the sound of the female ghost and recorded the sound. After applying effects like low-pass filter and distortion, the “errrrr” sound gains the feeling of something supernatural and horrible. The sound effect of the Redcap is a very unpleasant and intense chord repeating itself with a tightened pace in order to invoke an urgent feeling in the player. For the monsters and the Redcap, the sound effects are placed on each object. The Redcap has codes controlling the volume of its sound: the nearer Maggie is to the Redcap, the louder the sound. This design serves as an indicator so that the player can judge the distance from danger and plan their escape route. After Maggie unlocks the golden door to Bran’s prison, the game fades out and an ending lullaby, performed with bells, plays and concludes the game.