Jay Barnson on Imagination as a Story-telling Tool

Jay Barnson, who you might know as "Rampant Coyote", developer behind Frayed Knights: The Skull of S'makh-Daon and the upcoming Frayed Knights II: The Khan of Wrath, has penned a blog post on imagination, or to be more precise and less pedestrian, how leaving blanks for the player to fill in might actually help storytelling.

Here's a snip to set the tone of the post:
There's a quote frequently attributed to Alfred Hitchcock, (There is nothing more frightening than a closed door.) This is almost an axiom in horror writing (too often ignored in modern gore-fest horror movies) that implied horror is more potent than fully revealed horror. Whenever I think of the quote, I think of an experience I had playing the original Ultima Underworld. As I approached a locked door, something on the other side evidently heard me and started beating on the door, trying to break it down. I heard the sounds, and electrical-sounding noise and the pounding of the door.

I fled. Really. The urge to flee was stronger than my trained response to SAVE THE GAME NOW BEFORE SOMETHING BAD HAPPENS. I did what minimal preparations I could to meet my fate, but I felt a really real fear about approaching that door. I had to prepare emotionally like I rarely do for a boss fight. There's some deep programming from ancient ancestors who knew they were not at the top of the food chain, could not allow themselves the luxury of feeling '˜safe,' and who knew that something that was trying THAT hard to engage you made it the predator and you the prey. It was just a video game, but that instinct was still there.

I unlocked the door. And found. a mongbat. A stupid mongbat! That was it! I think that was the first one I'd encountered in Ultima Underworld, so at least it was an exciting new encounter. But I'd gotten all worked up over a frickin' winged monkey. The battle that followed wasn't trivial a mongbat was indeed a reasonably challenging foe. But it was hardly worthy of my expectations and fear. But by that point, I don't think anything could have burst out from that door that could have been anything but a let-down.

I had no idea what to expect the closed door was the horror. And the knock at the door or in this case, the pounding at the door of an unknown creature was the story. The story I told myself in my mind, subconsciously, was more powerful than anything that could be on the screen.