By Martin Bourassa / February 14, 2020   

INSIDE LOOK: The Making of Daemon_9
In DAEMON_9, you are the hero of the story... for better or worse.

I love being scared; it's the emotion that makes me feel the most like I'm part of a video game. During my time as a gamer, it's happened plenty of times: Until Dawn, Left 4 Dead, Dead Space, Phantasmagoria, BioShock... In a way, daemon_9 was scarier than all these games, because I felt like it happened to me. This time around, there was no avatar to keep a safe distance between me and the story unfolding before my horrified eyes. But how do you create a horror video game so deeply rooted in reality it becomes disturbing to participate in the events that unfold? To answer these questions, I talked with writer/director Jeffrey Jackson and actor Stephanie Ver Eecke to discuss the process of creating the FMV horror game daemon_9.

FMV WORLD: Jeffrey, your very first game daemon_9 is a horror FMV game. What made you decide to go in that direction?

Jeffrey Jackson: The core concept of daemon_9 is its interactive storytelling structure. Once I conceived of that, I realized there were a number of different kinds of stories I could tell through that. I chose horror because...
1. I'm a fan
2. It's a genre that never seems to go out of fashion
3. I thought I'd be able to connect with a well-defined fan base

How would you describe daemon_9 to players who are hearing about it for the first time?

Jeffrey: It's a hybrid between a game and a movie. It's also kind of like an online escape room. You have to puzzle your way out of danger while experiencing a full-motion video thriller with backstory, characters and events.

When you were writing daemon_9, where did you draw your inspiration from?

Jeffrey: The theme of daemon_9 is the dangers of online exposure and the porous nature of cyber-security. That wasn't such a big deal when I first started working on the project, but became a hot topic thanks to the security breaches at Facebook and other big institutions. The horror elements are drawn from many classic thrillers, mostly from movies: the damsel in distress, demonic possession; there are shout-outs to Psycho, The Exorcist, The Ring... all my favorites mixed into one.

How important was it for you to make the player the main character?

Jeffrey: That was the number one driving principle. I saw a way to break through the "wall" that typically separates players from the world in which their games usually exist. In most games, everything happens on the other side of the glass — the screen. You're moving through some 3-D world, either in first-person-shooter mode or using some kind of avatar. In daemon_9, the game's world is your world — the real world. It's all designed to feel like it really could be happening in your life, playing out over days or weeks.

What was the casting process like and what was it about Stephanie that stood out from the other actors?

Jeffrey: I knew I was going for hyper-realism in the performances. It's essentially a "found footage" piece, so it needed to feel like real people captured in a documentary, not actors performing in scenes. In auditions, I didn't give any of the actors lines to read. Instead I gave them situations to react to, sometimes with me as director, often with other actors. Stephanie is one of those gifted actors who can easily make you forget she's acting. Her actions and reactions were always 100% authentic. Her dynamic with Rebecca Forsythe (Anna) was so genuine that it made casting both roles an easy decision.

Stephanie, what was the casting process like for you?

Stephanie Ver Eecke: My agent in LA sent me to the audition. I got a call back that same day to test read with different actors. It turned out that one of the actors auditioning to play the character Anna was my friend from acting class. Small world. Rebecca and I both studied with Marjorie Ballentine in Los Angeles.

What was it like playing Morgan Shane, a young woman who slowly becomes a supernatural entity?

Stephanie: I had so much fun playing Morgan Shane! She had so many different sides to her. I think she was a Gemini (so am I). Makeup took a long time, but I didn't mind. As far as acting goes, I did a lot of research and studied the part. Some days were easier than others. There was one filming location that I felt was haunted. I could feel it.

Jeffrey: You're probably referring to Linda Vista Hospital. It was an old, abandoned hospital in East LA that we used for its catacomb-like hallways to depict the supernatural netherworld in which Morgan becomes trapped. Even though it was used exclusively as a filming location (the Fox show "Bones" was shooting there the day I scouted it), it was still a genuinely creepy place. Definitely not someplace you'd want to explore alone or spend a night in. Sadly, it's not there anymore, having been turned into condos.


What was it like working with the cast and crew?

Jeffrey: I was blessed with an amazing cast and crew. It was a tough shoot — 13 out of 14 days. Long days. And I especially had to put Stephanie through a lot of physical stuff. But everyone bonded together like a real troupe and performed beyond my fondest hopes. I'm happy to say I'm still good friends with many of the people that worked both in front of and behind the camera on daemon_9.

Stephanie, what was it like going through such a physical acting process with stunts, makeup, and nudity? Was it difficult shooting the nude scenes?

Stephanie: I had a little difficulty in the beginning with the nude scenes. When you're filming, you are constantly surrounded by people. So, it's normal to feel a little awkward at first. I got over it though. It adds a layer to who Morgan Shane is and wants to be. Free.

And what about shooting those stunt scenes? I saw some footage in the behind the scenes video that looked incredible.

Stephanie: That was my favorite day of filming. I was harnessed up and had to jump on people and police cars. The stunt guy was the most fun. He was solid and caught me every time. It helps when you work with people who are there to catch you when you become possessed (laughs).

Jeffrey, the police scene was a thrilling part of the game and used a lot of green screen. How do you feel about directing scenes with visual effects?

Jeffrey: I have mixed feelings. On one hand, you wish you could just focus on story and actors and their performances — which is tough enough. But when you have this whole other layer of technical concerns, it's extra challenging. Thankfully, I had a great VFX artist, Tom Moser, with me right on set for the key scenes so he could help me plan out those shots. You just have to shoot each scene knowing how you're going to complete it in post; it can't be an after-thought.

You're not just writer/director/actor/editor on this game but you're also the game designer and programmer. Game development is an entirely different creative field from filmmaking. Was it difficult to do?

Jeffrey: Hell yeah. Things that happen programmatically on your computer screen have ever-changing variables to account for, like the user's platform, browser, monitor size, internet connection. And different things happen to different players depending on their progress in the game, so elaborate programming had to be created to track and manage that as well. There were some things I wanted to do that, at the start of production, I had no idea how to pull off (and some "experts" told me couldn't be done). But with the help of some super-smart coders and a lot of trial and error, we did it.

The game instructs you to go on the web to look for clues and answers. What gave you that idea?

Jeffrey: Spreading the journey out to the web at large was also a core idea of the game structure to expand the world of the game into real life.

Now that the game is finished, what do you think of the final product?

Stephanie: I have played the game and I actually scared myself. It's pretty creepy. I'm a big fan of horror, but movies that deal with demon possession scare me the most, oddly enough.

Jeffrey: Overall, I'm very happy with the way the game turned out, and I've been overwhelmed by the positive response of gamers from all around the world.

What's next for you both? Are you working on other projects?

Jeffrey: I'm considering other titles and concepts. Personally, I may need to recharge my creative batteries with a conventional film project before launching another game, but I haven't decided yet.

Stephanie: I have a few projects up in the air right now that I'm excited for! Every road had led to me to something new and interesting. I'm excited to see where it takes me next.

  ➤  daemon_9 is no longer available on Steam
  ➤   The daemon_9 experience is archived at the official website.

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