Alternate reality games (ARG) and experiences (ARX) provide players with opportunities to discover new worlds. While ARX’s are often heavily personalized via character interactions and rely on the creator to move the experience forward, ARGs offer less personalized experiences that do not progress without the player’s involvement. These two genres have seen little overlap—until now. Daemon 9 expertly blends the personalized elements of an ARX with the game mechanics of an ARG in a new frightening horror experience.
Brought to life by Jeff Jackson, Daemon 9 is a unique hybrid between movie and game; a cinematic game that you can experience from the comfort of your own home. This is “an interactive thriller that puts you in the heart of the story,” explains Jackson. “There is nothing to shoot at. No avatars to control. Because Daemon 9 takes place in your world.” While you may be enjoying this game in front of your computer screen, don’t get too relaxed, as this is a horror story that pays no heed to conventions or walls. “Daemon 9 takes place in your world. Text messages, emails, and social media will all play key parts.”
College roommates Anna and Morgan were as close as two friends can be… until Anna was murdered – by Morgan, who has now disappeared. Their classmate Adam is committed to uncovering the truth; a truth he believes involves demonic possession through an entity released into cyberspace, and the powerful conspiracy by a Chinese tech conglomerate attempting to cover it up. And their next target is someone who knows far too much…
“Your task is to find and save Morgan Shane, following a trail of clues across the web. The characters will interact with you, sometimes guiding you. At other times, you’ll be on your own, left to piece together the puzzle of her bizarre disappearance and the bloody trail of mayhem she left behind.”
Daemon 9 is “equal parts movie and game — although not what you’ve come to expect from either. The story is spread across the web, not in predictable episodes, but in scattered fragments comprised of video sequences, gathered documents, background material both visual and textual, and more.”
While this experience may have elements familiar to those who enjoy ARXs and ARGs, this experience was born before both sub-genres. Jackson explains, “the idea for Daemon 9 actually formed before ARGs were a definable sub-genre, so I didn’t realize that’s what I was creating at the onset. I just saw an exciting nexus between film and the web and thought it would be a cool, alternative way to tell a cinematic story vs. the linear, passive way we traditionally experience movies.”
Jackson’s background is in filmmaking and playwriting, not game design: “Several years ago, I wrote a play that revolved around artificial intelligence. In it, I draw comparisons between human existence and hardware/software models. I’m sure that was all still floating around in my mind while hatching Daemon 9.”
“I think approaching it as a filmmaker rather than a gamer kept it intrinsically rooted in the cinematic. As for making the player the main character, that was always a fundamental core of my concept. The genesis of Daemon 9 had less to do with the specific story elements and more to do with the structure of the experience.”
“Only afterward did I choose to make it the vehicle for a horror story, because: 1. I’m a huge fan, and 2. horror is a timeless, evergreen genre. Yes, it’s particularly hot right now, but it never goes away (for good, sociological reasons that have nothing to do with entertainment). Also, the meta-awareness that Daemon 9 would be experienced online was always a part of the underlying concept for me. So, once I bred that idea with horror, I just looked for as many ways as I could think of to freak people out on their computer — within the limitations of web development and browser security.”
As well as his theatrical/cinematic background, Jackson has some experience in web design and programming and “so Daemon 9 falls squarely in the place where those two skillsets cross.”
“I pretty much designed and built Daemon 9 solo (which is why it took me nearly 5 years — not a smart pathway). There was a lot about Daemon 9 that I had to invent along the way. I was told by some “experts” that some things I wanted to include just couldn’t be done, technically. (They were wrong.) So, at the start, I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. But I brought in help for some specialized tasks along the way, both on the film side and the programming side.”
“If I choose to expand on the format to other stories or sequels/spinoffs, I won’t have to surmount that huge learning curve. I’ll also be able to expand to include more collaborators and build a true team, because the model will be in place. So, by definition, it will be a fundamentally different process.”
One of the most fascinating aspects of Daemon 9 is the way in which each journey through the story will be unique to the player – a different sequence of events, with varying twists and turns. Even sharing clues or information with other players will prove fruitless; everything is applicable only to you and your experience. Jackson explains, “I wanted to give Daemon 9 what I call a “veneer of reality.” Personalizing the experience as much as possible always seemed essential to that idea.”
As with any game, puzzles also play a huge part in Daemon 9, and through his research, Jackson has become somewhat of an addict.
“I quickly learned that there’s a “satisfaction zone” in every well-designed puzzle, from crosswords to escape rooms. That’s the place where the puzzle is just hard enough to challenge your brain, but not so obtuse that you never even had a chance. To me, the best puzzle is one where, after you fail, and you learn the correct answer, you smack your head and realize the solution was right there in front of you. When the answer is something you had no logical shot at ever unraveling, you feel cheated. Likewise, if it’s too simple.”
“As for fitting them into the story narrative, the story came first and then the challenges were inserted at key points in the plot. Here’s where a background in storytelling for stage and screen was invaluable, because understanding classic plot structure pointed to best places for the challenges to emerge.”
Daemon 9 is a delightfully complex beast that will keep players entertained from anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on how deep each person wants to go. As characters interact with the player in a very real way, this can mean exchanges may be spread out over time, meaning that there is no way to complete the game in a single sitting. Jackson likens the experience to going to a museum: “you could breeze through one in a couple of hours and get all the highlights, or you can stop and study every single element, which could take weeks. Both experiences can be very satisfying.”
This depth of content just waiting to be explored will also be a pull to return to Daemon 9, if you survive the first run through… “I think second and third go-arounds will still yield new things to find.”
With the action taking over your computer screen and bleeding out into “the real world”, it is fair to say that Daemon 9 is not for the faint-hearted.
“Many players have commented that, despite being seasoned horror fans, Daemon 9 freaked them out. I think it’s the sheer simplicity of some of the scary elements — and the very newness of the format — that surprises people and presses their buttons. If you think back to the most iconic horror movies, some of the scariest moments were largely implied: the shower scene from Psycho, the shark looming underwater in Jaws, Michael Myers relentlessly marching forward… I studied a lot about horror movies and what things really scare us in these classics, and it’s often not what you might expect it to be.”
There are a few moments that will definitely scare even the seasoned of horror fans. While we will not spoil what these moments are, we have never seen anything like this accomplished in an ARG or ARX to-date. We asked Jackson if he could expand on how he accomplished these feats. “In some places, the execution of [that] is surprisingly simple; in other places, wickedly complex. I don’t want to give away too many of our development secrets, but suffice to say, it was a b*tch.”
This is a horror experience at its core, but Jackson hopes players will take away something more than just the experience of being scared: “I’d like people to, first and foremost, be entertained. But I’d also like them to feel like they’ve experienced something really different and innovative, which adds an extra entertainment value all its own. If players also feel a sense of realism and that they are truly a participant in the story, that would fulfil my ultimate goal.”
You can play Daemon 9 for a one-off fee of $24.95. There are no adds, no subscriptions, no in-game purchases or downloadable content. There are no additional hidden costs. And you don’t even have to pay right away. You can experience a free trial before deciding whether you want to, or are able to, carry on and see it through.
Furthermore, Daemon 9 are very kindly offering our community a limited discount code, HAUNTING, which will give you a $10 discount off (the deepest discount they’ve offered yet) bringing the price down to $14.95.
So why not give it a try and see if you have what it takes to find Morgan and uncover the truth? And ultimately, if you have what it takes to survive…
“See it through to the end and you’ll win a prize. The prize?… You get to live.”