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Demon House - Interactive Horror & Iterative Development 

Of all narrative genres it is more than arguable that Horror and Thriller stories lend themselves most profoundly to interactive engagement. A great lover of Horror of films I may be, but I can still say that there is no Horror film ever made (even my dear beloved The Exorcist) that can scare me quite like the greatest of Horror interactive experiences. Amnesia, Silent Hill, Doom 3, The Shalebridge Cradle from Theif 3, Ravenholm from Half Life 2, and so on…

When at their best, dark genre narratives, even in traditional mediums, demand personal reflection and projection of self. I’ve written many times about the fundamental idea of “there but for the grace of God go I…” that is so crucial to a true Horror experience, the imagining of Self into dark transgressive circumstances. And it’s this that makes Horror such a fertile genre space for interactivity - the immersion of ourselves into our own fears, personification in that which haunts us…

So it’s with this symbiosis between Horror and Interactivity that I was particularly excited to be working this past year with feature-film director Ursula Dabrowski and her comic book and video game expert collaborator Dan Thorsland on an interactive Horror experience called Demon House.

Ursula is soon to release the second in a trilogy of Horror feature films - Family Demons, Inner Demon and Demon Heart - and Demon House represents a brave venture into interactive extensions on her unique dark storyworld.

Demon House was developed as part of the South Australian Film Corporations Digital 360Lab which i was involved in leading as a six month intensive development process focusing on an holistic approach to interactive and multiplatform projects. Ursula and Dan walked in the door with a feature film and proceeded to mine it for interactive mechanics, role-play, immersion and cross-media potential. 

The result is the first iteration of Demon House as an EPOC (electronic proof of concept) game experience.

The project Demon House is effectively a turn-based and very personal horror strategy experience described as:

a Freemium game for web and tablets based on Ursula Dabrowsky’s Demon Trilogy of films. It is a game of real-world horror. The horror of people who are trapped, and the shameful secrets that turned their captors into Demons.” 

Whilst standing on the shoulders of a long tradition of game-horror, Demon House also brings very fresh thinking to the interactive horror experience, drawing on personal engagement and emotional strategy.

Demon House represents some bad-ass-big-thinking about interactive media and it was such a pleasure to see Ursula and Dan take what was a straight indie horror film narrative and then mine it, and extend it, into something fresh, compelling and ambitious.

Moreover, Demon House is a prime example of an iterative and audience-facing development process. Rather than the ‘build in secret and emerge fully-formed’ mentality that has so dominated creative endeavors for the past 100 years (and which is so antithetical to the online environment), the ideas and the product are tested with the audience in an open and genuinely responsive way. 

Strategically Demon House also fills a crucial and pragmatic audience-building strategy for Ursula’s trilogy of films. It maintains audience engagement for audiences between film releases, rewards committed fans, extends the experiences for greater satisfaction and builds new audiences over a long-tail, in a way that a feature film distribution cycle on it’s own cannot.

Demon House will be shown at the Adelaide Film Festival as part of the Little Miss Cross Over program, along with a ‘Meet the Makers’ discussion session. I strongly advise if you’re heading to Adelaide, not to miss it.

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