How the Distraint series stands out in the crowded horror genre

One-man studio Jesse Makkonen explains how he was able to get his horror game to stand out in a market that is flooded with genre competitors.

While Steam is chock-full of horror games, the Distraint series stands out by relying less on creepy monsters and jump-scares and more on the oppressive atmosphere of worldwide corporate hegemony. It’s managed to garner quite a bit of acclaim, too, with 98 percent of the reviews proving positive.

It’s not for everyone, but as one-man studio Jesse Makkonen explains in this lightly-edited Q&A, the series’ success is the result of careful experimentation with a variety of art styles, and a careful eye for what stands out in a crowded genre.

Psychological horror

I don't think there are too many similar games to Distraint out there. Instead of constant jump scares and mindless gore, Distraint relies more on the tense atmosphere. Horror is more psychological than visual. The Distraint series explores human feelings and behavior in a somewhat goofy and scary way. I want my games to be funny, scary and touching so that the players can expect meaningful stories.

An art style that works and speeds up production

I've tried different art-styles from realistic to cartoonish. Making cartoonish art allows way more relaxed animation, which is a lot quicker to create. For a one-man-band like me, it's vital to make progress instead of getting stuck to small detail for too long.

I actually started creating this happy, pixel-art platformer game -- which in the end turned into the Distraint series. It was quite fun turning the platformer game into something else.

I started playing around, and soon it went from being pixel-art to low-res/pixel-art combo. I'm also playing with the color scheme to add a dreamy atmosphere, and to my eye, it makes my games more beautiful to look at -- in relatively easy way too!

In the end, for me, it's all about how to use time effectively.

From despair to hope


I did my best to read as many opinions on Distraint 1 as possible and tried to improve on those areas. I also decided that Distraint 2 would be a lot more detailed and polished, and I think I succeeded very well in that area. I also wanted to make the story more abstract, and maybe even a bit more serious, and I think it shows.

The first game was about [main character] Price's inner struggle, about losing hope. It's a very dark tale indeed. 

In the sequel, I wanted to focus on hope, and how it can change everything. In a way, these games are very different from each other. Distraint 2 has a very deep and thoughtful story, and I'd like to think it's quite realistic too.

A tough time to be making games

At times it's super difficult. It's not the actual creation progress, but the mental side. Making a game is a huge task, and you might spend thousands of hours doing it. It's tough to keep the motivation up at times and finish what you've started. To me, this is the biggest challenge.

There's also the financial pressures; after spending one-and-a-half years creating a game, it needs to sell. I'm developing full-time, so it's not all about the fun, I'm afraid! But I've been able to survive. Fingers crossed Distraint 2 will do well enough, hehe!

As for creating itself, when you feel inspired, it's incredibly fun. The internet is full of tutorials these days too, so you're bound to learn as you go if you're determined. For now, I can't complain really. I wouldn't want to do anything else...well, maybe music!

Distraint 2

I swear this is the trickiest question people are asking. I don't have any clear inspiration, but I've noticed I'm picking things "here and there". I'm seeing and hearing some influences from the music I listen, movies I watch and games I play.

For example, at times I get The Shining or Twin Peaks vibes when I play my games. But I rarely see these while developing, it's subconscious, I think.

Not as anti-corporate as it seems

This is a funny one, actually. I can understand how my game might send that message, but in reality, the first game is all about Price's inner struggle. It was never about anti-corporate stuff. 

But to highlight Price's struggle, I wanted to add these heartless douchebag bosses that are all about money. I wanted to create this moral-money conflict. 

I'm by no means anti-corporate person myself, but people are different, and some could react strongly in such stuff -- such as Mr. Price.

One last thing...

Thanks for all the people for their support! And PLEASE stop emailing me about Distraint 2 Android and iOS versions, haha! They're in the works and coming early 2019! :D

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