Understanding The 2D Psychological Horror Of Jesse Makkonen



Despite only having released a single psychological horror game so far, Finnish developer Jesse Makkonen is already acquiring a small collection of passionate fans, who are now eagerly awaiting his second game.


His first was Silence of the Sleep, released in October 2014, which has you following a man called Jacob Reeves who has lost all reason to live. At the start of the game, Reeves throws himself off a cliff in a bid to kill himself, but ends up within a dark, disturbing world with no memory of his previous life. It’s grim stuff, especially due to the themes that Silence of the Sleep touches upon (suicide, misery, depression), but as a psychological horror game it’s imaginative, unsettling, and engrossing.


Makkonen is now working on his follow-up called The Human Gallery. Little is known about it right now but there is a teaser that shows early footage of the game’s protagonist, a painter, as he searches through a decrepit place, a lantern in hand to fight back the dark, as he searches for a serial killer to use as inspiration for his work.


SIliconera caught up with Makkonen to talk about what we can expect from The Human Gallery, but also find out where this interest in such dark themes comes from, what he loves about psychological horror more than other types of horror, and find out how he makes the 2D perspective so chilling.



Could you introduce yourself first of all and give us some insight into how you got into making games?


My name is Jesse Makkonen, a 26-year-old developer from Finland. Well, I’ve always liked to create something. To paint, compose music etc. At some point I thought maybe I could do it for a living? It took me a little while and it sort of came to me. I thought I’ll create a game, and I did: Silence of the Sleep. So, with zero experience I threw myself into the deepest end of the pool. A leap of faith one could call it!


Your games Silence of the Sleep and the upcoming The Human Gallery are both very dark. Where does this artistic interest in death and the macabre come from?


I’m from Finland: there are long winters here and it’s dark. It’s also this… this Finnish mentality… Jokes aside, I like my games with heavy themes, I like games that can touch you in a way. Usually this requires a rather heavy story, and death is usually a part of it. Surely there are other ways too, and who knows, maybe one day I’ll create something totally different! Maybe sooner than later…? But yeah, it is difficult to say. I feel more natural working with games like this, I think it comes from small things. Heavy music and so.



Was Silence of the Sleep your first game? How much of a success do you consider it to be and how do you measure that personally?


First and first ever. Well, the effort it took to create Silence of the Sleep, the learning curve and everything, I’m not quite happy how it has sold to the date. But then again, it’s my first game and I was able to release it and people have really enjoyed it. Of that I’m proud and happy, not many could pull it off without any experience. And it’s still selling a bit every now and then, enough to keep me developing. So that is a big, big win for me. The experience I gained from creating it and marketing it has been irreplaceable. I think it was the game I simply needed to do to learn.


You’ve labelled your games as psychological horror. Do you prefer this type of horror in games than, say, more action-based survival horror? What are the biggest differences between the two types to you?


I personally like psychological horror a lot more. Sure, some survival horror games can be awesome too, but in the end I’d say psychological. Ones like Silent Hill 2 and even Shattered Memories I truly enjoyed playing. Usually survival horror is more action orientated when psychological horror focuses telling a story and has more variety in the atmosphere.



Are your games 2D out of necessity or is it part of your style? Is there anything that you think the 2D perspective can do better in a horror game than a 3D one?


It is a bit of both. I’m by no means a coder, neither a 3D artist. If I were to create a 3D game that would bring lots of new stuff to learn. I also feel I have more freedom working on 2D games. And honestly, being a one man band there are limitations. One of the most important things is that you design your game wisely. It’s very easy to overdo stuff, but hard to keep it tight and clean. And sure! 2D horror can be as effective as 3D. In certain situations even more so. It really comes down to how you design your game.


The 2D perspective you’ve composed for The Human Gallery seems different, perhaps more intimate, than most other 2D perspectives. What’s the thinking behind the design and art style here?


Claustrophobia was my first thought. If I take the camera close to the player and give them only a lantern… well, I really liked the idea. You can only see a few steps ahead: I could do LOTS with the sound design. I think it’s pretty intense, even though there are some limitations too. But overall I’m happy how it’s coming together. I’d personally love to play something like The Human Gallery.


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Obviously, looks aren’t everything, especially in a horror game. What other elements do you make effective use of to create the atmosphere in The Human Gallery, and how?


That’s right. In horror genre it is possible that the audio is even more important than the looks. This is my take though. So yes, audio, audio and audio! I really hope I can spend more time with the audio work and create something disturbing. There is so much you can do with the audio, well, only time will tell how it turns out in the end. I’m also including voice acting in The Human Gallery which will add this extra something. I’m pretty happy with how everything is going towards that end.


Could you give leave us on a bit of a teaser for what The Human Gallery’s story is and the kind of horror we can expect?


The Human Gallery takes the place in the same universe as Silence of the Sleep. It’s a different story though, but there are a lots of references to Silence of the Sleep. Horror is most definitely psychological. Hopefully people will play it late when it’s dark, with headphones on. Audio will be very important, and one of the key elements crafting the atmosphere. I don’t want to give away too much about the story, but it will be a ride to remember!

Chris Priestman