Ghost Theory, video game, box art, Barbara, woman, house, haunted, dark, shadows, torch

Interview: Ghost Theory

Originally published on 1001Up:

Late last week we received an email from Michal Červenka, CEO and Co-Founder of Dreadlocks Ltd, announcing their new Kickstarter campaign for Ghost Theory. Pitched as ‘a single-player horror adventure game focusing on stealth and exploration’, it will see players using a range of ghost-hunting gadgets and abilities to reveal the truth behind hauntings – while evading the wrath of resident evils.

The thing that attracted me to this project is the fact that you’ll be investigating real-world haunted locations: the Dreadlocks team been in talks with owners of private properties and convinced many of them to let them recreate their house and story, making Ghost Theory authentic. In addition, the developer has said that there will be much more gameplay than in your average horror title and fear will be handled intelligently. As stated in a recent update: “We want you to feel unsafe, oppressed, threatened at all times. The more you progress through any given level, and the more secrets about the place and its history you uncover, the more the resident ghosts will notice you, and try to scare you away.”

We first met the team at last year’s Rezzed event when we interviewed Lead Designer Axel Droxler about previous game Dex (the video can be found at the end of this article). I decided to become a backer for Ghost Theory after watching the promotional video below – and Phil was even persuaded to do the same after I mentioned the project to him, as he loves a good ghost story. A big thank you to Michal and Producer Stefan Durmek for taking the time out of their schedules to answer our questions.

Can you tell us about the Dreadlocks team, and what made you decide to start making Ghost Theory?

Michal and Stefan: “Since 2011, Dreadlocks has released two games. The first is called Rune Legend, which is a mobile puzzle game for Windows Phone. It‘s revenue covered the whole development before the game was even released, thanks to a couple of game competitions that it has won. The second game is cyberpunk-RPG Dex for PC, Mac and Linux. It is going to be released soon for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Wii U and PS Vita. Dex was funded via Kickstarter and so with Ghost Theory we’d like for same magic to happen.

“Our team has gradually evolved and grown a lot. We are currently 15 developers plus externs. Among the most important people is definitely our producer Stefan Durmek, original game designer of Disney Mobile and winner of the Disney Inventor Award, who has worked on projects such as ARMA and ARMA 2, Star Wars: Assault Team and the popular Pirates of the Caribbean: Master of the Seas. Another key member is our Lead Designer Axel Droxler, original Lead Designer on the game series Divinity. Andrej Sinkević was the audio designer of DayZ and Charles Anthony is an award-winning music composer that left his trail in games like Space Engineers and Medieval Engineers, and movies like Mario Warfare or Modern War Gear Solid.”

Are any of the team gamers themselves? If so, do they have any preferred genres or favourite titles?

Michal and Stefan: “Oh yeah, we’re all gamers. Most game devs are, or at least used to be passionate gamers, right? We always seek that passion in those who want to join us, because it guarantees some level of self-motivation for making a great game.

“The team have a various taste when it comes to their favourite games and genres. But here’s what we play or just love: Metal Gear, Silent Hill, XCOM, Dead Space, Mass Effect, World of Warcraft, StarCraft, DOOM, Fallout, Quest for Glory, SpellForce and FIFA. It’s also worth mentioning that two girls from our studio are passionate cosplayers.”

As mentioned above, your previous game Dex also started life as a Kickstarter campaign. What did the process teach you and are you doing anything differently this time?

Michal and Stefan: “The campaign for Dex was very successful because we gathered over 200% of the required budget. We received another 100% from OUYA, the console that was growing at the time. We didn’t need this financing for the development itself – we would finish Dex without it – but we used it for building our community. So eventual failure of the campaign would had only have an impact on the size of Dex.

“The campaign for Ghost Theory is different, because we need to finance the actual development. In other words without successful Kickstarter there will be no Ghost Theory.

“The biggest problem with Dex was that, to this date, it wasn’t noticed by any of the biggest gaming sites. With Ghost Theory, the situation is much better because the game’s concept is viral. As for the campaign itself, trends have changed since Dex and so we’re trying to reflect that. For example, we’ve created community achievements.”

Ghost Theory’s plot centres around Barbara, who has the gift of clairvoyance as the result of a paranormal encounter when she was younger. Are you able to tell us a little more about the character and her current position?

Michal and Stefan: “Barbara’s parents died in a car accident when she was just a baby and so she was raised by her grandma. But something crucial and terrible happens to both of them when Barbara is 11 years old. I won’t say what, because I don’t wanna spoil the game’s playable Prologue that we’re aiming to release for free. However, Barbara loses her only living relative and so she is transferred to an orphanage

“There, at the age of her 16, she discovers her clairvoyance and starts to play with fire. That leads to a series of bummers that scare the hell out of the orphanage’s staff and rumours starts to spread.

“At the time, Professor William Frost is a researcher of para-psychology at a nearby city university. For years his research failed to deliver a result that the university would consider valuable and now the council wants to cut the funding and cancel the research. A few days left until the cruel deadline, the Professor hears a story about strange things occurring in nearby orphanage and he decides to go there and ask around.”

You’ve been doing research on real-world haunted locations and some of these will feature within the game. Why have you decided to go down this route rather than creating fictional places, and how will the locations be tied together?

Michal and Stefan: “Since we found a vision for this game, which is ‘serious ghost-hunting’, we know that authenticity is a key. It is the pure essence of what makes this concept interesting. That’s why real locations and real gadgets was an obvious choice.

“The locations will be tied together by the research of ghost phenomena, hence the game title. Apart from that Barbara have her own personal reason to push the research forward – but I don’t want to spoil the story here.”

What has been the scariest location you’ve visited so far? Did you experience any ghost sightings?

Michal and Stefan: “We’re in touch with owners of those haunted sites, but most of these grounds are abroad. To visit and capture them for the game we need some budget to cover the travel cost.

“In case of the Kickstarter video we have visited a castle called Houska here in the Czech Republic. We had the whole castle for ourselves to capture for reference. The atmosphere of this place is dark and heavy, especially in the chapel where (as legend says) there is a gateway to hell under the floor. But we haven’t seen any ghosts.”

The Kickstarter campaign page advises that ‘freedom of exploration’ is one of the foundations on which the game is being built. The horror genre usually makes use of a linear path in order to manage the scares; has an ‘open world’ therefore made it difficult to control the atmosphere?

Michal and Stefan: “While corridor horror games offer a one-time experience, the concept of a sandbox makes it easy to make it different every time you play. There are a number of game mechanics that fit this concept of a sandbox and still allow the game designers to control the atmosphere. Some interactions make the evil in the place angry, some help you to progress. You need to find the right ones through observation and investigation. So based on the order of things you do in the game, different things can happen. We also want our ghosts to be a bit unpredictable in their behaviour, which will contribute to replayability.”

We’re sure we’d want to close our eyes in many of the locations Barbara will surely find herself in – so the close-your-eyes mechanic makes perfect sense. Can you explain how this will be incorporated into the gameplay?

Michal and Stefan: “You can close your eyes to avoid aggressive hauntings that are deadly. You can of course just close them whenever you feel anxious, but there is another mechanic that makes it interesting: clairvoyance.

“Clairvoyance allows you to temporarily see another version of reality. It is something you will need to use to find clues in order to solve the case. To use clairvoyance you must close your eyes, wait for charge and re-open them. It can also cause very aggressive hauntings.”

You’ve been experimenting with actors captured with a stereoscopic 3D camera, to make the action as believable as possible. How are the results looking so far?

Michal and Stefan: “Some of the results are really good, especially close ups. It’s a new virtual reality (VR) experience. Some experimental scenes didn’t work for various disappointing reasons and some of these scenes needs to be captured again using a different camera setting or technique, so there is still hope we make them work. So far so good. This stereoscopic recording is still an experiment for us.”

There is going to be no visible interface: for example, in order to use your holy water to cleanse a cursed item you’ll need to look down at your belt, see how many vials you have and then grab one. This is going to work extremely well when it comes to VR implementation but will non-VR players have a comparable experience?

Michal and Stefan: “We’re far from that answer. It’s true VR makes it more natural to look down at your belt every time you need to grab something. We are aware that non-VR gamers could be majority of Ghost Theory players and so we want to be careful and offer the best experience possible.”

Is there any advice you’d give to someone who’s thinking of making an indie game?

Michal and Stefan: “If you’re someone who’s thinking of making an indie game: try to think a bit less and do a bit more.”

Once again, thank you to Michal, Stefan and the rest of the Dreadlocks team for answering our questions. The Kickstarter campaign has so far received 6% of the £100,000 target (at the time of writing) and with three weeks left to go before the deadline on 20 February 2016, we’re hopeful that it will meet its goal. Take a look at the official website for more information and be sure to give Ghost Theory a thumbs-up on Steam Greenlight.

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