Daytime, The Soho Hotel, London. Nothing remotely scary about that of course, but having come along to play the new Ghostbusters Videogame and have a nice chat with Terminal Reality about developing the PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game, we’re still frightened. Well, perhaps not frightened, more apprehensive in finally getting hands-on time with the latest game adaptation of one of our all-time favourite films. Want our verdict? Well then you’ll have to wait for our hands-on preview. For now though, why not whet your appetite with our in-depth interview with the game’s Executive Producer, Brendan Goss and Creative Director, Drew Haworth?
We slimed them with questions on their responsibility to stay true to the movies and their unusual decision to omit local multiplayer, finding out some insightful facts about possibly the biggest movie IP to make the transition to the videogame medium this year.
Strategy Informer: Who came up with the idea to do a Ghostbusters game? Were you approached to make the game or did you pitch the idea to Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis?
Brendan Goss:It was actually really interesting. We were pitching the team and technology solution with the Infernal Engine and we went to Sierra pitching a first-person, modern day military shooter and they came back to us and said, “How would you feel about doing Ghostbusters?” Once we’d scooped ourselves from the floor, there was a moment of wow; this is incredible followed by wow, that’s really scary in the sense that the expectations are huge for something like that. Then we went to Sony Pictures and Sony said, “Yeah, we’ve wanted to do Ghostbusters for quite a while, we’ve seen your tech and we think that this is something that could really work. If you guys can get the talent on board, we’re in.”
So, we went back and did the ballroom scene from the Sedgwick Hotel and really tried to show that we could deliver a high quality authentic experience. Not a standard movie type game you know, really something unique. That was shown to Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis and they immediately jumped on board and when they said, “We can tell that you share a passion. How would you feel if we wanted to write the story for it? Would you guys be open to that?” that was the biggest thing for us.
Brace yourself for huge amounts of environmental destruction – all charged to the city council of course.
Drew Haworth:All we were hoping for originally was likenesses; we were actually going to get soundalikes and they were like, “No, no! We’ll do the voices and get everybody back.” And then the more they became involved, they kept asking to do more and more, so by the time they said, can we help with the story it was like, yes please!
Brendan Goss:It was amazing to get everyone involved, and even getting Bill Murray involved, it was the same kind of thing. He’s very concerned to make sure that everybody’s equally represented and he wanted to know what we were planning to do with Ernie Hudson’s character and everything else. And once it was clear that, yeah we’re bringing the band back together and this is going to be legit, I mean even with Vigo the Carpathian being back and Annie Potts as Janine and Walter Peck (William Atherton) back in, then it became clear (to Murray) what we were doing and he agreed to join us.
Drew Haworth:We’d love to say it was all our idea from the very beginning, but it was more our idea after a while! (laughs)
Strategy Informer: How did you cope with the pressure of resurrecting a series so beloved by so many fans that has this status as one of the most highly regarded blockbuster movie franchises?
Brendan Goss:It was a lot of pressure externally, but there was also a lot of pressure internally. I mean, we’re all fans too, we remember sitting there in the theatre and having the crap scared out of us by those dogs! (laughs) But the biggest thing was that we knew if we did something that was authentic, something that was high quality, then the fans are going to react very well to it. I think we’re on the right track and we’ve got that by having the original talent, by spending the time…you know this isn’t something that we had to cram in to ship with the movie or the DVD, so we said let’s do this and let’s do it right. Because we’ve had the time to do that it really changes the mould for a licensed game.
Strategy Informer: When the talent came on board and got involved, did they have any ideas that you weren’t able to implement for whatever reason, technical or otherwise?
Drew Haworth:We explored some things together initially, one of those being the player who was going to be a fully formed character with lines and we were going to bring his own personality into it. We all discovered fairly quickly that it just didn’t work for what people want. People want to play as a Ghostbuster, but they also want to watch the Ghostbusters and by adding this new element to it, it really threw the group dynamic off. Not that that couldn’t happen or it wouldn’t have been great because they (Aykroyd and Ramis) were writing it too, so it would have been funny anyway but to bring Ghostbusters back after almost twenty years you really have to convince people that we’re taking care of you. We’re not going to throw some new thing in there. People just want the Ghostbusters they remember - at least this first time out - so that was one of the things I think that we ended up changing back.
Brendan Goss:We had phenomenal technology for a complete voice recognition squad command where you could tell Ray to go open a door and he’d do as he was told but that just wasn’t right. As a player, if you tell Peter Venkman to go open a door he’s going to hit you with something, he’s not just going to go over and open the door, so that was something that we had a look at and thought, well this is great, but it’s not a good fit for what we’re trying to do, so we cut it.
Drew Haworth:And we quite liked the idea of this experimental equipment technician, who seems very much like someone the Ghostbusters would hire to test out stuff before they use it.
Strategy Informer: Were there any key scenes in the movie that really inspired the gameplay? Was there anything specific that you looked at and said, “We want this in our game”?
Drew Haworth:Ghostbusters is a property that’s filled with icons wall-to-wall, right? So, we knew initially that the elements we had to get were the proton packs, proton stream capture and ghost trapping. Then New York had to be huge, it had to practically be its own character, but the things we really wanted to bring back that we had to work at to figure out how to make them happen…well we wanted Slimer back obviously and we had to bring Stay Puft back and that’s the trickiest thing because Stay Puft wasn’t really a character, he was just sort of a personification of something, so working that in was tricky. And then of course, nods to Vigo and the librarian who’s the one ghost the Ghostbusters never caught and we knew that by introducing these characters people would know that we’re really taking care of the IP. It’s accurate and we’ve really done the best we can to make it authentic. You’ve got the public library, the Firehouse of course, which is a huge aspect – you can slide down the pole – it still works! There’s Times Square, Ecto-1 of course is a huge thing too…
Whatever you do, don’t cross the streams!
‘Saving the day, doodededoo! Saving the day!’
Brendan Goss:The entire property is an icon and you have to be true to that, but at the same time, we don’t want to retell a story that’s already been told. We can’t bring Stay Puft back just because we want to have Stay Puft back – or doing it with a flashback or something lame like that – it has to make sense within the story. That’s where having Dan and Harold was absolutely key, they were able to write it so that it all makes sense and I think players will be happy when they hear that there’s actually a reason why Stay Puft is back.
Drew Haworth:Yeah, it’s not just arbitrary, it actually adds up to a really good story too. When you play all the way through it though, it’s very satisfying and satisfactory. If there’s a difference! (laughs).
Strategy Informer: You mentioned Ecto-1. Have you put any driving sections into the game at all where you get to sound the sirens and race down the streets?
Drew Haworth:You don’t drive, it’s not a driving game, but you do interact pretty significantly with Ecto-1 in two totally different scenarios. The first one’s early on in the game where Ray has installed a Super Slammer trap on Ecto-1, which is a huge trap that automatically grabs ghosts and so when you’re going through New York City and the car’s on the move, you can slam ghosts and automatically trap them which is a really cool part of the gameplay that’s really fun too. You also have to protect Ecto-1 and you’re using it to go through wreckage, clearing a path at the same time. It’s very well integrated, but it’s not actual driving. We wanted to do driving, it would have worked, but in terms of an asset grab, it just took up too much of our time for all the gameplay you’ve got there.
Brendan Goss:This came back to a very similar thing we had with the squad mechanic. Ghostbusters is about trapping ghosts and saving New York, it’s not about being a driving sim and it diverted the focus from what we wanted to do with this title in particular because coming back after 20 years, we wanted this to be about being part of the Ghostbusters team. Is it something that we’ll consider for the future? Yeah, you bet. Terminal Reality has got a long history of making driving games, so we’ve got the tech but it just didn’t seem like a fit for this title.
Drew Haworth:Also, when you watch the Ghostbusters movies, there’s nothing that really happens when they’re driving other than conversations, it’s not like there’s a lot of action when they’re driving. It didn’t really feel like a real part of Ghostbusters to us, so it was one of the things that didn’t make it into the game because it wasn’t really in the films.
Strategy Informer: Let’s talk about your multiplayer for a bit. You have online co-op, but have you any offline local multiplayer support?
Brendan Goss:We only have online co-op for the PS3, 360 and PC versions. The Wii version has got the split-screen. The choices behind that were very specific to the platform and the age group we’re targeting, so we certainly think of the Wii offering a very family-oriented experience where you want to play sitting next to the person and that’s why they have co-op all the way through their story mode. You’re sitting next to the person and you’re enjoying the experience together, but online was quite a challenge with the breadth of age demographic that recognise the property and wants to have the online experience, meaning that we have to be prepared for a player that may have never been online with a console before, ever.
At the same time you have to appeal to the kids who play Halo every night, two hours before bed so that really meant that it has to be robust and approachable, which is why we went down the path of having an instant action system with six different modes where you can just go to any scene, with any job type and play a game right now. You can jump in with three of your friends and you can play as the talent, so you can be Peter Venkman if you want – we were able to address that – while at the same time you can also go in with your friends and build a huge campaign. You can build a playlist of Ghost-busting action and really jump in there and have that in-depth experience with difficulty that automatically adjusts to match your skill level, so we feel we’ve hit all of the goals we had (for multiplayer).
Strategy Informer: If there were enough of a demand for a local split-screen mode, would you ever consider retrofitting this feature as a downloadable add-on perhaps?
Brendan Goss:We don’t see split-screen as something that’s appropriate for this on the PS3 or Xbox 360 SKUs. That’s really something that we’ll leave to the Wii experience in particular. With the full voiceover IP support that we have you will certainly feel like you’re playing with your friends and everything else, but given the art style we’ve chosen which is very photo-realistic and the amount of environmental destruction that we want, maximising that screen space while letting you really feel immersed in the environment was a really big deal for us and we wanted to preserve that.
Drew Haworth:Once you split the screen you’re also splitting the view and what we’re looking at here just looks great by itself.
Brendan Goss:And we were going for a very cinematic feel and split-screen kind of breaks that effect if I’ve got divided focus.
That ubiquitous book monster rears it’s papery hear once more.
A wonderful (online only) multiplayer moment.
Drew Haworth:I guess a lot of the stuff we talked about points to the idea that we’re trying to present a very specific experience that’s tailored to bring people back to the world of Ghostbusters after 20 years and while a lot of what you’ve mentioned are just awesome ideas that would actually be fun to play, they just don’t sit well in the kind of experience that we’re trying to go for.
Strategy Informer: Final question. Have you got any Ghostbusters DLC planned for the future?
Brendan Goss:Atari could certainly tell you about what they’d like to do regarding DLC for Ghostbusters and the architecture is in place.