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Ghostbusters: The Videogame Interview

22 January 2009

The development of Ghostbusters: The Videogame may have been in jeopardy for a short while after Vivendi dropped the project following its merger with Activision last summer, but its future has never been in doubt for the developer Terminal Reality, who has been working frantically over the past few years on capturing the likenesses of the original cast and the spirit of the Ghostbusters brand. With Atari stepping forward to take over publishing duties for one of the most recognizable franchises in the world, Ghostbusters The Videogame is now finally set to launch in June to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the original movie.

With original actors Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Ernie Hudson and Harold Ramis lending their voices and faces for the game and a brand new script set after the event of Ghostbusters II, Ghostbusters The Videogame promises a whole host of new trials and tribulations for the leading paranormal ghost busting team.

We caught up with Terminal Reality’s Executive Producer, Brendan Goss to find out how development on Ghostbusters: The Videogame is progressing.

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PSU: By taking on such a famous franchise comes high expectation, how has the development team coped with the pressure?

Goss: We knew from day one that there would be a great deal of pressure to do the franchise justice. Our primary goal has always been to deliver a gameplay experience as captivating as the films.

At the same time, everyone on the team recognized what a huge opportunity this was for the studio, and for each of us to leave our own mark on the Ghostbusters universe.

It gave us a huge boost when the talent and Sony pictures told us we had really hit the mark in terms of obvious passion and a truly authentic experience.

PSU: The story of Ghostbusters: The Videogame is set two years after the events in Ghostbusters II. Can you tell us more about the storyline and the game’s main playable character?

Goss: The Ghostbusters have done well for themselves and are now under contract with the city of New York. When the World of Gozer exhibit opens at the Museum of Natural History, the Ghostbusters once again find themselves called to action to save the Big Apple.

The Player has been hired by the team as the new experimental equipment technician, field-testing Egon’s latest and potentially “less stable” gadgets.

PSU: The Ghostbusters films were high on comedy value, but there were also a few scary moments (okay, so were kids at the time.) Can we expect any frights at all or is the action/script and visuals largely tongue-in-cheek?

Goss: The Ghostbusters have always taken themselves very seriously, with one possible exception--Dr. Venkman, please step forward--and we have preserved that, so we don’t do anything overtly slapstick ingame.

One of our development pillars is to ensure that every experience is Fun, Funny, or Scary. This drove design and we put significant effort into making sure that we could build and sustain tension and then pay it off with some pretty effective scares.

Mind you, Ghostbusters is a pretty friendly Teen-rated game in terms of content, so we go more for the shock moments and situations than any gore. At times it’s been a challenge to talk some of our team down from the splatter ledge!

PSU: We guess there’ll be a wide arsenal of funky weaponry and gadgets available to help us in the hunt to track down and capture the ghouls? Can you give us some examples of the equipment that will be available and the ways in which these can be used to bag the ghosts?

Goss: Oh yes. Doctors Spengler and Stanz have been very busy in the lab since ’89. A wide range of suitably esoteric equipment is made available to the player. From the original Proton stream to the new Meson Collider, Slime Tether, Boson Dart and much more, the player gets first crack at all the latest and greatest ‘busting equipment.

We have spent a great deal of time working with Dan Aykroyd to ensure that all of our equipment and science is true to the Ghostbusters universe—he really does know how paranormal technology works!--but also delivers innovative gameplay.

PSU: And what powers will the ghosts have? Will they have specific strengths/ weaknesses and behavioral patterns and will they be able to counter-act any of the weapons?

Goss: We developed the ghosts with one eye on the films, and one on compelling, tactical gameplay.

In our game, ghosts appear in a wide variety of forms and personalities, with an even wider range of abilities, powers, and behaviours. This array of ghosts lends a sort of collectible nature to the game. Eventually, though, they all swirl down the trap cone the same way.

Players can figure out which tactical equipment work bests for them, and which are more effective against a ghost that, say, likes to hide behind things and ambush from behind, or one that uses whatever objects it finds in environments as weaponry.

We find that giving the player those constant choices and inviting him to observe ghostly behaviours and respond accordingly tends to be more compelling than arbitrarily assigning ‘this stream works against blue ghosts, because it’s blue, but not very well against red ghosts.’

PSU: As there’s a brand new script for the game, can we expect to see any new ghosts or are they all straight from the films?

Goss: We think we’ve struck a really great balance between presenting the beloved iconic ghosts such as Stay Puft, Slimer, The Librarian, and more in fresh, plausible situations, and creating an entire host—or is that legion?—of brand-new ghosts.

We learned from the films that the most enduring ghosts have big personalities, even if you don’t know their individual ‘ghost stories,’ and that’s the angle we’ve worked from in developing new ghosts for the game.

 

PSU: We understand that the team has worked hard on perfecting the ghost trapping mechanic? How does it work and are you pleased with the final result?

Goss: When we first started the project, we had all seen the movies but none of us realized that there is only slightly more than 2 minutes of footage where they are actually throwing the streams. It was quite a challenge to take that and expand upon it to support 10+ hrs of gameplay!

We literally went through the films frame by frame to deconstruct the ‘real’ ghost-trapping procedure, and to replicate the most accurate look and feel of the action.

We developed and threw out a lot of approaches. It was during this process that the design team hit upon the idea that trapping a ghost was not unlike landing a big fish. That became the basis of the system.

We receive consistent feedback from focus testing that the ghost-trapping mechanic feels ‘just like the real thing’, which is an extremely gratifying response to get from a mostly fictional action!

PSU: We understand that we’ll earn cash for capturing ghosts? What can we spend the money on?

Goss: It takes boatloads of Research & Development funding to keep Egon experimenting with useful new Paranormal Investigation and Extermination technology in the manner to which he’s grown accustomed.

PSU: What function does the PDA have in the game? Is it purely used as a map reference tool?

Goss: What doesn’t it do? The Mark II PKE meter is a truly marvel of modern (1991-modern) technologies. It integrates the latest in portable video technology (Game Gear? Lynx?) with a wide array of paranormal detection equipment. Today’s well-equipped Ghostbuster can scan and identify ghosts, pick up even the faintest cross-dimensional emissions, and locate otherwise-undetectable samples & artifacts.

Tobin’s Spirit Guide, as well as the Complete Ghostbusters Field Training Manual, have been converted to digital format and loaded onboard as well.

PSU: In the gameplay footage that we’ve seen so far we’ve noticed that there’s no HUD in the game. Is this deliberate or will a HUD be added?

Goss: It was a deliberate decision to limit the HUD as much as possible to stay true to the immersive cinematic feel that we wanted for the game. We have accomplished this by integrating most of the information that the player needs onto the proton pack, and only displaying overt HUD elements for time-sensitive critical elements, or when the game detects that the player has missed the more subtle cues.

PSU: Are we right in saying that you can’t actually die in the game, but you simply lose energy that regenerates over time? If that’s the case, where does the challenge lie?

Goss: It’s accurate that no one really ‘dies’ in the game. Ghostbusters regenerate health over time (who says close exposure to nuclear accelerators is always a bad thing?), unless they’re knocked out. When knocked out, a Ghostbuster must be revived by a still-active teammate to get back into the action. Mission failure results when all Ghostbusters present are knocked out.

This leads to some really frantic priority-juggling scenarios when wounded Ghostbusters require revival. Do you keep fighting, or do you duck and weave through a spectral cataclysm to a fallen comrade? As the last one standing, do you risk getting taken out, too? Or when you’re lying there waiting for revival, can your lone fellow Ghostbuster get to you just before he’s laid out?

Strategy changes dramatically based on how many Ghostbusters are local to the Player: sometimes there are five Ghostbusters, sometimes only two, and sometimes the player is all alone, and no help is fast coming.

 

PSU: Is Ghostbusters: The Videogame all about capturing ghosts or are there other gameplay elements to look forward to?

Goss: Capturing ghosts is only part of the experience. The gameplay is composed of physics manipulation and epic destruction, spooky exploration, collection elements, and tactical shooting, all wrapped in an incredible story.


PSU: Is there freedom to explore locations or does the game have a strictly linear progression?

Goss: The story is a linear progression and missions will advance to support that story, but the player has a great deal of freedom within the context of actual gameplay. There is often more than one way to capture the ghost of a skinned cat!

PSU: Ghostbusters: The Videogame will be the first title to use the ‘Infernal’ game engine, how has this technology helped you to achieve the desired affect?

Goss: Ghostbusters: The Video Game may be the first Gen 3 title (in addition to powering Wii, PS2, PSP, and PC versions) to ship with Infernal Engine, but it is not the first use of the technology. Terminal Reality has been developing and using Infernal Engine for over 5 years. Technology, or more specifically the lack of it, was the reason that this game has not been done earlier. Sony and the talent were adamant that before they got involved with a Ghostbusters game, the tech had to be capable of providing an authentic Ghostbusters experience, and that required graphics and physics tech--spanning all platforms. This is something that is a specialty of the Infernal Engine and the reason why Ghostbusters: The Video Game can come out on all major platforms simultaneously.

PSU: Judging from the trailers, teamwork obviously plays a part in the game, specifically when trapping ghosts. This opens up the door nicely for co-op gameplay, right?

Goss: We want the player to feel as though they are part of the team and the Ghostbusters experience is happening all around them. Whether the player is in single player or in multiplayer, we have gone to great lengths to really make you feel like you are part of the team.

PSU: The Playstation 3 is the lead development platform for Ghostbusters: The Videogame. What influenced this decision?

Goss: The PS3 is a more demanding system to develop on and it is what the Infernal Engine was designed to exploit from the ground up. With the multiple SPU’s it has onboard a solid multithreaded engine design can really take advantage of that and give you some amazing results.

PSU: Will there be any exclusive content across the different platforms?

Yes.

PSU: Is the release of Ghostbusters: The Videogame still set to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the first film's theatrical debut?

Atari, Sony Pictures, and Terminal Reality are thrilled that Ghostbusters The Video Game will be available to fans around the world for the 25th anniversary of the first film.

 

PSU would like to thank Goss for taking the time to answer our questions.


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