Ghost Theory

Developer discusses Haunted Locations, Jumpscares, Gadgets & VR for Ghost Theory

Whether you believe in them or not, spirits and the paranormal have always possessed (pardon the awful pun) the uncanny ability for drawing people in. With The Conjuring and Paranormal Activity proving to be a huge attraction for movie-goers worldwide and popular TV shows Ghost Adventures, Ghost Hunters and Most Haunted terrifying viewers in the comfort of their own homes, it’s safe to assume that the current paranormal fever coursing throughout today’s popular culture will be around for some time to come.

the conjuring
The Conjuring (2013)

The introduction of ghosts in video games first came about in 1980 when Namco took the arcade world by storm with the now iconic, Pacman. The introduction of Pacman paved the way for many titles with a paranormal feel to follow with Ivan Reitman’s popular 1984 movie Ghostbusters arriving on the Commodore 64 a few years later. Over the course of the last three decades, ghosts in video games have become a more prominent feature with Nintendo’s Luigi’s Mansion, Clock Tower 3, Beyond Two Souls and Alan Wake proving that there was, in fact, a home for spirits in the industry and with a Paranormal Activity VR title in the works and games like Perception and Ghost Theory in development, it really is an exciting time for fans of the paranormal and video games in general.

This past week we had the chance to speak with Stefan Durmek – lead designer, and producer for Dreadlocks Studio’s current project – Ghost Theory, a paranormal investigation title which has returned to Kickstarter to gather funding. Greenlit by the Steam Greenlight Community, Dreadlocks plan to release Ghost Theory for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC with full VR Support once developed, show your support by visiting the official Kickstarter Campaign HERE.

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PressA2Join: Ghost Theory is back on Kickstarter can you talk us through the reason/s behind canceling the original campaign and what you’ve done differently this time around for the re-launched campaign?

Stefan Durmek: We stopped the counter of the original campaign on 666 backers because at that point we were only 18% funded with 2 days left. Almost out of resources, with our campaign cancelled, we decided to fight for our game. During the following months, we worked hard on both the new campaign and the game itself, to snatch Ghost Theory from the devil’s hands and put it back on Kickstarter. The new campaign is way more specific in its pitch of a gameplay, it has a better structure, visuals and it finally features a game trailer. We have also decided to lower our goal to 50% of the original (£50,000). If the campaign is a success, we’re ready to use most of our upcoming income (console version of Dex Q2/Q3 2016) to fund the rest of Ghost Theory’s budget. Our original backers joined the new campaign almost instantly after the launch. In just 24 hours they pledged 20% of the goal. With original backers already on board, we lost that momentum, but we’re still making a good progress towards our goal. Fingers crossed, we hope to find new players wanting to search for a nature of Ghosts with us.

This campaign decides the fate of this project once and for all. Dreadlocks are seasoned game developers, so even if Ghost Theory fails again, most of us (if not all) will keep making games. But the reason we went to Kickstarter is that we want to make this game together.

In reply to a comment on the original campaign you cited the continuation of development without having a distributor as being a possible factor, but that you had many offers, where do you stand now distribution wise?

I can confirm that we were approached by two game publishers that are interested in Ghost Theory. But that doesn’t really mean much at this point. We told them that we are going to re-launch the Kickstarter campaign, but of course, we sent them the design and finance materials they wanted. We’re still in touch with them but our current budget for Ghost Theory has already dropped to a ground level, so there is no point of waiting. Potential negotiations could be a slow process as we want to stay independent over all of the aspects of the game experience.

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Ghost Theory boasts a really exciting yet truly frightening concept, can you talk us through when and why you decided to make a game of this nature?

Ghost Theory started as a small VR experiment that stood aside of the official production of Dreadlocks. It was about a little girl (Barbara) who wakes up in a strange house and searches for her grandma, who promised to stay by her bed till morning. Barbara would experience horror only to find out that her grandma went downstairs to watch TV and that everything that scared her along the way was just a product of her imagination. Originally it was supposed to be a 15-20 minute long game. It was meant to be an easy pick for fresh owners of VR kits.

When we finished the development of Dex we were on a look out for a new main project and we decided to turn this experimental project into a big horror game. We have watched hours of amateur ghost hunting footage on YouTube in search of a spark of an idea for an outstanding horror game before we realized we’re watching it! Ghost hunting with authentic gadgets in real haunted locations, to search for the truth behind paranormal phenomena! Ghost Theory was born.

Are there any particular games past or present that you draw inspiration from?

Generally speaking, yes. All game developers subconsciously draw inspiration from all games they play. Especially if those games are somehow similar to what they are working on. We want Ghost Theory to be different than other first-person horror games. We want to find our own path. Pave our own way. We are going to be bold, using just our vision as a torch in the darkness.

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Despite the cancellation of Ghost Theory’s original campaign it remained a strong appeal for players through both Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight, that must have been a good feeling as you prepared for your next move?

It’s true. Nothing feels more rewarding for a game developer than seeing thousands of players cheer for his game. It’s a mix of happiness, satisfaction, gratitude and excitement. Most importantly – it is extremely motivating. It is why we decided to return the game on Kickstarter.

Players get to explore so many great locations like Poveglia Island with Ghost Theory, Poveglia was used to host people with infectious diseases in the 1700’s, having seen the island up close through shows like Ghost Adventures I have to say that it looks very eerie. Why did you decide to use real-world haunted locations for Ghost Theory? likeness wise, how close to the actual locations have you managed to get or hope to achieve?

Once we knew we were going to make an authentic ghost hunting experience the choice to bring real haunted sites seemed obvious and before I had even started to see if it would be possible something strange happened. My sister who lives on the other side of Europe called me to tell me that the most famous ghost hunting TV show in England was going to investigate a house in her small town. That night I contacted the owner of the house and it became our first authorized haunted site. 30 east drive, Pontefract. That moment gave me an indication that it was a realistic idea to have real haunted locations in the game.

We’ve already scanned a haunted castle here in the Czech Republic ourselves and we’ll surely visit some other haunted places, but only if it’s economically wise. Our designers will attend ghost hunts in order to gain the right inspiration for making Ghost Theory a dramatic virtual experience.

To help you with locations you partnered up with various ghost hunting groups, tour agencies. Can you talk me through the process of how you picked each location for Ghost Theory and did you manage to scout out any of them yourself personally?

We aim to feature most haunted locations all around the world so it’s obvious we’ll need a help with that. We can’t travel to all these places for two main reasons. 1) we can’t afford to spend a lot of money on travelling 2) if we travel the world to capture references, who will sit in the office and work on the game? *smiles*

Luckily there is a large ghost hunting community everywhere. We dedicated a member of the studio to search for experienced ghost hunters who could help us with the scanning. Soon we’ll be able to just send a piece of equipment to the closest hunter to the site we want and wait for results. This whole process is still in its early stage of development. But it looks like it may just work.

Some horror games fall foul of their overuse of jumpscares, which can lead to a loss of excitement with the overall experience. You are doing things a little different with players urged to find ways to make spirits appear in Ghost Theory, can you talk us through how that will work, what actions can players perform to make a ghost appear?

I don’t think that jumpscares are garbage. If well done they can be very entertaining to a lot of people. We’re just taking a different approach to horror in Ghost Theory. Again, we want it to feel authentic from a perspective of a ghost hunter, so it wouldn’t make sense to let ghosts attack him right after he steps onto a haunted ground. Real paranormal investigators usually spend a whole night trying to entice a ghost to appear, often without a result.

The core gameplay mechanics behind the ghosts in our game are similar to mechanics used in a game called “Neighbours from Hell”, but just more complex. You need to find out what are the ghost’s routines and then figure out the way to break them. Let me give you a dull example off the top of my head, so I don’t have to spoil anything concrete – a ghost often turns on a light in a kitchen, so you lock the light switch with bubble gum and wait for him with a full spectrum camera in your hand to try again.

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Can players expect to encounter different types of spirits while investigating? for example residual and vengeful spirits.

Again, I’d like to avoid spoilers, but ok, just a little tease…. There will be a variety of paranormal entities – Orbs, apparitions, poltergeists and even demons. While ghosts will appear as a stereoscopic footage we aim to make our demons full 3D models. We want our entities to have different moods and “personality”, so they can each be unique, even when we talk about the same type of entity.

Those familiar with TV shows such as Ghost Hunter or Ghost Adventures will know what an EVP Recorder or EMF Meter are. Ghost Theory features so many exciting pieces of ghost hunting equipment for players to use while exploring locations, can you explain how devices like a Full Spectrum Camera play into Ghost Theory and what players can expect when using the equipment available for use during missions?

There is a lot of ghost hunting gadgets on the market today. The list of those we’re going to use in Ghost Theory is still not final. We’re also going to come up with some made up hi-tech gadgets that your scientist will craft for you in later stages of the game, so you can dig deeper than today’s real gadgets allow you.

Here’s a short list of a few gadgets that will surely feature in the game:

Voice Log Recorder – serves to record and replay comments about objects and situations within a mission.
UV Lamp – reveals what even your eyes cannot see: most importantly, valuable samples of ectoplasm.
Full Spectrum Camera – an essential tool for obtaining hard evidence of paranormal activity. Know where to aim it; know when to shoot and know when not to get too close.
EMF (ElectroMagnetic Field) Meter – by zeroing in on energy spikes,you can detect and track paranormal activity and lead yourself towards items and locations that are important to the ghost you are hunting.
EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) Recorder – captures the voices of ghosts. Recordings are valuable evidence for your investigation and will often reveal even more valuable clues.
Pendulum – used for divination. First, it needs to be charged by an object (e.g. a single earring you found); it can then be used to find an associated object (the missing earring).

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Ghost Theory encourages players to explore and investigate each individual haunted location. How much freedom will there be to explore your surroundings?

It’s too early for us to answer this question. Exploration is still in prototyping phase. At the moment, we’re trying to make almost everything interactable. That’s the idea we want to iterate from.

The Clairvoyant ability sounds like an exciting feature, allowing players to witness visions or flashbacks that relate to the ghosts past through interaction with certain objects, how key will the ability be throughout Ghost Theory?

Clairvoyance is a key ability to your investigation. The flashbacks will not only help you to understand the case but more importantly, it will provide you with clues on how to find triggers that make the ghost active.

You plan to implement full support for VR for Ghost Theory, that should make the overall experience an even more frightening one. Have you had the chance to experience VR yet with Ghost Theory and what are your expectations for players who might play the game with the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or PlayStation VR?

We’ve been experimenting with Oculus Rift devkits for about 2 years now, and our game has been built from the ground-up to take full advantage of this technology. We aim to support all available VR headsets.

In fact, we are simultaneously developing Ghost Theory in two designs, one of them is for PC/TV and the other tailored especially for VR headsets. A single copy of our game will include both of these versions. VR version will switch on if a VR headset is detected. Differences will be mainly in controls and interface.

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The paranormal is a topic that often divides opinion, is it something you believe in yourself?

Speaking for Dreadlocks – some of us truly do; others are skeptics. But we all have one thing in common: we are genuinely fascinated by the unknown, by unexplained mysteries, by spooky stories, by horror movies and games, and we’re determined to make this project the most authentic ghost hunting experience ever!

Speaking just for myself – I am more of a skeptic, which I think it’s a good thing for a design of this game. I will do my best to make the gameplay believable and enjoyable to other skeptics. I am not saying I am convinced the paranormal doesn’t exist. The paranormal is a phenomenon and it only means that we (science) don’t know much about it. Like playing games. A play is a phenomenon too and I absolutely love the idea that I will spend my life trying to understand its nature.

Lastly, do you have a message for backers or those who might be interested in backing Ghost Theory through Kickstarter?

Take a look at our Kickstarter page to get an overall view of the project. And if you like what you see, join our community of backers and help us make this game happen! Thank you.

Huge thanks to Stefan Durmek for taking the time to chat with us. To find out more or support Ghost Theory head over to Dreadlocks Kickstarter Campaign by following this link.

About Daniel Pitt

Profile photo of Daniel Pitt
Dan has been gaming for nearly 30 years and has survived everything from Nuclear Fallouts to Zombie Outbreaks but his main love is Survival Horror and don't we all know it. Favourite games include Resident Evil and Grand Theft Auto, he can be regularly found cruising the streets of Vice City listening to the classics.

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