Every year at E3, the focus is on console games. The big budget behemoths like Killzone 3, Crysis 2 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution; the graphical hard hitters that wow with their fancy trailers and newfangled 3D technologies. This is all good stuff, but there are a lot of smaller games that are pushing the boundaries of innovation in their own way. One is Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, a quirky adventure/puzzle game from Shu Takumi, the man behind the Ace Attorney series. We sat down with him and his producer Hironobu Takeshita to talk about the game.
Q: For those that might not have heard of Ghost trick, can you briefly explain the concept of the game?
Hironobu Takeshita: The basic premise of the story is that you're a dead guy; you wake up dead, and you realise you're a ghost. But other than that you don't remember anything else. So, your whole purpose in this game is to find out who you really are, who killed you, and why they killed you.
Q: Phoenix Wright had a light hearted tone to it; it didn't take itself too seriously. Does Ghost Trick maintain a similar tone?
Shu Takumi: Ah, did you play Phoenix Wright?
Q: I did indeed. I'm a big fan.
ST: Arigato! So, there's definitely a lot of black humour this time around, but it's still pretty light hearted and funny; it's not super serious. If you're into Ace Attorney, you'll probably like this game as well.
Q: My girlfriend really likes Phoenix Wright, and she's a casual gamer. Will this casual audience appreciate Ghost Trick too?
ST: The game controls are so simple; everything is on the touch screen - everything you need to possess things, manipulate things, whatever you need to do, so definitely a casual gamer could pick it up and have fun with it. So I hope that you enjoy it with your girlfriend!
Q: The premise of the game is to save other characters, and there's a four minute window in which you can travel back in time before their death. Do those four minutes play out in real time?
ST:We'd like to say it's real time, but it's kind of difficult because when you go into ghost view, time stops in the game. So it's like the ghost power manages to stop the world. From the gamer's perspective, you can take your time and think about what you want to do next. So you're not really living it in exactly four minutes. You could solve it very quickly, or you could take your time and go into ghost view and sit there and look at your situation, take your time and solve it. It's not really real time, but it kind of is.
Q: Can you replay these levels as many times as you like? What's the penalty for failure?
ST: It depends on the length of the stage. You know, sometimes you'll have a check point, sometimes you won't. And because it's a puzzle game, and because it's kind of in real time, if you realise you messed up somewhere or missed a good opportunity, you can just press the retry button. You press it to start from the beginning of the stage or you can choose to start from one of the check points. So it's really easy to retry as many times as you want to, and if you get a game over, you actually get a hint on how to solve the puzzle. So let's say you got a game over, the game might tell you, 'you might have missed an opportunity here, here and here', and so it's not a bad thing to fail, as you'll get a hint for how to solve it.
Q: Is it one character to save per level? How many levels and characters can we expect from the game?
ST: There are about 20 stages, probably a little bit more. It's a little hard to divide because the story is so connected. For each stage, there's usually one character you need to save, but sometimes you might have to save two or three people, so in that case you'll have two or three people that are the main focus of that stage. So it really depends on the stage.
Q: Is the game just planned for release on DS right now? Or do you have plans to bring it to WiiWare or anything similar?
ST: Well right now we have no plans to move it to any other hardware. Originally the game was designed specifically for the DS, so we may or may not think about it for the future, but right now there are no plans.
Q: A broader question then: what do you think of the 3DS? Do you have any ideas for games on the hardware?
ST: I've always been interested in mystery games, so right now I'm thinking of a few ideas to make some kind of mystery game in 3D. I'd like to go somewhere with that maybe. I'm also intrigued by the stereoptic camera, to take pictures in 3D, so I'd like to incorporate that in somehow maybe – do something with that.
Q: And can we expect to see Phoenix Wright appear on 3DS in the near future?
ST: It's a little difficult to say. We just saw it here; we're not sure what we can do with it yet. But certainly if the opportunity presented itself, and we can make it, then it might be a really good chance for use to use that technology. But we'll have to wait and see what the future brings.
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is out for Nintendo DS this winter.