It seems as if 2009 will be a good year for Ghostbusters fans, with a re-release of the film and two brand new games: one for the Wii, and one for the PS3 and Xbox 360. The latter is being developed by Terminal Reality, and last week we had a nice little chat with creative director Drew Haworth and executive producer Brendan Goss.
VideoGamer.com: How did you feel when you were given this licence? Were you excited, or were you massively intimidated by the sheer size of the fanbase?
Brendan Goss: It was absolute jubilance followed by stark terror! It sinks in really quickly that Ghostbusters is the Tom Hanks of movies. Nobody's like, "Ghostbusters? Nah, I dunno." Everyone loves it, and we all remember sitting in the theatre, in grade six, and seeing the librarian, and seeing the dogs, and the comedy. That puts a huge amount of pressure on the team to live up to those expectations, to be able to deliver the high-quality Ghostbusters experience that everyone wants, and that we want. So yeah, it was a combination of the two.
Drew Haworth: We feel a lot of pressure, but I think a lot of that is self imposed because we're so dedicated to getting this exactly right. I guess it could go either way, potentially, but luckily we have the original creators on board, so when they it's authentic, who's going to argue? We're unimpeachable at this point! But yeah, a lot of that pressure is because we love the films so much, and just doing them some justice and just creating… I hope don't offend anybody by saying the first really good Ghostbusters game. Or at least the first authentic Ghostbusters experience.
BG: It's not a movie game, not at all. I mean, when you're working with guys like Dan [Aykroyd] and Harold [Ramis] and Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson, and having such a collaborative effort where they're not just lending their likeness, and they're not just spending an hour in a sound studio, but really going through and creating the story and creating the script and working with us to develop the next chapter in their universe… that's a really unique opportunity. That's not something that comes up in games very often at all. To work with true icons of comedy. Harold Ramis wrote eight of the ten funniest movies of all time, you know? Caddyshack, Animal House…
VideoGamer.com: What were the early stages of developing this game? The creative input of Ramis and co must have channelled things quite a bit, so how did that work?
BG: We were really fortunate that the executive producer we had at Sierra at the time, John Melcher, came from Simpsons Hit and Run. He had essentially broken trail for us in terms of how to work with high-end comedy talent, and how to get the best out of them in a game and make it a successful multi-million unit seller. What he brought to the table for us was the idea of, "You guys are experts in gaming, these guys are experts in comedy. Let's work together and define the mechanics, define the gameplay experience that you feel is appropriate as a gamer, and then let's let the talent put the wrapper on that. They can define how this fits within their story, what do we want to call it, what's the backstory going to be? What's the look going to be to help make sure we're staying true to the universe? Having that really collaborative relationship allowed us to create the authentic experience.
DH: John Melcher is sort of an expert in both, luckily, so he's the perfect conduit between the two worlds.
VideoGamer.com: You just said that this is not a movie game, in the traditional sense. What do you think is the biggest mistake that people make with licensed games?
DH: A lot of people don't realise that it takes a lot less time to make a movie from the moment it's green-lit, than it does to make a great game. It's just trying to find that lead time. With a movie game, it has to come out at the same time as the film - that's the whole point of it - and it takes about twice as long to make a game as does to make even a really expensive film. So it's just trying to work how you get that lead time to make the game great, but still have it come along with the movie. We're lucky because we don't have a movie that we have to go along to, we just have the benefit of all this awesomeness, this Ghostbusters! So we had this beautiful box of parameters that you can't go outside of, but it's great to work within it.
BG: I think the other major element is having a story that can be tailored to the gameplay experience, that you're not trying to follow a movie from scene to scene. You build suspense in a movie by putting a bomb under the table; in a game I just walk out of the door! So it's a very challenging thing to do, and if you don't have the relationship with either the film-maker or the original creators and you don't have the time, it's just not possible to do a triple A title.
DH: I know there are a lot of people in the industry looking to figure out a way to do that, and it's something we're looking at too. Among other things, we're interested in the way that you can take something and add a lot to it, like you can be creative within these boundaries but still create something entirely new. We'd never just re-tell the exact same thing, we'd always have to find some kind of space within that.
VideoGamer.com: I'm sure that it's been brilliant working with Aykroyd and Ramis, but has that brought any kind of particular challenges? Do you have to go about things in a different way because their creative input is so important?
DH: We have to go through very rigorous approval processes for just about everything. That’s art, that's likenesses, any additional lines that have to be done - because there are so many people who have different ownership or propriety in Ghostbusters. We've never had to jump through quite so many hoops, but it's cool because when by the time things are done, they're 100 per cent bona fide. I guess we've had a little back-and-forth on some of the approvals, because sometimes you just want to do it and implement it, and you have to think ahead a bit and say, "if we're going to change this, we need to add the approval process".
BG: One other thing I'd mention is that we're quite fortunate in being very strong, from a tech-house side, with the infernal engine. It's allowed us to adjust our systems to speak their language. Harold Ramis is a director by trade, and for him to come in and say "I want you to use this lense and this lighting" in film terminology, that will translate directly into our engine. Having everyone speaking the same language certainly makes things easier. We've certainly seen that there's a lot of desire on both sides to do a lot more collaborative work. A lot of the major directors see the power of these new console platforms and what they can do, and they want to express their creative work on that. And likewise we see these great film properties and want to be a part of that, so finding those relationships is important.
VideoGamer.com: What has been the hardest element of Ghostbusters to move from the films to the game?
BG: From my side, I'd say it was trying to get it so that you felt like you were a part of the team from the film. When they're in the ballroom trapping the ghost, it has to feel like it did in the film. Doing that in a game space is not easy, because it's all AI driven, and getting the scripting to work the right way, and the timing and the sound balance… but the pay-off is tremendous.
DH: And you know it. As soon as it's right, you know it and everybody knows it.
BG: The licence is that razor's edge. When you're not right, everybody knows it! [laughs].
DH: You can beat your head against the wall trying to figure out why something isn't working correctly. Luckily with the guys on board, it's really helpful. They told us a lot of things. As you'll know from the commentary on the Ghostbusters DVD, the first film is a going into business story. So what we took from that is, "what's the next stage?". And one of the things you might not think about, that's very obvious when it's pointed out, is that nobody else in the Ghostbusters world is funny. It's just that tight circle of Ghostbusters, and everyone else in the world takes it very seriously. That's what makes Ghostbusters so great. So you don't have big jokey billboards or the funny radio stations in GTA, nothing else is funny apart from them… and Peter MacNicol in the second film. So you can't get too jokey or punny.
BG: Walter Peck was a very serious guy.
DH: He never said a funny word.
VideoGamer.com: I hated that guy when I was a kid.
BG: You meet William Atherton [the actor who played Peck] and he says, "Twenty-five years. Twenty-five years of people coming up to me in the street and saying, 'Look! It's the man with no dick!'"
DH: He's the nicest guy.
BG: And even Ernie Hudson with the line, "That's a big Twinkie." He gets hundreds of people coming up to him. One of the magic moments for us is when you get the script in, and you put all the effort in, and then people play the game and start quoting one-liners from the game. Aha! We've got them. Bill Murray turns everything into a golden one-liner. He could ask for directions down the street and it would be hilarious. I don't know how he does it.