Red Fly Studios is the developer behind the Wii Ghostbusters game, due for release in June. We caught up with creative lead Dustin Dobson to chat about puzzles, necessary evils, and how the game compares to its Terminal Reality-developed cousin on other formats.
VideoGamer.com: So, you're working with the official Ghostbusters license. You must be terrified!
Dustin Dobson: Oh absolutely. It's intimidating because people love it so much and because there are so many fans out there. You're scared! If we don't do well then we're going to skewered here, because people are expecting a lot. They've been waiting for a really good Ghostbusters game for a very long time, and we have the weight of all that pressure. It's fortunate that we were able to work with Terminal Reality and their engine, to collaborate with them as well as working with Atari. We wanted to treat the Wii version as its own project.
VideoGamer.com: You're handling the Wii version of this game, while Terminal Reality is doing the version for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. Wii owners are kind of used to getting cut-down versions of the big games on the other consoles.
DD: Watered-down versions of the same game, yeah. So many people do that, and it's just very obvious.
VideoGamer.com: Do you think it's a necessary evil?
DD: Absolutely. Everyone is out there to make money, obviously, but it's great that there might be a change in that now. People are like, "Hey, maybe if we also make something original for the Wii, and use the Wii for what it was meant to do, maybe that'll be successful". So I think that maybe that could be changing. Shaun White Snowboarding did it. They made their own game and it was very successful and people loved it, the game was great. I hope we get the same reaction from both the players and the press, that they see what we're trying to do and respect that.
VideoGamer.com: Quite a few people think that the Wii is great for casual gamers, but not such a brilliant choice for people who like hardcore games. Do you think a move away from these watered-down games would help to shift that image?
DD: I would hope so. There is that stigma, that the Wii is kids or whatever. But to be honest, it really is a great control scheme. The remote is the perfect controller for a Ghostbusters game. You have a pointer and it's basically a proton beam in your hand, and then over here on the nunchuk you can throw out the trap. It works great. You can't just say "Because this console is like this, it makes for bad gameplay".
VideoGamer.com: Oh sure. That's not what I was saying, really - more that a change in approach from developers could change the console's reputation.
DD: Focus on the gameplay. Even if that means changing the game for a specific console - absolutely. You're going to want to create the best game possible, so I think if more game companies and publishers did that, you'd see really good third-party games on the Wii. That's always the trouble with Nintendo, getting a third-party game in there. So we hope we get that excitement built up.
VideoGamer.com: Where did you start with this project once it was decided that the Wii would get its own version?
DD: When we first started there was a lot of taking what the next-gen version had and just trying to bring it down-res. Then we we were like, "There are some really great artists here, and obviously there's the Wii remote and nunchuck. Do we really just want to do a port? And so a creative decision was taken, between us and Sierra, that we could do a lot better. We could take this and really blow it out of the water for the Wii. This was the studio that could make that happen, and we thought the fans would appreciate that. Sierra supported it, and Atari have also been very supportive of that decision. So that was fantastic, that we were able to make a brand-new title using the exact same story and voices.
VideoGamer.com: Have you had a lot of contact with Terminal Reality, the developer for the other format versions?
DD: At the beginning especially, we collaborated a lot back and forth, on the technology and what they were doing sound-wise. But there was obviously a point where we had to finish our own title, so we've been quite focused on getting our own version together. We do talk to them when necessary. For a long time we collaborated very closely and made sure were following each other's ideas.
VideoGamer.com: How close would you say the two games are? Clearly you've got different art styles, and there's two-player co-op in this.
DD: Oh yeah, I'm glad we could have co-op as a special feature for the Wii. I think that's really neat, to sit down with a mate and play split-screen. Obviously its unfortunate that they [Terminal Reality] weren't able to get split-screen, but it's fortunate for us and it helps to separate us and say, "here's another feature on the Wii".
VideoGamer.com: And aside from that, how do they compare? Last time I saw the games, the Wii version seemed to have more in the way of puzzles.
DD: Yeah, I think the Xbox 360/PS3/PC versions tailor more to a hardcore audience, the audience that is going to love more of the shooter elements and whatnot. Whereas our game is maybe a little bit more accessible and anyone can pick it up. Obviously with the Wii remote it's fairly easy to get used to the controls. We do have a lot of puzzle elements. I'm not sure how many puzzles the Terminal Reality game has now - they do have some, I know - but for the Wii version we did want make sure there were a lot of puzzle elements to mix-up the gameplay, so that it's not just run and gun. That would get tiring pretty quickly, even though we have all this different equipment and the proton beam is so much fun! Obviously if you want to go back and replay any level, you can. Not only is your equipment useful for taking down and capturing ghosts, you can also use it to interact with the environment in different ways. Anything that has green slime you can wrangle with your capture cage - you can pick it up and throw it around the world. Or you can pick it up and proton bat it, launch it at things. Besides that you have your para-goggles and your PKE meters which help to lead you through certain puzzles, lets you see things that you wouldn't see otherwise. We've also got a stasis beam that can be used to freeze enemies - if a bunch of ghosts come at you, you freeze them all and focus on one or two. But certain things in the environment are also freezable, so there are some puzzles where you have to stop something at a certain time. Towards the end we try to mix things up, where you've got to do lots of different things with your equipment.
VideoGamer.com: In today's presentation you mentioned that you can use the PKE meter to scan objects...
DD: If you're ever stuck with something, you scan it and it will really help the player. You'll get to a barrier you're not familiar with, and perhaps you won't know that you need to use the bozon dart. So you scan the object and it'll pretty much tell you what you need to do. We've also got a great tutorial system that walks you through things, and obviously you can disable that if you find it irritating. We give the player the option.
VideoGamer.com: You also mentioned earlier that you were keen to avoid doing too much through gestures.
DD: Waggle-fest! You hear that all the time. Even on Mushroom Men, you hear people saying there was too much waggle. Why just put it in if it doesn't make sense? You look back and you're like, "Yeah, it's true". You don't want to overuse it. We really wanted to make the game playable with gestures, but we only did it where it made perfect sense. Basically it's all in the wrist. You're with the beam, and if you fire at a ghost long enough you'll grab them and it'll go into the wrangling mini-game. It may have changed a bit since the last time you've seen it, as we've changed it a bit. We've streamlined things so that you can get into the game without having to make it too hardcore. So you fire at a ghost until they're catchable, then you get into the wrangling. You don't have to charge up your attack any more, since we decided that the slamming bit was the fun part. A directional arrow will pop up, and you'll have a short window to make the right gesture and then you'll slam them in the world. You can pull the ghost around with your reticule, so you can drag them over to a bookcase and slam them against that. Once you've slammed them enough you'll get a final slam that can be done in any direction - it's like a mini reward. Once the final slam is over they'll be stunned, so you'll be able to take your nunchuck and make a bowling motion while holding Z, then you release the button and you'll throw out the trap. On easy mode, if you have ghost stunned for more than six seconds you'll throw a trap automatically. Again, we wanted it to be very accessible and playable.
VideoGamer.com: I know that when Atari picked the game up you had finished most of the work on the game, so what have you done with the extra development time?
DD: Obviously we've got this great story, and we wanted to tell it in the best way possible. We're working with a studio called Crazy Pixel, they're doing all of our cinematics, and we've been able to double the amount of cinematics in the game. It still doesn't feel annoying, like where you're seeing a video every other second, but we have a lot more of them now and that adds a lot of humour. We've been able to take the voice acting and story and present it a little better to the player. We've also done a lot of stuff with sound, as that was one area where we felt we needed to bring things up a notch. We looked at where we could use the score, where we could add a lot of creepiness. Gl33k is the name of our audio designers, they sub-lease a room in our office and work directly with Red Fly on all of our titles. They've been awesome to work with. It kinda of hard to sell the scary part of a Wii cartoony game, but it's Ghostbusters and so you want to do that. The ghosts need to be scary to balance out the humour that the Ghostbusters give. They're funny people in a scary world. So audio was really one of the big things that we took and said, "We need to improve this. Let's really make it shine".
VideoGamer.com: Thanks for your time, Dustin!
Ghostbusters: The Game will be out on Wii PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 on June 19.