developer interview

February 2003

Interview with International Hobo

We got the chance to interview International Hobo, the company who were responsible for the main design, level design, parametric design and script for Ghost Master. 

Answering the questions are Chris Bateman (head of the International Hobo design team on Ghost Master) and Richard Boon (head of script on Ghost Master at International Hobo). In the first stages of designing the game, you must have had an idea of what you wanted it to end up like. How does the 'finished product' compare to the original idea of Ghost Master?

Chris: Gregg Barnett (the director and co-designer of the game) and I were just discussing this yesterday. The finished game is remarkable true to the original premises which we laid down about three years ago. The original premise was that you would pick a team of ghosts, Mission: Impossible style, go into a haunting and scare mortals. The scared mortals would create Plasm - a kind of ghostly voltage - which you can then channel to your ghosts to use more powerful abilities, which scare the mortals more, which makes more Plasm. Looking at what has changed since the original, it's mostly some concepts that fell out along the way. At one point, we had the ghosts transform into 'superghosts' at a certain plasm band, but later it was apparent we didn't need this, since the ghosts already got more powerful when you channel a lot of Plasm to them. The original design also had a notion of 'game time' which has fallen out now - it wasn't actually very helpful to have a number of seperate 'nights' in the game, and worked much better with just a continuous chunk of play time. In fact, I would say everything essential to the design has remained, and all that's happened is a few unnecessary features have 'fallen out' along the way. That's a good thing to be able to say about a game. We heard that the concept for Ghost Master was influenced by reality TV shows. Can you tell us a bit more about this?

Chris: Gregg was looking at what was popular at the time, and noticed all the reality TV shows - and how much of the fun came from the voyeurism of watching people trapped in a situation where the TV show is actively messing them around. That influenced the original idea for a scare-em-up. Once the design got rolling, we were more heavily influenced by classic horror films - trying to make this the game in which you can do pretty much anything you've ever seen in a ghost movie! We're interested to learn about the different locations a player can haunt in. Which locations did you originally come up with, and were there any you rejected?

Chris: Reject is a strong word! We designed about five or six more locations than are in the first game, but many of the rest have already been modelled and will be used in a later game or mission pack, so it would be wrong to consider the shipwreck, drive in, slums etc. as rejected. However, one location that has been cut out is the museum. Neil Bundy, who has been design assistant to Ghost Master, designed on paper a wonderful location based around a classic museum. It was one of the most fun location designs, but when we came to organise the materials to go with the plot it didn't make as much sense as some of the other options, and it was cut. The locations in Ghost Master look very detailed. How long did it take to design each of the locations?

Chris: The paper design here at International Hobo took a couple of days for each location. Then there was perhaps a week of art design by Nick Martinelli (one of the finest location designers working in games and television) and several weeks with the artists breathing life into it. Our work in designing the locations was really only the gameplay requirements - the artists are the ones responsible for making each location into an astonishing masterpiece. I can't stress enough how talented the art team on this game is. What kind of "camera angles" are used in the game? Does the player have much control over this?

Richard: The camera angle is totally user-definable. Simple mouse controls allow movement, tilt and zoom with the camera, and the whole thing quickly becomes second nature. A default isometric view also exists for those who prefer a single viewpoint; this view can be moved in increments to allow full views of the locations. Other views available include point-of-view from a mortal or ghost's perspective. The player won't miss anything! Some of the 'ghosts' look pretty cool. How much time went in to designing these?

Richard: In terms of visual look, animation, and personality, all the ghosts are unique. They have very distinctive personalities based upon their past lives - the majority of the ghosts come complete with a back-story explaining how they died and how they live their un-life. The ghosts all have their own speech. Each ghost has its own set of powers, and some ghosts have unique powers that only they can use. Teaming up different ghosts together also allows for different haunting strategies - for instance, one ghost is especially effective when teamed up with his faithful, dead dog! Of course, the player can tweak the ghosts to their own personal haunting style by teaching new powers.

Chris: There is an AI system for the ghosts that's completely different for the AI for mortals, and the behaviour of each ghost is defined differently within the ghost AI, so you will be able to spot unique personalities in the way they behave. They'll learn better self-control and quicker reactions as you work with them too!

Richard: As an aside, each of the mortals in the game has their own personality too, though because there are many more mortals, they are less distinctive than the ghosts. It is as possible to become fond of individual mortals (as you scare them out of their minds) as it is to be attached to favourite haunters.

Chris: You will meet many of the mortals several times as the story progresses. After manipulating mortals to get the police called into a house, you will later find the family at the police station, filing a report. In Ghost Master, have you focused more on scenarios or free-play game?

Richard: Ghost Master is almost wholly focused upon scenario-based play. Each of the individual environments has one or two scenarios defined to play within it, and the story follows the events that take place during play. Scenario goals range from making all inhabitants of a location run away screaming, to helping restless spirits, freeing ghosts from the control of evil mortals, and defeating key enemies. Though the focus is on scenario play, the number of ghosts in the game (nearly fifty) allow the player to take many different haunting teams into each scenario, providing different play options and challenges. The testing teams are finding new ways to do things all the time! This gives the game excellent 'sandbox' potential, in which a player may replay the same scenario again and again without it becoming boring. What kind of dialogue is used in the game? Have you leaned towards comedy or horror?

Richard: Each ghost has their own lines of dialogue that are appropriate to their personality - we have cocky surfer Gremlins, serious gangster ghosts, bad tempered old men and ditzy undead cheerleaders. Some of the characters are all-out humourous, while others have a darker edge to them. And though the game is set firmly in the USA, it has a lot of traditional dark British humour to it. Basically, there's something for everybody. It has become apparent that one of the main reasons "The Sims" was so successful is because of the way the fans could get involved, and keep adding to the game. Will there be any additional downloads or add-on packs in the future?

Chris: Mission packs are already in the pipeline, and we will certainly be listening to what the fans have to say as we work towards a sequel in the future. We won't be able to do everyting that the fans want, because Ghost Master is a complex world and we must remain true to that setting, but are open to suggestions and ideas from fans of the game. It was important to us at International Hobo that the world of Ghost Master be a complete setting - one of the same quality as you'd expect from a good film or TV program - and we have been very careful when making decisions to ensure we don't do anything that will cause us problems in the background in the future. We really want to know which ghosts are everyone's favourites so that we can make sure that they continue to appear in the Ghost Master games in the future. We won't have time to listen to everyone individually, so the results of polls at sites like will be important indicators of the way fans feel about various aspects of the game. Are there any final points you would like to mention about the game?

Paul: One last point - we wanted to make sure that there was a lot of detailed information available right from the beginning, so we arranged with Prima for International Hobo to provide the manuscript for the official guide to the game. Not only does this mean that it's straight from the horse's mouth, but it's written in the same style as the rest of the game making it the perfect companion to this game. It's an essential purchase for anyone who's in love with the game, and for any FAQer wanting to see how the game world works.



Thanks Chris and Richard for taking part in this interview. We are sure that Ghost Master is going to be a very successful game.