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Thank you. I consider post mortems to be one of the single greatest tools available for people starting a game design company.

I'd be interested in seeing a Part Two where you covered the things that went right!

I had never heard of this title, period, prior to reading this site. I don't read print mags (only IGN, Gamespot, and a handful of weblogs) so I wouldn't know about print ads, and I don't watch much TV either. However, I don't remember any buzz at all circulated on any of the websites I have read (nor on any gamer forums,) so certainly the marketing effort was anemic to say the least. It would be really nice if there was some enthusiast website where unique nonclassifiable games like this could be listed or archived or whatever. Knowing as they say is half the battle, and I imagine theres a lot of innovative titles that get released under the radar. With no central depot to find demos/reviews/etc of innovative games, its mighty difficult for gamers to support innovation. It was only thanks to IGN and other sites pimping the hell out of Katamari at E3 reports that I ever heard of it; and thanks to that I bought it almost immediately with no regrets. An industry or enthusiast site that could catalog and report on new innovative titles would be so huge a boon to the indy movement I can't even begin to articulate it here. Some kind of partnership with Steam or the like to enable easy access (since these titles have poor retail circulation; Ghost Master doesn't show up on a search at Gamestop.com's store) would be an asset as well.

"When EA bought Bullfrog, they threw away all its IP because there was nothing in their portfolio with a big enough following to operate at EA's scale."

While the industry doesn't exactly have a mighty juggernaut lobbying group, I wonder if some kind of anti-trust legislation couldn't be introduced to prevent this dormancy. I think copyrights/trademarks have some sort of "due diligence" clause that requires the holder to make an effort to prevent abuses to be entitled to protection; perhaps some sort of equivalent requiring companies to spend $x on a franchise within y years or let the IP ownership revert to the original creator or public domain or whatever. OK I guess that's really doubtful and unlikely, but its something maybe the IGDA should consider.

Thanks for the thanks, Corvus... The trouble with 'what went right' in this particular instance is that I'm not sure how much it will mean to anyone when I ramble on about regearing the plasm mechanic using a custom formula I developed using MathCAD to ensure that the game would never fall into an unplayable local minima... On the other hand, I am thinking about writing it anyway. It's not as if what I've already written isn't fairly obscure and written for a tiny audience. :)

James - this issue of how to propagate awareness of innovative titles that would otherwise fall under the radar is something I've been thinking about for the last couple of days. Your idea of a catalogue site is every bit as good as anything I've come up with so far... fancy running one? :) I expect to post something about this topic some time soon, although I'm not sure I've reached any conclusions yet.

We still have an overwhelming problem in that game fans just don't want to agree as to what constitutes 'innovation' most of the time... Greg Costikyan seems to think Burnout is just Pole Position, for instance (shame on him for his lack of insight in this case, but we all have our blind spots), and it seems no-one agrees about Doom 3 (haven't played it myself, but it doesn't appear to be innovative from what I've heard).

Can gamers agree what constitutes the threshold of innovation?

Out of curiosity, why do you classify Burnout as innovative? I mean, I love the game to death and will be picking it (and We<3Katamari, same release date last I checked) on release. However, I always thought it's innovations were micro- rather than macro- - particularily in the first two games, which were still good racers (the third one, which I greatly enjoy, is fun for very different reasons. BO3 cuts out a lot of the risk/reward elements of dodging traffic from BO2 that made it a good racer, and transforms it into more of a destruction derby.)

I'm also pretty certain that most people view Doom 3 as innovative only from a technological standpoint. Everyone admires Carmack's coding prowess, but I've never seen or heard anyone call the game (and not the engine) itself innovative.

I wouldn't single out Burnout as 'innovative', per se, but I wouldn't (as Costikyan does) condemn it for being the same gameplay as Pole Position... largely because this is a total diservice to the Burnout franchise.

Pole Position is a straight forward arcade racer, and yes, Burnout is also an arcade racer. But the core play in Burnout is driving recklessly in order to build up your boost bar, in order to maintain savagely high speed. This gameplay is completely absent from Pole Position, and I believe originated in the Burnout franchise. Also, Burnout is a total ilinx (vertigo) game, Pole Position is nothing of the kind.

Furthermore, Burnout 2 has the completely innovative Crash Mode which deserves an honourable mention in anyone's book - no idea if they kept it in 3, though.

Basically, I found Costikyan's dismissal of Burnout to be ill informed.

Although the designer of Ghostmaster probably doesnt even check this anymore, I have a couple of questions. One i would like to contact you in reguards to how you could help us at least try to revive ghostmaster. I know the title ghostmaster 2 couldnt be used. Also is it possible for you to in some way assemble your own team and make a "sequel" without calling it ghostmaster. Perhaps something that would somehow point to ghostmaster as a sequel without crossing the legal line? Tell you the truth i didnt know about this game til this year. Even though its old i really do like it. You would easily have a fan base if more people knew about it. My email you can email me at is malcorn2@hotmail.com if you are even interested in talking about ghostmaster at all other then this post.

This is a great and upsetting article: great because it is intelligent and completely true, but upsetting because I am a huge fan of the game and every new hope-killing article I read is just a little more... hope-killing.

Look, I'm a teenaged girl and I love this game. The only other video game I ever play is the Sims 2! This could have a great market if it were re-released.

Is there any chance that the game might be updated and re-released? The basic attributes should be kept the same, and the gameplay should be the same (with only minor tweaks). But perhaps the tasks would be made a bit sleeker, the difficulty issue would be tightened up, and the asthetics modernized a bit. The game would be expanded: more tasks, more levels, more ghosts, and so on. Then, there could be a REAL marketing campaign.

I know I'm being overly hopeful, but one never wants to see the future of their favorite game fizzle out with such finality...

Mike and Keely: first, let me say what a great pleasure it is to know that there are still fans of this game out in the world! Despite its flaws, I'm still really proud of the work everyone did on this game.

It's odd that you both turned up at the same time - where did you hear about the post mortem?

It is not entirely impossible that there *could* be a Ghost Master 2 - but it is highly unlikely. Greg Barnett, who lead this project, retains a half-share of the game's legal rights; if there was funding for a sequel, it might be possible to put together a team and make another game...

The best hope of this happening would be if one of my current or future game projects was a huge hit. If I had a big success to my name, I could potentially get funding to pursue a Ghost Master sequel.

So while I don't want to get your hopes up to high, I'm certainly not going to suggest that there couldn't ever be a Ghost Master 2... It's just not very likely at the moment. :)

Thanks very much for your comments - as a game designer, my job is to make games that people enjoy, and it's great to know that in this respect, at least, Ghost Master was a success.

Best wishes!

PS: I assume you both know that there's a second part to this post mortem which focuses more on the things that went well? :)

I actually got a link to this from www.ghostmaster.net fan site. There was a forum topic that included this link. I was actually starting out looking for a trainer for the all ghosts mod for it. The current trainers doesnt work with all ghosts. Then i came acrossed here and posted even though i wasn't sure if id get a reply since the past post was in 2005. Its great that we did though. I firmly believe that if ghostmaster 2 was in the mainstream market that it would be a success. Especially now that there are better engines to work with (that is if you wouldnt build your own from scratch). Graphics would be excellent in a todays engine. Heck while im at it... would it be a waste of time to make a trainer for the allghosts mod? If not no biggy. Being as it seems like no one will make one i figure i would see if it would be a difficult task for you to. Since what small community there was for it got the shaft on the source code and mod tools... theres really not much anyone else can do. I have thought about posting on different forums where they have a general discussion or a games discussion or something about this game to get more word out. Ghostmaster 2 would be very much appreciated to a fan base that knew the game exsisted.

Mike: I'm afraid I don't have any capacity to make a trainer for the game - I honestly wouldn't know where to begin! I'm afraid there has been little support for the community, alas... Empire disbanded Sick Puppies (the studio) shortly after the game shipped. What community there exists is at the site you mention - ghostmaster.net. If anyone can help you with a trainer, it would be there I'm afraid.

Sorry I can't offer you anything more!

God...I need Ghost Master 2 :D

Quite random, but I just picked up Ghost Master via Steam. And I must not fit in many of the categories, because I found this game far more enjoyable to play than Starcraft, or any of the C&C games. It felt, to me, like playing Dungeon Keeper or Evil Genius without needing to worry about 'properly using' every little freakin' square of the map 'just right' to win, and letting me get to the slightly more silly but enjoyable things like sending minions out to do my bidding, go attack this area over here... okay, send these troops over there so they can close the trap when the enemy wanders through while running from the first group, etc.

I will admit it may have helped that I tried replaying Haunting 101 right after beating it, and immediately got the two-pumpkin reward so I got a clue that there was a medal-like system to tinker with eventually. But I will say I already got four friends to buy it over Steam, and three have thanked me for pointing out the game less than a day later.

WolfWings: thank you so much for your comment! I was feeling pretty low about the project when I wrote this post mortem, but it does mean a lot to me that there are players out there who enjoy the game. I'm proud of the work I and the team did on the project, and disappointed we weren't allowed to take what we learned on the first game and make a sequel.

As a game designer, there is no greater success than hearing a player express their enjoyment of your work, so once again, thank you!

At best, try to get the game's demo up on some of the abandonware sites. Since the game has been pretty much discontinued, it should generate word by mouth from people looking for the game. Sites such as Home of the Underdogs would be perfect for this as it is visited by such a large variety of gamers (nostalgic, hardcore, and casual). I wouldn't be suprised if the game made their list of top dogs.

aris: thanks for the suggestion, but I've heard that the game *is* still being distributed - apparently, it's on offer over Steam. Don't know when or how this happened, but at least the game is still out there!

I did not know this and I use steam daily.

Wow! It's very cool to find the blog of the designer of Ghost Master.

I actually found your blog because I was looking for an editor that allow me to cheat and give tons of gold plasma for my ghost upgrades. ;)

Yes! I'm still playing it after three years. I bought the game in 2005. Once in a while, I dust it off and play it through again. It's that good!

Final note, the complexity of orders that you can give your ghosts hints at some deeper level of playing that didn't quite make into the game. Is that true?

I do try to 'beat' each level and get the gold pumpkin, but find the emphasis on quantity (fast time) over quality (really good scares, paranoias, insanity etc), made using more than one or two orders for the ghosts made them counterproductive.

Final thought, how about you start your own company and make a sequel? I'll buy it if you do.

Jeff: thanks for stopping by!

The trainer you were looking for might be available from the official fan site www.ghostmaster.net, or if not someone could point you towards one if you ask in the forums. Searching for "Ghost Master trainer" in a decent search engine might also work (this page, for instance).

I'm thrilled to hear that you're still playing the game after all this time! This was one of my favourite projects to work on, and I'm glad that it has some fans.

The complexity of orders... Well, I'll agree with you that these are more complex than is strictly necessary, but this wasn't because of some deeper level that never made it into the game, but rather an attempt to provide the player with some expressiveness in how they lead the team. I think there was a misjudgement here, as we might have been better served by an ability to take direct control of the haunters.

In my own efforts to secure the triple pumpkins, I do use the orders, though (although it's been a while since I played, so I'm not really certain which orders I used!)

As for a sequel... this isn't on the cards at the moment, I'm afraid, but it I don't want to rule it out. Gregg Barnett, the director of the project, still has a half share of the intellectual property rights (the other half being owned by Empire Interactive), and in principle we could put together a new Ghost Master game (although the team for the original has, sadly, all moved to new pastures). All I can say for now is that there are no plans for a sequel.

Thanks for dropping by! As a game designer, I always appreciate it when players let me know they enjoyed something I helped to make.

Best wishes!

We were talking about Ghost Master over at Shakesville in the latest "Fat Princess" thread. (OK, PaultheSpud and I were talking, but we agreed GM is awesome.) As a 3 pumpkin player, I heave a deep sigh at the thought that will be no sequel, especially since terrorizing those annoying little Sims characters is surprisingly stress relieving. Perhaps in another ten years, technology will be advanced enough to design and download a sequel through gamer websites, regardless of computer platforms or old contract issues. 'Till then, I'm searching ebay for Mac copies of GM.

Thanks for designing such a clever, innovative game. I'm glad you're still gaming for us mortals, and I hope I can find more of your work.

Blue Jean: thanks for your kind words! It's great that there are still players finding and enjoying this game. Although a sequel seems like a remote possibility, it isn't an *impossibility* so let's see what the future might bring... :)

Best wishes!

I'm just repeating what others on here have said... I've just found this postmortem on ghostmaster.net because I went on there to check for add-ons or even news of a sequel.

I've had Ghostmaster for years now and although it's not a constant I continually pop it on every few months, start a brand new game and enjoy going through it again, really with no real aim in mind but to have fun.

Maybe I'm just a little weird in the head but I like games that let me play as "the other side" and this one keeps dragging me back, I only wish the marketing had been on the same level as the programming, if it had been I honestly think right now I might be complimenting you on the programming for Ghostmaster 3 or 4.

I'm sure a sequel would garner some real support but I understand all the limitations holding it back... we can but hope though :D

Andy: thanks for your kind words! I'm always glad to hear there are people who found and enjoyed this game, despite the utter absence of any marketing for it.

Best wishes!

I've been playing Ghost Master for a good 2 years and I've really enjoyed it. I was upset to the fact of there being a minute possibility of a Ghost Master 2.

At the end of the game i've heard there's a level when your actually scaring on the Gravenville express but found out to be a Bonus Scenario calle 'Class of spook 'em high', Now I'm not sure that that is an offical scenario but it is good it happens to be the only level which you can actually use the 'Darkling'

Still i wish that Ghost Master 2 could be created, i am a great fan of it, you've definatly got one costumer of that brilliant game :)

Finn: thanks for letting me know you enjoyed the game!

There was a level called "Murder on the Gravenville Express" intended to be a bonus scenario, but this was (I think) replaced with "Class of Spook 'Em High" - the larger map allowed for more free use of the haunters. The bonus level was released as a Halloween extra.

As for Ghost Master 2... never say never! :) If my reputation as a games designer continues to increase, I could get to the point whereby making a Ghost Master sequel might make it back on the cards. It would not be easy to pursue, but I don't want to rule it out as a possibility!

Best wishes!

I live in the states and remember seeing this game on the shelves years ago, thinking it was a children's game based on the title and the box art, and passing it by.

Years later I picked up a copy for $6 off gog.com and was floored by how excellent this game actually was. Unlike Dungeon Keeper, which turned out to be an incredibly simple RTS with very involved recruitment mechanics, this game delivered on its promise of strategically placing your ghosts around a haunted house before springing the trap on the unsuspecting visitors and sending them screaming into the night.

I particularly liked the way the energy meter made your hauntings play out like in TV or movies. A moan here, a light cutting out there, the weather picks up, slowly building up to crazy telekinetic madness and visions of hideous ghouls. I also liked that it took ghosts a couple seconds to warm up their powers so you couldn't just dump the lot of them on your victims' heads all at once like in Dungeon Keeper.

As for problems with the game, I just have one big one. The thing that keeps me coming back is getting a high score to unlock new powers. Unfortunately freeing trapped ghosts are the biggest part of your score, and since most of them depend on mortals randomly entering the correct room (and not too scared to be curious) it can be incredibly frustrating trying to free them all AND get triple pumpkins. Ironically the best and worst missions in the game take place in the same house: Calamityville horror, where you can't scare the mortals too much and you need them to randomly travel to the correct rooms to discover the hidden bodies, and the poultrygeist, which involves absolutely no puzzles and a gives a big house full of interesting fetters to have a ball in while scaring the bejeezus out of everyone.

Mischief Maker: always glad to hear from a Ghost Master fan!

I wasn't happy with how Calamityville turned out. This was the very first of the scenarios to be scripted, and we learned from this one that it was harder to wrangle the mortals than we originally expected - so we toned this down in later scenarios. Believe it or not, the puzzles in this haunting were much harder during development than they were in the final game!

I confess, I didn't even want the puzzle element to the game - it was forced upon us, allegedly from the publisher. I would have preferred a straight haunting game, and if I ever have the chance to make a sequel this would be my preferred focus.

But I'm surprised to hear Poultrygeist listed as a favourite haunting! I always found this one to be a little frustrating since the child fetter is a little too anarchic for my tastes. I think Weird Seance is my favourite haunting - the puzzles are easily handled and the mortals are a scream to scare! I also have a soft spot for Full Mortal Jacket - lots of enemies, and a location you can really let the headless horseman loose in!

Glad to hear you appreciate the way the mechanics mimic a horror movie - this was always my goal with them, and with the wonderful art the team provided, plus Paul Weir's dynamic music score, the final result was very satisfying indeed.

Thanks for stopping by!

Just wanted to say I really enjoy the Ghost Master game. I originally "downloaded" a copy years ago but never finished it.
Now that its availible on steam, I finally purchased it and finished it!
Great game!
It has a lot of depth that you find the more you play.
I'm now working on the 3 pumpkins ratings on the levels.
I also really enjoy the mod (official mod I belive?) availible that lets you use all ghosts on all levels.

I have a few questions, What is the "Unclean" fear that mortals have? The manual doesn't really explain what kinda powers to use for the differant fears (although most of them are pretty self explainitory).

Another question, to "level" your ghosts to get more order slots, is it the # of scenarios that you play with those ghosts or the length of time that you play with them?

Thanks again!

I got Ghost Masters on sale a couple of years ago and played through it like there was no tomorow. It was the most interesting game I had seen in a long time and got me hooked.

At the time, because I knew it was an oldie, I went in search of part 2 and... oh, well, what to do?

Anyway, I have just finished another replay and wanted to drop by and say there is at least another fan out there ;)

Hi, Chris!

I just wanted to point out that, to my recollection, Majesty beat Ghost Master to market by a year or 2 and also was a game where the player 'lead' the team.

I was wondering if maybe you had any thoughts on why Majesty seems to be a well liked game and Ghost Master an almost unknown when they have a similar game play mechanic.

I'll say this: If, in Ghost Master, one were actually able to design the house ... I think that removing the puzzles in favor of pretty straight forward goals would result in a smash hit, but what do I know?

Majesty 2 will be out soon (finally). If it gets a good response, I suggest you try and drum up some interest in a Ghost Master 2!

Pleef, Firefly, Earnest: Thanks for dropping by to let me know you enjoyed Ghost Master! I do appreciate knowing that the game has found its audience, albeit a little too late. :)

Pleef: "Unclean" is a fear mortals have of dirt, bugs, disease etc. Stench powers like Lingering Smell, Stink, Suspicious Stench, Queasy, Choking Odour and Nausea are the principle ways to get an advantage against mortals with these fears.

Regarding earning more power slots, this is related to the Training Level of the Haunter. Here's what the original design document says:

--------------
Training level
--------------

After each scenario that a haunter spends any amount of time at Plasm Band 1 or higher they gain a number of points of experience equal to (Time Spent at Plasm Band 1+ in Scenario/Total Scenario Time)*6.
That is, 1-6 experience is awarded, one for each 16% of scenario time the haunter was active.

Each haunter has a (private) score of Experience Points, and as these go up, the haunter’s Training Level increases, with a corresponding change in the name of their level of Training.
--------------

So to train ghosts, you have to keep them in the field and supplied with some plasm.

Earnest: I confess, I had not considered a parallel between Majesty and Ghost Master, but I see what you are angling at. Although they share in common the idea of leading, in Ghost Master you actively pick a team (Mission Impossible style), whereas in Majesty you don't so much lead a team as you encourage a pool of freelancers to do your bidding by offering rewards. :)

Our original plans for Ghost Master 2 were to allow players to design their own haunting locations, and to reduce the emphasis on puzzle solving. In fact, I always pushed for a game which didn't depend upon puzzles, but was overruled.

Best wishes!

Stumbled upon this blog from a thread at The Escapist. I do remember this old game and did enjoy it in the days. I see Steam got it on their collection. Might be worth to pick it up for those of you that didn't play it back then. It is a good game, quirky and original with a somewhat dark twist. I read some other reply's saying this game is too easy. If anything, I found the game quite hard back then, but I like to do everything a game got to offer before moving on to the next level. You can probably skip alot of the various sidemissions(unlockable ghosts) and still complete the game. By the way, I think Good Old Games too got this one in their collection. I would recommend this title for anyone, except maybe the constant sugarhigh kid behind the latest Halo or whatnot. It's an overlooked masterpiece in the gaming history, quite artsy even.

Hans: thanks for the kind words! "An overlooked masterpiece" is quite the highest praise I've heard for Ghost Master! :)

I was always surprised that people complained that the game was too easy... I suppose one must really want to struggle against incredible odds (failing along the way) to feel this way about Ghost Master, which is not that easy for most players to complete... and getting triple pumpkins is genuinely challenging!

Best wishes!

Found this while looking for some hints to the bonus scenario. I bought the game when it was released and played it alot, then I lost it while moving and have just bought it again:)
It`s a shame to hear that your team was so unceremoniously dumped, a longer and more polished Ghost Master 2 would have been welcome. Personally I have been looking for a sequel since the first one came out:)

Good luck though with current projects.

Simon: greatly appreciate your comment! It means a lot to me that this game did find its audience, even if the publisher managed to kill the franchise dead. :(

Cheers!

Well the IP will now be owned by someone new as Empire died recently...

Neil: Apparently, New World IP has bought Empire's catalogue of IP, but Gregg maintains a 50% share of the IP, so I'm not sure what the death of Empire means for the intellectual property now...

I too was searching for a sequel to the game when came across this blog. So really sad to hear there isn't one. I'm almost finished and was so hoping to play another. Keeping my fingers crossed!

A few days ago, a friend pick-up a copy for me from Target because he thought it sounded like something I'd like. I do! I've been obsessively playing ever since. Do find the navigation awkward but love all the ghosts and scaring mortals. All and all, it is a great game and wish there were more of this type on the market. I thank you for creating it.

Dresden: Thanks for the kind words! It means a lot to me that this game has found its audience, albeit a little too late. :)

Couple of things to say:
First, I'm another fan of ghost-master. Although it's not the best game I've ever played, it's quite possibly the game I find it hardest to think of any significant flaws in the core gameplay. The interface was mediocre (not terrible), it *was* too short as you say, and it could have done with a better "sandbox" mode that just let you pick a location and have fun in it (though you can do that to some extent via revisits).
I'd like to note that I actually *liked* the puzzles, and think the game would have been poorer without them. I think, though, that optional puzzles, like freeing difficult ghosts, are better than ones that are required to complete the level- that way they don't get too frustrating.

Andrew: I agree there was room for improvement in the interface, but in our defence there were some tricky design problems to be solved in allowing haunting in multi-story buildings. (Has any other game tackled this?) As with so many aspects of this game, a sequel would have helped us clear up these problems.

I totally agree that the absence of a "sandbox" mode was a blunder, and one that I wish we had fixed. And as for the puzzles, it's the puzzles "on the spine" which I wish we hadn't done - having restless spirits that were freed by puzzles but that weren't essential to progress wouldn't have troubled me at all.

Thanks for your comment!

Ahoy there!

Another recent discoverer; you're right, this little beauty truly had no advertising! I'd barely even heard of it until but a few days ago - when I found it on Steam for £1.50 - and I'm pleasantly stunned by it =)

At first I approached it as a game in the vein of Dungeon Keeper 2, Startopia, Evil Genius or even Dwarf Fortress - and the comparison certainly stands.. After a few hours however, the single game it most closely resembled to my experience was the Hitman franchise.

An odd comparison, but the approach of beginning 'innocent', a mere civilian, or ethereal observer, exploring an enviroment in detail, observing fairly deep AI interactions with the enviroment and with one another before making stealthy assaults upon them, speed and awareness encouraged by the diminishing reserve of plasm here, as in hitman by the increasing risk of discovery as your crimes mount up.

You're also bang on in your mentions of failing to name/target a genre - but through no fault of your own. Ghost Master has no genre, deep down. It's certainly strategic, just as the Hitman games are 'shooters' - but neither are adequately framed by these titles.

The closest I could manage would be to describe them as AI Sandboxes. They're playgrounds in which artificial life dances, and we kick them in the shins and spike their drinks to see what it does to that beautiful dance.

We throw explosive powerballs into a giant bucket, a bucket full of dancing polygonal crabs! For the sheer joy of of not knowing where the richochet will take them and who will get pinched!

.. Forgive my metaphors ._.

There is no defined genre for this game - there was not at the time of creation, nor when you wrote this article - and there still isn't today.

I'd guess given your interests and career to date you're familiar with the game 'Dwarf Fortress'? If not, it will suffice for now to say that it shares several of the most important foundations of Ghost Master - you've no direct control or influence upon the characters, they are powered by unpredictable AI possessed of emotion, and in this mad sandpit wonderful things happen; if you let them.

Emergent gameplay, as I believe Will Wright said.. But he didn't make perhaps the most significant point; with sufficient AI simulation, the game starts to make itself. Many of the emotions evoked within and experiences had by the players are entirely new, unanticipated by the creators.

Well, I'm getting more than a little verbose, I'll try to make my points and draw this to a close =)

Your game is a great deal of fun and a true inspiration - A very pleasant surprise, from nowhere. I'm glad to see Steam and GoG giving this game a little bit of life long after it seemed to have disappeared.

Did you ever get a review in PC Gamer UK? If their score was anything like the US review, I'd imagine the game would be on the cards for a re-release in the PC Gamer Presents boxes I see floating around PC World and Maplin. Have you heard anything like this?

I had a look on ihobo as a result of finding this article (.. while googling sadly for tech help with the game, as I'm afraid as much as I'm loving it I experience a hardlock long before I can ever ever beat Weird Seance >.<) .. Ooh, that was inspiring. I've knocked out an email to the contact address saying hello and asking for any words of advice that could be offered to someone inclined to writing and design, without a taste for code or asset production.

In indie-modland, trying to get onboard a decent project without technical skills is a long and difficult journey..

Well, I encourage you to take any opportunities you can to push Ghostmaster for more re-releases, to spread the word of mouth - the graphics engine has not aged significantly (impressive in itself, Sickpuppy were clever buggers) and there's a massive number of players out there I know would absolutely love this game, thousands of desperate Bullfrog lovers praying for another Dungeon Keeper - and they simply haven't heard of it!

And your comment from October last year.. No, never ever say never *smiles* As good as this game is, I do not doubt that you know better than I do that you've only scratched the surface of the potential the concept has - An AI sandbox in which ghosts can play around to achieve their goals can go a lot further than just Suburbia. Consider the direction the latest sims 'sequel' has taken, expanding into a persistant neighborhood. A little freedom of exploration and travel around, blending open world sandbox with AI playground.. That could be entertaining.

*grins* Blast, mental images of Electrical fettered gremlins speeding through underground lines, crackling off a substation and bursting out of my computer screen with a confused look. I'd best stop now before I start writing up a design document on the backs of my arms.

- running for the sake of his sanity, and yours - Jack O'Hare.

Jack: thank for your kind words! I replied to your email that you wrote. Didn't realise this was selling for just £1.50 - what a bargain! :)

I imagine some would find it insulting to see their baby going for so little - but so long after development, I'd think the best outcome now is that as many people get to play it as possible, building a little bit of underground support for a sequel, and generally making people happy - something more important to me than making money.

I'm a bit of a cynic and a lot of an.. anticonsumerist? I hate money - a claim that often makes my older and more experienced friends wince at my naivete - and anticipate a future of scraping by with part time jobs in favour of using my spare time to make games for free on a donation basis. I'll regret the technological limitations a low/nonexistant budget will instil, but do not anticipate regretting the choice. Almost without exception, the best games I've played have been graphically minimal, and most have been independent projects.

I think the only game that has truly hit me hard thanks to a large budget well-spent and the latest graphical tricks would be Shadow of the Colossus..

I was pleasantly surprised by your email - I look forward to replying to it shortly. A pleasure to have met you, Chris =)

Jakk - I'm just glad it's in circulation; £1.50 seems too cheap, though... I feel like £5 is more of a reasonable price, but as I say, at least it's out there! :)

I also hate money, but I like being able to live with a roof over my head and eat food. :D After you've been in the games industry for a decade or so, you get to the point whereby you don't have the luxury to appeal to the "starving indie" aesthetic any more.

Best wishes!

I'm uncomfortably aware that having more needs and responsibilities would be a distinctly good thing for me - that it would wake me up and stimulate my creativity, as long as I could keep it from exhausting me..

.. Nonetheless, knowing I will eventually need the monies makes me keen to enjoy the family home for as long as possible O.O

I feel £10 would be what the game is worth - which is saying more than it seems, as I've never been able to afford games at release-price, growing up poor in South Wales - but £5 would be the more intelligent point to market it at, given the skepticism the game's age would induce in the prospective buyer. Looks like that's the way it's going with GoG and Steam, give or take a few =)

Continuing to enjoy the game a great deal.. Dreading it coming to an end - and expecting I'm very close, having just reached Phantom of the Operating Room (or is it Operation Room?)..

Yes, you're near the end now. :) And as it happens, turns out no-one involved in the game is getting any royalties on it so it doesn't make much difference what they choose to sell it for. :p

You know, I think you hit the nail on the head - unfortunately, most gamers aren't interested in playing something truly innovative and "game-changing" (if you'll pardon the pun).

I for one enjoyed Halo... but not for the reasons that most folks enjoyed it. I loved it because I've been a Bungie fan since their beginning on the Mac... they have always produced solid products - specializing in perfecting what work was already done before them (Pathways into Darkness from Wolfenstein, the Marathon games from Doom and Quake, Legend of the Minotaur from Ultima and games like it). It's for this very reason that I have really strongly disliked the various sequels and spin-offs from Halo since its original release. It's not fresh or innovative anymore... it's the same old experience in new packaging - boooorrriinnngg!

I did not, however, enjoy God of War. I don't like the 'beat-em-up' as a rule and God of War was no different. Try as you might, you can't mask button-mashing with mandated combo memorization and epic plotline. It's still button mashing and it still feels remarkably abstracted from what is actually happening on screen... there's no connection made between gamer and game when playing one of these - that's my experience anyway.

I wonder now how things would be different - what with PSN and XBLA playing host to a bevy of innovative and new game designs that are actually selling quite well. Particularly, I am thinking of Flower and Echochrome on the PSN. Those games defy categorization and yet have received much press. I really enjoy both of them and find them to be a refreshing break from the tired old "press this button to attack, press that button to jump" model of gameplay.

I find myself wondering if the face of gaming has truly changed a bit since the writing of this article? Brutal Legend is about to be released and it has received a boat-load of press... especially compared to it's predecessor, Psychonauts (a fantastic but misunderstood game itself). I don't know whether that change is because of an industry that has learned its lessons, or if it is because of the increased importance of the web as a marketing tool and strategy... but as a consumer and software programmer, I do sense a definite change.

Finally, I wish to complement you on the excellent work you did on Ghost Master - although it may never see a sequel... it was, and is, a fantastic game. Of course there were bits and pieces that could have been ironed out with more development time and a bigger budget as you mentioned in your post mortem... but the same holds true for most medium budget game titles. The fact that you delivered a compelling, creative, and enjoyable gameplay experience is enough of a reason for me to keep coming back and replaying Ghost Master over and over again. I tip my hat to you!

Andy: firstly, many thanks for your kind words about Ghost Master. This game has a special place in my heart, and it means a lot to me that it has a fanbase, no matter how small or scattered! :)

Regarding console downloaded games, I think it would be a mistake to assume that these games are selling quite well... it is not my impression that this is the case. If the downloaded content was selling well, why would Rockstar feel the need to release the GTA DLC as a box product? This speaks to me of lower-than-anticipated sales over the console download services.

Its easy to mistake critical acclaim for commercial success... the games that journalists talk about aren't necessarily enjoying commercial success proportional to the volume of mention a game receives. To my knowledge, no game has sold seven figures over a console download service yet, although some have certainly racked up six figure sales (e.g. 100,000). Meanwhile, the top boxed products can sell *eight figures* (tens of millions).

I think these days I might be too close to the sales figures, though. Even if Flower only sold 100,000 (and I don't know that it did) I imagine on its development budget this would still be in profit, and this is what is important pragmatically - because if a company can't at least make games that break even, it will go under. We need innovative developers to survive, and make more innovative games, or videogames will become very stale indeed.

Thanks once again for the tip of your hat! :)

Excellent post mortem. I had long before wondered why such a wonderful game went unheard of. (In fact, trying to find out was how I found your blog)


I am a novice game developer, working in a team of two, and I was wondering if you had any advice to us rookies.
Currently we're developing games for phones, but we were planning to move on to PC games later.
Is there any typical pitfalls we should avoid? Should we focus on gathering a larger development team in general? Any advice you could give would be most helpful. :)

Email: redmattis@gmail.com

Remattis: I'll leave my comment here, and forward it to you by email as well.

Firstly, thanks for the kind words about Ghost Master; I say this often, but it does mean a lot to me that this game has been enjoyed.

Going into game development can be a lot of fun, but it can also be a hard-going road. The first thing I would suggest is *not* to focus on gathering a larger development team. Try and find your feet with the smallest team you can. You will not find money easy to come by at first (or ever!) and the more of you there are, the thinner the money will have to be spread.

Focus on making games as *small* as you can to begin with - this will not only prevent you wasting too much time in projects which later turn out to generate little income, but also it will get you into good working habits. Once you can produce small games promptly, you can consider tackling larger projects. A lot of indies wade in on a giant project, and consequently never complete it.

Lastly, get in contact with other indie developers and talk to them! A good port of call is the IGDA's indie Special Interest Group. You will be able to get a lot of good advice from other people treading the same road.

Best of luck!

Chris.

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