Post Mortem: Ghost Master (Part Two)
September 06, 2005
In the last part, we looked at what went wrong with the PC version of Ghost Master, an innovative haunting game developed by now disbanded studio Sick Puppies, and designed by my team at International Hobo. In this final part, we look at what went right in the game design, and how the elements of the design came together.
Originally, I hadn't intended for this to be a two part piece, but popular demand (read: one comment by Corvus) convinced me that the Post Mortem would be more complete, and more balanced, if I also took the time to comment on what worked in the game, and the positive side of the game design process for this project. Since it was cathartic to write about why the game was a commercial failure, perhaps it will leave me feeling more positive overall if I close on more positive notes.
Before the Sick Puppies studio even existed, Gregg came to me with a concept for a haunting game and asked me to come up with an initial design. Gregg and I had previously worked together at Perfect Entertainment on the acclaimed and occasionally best selling Discworld adventure games, and we had developed a good working relationship. Gregg knew I had a gift for the rapid generation and development of design documentation, and that's what he needed at this point. The concept documents were what he used to secure the funding that enabled him to build Sick Puppies, I believe.
Gregg's initial concept had a strong vision, which is always an asset in a game. He wanted to build a haunting sim, with its inspiration being drawn from 'reality TV'. In essence, Gregg had watched how people enjoyed the 'goldfish bowl' entertainment of shows which place people in a confined environment and then basically jerk them around, and presumably thought it would be even more fun to do the same with virtual characters. Since it was going to be a virtual environment, haunting was a great way to go, as it brought with it the opportunity for artists to show off their graphical prowess with special effects.
The centre of the gameplay was clear right from the beginning: that scaring people is fun. This is why children love to hide and jump out on people. In fact, even to this day I occasionally jump out and scare my wife for no other reason than ilinx and paidia - spontaneous anarchic fun, if you will.
The initial design for Ghost Master was put together in a few days, and much of the design work I did then remained in the final game. The core concepts were as follows:
- The player controls a team of ghosts (Haunters) which they position to scare people (Mortals)
- Mortals have different degrees of Belief - those with high Belief are easy to scare, whilst those with low Belief require convincing of the supernatural to 'batter down their defences'
- Mortals have a certain degree of Willpower which determines the degree of Terror required to make them leave the haunting (Flee). The higher the Willpower, the harder to make them Flee.
- The amount of Terror generated in mortals determines the degree of resources the player has available. An invisible Fear Factor percentage (the average Terror across all mortals) is converted into Plasm, which is used to power the Haunter's powers.
That, in essence, is the core of the gameplay: scare Mortals to get Plasm to power Haunters to scare Mortals.
For the most part, all of this made it into the game, and the core gameplay mechanics work just about perfectly.
Haunters & Fetters
During the design phase, there were several issues that needed developing. Chief among these were the nature and types of ghosts available, and the powers that they would use. From a very early stage, Gregg and I were in agreement that we would aim to minimise the amount of micromanagement - creating a game that anyone could pick up and get some fun out of, but that supported more advanced play for the interested player.
What we wanted to do was create a situation in which the player's key decision is where to put the ghosts, and how much to power them up. As a result, much of the focus of the way the Haunters work rests in the nature of the individual Haunter families. For example, a Gremlin can be bound to any electrical item, and has powers that affect their operation (for example, powers to cause them to malfunction, or to electrocute any nearby Mortal). A Banshee, on the other hand, can be bound to any Thoroughfare (a path or hallway) and has powers based around Noise and the weather.
I developed a set of Haunter families which covered pretty much all the classic ghosts, and that would be more or less intuitive as to how they should be used. But, not leaving anything to chance, the game has a system such that when you are considering where to place (Bind) a haunter, the places they can be bound (Fetters) light up clearly. This makes placing the ghosts a snap - you don't need to remember anything about the ghosts to use them, but at the same time the more you play, the more you learn how to use the ghosts.
The transparency of this system is one of the trivial strengths of the game in my opinion... New players can experiment, expert players learn the best ways to use particular families of haunters. You learn the important things by what might be considered "osmotic play".
The Binding and Fetter systems are in fact integral to the core gameplay: much of the skill in playing the game is in determining the best arrangements of your Haunters, and there is much subtlety to be found. For instance, Mortals can move around the world quite rapidly - especially if you scare them so much that they start running! As a result, you can't be trying to react to their every move - you need to be smarter than that.
The best results result from working out places that Mortals have to pass through - front and back doors to houses are perfect places to bind Haunters, for instance. Hauntings strategies that excel are built upon a strong team dynamic - a Haunter outside to scare people back in doors, and a concentration of Haunters in larger rooms where you can pack in more Mortals for maximum effect.
There is also plenty of room for the player to form their own approach... Weaker Haunters such as Spooks, which are like the classic Scooby Doo ghosts, and Hordes, which are basically swarms of creepy crawlies and the like, can be bound just about anywhere - whereas stronger Haunters such as Spectres and Phantoms have very specific Fetter requirements - such as a Murder site. So you have a choice: build your strategy to funnel Mortals to your heavy-hitting ghosts, or use weaker ghosts and use maneuvrability to scare them away. The former strategy is the best in terms of completion time, the latter is the easiest approach.
The game design is rife with situations like this, in which the player has a choice in how to play. In almost all cases, the choice is between the easiest option - which is the lowest scoring - and the fastest but hardest option - which is the highest scoring.
Powers & Plasm
The next part of how the game works are the powers that the Haunters use. I was mindful of the need for balance in this part, but we also wanted a lot of variety. The powers were set up into classes, and those classes assigned to different Haunter familes. This was mostly an 'under the hood' issue - the player wasn't expected to know any of the complexity of this system, but each Haunter family has a feel, and the assignment of power classes was based upon player expectations (Banshees wail, Gremlins screw up machinery) and game balance.
We expressly wanted to avoid a situation common in many strategy games (and bear in mind, we did not see this as a strategy game) whereby the player has to learn a lot of custom abilities or unit types in order to be able to play the game. We needed a way for the player to face a simple decision in terms of how powers were used, but that in turn would produce a lot of diversity and play choices.
The way I structured this was based upon a series of power bands. All the powers in the game are divided into ten bands - numbered 1 to 10. Haunters have different power levels which reflect the highest band power they can use - only the big guns can go up to Band 10, and as already mentioned, these are balanced by having more restrictive fetter conditions. The player's in game resource, Plasm, is used to power Haunters up to different bands - so the decision the player faces is simply which band to put a ghost into. The Haunter itself then decides which power to use on its own (all ghosts are quasi-autonomous agents - a rare thing in games).
The key to this was simple rule based AI... In general, the Haunters use whichever powers they can in any situation - although there is more complexity to this, and the player can even indirectly manage their team by giving rule based orders - such as "only use such-and-such a power" or "don't use your powers unless such-and-such a thing happens". There's also a touch of fairy dust in the Haunter AI (which I designed) - each ghost has a certain unique identity, from the uncontrollably anarchic to the staunchly reliable, although they tend to get more house trained the more you use them.
The beauty of the power band system was, like the Fetter system, you can play the game with very little knowledge of what's going on under the hood - but once you start getting good at the game, you can start really making the powers work for you. And the powers are lots of fun to play with - the artists and programmers excelled at creating visuals for powers which, on paper, I had only intended to be functional most of the time. Gregg and the team made my dry list of perfectly balanced powers come alive, and I'm certain fans appreciate their attention to visual and aural detail more than my cost-benefit analysis of the powers which ensure that every band X power is balanced to every other band X power. (I had a meta-document which detailed the text book strength of a power at each band - although certain custom side effects had to be costed in on a case-by-case basis).
The power band system makes using Haunters simplicity itself. To reiterate the core mechanic: scare Mortals to gain Plasm to power Haunters to scare Mortals. So, a novice player simply throws their ghosts into the field, turns them up to the highest band they can and then lets the fear generated turn into more Plasm - which allows them to put more ghosts into the field, or ramp up the powers of the ones already out.
Now if another designer had worked on the game, they probably would have wanted to use a standard resource mechanic: Fear produced units of Plasm which are 'spent' when powers are used. But I didn't want it to work this way. I didn't want haunting to be an economic challenge - I wanted it to be a tactical-strategic challenge. This isn't shopkeeping, it's fearmongery! So Plasm isn't 'used' when a ghost uses a power. Instead, Plasm is like a wattage, and the ghosts simply share the available power supply... Use a big ghost at full power, or lots of small ghosts at full power, or a big ghost at half power and some smaller ghosts... Lots of choices, once again.
I personally think this mechanic worked perfectly. At any point in the haunting, you have a certain amount of Plasm, and you use this to power up a certain number of ghosts - but using the ghosts doesn't cost Plasm at all. If you discover that your current approach isn't working, no problem, just bench your haunters and try a different configuration - all you've lost is a small amount of time.
The player can lose Plasm, however, just in a round-about fashion. Because Plasm is proportional to how scared the Mortals in the haunting have become, if you don't keep them scared, your Plasm starts to fall. This creates the internal pressure that keeps the game pace working - you need to keep scaring the mortals to keep your Plasm supply up.
In practice, your Plasm supply is only truly vulnerable until you get the first few Mortals to flee - once a couple of the little wusses Flee, you have a reserve of Plasm to fall back upon and don't have to worry about running out. This is because a Fled mortal contributes to the overal Fear Factor by counting as a "50% scared mortal"... in effect, if you scare someone sufficiently to make them run away, a residue of their fear remains behind. This is part of the Plasm mechanics, which were the most mathematical of all the design problems I had to solve while working on the game.
The Mathematics of Fear
The original formula I devised for Plasm supply was that we would average the ratio of Terror to Willpower across all Mortals and call this Fear Factor. So, if there are two Mortals, and both are one quarter of the way to Fleeing (Terror = 1/4 Willpower), the Fear Factor is 25%. Then, the amount of Plasm was defined as 20 x Fear Factor - so from 0 to 2000. At 25% it would be 500. The costs of the Plasm Bands were then gradiated on this basis, using an exponential relationship, so that it gets dramatically more Plasm expensive to run the big gun powers.
There were a number of problems. Firstly, at the start of the haunting, mortals aren't afraid, so there's no Plasm, so you can't haunt. This was easy to solve. We assume that there's an unease in the air just from your very presence, and give a default Terror value to all the mortals (this is actually modified by Belief, so the more vulnerable Mortals begin more scared than the sceptics). This didn't wholly solve the problem, however, as when the game was up and running (more than a year after initial design) we had the problem that this Terror started to bleed away rapidly.
This was part and parcel of the way the Terror for Mortals work: keep scaring them with powers, and they remain scared. But if you ease up the pressure on them, leave them alone, and, worse, let them get together with other Mortals who aren't afraid, then they start to calm down. At the start of the haunting, since you have done nothing, they lost their Terror quite rapidly - not good. This was easily fixed by adding a "Ghostly Presence" rule - the initial Terror cannot reduce until the player uses their first power, so the player has all the time they need to scope out their surroundings and decide how to haunt.
The second problem was more thorny, but I thankfully spotted it even before the game was up and working: even the lowest Power Band requires a certain amount of Plasm, and it was possible for the Fear Factor to be so low the player could not use any of their ghosts. This was unacceptible - a local minima in the Plasm mechanics which would make the game completely broken. The easiest fix was to call this state a loss - but I didn't like that idea.
Instead, I broke out my copy of MathCAD and punched in the numbers for the Plasm equation I wanted. In essence, with high Fear Factor values, I wanted a value equivalent to 20 x Fear Factor (otherwise I'd have to regear all the Plasm mechanics I'd already done), but with low Fear Factor values, I wanted values that were high enough to power the lowest bands of Powers at all times. A little tinkering gave me the formula I wanted (which- in a wholly inappropriate fashion - is listed in the back of the Prima guide for the game). I'm really pleased with this piece of design, as I headed off a number of different problems before we even had the game working - the quintessence of that part of the designer's role in which they act as an anticipatory problem solver. The result: all of the power costs remain how they should be, but at no point does the Plasm supply fall so low that you cannot afford to get some Haunters out into the field and using powers. Perfect.
The result of these mechanics, coupled with the Fled effect described above, is that hauntings naturally have three basic phases:
- Exploration: the player has all the time they need to consider what to do, thanks to the "Ghostly Presence"
- First Strike: there is pressure on the player to scare fast and hard in the early haunting in order to get the most vulnerable Mortals to Flee, thus securing their Plasm supply for the rest of the haunting
- Elimination: finally, once the player has secured their Plasm supplies by picking off the more vulnerable haunters, the player has a certain amount of Plasm with which to tackle the more tricky Mortals.
This is roughly how it was always intended to function. Note that I purposely wanted to avoid the player being in a state of constant tension as many other games endeavour to do - I wanted the player to have a part of most hauntings that they could actively enjoy torturing mortals with their powers. What's the point of being the scarer if you don't get to enjoy it once in a while?
Annoying People & How to Dispose of Them
One element of the design I cannot take credit for is the Mortal AI. I originally envisioned the game coming together on a much smaller time scale, so I devised a very simple Affinity based AI system that would be adequate to the task of moving the Mortals around. Gregg had bigger ambitions, however, and as the project went on the programming team eventually had to build a complex set of AI mechanisms to run the Mortal behaviour. This subject is a whole topic in itself, and not something I can justly catalogue, except to say how glad I am that we had such great programmers on the team.
However, at the design side, the Mortals needed to be created in such a way as to ensure that some of them would be hard to get rid of, but that getting rid of them would still be a flexible process. To ensure this, a multi-pronged approach was used. As already mentioned, each Mortal is defined with their own values for Belief and Willpower, but they also have two personal Fears (things that scare them more than anything else), and a Madness stat.
Just as a low Belief score reduces the effect of Terror on a mortal (they simply refuse to believe that what is going on isn't a hoax), a high Insanity also reduces the effect of Terror - because mortals which are crazy just aren't scared as easily. This might seem counter intuitive - why would I want to cause Madness if it's going to protect a Mortal from Terror? However, there are two elements of the Madness mechanics which make it work in the context of the game.
Firstly, if you raise a Mortals Madness above their Willpower, they go permanently Insane which counts as Fled. And whereas Terror can fall with time, Madness is permanent. And as if that wasn't enough, Insane mortals go around acting all crazy and scaring other Mortals - which has the bonus effect of ensuring they don't calm down, because there's some fruit loop lunatic running around the haunted house with them!
The net result is that hard to scare Mortals can be disposed of in numerous different ways:
- Convince & Scare: use truly supernatural effects (telekinetic powers, bleeding walls etc.) to build Belief, and then terrify them.
- Uncover Their Fears: use Haunters with psychic powers to uncover the hidden Fears of a mortal, and then use ghosts which will tap into their weakness. For instance, a mortal with a Subconscious Fear of Blood suffers 3 x Terror from Blood effects - so such a Mortal can be made to Flee easily with the right choice of ghost.
- Drive Them Mad: use ghosts with Madness powers to drive them crazy... As it happens, most Mortals with high Belief are quite vulnerable to Madness effects, so this can be particular effective in certain cases.
The flexibilty of this set up works brilliantly, with one minor problem: Madness powers were intended to be an advanced option for expert players to use, but sadly Madness effects are collectively not as fast as Belief/Terror (for various reasons too complex to go into here). Since expert players want to set score records by getting fast completion times, Madness isn't a very effective option for advance play.
That said, the Madness route does work perfectly, and I have to say, it's still a hell of a lot of fun to play with. If we'd got a sequel, the slight problem with their use could easily have been fixed (by shortening the recharge times of insanity powers, for instance) and as it stood, it would take someone with my intimate knowledge of the mechanics to realise anything was wrong at all, so it would be churlish of me to complain.
A more serious problem is that the player is taught everything in one tutorial right at the start of the game. But there's too much to take in at once. You're just getting to grips with Haunters and Fetters, Plasm Bands and the whole notion of Belief, Terror and Willpower when the tutorial level ends. The game was too innovative to get the player up to speed in one single step, and myself and the tutorial programmer were more interested in trying to be inventive in how we presented the tutorial (which is dynamic) than in checking that we were teaching the player what they needed to know when they needed to know it.
We should have split the tutorial material into bite sized chunks, spread across the whole game (as planned for the sequel), so that, for instance, we could teach people that the weather powers don't create weather states they tinker with the very components of weather - temperature, precipitation and wind speed. Want a storm? Combine rain with multiple powers raising the wind speed. Drop the temperature to turn it into a blizzard. There's much to uncover in the weather subsystem alone. The game never quite teaches the player these facts, which are important to completing The Blair Wisp Project - although thankfully the game world is so dynamic, and the puzzles are always multi-threaded, so most players muddled through all the same.
Some small mention deserves to be made of the team selection mechanics. I always wanted the game to feel a bit like Mission: Impossible with ghosts at the start of each haunting, and so we have a selection screen which is like a set of dossiers on the Haunters you have recruited. This gave us all sorts of problems.
The player starts with a starting team, but then gains new Haunters by finding them in particular hauntings. These 'local ghosts' have not been laid to rest - they have a problem which causes them to be stuck at a particular Fetter. The player has to solve a (usually) simply problem to lay them to rest, after which they can join your team.
This mechanic caused problems because a few of the hauntings required specific powers and abilities to solve, and we couldn't guarantee at any point in the game which Haunters the player would have on their team. The solution we adopted was to give the player some extra Haunters at the start of each Act of the game to ensure that they would always have a minimum set of powers. Not exactly elegant, but it worked.
A related problem was that only a player with some experience would be able to choose which ghosts they wanted for a particular haunting, so we needed a 'Suggestion' button to give the player a default team. But this default team couldn't be fixed, because we didn't know at any point in the game which team the player would have - every player would have different ghosts.
The solution for this turned out to be specifying the recommended team in a set of 'streams' such that if the player had the best Haunter for the job, it would be recommended, otherwise there would be a string of replacement suggestions (up to four deep). With some considerable logical problem solving, we were able to come up with sets of ghosts for the Recommended Team rubrics which fulfilled the requirements of always giving the player at least some minimum chance of completing a given haunting.
It works quite nicely in the final analysis: the Recommended Team is always competent, but there is always plenty of potential for the player to improve upon this recommendation. Which, in point of fact, is half the fun of the team selection screen anyway.
The Trouble with Time Travel
Sadly, there was one problem with the Haunter teams that could not be solved by game design alone: when you replay earlier hauntings, you can't take in all the ghosts. The reason for this was technical: many of the ghosts require custom solutions on a level by level basis. The Dragoon, our Headless Horseman, for instance, required pathing work for each and every level he could appear in. Because of this, Gregg had to insist that there were limitations on which ghosts you could take back.
The solution I went with was that you can only take in those ghosts which you could realistically have at that point in the game. This wasn't perhaps the best choice. Not only was it torturously difficult for me to calculate those restrictions (because of the trivially branched structure of the game i.e. we don't know the order the player is completing available hauntings), but it's disappointing not to be able to take ghosts back into all the previous hauntings and let rip.
In retrospect, the better solution might have been to let the programming-complex haunters be banned from entering the Time Gate (the in-game justification for replaying hauntings is that you travel back in time), but give the player free reign with the ones that pose no problems. It wouldn't have made much difference.
Similarly, Gregg insisted that you couldn't gain unfair advantage from using the Time Gate to replay earlier hauntings, so the benefits you can get are capped such that the benefit you get in the game's reward resource (Gold Plasm) is limited: you can go back and improve your score, but you only get the difference between what you scored last time and your new, better score.
This was a complete waste of effort, frankly, as it was more complicated to implement but didn't give any advantage. The only thing the player can use Gold Plasm for is buying powers for your Haunters, and as it happens unless you're a really, really good player, you will struggle to get enough Gold Plasm to power up all your ghosts. There was just no reason to deny the player the freedom to replay old hauntings to get more Gold Plasm, but I wasn't confident enough that this would be the case in advance, otherwise I could have convinced Gregg. (He was always won over by intelligent argument - but he wisely needed to hear the arguments first).
The clearest evidence of the fact that this restriction was misguided is that within weeks of the game's release there was a trainer released by the enterprising modders giving players infinite Gold Plasm... a sure sign that we worked too hard to stop the player getting something they kind of needed. And if we hadn't restricted the player from getting Gold Plasm from replaying hauntings, it would actually have extended the play window (by rewarding the player for replaying any haunting they enjoyed), so in the end this hurt us. Although, in real terms, the amount it hurt us was trivial.
Ghost Toys, Ghost Games
On the whole, I am extremely pleased with the core mechanics I designed for Ghost Master which are interesting, unusual and completely original. There's no game quite like it, which turned out to be a blessing and a curse, but in terms of game design achievement, I'm very proud of the game mechanics as they are.
There's much more I could talk about, but on the whole, the above is about the most accesible account I can give of the key design issues addressed in the project without getting into seriously minute detail. Already, it is probably quite difficult to get to grips with this account without having had some experience of the game.
What the game design certainly seemed to fullfil is a happy balance between a toy and a game: players with low game literacy can, with a little application, sit down and play around with the game quite happily, getting simple joy and wonder from just watching the beautiful animations and artwork the development team created, and laughing at the people as they run around scared witless in response to what you do with your team of ghosts. This is coupled with a complex set of mechanics which do support advanced play - although because of the short length of the game, and the problems already mentioned about the Triple Pumpkins, very few players got to really appreciate this side of the mechanics.
To have created a game which plays as both a toy and a game is something I consider a great achievement, and I more regret not including a true sandbox mode than not solving the appeal of the game to the typical Type 1 Conqueror player (about whom I knew nothing at the time, since my audience model was still very basic). When I recieved emails from parents saying their young kids love playing with the ghosts, but wondering if there was way to disable the Plasm mechanic so they could just play with the ghosts, I realised for the first time that we hadn't actually gone as far as we could have done with the toy side of the game. As ever, if we'd got a sequel, we would certainly have fixed this.
I believe Ghost Master can be enormous fun to play; it has its share of problems but then what game does not? That there are players out there who somehow overcame the lack of marketing and found the game, and grew to fall in love with it, however briefly, is some compensation for the commercial failure of the game.
After all, I am not involved in marketing - I can't be held accountable for the market failure of a game which, in broad strokes at least, met all its design goals, and offered up a little something, new, different and entertaining in an industry which for the most part seldom ventures far from familiar territory.
To everyone who played and enjoyed Ghost Master, you have my thanks - you made the whole process worthwhile.
Update Halloween 2018: Ghost Master fans, please sign up for the ihobo Newsletter we might yet have some spooky news for you soon...
Although we've obviously talked about it a few times, reading the post mortem has made me want to go back and fire GM up again ;-)
Posted by: Matt Mower | September 07, 2005 at 11:38 AM
Just as soon as my pool of game cash is back, I'll be tracking down and purchasing a copy as well. Too little too late, perhaps, but I'm eager to experience the full game-play.
Perhaps I'll re-grab the demo to tide myself over.
Thanks for humoring me and posting the second part, Chris. I don't really know enough about your personal work habits to get the full picture of the process (I love to watch a process happen, experience the result, and _then_ hear accounts from team members. I find it's terribly informative to compare impressions), but it's good to get impressions of the process from someone who communicates as clearly as you do.
Posted by: Corvus | September 09, 2005 at 02:14 PM
It's interesting to read how you feel about the whole thing now. I agree with most of your points about the highs and lows.
I think (as you well know) that the single biggest problem was the inability to return to previous levels with newly found haunters. Being able to go to a level that caused you loads of trouble, with a haunter that would blow it away, would have been satisfying to the extreme.
I also agree that being able to play some (or all) of the levels in a sandbox mode, maybe after you had fully completed each one, would have been a great "toy" string to the game's bow.
And I know there are many reasons for it, but the extra level released as an add-on was severely disappointing (maybe because it used the weakest design feature, in my eyes, the wards).
Anyway, your posts almost made me want to go back and play it again - but I think after all that play testing, it is better left for a little while longer... ;-) Also, I would like a graphics card that laughs at the requirements rather than merely "manages" to get the best out of the sometimes graphically intensive game.
Good post :-)
Posted by: Neil | September 11, 2005 at 02:09 PM
i got only one question.....will there be a ghost masters two so we can eliminate the ghost breakers bomb to save the exsistance of your haunter team
Posted by: john | October 18, 2006 at 12:32 AM
John: sadly, Empire has no plans to continue the Ghost Master franchise. I can't rule it out as a possibility, but I think it very unlikely, especially since the studio behind the game (Sick Puppies) has been disbanded. :(
However, there is a special bonus scenario which gives you the chance to diffuse the ghostbreaker's bomb - I can't remember where you can get it, but if you check the official fan site I'm sure they can point you towards it!
Posted by: Chris | October 18, 2006 at 10:13 AM
Seems like a cool game. I stumbled across this post searching for 'ghosts'.
Posted by: Ghost Videos | January 06, 2008 at 09:57 AM
"In fact, even to this day I occasionally jump out and scare my wife"
God, and you're still married ? Truly a miracle in its own right... :)
Thanks for creating the game ! And for writing these articles. I'm actually thinking up a concept of something not too different of a game, and these notes really help !
Posted by: Karnot | March 13, 2008 at 08:01 PM
Just wanted to let you know I have been playing GM for a couple of years now; it was my favorite game besides the original Sims. Now, my teenage daughter and oldest son are playing it and LOVE it. I wish this game was better known! It would definitely have a market for the tweener crowd, for casual gamers like me who don't want complex - just fun, and for teenage girls (because nobody markets anything for them and they love this!)
At ghostmaster.net, they have been circulating a petition for quite a while to get GM2. Probably won't happen, but I keep recommending this game to my friends and I keep having them sign the petition.
There are reasons why so many people are still picking this game up. It is humorous, it is unique, and each time you play it it is a little bit different. The strategy doesn't involve being perfect, it involves being creative. I am just going to keep hoping (against all hope) I will someday see a sequel to this . . . .
Posted by: Lizster | October 12, 2008 at 11:14 PM
Lizster: thanks for the kind words! I'm really pleased with the work we did on Ghost Master, and it means a lot to me that there are still players out there discovering it and loving it.
May your plasm never ebb! :)
Posted by: Chris | October 14, 2008 at 11:21 AM
Great pair of articles. I'm heading over to valve in a few minutes to download Ghost Master and try it out.
I saw on an interview with Naoto Oshima (the designer of Sonic the Hedgehog, among others) on Gamasutra. He had some comments that I thought echoed your hard-won lessons in just how "new" a new game should be.
"Well, for example none of my favorite movies were really hits. (laughs) Myself and the gaming audience, we're different. I like new things, but if something is too new, then gamers won't be able to comprehend it. So you have to think about your audience at least a little bit, or else you'll make something that runs the risk of being incomprehensible. That's why I want to keep them in mind."
(a few lines later)
"Yeah, but the sort of indies that become hits are those that are easy to follow for anyone who watches them. So, in the end, you want to make it just a little new -- not completely so."
I can't help but wonder, though-- what if the marketing effort had focused on the unique characteristics of the game, rather than making it fit too much into a cookie-cutter template. I know that marketing folks will remind us that consumers purchase based on their prior experiences: "I like game A, and this looks like game A, so I'll probably like this as well." But some games (eg Spore) get an entirely different pitch, more along the lines of "groundbreaking" or "radical" lines.
Anyway, thanks again for the articles!
Posted by: Dan | December 05, 2009 at 01:15 PM
Dan: thanks for the comment, and the reference to Oshima-san's interview! In the case of Ghost Master, the publisher's marketing department just didn't have the clout to make this one work, to be honest, so I think we were in some sense quite doomed.
Hope you enjoy Ghost Master!
Posted by: Chris | December 08, 2009 at 12:34 PM
It just goes to show you and others even from the last post in 2009 that this game has a lasting effect. I have been playing it since it was first released. My son really loves the game, and he was asking me when or if they had a ghostmaster 2 that is how I found this blog. It is a shame what happened to this franchise (if we can really call it that since it's now considered a dead single title). I can honestly say there are only a handful of games I go back to over and over, Ghostmaster, Monkey Island series, and Rollercoaster tycoon. They are all unique, and different from most other games out there. It has a bit of puzzle solving, a build up meaning you start small and end in a big finale, and there is the humor and Ghostmaster, and Monkey island are full of great humor. It's just unfortunate that Ghostmaster didn't get the commercial success that Monkey Island received. Personally, I think the best thing about Ghostmaster is how well each ghost or entity has it's own personality. From being downright silly, to horrifying. Harriet holds a special place in my heart. That's thanks to a movie called Harvey with James Stewart. For those that have never seen it I highly recommend buying it, since it's available on DVD.
No matter what happens, I truly hope all your future endeavors are fruitful, and thank you for such a wonderful game as Ghostmaster. Plus the fact, since I hate bullies I always pull for the underdog, and Ghostmaster and the team behind its wonderful mechanics are underdogs in an industry full of greedy corporations, that care not how great a game is but more on how much cash it can draw in. That is not to say we don't all want a piece of that pie, but some folks care more about quality over quantity, and if done well then your rewarded.
I just wanted you to know that even after all these years, this game still lives on, and yes it does have a fan base just waiting patiently or impatiently for a return of a new title.
Posted by: Tracy Salathe | July 13, 2010 at 02:26 AM
Tracy: thanks so much for your kind words here; it means a lot to me that there are fans of this game. This was a very special project for me, and it's a great shame that we weren't able to build upon what we achieved in the first title.
As for Harvey, this was of course the inspiration for Harriet, who (like Harvey) is a pooka. ;) "Harvey" is a truly magical film.
All the best!
Posted by: Chris | July 14, 2010 at 10:12 AM
This was an outstanding game, to be honest. It deserves the solid 80% it gets from metacritic as a game that just doesn't have any SERIOUS flaws, and is just plain fun. Is that not why we play video games anymore? Thank you for this in depth post mortem on your game, Chris. I found it extremely interesting and very informative.
I just wanted to stop by and let you know how much my wife and I enjoy the game (got it for her birthday off of gog.com). It's a real pleasure and an obvious labour of love from the developers.
Thanks again. :)
Posted by: David Laurence | December 15, 2010 at 10:18 PM
David: It's really great that there are players finding and enjoying this game now. Thanks so much for stopping by and letting me know that you had fun with it - it was a very special project for me to work on, and I remember it very fondly indeed.
Posted by: Chris | December 20, 2010 at 12:35 PM
I love this game. Its one of the few that after 5 years i still come back to and play it. As far as im concerned, the only real "problem" this game has was that it didnt reach its full potential. I would love a sequal, though i know its unlikely to happen. I cant help but vision Ghastly rippping his head apart with modern graphics...I mean you only need to look at the comments, which started in 2005, and reaches 2011 to see how lasting this game is.
Posted by: m pearce | January 16, 2011 at 12:12 AM
m: thanks for dropping by! Of all the games I've worked on, the warmest response by fans has been for Ghost Master. I know I've said before that a sequel is impossible... I think, at this point, I'd like to change my opinion to say that a sequel is unlikely. This, at least, is a step in a positive direction. :)
All the best!
Posted by: Chris | January 17, 2011 at 08:28 AM
Just wanted to say thank you for posting this Post Mortem. I've been following your blog awhile, and I honestly didn't even know of your involvement with the game. After playing it for a half hour after a Steam Sale a couple years ago - I remember finding it charming.
Recently I've been contemplating a Mission: IMpossible style con artist game, and I remembered the structure of this game. It's very close to what I had in mind - you station agents in specific places which corral people to where they want them. So I'd just been playing for a couple of hours - and I really got into it. Enjoying every moment.
It would have been better sold to both a hardcore PC market and the casual PC market. It has qualities similar to Evil Genius and - I think this is what it's most like - Freedom Force. In fact, it's as if Freedom Force was a kind of Tower Defense game.
Really enjoying it, and glad it's out. I'd like to talk to you more in depth in the design choices that were made and how you would see applications to other themes and genres.
Posted by: Jmarquiso | December 02, 2011 at 10:02 PM
Jmarquiso: thanks for your kind words! As for how it would have been 'better sold', it would have been better if Vivendi had spent any money at all promoting the launch of the game. :)
I'm a bit tied up right now on various things, but if you have some questions about design you can contact me via the ihobo.com website's contact link.
"In fact, it's as if Freedom Force was a kind of Tower Defense game."
Ha! I hadn't thought of it in these terms before, and this amuses me. :)
Posted by: Chris | December 05, 2011 at 10:47 AM
I can honestly say that this is one of the most enjoyable games I've played, and I like to think of myself as a hardcore gamer, one who drudges through Halo or CoD on the hardest difficulty just to say I did it. As much as I love some of the mainstream games like that, I find that the games that find a permanent place in my heart are the under-appreciated masterpieces like Ghost Master.
I found out about this game when I was in 5th grade because my teacher had a friend who worked at a game store, and he'd occasionally send her stuff, and one of which was the Prima guide for this game. I found a copy of the game a couple years later, but sadly, my computer wasn't able to handle it. I finally got a new computer a little over a year ago, and I finally got to play through this wonderful game. I graduated from high school last year, if that's any indication of how long I kept this game simply because I felt it was something special.
It seems to me that nowadays, game companies are only focused on the bottom line, and it heavily influences how they make their games. They're too worried to take any sort of risk and make something truly special. I feel that's part of why the indie games market is doing so well, because they don't have as many restrictions as the bigger companies. I think that if a competent indie developer got ahold of the rights to this game, and they had a firm grasp at the concept and the mechanics, that this franchise-that-never-was could potentially find new life.
Posted by: Sean Skiles | February 15, 2012 at 08:51 AM
I bought GM a few years ago and since then it has always been one of my favourite games. I'm playing through it again for the nth time when I found this.
No-one seems to have mentioned the PS2 version of GM (I know you said you had no involvement in this) but this is the first version I owned. It's a long time since I've gone through that one as my PS2 is long since deceased but I remember that while I enjoyed it, and it gained good reviews, it was far inferior to the PC version, mainly due to its heavier reliance on puzzle solving.
For example, I remember that the first police station level required breaking out a couple of prisoners instead of just scaring everyone away. This required a fairly long string of puzzles which were satisfying the first time round, but quickly gave the game a very contrived feel compared to the PC game. In addition, there was a fixed team for each level and you had to select specific powers to use at a certain time, resulting in a much shallower experience.
What (I think!) I'm trying to say is, even without the 'sandbox mode' you regret not adding to the game, the level of customisation and freedom in the original version is what still brings me back time and time again, and something you can rightfully be proud of. :)
After reading the post mortem I have discovered there are still many underlying aspects of the game I am yet to appreciate fully. It is a great shame that many players will move on before seeing such depth as you have pointed out, but it is encouraging to see so many people still enjoying GM.
Thanks for such a unique game!:)
Posted by: PA Sidwell | February 18, 2012 at 10:10 PM
Thank you both for dropping by and letting me know you enjoyed the game! It means a lot to me that there are players who really took this game to heart, and although I'm not currently in a position to resurrect the franchise I have at least changed the status of a putative sequel from "impossible" to "unlikely". ;)
Many thanks for your kind comments!
Posted by: Chris | February 27, 2012 at 10:01 AM
First off, I got GM from GoG a year or two back and played it through in one or two marathon sittings. It was just that great.
As to a sequel, have you considered putting up a Kickstarter? What with the current trend of more 'experimental' and 'nostalgic' games such as Double Fine Adventure, Shadowrun Returns, Dead State, TorchShips and the like I think a GM sequel or a game with the same premise would fare quite well as a crowdfunded project. =)
Posted by: Markus Averstad | June 18, 2012 at 01:40 PM
Markus: thanks for stopping by and letting me know you liked the game! It's always great to hear from people who found and enjoyed Ghost Master.
I have thought about Kickstarter and crowdfunding in general for a Ghost Master sequel, but unfortunately it's not just the money which is at issue. Ideally I'd want to regain the intellectual property rights from the company that currently has them, and also I wouldn't feel right starting a Kickstarter without having a team planned to develop. Right now, I don't have a developer I would feel comfortable pursuing this project - but I am always weighing up my options and opportunities, and this situation could easily change.
Suffice it to say that I have gone from considering a Ghost Master sequel as an impossibility to it being a tricky proposition - which is a massive transformation of my views on the subject. :)
All the best!
Posted by: Chris | July 02, 2012 at 08:55 AM
First, let me say what you already know. Ghost Master is a first rate, wonderfully innovative, and immensely entertaining game!
It's been among the very favorites of my library since I stumbled across it way back sometime around June of 2003, and I expect it to remain there for quite some time to come --and I'm not exactly easily impressed. I've been a gamer since back in the days of the Commodore 64, and as a result, I expect a lot more. Back then, everything *had* to be innovative. There weren't any established success paths to follow, which is probably a large part of why I remember those days so fondly. Take it as the highest form of praise then when I say that truly, Ghost Master is one of a very small handful of games that can make me smile, sigh in contentment, and almost feel like I'm back in the glory days, only with much better graphics and whatnot. ;)
Actually, I only just found these wonderful articles of yours because I am once again (for the god-knows-how-manyeth time), replaying this old gem, and loving every minute of it. Besides the natural tendency to forget a few things here and there between plays, the amazing way the AI will shift and adapt and allow even two back to back plays of the same scenario using the exact same team and tactics turn out rather differently is just fantastic.
I was, as far as I know, among the first to provide the fans over at the forums with a rudimentary walkthrough, which though highly praised, and more or less functional, is in dire need of updating and a long way from perfect. Regardless of the nine year gap, I'm actually working on just that while enjoying replaying immensely. It's one of those win-win deals, and a project I swore to myself I'd eventually see through.
What's really relavant about all that is to lend you some context, so that when I say how easy, and at the same time how intricate we (the fans lucky enough to find the game given the total lack of US advertising) consider this game to be, you understand what's behind it. At least a fair number of us aren't just those kids who love the "Toy" aspect (which is also fantastic of course), but many of us are 20, 30, and 40-somethings who may or may not top say the Halo leader board, but are still discerning and accomplished gamers nonetheless.
To this day, though I have worked and worked at mastering my skills, there are still levels which I cannot earn 3 pumpkins on, at least not while freeing all trapped haunters for maximum bonus points anyway. Most notable of these would be Full Mortal Jacket, which dear god is a nightmare not just to the mortals!
I really praise many games I can think of this way. Sure, there's plenty out there which in order to bring to full completion you need to put in about 200 hours past the "main story", but that's just grinding. The replay here isn't like that, bug more like a calling to go back and see if you can do it differently, do it better, or find some secret you missed. Speaking for at least myself, I still find every such attempt immensely entertaining.
In reference to the mention you made of the complexities of the weather powers and other combined abilities. I thought you might get a kick out of the fact that while we've had nine years to dig, many of us (the fan community) are still convinced there are yet undiscovered combinations and other secrets we just haven't found yet.
Whether there in fact are or not isn't even important. The point here is, some of us are still looking to this day, and really enjoying the search all the while. If that's not testament to the great design, innovation and replay value this game boasts, I really don't know what could be.
Now, admittedly, the fan site forum (which I'm still one of the minor moderators of) is all but a ghost town itself these days, but even now we see the occasional visitor make a few posts, and while the post activity itself is rather subdued, most days still see one or two hundred visitors per 24 hours, so it's obviously a title that's still holding someone's attention.
None of this is meant to "pimp" the site, nor myself, but rather to give credence and context, so that when I reinforce that yes, as you yourself have said, there was an awful lot right with this game, you fully appreciate all that represents and where it's coming from.
It's a real shame I can't jump in the time portal and kick Vivendi's US marketing manager in the rear... A sequel would have been fantastic.
In closing, thank you ever so much for your vision, your innovation, and the heart and soul that you obviously put into this project. It's given me (and many others) many years of joy, and at the end of the day, that's higher acclaim than even the 81% from metacritic. :)
Should your more recent position of a 'complex and unlikely maybe' ever become anything resembling 'let's see if we can get a sequel off the ground', you get the word out where I can see it, and I guarantee you at least one kickstart contributor.
Posted by: KittyKitty | August 19, 2012 at 02:29 AM
...And I even used spell-check. Guess I need a context checker. :P
(Wanted to edit, but can't find a way, so minor corrections:)
First, the line that reads "I really praise many games I can think of this way." should be "I really *can't* praise..."
That's really the main one. Changed the entire meaning, so I needed to correct it.
The minor one was "...bug more like a calling" should obviously read "but" XD
Also, sorry for my verbosity. Believe it or not, that's me trying to be terse. ;)
Posted by: KittyKitty | August 19, 2012 at 02:44 AM
Antonia: many thanks for your wonderful comment and commentary on the game! It really does mean a great deal to me that this game has its fans, as I still think this is the finest game I've worked upon.
I'm so glad to hear you mention Full Mortal Jacket as tricky for Triple Pumpkin as this is the one that I really struggled on! The military base is really spread out, and it's devilishly hard to corral the morals effectively. I can't quite remember how I eventually managed it - although I know for a while I was experimenting with using Madness powers, since insane mortals effectively increase your team by scaring other mortals! I think, however, that this was much too slow and I ultimately used bad weather to keep them indoors and thus close together. The Headless Horseman is very effective at patrolling outside, although I don't remember if this was part of my final plan. All I can really tell you is that it is possible to earn the Triple Pumpkin on this one, but it requires an aggressive haunting strategy.
Also, thanks for everything you have done to support the fan community - I do appreciate everything that you and others (especially James) have done to support the game, far more, in fact, than the publisher or the new rights holder of the game. Truly heroic!
Right now, a sequel isn't a practical proposition for me but I have moved considerably on this matter and I no longer consider it an impossibility. I'm not ready to launch a Kickstarter, but I am already thinking about how best to do it.
Once again, thanks for dropping by, and best of luck getting the Full Mortal Jacket triple pumpkin!
Posted by: Chris | August 20, 2012 at 09:04 AM
You were just talked about in , and I directed the user to this blog post. That user suggested a Kickstarter as a way to get a sequel/spiritual sequel.
It really is a diamond in the rough, and people still find it on Steam today.
Posted by: Jmarquiso | July 27, 2013 at 10:17 AM
Jmarquiso: I did wonder why I got three Ghost Master comments all together. :) Thanks for linking these posts in (although alas your link in that comment got a bit carried away)!
A Kickstarter is something I would consider, but only if I had a development partner already lined up. I don't think it would be fair on investors to plan a project without a means to deliver it. Many thanks for your continued support of this game!
All the best,
Posted by: Chris | July 30, 2013 at 11:30 AM
Hi Chris, just wanted to say that I really enjoy this game. I've actually bought it 3 times over the years and it still remains a favourite of mine.
It's nice to see how honest you are about the difficulties the game had, and I pretty much agree on all points. Although I enjoy the game a lot I feel like the puzzle mechanic really interferes with the core gameplay (to the extent that it basically BECOMES the core gameplay rather than scaring mortals) and since the game is relatively short that impacts doubly on the replay value since I often find myself avoiding levels where I know I have to complete specific tasks to proceed. In my opinion the scoring system is also kind of discouraging since it basically forces you complete levels and release haunters as fast as you can rather than encourage you to scare mortals in interesting ways.
Nonetheless I still enjoy the game, and I think it's a shame a sequel never happened. I think if the issues you mention were removed then it'd be perfect (particularly running on more modern graphics), and either way I'd definitely buy it.
Posted by: Sam Shazam | April 29, 2014 at 12:27 AM
Thanks for your message! Always great to hear from people who've enjoyed a game I worked on.
While I agree with you about the puzzles, I still like the Pumpkin medals. I got a lot of extra value in devising strategies for rapid haunting that showed me another side to the game I never knew was possible! But I do wish there was at least one extra mode with no Restless Spirits and scoring based upon set pieces rather than speed. There is so much that could have been done if only...
As for a sequel - several fan projects are in motion, and one (The Demon Cage) seems to be getting to a promising state. The rights are available from Strategy First so "Ghost Master II" may yet happen! We'll have to see how this develops...
All the best,
Posted by: Chris | May 08, 2014 at 09:05 AM
(Preface: Sorry about the long post, I’m bad at condensing thoughts and I have a lot of thoughts about this game)
I must have read your post mortem on the game already a few years ago, however I was suddenly compelled to re-read it… and now it just occurred to me I might as well leave a comment about my experiences with the game. However first of I’d like to thank you for even doing something like this, providing a reflection on your work on the game. It’s incredibly interesting to read about the design choices behind the game (otherwise I would have probably not opted to do it twice anyway) and I’ve never seen other people do it.
However it is really especially interesting because Ghost Master is probably my favorite game, not because it’s perfect (81 on Metacritic sounds about fair to me considering its flaws) but because of something I’ve often had trouble pointing my finger at.
I presume I got the game when it was close to brand new. Back then I must have been about 7 (maybe 8 or 9) and I approached it (knowing nothing about videogames in the grand scope) just like any other game – and indeed I thought other games would capture a similar feeling. However I kept returning to it and as time went by I must have slowly realized the uniqueness of this game in-between growing up and I feel like I only just understand now how extremely unique it is. There seems to be no game (still) which you can compare to it and considering it’s a good game by all means, that’s quite a feat. Yet it is extremely frustrating that no one ever picked up on it again, especially as the videogame industry seems in dire need of new ideas just now and considering how enormous potential Ghost Master truly has. I think if it was produced on a moderate (or maybe small) budget today, it would probably have success (as the industry has changed in some ways).
However back to me: As I played it when I was young, it could really be quite hard. I think I got stuck one or two times, maybe even for over a year (I think it was Blair Wisp project) and I remember needing 2 hours to do Phantom of the Operating Room (and I don’t even remember if I laid everybody to rest). But as I grew older I slowly understood the mechanics and I actually build up some decent amounts of gold plasm (getting 4000 on Blair Wisp really floored me).
The game just kept giving in some way or the other. First there is the purely gameplay related stuff, where I understood the intricate concepts of the interplay between the ghosts and powers (the weather mechanics, the “being on edge”, the insanity, the fears and paranoias, the build-up of plasm, leading around the mortals for puzzles and for set-up & the careful, almost rhythmic approach it takes to truly handle them when they’re running like mad – as they otherwise just run right by you using a power). As you explained in your analysis, the tutorial didn’t really introduce one well to all of this, however it was an amazing experience exploring it by myself and I always found a usage for all of the concepts in there (although the dirt powers never really worked that well for me).
One thing I would have to disagree with you on are the 3xPumpkins=gold medals however. Or at least if that’s the standard, there should be platinum or diamond medals, as laying all ghosts to rest and getting 3 pumpkins at the same time gives you far more gold plasm (and is far more challenging on most missions). This concept added new depths to a level like Calamityville Horror for instance, where you had to trick the game a little, as it could often be over before you laid them all to rest at once. I always thought that this approach (which the game actually encourages you to take as it grants the most gold plasm) tied the puzzle and strategy elements together in a really compelling way, as you had to come up with a strategic approach to the puzzles that would solve them the fastest and the most effective. This concept actually makes “The Usual Suspects” the hardest mission in my opinion (even over “Full Mortal Jacket”) as laying Blue Murder to rest and scaring everyone away in record time (with so many small rooms) is an incredible challenge. I think I managed in the end (after countless tries) however it does indeed correspond to the difficulty of hardcore modes in most games (or perhaps it even goes beyond). It truly demands you to have constant control over the entire map, to have some incredibly effective scare-strategies (and also a great strategy to free Blue Murder as most are too time consuming to do it), to be reactive and to keep a cool head and even then you might not make it (this sounds like I'm patting myself on the back for making it... that's not the intention though, it's about how hard this truly is). I think in general the missions strike a good balance there in terms of difficulty when you go by the “platinum medal” concept (Full Metal Jacket could equal hard, while Haunting 101 could equal easy). However I must say that on Blair Wisp and Spooky Hollow, you can turn on the auto-pilot once you got the overall concept and you’ll score about 4000 gold plasm each time (nonetheless I love the design of those levels and it would be great if you could play them in another mode or something like that). Further Brigit and Raindancer can be frustrating to free when the clock is ticking. I only managed to do Summoners not included with “platinum” by inserting a Shapeshifting Harriet who then used the toilet (it’s silly but that’s the only way I got it as the mortals were always too slow).
Which leads me to another point: modding. There is indeed a mod (and there has been for quite some time) which allows you to take any ghost to any level (after you laid him/her/it to rest). Even Dragoon works in every level. This was something I loved to find (as I agree with you that the ghosts should be available everywhere once you’ve laid them to rest). When I was around 14 or 15 I even created a mod myself. Somehow there were 4 unused ghost models in the game: Smokin’ Joe, Soulscreach, Thorne & Azrael (do you perhaps know why they were in the game files?) and it always saddened me immensely that one couldn’t use them because they were some of the most well designed ghosts. So I modded them back into the game by replacing some other ghosts (sadly there was no other way to do it) and was surprised to find that they even had some animations, sounds and team avatars (I had to come up with the powers myself though – do you possibly know which powers were originally intended for these ghosts?* ). At a certain point someone else even seemed to have found traces of what looked like an editor within the executable but as you write that it never was fully compiled, I assume it’s unlikely to get ever get anything along the lines of that.
As a sidenote: I also did actually like that you had to beat your old score to get more gold plasm. It added an extra challenge to the game.
I think it’s time to slowly wrap: In the end when I think about this game, it’s always the enormous potential that comes to mind: Much could have added tremendously to the game. An editor and active modding support would extend its lifetime to the near infinite; a longer and more detailed campaign (with perhaps more explanation on the ghost world and your role as Ghostmaster - as well as side quests that would let you explore the origin of some of your ghosts**) would have dragged new players in better; more customization options*** would have made each play through unique and could have diversified the game almost exponentially; unlockables and achievements would have encouraged different approaches to the game & last but not least: more overall polish would solidify the status of the game.
This is in no way a critique however. As I stated before: Ghostmaster is my favorite game and I think you and the Team at Sick Puppies pulled of something amazing with very little. Given the limited budget you had, Ghost Master is a little bit of a miracle. Even visually the game always looked really appealing. I love the charming design that goes through all of the locations and the characters and I love how the game leaves it entirely up to you how you want to play it. I never thought that Harriet freeing Raindancer would actually work, yet it did. Likewise there is actually a way to generate unlimited plasm: It involves Full Mortal Jacket, fire, paranoias, madness and sleepwalking (and then just a little waiting). Constantly throughout the years I discovered new ways to do things. I doubt that all of them were intended but that wasn’t important. What was important was that the game was free (or perhaps even chaotic) enough to allow for approaches like that. My list in the preceding paragraph was in that vein more a testament to the boundless potential of this game. It got 81 on Metacritic and overall it’s very popular (among the people who actually played it), ratings on Steam and IMDB are approaching the ceiling. In that sense I’ve come to read GhostMaster a little like a testrun for a franchise that could step up its game with a little more money and a little more time to become a “masterpiece” (I somewhat malign that word myself but my favorite game on steroids couldn’t be anything but that) in the realm of gaming (all of the unfinished content shows how high ambitions were). It’s almost ridiculous that no one picked up on this, as it should be possible to make an extensive overhaul of the original game today, if one would take the time to learn all the lessons there are to learn from it.
In the end I can only thank you for all the hard work you’ve put into it (and of course also the rest of the team). It has formed my childhood and my understanding of gaming. The only negative is perhaps that there will always be a little hole within myself that yet yearns for a continuation. I hope that despite the extensive length, this was in some way interesting for you as well.
*Probably a silly question, sorry about that.
**Just some ideas on my part, I felt that it would make a player identify much more with the characters (their stories could also explore interesting concepts or human dramas, they could serve as larger philosophical metaphors – quite fitting for a ghost - or just lively, interesting characters (hell, or both).
***Perhaps even for the Ghostmaster himself. For instance: Every 2nd level or so you could unlock a small perk that gives you small bonuses (for instance: “fire powers are 5 % more effective”).
Posted by: Tobias | January 15, 2017 at 05:02 PM
This is one of the most thoughtful commentaries on Ghost Master that I've read. I confess to a great pleasure in reading players of Ghost Master talking about their strategies, and your self-set challenge to lay all three ghosts to rest while still getting a triple pumpkin blows my mind - I thought just getting the triple pumpkin was enough, but wow, that's some serious gamesmanship on your part to up the ante all the way to the very top!
It is a great shame that the game was not more of a success, although I have a very real sense nowadays of why this game could not have commercially succeeded at the time. I think, perhaps, it is better that it is the unique artefact that it is rather than it was delivered in a more commercial form... sometimes, it's good to reflect on the achievement of making something special, even if something that was less interesting could have succeeded better in the marketplace.
I'm short of time, but about the ghosts that were cut... the 'lay to rest' puzzles were very demanding for the development team, particularly in terms of testing, and we had to make a few cuts for this. Some were cut because of impracticalities of various kinds, and there was always more ghosts planned than were to be delivered (to cover us in the event of problems). Of the ones we lost, I was particular sad about Thorne, because a pirate ghost is such an iconic character. It's very exciting to think that these can be modded back into life!
Thank you so much for taking the time to share your appreciation with me - this game will always be special to me, and indeed I don't think I'll ever work on a game as unique as this again. Despite its flaws, it is the game that I feel best shows off what I can achieve as a game designer, and it means the world to me that it still has its fans.
All the very best,
Posted by: Chris | January 16, 2017 at 12:08 PM
I know Ghost Master since I had 10 years old. Now I'm 16 and my interest about this great game did not fall down. Years ago, when I finished the game, I was looking for a sequel and ended up with nothing. Some time later I discovered, how much material of this amazing game was cut. From ghosts (exactly Smokin' Joe, Soulscreech, Thorne, Azrael, Boy Wisp, The Ghost With No Name, Hunchcork, Whisperer (?)) and missions (The Uninvited, Where There's A Will, Butler Didn't Do It, The Abysmal, Field of Nightmares, Trainspooking, Ghost in the Military Machine, Museum Mission).
Wow, looks like half of a game has been cut :(
Maybe you don't know it, but last time Ghost Master fanbase (yeah, it still exist!) created some mods. One of them even restored Azrael, Smokin' Joe, Soulscreech and Thorne without deleting other ghosts! It's called "Rejected Ghosts Mod", if you'd like to check.
Maybe fanbase on forums doesn't seem amazing, but do you know, that there is united Polish Community of Ghost Master Fans? It currently has got 133 members. It was created in 2015 and, well, it exists until this moment. It's been 14 years, and the game still has got so amazing, active community! I know what I say - because I am in this community ;) Maybe there are other communities from other countries - unfortunately, we don't know
I created some movies about unused ghosts, objects, locations and more - they have got almost 10 000 views on YouTube! This only confirms the activity of our community.
I would be really, really grateful and happy, if you would like to tell anything you know about these cut locations or ghosts, or why weren't they included in final version. Yes, I read what you have written above, but could you tell us something more? Of course if you want - and if you remember anything :D
Hope you still reply ;)
Best regards from the loyalest fans in Poland!
Posted by: Mirage | August 05, 2017 at 07:58 PM
It never ceases to amaze me the love that exists out in the corners of the world for Ghost Master, which is still the project I am most proud of as a game designer.
You ask about things that were cut... it is usual in game development to make contractions, in this case some of those cuts were already partially implemented and remained as artefacts in the game code - hence the ability to 'disinter' them!
I'll tell you what I remember:
- Smokin' Joe and Field of Nightmares: this was an outdoor mission based (as the name implies) on Field of Dreams. Smokin' Joe was a baseball ghost, and the centerpiece of the mission. However, it was the weakest of the outdoor locations and it was ultimately cut so we could focus on the army base and the woods.
- Soulscreech: another Banshee, but we liked the design of the others more so this one fell out.
- Thorne: a pirate ghost intended for Deadfellas, but we had a problem as we had nowhere to put the ghost that made any sense, and it caused so many problems that he was shelved. A shame, though, as I really liked the art design.
- Azrael: I'm not sure about this one, I think it was a Spectre like Ghastly, but was cut because we already had three solid concepts for Spectres with better animations.
- Boy Wisp: Think this would have gone in Field of Nightmares, but it was cut...
- The Ghost With No Name: this would have been a Clint Eastwood inspired gunslinger, and I'm not sure which haunting it belonged to, probably Field of Nightmares.
- Hunchcork: I don't even recognise this one! Not sure what the story is...
- Whisperer: some kind of Sprite, I'm thinking, but I'm not at all sure about this one.
- The Uninvited (haunting): this one existed only on paper, but the puzzle design wasn't there and it got cut before implementation. I don't remember much about it... there was a movie reference involved, but I don't know which one.
- Where There's A Will and The Butler Didn't Do It (hauntings): I can't remember if this was a two-parter set in the same location at different times, or whether these are names for the same haunting. But it would have been set in a mansion and set up along the lines of an Agatha Christie whodunnit. However, it was a big location that was cut so we could keep the Hospital (another really big location).
- The Abysmal: this one never got off the ground... I seem to remember it was an underwater mission inspired by The Abyss, but the technical problems were unsurmountable. I may be misremembering this!
- Trainspooking: originally this would have been the finale, set on a train versus the Ghostbreakers. We did build the train, but we had to cut it to focus on getting all the other hauntings up to scratch. Isn't there a cut scene at the end using the train model?
- Ghost in the Military Machine: the sequel to the military base mission Full Mortal Jacket, but that map in itself had a lot of problems and we cut the revisit.
- Museum Mission: Didn't get far in planning this one, but it was intended at one point to use a museum as a haunting location. It was a lovely idea, but pushed off to the sequel which was never made...
That's all I remember, or misremember, about everything you mentioned. Thanks for your message, and your love of the game, which is appreciated!
All the very best,
Posted by: Chris | August 08, 2017 at 09:56 AM
Your previous post was full of information, for which I thank you very much. I and our society have got nice news today!
Through these two months lots of things happened. Our community is engaged in decoding game. It has made some progress. What's new?
The best thing is, that he creates completely new places for ghosts. It means, that we are able to add cut ghosts (exactly Boy Wisp, Ghost With No Name, Moribund, Crazy Bill, Hunchork, Whisperer) to the game without removing others. Here's the picture of 6 Carters (because we do not have models for these ghosts yet) in place of these 6 ghosts.
And full pack of concept arts:
We have got a space for 57 ghosts - previously, in game there were 47 ghosts ;) Team Selection was modified to fit four ghosts on one type: https://imgur.com/3YeKCrc (it is a beta version). It is essential for four Apparitions, Phantoms and Spectres. It's possible to create even new types of ghosts! Making of this mod will take a lot of time, unfortunately. Probably we will see efects next year. Why? Because there is only one person that knows what to do (Woitek, of course :D) with this game. And we still miss a lot of things: 3d models, animations, voices, epitaphs.
There are ambitious plans for making even completely brand new locations. It is technically possible! But first, we'll focus on adding these 6 ghosts.
People are waiting for a sequel since 2003. Now there's a possibility to fulfill their dreams. But we need help. We want to recreate these missions and ghosts as accurate as possible. It would be amazing, if we could get any informations about epitaphs, how the ghosts exactly looked, anything. We do understand, that lots of things have been forgotten through years. But this mod is going to be our tribute for you, the creators of this amazing game. So if you do not remember some of the elements, feel free to send us your own propositions. If you can and if you want, you can contact previous designers to ask them, how do they see these ghosts and locations. Ghost Master is still your game and we want to know, how do you see it.
Posted by: Mirage | September 23, 2017 at 09:36 PM
I am thrilled by the love your community is showing Ghost Master, and I want to help out as best as I can. I have found the Haunter Digest (v4.94) and the Script Table (v4.90) for the game, which contains the power allocations for many of the cut haunters, as well as some (but not all) of the Epitaphs.
Please contact me using the contact link at ihobo.com and someone will pass them along to you.
All the very best!
Posted by: Chris | September 30, 2017 at 11:05 AM
Hey Chris, since it's only one year away from the 20th birthday of your wonderful, wonderful gem of game, are there still plans to come up with a follow up game? I would love to lay my hands on Ghostmaster 2 someday ...
Posted by: Streifenpullover | September 07, 2022 at 11:52 PM
Hey Streifenpullover - thanks for your kind words! We are in fact working on a spiritual successor, codenamed 'Haunters, Inc', but it is still in pre-pre-dev and will definitely not be ready for the 20th anniversary. Perhaps the 25th...? (Fingers crossed).
You can find out a little about it (not much, alas), by joining the ihobo games Discord:
Many thanks for stopping by!
Posted by: Chris | September 09, 2022 at 10:20 AM