Ghost Whisperer Developer Interview

Conducted By Adam Ames

The popular American TV show, Ghost Whisperer, which ran for five seasons from 2005-2010 is now set to continue the story of Melinda Gordon and friends in a Legacy Interactive PC HOG release simply entitled, Ghost Whisperer.  Donald Marshall, Creative Director from Legacy, gives us a preview on the development of their TV adaptation.  You will read how Ghost Whisperer found its way to the PC and much more.  Here is a taste:

How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Ghost Whisperer professionally?

It’s a mixed bag. We’ve had some reviewers review our game after playing the latest Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto and treat us very poorly, and others that give us rave reviews who have never played a hidden object game before. Our games are about relaxation, about a “zen” experience, not about pulse pounding adrenaline. Too many reviewers don’t understand the casual games market, and then penalize us for not making games that fit their expectations on what a first person shooter or real time strategy game should be. We make good, story based casual games – the reviewers familiar with the market usually have good feedback on the subject, but too many don’t understand what it is we do.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Ghost Whisperer.

My name is Donald Marshall and I’m the Creative Director for Legacy Interactive. I was the lead game designer on the project, though we’ve had design contributions from many of our producers at our company, most noticeably Valerie Wicks, who shed blood sweat and tears on this project.

How did you get started in developing PC games?

I was a writer and video game player in need of work when I was hired as tester at Activision nearly 10 years ago. As a fairly organized person, I ended up leading test teams, planning quality assurance projects and advising production teams. A few years later I crossed over to Legacy, where my experience as a writer, producer and in the video game industry made me a good match for our many TV inspired game titles, like Murder She Wrote, Law & Order, The Apprentice: Los Angeles, House and Psych, among

Where did the idea for Ghost Whisperer come from?

The Ghost Whisperer show itself. Each episode is, in essence, a mystery.
Melinda is approached by someone needing help, she needs to explore that
person’s world to find the clues to what happened to the haunted (or
haunter), and then move to put everything back to right. This lends itself
very well to light adventure hidden object games, which is what we steered
the design to.

What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Ghost Whisperer?

Our successes have consistently been in story. I love stories, and Ghost Whisperer not only has strong, interesting characters, but the show has an actual mythology – a back story of events and legends that gives a real richness to the world. We’ve incorporated that mythology into the game so that fans of the show have a little something extra to enjoy while they play, though people who are new to Ghost Whisperer won’t feel left out. I’m proud of that. Our failures have been primarily in anticipating how long it would take to generate all the needed art for the game. In order to produce a game up to our standards, Ghost Whisperer has seen a few delays before its final version could be released.

In its current form, how close is Ghost Whisperer to your initial vision?

There are always compromises that need to be made during the game
development process, but it’s shaping up to be pretty similar to what I
envisioned in the first place.

Some devs admitted their games were too hard upon release because they became experts as they developed the game. Talk about setting the difficulty levels for Ghost Whisperer and if you faced a similar challenge.

We actually didn’t. Through our partners we do fairly extensive testing on
our games to gauge difficulty level. While we’ve had a few individual
puzzles that proved a little too hard for players, we’ve scaled them back
and they seem to be about right now. Some areas proved to be a little too
easy, so we’ve done a little design there. Really, it’s more like
alterations on a suit, though – the whole game fit pretty well, it’s just an
issue of taking it in over here and letting it out over there.

Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Ghost Whisperer would run on the various PC system configurations?

We really haven’t encountered any problems with this game. Ghost Whisperer
is designed to work on most all PC systems (as most casual games are), and
is using a tried and true engine. It’s always been fairly stable, even from
its earliest builds.

Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for  Ghost Whisperer.

We met early in the process with Kim Moses, the executive producer of the show. I loved her brain – she new everything about her show, backwards and forwards, and clearly had a passion for it that she shared with us. She walked us around the set, showed us through wardrobe and props, and made sure we new all the little tricks and signatures of the show. She wanted to make sure that the art, music and sensibility of the game matched that of the show. We’ve done our best to honor her passion and to keep all the elements as close to the show as possible. We’ve selected a few areas from the show to incorporate in the game, for example: Melinda’s store “Same As It Never Was”, Eli’s office, the Grandview Town Square and the Grandview Train Station. We’ve built those backgrounds from pictures we took while visiting the sets, so I think people will be pleased with the final results.

Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being a PC gaming developer?

People’s surprise that people are making PC games, and that not everything
is on console – and that there are game out there that have no interest in
trying to get onto console.

Every popular TV show has their group of rabid fans. How much of Ghost Whisperer will cater to fans of the TV show? Was there any hesitation on the part of you or your team to create a game based such a  popular series?

Absolutely not. We love the show, and hope that the fans will recognize the game is made by people who enjoyed the show as much as they did.

Are there plans to release a demo for Ghost Whisperer at or near launch?

The game will be available for download with a free, 1 hour demo period, after which players can decide if they want to buy the game or not.

How important is it to get instant feedback about Ghost Whisperer from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?

We love to get people’s feedback. We do our best to monitor all the forums that cover our games, looking for bugs or problems that people have with our games. When we find a bug that a lot of people are hitting, we try to fix it as quickly as possible. Personally, though, I also look for player feedback on what they liked or didn’t like about the game. As people are trying out my last game, I’m usually working on one or two more – the notes players give me on one game will likely make it into the next one I make.

How do you feel about the various indie bundle promotions and the “Pay What You Want” pricing methodology? Would you be interested in contributing to a project like that in the future?

We have not explored that yet, and I don’t have enough information to know if that is viable or not.

What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?

Most casual gamers are very honest people, in my experience. Is piracy an issue that has eaten into our profits? Yes, sadly, it is and it has. But that said, casual games like ours haven’t experienced the same theft levels as more core-games have. A lot of the games in our genre are about good versus evil, about moral fortitude, that hold up virtues such as honesty and diligence as being things of value worth cultivating. I, personally, think a lot of our core audience hold those values deeply, and would tend to feel badly stealing games (especially when our games have such a low purchase price). I guess what I’m saying is that we’ve been lucky enough to have an honest, good hearted fan base that tends to feel badly about stealing.

How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?

We haven’t released any games with downloadable content yet and don’t have
any plans to in the near future.

What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?

Concentrate on your game design. Great art is all well and good, story is a nice plus, but fun is king. If your design is under-conceived, or too complicated, or just doesn’t resonate with players, it doesn’t matter how good your game looks or sounds costs, it won’t sell. And don’t assume just because you like your design that it’s good – remember who you think will be buying it, and make sure that group of people thinks it’s good. -End

TPG would like to thank Donald and Legacy Interactive for providing us a detailed and informative interview.  Ghost Whisperer is to be released in Q1 of 2012. 

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