If you love adventure games with undead pirates, you’re probably on top of the world these days, thinking things can’t get any better. Well think again, because there’s still another important upcoming game with a major character who’s a ghost pirate. Unlike others in recent news, however, this one isn’t a pirate-themed adventure, and you’re neither playing as nor fighting against said ghost. In fact, there are several more ghosts who aren’t pirates in the least. Introducing Haunted, the new point-and-click 3D adventure game from Deck13 Interactive, the developers behind the Ankh series and Jack Keane. At E3 I had the opportunity to meet with Deck13, including Executive Director Dr. Florian Stadlbauer, for an early glimpse at the title.
The demo shown to me began with Mary, a young homeless girl and the game’s protagonist, lying unconscious on a cot, being examined by Professor Lindsey Ashford. The place is London, sometime in the 1800s. Ashford’s wicked manservant Ethan brought Mary to her under the pretense that Mary is dead. As Ashford is about to cut into Mary, she wakes up with a start. Why Ashford wanted a dead girl, and whether she was after Mary specifically, Deck13 wasn’t prepared to reveal, nor how Mary came to be mistaken for dead in the first place. What we do know is that her reprieve looks to be short-lived, as Ashford orders Ethan to “take care” of Mary.
From there, we skipped ahead a bit to Mary having gotten away from Ethan somehow, and into a large room that appeared to be a combination of a library and a laboratory. The first puzzle to solve here is finding the right item to bar the door and prevent Ethan from recapturing her. Once that’s done, the question becomes how to escape. This scene was specifically chosen for the demo because it enabled Deck13 to show off some of the aspects of Haunted they’re most proud of. For example, the backgrounds in the scene are considerably more detailed than Deck13’s previous games. The room is filled with shelves containing dozens and dozens of detailed objects (not that all of these will be interactive, as most are merely set dressing), and it was clear how much time and care was put into the graphic design of each area. The room itself is dark but warm, all greens and browns (in contrast to the developer’s preference for bright colors in earlier games), while the characters are only slightly exaggerated (the living ones, anyway—the ghosts are intentionally very cartoonish).
Another new feature quite apparent in this room is the real-time lighting. As Mary wanders about, her proximity and angle to various light sources affect the way her shadow is cast on the floor. The room itself is massive, and includes a loft-like walkway up near the ceiling, which brings us to still another new attribute: screens with vertical exploration. Dr. Stadlbauer said this was but one example of a room that can be explored not just left and right but up and down as well. In this way, the developers feel they’re taking advantage of the 3D environment in a way that’s rarely done in adventures.
Jumping ahead in the demo a little further still (by means of a prepared saved game, as we didn’t have time to spend on individual puzzle scenarios), Mary is now exploring the machinery in the upper walkway. Somehow Mary has managed to open a mysterious container, releasing a diminutive ghost pirate named Oscar. And with that, our demo ended, but I was given a few more details about how interactions with ghosts will work. Oscar is but the first spectral companion Mary meets, and throughout the course of the game she’ll acquire a veritable coterie of supernatural buddies to follow her around and offer their assistance. Each ghost will have unique abilities that Mary can take advantage of to solve puzzles. When not directly involved in the current events, they’ll act similarly to other adventure game AI companions, even wandering around having conversations with one another and commenting on things, waiting for Mary to give them some direction.
As the game progresses, Mary will need to discover what happened to her missing (presumed dead) sister, what Professor Ashford is really up to, and possibly stand up against the impending destruction of the entire spirit world. However, despite the serious-sounding story, Haunted seeks to walk a fine line between drama and comedy. Mary isn’t a particularly humorous character herself, and will function as more of a “straight man” to the wacky assortment of ghosts around her. It’s too early to say if this arrangement works well or not, as the build I saw didn’t contain an English translation, but we’ll know for sure when Haunted materializes in Europe late this year.
The E3 demo showed so much promise, we’ve been haunting Deck13 ourselves for more information ever since. Thankfully for everyone, Dr. Stadlbauer was willing and able to walk us a bit further behind the scenes, so read on for still more details and brand new images of the game.Continued on the next page...