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.
Adventure Gamers: Can you clarify at all what the central premise of the game is? If not the specifics of Mary’s involvement, then at least how/why the spirit world is in danger?
Dr. Florian Stadlbauer: The background story of Mary is intentionally mysterious and only unfolds while playing the game. Therefore I will not take away all the surprises but rather give you some insight on the strange things happening at the beginning of the story.
Mary, a young woman, lives as a homeless person on the harsh and dangerous streets of the 19th century London. Some time later the player learns that she left her parents after a horrible train accident in which her young sister Emily was killed. One dark night, however, Mary suddenly awakes from a dream – or does she? For when she awakes, she hears the voice of her sister, calling her, begging for help, making her get up, look around, and eventually follow the strange voice. Emily's spirit apparently lures Mary into the London University, where she is discovered and chased by watchdogs until she stumbles over a root and falls...
The next thing we know is that Professor Ashford, an ambitious woman with unknown goals, tries to anatomize Mary, who is thought dead. Mary awakes at the very last minute, but still the professor seeks to get rid of her. On her escape, Mary finds a huge machine, and it becomes apparent that the professor is working on something big.
Later in the game, the player finds out that the machine is strongly connected to the spirit world, using the souls of ghosts as energy, thus destroying them, forever preventing the ghosts from being redeemed. Professor Ashford slowly reveals that she is building the machine for herself, but for what purpose long remains a mystery.
Therefore, Mary has to find out the answers to a lot of questions: Why was she lured to the university? What has really happened to her sister Emily? Is there possibly still a way to help her? And what is the goal of Professor Ashford? How can Mary escape the professor's henchman, and most importantly: What are all those strange ghosts doing in her surrounding, and how can she ever get rid of them again?
In a nutshell, Haunted is about Mary’s narrow escape from Prof Ashford, and some insane ghosts, which also fear Ashford and hence try to help Mary on her adventure and the small chance for Mary to see her dead sister again.
AG: What are some of the key locations in the game?
Dr. Stadlbauer: The beginning of the game takes place in the streets of London. There, the player will find a lot of different areas e.g. the harbor side, the London University with Ashcroft’s gloomy laboratory, the Tower Bridge, a destroyed theater, and more. These and all other locations of the game are affectionately created taking the DECK13 approach. By following this approach, we always try to present widely known locations in a completely different way. Hence, for example, the tower bridge is not just the bridge everybody has in mind: the player will discover the bridge as a building site as its construction has not been finished in the time period where the game takes place.
In addition to the already mentioned locations, Mary also has to explore many different areas outside the city of London. The gamer will encounter a spooky church in the Scottish highlands as well as a gipsy camp in Transylvania. Also, we always to love include more variety regarding the locations in our games. Hence, for Haunted we decided to locate a whole quest in a moving train, which is quite nice because the space is quite limited and it’s difficult for Mary to solve puzzles without nosy passengers or personnel.
Finally, we included some very special locations that I am unfortunately not allowed to expose yet. All I can say is that this will be a unique and thrilling adventure for all fans of this genre.
AG: Who are some of the other ghosts you’ll encounter, and what kinds of abilities do they have?
Dr. Stadlbauer: First of all, we want to outline that the ghosts and all connected features allow for a completely new adventure gaming experience: On the one hand, the player is always accompanied by a party of funny followers, and therefore the player is – apart from some minutes at the beginning of the game – always together with these weird but amiable ghost companions. While developing Haunted, we noticed that this is a very new approach which provides the gamer with a completely new adventure game atmosphere, as in many other comparable titles, the player is usually on his own. With six ghosts that Mary can collect during the adventure, this isn’t the case in Haunted, and hence this is from our point of view a great new step for the adventure genre which we call “party adventure gameplay”, which is an endless source of funny situations and more or less great hints for the gamer.
On the other hand, the ghosts and their abilities offer the player a completely new gameplay experience. Their special features are deeply integrated into the story and quest design. This starts with simple quests, where a single ability of a ghost is needed and ends with the necessity of cascading combinations of ghost abilities to solve a puzzle.
Regarding the ghosts and their abilities, Haunted offers a wide variety for the audience. While playing Haunted, the gamer will meet many different ghosts and six of them are going to follow Mary as her supporters. Concerning this group of six I’ll focus on the first three Mary meets in the game.
First of all we’ll meet Oscar – the unlucky ghost pirate captain. From his point of view, his greatest ability is his musical talent, but Mary prefers to use him whenever she needs to pick up or use items, which she usually couldn’t touch, like hot or cold or electrically charged ones. Oscar can touch anything, that's his special ability.
Then Mary will meet William Wallace, a former Scottish warrior, who battled the English sometime in the 16th century. William is exceptionally strong and can therefore easily move extremely heavy things. Unfortunately, he is only able to touch things when they are somehow in a connection with death. He can handle swords and toy around with guillotines but can't open a door.
You know the famous Asian prophet Confucius? Then you might be pretty surprised to know that not only does he become Mary's ally, but he also is a genie in a bottle! Unfortunately, the bottle just broke. Thus, Mary first has to find a new home for him. Not only is Confucius an endless resource of useless calendar mottos; he can also change his shape to become water, steam, or ice, which comes in handy on lots of occasions.
Besides these guys, Mary will later get support by a mermaid, a wolf, and the Pope.