Ghost Pirates of Vooju Island archived preview
Lately there have been a lot of pirate-themed adventure game projects announced, and the adventure community is abuzz with delight, curiosity, and a small amount of trepidation over the sudden glut of familiar subject matter. Among these announcements, just a few short weeks ago, was the newest project from Autumn Moon Entertainment (creators of A Vampyre Story) titled Ghost Pirates of Vooju Island. At E3 I sat down with publisher dtp entertainment’s PR Manager Claas Wolter for an early look at Ghost Pirates—a very, very early look, in fact—and was seriously impressed by what I saw. This is definitely not just “that other pirate game.”
For those of you joining us late, Autumn Moon Entertainment was co-founded in 2004 by former LucasArts employee, and lead background designer on Curse of Monkey Island, Bill Tiller. If you’re a fan of the art style in COMI, you’ll love the way Ghost Pirates looks. The 3D character models are highly-expressive and dripping with personality. The animation, even at this early stage, is already very smooth. Best of all, the game features beautiful hand-painted backgrounds, each one overflowing with rich detail. And while gamers always appreciate good looking scenery, it’s even more important when your main characters are transparent.
dtp's Claas Wolter at E3
That’s right, the biggest thing that sets this release apart from other pirate adventures you may be familiar with is that the titular ghostly buccaneers are actually the good guys. There are three protagonists in the game: Papa Doc, a “vooju” (essentially, voodoo + bad juju = vooju) priest; Jane Starling, a comely female pirate; and Blue Belly, the bashful ship’s cook. The story begins when Papa Doc’s ex-wife, a powerful vooju priestess, levels a curse down on our heroes, separating their spirits from their bodies. Now they must work together to recover their remains and figure out a way to re-inhabit them. Claas dropped some hints that, along the way, they’d discover and need to confront a larger, mysterious evil plot, but wouldn’t share any specifics.
At any time, each of the three characters will be working individually on a task, and the player will be able to switch back and forth between them. As ghosts, they possess the ability to communicate with one another over long distances, so if Blue Belly finds an inventory item he can’t figure out what to do with, he can instantly ask Papa Doc or Jane for advice. As freeing as the idea of being a ghost may sound, however, there are a lot more disadvantages than advantages. For one thing, you’re invisible and inaudible, so forget asking living creatures for help or information, and if somebody doesn’t want you snooping around, they need only lay out a border of salt and you won’t be able to cross it. Additionally, ghosts can only manipulate small, light objects. Need to move a large thingamajig—a wagon, let’s say—from one place to another? Simple for a human, next-to-impossible for a spirit.
Having to work within these limitations, dealing with new kinds of puzzles and new ways to solve them, is what personally intrigues me most about Ghost Pirates. Instead of going on a fetch quest to get someone to help you, instead you’ll need to slyly manipulate the environment to entice that person to want to help you—though they don’t even know you exist. Between this fresh premise, the gorgeous art design, and the potential for original, innovative puzzles, it looks like being on the receiving end of a vooju curse might be a blessing in disguise, at least for us.
You can look for Ghost Pirates of Vooju Island to begin haunting PCs in early 2010, but to help pass the time until then, read on for more details about the game directly from its creator, Autumn Moon's Bill Tiller, who seems to be answering a lot of our questions these days.
Adventure Gamers: Pirates seem to be in vogue this year, but your game has been in the works longer than the new Monkey Island projects. How did the idea for Ghost Pirates come about?
Bill Tiller: The plot was inspired a bit by HP Lovecraft and Gary Gygax, the creator of Dungeons & Dragons. As I explained in my AME blog, the idea of Ghost Pirates came from an idea we bandied about at LucasArts to play three different Monkey Island characters in one game, to see the adventure through their eyes. I liked that idea, but I often like to play from a monster's perspective. Plus Ron Gilbert suggested I read a book by one of my favorite authors, Tim Powers, called On Strange Tides. I read it and it was full of magic, voodoo and stange gods, so I incorporated a lot of that into the plot as well. When I was kid, I really liked the Errol Flynn Robin Hood, and so for part of the Ghost Pirates plot, I thought, what if we had an Errol Flynn-like character in the game, but instead of playing the typical white blond guy, we get to play an African, a Spanish woman, and an overweight guy -- and they are the heroes this time, helping him instead of the Flynn character coming to save his friends. I guess I like to take typical plots and twist them around a bit, keep the good parts, but do a few odd things with the tried and true formula.
AG: We have a general sense of the game so far, but not too many particulars at this point. What are some of the key locations that players will visit in the game?
Autumn Moon's Bill Tiller
Bill: Vooju Island, of course, which is a magically created island, created for a very important purpose -- no secret to it really, the player finds out why it was created by the end of the game. There is also a very typical but beautiful Pirates of the Caribbean ride-inspired island called Merry Cay, an Aztec-inspired kingdom called Azticla, and the creepy swamps around the city of Grand Fascile. There are a few otherworldly locations, but again I don't want to give it all away. And the whole game takes place on another world in an alternate sea called the Azurbbean. I did this because I wanted to create my own world, a world that was inspired by the Caribbean. Creating a new world just gives me a lot of creative freedom.
AG: What’s the date setting of the game?
Bill: Typical pirate era, 1600s, but this is a different world so the year is different for the characters than it would be here.
AG: Who are some of the notable supporting characters you’ll encounter?
Bill: The important villains are Queen Zimbi, Captain Green Beard and high Priest Itzakoka. Some of your allies include a friend leviathan named Levy, a goddess named I'Xell (pronounced ee-shell), and Cutthroat Kate, who is part of a love triangle that is central to the story.
AG: And what are some of the prominent tasks involved?
Bill: The first part is escaping the villain and being able to reincorporate with your physical body, the second half of the game is getting ready to fight back, and for the climax, of course, your goal is to defeat the villains. A lot of the puzzles involve doing and getting mundane things that will be used in unusual ways in order to do extraordinary actions. Many of the puzzles are about being resourceful with the tools you can find, and also how to use your companions' abilities and experience to help you with your tasks.
AG: Does the game use a straightforward point-and-click interface? Any surprises in store on that front?
Bill: Yep, staightforward, nothing cute or fancy. We still use the idea icons from A Vampyre Story, but now you can use the ideas with the two other players, and you can switch between the three players whenever you want. We upgraded the engine so it runs better and does a few more things better, but we didn't want to invent a whole new interface. That is something that just doesn't excite me creatively. It's the game that is important, not the interface.
AG: We couldn't agree more, so thanks for taking some time for these questions, and now we'll let you get back to it!