GameBoomers Visits with Jonathan Boakes

GameBoomers is privileged to have a visit with Jonathan Boakes, the developer of Dark Fall games and Lost Crown.

His forthcoming game The Halloween Haunting, will be released soon. Read the Making of the Cover Art and The Idea behind The Halloween Haunting.

See the exclusive screenshots of The Halloween Haunting:

GB:     In previous interviews GameBoomers have been privileged to have you talk to us: like with Laura MacDonald and Becky Waxman, we have delved into technical aspects and creative processes in your games.

How has your process for game development changed in the years since you made Dark Fall and Dark Fall: Lights Out? Is it easier or more difficult to create games in 2013 than it was ten years ago?

Jonathan:     Easier? No, not at all. I wish they did, as I'd get to release more games. As I've got older I find myself less cock-sure and blasé. So, research takes longer, the scripts seem to take forever and the graphics become more detailed and fastidious.

But, there are some things that have sped up. The boring stuff, like programming and particles, is a lot quicker. It’s the only area of production that does seem to get easier with practise. But, it's certainly not the most interesting.

All the exciting stuff, like writing a ghost story, recording actors, adding music and ambiance, they still take a reassuringly long time. But, things are looking to speed up next year, when I employ a new, more up to date style of presentation. It'll be a big change for me and darkling Room, but I'm certainly looking forward to upping the production speed. More games. Less time.

GB:     Are there any types of hauntings you haven't used in your games in the past that you'd like to use in the future?

Jonathan:     I've got a fascination, a morbid fascination, for the age of steam, especially the old railways and steam trains. The catastrophes, the technology, the accidents, the ghosts stories, they've always grabbed my imagination.

I've featured trains a lot in my games; The old train station in Dark Fall, the Sleepwalker in The Lost Crown, and lots of old art from the age of steam always creeps in somewhere. But, I haven't ever set a game on a train. I think this should be rectified as soon as possible! Even if it's just a little DLC for Nigel and Lucy to investigate. It seems like an oversight, now I think about it. Why no 'train game'.

GB:     Are there any ghosts that you'd like to meet?

Jonathan:     Well, if I found myself with the perfect ghost gadget, I would probably want to solve a mystery, as well as meet a spectral star. I think, perhaps one of the Flannan Isle lighthouse keepers, who disappeared in 1900, (as seen in Dark Fall - Lights Out). Or, how about Mother Shipton, the 16th century prophetess? It would be fascinating to ask a few questions about future events, but I'd fear the infamous old hag would curse me. It would be a shame not to.

Living in an older house, do you ever find yourself afraid of creaking or other noises in the night when you are writing or designing eerie scenes?

Always. Cornwall's weather can switch from idyllic to tempest in the blink of an eye. I love it. The rattling tiles, the howling gust beneath the door, the rain lashed windows… the creaking stair…

 It's all great ghost story material. So, in that regard I'm very lucky. I've always wanted to live in a 'haunted house', so it is great to live and work (Darkling Room) in a bona fide old Victorian seaside house.

But, so far, I cannot report any 'unexplainable' phenomena.

GB:     Are you more inspired to work at night or daytime?

Jonathan:     I think probably both. One of the nicest aspects of The Lost Crown, and its sequels, is the transition from day to night. The world is different, so allows me to tell very different types of stories. Day is all about the landscape; rural crafts, the birds and the beasts. Whereas night is the opposite; it's all about drifting souls, imagined horrors and shadowy deception.  I would say it's all about contrast.

GB:     Who are your favorite writers of ghost stories/horror stories?

Jonathan:     Mostly the Edwardian writers, such as M.R.James, E.F.Benson, Algernon Blackwood and Walter De Le Mare. I like the pre-war tone of the post Victorian ghost-story, when the world was still unknowable. Horror was something imagined, not experienced. The war changed the perception of horror, hell and damnation. The Victorian's fascination with the macabre and horrific was drawn to a close by the death of millions. As an era, those few years between Victoria and The Great War are a time capsule. A moment in time between what was, and what was to come. I think the best ghost stories were written in those years.

GB:     Do you have one particular ghost story that you would pick as a favorite?

Jonathan:     Apart from A Warning to the Curious, I would say something dark and isolating like The Judge's House, by Bram Stoker. It's got all the things I adore in a ghost story: a troubled man, looking to 'get away', a spooky house to explore, an utter feeling of dread when night falls, and, unusually,  the threat has a face… of sorts.

It's great! Do track it down. There are free online versions, which are a neat quick read (to a slow reader like myself) but provides plenty of spooky wallop.

GB:     "A Warning to the Curious" seems to be the inspiration for "The Lost Crown" trilogy. Are there any other ghost stories written by M.R. James that you think would be a good basis for a ghostly adventure game?

Jonathan:     The View from the Hill has a fascinating premise and lots of the Edwardian tropes that I enjoy so much. The story concerns a pair of binoculars, field glasses, which have the ability to 'see' into the past. There's a rather grisly reason behind it all, with an atmosphere of desperate intrigue and eventually, utter dread.

The idea of the 'time viewing' binoculars is exactly the same as the ghost hunting gadgets I've featured in my games, for years! I imagine the short story was an influence, as the story still chills me today.

GB:     Do you have a favorite "type" of ghost story? Are there certain themes that attract you more than others?

Jonathan:     I'm a bit of a traditionalist, so I'm happiest with a basic story, something that starts in a rather mundane fashion, but slips into the uncanny after a chance discovery or peculiar event. The protagonist must feel wary of everyone, as well as the landscape around him. There is nothing to be sure of and everything is a possible threat. Include a haunted guest house, or fog shrouded landscape or a spookily long train journey, and I'll lap it all up.

Have you found any new abandoned buildings that will be featured in upcoming games?

Yes! It's one of my favourite aspects of the Crown games. I get to explore the world with my camera, looking for paces to tell a ghost story. Best job in the world.

Of my most recent finds, I think the lonely coastal house at Kynanace Cove is a favourite. It's the main, host location in Blackenrock: The Halloween Haunting. It's perfect for a traditional ghost story, given its current, rather derelict state. The setting is also worthy of mention, as the cove is a natural wonder, with steep ragged cliffs and beautiful sandy beaches.

GB:     How far afield do you go when looking for locations to feature in your games? Have you ever featured other European locations?

Jonathan:     If I were to cross the channel in search of material, I would probably be drawn to Carnac, Bruges and also the beaches of Brittany, where so many died in WWII. Many of the battlements, dugouts, tank teeth and gun batteries still remain. They are a rather eerie monument to the drama and death, which is hard to imagine, in modern Brittany, where the cows chomp the cud, and the oyster catchers call echoes across the landscape.

When you take photographs of areas to use as game locations, do you photograph in color or in black-and-white? Do you use film or digital photography? If you use film, do you notice unusual things showing up on film that don't appear in digital photographs?

Always Black and White for the crown location. There is always some form of compression, no matter what the camera manufacturers state, so I need to retain as many of the original tones and details, before the destructive compression squishes it all into a decent file size. Also, I have found, to my surprise, that many 'B&W' settings on digital cameras are not true greyscale. Often a slight blue of magenta tone creeps in during processing.

As for unusual phenomena, I'd love to say that I've captured an actual manifestation, but not as yet! There have been plenty of orbs, mists and other esoteric blurry things, but nothing supernatural so to speak. I have noticed shadows, of non-existent figures, and also faces, in surfaces, where there should be none. But, nothing to write to the papers about. Yet!

GB:     Ghost animals... Do you believe they exist? If so, do you think they can ever be benevolent or are they always angry? Can you see them being used in a game?

Jonathan:     There are ghost animals in the new Crown games, including Blackenrock: The Halloween Haunting. The location is a very desolate spot, an island inhabited only by hardy coastal sheep. They are thought to be very dumb, ignorant animals, but the Ulcombe Weatherwells are different. They show a distinct lack or fear (many plunge to their deaths from the cliffs) as well as a knack for military style manoeuvring. You see, Nigel and Lucy find themselves trapped in the old abandoned house, surrounded on all sides by the bleating horrors. Is something, or someone, instructing them, or do they act upon their own instincts.

GB:     Is there anything that you feel did not work as you'd hoped in The Lost Crown that you are changing in The Last Crown?

Jonathan:     The Lost Crown was a very distinctive piece of work, especially the tone and presentation. That's not something I would mess with, as the game has a very strong and vocal fanbase!  In fact, I have found it quite tricky to get that 'Crown' atmosphere absolutely right in the sequels. But, after some good strong thinking, and a brief moment of madness, I'm back on form. It just feels right!

But, there are some changes. All the rubbish stuff like not being able to skip converse, or Nigel taking an age to walk around, or limited Save Slots… stuff like that has been improved greatly. Basically, the mechanics of the game are similar, but improved.

Oh, and the gadgets are more intuitive. In fact, it's an All-In-Wonder now, more similar to a App-ridden device, so that there's less to lug around, when out in the field. It's a nifty piece of kit, which also stores all the phenomena, so you can browse your findings and evaluate for further clues.

GB:     What are your plans for Darkling Room after the Crown Trilogy is complete. Do you see yourself continuing in the ghosthunting theme or have you considered a different direction?

Jonathan:     There's a fourth Dark Fall game planned for next year. It's got ghosts, lots of them!, but it's mostly about an old seaside pier. It was once a grand, proud example of Victorian engineering, but the years have not been kind. We encounter the place, one cold rain lashed night, long after it has closed down; a fossil of a bygone time, left to collapse into the churning sea below.

GB:     You have had issues with publishers and royalties in the past, what have you learned from your experiences and how have you changed the way you handle the publishing of your games?

Jonathan:     Gamers are more used to buying games online these days, which is convenient, but a big game like The Last Crown requires a dedicated PR team and plenty of promotion. That is something that publishers tend to do quite well. So, both myself and Iceberg Interactive are still looking to do a great job with the official sequel.  In the meantime, a winter warmer has been created, to whet appetites for the epic adventure. There are lots of clues and hints as to what the main game is about, the direction the Crown games are going, but Blackenrock offers a singular, spooky adventure, for anyone to enjoy.

The Halloween Haunting can be purchased here.

GB:     GameBoomers appreciates the time you took to visit with us. We look forward to playing The Halloween Haunting.

 © 2013 GameBoomers

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