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:
In previous interviews GameBoomers have been privileged to have you
talk to us: like with
Becky Waxman, we
have delved into technical aspects and creative processes in your
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
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
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.
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
GB: Do you have one
particular ghost story that you would pick as a favorite?
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
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
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
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.
How far afield do you go when looking for
locations to feature in your games? Have you ever featured other
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
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.
Is there anything that you feel did not work as
you'd hoped in The Lost Crown that you are changing in The Last
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
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?
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.
Haunting can be
GB: GameBoomers appreciates
the time you took to visit with us. We look forward to playing The