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Origins of Ghost Master, Part Three

Ghost Master 20 (Darklling 2-1)
This year was the twentieth anniversary of the release of one of my proudest achievement as a game designer, Ghost Master. The celebrations started last Halloween with part one of this Origins of Ghost Master series, and continued on the anniversary of the game's release with part two. These posts explore the creative origins of each and every ghost in the classic haunting simulator, and this concluding part for Halloween in the year of release covers all the haunters from the final Act of the game. I wrote these pieces for this games' many fans who kept the faith alive over the many years... without you this game would be entirely forgotten. Instead, it has enjoyed a remarkable afterlife

The Late Arrivals

As with Act II, the start of the third Act gifts the player some extra spirits who were completed even though the haunting they belonged to was cut from the final game.

(Old Man) Carter

Carter (Alt)Carter While his concept art is far scarier than the final ghost, he was, perhaps, too scary, and was eventually toned down into a more Ebenezer Scrooge-like final design. As noted in the description of Buck, Carter's dog, back in part 2, this character would have started out as a mortal in one haunting, but then returned as a ghost later. When this concept proved too problematic for production so the ghosts in question were found new homes.

Carter (still in my head 'Old Man Carter', as per the mortal's name) is named after Randolph Carter from the H.P. Lovecraft tales. The original name of his first (cut) haunting, "The Uninvited", is simultaneously a reference to Lovecraft's "The Unnameable" (one of the Randolph Carter stories) and also to the 1944 movie The Uninvited, starring Ray Milland. I note that Carter's original haunting also featured the mortal Herbert Lovecraft - one of four characters from this axed level that survived into the final game!

However, the actual storyline of "The Uninvited" haunting, which involved scaring away the filmmakers from "The Blair Wisp Project", drew just as much if not more from 1957's Night of the Demon and especially 1959's House on Haunted Hill, in which Vincent Price plays an eccentric millionaire who offers a cash prize for anyone who can stay the night in his mansion. Indeed, 'Vincent Scarlet' in that scenario would have been named after this character.

But wait, Price's character in House on Haunted Hill is named Frederick Loren - why is he not 'Vincent Loren', as per the usual way mortals are named...? The answer is that for a later 'whodunnit' scenario in the same location I was drawing against the classic Waddington's boardgame Cluedo (known in the United States as Clue). As you may know, that game features characters named after colours - and thus in this haunting we had Martin 'The Colonel' Mustard and Madeline White, as well as Vincent Scarlet, all named after Cluedo characters and the actors who played them in the 1985 movie Clue.

And speaking of Vincent Scarlet...

The Painter

The Painter...this mortal was originally a painter who had been commissioned to produce a portrait of Old Man Carter, and who eventually killed himself when Carter rejected the painting and hid it in the attic. The Phantom version of the Painter would have been bound to that painting in the next haunting in the sequence, which was called variously "The Butler Didn't Do It" or "While There's a Will..." This latter title (which is not, as one of the Ghost Master wikis has it, "When There's a Will...") is from the 19th century adage 'While there's a will, there's a way'.

I don't think this painter connection to Vincent Price has anything to do with the play Darling of the Day, in which Price played an eccentric artist, and although I feel a nagging connection to the Vincent Price horror movie Theatre of Blood (which also influenced my work in Discworld Noir), I can't see what it would be. On the whole, the more likely explanation has more to do with the fact that Price was an avid collector of art himself. Indeed, his collection survives in the Vincent Price Art Museum in Monterey Park, CA. Check it out next time you're on the west coast!


Lady Rose

Lady RoseAnd last, but not least, a spare Fetch (a mirror ghost) in the form of Lady Rose. She was originally intended for the cut haunting "The Abysmal", where she would have been a British noble evacuated from the Americas, and the bride of the gold-stealing pirate ghost Thorne (who didn't make it into the final game). Her lay to rest puzzle involved her being true to her vows to Thorne, even though he had not been true to her. Revealing this to Lady Rose would have freed her to join your team. Instead, she joins you at the start of Act III.

Why the name 'Lady Rose'...? I'm not entirely sure, to be honest, but it may have to do with Henry VII's beloved warship, the Mary Rose, which sank in the waters north of the Isle of Wight where I grew up and whose wreck can be visited in nearby Portsmouth. The connection being that "The Abysmal" was set in and around a shipwreck, and either myself or Neil (who worked closely with me on the design and also comes from 'the Island') may well have been thinking of the Mary Rose while working on this ghost.

Spooky Hollow

It will come as no surprise at all if I reveal that the inspiration for this haunting is the classic tale "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", by Washington Irving and first published in 1820. Although I had heard of the story before the 1999 Tim Burton film, it really was the movie that put this into my head and committed me to this storyline. That said, given my research process involved identifying all the European and American (and a few African) ghost stories and seeing what types of supernatural entities they entailed, I feel confident I would still have come to the Headless Horseman as an archetype. I might not have got the sign off from Gregg Barnett, the game's director, however, without the movie to put it into the popular consciousness.

That said, it's not the only influence on this haunting. There's also a great deal of references to, of all things, the classic TV show The Waltons - which I absolutely love, and doesn't quite deserve the mundane reputation it has acquired (for instance, one of the storylines involves Mary Ellen's husband having his testicles shot off in the attack on Pearl Harbor, which is pretty eye watering!). Anyway, every mortal in this haunting is taken from this show, taking the first names of the characters and the surname 'Hamner', after Earl Hamner whose life story the TV show was based upon. This is also why the bad guy controlling the ghost is is called Earl Walton.

The Dragoon

The DragoonGiven what I've said about this haunting (regarding the Irving story, not The Waltons) it is no real surprise that we come to our main Headless Horseman, the Dragoon. Fans of Ghost Master insist that his backstory is historically impossible, for all manner of salient reasons. Chiefly, there would be no dragoons in the United States during the civil war, and even if there was why would he be in New England, and why would he be buried at a farm? Let me try to set the record as straight as best as I can.

The Dragoon is a mercenary during the civil war - it's left ambiguous what country he is from, but I assume he was one of the dragoons that patrolled the Texas-Mexico border in the 1840s. In 1861, the dragoon name was withdrawn from use and all mounted troops became 'cavalry'... but if he left military service to become a mercenary, it makes perfect sense that he would pick up the nickname 'the Dragoon'. The latest that the Dragoon can have been in service is 1861, and the civil war starts in exactly this year, so there is no problem with him being a Dragoon.

Why would he be in New England...? Here, the fan community forgets that Ghost Master is not set in the real world but in a fictitious town. Just as The Simpsons is set in a town that is every town, Gravenville is a haunted town that is every haunted town. But let's suppose that it is in the north east of the United States: there is still no problem to him being a mercenary in the civil war - if he isn't fighting for either the North or the South. By definition, anyone can hire a mercenary... indeed, plenty of adventure stories depend upon this detail, and his epitaph expressly tells us he "ravaged the area" during the time of the Civil War. I presume I was thinking he was a mercenary for some nefarious land owner, and not for the armies as such.

The least problematic aspect as far as I'm concerned is why he is buried in the farm - because of course, the farmers have killed someone and in no way wish to be found out (especially if they mistake him for a serving military officer). Murder is murder, even in wartime, and if you take into account that this mercenary is probably employed by some influential ne'er-do-well they have extremely good reasons to try and cover up their crime and pretend nothing happened. And when you own a farm, you have a lot of land to bury the evidence... This backstory also explains why the Dragoon is a restless spirit, after all...

Black Crow

Black crowI was keen to get in a bunch of Native American inspired haunters, and Black Crow is the one that represents the people rather than their mythos. I believe the inspiration for this character, although distant from anything in the game, is the 1991 movie Black Robe, about Jesuit missionaries in 17th century Canada and the people living around Lake Huron they encounter. The movie contains a dream sequence involving crows, and unless I'm very much mistaken it is from these disparate influences that the idea for 'Black Crow' emerged. However, I must also acknowledge the Marvel character of Black Crow, who appeared in an issue of Captain America, who I may have encountered in the Complete Guide to the Marvel Universe, which I collected in comic form. I don't think this is where the idea came from, but I also cannot rule it out.


Scarecrow and conceptAnd speaking of crows, this haunting also features the Horde named Scarecrow, who has a pumpkin for a head. Each Horde required its own critter to go with it, and as a fan of Hitchcock's The Birds I wanted a bird-based spirit to complete our set. I did not propose the jack-o-lantern head, which was entirely an invention of concept artist Nick Martinelli as far as I know. But I love Nick's concept sketch for Scarecrow, and was very pleased with how this ghost turned out.


Stormtalon and Thunder Sprit MTGThere is a secret haunter in Spooky Hollow named Stormtalon, who you recruit if you cause a thunderstorm using weather powers thus destroying the tree he is fettered to. Fans speculate that Stormtalon is inspired by the Native American mythology of the Thunderbird - and this is partly true, and certainly how I justified the creation of this haunter to Gregg (although the Thor-style hammer is absolutely an invention of Nick the concept artist!). However, I can now reveal that the entirely secret reason behind the creation of the category of Thunder Spirit to which this (and only this) ghost belongs is... Magic: The Gathering.

For the first three years of the collectible card game Magic: The Gathering, I was an avid tournament player, who competed in - and indeed won! - various competitions around the North West of the UK. My main tournament deck, nicknamed Revelations, was White-Blue, and was built around taking advantage of a White creature that didn't tap called Serra Angel. Near the end of my tournament days, I added Thunder Spirit as a lower casting cost flying creature to defend me while I waited to get out my angels. So much was my love for this card, that it made it into Ghost Master as Stormtalon.


GhostbreakersIt will come as no surprise whatsoever that the Ghostbreakers are inspired by the 1984 movie Ghostbusters, itself the key cinematic influence on the game after Beetlejuice. However, Gregg put a lot of his own substantial film lore into these characters - basing the individual designs on the Three Stooges, and taking the name from a 1940 Bob Hope comedy The Ghost Breakers. The parallel is with 'strike breakers', who in the early decades of the 1900s were called in to, well, break up striking workers, with that delightful disregard for civilian rights that existed at the time. I consider myself a film buff, but of all the huge number of people I've shared cinematic history with, I discovered more new and wonderful things from Gregg than anyone else.

Evidently, a fair number of mortals here are named after the original Ghostbusters - Dr. Maureen Ramis, Raymond Akroyd, Janine Potts, and Laurence Murray. Wait, why not Peter Murray after Peter Venkman? I'm not sure, but I think this is a reference to Larry in the Three Stooges, since Maureen could be Moe, which would may Ray into Curly (amusingly, he has no hair in the game). However, the rest of the team is made up of another classic set of investigators - the cast of the 1980s TV show Moonlighting (the ever-inquiring Ghost Master fans successfully tracked this down, but have erroneously credited it to a movie and not to the show). For what it's worth, all the remaining mortals - David Willis, Maddie Shepherd, Agnes Beasley, Burt Armstrong, Jack MacGillicuddy, and yes, even Richard Rocket, who the fans seem to have missed - are made from the forenames of Moonlighting characters and surnames of the performer, which is the standard mortal naming trick for Ghost Master.


Windwalker and conceptHere's another of the Native American inspired ghosts that for reasons I don't actually recall ends up in Ghostbreakers rather than, say, "Spooky Hollow". He's the one and only Wendigo in the game, and a refugee from the cut level "Gone With the Wendigo", and at one point was part of a class of ghosts called Whisperers along with another cut haunter, Rustle (I still enjoy this terrible name pun!). These were also tied to a cut level "I Know What You Did Last Summer Camp", which would have smashed up the obvious horror reference in that name with Friday the 13th, but fell out of production entirely. It slightly irks me that there are ghosts with a single occurrence in the final game, but types of haunter were effectively free (it was power animations that were the bottleneck in production), so Gregg let me get away with all sorts of oddities - as with Stormtalon, above. The final design is very close to Nick's brilliant concept sketch, and works much better as a Wendigo than as the more nondescript type 'Whisperer'. I note the text in the corner of the concept sketch stating 'spins around like Tasmanian Devil', which did not make it into the final game but it would have been awesome if it had!

Full Mortal Jacket

HilesWell it's hardly a surprise that this military base level is named after the 1987 Vietnam war movie Full Metal Jacket. I'm delighted to report that it seems the Ghost Master fans have successfully tracked down all of the inspirations for the mortals in this haunting - a full fourteen are from the classic 1970s and 80s sitcom MASH, two are from the 1980 comedy film Private Benjamin, and one is Windsor Davis' bossy Sergeant Major from the marvellously terrible 1970s British sitcom It Ain't Half Hot Mom, a role he half-reprised as Sergeant Major Zero in the Gerry Anderson puppet show Terrahawks (which I'm re-watching with my kids right now).

However, I have one tiny titbit to reveal. I really wanted to include some reference to the brilliant 1996 Peter Jackson movie The Frighteners - but I struggled to find a way to squeeze it in, as its lore didn't quite match up with anything in Ghost Master. But there's one ghost - the drill sergeant named Hiles - that was an entirely purposeful callback to R. Lee Ermey's equivalent role in Full Metal Jacket. Thus the mortal Gunnery Sergeant Ermey in Ghost Master. So the very fact this haunting is called what it is has everything to do with The Frighteners, and much less to do with the Vietnam war film its named after!


WisakejakOur final Native American haunter is Wisakejak, which is one of the many names of the trickster-spirit known most popularly as Coyote, along with 'Whiskey Jack'. I went for this particular spelling because it's brings to mind the US insult 'wise acre' (actually descended from an old Dutch word, wijssegger meaning 'soothsayer'), and this Trickster is certainly inspired by that idea! His design, as is readily apparent, is directly inspired by Wile E. Coyote from the classic Chuck Jones cartoons. Indeed, he was originally called 'Wily' - but as I was finding material in Native American mythology to raid, I came across Wisakejak (also transliterated 'Wisakedjak') and thought I might as well loop back to why we were talking about 'wily coyotes' in the first place.

Now I know there are those who will condemn me for cultural appropriation here, but honestly all culture is appropriation, and anyone who says otherwise could benefit from reading more histories. I can see no sense whatsoever in refusing to draw attention to Native American history and mythology because I myself am not Native American, and excluding it from consideration would be a kind of erasure that surely should be more worthy of our disdain than being free to be inspired by other cultures. Ethical reflections aside, it does amuse me that all our Tricksters are cartoon-inspired, but it also makes a great deal of sense to me that they would be.

What Lies Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Our very last haunter is recruited in this revisit to the hospital that is obviously named by crashing together What Lies Beneath and One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest which, incredibly, I have still not seen! (Every film buff has a small number of classics that they just missed out on, and this is one of mine.)

The Darkling

The DarklingAh, the Darkling - still probably my absolute favourite ghost design in the game, and absolutely freaky-looking when it peers into a mirror! I know the game just uses the name 'Darkling', but this monster is always 'the Darkling' to me, and was inspired by... well, I confess to not being entirely sure. 'Darkling' originally was an adjective meaning 'in the dark', but because of the sci-fi term 'Earthling', it has become switched over the years into referring to a being. I want to connect it to comics, and the most likely source of inspiration is a supervillain with this name (later renamed Asylum) from the early New Warriors comics, which I collected right up until Marvel annoyed me with too many cross-overs and I gave up the hobby entirely. The timing is right, I owned the relevant comics, so all-in-all I think this is the source of the name.

Shadow Darkling plus The BeastThe original concept for this ghost was that it would be made of shadows, and Greg and I looked at using volumetric shadows... but the technology simply wasn't there in the early 2000s, and Nick's original concept sketch of a being of shadow (right) was far too underwhelming to be the 'big bad' in our story. In the end, the concept design was based around the spirit known sometimes as The Beast from 1982's Poltergeist (far right), which is probably the third most important movie for this game. I am not at all disappointed that we went this way... the shadow ghost idea was great as a high concept, but we needed to cash this out as something really cool. The final ghost is everything I wanted, presents a far creepier and more intense design than The Beast, and I love it as much today as when I first saw it come to life.

The End is Only The Beginning

And that concludes my absurdly long account of the Origins of Ghost Master! It just remains for me to thank once again everyone at Sick Puppies who worked on this game, truly the finest development team I've ever had the pleasure and honour to work with. And more than this, I must express my gratitude now and forever to the dedicated fans of Ghost Master who have kept the memory of this game alive for twenty years. Special recognition and appreciation is owed to the Ghost Master Complete team, whose vast and ambitious modding project goes far beyond any mod for any other game I've worked upon in its attention to detail and unending love. To all of you Ghost Master fans, and all those who join you in discovering this wonderful oddity in the future, the Origins of Ghost Master series is affectionately dedicated.

May your plasm never run dry and your night be punctuated with the screams of those measly mortals who flee at the mere sight of your ghostly minions. Happy hauntings!

Ghost Master 20 (Extra 2-1)

Park Beyond Out Now!

Park Beyond Available Now
Limbic and Bandai Namco's delightful theme park sim Park Beyond is out now! We've been working on this project for a few years, and it's been an incredible thrill ride!  Especially enjoyable were the hilarious voice recording sessions - there's nothing quite so gratifying as getting your jokes delivered by professionals. Congratulations to the team on shipping it!

Origins of Ghost Master, Part Two

Ghost Master 20 (3 of 3)
Today is the twentieth anniversary of the release of Ghost Master. Of all my hundreds of game projects, this is still the title where I am most proud of the game design, the project where I beam with pride when I think of the incredible team and the contributions everyone made to make such a memorable and unique experience. Destiny was stacked against the game, but it did not pass unnoticed, and to this day I am forever discovering new fans who played - and loved - this extraordinary haunting simulator that entered our world on the 23rd May 2003.

In Origins of Ghost Master, Part One, I went through all the haunters from Act I of the game, what influenced them and where they came from. In this second part I will do the same for Act III, and then on Halloween this year I'll complete the series with the haunters for the final Act. These articles are my thank you to all the fans who kept the faith with this game over the two decades since it was released. It means a great deal to me that this very special game has burned in your hearts, and has lingered on in the memories of its players with a spooky afterlife.

The Refugees

At the start of Act II, the player is gifted three new haunters. Why? It's not that the player is short of fiends and familiars at this point, it's that we cut certain hauntings from the game, and as a result we ended up with some orphans who had nowhere to go. Rather than cut from the game entirely (which would have been silly since they were already animated!) I suggested to Gregg Barnett, who was in charge of development, we could just give them to the player at an Act boundary. And so it was!


Part of my original plan for the game was to have certain mortals who would appear alive in one haunting, then die and appear as a ghost later. However, this presented technical problems since it meant a different model for the mortal and for the haunter, which wasn't good for our pipeline. As a result, this whole idea fell out, and with it a trilogy of hauntings sent in an old mansion - "The Uninvited", "Where There's a Will..." and "The Butler Didn't Do It".

BUCKCONCEPTThe key character of this was Old Man Carter, whose faithful bloodhound Buck was so loyal to him that he dies soon after Carter does. While I can put quite a bit of detail into how Carter comes about (and will do in the final part this Halloween), Buck himself was inspired by classic tales of the loyal dog who gives up the ghost (so to speak) to join their master in death. I think I might have been partly influenced by the US ghost story of the Blue Ghost Dog, about a blue tick hound belonging to Charles Thomas Sims. However, a large part of my motivation was to find another way of mounting the concept of a Horde (which attacks with a horde of specific creatures) and a flea-bitten dog really appealed to me for this.


Hypnos Another refugee from "The Uninvited", the name 'Hypnos' comes straight from H.P. Lovecraft (and "The Univited"" is also a play on Lovecraft's "The Unnameable"). That story features a sculptor who is afraid to fall asleep because of the horror he might find there, where the Greek god of sleep appears as a mercurial being in dreams.

Fuseli 1781 The NightmareA little influence from Gaiman's comic The Sandman was going on in my mind here, and Hypnos was going to be stuck in an hourglass (playing on the sand theme, as indeed Gaiman does in the comics). However, our concept designer Nick Martinelli was given a free hand on this and came up with a design inspired by a 1781 paintings by Henry Fuseli called "The Nightmare". Honestly, I would have renamed this ghost 'Nightmare' if I'd been on the ball - or perhaps 'Hipnos' (to play on the prefix 'hippo-' meaning 'equine'). But regardless, she stayed as Hypnos.


Quiver_renderAnother refugee from "The Uninvited", Quiver's appearance was partly inspired by Casper The Friendly Ghost's uncle Fatso. For me, however, he came out of the idea of a boy who is scared of everything who then becomes a ghost - that he is afraid of. If I had an inspiration for that idea, I don't know what it is, but I wouldn't be surprised if I came across this somewhere!




The Unusual Suspects

Obviously the name is taken from The Usual Suspects, which is a film I rather dislike but that was so popular I couldn't resist borrowing the title for our first police station haunting. Actually, that's not strictly true - I wanted this haunting to be called "Hell Street Blues" after the Steven Bochco show Hill Street Blues, as I was a fan, or perhaps I'm misremembering and that was to be a second haunting in this location. Either way, the name 'Hell Street' did stick, and appears in the game as the precinct name. You'll find a great deal of the police officers are named for that show e.g. the police chief Frank Travanti mashes up actor Daniel J. Traventi and his character Frank Furillo, and Norman Franz combines Dennis Franz with his role of Lieutenant Norman Buntz. There are also some random extras - I particular like Ursula Kudrow, named for Lisa Kudrow's hopeless waitress character Ursula from Mad About You, who is perhaps better known today from later appearing in Friends.


Electrospasm_renderIt will come as no surprise to anyone that this character was inspired in part by the Scoleri Brothers in Ghostbusters II. I don't think I'd seen Wes Craven's Shocker at this point (the only film of his I'd seen at this point was The Serpent and the Rainbow), so this is unlikely to be the inspiration - and if it had, the mortal who gives rise to Electrospasm would have been called either Mitch Pinker or Horace Pileggi. But there's a mystery here as I went with the name 'Harold Smears', which I cannot link to anything! It's possible that my right-hand-man on the design team, Neil Bundy, knows where this name came from, but I suspect this story is lost to time.



Blue Murder

BLUEMURDERI have a feeling there's a part of her story that I have forgotten, since her epitaph namechecks both Lethal Weapon and Die Hard, but all I can really say about her is that her name is a play on the phrase 'to scream blue murder' and that movie-wise this character was inspired in part by the 1990 Kathryn Bigelow movie Blue Steel, starring Jamie Lee Curtis.





Banzai (Secret)

BANZAIThis one is just a straight up pun between the Japanese word 'Bonsai', meaning miniature ornamental tree, and 'Banzai' meaning '10 thousand years of life!' (a battle cry a bit like 'God save the King!' in English). We needed more elementals, and so I came up with a punny-name. That's really all there is to this one!




No prizes for linking up this haunting with the 1990 Martin Scorsese mob flick GoodFellas, which was the first mafia movie I was taken with (I had not - and still have not! - seen any of the Godfather films for reasons I simply cannot fathom). Okay, but why does it take place on a boat...? Well, funny you should ask...


Fingers_render Fingers_concept_artOnce we knew we had a mobster story, it was all but inevitable that we'd end up with someone who got the ol' 'concrete boots'. Enter Fingers, the pianist who originally would have been at the bottom of the ocean. Indeed, that was the reason for having this haunting set on a boat - so we could have underwater ghosts. But this turned out to be a colossal nightmare in practice, not least of all because of the panning between the sea bottom and the boat, which were a fair distance apart. It had to be changed, so we tethered Fingers to his old Piano instead. (We also lost another ghost this way - Thorne, a pirate, and he didn't make it into the game, although the Ghost Master Complete team have rescued him with creative modding!).

Flash Jordan

Flash JordanThe name is an obvious pun on the early sci-fi superhero Flash Gordon, but the inspiration here was Jennifer Jason Leigh's fast-talking reporter Amy Archer in The Hudsucker Proxy. I think both for the Coen Brothers and for me, there may also be some influence from Rosalind Russel's brilliant performance as Hildy Johnson in His Girl Friday. If she looks completely anachronistic in the game it's precisely because all the influences are from movies from the mid-twentieth century. And who doesn't love a flashbulb!




WavemasterA bit disappointed for the name for this undine, to be honest... it's lacking. I definitely feel like I could have dug a little deeper on this Water Elemental, but never mind. What I do love is the epitaph: "The multitudious lifeforms that crawl and proliferate upon land are mere echoes of the legacy of Wavemaster's kind." There's an H.P. Lovecraft vibe here, the suggestion of a time before life on the land when the undines were the masters of this planet. If only the name synched up with this I'd have been satisfied.


Knuckles_PosterNo, nothing to do with a certain echidna I assure you! Rather this is 'Knuckles Malone' in reference to Alan Parker's 1976 debut movie, Bugsy Malone, which really was the first place I ever saw a tommy gun. I think this all might have been Neil's idea, but regardless of where it comes from Knuckles is the name of the enforcer in that movie (so called because he cracks his knuckles). It's the tommy gun that I love here - such an iconic weapon!



Facepacks & Broomsticks

Bringing back the sorority witches from Haunting 101 we needed a name... where else do we have witches, I thought? Why not the 1971 adaptation of Mary Norton's charming tales of witchery, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, starring Angela Lansbury as a witch-in-training! Facepacks is pure sorority cliché, but throwing it in made for a great interstitial title page!


Tricia_Ghoul_RoomI loved the idea of a Fetch the moment I discovered it during the research for this game. Mirrors are wonderfully spooky plot devices in a number of movies, and I was delighted that we got two for the game. Tricia was the first. I think at one point she was going to be a cheerleader in Haunting 101 and would die, and then be a ghost in this haunting. However, as I noted above, this idea fell out of the game (as did the cheerleaders!) so this was a way to rescue that model. I'm not sure about the name (this may be one of Neil's...), but for some reason she brings to mind the 1995 Amy Heckerling movie Clueless, which I thought was a brilliant interpretation of Jane Auten's novel Emma.


Hogwash Hogwash_Concept_artOnce upon a time there were plans for a haunting set in a drive-in theatre, and I was planning to do something time-loopy in reference to the 1993 Harold Ramis movie, Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray. This groundhog-themed ghost is the only survivor of that plan - and boy doesn't it look like Nick took inspiration from Pikachu in the concept art!



FiretailI love Firetail, the impish salamander who is annoyed with the witches for not dismissing him properly (pagans take note - always close down your rituals!). The visual inspiration is a newt, and I have an especial love of newts, while the name is just an obvious portmanteau, although one that I like. It would be wrong to say that Charmander was an influence here, rather both Pokémon and Ghost Master take influence from the fact 'salamander' was a word for a fire spirit before it was a name for a type of brightly coloured newt.



Hardly a surprise that this haunting is inspired by the 1982 movie Poltergeist. I loved this film, and also its sequel, and as I've said before I remain surprised that we don't have a ghostly preacher anywhere in Ghost Master!

Hard Boiled

Hard BoiledThe problem with the poltergeists was how to tell them apart. I mean, we used up every poltergeist cliché with Whirlweird, so what's left? Puns to the rescue! Once the haunting was nicknamed 'Poultrygeist' we just needed a chicken-themed haunter to go with it, and it amused us to take Kentucky Fried Chicken's Colonel Saunders and make him into the arch enemy of our vengeful hen gestalt. In the movie, it's an ancient Indian burial ground - in this haunting, it's a hen graveyard. Some small influence here from Sapphire and Steel Assignment Three. Hard Boiled' is, of course, simply a reference to eggs. I feel like we missed a pun here somewhere, but I'm not sure what it would have been!


Phantom of the Operating Room

If there was one thing I learned above all else from working with Terry Pratchett, it was never to back down from a terrible pun. We had a hospital, we needed a name... this one leapt out at me and grabbed me by the church organ.


Brigit_renderOriginally she was just 'Zombie Bride' - I'm pretty sure Gregg wanted us to have a ghost in the style of Miss Havisham from Great Expectations, forever caught in her wedding dress. She had a lot of names on the way, including 'Beryl' and just 'The Bride'. But in the end I'm pretty sure I picked the name 'Brigit' in reference to the Celtic Goddess with that name. However, I can find no good reason for this connection now, and I wonder if it is simply a lazy keeping of the first three letters the same from 'bride'! However, there is definitely not a connection to Helen Fielding's novel Bridget Jones' Diary, as some have suggested - if it had been, I would have taken that spelling. I suspect the help/interference of some pagan friends living in Knoxville, TN for this one...


Harriet_RenderNothing at all to do with Lola Bunny from 1996's Space Jam I'm afraid, this one is a straight up clash of influences working its way out in an unexpected way. I learned about the pookah from the unbelievably brilliant 1950 movie Harvey, starting James Stewart as a man who best friend is a spirit of this kind who appears to him as a six-foot tall invisible rabbit named Harvey. There's your first three letters in the name right there. However, Gregg was a huge fan of the 1988 Robert Zemeckis film Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and if we were having a rabbit he wanted to take inspiration from Jessica Rabbit. Who, as you may be aware, is not a rabbit. Nonetheless, between these two films, Harriet came to life.


DaydreamerRENDEROur second and final Sandman, Daydreamer was bounced around between hauntings and ended up here as we had nowhere else for him to go. Unlike Hypnos, he has the look I had imagined for these disturbances in the first place - a spirit made of sand. Once I knew he was going to end up in the hospital, the backstory of him being an anaesthesiologist fell into place. This is another name that feels wrong to me in retrospect, but then he's completely messed up however you think about it. I mean look at him - he's clearly dressed in a uniform from the American Civil War! I have a feeling this is tied to the scenario he was originally intended for "The Abysmal", which took place on a shipwreck, but it's hard to be sure.




The Blair Wisp Project

No prizes for guessing the reference here. It's not that I liked the movie, which I felt was rather weak for all that it had a great high concept. It's rather that I felt obligated to chew up and spit out every pop culture ghost movie I could lay my hands on. This is also the haunting I'm least happy with, as it uses the weather powers extensively and the game never trains the player in how they work. A real shame, as that game system is really interesting, but it's rather cruel to expect players to work it all out with nothing to go on.


Sparkle_Render1Sparkle, another Fire Elemental, who is not as charming as Firetail, alas, and has more plain name. But still, flaming newt - what's not to like!








Blair Wisp

BLAIRWISPRENDER...and lastly for Act II of the game we have the title ghost for this haunting. The will-o'-the-wisp is such an iconic ghostly entity that I wanted to work it into the game somewhere, and the pun with The Blair Witch Project gave an opening. Honestly, I'm not happy with the Wisps, which are the most fussy and awkward of the haunters (except perhaps the Headless Horsemen, which at least have the benefit of looking cool!). But I like the design of a disembodied skull and the upper part of a spine at least!


After Two Decades...

That's everyone in Act II of the game! This Halloween I'll complete the origin stories for all our ghosts with the final part, which includes some of the most visually striking members of our rogue's gallery. It just remains to thank every fan of Ghost Master for keeping the game alive in their hearts for twenty years. Of all the many games I've worked on, there is none that is quite as dear to me as this spectral simulator that reminds us all just how much fun it is to scare the pants off someone!

Happy anniversary to every Ghost Master fan, wherever you may be fettered!

Origins of Ghost Master, Part One

Ghost Master 20 (1 of 3)

In 2023, the game I'm most proud of in my long and distinguished career as a game designer will be twenty years old. Although I've worked on several million-selling games, it is the more modest-selling Ghost Master that has garnered the greatest number of fans from any of my game designs - even Discworld Noir doesn't come close.

Why is this game so beloved? Firstly, and most importantly, because it is a work of collective genius - every member of the Sick Puppies development team was brilliant at what they did, and together we made something incredible. Unfortunately, the games industry being what it is, the game did not achieve commercial success - except in Poland where a then-unknown company called CD Projekt, imported the game and sold it to a young audience who grew up with an abiding love for it. Even today, nine out of ten Ghost Master fans are from Poland. But everyone who discovers this game can see it's something special, and back in the day even Wil Wright praised Ghost Master, which he thought came closest to tapping into what made The Sims great.

At the request of these fans, I'm going to attempt to tell the tale of the origins of each and every haunter in the core game over three instalments...


Ghostly Beginnings

Before I talk about the ghosts, I need to start with where this game began. It was born of the close working relationship that Gregg Barnett and I built working on Discworld Noir. He was my game design mentor, and I learned so much with him that when he left that company I really felt we'd failed to truly show what we could do together. But I was wrong - we had one more game together. The absolute crucial starting inspiration for Ghost Master lies in the 1980s, in just two movies: Ivan Reitman's Ghostbusters (1984) and Tim Burton's Beetlejuice (1988). Oh of course, there are dozens of other movies that influenced the ghosts and the hauntings in the game, but those two movies were what made this game possible. And it's all down to Gregg Barnett, frankly - he had the concept, and he handed it onto me to craft into a design. The big influence I added was - of all things! - Pokémon. I had fallen in love with the original Gameboy version of the game in 1999, and it seemed obvious to me that however Greg wanted the core gameplay to work (sim, puzzle, or RPG), we had to learn from Pokémon's incredible bestiary. Weird and wonderful things that are yours to play with - and collect. And that was baked into the design from the beginning. It's why there are so many haunters in the game - nearly fifty! You can see them all on this brilliant poster that came with the Special Edition.

Special Edition Poster

Oh, one more thing before we begin: you can always tell my film influences in a Ghost Master haunting by decoding the mortal names, which are nearly always the combination of an actor's forename or surname with their character's forename or surname. There's much to find here if you go digging!

So without further ado, let's meet some of the haunters of Ghost Master!


The Mission: Impossible Ghosts

I had always envisioned this game as having a Mission: Impossible style set up. No, nothing to do with Tom Cruise, everything to do with the classic 60s and 70s TV show. Every week, Peter Graves' Jim Phelps selects the files of various spies in order to decide who best to pull of the episode's implausible caper. This 'dossier scene' was part of the format of the show, and I loved it. I always wanted to get that experience into a game, and Ghost Master was the place to do it. But to make that work, you have to start with operatives to choose from - so the original team are the 'Act I Haunters', who are available on every haunting.


Boo Scooby Doo Sheet GhostThis was one of the first ghosts added to the design, and he was always pictured as one of those white sheet ghosts in Scooby Doo. Now the final design ended up more like the logo to Ghostbusters, and I put that down to Gregg's desire to develop Boo as out mascot, which grew organically out of the project. But from a design-perspective, the opening credits of Scooby Doo! Where Are You? is the origin of this little guy.



Cogjammer Gremlin from Twilight Zone MovieMankeyIn no way was this originally intended to be an organ-grinder's monkey. Originally, the inspiration for Cogjammer was the gremlin from the Twilight Zone episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet", starring a young Bill Shatner. We actually had concept art for a monstrous version of Cogjammer based on the gremlin in the movie-version of the same story - but it was too scary. Gregg had committed to making our game a blend of cute and scary, and the concept art was too horrific. So it was recreated, and the bio for the haunter was rewritten to reflect the new look. Frankly, it ended up looking too much like Mankey from Pokémon, but that wasn't anything to do with me!



Ghastly.crop Pinhead and ButterballIf Boo grew into our mascot, Ghastly was the ghost that was supposed to be our mascot, and indeed appeared in a lot of the early promotional materials. I always thought that the inspiration for this haunter was obvious, but looking back at how he appears in the game, it might not be clear that Pinhead from Clive Barker's 1987 Hellraiser was where my head was at when I was drafting the early paperwork. Can't see the resemblance? That's because we actually ended up taking visual inspiration from another of the Cenobites in that story, Butterball. As you can see, that resemblance is much more apparent!



Shivers.cropThis one is a lot less obvious! But the inspiration for this character comes from the 1990 Adrian Lyne movie Jacob's Ladder. In the film, Tim Robbin's Vietnam veteran keeps having visions of demonic entities. One of which, if I am recalling the scene correctly, is in a straight jacket, and has frenetic reality-warping convulsions. Now this may be a mix of what actually happens in the movie and my memories of it, but either way, I'm absolutely certain this is the film that inspired this ghost. It also inspired the Silent Hill franchise - and if that doesn't make it worth checking out, I don't know what would!



WhirlweirdNo prizes for guessing that our resident Poltergeist was inspired by the 1982 Tobe Hooper movie Poltergeist that everyone mis-remembers as a Spielberg movie (he wrote the screenplay). I was struck by this film when I first saw it, and even more so (although it is a weaker film) by Brian Gibson's sequel - in fact, I'm genuinely shocked we don't have a deranged preacher haunter in Ghost Master!



Clatterclaws WickedCarnivalPierRThe Hordes were always one of my favourite ideas for the game! Now I never imagined them having a singular form, because they were always supposed to be, well, hordes! But pragmatically, it was easier to depict them as one thing, so this one ended up as a spider. The inspiration for Clatterclaws does come from a specific place, though, and that's Jack Clayton's 1983 film adapation of the Ray Bradbury story Something Wicked This Way Comes, starring Jonathan Pryce as the sinister Mr Dark. That story also inspired a carnival level in Ghost Master (pictured as a concept sketch, right), although it was eventually cut from the game as the geography was not ideal for our purposes.


Aether and Stonewall

Aether and StonewallThe Elementals were something else I was always excited about! I have loved the idea of elementals ever since reading Michael Moorcock's Elric novels as a kid (although they freaked me out). Moorcock's fantasy novels were also a key influence on Neil Gaiman, and the character of Elric of Melniboné inspired another sword-wielding albino sorcerer known as the White Wolf, Andrzej Sapkowski's Geralt of Rivia. Moorcock has been a huge influence on my career and my philosophy. Chaos Ethics is essentially a tribute to him, and the Heretic Kingdoms setting owes more to Moorcock than anyone else. I really had no visual idea how we were going to do elementals, though, I just wanted to have them!


Haunting 101

This was the first haunting mission in the game. I'm pretty sure I first came across the US concept of '101' as an introductory course in the Emmy-winning 1988 show TV 101. Obviously, you wouldn't think I'd need to explain such an obvious point of reference, but as a Brit, '101' is something we really don't use! There's one new haunter in this level...


Weatherwitch.crop CauldronFor some reason I want to link this ghost to the 1985 ZX Spectrum game Cauldron by Palace Software. That's probably because of all the time I spent flying around on a broom in it. But of course, the image of the witch's broomstick is pretty traditional - and I could not resist having this witch ghost trapped in a vacuum cleaner. It's the simple jokes that make me giggle.


Weird Séance

Obviously the name for this haunting comes from the 1985 John Hughes classic Weird Science, although the story for this haunting (about scaring off a fraternity) actually takes more inspiration from John Landis' 1978 Animal House - and I'm not sure either of those movies would get shown on TV today! Another influence here is Jeff Kanew's Revenge of the Nerds - the moral Ted Gable in this level is named for Ted McGinley's Stan Gable in that movie. There are three new haunters here...


LuckyI have a feeling the idea for a cat Gremlin came from my co-designer Neil Bundy, who is a lifelong cat lover. That said, I've always associated cats with horror thanks to the Val Lewton-produced 1942 RKO movie Cat People, which also gave the name to the private investigator in Discworld Noir.




Wendel-0I'm at a total loss as to why this ghost is called 'Wendel', I really am! The séance of the haunting's title, though, is between Gary Hall, Wyatt Mitchell-Smith, and Chett Paxton - which references three key characters in Weird Science, Anthony Michael Hall's Gary, Ilan Mitchell-Smith's Wyatt Donnelly, and Bill Paxton's Chet Donnelly (an actor perhaps best known as Hudson in 1986's Aliens). It's dimly possible this ghost's name is a reference to Wendell Borton in The Simpsons, but why I couldn't say. If anyone has any clue as to why we named this ghost Wendel do let me know!



TerroreyesThe image of a brain in a jar is a long-standing one, and one that I associate most strongly with Carl Reiner's The Man with Two Brains. The 'eyes' part of this is to support the terrible pun entailed in his name (what Terry Pratchett, another mentor of mine, would have called a 'poon').



The Calamityville Horror

No prizes for guessing that this haunting was named after the classic Stuart Rosenberg film The Amityville Horror, from 1979. I had not seen this when we made the game, but Gregg had. That family is called 'Lutz' but I named this family 'Hutz' in tribute to the late great Phil Hartman's Lionel Hutz character on The Simpsons. Honestly, I think the sequel in this house was the main inspiration and we tracked backwards to this haunting because the location had to be reused. We get three new haunters...


Static.crop Bill TownerI don't think this ghost had any specific inspiration, other than the idea of getting struck by lightning while up on the roof, which if it has an inspiration is probably from either Back to the Future or the 1996 BBC adaptation of Iain Bank's The Crow Road. But I note that the repairman who you call in is called Bill Ratzenberger, which is a reference to Ethan Wiley's 1987 horror movie House II, which features an amazing cameo by John Ratzenberger (Cliff in Cheers) as repairman and part-time adventurer Bill Towner. In some respects, this is the primary reason that Static exists!


Arclight.cropSean S. Cunningham's Friday the 13th made the hockey mask scary, and I was looking for other masks that had every day origins. The welding mask seemed perfect! In the end, you mostly don't get to see the mask, but the fire powers were a lot of fun all the same!



Maxine Factor

Maxine Factor.cropThis is the single most obscure origin in the entirety of Ghost Master! The character is obviously named after a brand of make-up, but the character itself is a direct reference to the 1980s TV show thirtysomething, which as a fan of neurotic comedy-drama is actually one of my favourite TV shows of all time. There is a scene in the show between Melanie Mayron's Melissa and Poly Draper's Ellyn that takes place in a department store. They get ambushed by a pushy make-up sales woman who persuades them to have a makeover. They do, and it looks dreadful. They give each other a knowing look and then flee. The sales pitch they are given in that episode is nearly word for word the same as the one Maxine gives in Ghost Master.


Summoners Not Included

While the title draws upon the common phrase 'Batteries Not Included' (a reference I also used in Discworld Noir), this haunting is almost entirely inspired by Sam Raimi's 1981 low budget horror classic The Evil Dead. The characters in this haunting come directly from that film - 'Bruce Elm' breaks the usual mortal naming pattern in that I felt 'Ash' in any context was too obviously an Evil Dead reference, so I switched for another tree, but 'Bruce' is obviously after Bruce Campbell.

Raindancer and Whisperwind

Raindancer and WhisperwindAs I said above, the elementals were just a suite of spirits I wanted to get in, and mostly these haunters of the same type all look like one another.





Moonscream.crop The Cabinet of Dr CaligariThere really aren't any great movies or folklore tales about Banshees that I could use a source material, so Moonscream wasn't exactly directly inspired by anything. However, she is the wife of Dr Krauss, the insane professor of the occult who is trying to summon our big-bad future ally, the Darkling. Now this professor of the occult stuff is straight out of H.P. Lovecraft, so as I was trying to recall why Dr Krauss (Moonscream's husband and murderer) has the name he does, I assumed I'd borrowed something from the Cthulhu mythos. Only after quite a bit of digging did I finally realise that he is named after Werner Krauss who plays the sinister murderer Dr Caligari in the 1931 German silent horror movie, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari!


The Story Continues...

That's all the haunters in Act I of Ghost Master and the tales of their origin as far as I can tell. I'll continue with the Act II haunters next year on the twentieth anniversary of the game's first release, 23rd May 2023, and finish up with Act II next year at Halloween. Of course, I can only tell the story that I know, and I don't want to pretend that's these are the only tales... There are other stories that could be told by the studio director (Gregg Barnett), the concept artist (Nick Martinelli), the lead artists (James Ellis, Mike Philbin), the character designer (Mat Taylor), the artists (Matthew Nightingale, Jason White, Adam Ecos, and Gordon Snart), the lead animator (Darren Hatton), and the animators (Dan Zelcs, Sarah Scott, Arjun Gupte, and Simon Turner). I'd welcome anyone involved in this brilliant game, whether as a developer or even as a player, sharing their own tales about the Origins of Ghost Master in the comments here!

Happy Halloween to all Ghost Master fans, wherever you might be haunting!

Kult Post-mortem (3): From Tom Baker to Release

This originally ran in March 2014 on the website for Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms.

Tom Baker in the studio for Shadows Heretic KingdomsPreviously I told the story of the origin of the Heretic Kingdoms setting and of Kult: Heretic Kingdoms' hybrid design, which shared elements of both Western and Japanese RPGs. In this final part, I talk about one of the most fun parts of the production of this game: working with voice actor Tom Baker.

Who to Voice...

One of the consistent problems that Kult faced was how to get the most value out of its extremely modest budget, and there were distinct questions about what to do about voice recording. It wasn’t going to be possible to voice all the characters, but it was still an option to cast the main character and some of the other leading roles provided we stuck to just a few of the key conversations. But I began to think that our best chance of success was to pick one really good voice actor and have them record narration for the painted cut scenes that were our cost-effective way of advancing the narrative. Almost immediately, I wondered about the former Doctor Who, Tom Baker. He was doing voiceovers for a number of TV shows at the time (including Little Britain) and one of the people I knew who worked in voice recording was able to get a quote for the work we needed. It was, on the whole, extremely reasonable – and I knew that it would be a huge asset to the project to have Tom as narrator.

At the time, Tom was living in France but was over in London periodically to work on various projects, so we were able to book a slot with him one of the days he was in the UK. Both myself and the recording technician had to catch a train down from Manchester to London in order to get to the studio we’d booked in Soho. It was a four hour session, more than enough for the core narration of the game since it was only about 200 lines. I’d already had a fair amount of experience working with voice actors who had a background in TV and radio in Discworld Noir, which had talent like Rob Brydon, Nigel Planer, Robert Llewelyn, and the inestimable Kate Robbins, delivering lines from my script (the first one of mine to be recorded, actually).

In the Studio

Meeting Tom was a dream come true for me, but I tried to remain professional. He too was the consummate professional, and arrived with extremely insightful questions about the script and suggestions for how to get the most out of the material. I remember a discussion about the word ‘inculcated’ in the script that showed a really masterful understanding both of English as a language and also fantasy as a genre. I had absolutely no problem with him during the recording of the narration – except that periodically he would launch into an entirely random anecdote about an ex-wife, or some incident in his past, and we would have to wait patiently for him to finish. Frankly, these only added to the experience and I had neither the need nor the desire to hurry him along.

We actually completed the narrator script in good time, and so I went on to have Tom begin to record the history books for the game. This was probably a mistake... we didn’t specifically need them, and it transpired there wasn’t actually enough time to complete recording all of them anyway. It proved rather taxing on Tom to get all the awkward names and sentences in place for the history books, and in the end I cancelled this part of the recording session and called it a day. Quite a day! It’s not that often you get to work with someone you admire and see just how good at his job he really is. Listening back to the sound files afterwards was extremely satisfying, and it was clear from the reviews that going with Tom had been a great choice for the project. In fact, one reviewer made a point of praising “the voice actors” – he hadn’t even noticed that we only had one voice for the entire game! That’s the value that a really great voice actor can add to a project.

The Home Straight

All the way through, Kult had been short on time and money, and in the end we were definitely not going to be able to complete everything to the standard we would have liked. A decision was made at some point that we would focus on getting the game balance right for the main body of the game, and not worry too much about the ending. The result was that the final battles are actually really quite easy – but anyone who was hooked into the game mechanics and the story were thoroughly into the game at that point and they didn’t need a knock-you-flat end of game boss to come away having had an enjoyable experience. I’m sure other game designers would have felt it necessary to work on making the final boss a mountain to climb – but it’s not really my style. I’d rather give an interesting game experience than a vicious challenge any day of the week, although I have great respect for the difficulty involved in making a satisfying challenge. Honestly, though, there’s no shortage of challenges in videogames – but interesting experiences are a little harder to come by.

One casualty of the rush to finish was the difficulty settings: we really only balanced the game for the normal difficulty (and even then, only the first three quarters of the game). All the other difficulty levels were effectively an afterthought, and I really don’t know how satisfying they were to play – although I’m doubtful they came out well under the circumstances. Still, I figure it’s better to have the option to adjust the difficulty (even a badly balanced option) than to not have it at all, especially since it was in essence just a few changes to the parameters of the core combat mechanics.

When the game came out, I didn’t know what to expect from the reviews but in the end I was thrilled by how it was received. Of course, there were reviewers who couldn’t get past the game’s technical limitations or who didn’t see anything new in the design for whatever reason, but there were a wealth of reviews praising both the story and the attunement system. Worth Playing gave it 90% and were particularly impressed by the depth of the skill system, while Boomtown, Game Chronicles, and Gamer’s Hell gave it 80% and considered both the game mechanics and the story to be innovative. Four Fat Chicks also gave it 80% and said it was “fun, fun, fun and destined to be a sleeper hit” – which is an extremely gratifying thing to read about a game you worked on. Game Over Online and My Gamer both gave it a 78%, the former saying that it “does more new things in one game than I’ve seen in the last dozen games I’ve played combined” while the latter suggested that it “proves that innovation is alive and well”.

I’ve worked on over forty videogames at this point in my career [more like eighty now!], but there’ll always be a special place in my heart for this little EuroRPG that gave International Hobo and 3D People (now Games Farm) a chance to show that even when you don’t have a mega-budget, you can still make a game which offers an engaging experience and a memorable story if you’re just willing to take a few chances, put in the legwork, and keep believing that if you make a game with something to offer, the smart gamers will eventually find it.

Kult: Heretic Kingdoms (Heretic Kingdoms: The Inquisition in the US) was released in April 2005.

Introducing... Twilight Tunnels

The incredible new project from ihobo games: Twilight Tunnels. Coming from the far future soon!Twilight Tunnels Logo

Wield powers of Time, Space, Mass and Energy in the first ever Ultratech FPS Dungeon Crawler, set against the final days of Planet Earth in the year 7,600,000,000 AD

  • Quantum Elements: manipulate Time to see the past and slow foes, or use Space to hover, lift, and bend light, Mass to apply incredible shattering force, or Energy to vaporise steel!
  • Unleash Weaponry Forged at the End of Time: choose two weapon patterns from anywhen in history before each Raid, then seek Elemental power sources to weave them into your hands!
  • 10 minute Survival Raids: you begin each Raid with nothing, but with one advantage - a choice of which Quantum Element power source you appear next to… Choose wisely!

High risk, 10 minute, ultratech dungeon raids – can you survive?

Elemental Lighting v2bc.Composite + transparencyThese four screenshots show how the world looks when wielding each of the four Quantum Elements - the tunnels beneath the Dying Earth look completely different depending upon which power source you choose to nanoweave your weapons. Four Quantum Elements, infinite tactical variations!

Silk - Out Now!

Screenshot 2019-10-11 13.30.00International Hobo is proud to announce the release of its game Silk on Switch and Steam today. In development for fourteen months, backed by a successful Kickstarter, and published by the Kings of Neo-Retro at Huey Games, Silk is the first game from new developer ihobo games, a spin off from the award-winning consultancy, which is celebrating its twentieth year of trading.

Enter the biggest handcrafted open world of all time, fifty times larger than Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall! Explore three million square miles of uncharted terrain from Roman Damascus to Three Kingdoms China in an exploration RPG that transports you onto the Ancient Silk Road of 200AD.

Silk is out now on Switch and Steam.

Silk Kickstarter Fully Funded!

Silk Fully Funded

After an incredible final day of the Kickstarter, I'm proud to report that Silk is fully funded! It's a huge step forward for the project and we're very excited to be bringing the game to all our wonderful backers, and all the other players who are going to discover the game in the future. Our infinite thanks to everyone who supported us over the last month, and watch this space for further updates as we continue development of the game. 

You can follow the development of Silk over at the devblog, which is updated every week.

Silk Kickstarter Live!


Silk is an innovative sandbox RPG and adventure game using a lo-fi visual aesthetic and a lightweight interface to deliver endless engaging decisions. Rise into glory by running your caravan from the Roman Empire to war-torn Three Kingdoms China. Defend yourself from bandits, sandstorms, and rebellions by hiring Advisors skilled in everything from battle to wayfinding. Fall in love with your own unique party of Advisors and the enchanting world of the Ancient Silk Road in 200 AD.
“The djinn are fighting in the deserts of Takla Makan,” your guide informs you. “We must turn back to Kashgar!” But your head guard looks less convinced... “Forget these foolish superstitions,” she says, “let us upend the wagons — we can shelter from the storm here.” What do you choose?

Kickstarter now live!

Silk Kickstarter Launches Thursday

Silk Promo Title 4
After months of hard work from the team, we are now ready to show our new sandbox RPG and adventure game Silk to the world – and to ask for your help in finishing it. We’re excited to announce that on Thursday 28th February, at 7 am GMT, the Silk Kickstarter commences!

This project started out as a tribute to Mike Singleton’s classic game The Lords of Midnight, and the game uses a rendering engine with the same ‘landscaping’ algorithm as Mike’s groundbreaking strategy-adventure. Also like its inspiration, Silk offers many ways to play – as an exploration adventure, a caravan trading sim, or a siege battle game. Another key influence is King of Dragon Pass, specifically the Clan ring, which inspired the Advisor system that forms the centre of the wilderness adventures of Silk.

We are asking for all friends of International Hobo to help us promote the Kickstarter and the game. It’s vital that we hit the ground running on Thursday, as early momentum is the key to success in every crowdfunding campaign. Please retweet and share everything you see about Silk over the next week – and especially on Thursday.

If you want to back us, take advantage of Early Bird offers and get first pick of one of the special rewards on offer, please do so as soon as you can on Thursday. Day One is going to be our most important day – thank you all in advance for all your support!

Check the list below to find the launch time for your part of the world:

  • 7 am Thursday 28th February for the United Kingdom
  • 8 am Thursday for Europe
  • 11 am Thursday for Dubai
  • 1 pm Thursday for Mumbai
  • 3 pm Thursday for Hong Kong
  • 4 pm Thursday for Kyoto
  • 6 pm Thursday for Melbourne
  • 2 am Thursday for Philadelphia, PA (EST)
  • 1 am Thursday for Nashville, TN (CST)
  • Midnight Thursday for Billings, MT (MST)
  • 11 pm Wednesday 27th February for Laguna Beach, CA (PST)