Ghost of a Tale Gamescom Presentation
One of the sessions at Gamescom I was really looking forward to was Ghost of a Tale, made by a former Dreamworks employee who wanted to develop a role playing game featuring animals. I met with Lionel Gallat, known better by those who follow the development of the game as Seith.
Upon arrival Seith let me know that the playable demo was especially prepared for Gamescom, while in the meantime placing the controller in my hands with a short explanation of what button did what.
In the demo you play a mouse named Tilo, a minstrel, who has been thrown in a very old jail, located at the top of a cliff overlooking a big lake and guarded by rats. During the game you will find out why Tilo was thrown in jail and who he is. In addition the game will provide clues about who the mice and rats are and why there is a feud between them. According to Seith it is not a very complicated story and it is based on human relationships with its flaws.
The point of the demo is to escape the prison, but as you are a tiny mouse your fighting skills aren't worth much, especially not against rats that are three times your size, so you will have to use your intelligence to defeat the rats in another way. The game has 3 ways of moving forward; normal, sneaking and running. If you approach a rat that is sleeping, you can get past it by sneaking. When you approach the rat, a small diamond shaped figure is displayed that serves as a detection indicator. When it is completely filled with a red color the rat will wake up and see you. By sneaking and halting (to lower the detection level in the diamond) repeatedly, you can pass the rat without it noticing you. This specific rat also holds a key you need to unlock a door further down the corridor you are in, which makes it a bit trickier to not wake the rat.
(Note: the following images show sneaking in progress and are photos taking from a screen, which is why the quality is not optimal)
Once that has been accomplished a next rat awaits that is wide awake. You can pass this specific rat by running past him at the right moment, going through a door and hide in a cupboard. The rat will enter the room and search for you, but will not find you and leave. There are other objects you can hide in as well, like a basket or a trunk you can jump into, but you can also disguise yourself to pass unnoticed in some occasions.
As the video at the end of this article will show the game has an actual use for candles and lanterns. There are rooms where it is pitch dark and for which you need a lantern or something else to light the room and see something.
The game has no combat mode in which you can fight with your opponents. It is a non-violent game and you will need to find other ways than fighting to defeat your opponents. Next to sneaking, running or hiding, you could for example also drop things on them. Not only do you need to use your skills to pass the rats, but you will need it as well to solve other problems. You are after all only a small mouse and many things aren't that easy for you. Like a key that is out of your reach, but can be obtained by dragging a stool from another room to climb on, thus shortening the distance to the key.
Although there is no direct combat in the game, they are thinking of a way for the mouse to throw objects or use something like a slingshot with which Tilo would be able to knock down creatures in the game for a while, but it is not clear at the moment if this will actually be in the game.
So no combat, but how about magic? Well, it turns out there is magic, but it is not playing a huge role in the game. Tilo can play his lute, which will have some effect on the environment or the NPCs. So in a sense the music you play can have limited "magic-like" effects (through specific songs) but it's not like you can become a sorcerer or anything.
In the game Tilo will be able to learn skills and has ways to improve his abilities and resistances (both through learning and special items). But they aren't sure yet about leveling per-se (XP points, levels numbers, etc...). They might go for a less formal option, more like an adventure game, but at this point in time it is still a topic of discussion.
One other element of the game that Seith mentioned are the dialogs, in which you need to exchange with others to progress in the game. Seith has played role playing games before that were very verbose and talkative, but anything they say could be said with half as many words. As a player he did not like that. They really tried in Ghost of a Tale to make the dialogs in the game to have a purpose and only have what they need to have. That is also the reason they do not have any cut scenes. All information is shared via the game, through books that you find and characters you speak to.
You will be able to obtain different information through the choices you make in the dialog. The players that want to learn more about the game and the world are able to choose from the options in the dialog to get that (background) information. If you aren't that interested in this information and go through the game a bit faster, you will be able to do that as well. The game does not have a size and scope that allows having a lot of different choices that lead to different consequences as that would mean the game becomes quite big and Seith feels it could not be handled properly anymore.
It should be noted that as the game tells a single story that is not that much influenced by your choices, replayability will be low.
When Seith was a child he already tried to make games, which were in 2D and very rudimentary. At that time he did not have the technical knowledge to make better games. At a certain point in time he was able to animate characters properly and figured it would indeed be possible to create an actual game as he envisioned it, with animal characters and a mouse as the lead character. A game that reminds him of the old Disney movies.
However to be able to accomplish this he needed to learn to program as he is not a programmer by trade and had to learn C# in order to make the actual game. So he worked with that and Unity for a couple of months to reach the point that he could actually start working on the development of the game. It is very challenging as he is very much on his own as far as programming is concerned. He does not have a lot of people to turn to. He does have help though, Cirylle Paulhiac worked on the camera, to get it to follow the character properly and Paul Gardener is helping with the story. Paul is a writer, has some comic books published and worked in video games before.
Looking back Seith is happy with the way that he has done it. There were some things he needed to redo, because he found out later that there were better ways to solve them, but overall he is happy with the choices he made. Even though it has been and still is a huge amount of work, Seith finds it really rewarding when things start to come together.
There also has been the opportunity once for him to work with a publisher, but he decided against that given the experiences he had in his previous work and how that could change things in a negative way. He has no regrets of the choices he made and things he has done.
Seith hopes to reach closed beta at the beginning of next year. He is careful in naming a more precise date as the current demo took already quite a lot of work to put together and it only shows a small portion of the game. A couple of days before Gamescom it was still a complete mess and everything was broken. They only realized to get it working very recently.
Before a beta version can be released much more work is still needed, which is why Seith is aiming at the beginning of next year. He does not know yet if there will be something like an open beta or early access, as he does not want people to feel that he is taking their money with a dysfunctional game. He wants people to play the game for a longer time than the size of the Gamescom demo to get a better taste of the game. If money is given it should be because people want to have the game and not just because it is a cheap game. It must be about people wanting to help them in developing the game and play it sooner than other people.
Although he recognizes that the feedback of an open beta or early access, could help him a lot in making his game better he also sees a downside to it. He has seen in his previous job many movies that were presented at first through test screens and very often he has seen some of these very good movies turned into crap just because the producers wanted to please a large crowd.
The release date of the game is scheduled to be somewhere next year. Seith hopes it will be before summer 2015, but does not make any promises. He does not want to release the game before it is finished and solve things later on or through some DLC. So depending on what happens the game might be delayed when things do not work as planned. He wants to release it when it is close to perfection, although he does see that it will be difficult to test everything in the game by himself, so he does foresee the need to hire others to take care of Q&A.
Ghost of a Tale is a good looking game that features an unusual hero. It is a charming game and a change to the more gritty and dark games we have become used to. It has puzzles, challenges, exploration and adventure. It was different from the other games I saw at Gamescom and I liked what I saw. This is one game I'll be paying attention to.
Information aboutGhost of a Tale
Play-time: 20-40 hours
Voice-acting: Partially voiced
Regions & platforms
· Platform: PC
· Expected at 2018-03-15
· Publisher: Unknown