Barrow Hill
 
Interview with Matt Clark  
by Danyboy
March 20, 2006

 

Somewhere deep within the woods a timeless force is stirring.  Beneath the ancient burial mound, known locally as Barrow Hill, a forgotten myth awakes. Join the adventure, and uncover the secrets of the past.  The legends of the Cornish world will live again; renewed, refreshed and hungry.  Time has no meaning, as the sun sets low across the landscape.

Stranded on the lonely road, which leads up to the Barrow, you must make your way through the trees, and darkening landscape, and out onto the Barrow itself. Following in the footsteps of the well-known archaeologist, Conrad Morse, you will discover that the barrow is more than just a mound of earth and a collection of forgotten standing stones.  However, not all archaeology is constructive, for some things should be left buried and undisturbed. Perhaps it is too late for that…


Matt Clark created Shadow Tor Studios in 2002.  His company devises and creates artwork and media ranging from promotional interactive CD ROMs, DVD interfaces, animations, mixed media exhibitions and client based projects.  In the past these have included non-commercially released PC games.  This interview was done to help us learn more about his latest work, a thrilling horror adventure game, Barrow Hill

First of all, Mr. Clark, I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview about your upcoming game, Barrow Hill, at such a busy time.  We all know that your game will come out very soon and that pre-orders already have started that might keep you very busy.  For those of you reading this interview, Mr. Clark said he would be glad to answer any questions you may have about the game. 

What gave you the idea to be involved in that project?

Stone circles, and ancient megalithic sites like barrows and Celtic shrines, have always fascinated me.  I grew up visiting many sites with my father, a respected photographer of megalithic monuments, and the interest continued into my adult life.  A move to the county of Cornwall, in England’s Southwest, gave me the opportunity to pursue my interests further, and dream up a creepy tale based around an ancient pagan site.  Barrow Hill is an ancient site featuring huge standing stones based purely on my experience, and the research and surveys carried out by dedicated archaeologists and enthusiasts.

We know you were the creator and designer of this game, but what exactly does this entail?

It starts from scratch, with a blank sheet of paper, or portable notebook.  Traveling around the leafy lanes of Cornwall I began sketching real locations, noting down geographical details and memorizing any peculiar atmospherics and tones.  Many of these ancient sites are 4 thousand years old, and shrouded in mystery.  To capture the mood of these locations would be the hardest aspect of the games creation, so I set to work building realistic replicas, taking thousands of photographs and filming hours of digital footage.

Once I was happy that I had enough research material, the actual ‘conceptualization’ began in earnest.  The sites are naturally mysterious, and strange, but a full adventure game needs puzzles, a strong story, soundtrack and an interactive dynamic.  I felt the traditional point and click adventure style had undergone a retro reboot, thanks to popular games like Dark Fall, and felt it suited the dark, interactive fiction, which dwelt in my screenplay.

Building the locations in 3D takes a great deal of time, patience and painstaking detail.  To represent the countryside I have grown to admire would entail using real textures and shapes captured in the field, which were then digitized for use in the 3D construction software.  Crafting music, recording the actors and creating puzzles followed once the locations were fully realized.  Essentially, creating any game with a small (or one-man) team requires that you perform many tasks, and learn multiple skills.


What adventure games have you worked on in the past?

I’ve created a few standalone games, in the past, as well as add-on packs and MOD (modifications) for well-known action games.  They are fun to produce, and are often to be found floating around the net alongside other independent games, and MODs.

I also worked with Jonathan Boakes on Dark Fall 2 (Lights Out), which was productive and insightful.  It was a great introduction to certain techniques, and software packages.  A highlight was adding some vocals to the voice acting.  It was great fun, and allowed me to experience another facet of game development, and creation.  As well as helping out with the programming I was able to contribute some of my personal artwork, in the form of oil paintings, for the exhibition presented in the Lamp Gallery in the (fictionalized) Fetch Rock Lighthouse.  It was certainly the most unusual exhibition I have participated in.  I come from an art and theatre background, both of which have proved very useful in defining how a drama can unfold using the interactive medium.


How many people are working on the project?

There are a few people involved, in varying degrees, who have been invaluable in seeing this game completed, fully realized and fleshed out.  As well as the voice actors, like Emma Harry, I have been lucky to acquire the skills of a great group of play testers, and Jonathan performed a role not dissimilar to that of a film producer.  It was very important that someone with experience of making independent games was on-board with advice, knowledge and a positive outlook. Making any game ‘independently’ is a huge undertaking, so an enthusiastic team was essential.

Jan Kaven is responsible for composing most of the music in the game; what kind of music should we expect to hear?

Yes, Jan has provided some creepy ‘event’ tracks.  They are short, startling pieces, which accompany key moments in the game.  They add a dramatic flourish which would be hard to achieve in a purely ambient score.  Additionally, a full ambient soundtrack needed to be composed and recorded.  The sounds of the Cornish landscape are represented as realistically as possible, with real soundscapes recorded on location. (Many a chilly winter night was spent crouched in a hedgerow, or ancient monument, with a microphone in hand!).

What is Conrad Morse role in this adventure?

Conrad is a very important player in Barrow Hill.  He, more than anyone involved, knows far more about these mysterious places.  It is his professional dedication that allows us to learn more about who built these pagan places, and why.  As each layer of history is uncovered from the soil there are important questions which need to be presented and understood.  Conrad, like many in his field, is able to ‘see through’ the undisturbed earth, fragments of broken pot and landscape. What we may see as nothing more than a mound of earth, or broken stone, Conrad sees as an ancient temple, a settlement or important trading center.  It’s an amazing skill, and is carried through into the game play.  I’m not saying that Barrow Hill will answer any fundamental questions about our ancient history, but it certainly presents a lively interpretation.  A creepy interpretation.

I heard that Jonathan Boakes was involved.  What did Jonathan contribute to the development of the game?

I haven’t had the pleasure of building a point and click style adventure game (before now), as this is my debut effort on that front.  Jonathan has experience of making independent games, self-publishing a successful title and later dealing with publishing opportunities.  His presence during the production has been terrific and invaluable.  I’ve been able to conceptualize what I wished for, build it and now publish it.  I’m not sure I could have achieved all those goals on my own, without the presence of a good producer, and guide.

As well as offering good advice, and supporting the project, Jonathan has also contributed to the actual game play, voice acting and score.  Many a gloomy afternoon, or a dark winter's night, was spent chatting about puzzles, adventure games and the world around us.  He’s a very capable man, and his enthusiasm for game production is infectious.

I also feel some of Barrow Hill’s darker moments were influenced by our combined memories of classic supernatural TV, and creaky old horror films.  We enjoyed working through ideas and wild dreams, while keeping things on track and manageable.


Would Barrow Hill be a linear or a non-linear game?

Barrow Hill is very non-linear, and includes alternate endings.  The puzzles can be tackled in any order.  Upon arrival in Barrow Hill gamers can explore, solve puzzles and unearth mysteries right from the outset.  It has been great to note how players progress through the game, and the choices they make while playing.  It is nigh on impossible to predict what people find most alluring, so watching people wander the locations has been an eye-opener.

There are several important key scenes, which drive the story, which have to be played, but apart from that I can guarantee that no two gamers will play the game in the same way.  Many of the puzzles can be completed in more than one way, as they are integrated into the game world, so gamers should keep in mind that it is entirely up to them to solve the mystery, in whatever way they choose.


Is the game a 1st person or a 3rd person perspective?

The game is a first person game.  To build drama around the player it is important to place them in the center of the action, so they can experience the sights and sounds of Barrow Hill via their own senses.

Does the game have any copy-protection software?

There’s no invasive or software driven protection.

What are the computer specifications for the game?

Recommended System Requirements:
OS: Windows® ME/2000/XP
CPU: Pentium® III 450 MHz or Better Processor
RAM: 128 MB RAM (256 MB Recommended)
DVD-ROM
Video: SVGA Graphics Card or better with 32-Bit Color (32-Bit Color at 800x600)
Sound: DirectX® 9 Compatible Sound Card
Minimum System Requirements:
OS: Windows® 98/se
CPU: Pentium® III 450 MHz or Better Processor
RAM: 128 MB RAM (256 MB Recommended)
DVD-ROM
Video: SVGA Graphics Card or better with 32-Bit Color (32-Bit Color at 800x600)
Sound: DirectX® 9 Compatible Sound Card


As you know, the story is one of the most important things in an adventure game.  What kind of story can we expect to see in your game?

Standing stones are, perhaps, the most mysterious wonders of the ancient world. There are still no satisfactory explanations as to what they are, how they were built, and who constructed them.  That leaves plenty of room for creative thinking, and fact based theorization.  Barrow Hill’s narrative offers a possible explanation as to what (or who) dwells under the Cornish earth.  The game offers the chance to get beneath the surface of archaeology like no other game before it.

From what I read on your website we will play the role of an archeologist in the game and the story will involve Legends and Myths of Barrow Hill.  For those who haven't read all the information on your website, can you tell us a bit more about the story and these Legends and Myths?

Cornwall has been inhabited for thousands of years.  Even during the Roman occupation it was near impossible to govern and command the people of the land. Their ways were pagan, in tune with the landscape and driven by a worldly belief in the life cycle and seasons.  As a race, the people of Cornwall (some Celtic) have left us clues to their ways through stone circles, sacred springs and mysterious ‘barrows’.  These grassy mounds are the burial places of ancient Cornish kings from a time now cloaked in mystery.  We are talking of a time before King Arthur, the mysteries of the Dark Ages and Robin Hood.  It is an era which both puzzles and enlightens, in equal measure, and has helped forge some of the world’s best-loved writing, like J.R.R.Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

From what I have been able to read about the game, it could be classified in the horror genre.  Would you agree with this?

There are scenes of horror, but they are not overly graphic or gory.  The horror of Barrow Hill stems from the idea that something ancient, and unknown, is stalking you around the forests and leafy lanes of the hill.  The game has a creepy atmosphere, with occasional scares, which will keep gamers glancing over their shoulder.  You may begin to wonder whether the noises around you can be contributed to the local wildlife, pranksters or something far more sinister.

Gamers have different opinions on the amount of dialogue in a game.  How much dialogue will be in your game?

There are key characters in Barrow Hill who enhance the story, and help inform your actions. It is up to you to either listen to the information they offer, or pursue your own route through the adventure.

How many locations are we going to be able to visit in the game?

A complete corner of Cornwall has been created for gamers to explore.  In the course of the game players will be able to sneak around the entire area, discovering short cuts, alternate routes and secret areas.  The game is one big location, with very few limitations on where you can wander.

When we are playing an adventure game, we expect to be challenged by the puzzles.  What kind of puzzles should we expect to see?

All the puzzles in Barrow Hill are integrated into the world presented.  This means you shouldn’t feel you have to solve puzzles in any given order.  If something seems too puzzling on first glance you can rest assured knowing that a clue is waiting elsewhere, or could be right underneath your nose.  Like the dense woods themselves, I hope that Barrow Hill feels natural and organic.  You should never feel totally stuck, or at a loss of what to do next.

Will all the loose ends get tied up by the end of the game?

It’s an adventure game based around an ancient unanswered mystery, attempting to explain what stone circles are, or what task they perform would be rather silly.  I can promise that people will know more about these monuments, and will be able to come to their own conclusions.  I suggest, in the screenplay, a possible explanation to why Barrow Hill has such a sinister past, but I am also careful not to state anything too trite, or naïve.

Do you like to play adventure games? If yes, which ones?

Well, given that I’ve just finished producing an adventure game I would say “yes”, I do like adventure games, and try to play titles which sound interesting.  The genre has proven that it’s a great format to tell interactive fiction, so I enjoy games with original stories and evocative settings.

Are we going to be able to buy the game online from your website?

Yes, for now, Barrow Hill is available to order at:

http://www.barrow-hill.co.uk


When can we expect the game to be released?

Any time now. The game is being printed, packed and processed.  A demo and trailer will also be appearing soon.

What makes your game special and will make us want to run out and buy it right away?

Well, if you enjoy a good mystery story, tales of the ancient kingdom and adventure games you will enjoy Barrow Hill.  It’s meticulously researched and presents modern archaeology in a realistic and fascinating light.  Archaeology enlightens our view of the past, and allows us to understand where we came from and what dictates our modern world.  The world of 4 thousand years ago can become very familiar as you unearth items from the past.  Discovering a lost Celtic necklace or chipped beaker can bring you closer to the original owner, and make you realize that we may not be so different from our ancient ancestors.  Our ways are quite similar, but I feel we have lost touch with the natural world around us.  By making, and playing Barrow Hill, you will experience some of these ancient rituals right alongside the trappings of modern life.

Will there be a Barrow Hill 2?

Ha ha.  There are no plans for a second Barrow Hill game, as we have other projects lined up.  But, I won’t go as far as to say “no”.  Time will tell, it always does.

Mr. Clark, thank you very much for the time you have spent answering our questions and letting us know a bit more about the people working behind the scenes. Good luck with Barrow Hill and my last comment to you is, "I can't wait for the game to be released!"

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