The Lost Crown
 Interview with Jonathan Boakes
 
by Danyboy
April 09, 2006

 

The Lost Crown is a scary and thrilling new adventure title inspired by classic ghost stories and today’s modern ghosthunting techniques.  The haunting works of Charles Dickens, M.R.James, Arthur Conan Doyle and E.F.Benson combine with night-vision cameras, E.V.P and other ghosthunting gadgets to bring a frightening story to gamers in Spring 2006.

Travel with Nigel Danvers to an eerie seaside town on England's east coast. Learn to use advanced techniques used by real paranormal investigators and uncover an ancient mystery and treasure.  But beware, not all of the town’s residents will help in your mission, whether they are alive or dead.  Murder, mystery and suspense await brave gamers in the New Year.

Introduction:

Jonathan Boakes began his career as an independent game developer.  His first game, Dark Fall The Journal, was praised by many gamers.  In 2004 his second game, Dark Fall Lights Out, was also successful.  In spring 2005, Jonathan and his company, XXV Productions, associated themselves with Darkling Room to release his next game The Lost Crown.  Some of you may have crossed paths with him in different adventure game forums.  He has always been generous with his comments and his time in taking part in the adventure gaming community.

First of all, Jonathan, I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview about your upcoming game, The Lost Crown, at such a busy time.  

How did you choose the story for this game?

The story featured in ‘The Lost Crown: a ghosthunting adventure’ chose me.  I’ve always been captivated by the supernatural tales written by Charles Dickens, M.R.James & other well known authors of their calibre.  Using the classic ghost story as a springboard (for the imagination) I decided to craft a tale about ghosthunting in the 21st century, but told from a very peculiar classic sensibility.

As a trend, the modernist way of looking at the Victorian style ghost story has been explored before, most notably during the 1970’s when gothic film horror seemed to reach its zenith.  Films such as The Omen, or even The Fog, are very dark tales which we would normally associate with a much earlier time. The idea being, that something so bizarre as true evil, ghosts or the supernatural have no place in our modern rational world. It’s a great atmosphere in which to set a creepy ghosthunting fable.


After working on all of these games you must know the story is one of the most important things in an adventure game.  Can you tell us a bit more about the story?

The story follows the travels of Nigel Danvers, as he leaves London (after losing his job), to seek his fortune on England’s East Coast hunting for archaeological treasures. The coast around that region is believed to be littered with near invisible Anglo-Saxon settlements (the tribes who settled in Britain after the Romans departed). Sadly, for Nigel, Anglo-Saxon treasures and villages are notoriously hard to uncover, even when today’s most advanced archaeological techniques are applied.

Discovering that all signs, descendents and clues to the ancient treasures have been devoid from the landscape for decades, Nigel makes the unconventional decision to employ the dead to assist him in his singular mission. If the living, modern, everyday folk of East Anglia can’t help him, he expects the dead to provide the information he needs. Calling upon a old friend, Polly White (nicknamed ‘Poltergeist Polly’ by the press) he borrows some of her ghosthunting gadgets (both old and new), and sets forth into the darkened streets, country lanes and woodlands to bargain with the deceased and long dead of East Anglia. That’s where you, as the player, will enter the adventure!


What was your role in the development of the game?

Writer, developer. Like the previous games, you will find The Lost Crown is a one-man effort, with some scripting assistance, and technical help from other parties.

I've heard that you were involved with Barrow Hill, Scratches and Destinies.  If so, how did you contribute to these games?

Barrow Hill was a hoot to be involved in.  Matt Clark has forged a dark, and sinister tale in the leafy corners of Cornwall.  As a game, it’s right up my street with a retro adventure feel about it, and plenty of dark humour.

I introduced Matt to certain software packages (like Strata 3D), to craft the world he had in mind, and offered training in scripting the actual game.  He went far beyond what I was able to offer, and Barrow Hill has a polished sheen, which I am quite envious of.

As well as the technical side of things, I also contributed some voice acting.  The characters Matt has scripted have some bizarre and funny lines, so the job was a pleasure.

The same goes for Scratches, which I also provided some vocals for.  Jerry, even on paper, was the sort of character that I like in drama.  A sort of posh, eccentric with an acidic side to his nature.  Getting into character was easy.

Destinies was a shorter project, and required some ‘pre-vis’ materials to get the project up and running.  As well as some initial artwork, and character work, I also built the first website, which is quite pretty.  Destinies is an unusual project, and very different to the other games I have been involved in.


Rumor has it that there is a story or two to be told about the voice actors in Scratches.  Would you care to share that with us?

Ah ha.  Well, you could call it a story, but it’s more like an event. I shall begin…

Cast your minds back to August of last year.  Great Britain was experiencing a long, hot and dry summer.  The sort of summer that seems to go on forever, and will stay in memory as an event in itself.  I had recently settled in Cornwall, a beautiful county in England’s south west, after founding DarklingRoom.co.uk on the clifftops which skirt the landscape.  A small sound studio was assembled in one of our smaller rooms, specifically for sound recording and voice acting, which has proven invaluable.  The room is deep in the rear of the building, and exists within the actual cliff-face, carved into the land itself.

Escaping the midday heat, which seemed to hang over the landscape like an oppressive weight, I set to work acting my way through the dialogue lines sent by Nucleosys (the developers of Scratches).  All went well, with only a few slip-ups and false teeth moments (actors stumbling over their lines), and I was pleased with what I hoped would be a finished recording.  The sound room is always dark, due to there being no natural light, and pleasantly cool.

I flicked the ‘recording’ switch to ‘off’, and sat down to listen to the playback.  This is always necessary to check for ‘pop’s, clipping and hiss.  My concentration was initially disturbed by a couple of (what sounded like) loud thumps on the microphone, like someone tapping it with a large book.  I tried to ignore the phenomena, and imagined it was technical error.  A few moments later, during one of Jerry’s more cynical speeches, I heard the scratching sound.  A clawing, brittle sound was audible, and ruined the day’s session.  This eerie sound played, intermittingly, throughout the first recording.  I was ashamed to say that I archived the recording, immediately, and haven’t heard the thing since.

The sound room has been used many times since that afternoon, and no further events have occurred of any note.  I will say this though; I have wondered what elements may dwell in the stony cliffs beyond those walls.  It’s a spooky idea, especially given Cornwall’s supposed abundance of sprites, piskies and earth spirits.


I'd like you to compare The Dark Fall series to this new game, are there any comparisons to be made?

Oh, yes, there are lots! It is a ‘ghosthunting’ adventure after all.  The tone, elements of humour, and ghostly characters are very similar to those featured in Dark Fall: The Journal (or Dark Fall 1 to you and me).

Unlike the Dark Fall games, there are eerie characters, both alive and dead, to converse with.  I’ve always fancied adding some living characters to my games, and The Lost Crown’s first person/third person status has proven to be a wonderful opportunity to include some sinister folk, and helpful fellows.

The setting itself, a slightly desolate town on England’s east coast continues my fascination with isolated places, where ‘unusual’ events can occur, away from the cynical eyes of the general public.

I think I can be bold enough to say that Dark Fall fans will enjoy the game, and those who found the games a little too lonely will have company throughout the adventure.  Many of the characters have side ‘quests’ and non-essential info, so your personal level of communication will be entirely up to you.


While it doesn't seem to me to be a continuation of the Dark Fall series, could you tell us for certain whether it is or isn't?

There are character crossovers, like Nigel himself, but all other links to Dark Fall and Dark Fall 2 have been omitted.  I want to create something different, with a different tone and style of gameplay.  As well as needing a break from the styling of the previous games, I thought it would provide new challenges to work on something a little different.  This also means I shall be re-energised for the future Dark Fall games, with new ideas, techniques and stories.

Looking at the stories behind your previous games and this one, can we assume that themes about death and the supernatural are fascinating to you?

Yes, they are fascinating, but only as much as my other interests, such as Science Fiction, archaeology, film production and...errr…ornithology.  Part of the research for The Lost Crown has been joining a genuine group of paranormal investigators.  I kid you not!  I have actually become a ‘ghosthunter’, although the more PC among us prefer the term ‘spirit sympathiser’.  That sounds a little too soft for my liking, especially given that no-one has proven the existence of ghosts. At all.  So, ‘ghosthunter’ it is, and proud.  I have to say, with some regret, that our findings are inspiring rather than conclusive, but with a new summer season round the corner we are looking to dust off those EMF meters and find some spooks!  I will keep you posted.  Should anything happen to me, while camped out in Napoleonic Prisons, stone circles and derelict hotels, I shall apologise now for saying ‘ghosthunter’, and not being sympathetic to the departed souls of this earth. May you rest in peace.


Can we assume that we're going to have to lot of ghost hunting equipment to play with?  Will it be easy to use?

Oh, yes! That’s the fun part.  There’s a whole kit bag of gadgets and goodies to play with, some old and some new.  Polly (poltergeist) White has a lovely collection of ghosthunting (spirit sympathising) gizmos, from the EMF meters used in real investigations, to dusty old ouijaboards and planchettes.  The latter is a fascinatingly simple device, which gets placed on a table with a pencil through its centre, and is supposed to help the dead write messages to the living.  It’s similar to the ouijaboard, but less corny.  In terms of ease of use, it’s a doddle.  Place your hands (or Nigel’s in this case) on the planchette, and see what sinister messages get channelled from ‘the otherside’.

Most of the screenshots on the game site are black and white.  Is the game also in black and white?

No.  The atmosphere of locations is reflected in the way they are represented, or seen by Nigel.  The stony gothic church of Northfield is drained of colour, and frozen in time.  Where-as the fenlands of East Anglia (miles, upon miles, of endless reed beds) virtually glow with ochre tones to reflect their ancient history.

On the website I read that some of the characters were based on real people. Is there a chance any of these people are family members, friends or co-workers?

No, not really.  If anything, the Lost Crown characters are gestalte creatures made up of many devices and desires.

Are the locations also based on real places?

Yes, absolutely.  The East Anglian coast is the most photographic game I have worked on, or seen for that matter.  Gamers will have no problem imagining the locations as real places, and (should they be in the area) will be able to visit the locations, and find truth is very close to the fiction.

What type of graphics engine was used for The Lost Crown?

Does it matter?  Unless people are looking to make lots of games themselves, rather than play them, it seems a little pointless to discuss the process.  There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of forums, which explore game engines and software packages.  Let's let them cover that ground, shall we?

In The Dark Fall series there were almost no characters to interact with or talk to.  On the website we are able to see a few of the characters we will be able to interact with in The Lost Crown.  Will there be a lot of characters in this game?

This question used to pop up from time, to time.  Usually from the big commercial game websites.  I shall answer the question the same now, as I did then, by saying that Dark Fall 1 IS character drive.  It is impossible to finish the game without some converse and interaction with the many characters included in-game.  The fact that you don’t actually ‘see’ the characters, doesn’t mean they are not there.

From Gloria Grable (the bank robber), to Betty and Edith (and their hideously rationed wartime cooking), Dark Fall featured a good mix of characters, so it’s a shame they get ignored in interview questions.  Perhaps I should have included more generic dialogue for characters to spout, like “Sorry, I can’t help you”, or “I’m far too busy to talk”.  For all this business, and character they have, I find it odd that they sit around all day, or stand in the same position from beginning to end.  I feel there’s a big difference between actual ‘characters’ and the so-called NPCs (non player characters).


Will The Lost Crown be a linear or a non-linear game?

Your progress through the game is dictated by an overall story, which progresses through 4 days in Nigel’s life.  This means that some rigid linear story telling has been employed, to move the adventure forwards.  Within that grand story there are side quests, and daily occurrences that can be approached from different chronological angles.  I doubt anyone will ever feel as if they are stuck during a linear sequence, as the world is alive with things to do, people to chat to, and puzzles to solve.


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

Both, which I thought was obvious from the screenshots and me saying that both 1st and 3rd person perspective would be featured.

Does the game have any copy-protection software?

That’s an odd question.  The game is in development, so ‘NO’, it doesn’t contain any ‘copy-protection software’.  I doubt it ever will.  Games that feature copy-protection are always ‘cracked’ at some point, and the software does not come cheap.

What are the computer specifications for the game?

Again, the game is in development, so I have no confirmed details.

Will there be a Mac version of the game?

Probably not, as the ‘engine’ is a PC DirectX platform.  I’d love to do a Mac version, as my Mac history has been a little tatty.  As far as I know, the Mac version of DF1 is still due sometime this Summer.  Perhaps that will change things for the better.

From what I read on your website we will play the role of Nigel Danvers.  Can you tell us a bit more about this character?

Wow, these questions jump about a bit!

Nigel’s an odd character.  Frustrated with losing his job (which he didn’t like), he has taken it upon himself to launch a mission to find an Anglo-Saxon treasure. This is not something everybody would do.  In the process of seeking his fortune, Nigel learns that the dead are not nearly as distant as he thought, and all treasures are precious to someone other than himself.  By digging in the past, and stirring up old legends, Nigel unwittingly provokes the guardian spirits, who may prove harder to appease than he would like.  It’s a dangerous business, but Nigel’s eccentric nature may prove to be an asset, for once in his life.


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

Enough to tell a story.  Simple as that.  Like I said above, not all the dialogue is essential, so dialogue haters can stick to the barebones of the screenplay.

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

Ooooh.  One hundred billion.  Only joking.  The game is set in a large coastal town, and surrounding countryside, so I count that as one big location.  Within the surrounding area there are pockets of distinctive habitat, like the eerily quiet Fenlands, or the jagged rocks which form The Pinnacles or the dark pine forest of Northfield.  All of the locations are different to each other, and once taken in, many will feel the game has an almost epic quality, in its range of location.

In some good scary movies the music plays a big part by scaring you or building up suspense for something just around the corner.  Will the music in the game do this?

Yes, I hope so.  Dark Fall 1 & 2 had quite minimal soundtracks, so I am looking to experiment with a full soundtrack.  Lonesome instruments like flute, oboe and violin will accent areas with plaintive sound.  Each area of the town will have it’s own distinctive signature instruments, which will evolve as the story progresses. Layers of sound will suggest increasing unease and supernatural activity.

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

A good, broad mixture of puzzles will be used.  I personally like combination type puzzles, as they are self-contained, but there will also be puzzles which feature complex arrangements, and cartography.  They are much harder to visualise and construct, so I’d rather not give away too many details now.

Will there be timed sequence puzzles in the game?

Only if the story requires the tension a timed puzzle can provide, but even then it would be a matter of minutes rather than seconds.  There certainly won’t be any keyboard thumping, movement disasters, or dodging of fireballs.  I’ll leave that kind of gameplay to the console people.  I’d like to keep my fingernails, and avoid RSI.

Will there be unlimited save slots?

I guess so.  I’ve always liked to provide unlimited saves, so I don’t see me breaking with the tradition anytime soon.

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

Only as many as need be.  A closed story has a finality to it, and does not promote further thought.  The spoon-fed narrative does not appeal, and never has.  I can promise that gamers, at end of the play, will have no doubts as to what has occurred and why.  Some characters, and elements, will retain some enigmatic qualities, for intelligent gamers to ponder and chat about.  As far as I am concerned, a story which promotes no conversation is not ‘a story’ at all.  Look at Charles Dickens ‘The Signalman’.  It’s a densely packed supernatural thriller, which leaves the reader stunned, puzzled and perplexed.  I can’t think of a better effect, as ‘nicely rounded and satisfying’ could be applied to any convenience of the twentieth century.

I've heard that you enjoy playing adventure games but don't have much time to do it.  Which games are on your "next to play" pile?  And what games have been your favourites?

Ooooh.  That’s a hard one.  Barrow Hill is most recent in my mind, as I enjoyed it from beginning to end.  Scratches is also fresh, and I loved the period details and 70’s setting.  Blackwood Manor felt dusty, dirty and dangerous.  That’s quite an achievement for a first effort from a new developer.

Away from those two titles, I have been playing the Kheops games, like Echo: Secrets of the Lost Cavern.  It was well put together, very pretty and surprisingly dense.  I wasn’t too sure about the follow-up, Voyage, as it was a step towards whimsy.  It was also very pretty, but I hit a bug involving a can-opener, on the dark side of the moon!  Hmm, maybe I dreamt that instead.

I try not to limit myself to just ‘classic’ adventures, so I am also enjoying Elder Scrolls: Oblivion.  I’ve been looking forward to the game for years, after Morrowind threatened to destroy my social life and personal hygiene.  With ‘Oblivion’ as a title, I feel the game is perfectly named.  I feel many months of gorgeous gameplay lies ahead.


Only yesterday I finished the new Tomb Raider (Legend) in one sitting!  No kidding.  It was a return to form for the lovely Lara, but was surprisingly short. Having said that, there really isn’t anything wrong with short games, which are nicely executed.  Back flipping off cliffs faces, seeking ancient treasures and driving across the landscape at breakneck speed is jolly good fun.  And, that’s just in my spare time!


How does your team feel about what they have accomplished so far?

Good.  It’s great to see a game coming together after months of pre-production. Once the sound effects, music and puzzles begin to appear you get a feel for the game you are creating.  I’m pleased to say The Lost Crown will surprise all involved, in being a much better game than I could ever have imagined.  That’s very satisfying, and reassuring.

Is there anything about the game that you're not happy with right now?

It’s not finished, reviewed and on sale.

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

I don’t know, sorry to say.  At present, I am ‘in talks’ with several publishers about distributing the game across NA, the EU and beyond.  It’s not a process I enjoy (as I prefer actually making games), so I’d rather not talk about it.  But. I will say that it is very likely to appear on shelves, via a publisher with experience of promoting adventure titles.

Have you found a distributor for North America?

See above.  Or, ‘yes’, I’ve found a few.  We are in the ‘chatting’ stage.

When can we expect the game to be released?

Later than expected, I’m sorry to say (do any games come in on time?!).  I think it’s safe to say that you should expect The Lost Crown in Autumn or early winter. I feel my games suit that time of year (Halloween! Yay!), and will play better in the darkening light of winter.  Apologies to those expecting a springtime jaunt though the English May Day festivities, but it can’t be helped.  Both production and distribution have made it impractical to talk about a Summer release.  Plus the fact, shouldn’t we all be enjoying the Summer?  I think Nigel’s dark spooky adventures can add a sinister edge to weakening days of 2006.

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

Well, if you are a fan of the ghost story, in any of its forms, you will enjoy The Lost Crown.  There are elements from the dusty Victorian chiller, to the modernist glare of neo-shockers like The Ring, or The Grudge.

What's your favorite part of the game?

Hmmm, I’d have to say…..ummm….. nope!  I’m not going to say.  It would spoil the moment for gamers.

So, a second favourite would have to be an unusual, and terribly sad, story involving 2 evacuees, sent to the countryside during the Blitz.  It’s a melancholy story, which may result in a tear (or two) from the more sensitive gamers.


I know it might be too soon to ask about this, but I will ask anyway.  Will The Lost Crown have a sequel?

I’d love to do one!  Having ‘actual’ characters wandering around the world has proven to be a startling experience.  I would have to wait and see how The Lost Crown is received before embarking on another adventure of similar styling.  I’ve learnt an awful lot about how to build 3rd person games these last few months, so it would be shame not to use these skills again.  Perhaps I could think of a good sequel after finishing Dark Fall 3.

Jonathan, what will you be working on next?

There you go, I’ve said it. Dark Fall 3.  It’s a game that’s been planned for over a year, in terms of concept. I’m not going to be talking about the game, at all, until The Lost crown is finished, played and ‘out there’.  It’s best not to mix and match, especially one-man projects.  So, for now, I look forward to Nigel leading you through the creepy events of The Lost Crown, and hearing your ghosthunting stories.  See you on the coast!

Official website: The Lost Crown

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

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