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URL: http://www.loonygames.com/content/2.13/feat/


Vol. 2, Issue 13
February 22, 2000
Not Just a Passing Wind

An interview by Russell "RadPipe" Lauzon.

"It's not just like a wind that's passing through..." - Night of the Living Dead.

Recently, Josh Vasquez, a regular contributor here at loonygames, called Nocturne, "a masterpiece." This is high praise indeed from someone not easily impressed. Of course, for anyone who knows Josh and has actually played Nocturne this isn't much of a shock. The game mixes film noir with classic horror, and in doing so creates an entire world within the game's four chapters.

It was recently announced that Terminal Reality, the development house behind Nocturne would be making a game based on the film, The Blair Witch Project, and furthermore, that this would be the first of three such games, all made using the Nocturne engine, and all tying into the same mythology.

We dispatched Russell "RadPipe" Lauzon (whose previous interviews include last issue's interview with Brandon "GreenMarine" Reinhart and issue 2.5's interview with Paul Steed) to talk to Terminal Reality's Jeff Smith (PR monkey) and Jeff Mills (production lead) to get the scoop on their upcoming Blair Witch games, and the influences behind Nocturne.

- Jason "loonyboi" Bergman, editor-in-chief.

Let's start off with some general info about your upcoming titles. Explain the Blair Witch Projects for us.

Smith: Blair Witch, Volume 1...is a game that we're working on with the Nocturne engine, of course. It is Part 1 of a 3 part series that is being done by the Gathering. Volume 1 that we're working on covers the Rustin Parr mythology from the Blair Witch legend, which was lightly touched on in the movie. As you may or may not know, the Haxan guys, who are the directors and producers, went to great great great lengths to supplying and manufacturing a very, long, deep, rich, broad time-spanning mythology.

I think we've kind of quelled some of the initial concerns about Blair Witch the Game Volume 1 that we're working on being 3 kids running through the forest. It really has very little to do with the movie at all, other than the mythology and the realm of the Blair Witch legend. Volume 2 that is being worked on by Human Head will cover an additional story and then Ritual Entertainment is working on the third one. All of these titles should be available to the public by November. So they'll release quickly, one after the other. And then, of course, there's always the potential for additional games based on this type of storyline, using advanced iterations of the Nocturne Engine into the distant future.

Blair Witch Volume 1: you've been introduced, in Nocturne, to an organization called Spookhouse, and Spookhouse is the badest of the bad of the 'never seen' people of the world, to combat supernatural forces. So there are a couple people you've met like the Stranger, who was the lead in Nocturne and he had a little badass named Doc Holliday. She was always the Mad Scientist of Nocturne and would come up with different weapons, melee weapons, radiance emitters, and things to help them in their battles, and it's because of the story and mythology that Spookhouse and Nocturne had created, you see Stranger is one of these guys that isn't an investigator, he goes in to pretty much combat adverse forces. Whereas some of the others that you met, like Hiram and Doc Holliday, were more methodical, more research oriented. So when you go into Blair Witch, you're looking at playing through the different characters, you'll actually take the role of Doc Holliday. With her more research-oriented background, it makes her the prime Spookhouse operative to be sent out to investigate Rustin Parr and what the hell really happened.

Because it will be revealed to you that Spookhouse in its existance, and operatives and contacts that it has throughout time, there has been paths crossed where Spookhouse was involved with the Blair Witch legend. At least at some points in the past and possibly in the future there would and could be, similar investigations done by the Spookhouse. And our game is focusing more on bringing forth characters that we introduced in Nocturne, just because that's kind of the way we approached it. Now it won't probably be the same for Human Head and Ritual. They'll probably be introducing characters of their own that are new. So they may not all fall into the 'Spookhouse meets Blair Witch' realm. The common thread is the use of the Nocturne engine, and not always being involved with Spookhouse directly, they're mentioned on the fringe and they're all part of the same story, the same world, and the same universe, but all the games take place across different time periods, almost 100 years apart. So what we're doing with Rustin Parr episode took place in 1941 and the early 40's. Where Human Head's story will probably revolve more around 1880.


Which may not involve the Spookhouse at all, is what you're saying.

Smith: Maybe not in a direct method, but more on the fringe. Like we're going to use Doc Holliday, a main Spookhouse character for us, to be the hero of the game. Well you should see other Spookhouse operatives, but I'll leave that to the game and not reveal the whole thing to you. Because there's some gameplay elements there. You take lead of Doc, you've got a whole different set of things to worry about because in Nocturne, the Stranger was a pretty pimp, buff, badass character who was known for giving very little time to anybody. He was like, shut up, get out of my way, or I'm gonna kill you.

Yeah, follow me or die.

Smith: Yeah he had a lot of stamina, and he could wield different weapons and things like that. Where, Doc is of course, she's not going to be treated like Lara Croft on steroids. The world that has been revealed to the players of the Nocturne trilogy, and you don't have to own Nocturne to enjoy any one of these Blair Witch stories. These are stories themselves. At least ours is not going to be as large as our full release. They're not like mini-episodes or add-on packs, they're stand-alone games. Nocturne, when we first had the engine, before we even started working on Nocturne the game, this was back when the engine itself was called Demon. And there was a trademark conflict there so nocturne the engine became the name. This is like making a movie! That's where the heavy cinematic camera angles in Nocturne was used on purpose. It's because that's what we really wanted to create a dual-reality, a dual-experience for the palyer to be able to participate in a visually rich, cinematic feeling, type game. The kind that kept you on the edge of your seat. And also, never kept you bored, visually or even with surround sound which you could take audio clues and get chills and spills. So we didn't make Nocturne to be like Brrr Scary! But it was eerie. <LAUGHS>

It was pretty scary too.

Smith: It had some scary stuff but for the most part while you played through it, it was always kind of a itchy nature that anybody would consider happy or fun like Ha ha ha. So I'm trying to give yo uthe really broad overview while leaving some of the specifics to question, as far as what the gameplay is going to be, but I'm going to let Mills really get you more into that.

And as far as any questions goes about the support of Haxan, or even Artisan, or anybody like that, it's been very very positive. I'll kind of start from the beginning: they have some key individuals outside of Haxan who are the keepers of the mythology and they're the authors of various documents that involve Blair Witch and the Blair Witch universe. As far back as it goes and it far as it might go in the future and yadda yadda. And we've got a scriptwriter at Gathering named Billy Haskins. Now Jeff Mills for our story had already written and implemented the majority of the script but Billy will be way more actively involved with Human Head and Ritual with going back and cleaning things up, making sure continuity is there with our script and everything that will follow. All the stories will have very close ties and we want people to play through.

We want people to get all 3 of them. Because things in Human Head's Blair Witch will maybe answer some questions, or cover some ground that wasn't covered in our Blair Witch. So there are advantages to playing through all 3 of the different titles. You don't have to, each one of them is going to be cool, fun, exciting, and captivating. It's going to make for 10's of hours of gameplay, no doubt about it just to even finish it. Haxan, they've been looking over our shoulder, we send them all sorts of design documents, our script, everything, so that we can get the actual creator's eyes on it even though they are not trying to micromanage the deal, they love everything we give them, but they also give us 100% freedom to take their intellectual property in Blair Witch, this amazing thing they've created, and run with it and make a game. They acknowledged right from the beginning: we make games, they make movies. And the two don't necessarily have a very sweet marriage if you try to do 50/50.

Let's move on to a couple of things I came across on the web. Jeff, you took a screenwriting course?

Mills: I studied film at Texas Christian University.

Were you planning to get into screenwriting eventually?

Mills: Film. Somehow into film. That was my intention.

Obviously it helps when you're writing the script for your games, like Nocturne or Blair Witch, but what are some of the other ways it helps you during the design process?

Mills: Nocturne and consequently Blair Witch, are such cinematic games that having a background in film helped a lot. To establish scenes, with not only the story itself but also how the cameras are set up, which is another aspect that I took initial control over, and we actually brought in a professional cinematographer, from here in Dallas, and he helped put our final cameras in. He's like our director of photography.

So it also helps you with the direction –

Smith: With the visual presentation. You have a better idea ahead of time going in –

Mills: For what it should look like at the end. It helps us get started.

Smith: It's so much better where you want to be at Step X, when you're on Step A, then being right in the middle of it all and saying, “Oh so this is how it's going to look!

Mills: Yeah we've been very fortunate to be able to build Blair Witch from the beginning. That's the best spot to come in at, at the very beginning. Usually I come in at the middle of the project and have to save it from destruction.

Can you talk about that for a second? I read somewhere that for the Blair Witch, you designed the whole thing from start to finish before you actually started development on the game. Can you talk about that and how it's helped in the process?

Mills: Normally game development, at least the games I've worked on: somebody comes up with the idea for a game and they say, “Cool” and they give him some artists and some programmers but they have no idea what the final project will be or even how they're going to achieve their goals. For Blair Witch I went in and I wrote the schedule, figured out how much time it should take to create the assets, came up with a list of assets, and I came up with a story, and all of that tied together during the design process where we have to figure out, ok, how much of a story can I tell? How many sets do I need to tell the story? How much time do I have to build those sets. It rolls around on itself for a month or two until we have the total layout from start to finish. So we know what everything in the game is going to be, and we know what the art assets we will need and what engineering has to give you to achieve it.

So you're all working from the same point right from the beginning.

Mills: Yeah so we don't have to redo anything. We don't suddenly realize, “Oh wait a second, we can't have that many polygons on the Dreamcast” so we have to start over from scratch.


Mills: We're not building Blair Witch for Dreamcast.

I was going to say!

Mills: We're hoping to get more into consoles.

Smith: And Jeff was talking about it, we develop technology here. Like Mark Randel made the Nocturne engine, he made the Photex engine, and with Dreamcast and Playstation 2 and Dolphin coming out, trying to figure out how our code would port over to that platform. We're always working on trying to find what's best, because Mark is such a hardcore console gamer, I think that he would love to see Nocturne or one of our stories like that taken to a console.

Mills: But fortunately I can plan ahead for those and make sure that we don't waste anytime redoing work that doesn't need to get done in the first place or that was done incorrectly because we didn't realize what our end goal was.

Smith: And also, the way Randel writes his code, and the way his engines are developed, they are very easily portable from PC to Macintosh, to console, without naming specifically Dreamcast or Playstation 2, and there's no reason at this point why it shouldn't be very easy. But once again, like Jeff said, there would have to be some compromises. Like it doesn't have as much memory and whatnot as a PC would.

Mills: Yeah it's no secret that Mark Randel doesn't like Microsoft that much. So when he builds an engine, he doesn't rely on Microsoft for anything. He makes his code do everything that needs to be done as much as possible. So when it comes to porting all you have to do is figure out, ok, what did Mark do that takes the place of this aspect of DirectX, but we don't have to worry about that because we're working on the Mac. All you have to do is take his engine, which is all high-level code, and make a small builder that will allow the code to compile on that platform. It's not that important actually. We just like bragging about Mark.

Nothing wrong with that. So there's a chance we'll see Nocturne ported to a console system?

Smith: I doubt it!

Mills: At least not the original Nocturne. Probably not Blair Witch, unless we can get somebody to –

Smith: We're not working on the console Blair Witch. But it's always a consideration for future games.

Mills: Yeah we like the future console market not the present PC market. Even with a successful game, you might not be successful in your career if you make a computer game, regardless of how good the computer game is, it's only one or two that actually ends up paying for themselves.

Smith: Yeah you will see console games become a part of Terminal Reality strategy in the future, I mean, that's in our plans.

I have a couple questions that were submitted to me by Joshua Vasquez, our resident film critic, who recently reviewed Nocturne's cinematics on loonygames:

How conciously were you trying to reference or draw on elements or trends of the horror genre?

Mills: Pretty evenly between the film noir and pulp fiction of the 1930's and modern horror.

Smith: John Romero of course.

Mills: George Romero.

Smith: George, not John!

Ha. John Romero!

Mills: John Romero... that's a whole new kind of horror!

Mills: George Romero. I'd say we're pretty much evenly half classic horror, being the horror that started in the 60's and 70's, and half pulp fiction and film noir of the 1930's. I couldn't say which of the two had more input than the other. They're pretty equal.

The work in the opening cinematic: how did you chose that style?

Mills: That's actually the cinematographer who we brought in to do our cameras. It was mostly him. We just decided we wanted him to do it.

Smith: Yeah how that came out, his name is Peter Besson, and he's a German bastard! He's really good. He's the director of short, great cinema. He's an up and coming filmmaker. We had contracted him to do the promotional AVI's, we had like a 4-part movie that we released about 1 month apart leading up to the release of Nocturne. And it kind of introduced the characters – I don't know if you saw those...

Yes I did.

Smith: The fourth one, well we were just like, wahh! The fourth AVI came out around launch time, we had loved all the pure cinema shots that he had done, and it kind of tied everything together, because we had a completely different type of intro for Nocturne at one point and we just decided that that kind of relayed some of the horror and the drama and the suspense and whatnot that you get playing Nocturne, without just loading you off with a bunch of pretty cinematics and crap at the beginning. We really don't see the benefit in spending 6 months and using 2 or 3 art guys to make these great cinematics if we can convey the same kind of message with using some really innovative and cool cinematography. And that's what Peter was able to provide to us. He was kind of a blessing in disguise. That was one of the few things that really fell into our laps at the end. It was like, “Oh there it is!” Unlike any of the design or anything like that.

So you kind of sent him off and he came back with what you wanted before you knew what you wanted?

Smith: Yeah. Well he came back with a completely different view than anyone – even if we had made a cinematic that was exactly the same type of thing in-game, it would have looked different and it would have taken us a long time to put together. I don't know if we would have approached it the way that he did because he's the director. He's a filmmaker. And none of us claim to be a filmmaker less than others, though other than in our own inactive style, we are making cinema. Cinematic experience.

Mills: They're calling it Machinima.

Let's get back to talking about the Blair Witch. One of the things that really affected me in the Blair Witch movie was that I never saw anything. I know that was done on purpose, but are you going to try and recapture that element in the game? Obviously you're going to have new monsters.

Mills: There are things that you won't see. A lot of the stuff, especially early on, you don't see the actual creatures that are occupying the woods. You will see a lot of artifacts.

So you are trying to recapture some of that element.

Mills: Yeah we're doing our best to build up a lot of suspense, but on the same token, we have to have a payoff because it is a game. The idea is to actually lead to something so you will encounter creatures in the woods. Ghosts, etc.

Yeah I don't think you could do a whole game like that and not show any monsters. Can you tell me about some of the enhancements you're making to the Nocturne Engine for the Blair Witch?

Mills: Yeah we've taken all the feedback we've gotten from the hundreds of people, a lot of Nocturne fans on the fan sites have given us good feedback about what they liked and didn't like about the game. Controls are going to be a lot friendlier than they were, you'll have those 180-degree turns so you can spin around real quick and easily. Opening doors, picking up items, climbing ladders, all the action things that we had a problem with before, are being fixed now, so that in addition to them working better, just by default we'll also highlight the item to show you what you're targeting. So if you walk up to a door and there's a light switch beside it, if you turn a little bit to the right, the light switch will light up. If you turn to the left, the door will light up. So there's never a question as to what's going to happen when you complete the action. There are no jumping puzzles at all. We left the ability to jump in even though you're not required to jump at all. I hate jumping puzzles.

“You must find the red key.”

Mills: There are no keys. There's not a key anywhere in the game. We've got an Automap feature that draws out a map. You'll be able to enter various field notes. [Doc Holliday] keeps very detailed field notes that shows every conversation she's had with people in it, so that if the player forgets something, they can always go back and review the conversations that they've had previously. There were some issues in Nocturne where, if people hit the cinematic at a bad time or if they just forgot, there was no way to tell what their goal was at that point in the game if they loaded a saved game. We've taken care of that.

Good. Can you tell me about the new monsters that we're going to face and the weapons we'll get to use?

Mills: The hero of the game is Doc Holliday. She'll have her Enhanced Charged Radiance Emitter, which is based on the original one that was used in Nocturne, but it's a bit modified, and enhanced to affect more than just the undead or night-dwelling creatures. The creatures you will encounter are mostly taken from references made in the movie and documentaries. There are a lot of ghosts and spectral-type creatures. Consequently there's a lot less blood in this game than there was in Nocturne. So hopefully Wal-Mart will be at peace with our content.

Smith: Yeah and the ESRB. The ESRB has really fucked up ratings. It basically comes down to whatever the one person there that looked at your game gets a gut feeling for it. They can brand you as an adult rating, or a mature rating, or a teen, or a kid. And all of which do affect your selling in retail. It's kind of weird, I mean it's a good rating and I'm all for it, I just wish it was more clearly understood to the general public, the buyers, and also to the developers exactly what the hell they're trying to say an M rating is. They're still not very clear about that.

Mills: We're trying to make Blair Witch not as a mature rated game. What is the next one? There's one between teen and mature? Because we don't want to be shunned by buyers like Wal-Mart. But still we're making a game based on a rated-R movie that the topic of which, is the man who murdered children. So it will be difficult to keep away from adult themes when discussing Rustin Parr.

I can understand that. Another element in the movie that really affected me was the complete lack of musical score. Somehow it made the experience more real for me. Are you going to ignore that and take the same route that you did with Nocturne with the incredible musical score?

Mills: More than likely we'll be using the Nocturne-style score which isn't background music, it's like contextual music. It shows up at the appropriate moment to build suspense or to reveal emotion.

Thanks for your time, guys!

- Russell "RadPipe" Lauzon currently holds the world record for using the word "exhumed" 15 times in a single sentence.


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