An interview with Galloping Ghost

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AH contributor Aaron Auzins has done an interview with Galloping Ghost Productions (makers of the new arcade fighter Dark Presence), and has been kind enough to pass it along to us. It gets into a lot of detail about GGP as a company as well as the long development process behind their upcoming arcade fighter Dark Presence.  Since it is too large to fit the whole thing on the front page, just hit the post break to read the rest. AA will denote Aaron who is asking the questions and Doc is the head of GG who is answering them.

AA: First of all, can you tell us how Galloping Ghost originally formed?
What prompted the initial desire to produce games for the arcade
format?

Doc: I actually started Galloping Ghost back in 1994 when attempting to
make a game with many of the same features as Dark Presence, but the
technology just was not there to do all the things we wanted. The
video quality was not the greatest from the start, and most of the
software tools had to be written from scratch. We got that game
nearly complete after several years. It was fun to play, but visually
it was not up to standards, so it never was released. After a break,
we started everything over and headed back to the filming studio. We
spent close to 3 years filming all of Dark Presence and Conquering
Light. We are still a pretty small company and most of the staff has
to pull multiple duties, but that has really only made things run very
cohesively for such a large project.

We always planned Dark Presence to be an arcade game. Mainly, for me,
arcades were the best place in the world back in the day. Also just
going straight to home console limited a lot of the elements and
features we wanted to bring to the game. The arcade industry has been
so overlooked by developers in the US in the last several years.
Japan gets to see all these great games, especially fighting games, in
the arcade and they just don’t make it here stateside, which is a
shame. Having talked with so many arcade operators and seeing how
many people are opening up new arcades, it’s clear to see there is a
demand. We want to help the industry and bring people back to
arcades. With a new unique game that is exclusive to the arcade for a
significant amount of time, hopefully that will help.

AA: While the company has a lot of ambitious titles in the works, the one
we’re seeing the most about is Dark Presence. Why did the company
look to revisit a “Mortal-Kombat-style” digitized fighter and how was
the process of recording the 151,044 frames of animation slated for
the game that have arcade enthusiasts dying to see this game in
motion?

Doc: We wanted to go with digitized actors because there hasn’t been
anything like it recently, and it’s a style that was never really
pushed past what was done in the MK days. While 3D fighting games are
great, to me they tend to all have the same visual look to them. We
didn’t want to just blend in with all the other 3D fighters out there
that have had years to establish themselves.

The experience of filming everything was such a unique process from
doing an animated or 3D game. Actually making the costumes, casting
the actors, and figuring out how we would make everything work on a
technical level was challenging but fun. Problems like, ‘How are we
going to have this actor do a back flip with giant arm blades on and
land in his marks with no wires?’ It certainly posed unique problems
that aren’t encountered on other game productions.

The filming process overall was incredible, though it did go on for
years and we were filming almost every day. There were several
hundred basic moves for each character that had to be filmed, and we
always wanted to make sure everything looked as good as possible so
that the animations would play smoothly. Some moves were able to be
done in a few takes, while some of the special moves literally took
over a hundred takes to get them right. It’s clear why games aren’t
done like this anymore — there is so much production and post work.
Beyond that, it was a pretty dangerous process as well, especially
filming the finishing moves.

AA: With the advancements in technology, what are the key things you
believe Dark Presence offers to arcades that digitized fighters from
the ‘90s couldn’t?

Doc: Definitely, the video clarity is a huge advancement we took advantage
of. High definition really gave us a level of realism that hasn’t
been seen before. It did pose another issue, with making sure all the
actors were giving good facial expressions as they did moves and
reacted to attacks. We did not limit our hardware to what the home
consoles could handle easily, which allowed us a lot of freedom and
creativity. Without the heavy hardware constraints, we were able to
include a huge amount of data storage. This allowed us to add big
elements, such as our incredibly high frame count and over an hour of
finishing moves, but also we were able to pay close attention to the
little details. For example, instead of just having a set number of
backgrounds, we have the space to add a lot of variations to them.
While some gamers may never notice all the background art, it’s a
bonus to the players that will be playing on a regular basis. They
will constantly be able to see new art and variations going on.

Also, with the arcade format, we were able to add a lot of hardware
features on the cabinet that have never been done before. That is
really so important, to not just tread down the same path and do what
other established games have already done.

AA: How will Dark Presence’s level of violence compare to similar games?

Doc: On a violence level, it’s really kind of interesting and is something
I put a lot of thought into. Without question, Dark Presence is a
pretty violent game. Just by the nature of it being a fighting game
with weapons, and on top of that using live actors, it should make
even the most bloodthirsty gamer happy, but that’s not the main focus
for us. Other fighting games that set out to put a ton of blood on
the screen just for that purpose, to me, seem to have it wrong. Some
think that having the bloodiest game or the most brutal violence will
make it sell, but it’s almost just kind of a gimmick. Violence and
blood may bring gamers in to check it out, but if you don’t have a
solid game they won’t come back. The gamers that were really into
Mortal Kombat, myself included, played it because it was a fun game.
The violence was a great hook, but if MK didn’t play as fun as it did,
it wouldn’t have kept its popularity. 16 years later, I still play
MKII and it’s certainly not for the finishing moves and violence.

We tried to convey something different with our finishing moves other
than just violent acts. With such a sizeable story behind the game,
we tried to use the finishing moves to convey how the characters
relate to each other a bit more. Of course, the violence is there for
all the finishing moves, but if you’re killing off your main rival
character, there is a bit more to the moves. In MK it didn’t matter
who you were fighting with, if they were friend or foe, you ripped
their head off just the same, and then in the ending that character
you killed was possibly still alive. Who you kill in Dark Presence
will affect your ending if you finish the game.

One of the issues with the MK controversy was Mileena’s stab fatality.
It was one of the less gory ones, but it became an issue because it
was almost feasible. If a kill move is presented without all the
flash and unrealistic gore, it can become a lot grittier, and have
more of an impact. The game theory on it all is really fascinating to
me. Sometimes adding a little more blood will lessen the realism of
it all, and add a little levity to a scene that would otherwise be a
bit heavy and disturbing.

AA: Can you explain more about the game’s features? Of course there will
be stats, but what does the achievement system, ICON wagering system,
GPS data (we could guess this one is for the background cycles) and
online update content consist of to keep players coming back?

Doc: Yes, the GPS will be for updating the backgrounds. We are looking at
trying to make the weather conditions in the game accurately relate to
the weather conditions outside, and the time of day where the cabinet
is located. If you’re playing it on a sunny day, in the game it will
be bright and sunny. If you’re playing at night and it’s raining
outside, it will be night time and raining in the game.

We will be doing a lot of stat tracking with our USB Flash Drive that
we will be offering. Our new achievement system will work with the
flash drives as well.

There will be character-specific drives and they will come with a few
graphic icons to start with, pertaining to which character’s USB drive
you have. You will be able to unlock more icons as you play the game
and accomplish game achievements. If you are playing against someone
else with a USB, you can each wager one of your icons against your
opponent’s, on the outcome of the fight. There will be 100 icons
total, so if you see someone with almost all the icons, you will
probably know they have put in a lot of time playing, and you may not
want to wager your favorite icon. At the same time, he might not want
to wager one of his icons if you don’t have an icon he needs.

Building our own cabinet from scratch really was the only way to
include all these elements in the game. Another feature we are just
now adding is 7-inch touch screen monitors on the control panel. It
will be used for the icon wagering but also will be for displaying
character moves. If you do a special move on accident, it will then
tell you on the screen how you did it. The screen may also be used
for giving playing tips. Also we are looking into allowing operators
to add simple content to the screens, too. If they wanted to promote
an upcoming event, special deals or anything else, they could display
it on the screen.

Having the component- and modular-based cabinet has really allowed us
to be creative with adding features that you don’t see on other arcade
cabinets. Operators will be able to pick and choose the features and
options on the cabinet. This will help them get the cabinet that is
best and cost effective for them.

AA: One of the cabinet features we have to specifically touch on, though,
is definitely the shock bands. What prompted the team to add this
feature, which provides a harmless jolt to a player who receives a
finishing move? Have arcade owners been a little weary about their
customers getting zapped?

Doc: The shock bands originally were just kind of a side thought. It was
kind of a joke with our staff, to make sure people wouldn’t just
button mash on the game. Our programmer at the time built up a
prototype shock device and brought it into the filming studio. The
initial shock bands were pretty strong, too. It was not until we
played a game with it that we realized what it was really doing to the
game play. There were repercussions to bad move choices. You really
did NOT want that shock. The games turned into very strategic fights.
We would never release a shock band that was THAT strong to the
public, and I would guess most places will not have the shock band
version. It is going to be optional to wear while you are playing,
and is an optional component to the cabinet.

AA: How are the game’s finishing moves shaping up? Can you elaborate on
how these will be pulled off (after the end of a match, as the last
strike of the match, etc.) and are there any examples that you can
share?

Doc: The finishing moves will be done at the end of the match. Each of the
character has 3 finishing moves, (A, B, & C). The finishing moves can
be linked together, too (A to B, B to C, or you can do A, B, & C).

Again, we didn’t want to just copy other fighters out there and knock
heads off and stuff, so we ended up filming little cinematic movies.
Each actor had to film his or her finishing move with every other
actor from several angles so there are no generic reused animations.
This way we were able to put variations in them from character to
character. The finishing moves have added a lot of time to our
production, though. It’s like green screening, editing, and adding
visual & audio effects to an entire movie on top of making a game. It
ended up being well over an hour and a half of video, if watched all
in row. And with each camera change we have to render out additional
views of the backgrounds too, so it’s been a pretty huge process. We
will be releasing a clip pretty soon showing off one of the entire
finishing moves.

AA: A surprising amount of time has been put into crafting the game’s
story. Why do you feel a hearty story is necessary to a fighting game
and how will players experience the story and the character’s
relationships to each other in the game?

Doc: I don’t feel the story should be a necessity to any fighting game, but
for me if it’s a fighting game I really like, I tend to want to find
out more on the fighters. It has to be expected that gamers will play
the game without any idea as to who the characters are, and some
gamers may just not care about the back story, but for those that do,
it is there. The story is very important to me and has been a lot of
fun to write. I use it as a break from all the other stuff I have to
do on the project like graphic work and music and everything. While
the ever popular “tournament” story is fine, I just didn’t want to go
that route. Our story for both games now is around 1,300 pages and
it’s not even close to being done yet. I’ve really tried to chronicle
the entire lives of the characters, and explain why they are the way
they are. A lot of the story is all about viewpoints… we really
don’t have good or evil characters. For example you could read the
story about the character named Kin Kade, and walk away thinking that
the Titan character is the worst guy in the world. But if you read
Titan’s story and see all the events that put him in his situation, he
kind of becomes a little more sympathetic. When playing the game, we
have bio-screens on the characters, a little bit of intro story and
then the endings to help convey the basic story on the fighters. We
will be making plenty of other story elements available to the players
who want it. We are looking into using our USB Drive to give gamers a
lot of free content, including background stories. We are in the
early stages of doing another comic book, too. We had attempted it
once and were really not happy with it. We were limited to 32 pages,
and it was really hard to explain everything in that limited space.

AA: The game is still development, but Galloping Ghost is already
promoting a sequel to Dark Presence. Conquering Light will offer 10
more characters than seen in Dark Presence (with only three characters
returning from the original game), but what other features are being
planned that didn’t make into the planning for Dark Presence?

Doc: The one everyone seems to talk about the most so far is the double
character sets. We have two sets of two characters that fight
co-operatively. And then we also have another character that fights
with his dog at his side (a huge challenge to film). It should really
add a new element to the game play. Balancing a two-on-one fight is a
game play issue I’m already giving thought to now even before we start
post-production on it.

Not having all the characters return from Dark Presence is going to be
interesting, to see how gamers receive it. They are so used to having
all their favorites return in other games. We wanted to stay true to
the story and weren’t going to add characters just to fatten up the
fighting roster by bringing everyone back.

AA: Is there anything the company can elaborate on in regard to its other
projects in development?

Doc: While we have several other projects in very early development, Dark
Presence and our new “Support Your Local Arcade” initiative pretty
much take up all time and resources. After Dark Presence we will go
right into post-production on Conquering Light. Beyond that, we have
8 Masters which we may do next. It will be a game that focuses on
true martial arts styles, and will definitely be a departure from
anything else out there.

AA: Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. Is there
anything you would like to say to arcade enthusiasts, owners and
general game players?

Doc: Thank you. I would just like to thank everyone for all the support
and encouragement they have given us through our development process.
We really hope to bring everyone a great game with a lot of unique
features. And to gamers in general, I can’t say it enough, that you
should all go check out your local arcades!

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