Thanks to an unexpected extension by hosts IndieGoGo, the marvelous-looking Ghost Of A Tale gets another week to hit the all-or-nothing fundraising target. It's one of those strange little projects that can come only from a talented individual with a very personal vision, and I have to declare that I really would like to see it get made. I talked to Lionel Gallat, who has quit the mainstream film industry to submerge himself in solo game dev, about this beautifully animated experiment.
RPS: Hello! I suspect a lot of people will be familiar with your work, even if they don't know who you are. Can you explain who you are and how you came to be working on A Ghost Of A Tale?
Gallat: Hello, my name is Lionel Gallat, and I have a website called SeithCG, where I put everything I usually do outside of work, normally art and animation. I started as an animator at Dreamworks about fifteen years ago, and worked on several movies. Several years ago I moved back to France to work on a movie called Despicable Me, which was by Universal, but made outside the Hollywood system. They wanted to make it in France, and they wanted an animation director. So I did that, and then The Lorax after that. When that last movie was done, I began working on Ghost Of A Tale. And I realised I had to get serious about working on that full time if I wanted it to be real. I was working with another 3D engine, but then I moved on at the end of last year and I've been using Unity. I am very happy about that.
RPS: But why games? It seems like a strange side-step from where you were.
Gallat: I understand that from the outside it looks maybe a little bit strange, because it is not directly related, but I love games. I just love them, and since I was a kid I played games. For me it was natural in the sense that even when I was working on movies, I was always working with tools, programming, helping with the pipeline of the movie. It was kind of unofficial, I suppose. I am not a programmer, I am on the artistic side of things, but I really like programming. And so it comes naturally for me to put the two things together and make games. Before I only developed assets – models, textures and so on – but there was an opportunity to put these things together and then interact with the characters you have crated. This is something you cannot do in a move, obviously. When you work on a move everything is for one shot, one sequence. It was just really exciting to make that leap to interactive things.
RPS: Unity seems popular. But you are a professional animator and character designer by trade, so what tools do you use to make this game? Does that background change things?
Gallat: I use Maya for everything in animation and characters, and I also use Zbrush on the characters, when detailing is really important. And then, yes, I work with Unity. It is very simple to send the model from Maya to Unity. And that's about it.
RPS: Let's talk in a bit more detail about the game. What sort of game is it going to be, and what can we expect from it?
Gallat: You play as a little mouse. This mouse gets to an island and this island is populated by undead rats. Something has happened on the island that is not normal. You came to the island for a reason, though, and you have a quest, which is to get to the tower of Periclave, which is the name of the island itself. That's the underlying struggle. When you get to the island you start to discover what had happened there, and why it happened. I think it will not be too much of a spoiler if I say you are going to meet a ghost. You are going to help him, somehow. It's really about exploration, about discovering things, and it is not at all focused on combat. In the alpha trailer there is a moment where you get some kind of a weapon and start whacking at the rats, and that was fun to do, but it does not reflect the gameplay that I have in mind. It is about stealth. The mouse is not powerful at all, and it is engaged in a very dangerous adventure, it is perilous, and so it is really a game about exploiting this fact, not about fighting through enemies that are twice your size.
RPS: What's the sort of shape of it? You said it is not a “Skyrim” but it is still about exploration and also a story? So is it sort of a “wide corridor” model?
Gallat: Yes, that is it. It is not entirely a sandbox game, you know. It really is about the story, and it is about you playing as the mouse. You are not choosing to be a great warrior or a wizard, you are playing as this character. It is linear, and there is a linear progression, but I hope it will not feel like a corridor, but it is about discovery and telling a story by exploring the island.
RPS: Scope is limited by manpower, of course. And it's just you?
Gallat: Yes, I am doing everything at the moment. And that is a lot of hard work, but it is also a lot of fun to do. I am really enjoying working on this stuff! So far I am the only person on the game. But if I can get a budget – I have a campaign on IndieGoGo – then I would like to get some people to help me with the game.
RPS: What sort of stage is the game at now?
Gallat: Very early. I called the footage for the trailer “pre-alpha” or something like that. It is at the very earliest stages, and I was really only just able to put this stuff together to give an idea of how it might work. It's not CG stuff, of course, that really is gameplay, but I am developing it at the early stages – writing the story, developing gameplay mechanics that I like and that I have not seen before. But it is still at a point where it is growing and I am exploring.
RPS: Can you talk about those gameplay mechanic ideas at all?
Gallat: Well there will be puzzles in the sense that you need to find your way through the island. There will be some mechanics and mechanisms which involve discovering things that are not of use at first sight, but when you look, really look, you find out their purpose. There is also going to be a good deal of stealth, and avoiding of confronting enemies directly, because that is not going to work. Indirect methods of confronting enemies will be important. We will have quests and objectives of course, but I think of it more like an adventure than like a Dark Souls or something.
RPS: What would a successful IndieGoGo campaign mean for you?
Gallat: I talk about this on the page of course, but there are a few things. It would mean updating my gear, which is getting pretty old! It's about licenses for software, which are expensive things to purchase, and it's about paying for the music. The music composed for the trailer was excellent, and I should love for that composer to be able to do the music for the game. Then there's creating the website for the community – I don't have time to do that! But I would like collaboration. People to help me regarding the story. People with some more experience developing games, and other artists who have proposed to work on the game - I really want to be able to pay them.
RPS: Does the games industry seem less forbidding to access now than perhaps it did a few years ago? Is that down to the ease of use and availability of tools?
Gallat: Absolutely. You really put your finger on it. It is different now because I can attempt this, even though I am not a professional programmer. I cannot program in C++ for example. But tools like Unity make it possible to make games for people like me, who have some background in technical and programming stuff, but who are not professionals. What I am able to do today I could not do a few years ago. This stuff has changed. The skills and tools you need to develop a videogame are similar in some ways to the skills and tools you need to develop a movie, so from my point of view as an artist who is cranking out assets, there is very little real difference in terms of the kind of work I an undertaking, because I am using many of the same tools. It would be very different, of course, if I was trying to do something 2D, or something conceptually very abstract, but here the tools and the goals are very similar. Unity is notoriously simple to develop for, and while I am being honest here I first tried using a different engine, and I could not. I could make no progress because I was not an experienced programmer. Which I thought was normal! Not a programmer? Well, you can't do that. It's always been like that. It's out of reach. Then when I switched to Unity I was able to do the gameplay stuff you seen in the trailer in just a couple of months, from scratch in the C# language that Unity uses. I had to try very hard of course, but I could do it. I will do it.
RPS: Thanks for your time.