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Interview with Jonathan Boakes

Jonathan Boakes, author of almost everything in Dark Fall, tells us his views about the adventure game, horror and supernatural events in this enthusiastic interview

# By C. Jürschik y P. García |

Interview with Jonathan Boakes

Aventura y CÍA: Dark Fall 1 and 2 are a tribute to classic ghost stories, and the games themselves seem to be homages to forgotten first person adventures such as Amber or Lighthouse. Is Johnatan Boakes a pure nostalgic who thinks past times are better than the present?

Jonathan Boakes:Oh! Good heavens no! In the case of the Dark Fall games, I am a fan of the adventures from 1995-2000, and wished to produce something which continued their style, and mechanics. The last 5 years of the 20th century were a golden age for gaming, including the adventure genre. They covered many styles and technologies. For example I loved the innovative nature of the polygon based Azrael’s Tear in 1997, as much as I enjoyed the detail and slide-show pace of Riven, also in 1997.

More recently, I have been playing F.E.A.R (which boasted plenty of scares, along with the action), and Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. Both games are thought to be ‘as good it gets’, but I still feel we are missing out on something, which was lost last century. Too much polish can spoil personal enjoyment.

AyC: Even when the indie scene has always existed, Dark Fall could be considered a revulsive that has encouraged many people to start the development of their games and try to push it into the commercial market. Do you think there is a space for everyone in the current situation, or maybe the major editors will absorb and/or send off the independent developers? Is this indie scene the future of the genre, or do you think there’s still to be expected from the big companies?

JB: Big companies have big wallets, so we should expect them to plough much of that money back into the industry, which desperately needs to achieve the recognition it deserves. Games are still considered the domain of geeks, and single men. In the not too distant future we will be looking at an industry that rivals film. There is a strong independent film industry, which both benefits and uses the might of Hollywood to its advantage, and visa versa. I see the games industry developing in a similar way.

Like you say “the indie scene has always existed”, which is absolutely true. The only difference now, and Dark Fall may have contributed to this, is the fact that the developers are more willing to make press releases, talk about their games and expect some recognition. Instead of hiding, and waiting for gamers to find them, indies are prepared to put themselves forward. The immediate feedback to low budget ventures can be very harsh, (and in some cases, very cruel), but for every opinionated bigmouth, there are open-minded, intelligent gamers who fancy something a little different.

AyC: Shortly after you finished Dark Fall and started selling it on-line, an important publisher, TAC, got interested in its mainstream distribution, how did you feel in thatr moment? However, your relationship with TAC kind of cooled down until they were definitely broken. What was the reason of this breaking-off?

JB: Lack of communication, mostly. There are some super people at The Adventure Company, and some who are less so. When conversation becomes ‘one-way only’, business relationships can get very frayed. I understand that TAC had some ‘financial difficulties’ last year, which affected how they paid developers. Hopefully, 2005 has been a brighter year for them, and I look forward to chatting with them about The Lost Crown.

Furthermore, Mac gamers can look forward to the release of Dark Fall in 2006. By, guess who, The Adventure Company! The gold master was finalised recently, after an expert conversion by Knut Mueller of the Rhem games.

AyC: The people at Nucleosys -whose game, Scratches, is almost to be released- hav aknowledged their passion for your games, and it’s nice to see you haven’t lost your humility, as you collaborated with them doing a small role in the game. Are you surprised that people from Argentina know about your work or do you take your success very seriously? Dark Fall, the strenght that the indie scene is gathering, your horror stories, your influences… are you aware that you’re becoming the example to follow?

JB: It’s very flattering, but I never set out to start any trends, or continue existing ones. I am not surprised that the Dark Fall games travelled far and wide, as I published the first 2000 copies on my own. I know where the games were sent, and was delighted to get my creepy little adventure to countries such as Argentina, Turkey and Egypt. This is something indies are able to do, with ease, while the larger publishers struggle to get a foothold in what they believe are new, and obscure markets. An adventure gamer in a virtually unknown country is just as valid as Brad from middle England, or America.

It terms of content, almost all cultures have some ghost stories and spiritual beliefs. Gothic fantasies seem to translate very well, and are easily absorbed into the imagination. Both Nucleosys, and myself, are happy to chat about our work, and the fiction which has influenced our inspiration. This makes our work accessible, and the development process more organic. I believe both gamers, and future developers, find our openness encouraging, and insightful.

AyC: Why are the soundtracks of your games so minimal?

JB:Ha ha! Good question. Dark Fall was a very quiet game. For the most part, you have the deafening sound of silence to listen to. This helped the ‘scare factor’, as sudden voices and creaky floorboards really spooked gamers. I was hoping for a realistic atmosphere, which would not have worked if there was a continuous soundtrack, to remind gamers that they were playing a game. Empty buildings are often silent, and it can be the most unnerving experience. Our modern age seems to be defined by how loud and fast we can make it. It was fun, and different, to slow things down, and provide a little quiet away from the noise.

Dark Fall 2 had a much more robust soundtrack, with tonal ambiance playing for 70% of the gameplay. It was used to subtle effect (maybe too subtle!), which I feel many people overlook. There’s 30 minutes of music featured in the 2004 lighthouse setting alone. Sadly, I wasn’t able to achieve the level of supernatural voices I had wished for. Time ran away, and never came back, so certain aspects were chopped. This is something I wish to rectify with The Lost Crown. A full musical score will be developed for, what I feel is, a filmic adventure game, in the style of the 1970’s horror movies, and supernatural thrillers. The style dictates that music is included, and silence is to be used in key scenes only.

AyC: In regard of the previous question – do you also choose empty localizations deliberately? Is this to strenghten the fright for loneliness and silence, the same fright that the strenghten the fright for loneliness and silence, the same fright that the errand ghost of those haunted places feels?

JB: The deserted train station, and hotel, of Dark Fall 1 was as metaphorical, and it was physical. The emptiness, and quiet, of the buildings served well as a stage to tell a small story. I like the idea of a hotel on the edge of no-where…. somewhere anything could happen, or nothing at all. Ever. It is both surreal, and painfully domestic. Combining the normal furnishings of the hotel, with wandering ghosts seemed a novel idea, and was punctuated by the presence of the Dark Fall itself. The evil was released after centuries of sleep, it was the noise and bustle of human beings which awoke the force, and once calmed, the hotel returned to silence and slumber. The play was over.

AyC: It’s nice to see how horror, as a genre, has been through a lot of changes in time, in the terms of its essence: from flying sheets to hideous monsters, then the intellectual attraction towards the forgiven, then the visually horrifying… Which variation of horror you think it’s the most interesting and which is for you the scariest one? Can you name some cinematographic and/or literary examples of those?

JB: I find the ‘invisible’ scary. You know there is something in the room with you, but you cannot see it, smell it, or touch it. I believe many people, from diverse cultures, share this fear. As creatures, we are fully aware of how limited our senses have become, through evolution. Some latent psychic power may still remain, which means we are able to sense when people are watching us.

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