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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

In film, it is impossible to convey the feeling without having to resort to some trickery. These tricks include moving shadows, the blurred face in the mirror or the sudden movement of objects. A great example of this, would be the Piano scene in The Others. The lead character, played by Nicole Kidman, hears music being played somewhere in her house and approaches a doorway, which she opens slowly. The scene leads the viewer to believe we will see some frightful ghost sitting by the piano, after she pushes the door open. But. Before she can do so, SLAM!, the door is forcefully closed, and takes both us, and the character by surprise.

In a poorly conceived film, this scene would involve a cat leaping out of trash cans while the orchestra screeches. Or, a sudden hand placed on the characters shoulder, with an even larger orchestra screeching. Instead, we have an atmospheric scene, which is full of suspense, artfully presented with gorgeous lighting and tone. It is hard work to make a scene like that work, while the jumping cats are cheap, and easy.

AyC: It seems that not only you feel attracted by the horror genre, but you also seem to live it. Would you really like to be into a story like “The Stone Tape”, “The Haunting” or “Hell house”? So much reading M.R. James seems to have converted you in one of its characters… Jonathan Boakes, paranormal investigator?

JB:Yes, strangely enough. It is a bizarre chain of events, I will admit, but as a hobby it is fascinating. Every week, I get to investigate possible haunted locations, experience the unexplainable and live to tell the tale online via This Haunted Land.

It all started, quite by accident, when I was invited to attend a ‘ghosthunt’ in Cornwall, England. A fan of Dark Fall had read that “I don’t believe in ghosts, but wished to be convinced”. He emailed me, and before I had chance to realise what was happening, I was standing in an ancient stone circle (a little like Stonehenge) with gadgets in my hands. I had no idea what the gadgets did, at first, but by the end of the night I was considered a ghosthunting ‘newbie’.

We have experienced some very strange phenomena. Whether or not the events are paranormal is another matter. I like to keep my mind, and eyes, open to new ideas, and techniques. Much of the research, and findings, will be used in my next game, The Lost Crown.

AyC: We noticed in both Dark Fall games that, along with the classic elements of haunted houses and so on, the latest technology is always present. Do you use it as an element of contrast (Victorian scenery and ghosts vs. rational computers) or is technology something scary for you?

JB:I’m not sure when I became interested in ‘technology vs classic supernature’. Old sci-fi series like ‘Doctor Who’ often featured historical settings, like the French Revolution, and featured time machines, technology and aliens! It was a delicious mix, and very evocative. I was a huge Doctor Who fan, and still am, so that will have been a big influence.

In retrospect, I can say BBC TV’s Ghostwatch was a huge influence. The show was a spoof ‘live broadcast’ from a normal, small, suburban house. They had ghosts, gadgets and a film crew. It was a highly original concept, and very influential to a young imaginative mind.

A quick example of great ghost hunting ingenuity would be the ‘thermal imaging camera’, which provides very scary film footage (some may know it as ‘heat vision’). We have all heard about ghosts making cold areas in rooms, or feeling a chill wind when there are no windows open. Well, with the Thermal Camera you are able to see whether there are any unnatural cold spots, or air movements. You could, effectively, watch a ghost move around a room!

A quick experiment, for the reader, can be carried out right now, if they have a digital camera, and a TV remote control. Switch on the camera, look at the screen, and press buttons on the remote control. You will see the IR Beam being emitted. It’s a simple experiment, but it does show how gadgets enable us to see things we are unaware of.

I feel technology can be used to replace the senses now dormant, or lost, to us. Some skills never existed, and are only available via technology. It terms of history, it is only relatively recently that we have discovered microbes, viruses and the smallest insects. They were invisible to the naked eye, until the invention of the microscope. We knew nothing about them, or whether they existed at all. We were able to see the effects of these elements (disease, poisoning, illness), but couldn’t understand the cause, or reason. I like to think that technology will, one day, provide many answers to the mighty questions created by the paranormal.

Imagine if we were able to locate the spirits of our ancestors, as easily as we can locate an electrical cable in the wall. It would stop being scary, and kill the mystery, but by then we may have new enigmas to solve, and puzzle over.

AyC: Horror films have always carried urban legends behind them, like Poltergeist with the death of its main characteres. Have you felt any paranormal experiences during or after the development of your games?

JB: Yes! I was often sent emails from gamers to tell me about ‘strange experiences’ while playing the games. Here’s an example: A delightful family from the US were playing Dark Fall late at night, while snow settled around the house. It was a freezing December night, so they were more than happy to huddle round the computer and play a ghostly adventure game. There is a scene, in the game, where the player hears three distinct knocks on one of the hotel room doors. The family were amazed at the ‘stereo’ quality of the sound…. until they heard the knocks again, moments later. The knocks were not coming from the computer; they were coming from their front door! It was 2am, so they were not expecting any visitors. Opening the door, they found no-one waiting outside, but presumed the visitor must have left. It was only when they looked out across the garden, that they realised the visitor had left no footprints in the snow.

AyC: What books or films did you take as an inspiration for the effects and frights of your games? Or are they based on your personal experiences?

JB: I’ve mentioned ‘Ghostwatch’ above, which was a huge influence on the ghosts vs gadgets idea. The show was finally released on DVD, so I got to enjoy it all over again. It was still scary too!

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