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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 literature, my favourite book is The Owl Service, by Alan Garner. The story circles the relationship between three teenagers, who unwittingly find they are re-enacting the folk tales of the past. Garner writes the brooding Welsh valleys beautifully, and with menace. There are even moments of ‘supernature vs gadgets’, when a lead character photographs an ancient Celtic god…purely by accident. I find the idea of threatening landscapes, full of dark history, very frightening. I often find myself travelling around the country, seeing a patch of bare trees, or lonely hillside, and thinking “hmm, something very nasty happened there once”. I don’t know if it is a psychic quirk, or whether the landscape is attempting to show us its past.

The ghost investigations are often quite scary. We do not set out to frighten ourselves, or each other, but dark basements will have the obvious effect on anyone. We have often invited the bold, and brash, to join us, after they have laughed at our fears. I can guarantee they are the first to run from the building, screaming their heads off. What frightens them? It’s usually the simplest things, like a tap on their shoulder, a breath in their ear or the shadow of a figure moving in the corner of the room.

AyC: Is it necessary to believe in ghost to create a good ghost story?

JB: I would say non-believers write better ghoststories. But perhaps defining the non-believers and the believers as polarised opposites is too extreme. The Sherlock Holmes writer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was fascinated by ghosts, and sought to prove their existence. He was neither a believer, or an non-believer. Instead, there is a middle group (of which I also belong) who ‘want to believe’ (thanks Mulder!). It will take a lot to convince me that our dear departed relations continue to wander the earth, and I doubt that would ever happen. But. I do believe that consciousness, or the soul if you like, continues to exist, after death. It’s a comforting thought, and one which is shared in many religions.

Those who blatantly claim that ‘ghosts exist’ are delusional. They have an emotional, or financial, reason to claim such things, and are to be avoided, or humoured. The glamorous psychics and fortune tellers are fun, but many are exploiting peoples emotions, and self doubt. As entertainment, an interest in the supernatural can be fun, but nothing should ever be taken too seriously.

AyC: So when will we see a story book by Jonathan Boakes? Come on, we are sure you have a draft somewhere.

JB: Interesting that you should ask. I am writing a story, at the moment. It’s a screenplay for radio dramatisation, without ghosts!! As for printed stories, I’m not so sure. I’d love to write some short ghost stories, but it’s finding the time that’s the problem.

It’s funny that they say the same about adventure games and the genre of horror - that there’s no space for evolution, that everything is already done, and that it’s about 10 years that the last good product was made. We’ll ask you about horror literature - do you still read horror books? Has there been anything you liked in these genres in the last years?<respuesta>I read a lot of new horror, especially short stories. Sadly, the ghost story is being less well served at present. There is a trend to ‘explain’ everything, by the end, which I find quite boring. It’s nice, and intellectually stimulating, to have something to puzzle over, and think about….as you drift off to sleep.

AyC: Tell us about your formula. What do you think that works in a horror game to scary the audience? Is there any videogames you consider to be a paradigm of horror? Why?

JB:Most recently, the scariest game I played was the asylum levels of Thief 3: Deadly Shadows. (For those unfamiliar with the series of games, they are stealth/action adventures in which you play a shadowy Robin Hood style criminal, in a fantasised gothic city). The first chapter of the asylum level featured no enemies at all! That’s very impressive. Especially when you consider the terrifying nature of the gameplay. Sound, lighting and colour combined to create a frightening location, which will stay with me for a long time. Further into the chapters, enemies were introduced, and the scare factor decreased. Once you see your nemesis, you are able to ‘mortalise’ them. It is that fear of the ‘invisible’ again.

There was a fabulous little ghost story in Vampire: Bloodlines. It’s an RPG game, with sub-quests. One of these included investigating an abandoned hotel, left derelict for years. (Sound familiar!). The location was haunted by poltergeist activity; so books, chairs and furniture would move on its own, or fly towards your head! Nasty, and scary!

Lastly, the early levels of Doom 3, and Half Life 2 had good scary scenes. The latter had a whole location called ‘Ravensholm’, which was a gothic frightfest from beginning to end. The horror was much more obvious, and easy to put together, but there were wonderful moments of suspense. I remember, with a cold sweat, how I watched a drainpipe rattle against a wall, as something nasty climbed up the building, towards me.

Making an adventure game from scratch is indeed admirable, because although you had the help of some friends you took along the main aspects of the game, which are not few. Tell us your secret, how did you make it to finish Dark Fall without giving up? What pushed you to go on, day after day?<respuesta>It was very important to have a group of supportive, and brutally honest, friends around me. They pointed out the flaws, and mistakes, I was making, but were also generous with their praise. I wasn’t chatty with other developers at the time, which I think was a huge bonus. Setting my mind on what I wanted to achieve was essential. Converse with fellow developers may have led to confusion, and added a competitive strain to the proceedings. I would suggest, to any new developer, that you seek advice and feedback from many sources, and not just those who you feel will understand your work the best.

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