Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Ghosts - Who's Watching Who?


With the recent announcement of Ghost Watch (working title!), I thought it would be fun to take a quick look at the previous 'Ghost Surveillance' sequences from the games. There have been a few! I wouldn't say I'm an expert on ghost cams, but I am fascinated. I want to believe!

So, without further ado…

Dark Fall


This was my original, and favourite, 'ghost watch software'. My affection stems from the fact it was my first. So, it was the most exciting for me to play with. I was new to things like programming, especially randomisation, so found it deeply fascinating to switch between cameras and hope, (or dread!), that anything supernatural may occur. 

The original Dark Fall ghost-hunting cams.


The location, too, remains my favourite; the old Station Hotel and Train Station, with its derelict rooms, pub and train platforms. I've always been fascinated by abandoned places, feeling they make the best ghost locations. It's not just the spirits, the dead folk, which linger in those places, the buildings themselves seem to echo with past events, actions and meaning. Looking back, over ten years, I do regret not making the 'ghost cameras' more integral to the plot and puzzles. They seem like an added extra, something for the 'ghost hunters' to have used, rather than anything particularly useful to us… the actual protagonist. A pity. 

Nigel Danvers, ghost-hunter and... apparantly married! :-/


But, I like the interface, the crackling little previews and the pregnant atmosphere. There's no music, so artificial sound, just the fizz-zurrr of the refresh and the sounds made by the ghosts. A chilling, scientific approach.

Lights Out


Sadly, Polly White's ghost cams never made it into the final game. Following on from her experience in Dark Fall, Polly was 'supposed' to have hacked into the lighthouse security feed and spied on the comings and goings of the protagonist (you!) in the form of Benjamin Parker. The only hint that remains is the accidental snap shot, caught on Polly's clunky digital camera and the 'web cams' featured on the Fetch Rock Lighthouse website. 

Fetch Rock Lighthouse

I was amused and humbled, just recently, to see that a 'Ghost Cams' website had featured the cams, believing them to be real. Hard to believe, but I guess some people wish they were real. I know that I'd be one of the most regular visitors to a haunted lighthouse, off the coast of Cornwall, if ever a place existed. Just recently, during a Facebook ramble, I stated that it would be fun to return to Fetch Rock, for a further adventure. Preferably in full 3D, so the place felt as real as possible. The Station Hotel got a second look-in, so why not the lighthouse?

The Lost Crown


The big one! Four cameras arrive, in Hadden's mysterious ghost-hunter starter pack, which have to be installed, set-up and monitored. A nice touch, I feel, as it means we (the gamers) feel a bit closer to the experiment. More involved! It may be the very same Nigel Danvers setting up the equipment, as he did in Dark Fall, but we, the gamers, ARE Nigel Danvers, so it worked really well. The equipment is not supposed to be mysterious, that's the ghost's job! Replaying the game, last month, I was surprised by how much is actually witnessed via the cameras, which is kind of cool. Does the technology lie? That was my first question. You see all sorts of strange phenomena: orbs, manifestations, shapeless entities, time changes etc etc. You also 'hear' a lot of phenomena too! It's a real treat if you like that sort of thing, which I do. In fact, I love ghost watching!

The Hadden tech monitors Harbour Cottage.


Recent films like Paranormal Activity/Entity have long sequences of just staring at static views of empty rooms. It's a bit weird, when you think about it. If movies are the art of 'moving pictures', it seems almost naughty, avant-garde, to make movies in which very little moves, at all. But, there lies the power, the art of the surveillance experience. It's up to the watcher, the virtual eye in the space, to see what they can. Last time I saw a 'paranormal' film at the cinema it was surveillance themed. Each potential event, no matter how small, was accompanied by a low drone, an infrasound, to heighten tension and unease. It was very effective. Each time something eventually moved, you could hear whispers amongst the audience, unsure what they'd seen, usually accompanied by a 'ooohh' sound, which would provoke panic in anyone that had missed the event -

Viewer 1 -  "What? What did you see?!"

Viewer 2 - "Did you not see it?!",

Viewer 1 - "No, what was it!",

Viewer 2 - "Shush, you missed it"

Viewer 1 - "What???!"

It's an uncomfortable feeling, realising you may have missed a supernatural event, while everyone around you is puzzling over what they witnessed or heard. It's a neat example of the 'horror imagined in the head' scenario, where the viewer knows that something is present, but the film makers have left few clues to the nature of the beast. I say beast, because I watched one of the early 'Activity' films with friends. During one sequence, the camera zoomed-in on a seemingly inactive area of the screen. We do not know why. Or, I should say, WE didn't seen anything specific, but we all (pretty much) had an idea of what we expected to see. All different. I thought I saw the outline of a man (dull!!!), Patsy thought se saw a 'grey lady' (trad!!!!), but Matt was convinced he was about to see a 7ft tall, bull headed hulk of a thing; a monstrous deamon from the otherworld. That's so much cooler, don't you think? So, personal experience, and fear, is something the ghost cams really play on.

Which brings me on to…


Ghost Watching is coming!


Ghost Watch

 

It seems unbelievable that I hadn't thought about a dedicated ghost surveillance game before. I've been fascinated by 'locked off cameras', CCTV and nite-vision for… crumbs… forever! In fact, I did play with the idea of a PC game, after Lost Crown. Take the Environmeter set-up, and plonk it down in a series of abandoned places. But, it just didn't seem to get off the ground. If I'm honest, I'm not sure that staring at your PC screen, waiting for something to happen, would that much fun, without a character, like Nigel, to exclaim "There! Definite activity in THAT part of the cottage". But, I was wrong. Having Nigel tell us that we've experienced something seems really silly to me, a few years on. You want to state back "Yeah, no shit Sherlock!". But, a lot of people play full bloodied adventures with a companion, or group, so that bombastic approach makes it more enjoyable, so like a game, as it were, with a central character and narrative. But gadgets, like iPhones, pads, tablets and handhelds are a personal experience. You don't need Nigel to announce the supernature, as you are personally involved, often in an isolated state, whether laying in bed, sitting on the train, or having timeout on the loo. It's a…. argh!! I'm struggling here, to get across my point. Hang on....

Intimate!!

Yes, that's it! Ghost Watch is an 'intimate experience'. Just you, your senses and a haunted house.

The ghosts, should they show up, are doing so without a script, with no Nigel to tell you what you've seen or heard. So, how does that make a game? Well, the host location, Harwood House, is a great venue. It's got a couple of hundred years history to hide, which you pick a way at, while hunting for paranormal phenomena.

There's something lingering in the pantry of Harwood House.


The O.P.G, (Oxford Paranormal Group), have carried out a brief reconnaissance of the building, stating that it was one of the creepiest they have investigated. A series of cameras and experiments have been set-up in rooms, that they believe, are likely to provide some readings and supernatural events. Later in the year, the second session will be released, then a third - New camera views, new experiments, new phenomena! Eventually, a meatier PC version will add extra material, but it's the intimacy of the handheld that I'm looking to exploit. I love the idea of people watching the cams, as we gradually piece together the history of Harwood. Let's hope it is a history rich with turmoil, tragedy and terror! Otherwise, we'll all get eyestrain waiting for something to happen! 

I'm playing Ghost Watch... will you?


And… have to admit, I'm still working on the title. Ghost Watch is cool, but it needs a little something more, I feel. This is a project that has to grab people on the App store, so it needs to stand out - A font flourish, a play on the shape, a switcheroo of letters to digits. I don't know… it needs something! Partly, I think it would make the title look cool, and I'm also aware there are a couple of uses of the name Ghost Watch already out there. Also, I don't want to tread on Stephan Volk's toes, (the writer of BBC's 'banned' Ghostwatch screenplay from the 90's, in which Blue Peter's Sarah Green was abducted by murderous felines, in a suburban under stairs cupboard!). So, any ideas are welcome.

My favourite, at the moment, is very simple; ghost/watch

Jonathan