Playing Catch Up w/ Ghost of a Tale

Playing Catch Up w/ Ghost of a Tale

When I first ran across some Alpha footage of Ghost of A Tale, I actually thought I had wondered upon something plucked from my childhood brain: a Redwall Video Game. What I saw first was a little anthropomorphic mouse, in a cute, medieval hood, wandering about a beautiful environment.  Once I delved in a little deeper however, I found a beautiful seaside island ready to be explored. Ghost of a Tale is very sure of what it want’s to be: a pure, simple adventure. That’s kind of reassuring in a time when many games try to offer a little of everything to everyone.

Though Redwall was indeed one of the game’s inspirations, the game clearly has more sources of inspiration. It has a heavy splash of Disney and Dark Souls. Yes, that’s an apt combination when discussing this game.

Among the inspirations I could quote Disney’s “Robin Hood“, the fables of La Fontaine, “Redwall“, “Winnie the Pooh“, “The Secret of Nimh“, “The Dark Crystal“, the paintings of Alan Lee, John Howe, Paul Bonner, John Bauer, and many, many others…

Game-wise the inspirations could be found in the early “Zelda” games, “Ico“, the “Gothic” series and “Dark Souls“. Of course those are mere inspirations; this project can obviously not expect to compete on equal footing with those amazing games.

Ghost of a Tale’s developer, Lionel Gallant (known under the pseudonym Seith on the internet), has a history in animation, having worked on a number big name projects, which clearly shows in the gorgeous design direction, art style, and character models. There’s a gothic and foreboding feel to the game, even though you’re looking at cute little anthropomorphic creatures.

Ghost of a Tale has a clear focus on stealth and avoidance. You’re a little mouse trapped on the Dangerous island of Periclave, and you’re surrounded by giant undead rats, Frogmen, and Crabs. You are not going to be able to fight your way through this, and instead need to focus on sneaking and dodging your way to safety.

You play as a mouse on an adventure set in a medieval world. At the beginning of the game, you get to the Island of Periclave. Now what is the mouse looking for? What happened on the island? Why are there undead rats roaming around? That will be up to you to discover.

What’s known is that the island has long been a disputed outpost for the Army of the Rats. But today, it is reputed to be haunted. And tales are talking about a fabulous treasure high up in the Tower of Periclave. But it would be folly to try and get there. Even for a mighty warrior. And this little mouse certainly doesn’t look like one…

All this is driven by an incredibly beautiful purpose: Gallant want to make something beautiful. He has clear focus on creating a story in this world, and not trying to bite off more than can be completed.

But my goal is to craft a small yet beautiful game with environments that look a bit like movie sets and characters that have a sense of stylization in their design, while retaining a certain simplicity and immediacy as far as gameplay is involved.

I know it sounds hockey but I’m really trying to recapture the sense of wonder I felt as a kid when I discovered the games from the 80s and early 90s. But with a AAA quality (as far as I’m able) that’s very much up-to-date.

Now, to Catch Up:

Ghost of Tale launched it’s Indiegogo campaign in May of 2013.

An excellent interview with Lionel Gallant was released on May 9th, conducted by Megapieman on Youtube. The interview is a superb listen, and really clearly shows the direction and aim that Gallant wants to bring to Ghost of Tale. He’s very set in his idea for the game, and I think that focus is going to in the end create a phenomenal experience. It’s also a clear look at just how talented a developer Gallant is: everything except the music is being done by one person: him.

Ghost of a Tale‘s Indiegogo was Funded May 19. After funding, Gallant release this update of thanks:

“WE MADE IT!!!  That’s incredible! No, really; it is. Why? Because a month ago “Ghost of a Tale” wasn’t on anyone’s radar. No journalist was aware of anything in regard to the project. The campaign was a text-book cold start.  So you can all be proud of yourselves, because you’ve made it happen…

In fact from my point of view that is the single most amazing thing about the whole adventure; to see that you, the backers, decided this could be a special little game worth helping. And that you acted on this feeling.

As I wrote on the main page, one of the reasons I started this campaign was to see if there were enough potential players that could be bothered; it was to be a stern (and very public) verdict on the viability of the project itself. And boy did I get a resounding endorsement!

Thank you to each and everyone of you who have contributed to this campaign, whether from a financial or moral standpoint (and often both). As one of you said in a recent message, I shouldn’t think of this success as a heavy pressure weighting down on me as I work on the game, but rather I should think of it as an huge mark of affection for the project. And indeed I very much like the notion!”

There was July 15 Update, which told us that progress was being made on the game, and most importantly that stealth was sneakily making its way into the game. This is one of the most important things for this game to get right in my opinion: If you’re going to be a weak and vulnerable character your ability to hide has to be a core mechanic that works well.

On the other end, I’m happy to report that the game is making great progress (with the help of a few very talented people). So here are a few things that have been changed/improved since the alpha trailer:

  • Gamepad support has been fully implemented. I never thought I would one day utter those words, but I actually prefer using the gamepad to test the game now.
  • Several concept art pieces were created (thanks Adam!).
  • Player control and animation have been completely overhauled; better collision detection, smooth transitions, new interaction animations, etc…
  • Started implementing sneak mode (I can’t say much more about that yet).
  • Started implementing dialog/interaction support. This is linked to the game’s UI and is still very much a work in progress.
  • Dynamics are on! The mouse’s hood is now completely dynamic, it responds to the mouse’s movements; this saves a lot of work on the animation side and looks really neat to boot (thanks Enrique!).
  • New fur (thanks Dariusz!), cloth and environmental shaders with multi-layered POM and tessellation support (thanks Andy!). This allows the texture work to really pop.
  • New interactive bending vegetation (thanks Dominik!). Bushes and grass react to the player running through them. It really adds a nice touch.
  • Player character awareness system; it’s a mouthful to just say that the mouse is aware of what’s around him, even if the player isn’t. So if you run about and the mouse notices something he’s going to turn his attention to it. In other words his body language will clue you in about interesting features you might have missed.

The next game progress update came to us on August 31th of 2013, and featured forward movement on the story of Ghost of a Tale:

The story is now locked (thanks Paul!) and that’s going to help in figuring out exactly what’s needed for the game. There’s so many different elements that need to fit in that it is sometimes a bit dizzying. And remember that Ghost of a Tale is not going to be a huge game by any stretch of imagination. But still, it’s a tremendous amount of work.

I would say at this point that the game is still in pre-production in the sense that I’m still designing the game. The next phase is about actively creating all the areas and character assets and I hope to be able to move on to that stage within a couple of months at the most.

On the programming side I’ve added debugging features that are going to make my life easier. Basically that debug interface gives me access to some useful information related to the player’s animation and the camera’s status.

A December 3rd update brought a whole host of updates, including a number of important details, such a whole new enemy, traps, hiding spots, and the ever important NPC:

Hi everyone! It’s been a while since the last update but that’s because work on the game is moving forward at a brisk pace. So here are just a few improvements since the previous update, in no particular order:

  • Started testing DX11 global illumination asset (called “Dynamic GI”) for potential future integration (thanks Chris!)
  • Integrated new camera with auto-corrective behavior (more on this at the end of this post)
  • Deepened the lore and background story elements for characters, locations and quests (thanks Paul!)
  • Implemented modular Actor AI with shared behaviors and waypoint system
  • The crystal crab is now functional (and quite scary)
  • Implemented traps game mechanics
  • Footsteps sounds now match the ground material under the actors
  • Implemented hiding spots game mechanics (really fun to use)
  • Implemented faction system for NPCs (player is no longer the de-facto target)
  • Stealth behavior is integrated
  • Implemented ladder climbing system (yay for verticality!)
  • Created new animation assets (player, skeletal rats, crab, etc…)
  • Created additional foley sounds
  • Implemented new props attachment and equipment system (great way to customize the character’s look)
  • Started testing a new DX 11 Unity asset (called “Fluidity”) in hopes of integrating it in the game (for cool pyrotechnics)
  • And since I know text-only updates can be a bit dry, here’s a picture of just a few temporary assets lying around in a corner of my test level:

The next to last update we’ve had from Ghost of Tale was a retrospective update that came out on Christmas of last year.

When I started the Indiegogo campaign back in May I was hoping for some kind of closed alpha to be released right about now but it seems that was a little optimistic, as I’m still putting something together as we speak. I am aware that we live in a time where huge studios cancel or delay their games on a whim, without much apparent respect for their audiences. And sometimes when they do release their games they are crippled by strings of bugs, broken features and half-baked ideas. But let me assure you that I have no desire to follow in those tracks!

Actually, given the fact that this is my first game ever (and that I’m still learning as I go) I’m very happy about the way things are evolving. Indeed I’m slowly reaching the feature-freeze stage where everything starts to gel and game mechanics just… work. Although one of the perks of developing the game 95% on my own is being allowed to change my mind and experiment with things without enduring the wrath of irate team-members. On the other hand if I break it, I have to fix it!

Still, I am glad to benefit from the help of great collaborators whenever the need arises (thanks Paul, Cyrille and Stephane)!

Finally, a mere two days ago, an update focusing on the story and lore behind Ghost of a Tale was released:

 As you all know Ghost of a Tale takes place in a medieval world inhabited by animals, each species ruling over its own kingdom. And among those kingdoms the Rats are considered one of the most powerful species. Although creatures far more fearsome exist, it is a well-known fact that, through sheer force of numbers, the Rat Army is capable of defeating almost any foe.

Today some say the Rats’ influence is so wide and far-reaching that it is more empire than kingdom. The origin of the Rat’s powerful influence can be traced all the way back to the War of the Green Flame, many centuries ago, when the world was teetering on the edge of the Bright Abyss.

No one remembers where the Green Flame appeared first. A force without conscience or thought, it killed and consumed all those standing in its path. The fallen would then grow the ranks of its army, becoming soulless puppets of the necromantic power. The great battle has passed into myth and legend now – but some facts are indisputable: the mighty Badgers of Baladhon fought and lost and even the Hawks of Halenvir fell from the sky. None of them could turn back the foul invasion…

Now, It may come as a surprise, but I’m an absolute lore fanatic. Ghost of Tale‘s look at lore has me very pleased, particularly because of its apparent depth. There’s references to obscure events and characters, clear hints at larger story elements, and that perfect amount of information to wet one’s appetite without giving too much away! Check out the blog post for even more story!

And now you’re caught up on the major game play development highlights of Ghost of a Tale! We’ll keep you up-to-date on any updates about Ghost of a Tale as they come out (I’ve been assured that an update is right around the corner!).

Playing Catch Up is a re-occurring column that was inspired by those late night binges we game fanatics go through from time to time. I’ve gotten to the party late on a fair number of indie games, and every time a friend has sent me a link to some mind-blowing gameplay video, or I’ve stumbled across a Reddit thread about a game that really catches my attention, I’ve spent hours of that evening scouring the internet to make sure I am up to date. Now, we’ll do that for you, or at the very least put all the high points in one place so you don’t have spend quite as long searching!

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Editor-in-Chief of With a soft spot for epics, sagas and tales of all types, Jacob approaches games as ways to tell stories. He's particularly interested in indie games because of the freedom they have to tell different stories, often in more interesting and innovative ways than Triple A titles.

1 Comment

  1. Ooh that’s neat! Thank you very much for this quite in-depth article, Jacob! :)

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