INTERVIEW: Jed Shepard Talks Horror Game GHOSTS (Pt. 1)

Wednesday, May 26th, 2021

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GHOSTS is a full-motion, live-action horror video game from the mind behind the 2020 movie HOST. In a unique twist to the video game genre, players can only begin the story of GHOSTS and start to unwrap the legend of the Long Lady after 10 p.m. local time. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, GHOSTS is set for release in early 2022 on Nintendo, PlayStation, Xbox, and PC platforms.

I caught up with Jed Shepard, the director and writer of GHOSTS last week. During our interview, we talked about both the Manx horror and Hideo Kojima inspirations behind the game, why there is a 10 p.m. start time, about the creation of the Long Lady herself, and more.

You can follow Jed Shepard on Twitter and on IMDB.

You can check out GHOSTS on their official Kickstarter page, on Discord, and via their pre-order Backerkit page when it goes live.

This interview has been edited for content and clarity.

Operation Rainfall: My name is Quentin H. with Operation Rainfall, and you are?

Jed Shepard: I am Jed Shepard.

OR: What is GHOSTS? Who or what is the Long Lady?

JS: GHOSTS is a live-action, real-time video game starring the five main cast of the horror film HOST. The conceit is that they are on a reality TV show that goes and hunts ghosts. They are in a supposed ‘haunted house’, and the person who is playing the game is playing the overworked, underpaid, producer of the TV show.

There is a creature called the Long Lady that’s out there, and the rumor is that if you see her, she will be really tall – she is really long – and if you see her face, you die.

So you have that to worry about. And you’re all by yourself in the broadcast van. There is a lot to think about when playing this game.

“I think [Nigel Kneale] is just a really underrated writer who created a lot of what we think is English folk horror now. He’s just really influential to me, and I just wanted to create something that feels universal but is thoroughly British folk horror in essence.”

OR: GHOSTS is an FMV and real-time video game. Can you explain what FMV and real-time is? For that matter, why an FMV game? Why a real-time game?

JS: So [a] full-motion video game is basically a video game that isn’t just sprites or code. It’s essentially live action like a film. So there’s real actors not doing motion capture, [for] they are playing themselves. In the past, full motion video games that people would know about are ones like Phantasmagoria, The 7th Guest, Double Switch, and of course, Night Trap. Some of them are good, and some of them are not so good. [OR Note: All of these mentioned FMV video games were released between 1992 and 1995 for home console and/or PC platforms.]

The limitations of the technology in the ’90s and early 2000s led the gameplay to be less than fun in some cases. So I’m doing it because I loved those games. I loved the unique charm of those games. And during lockdown, I’ve replayed a whole bunch of them because Limited Run Games re-released a whole load of them. So I just thought ‘why not combine stuff that I like, my friends, and full-motion video games?’

The live action element is just that: live action. And it’s the first time that you’ll be able to be in a live environment where you will feel like you’re in danger yourself. It’s very immersive, and it’s with characters and people that you would like because a lot of the people who buy the game are obviously HOST fans- So you’ll be in familiar ground.

OR: In almost a side-statement from your Kickstarter campaign– which we will talk about later on, I promise- you mentioned that your game “takes inspiration from the works of Manx screenwriter Nigel Kneale and the blurring of fact and fiction in the found footage movies from the last 25 years.”

For those who might not be familiar, can you tell our audience who Nigel Kneale is and what ‘Manx’ is, and can you please talk about what it is about Mr. Kneale’s works that influence your own project?

JS: So Manx is just the colloquial term that comes from the Isle of Man, which is a little island off of the coast of [Great] Britain. It’s a very unique place over there, because it’s separate from the mainland.

[Nigel Kneale] is just a writer who came to prominence in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. He was the creator of the Quartermass series, which built his popularity in America. He did a lot of things, but one of the main things he did was bring prime time horror to British TV. He did the Quartermass stuff originally that became theatrical movies. He did, in the ’70s, a filmography TV series called Beasts, which was a show that I loved. It’s a story about creatures and each story was different. But people probably know him best, besides Quartermass, for The Stone Tape, which was a TV movie in the ’70s which was really influential to people like John Carpenter and myself.

I think he is just a really underrated writer who created a lot of what we think is English folk horror now. He’s just really influential to me, and I just wanted to create something that feels universal but is thoroughly British folk horror in essence. And yeah, he died a little while ago, but his legacy lives on.

And I think you will see some of the reverberations of his work in things like the British TV show Ghost Watch, which I think inspired things like Paranormal Activity. So yeah, Nigel Kneale is a big influence to me.

The other big influence is Hideo Kojima, who obviously did METAL GEAR SOLID as well as a million other games. But one game, for me, that he did that really influenced me for GHOSTS is called boktai: The Sun is in Your Hand. And that is a Game Boy Advance game- if you can get it in good condition, it is worth a little bit- but it has a solar panel on the back of the cartridge. That meant that when you played it, you had to go outside into the sun to power up your vampire hunter, because sunlight kills vampires.

So it was the blurring of video gaming and reality which I really loved. And, of course, Kojima’s absolute genius. So I was inspired there and I wanted to do something similar for GHOSTS.

“I want people to be entertained. I think the way to entertain people now is to do something different, something that they haven’t seen before.”

OR: Let’s talk a little bit more about Mr. Kneale before we will pick up on the Kojima thread.

Mr. Kneale’s Quartermass projects were always a product of their time- the very first Quartermass serial in 1953 dealt with a ‘near future’ of the first manned flight into space and subsequent alien contact. HOST is a product of the 2020 pandemic in how it is found footage of a Zoom call. Is GHOSTS a product of its time too? How or how not?

JS: Yes, it very much is. I can’t say too much why, but it takes broad shots at various different things that are happening now. And I think my thing with everything I do- you make something that is classically horror like a haunted house with something new that is happening. And although doing an FMV game feels like a throwback, when people see what is actually happening with this game, it will feel fresh and new.

And that’s what Nigel Kneale did as well. He married some of the classic horror tropes from the early twentieth century and the late nineteenth century with things that were happening at the time. And that’s what I chose to do with this.

OR: In a 1979 interview with Starburst magazine, when Mr. Kneale was asked if he found Quartermass to be an albatross around his neck, he said “[w]ell, a little bit” because “[i]t’s like an actor being in a series: you get stuck with the image.”

With first the success of HOST and now with your upcoming GHOSTS game, does that ring true for you any? Are you welcoming of the albatross?

JS: Very, very good question. Of course, after HOST, people have a certain expectation of what I’m going to do next. And I think I surprised people with doing a video game next. I think people did not see that coming, and were surprised and confused. But people that actually know me know that this isn’t a surprise, because it’s the kind of thing that I’ve been into my whole life.

If HOST is an albatross around my neck, so be it! It’s a good albatross to have. If it means having a successful horror film, then I am happy with that albatross. But yeah, you’ll see with the next actual film thing that we do, it’s nothing like HOST. Nothing that will change the narrative somewhat. I’m always into high-concept horror with a British twist. So I’m happy to be compartmentalized in that zone, and I knew it was going to happen.

But you’ll see in the next couple of years the range of stuff that I’m doing- the stuff that hasn’t been announced yet, but will be announced very soon in the game world, in the film world, and in the TV world. There is a lot to come, and a lot to be announced very soon. And I think people will be incredibly surprised with the choices we’ve made. I’m excited.


The cast from HOST returns for the game GHOSTS. (Image courtesy of Visible Games).

OR: One last connection before we move on. In that same Starburst interview, Mr. Kneale talks about how the original Quartermass was a disruption in how TV shows were scripted- instead of a three-act stage play with intervals between the acts, Quartermass would intercut in the middle of a scene like a movie. Does GHOSTS seek to upend the storytelling and gameplay format for video games as well?

JS: These are really good questions. You’re the first person to ask me about direct references to Nigel Kneale, and I’m glad because I haven’t had the chance to speak about it.

Yes! I think the conventions of storytelling work for a horror film, obviously, and are bent a little bit because I’m telling them within the confines of a video game. And obviously, video games have a certain format to them too. And the fact that you can only play the game at ten P.M., it’s locked until that time, is something that hasn’t been done before.

It’s something interesting and different that I wanted to bring to the table. And I’m sure we’ll speak about it in a little while, but that’s how I wanted to disrupt video games. I didn’t come from a video game development background, so I don’t know the ‘rules’. I haven’t read any books about it. So I’m just coming from the story perspective. I’m like ‘I want the story to be as immersive and as interesting and as cool and as different as possible. Most of all, entertaining.’

The very top of it is entertainment. I want people to be entertained. I think the way to entertain people now is to do something different, something that they haven’t seen before. So that’s how it plays into Nigel Kneale. And what Nigel Kneale did was bring horror to the masses. The video game world is much, much, much bigger than the film world and industry-wise. If I’m going to tell a story that reaches as many people as possible, of course I’m going to go to the place where you can reach the most people, which is video games.

I’m really surprised more people haven’t done that. People probably didn’t think I’d shift so early from horror films to video games, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve always had it in the back of my mind to do a video game. So this is going to be the first, and it’s not going to be the last.

Continue on to Page Two to find out how Hideo Kojima influenced GHOSTS, what Mr. Shepard’s first game development experience is like, and more.

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