Ghostbusters Developer Diaries: Origin and the Making of Part I

January 28, 2009

Ghostbusters Developer Diaries:
Origin and the Making of Part I

Atari and developer Terminal Reality
have released the first in a series of developer diaries for their upcoming
Ghostbusters video game. The diary can be read in its entirety below.

It Begins

So he looks across the conference
table over his impressive beard at us. Pauses. Then he says, “It’s Ghostbusters.
We’re going to make a Ghostbusters game. The first really good one.”

And the other one, who for the first
time since we met has paused talking for almost two consecutive minutes, adds
this: “And we think you’re the right guys do it. You up for it?”

Nobody says anything for a long
time. They think that after all the buildup and mystery maybe we’re
disappointed, that maybe we’re trying to assess the fastest way of out of the
room. But that’s not the case. The fact is that Brendan is sitting in stunned
silence and I’m just trying to keep from swallowing my tongue. Mark Randel
(Terminal Reality President & Chief Technologist) is taking it better: he’s just
near-catatonic.

It was January 2006. We arrived at
the publisher forty minutes ago, one of a few stops on a tour to show off our
Infernal Engine next-gen technology demo and an original game IP we’d been
developing (‘the publisher’ at this time being Vivendi, before Atari took over
the title in 2008: look up ‘Activision Blizzard merger’ on Wikipedia for more
info). In addition to cutting-edge lighting, materials, and rendering, the tech
demo depicted squad gameplay action, heavy emphasis on chaotic environmental
destruction, and extremely realistic physical interaction.

It was the massive destruction is
what really got their attention. Seriously: fiery explosions & debris will get
your foot in any door.

Vivendi Executive Producers John
Melchior (tall, quietly fast-talking, awesome), and Pete Wanat (beard & soda
also awesome) introduced themselves and let us know immediately that they were
the two most hated men at this publisher. John O’Keefe (Terminal Studio
Director) asked if maybe there was someone else there we could talk to.
They watched our demo politely, exchanged mysterious raised eyebrows, asked a
few pointed questions, and then left for a private discussion in the hall.

When they came back they seemed to
have agreed on something. They told us they’d been working on developing a movie
license IP. Brendan Goss (Terminal Reality Executive Producer) shot a look my
way: Uh-oh. Here we go again. But this was a really big one, they continued: a
really great one. And it wasn’t tied to an upcoming theater release in less than
twelve months.

Then they dropped the G-bomb.

There it was, out in the open.
Ghostbusters. Maybe one of the greatest movies made. Definitely one of the
funniest. We were getting a crack at it. To say we were thrilled is a lazy
understatement. Pleasantly electrified is closer to the truth. It wasn’t until
later, after the shock wore off some, when we realized the depth of the
responsibility we had staked ourselves to when we finally stammered, “Y-yes! Of
course we’ll do it!”

Stars Align

The Ghostbusters game finally
happened as the result of a fairly rarefied confluence of elements, a sort of
Hollywood fairy tale.

Sony Pictures Consumer Products
(Mark Caplan & Keith Hargrove) knew that the time was ripe for a Ghostbusters
revival, and wanted to wrap it around a centerpiece game. Sony felt that game
technology had finally arrived and were looking for a developer with the right
mix of passion and skills to do the project correctly. First, Sony knew they
needed to do two things: 1. Make sure all IP holders—which includes the
director, three of the original Ghostbusters stars, and Sony Pictures
itself—would be totally on board; and 2. Find a publisher that could make the
game happen with as much of the original talent involved, as possible (i.e. the
Ghostbusters).

Across town at the publisher, John
and Pete had been talking about doing a GB game for quite a while, and had
started talking to the owners of the property. They were also trying to sell
their own upper management on the concept. Some reluctance is certainly
understandable. The reason we jumped at the chance was the same reason the
finance people were shy: a major movie-license game that’s not actually attached
to a theatrical release can be a tough sell. There’s no built-in
multi-million-dollar studio-financed marketing campaign. With a high-profile
title, securing the license can be very expensive, especially when that license
is one of the highest-grossing and most beloved films of all times (market
research by Vivendi revealed that the enduring ‘no-ghost’ logo ranks just behind
Coca-Cola and the Nike Swoosh stripe in order of worldwide recognition).
Securing the talent can be both cost-prohibitive, if not impossible to do:
Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis, and Reitman haven’t worked as a group for years, and
each has his own successful career to manage.

In the meantime, Dan Aykroyd had
been trying to get a Ghostbusters film sequel off the ground for years, but was
having a hard time reassembling the cast and generating studio interest. He had
decided that a CG-animated movie would be the best way to go, since the GB III
script called for a daunting budget if shot practically. A few voice-acting
sessions would require a much smaller time commitment from the cast. And the now
almost-sixty-year old principals wouldn’t have to strap those brutally heavy
proton packs back on and run through NYC streets. So, from his perspective,
moving to a game format for a true sequel wasn’t too big a leap for him.

The three sides found one other and
liked what each was bringing to the table. They worked on pulling the rest of
the group back together. And the snowball starts to roll. We jumped on as soon
as we could.