Q&A: Ghostbustin' with ZootFly
ZootFly CEO Bostjan Troha talks about crossing streams with a Ghostbusters game and upcoming projects for next-gen consoles and Xbox Live Arcade.
Over the weekend, Ghostbusters fans were aflutter with some videos that appeared on YouTube. The clips showed footage of a game based on the apparition apprehenders made famous in the 1984 sci-fi comedy film. But instead of featuring fish-out-of-water geeks awkwardly shooting from their proton packs, the videos showed Gears of War-style gameplay, massive destruction, and a gritty New York cityscape.
The videos were posted by the game's developer, Slovenia-based ZootFly, who later admitted that the Xbox 360 game was merely a prototype and that intellectual-property issues momentarily sidelined its development.
GameSpot pulled ZootFly CEO Bostjan Troha aside to talk about the possibility of the Ghostbusters game getting made and the buzz the videos made in the gaming world.
GameSpot: The first obvious question is, why release these videos of a prototype Ghostbusters game to the public? Was it designed to drum up interest in the game?
Bostjan Troha: We hoped the publisher would sort out the IP issue in a jiffy and we'd be recharging proton packs in no time. Unfortunately, they didn't push to untangle the IP hard enough and the whole thing stalled a bit. There's actually no insurmountable problem with getting the IP. It's just that extra mile someone needs to stride to get it.
As diehard Ghostbusters fans we somehow felt obliged to share the early prototypes with the public. Also, we hoped to show that the fan base is enormous and that there's a wide and genuine interest for a next-gen Ghostbusters game.
GS: What was the response to the videos?
BT: Absolutely unbelievable. I don't think anyone expected such an overwhelmingly positive response. We got countless e-mails from people of all walks of life, young and old. The fan base seems to span across generations, and it's not just us 30-something kids who loved the four crazy New Yorkers in overalls.
GS: How long was Ghostbusters in development? And how long ago did development stop?
BT: The development started in May 2006 and was put on the back burner in July 2006, at which point we shifted the focus to TimeO, a Ghostbusters-inspired game.
GS: Talk to us about the IP issues you are having. Who owns the license, and have talks to acquire the license started?
BT: As I mentioned, the IP issues are surmountable. I'd prefer not to go into details right now, I am sure you'll understand. I hope the buzz we created will create enough wake to resolve the issues.
GS: Has word gotten out to any of the potential cast members of Ghostbusters? The Peter Venkman cutscene was great...
BT: The publisher went through a Beverly Hills-based talent agency that represents some of the movie cast members, but I don't know whether the word has gotten to any individuals.
GS: Was the engine that the game is running on built for Ghostbusters?
BT: Actually, the engine is based off of a common code base we have at ZootFly. After our previous titles were released it was upgraded to next-gen to run a prototype of World War III, a game where the US and Europe duke it out. The Ghostbusters footage was running on an intermediate build of the engine that now powers TimeO.
GS: I believe this would be your first game based on an existing license. Why did you choose Ghostbusters, and are you worried at all about the game not living up to the hopes fans may have?
BT: Yes, Ghostbusters would be our first game based on a really cool license. It was a very obvious choice. Many of us were in their teens back in the eighties and just loved the coolest carefree geeks chasing ghosts.
But there was nothing new Ghostbusters-related out there: no movie sequels, no games, nothing. It was simply unbearable; we had to do something about it. It would be an intolerable loss for the Western civilization to let Ghostbusters slip into oblivion. I don't give a flying Wiimote for Kafka, but Ghostbusters...
Of course, delivering on par with the expectations of the fandom was our main concern. We wanted to keep all what's sacred intact, but put in a bit of that grittiness of the post-9/11 world.
GS: Would this game follow the storyline of the original Ghostbusters, or are you working on a new story?
BT: The story would follow the original, by all means. It's the perfect equilibrium of horror, action, and comedy with crazy New Yorkers dealing with crazy stuff. We would update some aspects of the IP, but only slightly.
GS: In the past, IP issues have caused some copyright owners to shut down operations of game development for infringing on trademarks. Was this ever a concern for you?
BT: We worked very closely with the publisher from the word "go," and they in turn worked very closely with the IP holders to avoid any infringements.
GS: What are the chances of this game being made?
BT: I believe the chances are great. It's tough to imagine letting such an opportunity [go] to waste. In the Land of Lost Opportunities this would be the One to Rule Them All. We will do all we can to make it happen and would like nothing better than to be able to finish this game we've come to love.
GS: Let's talk about TimeO for a second. Can you give us an overview of the game?
BT: It's a third-person action game for the Xbox 360, PS3, and hopefully for the Wii. It's an upbeat story about two diehard urban explorers who got trapped deep in the shadow world of a parallel New York. The city itself is a war machine threatening to wipe out our world. Zed Condor and Violet Munro have three days to stop it.
TimeO is in part based on a true story about two urban explorers that disappeared in New York City in August 2006, while exploring a Harlem basement rumored to house an ancient portal into the parallel world.
GS: How long has it been in development, and when do you think it will be complete?
BT: We started prototyping in summer last year. The development of a 20-minute vertical slice of TimeO started in late October 2006. Right now it's hard to tell when it's gonna be complete. Currently, we are actively looking for a worldwide publishing deal for TimeO.
GS: You've told us that in addition to the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC, you may bring the game to the Wii. What are your thoughts on that system?
BT: I love the Wii. And I have enormous respect for the courage Nintendo showed by going ahead with such a revolutionary concept and the most incredible name. In my view, the Wii is not in competition with either the Xbox 360 or PS3. It's a complementary platform; it seems to be more a toy than a console, which is great.
GS: Do you have any other projects currently in development?
BT: We're working on an Xbox Live Arcade/E-Distribution title called Toy Wars. This time it's about toys that have taken over the house and the backyard. It's a multiplayer-only game where players control a variety of toys--from bulldozers to robots--and fight it out in sandboxes and living rooms.
GS: Japan and North America have traditionally been identified as the powerhouses of game development. What are your thoughts on the state of European game development, specifically in Eastern Europe?
BT: Europeans--Eastern and Western--acutely suffer from quasi-intellectualism. It seems we just cannot grasp the concept of entertainment. We keep getting bogged down with weird games about micromanaging a hotel chain, or setting a gun on a tank for 10 minutes and then eventually shooting once. It's a tremendous handicap that we'll have to get rid of as soon as possible if we want to compete with North American and Japanese developers. It seems European designers are creating games for themselves, not for the playing public. I guess it's the egocentrism of Europeans--that's why we have 10 different types of wall sockets.
GS: If you are able to resolve the issues with Ghostbusters, would your team immediately get back to work on it and put TimeO on hold?
BT: If the Ghostbusters issues resolve before we sign TimeO, then absolutely. If not, it's hard to tell. TimeO is a great concept and we enjoy developing the game very much.
GS: Thank you very much.