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Why a Dreamworks animator left film for a game about a medieval mouse

Why a Dreamworks animator left film for a game about a medieval mouse


'Ghost of a Tale' is a small (but beautiful) adventure

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Gallery Photo: 'Ghost of a Tale' screenshots
Gallery Photo: 'Ghost of a Tale' screenshots

Ghost of a Tale is a third-person action-adventure game set in a lush, but dark 3D world. It stars a tiny mouse in a medieval land filled with animals, and though smaller in scale, it's inspired by games like The Legend of Zelda, Dark Souls, and Ico. You can see hints of the fantasy novel series Redwall and movies like The Dark Crystal and The Secret of Nimh. It's also being made by just one person — Lionel Gallat, who previously spent more than a decade working on animated films like Flushed Away and Despicable Me. He decided to make the shift to create what he calls "more personal" experiences. "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," Gallat wrote on the project's Indiegogo page.

Even though it's described as a "very early alpha," the initial gameplay video shows a game that looks like it was created by a much bigger team. The detailed 3D world and characters seem beyond what one developer could create, let alone someone making their first game — on the surface, it's incredibly ambitious. "I actually never thought about it this way," says Gallat. "The experience I gathered while working on animated features has taught me certain standards that I don't really think about anymore. So I would say that I'm just applying what I know and giving it my best shot."

"My goal is to craft a small yet beautiful game."

In order to keep the project manageable, Gallat is making Ghost of a Tale relatively small. There will be exploration, combat, secrets to uncover, and even some role playing game elements, but don't expect a game on the scale of Skyrim. You'll explore a haunted island as opposed to a vast world. "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," Gallat explains.

He began development on Ghost of a Tale last year after a lengthy career as an film animator, starting in 1996 with Dreamworks' The Prince of Egypt and ending with 2011's The Lorax, where he served as animation director. "The set of skills needed to make a game or a movie are virtually the same," he explains. "So for me it doesn't really make a big difference. I feel what I have learned working on movies is absolutely relevant to Ghost of a Tale."

Even still, the process hasn't been easy, mainly due to the fact that — as Gallat explains it — he's not a "real" programmer. Progress was slow early on, and Gallat says that he struggled for close to a year trying to wrangle his ideas into a particular game engine. Eventually he switched to the Unity engine, a popular game creation tool among smaller studios, and things started moving much faster — the alpha was built in just two months, and that includes the time he spent learning a new programming language.

'Ghost of a Tale' screenshots


"The first step on a longer journey."

While the game looks impressive already, Gallat is hoping to bring in some outside help finish it. And with a rapidly draining savings account, he decided to appeal to the crowdfunding community with a goal of raising €45,000 ($58,000) to further fund development. That includes paying composer Jeremiah Pena and other potential hires, as well as software licensing fees and other expenses. "At some point I had to face the fact that all my savings were going into working on the game and they weren't going to last forever," he explains. Should Ghost of a Tale get funded, the goal is to launch in mid to late 2014 on Windows, with a Mac and Linux release also a possibility. A closed beta is expected by the end of this year.

And if things go really well, we could see even more of the mouse-filled universe after that. "Ghost of a Tale exists within a world that I have been developing — sometimes collaborating with friends — for many years," says Gallat. If the first game is completed and received well, it could lead to more titles that explore different characters and aspects of the world — Gallat describes it as potentially "the first step on a longer journey." And, at least for now, that journey will be explored solely through games. "While bringing this concept into the realm of movies would be great," he explains, "for now I'm very happy exploring it within the boundaries of a game."