‘Ghost Of A Tale’ Developer Interview – Talks Transition From Hollywood, Kickstarter Woes, And More

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If you search for the name “Lionel Gallat” on IMDB, you’ll find the name attached to a number of animated feature films: animation director for The Lorax, animation director for Despicable Me, supervising animator for Shark Tale, and the list goes on.

But more recently, Gallat has stepped away from animated feature films, and started developing a video game…on his own. The game is called Ghost of a Tale, and with one look at a screenshot it is easy to see that Gallat’s artistic skills have easily transitioned into the video game. Ghost of a Tale looks beautiful.

“As an animation director I was responsible for the animation of entire movies, leading 60+ [person] teams,” Gallat explained to IGM. “I was longing to go back to the nitty-gritty of creation; writing, modeling, painting, rigging, programming and… playing. I’ve already been in a position where I mostly tell people what they should do (and it’s probable [that] one day I’ll go back to that position) but today I’m having a lot of fun doing things myself for a change!”

Gallat, who is in the middle of promoting the funding campaign for his debut title Ghost of a Tale, chatted with IGM for a bit about his experience transitioning from Hollywood to the game development scene, his woes with Kickstarter, and why Ghost of a Tale deserves your support. [private_insider]

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IGM – What inspired you to start working on a game, and move out of the animation industry?

Gallat - It was a good time for me to do so. I’ve always loved games and I’ve always enjoyed writing stories, creating models and animating them. But I also love programming (I’ve written tools used in production in several studios). So it wasn’t really that far-fetched for me to put the two together.

As an artist who programs I can get lost in a coherent game world and get to look everywhere I want, and interact with things that I created. In a nutshell it’s a lot of fun. I feel like a kid again, when I was programming moving sprites (an achievement!) in Microsoft Basic. It’s a huge amount of work obviously, but so rewarding.

IGM – What are some of the pros and cons of working on developing a video game on your own…as opposed to working on a movie with a team?

Gallat - When you work on a big-budget movie the team is obviously very big. Quite a few people have their say, which is normal since a lot of money’s involved and the goal is to appeal to the widest audience in order to reduce the risks. Sometimes you run into the classic issue of “too many cooks spoiling the soup”. Also you are always in a situation were you do what you’re told, no matter your hierarchical position. Which is also very soothing in a sense, because you don’t really have to worry too much about anything else besides what’s on your workbench.

But for me, working on my own allows me to let my imagination roam free; I know where I want to go, I have an idea of where the journey’s going to lead me, but I’m not just doing a job. It requires a lot more personal discipline than when you work in a team. The hard truth is, when you work on your own, if you have a natural tendency of being complacent or if your motivation is only temporary you will fail.

So far that’s the main difficulty; only being able to rely on myself. I have spent my entire career collaborating with people on projects, so that’s a big change for me. So far I’m really enjoying the experience, although if I can manage to get a budget to pay some collaborators I’ll be a happy camper!

 

IGM – What do you have in mind, for the story of Ghost of a Tale?

Gallat - The story is going to be centered around exploration, finding out about the events that have happened on the Island of Periclave. Why are there undead rats roaming around? I mean, even though this world is populated by animals, walking undead creatures are not supposed to be the norm. Some keen-eyed Youtubers have spotted the weathered sigil of the Rat King on some of the shields, which would seem to suggest a royal expedition which turned sour.

The island sits in the middle of the vast Lake Vaelias, which was populated by the Vaelian frogs for hundreds of years before the always expanding army of the rats built its citadel on the high grounds. The frogs have always hated the hairy ones with all their ugly ears and tails. Could they be linked to the curse on the island?

And what of the mouse you play as? He seems to be a minstrel, not a mighty warrior. Is he trying to get to the top of the Tower of Periclave? Sure, a fabulous treasure is said to glimmer there, guarded by a fierce creature. But it’s a dangerous endeavor indeed.

The game is not going to feature a lot of combat; as a little mouse, you are not going to be able to just barge in and kill giant creatures twice your size. You’re going to have to find other ways, indirect means of confrontation, or avoid being seen altogether. In the end you’ll have to look for clues, read journals and uncover secrets in order to reach your goal alive.

IGM – Looking back over the IndieGoGo campaign, is there anything you wish you had done differently?

Gallat - Yes, I wish I had even more materials to show, so that I could have made even more updates. But again, I work on my own, so there are limits to what I can do in a given amount of time. That being said, a couple of people have spontaneously helped me in spreading the word, just because they truly believe in the project; that was a very welcome help.

This campaign is a bit special in the sense that when it started, virtually NO ONE knew about it. I had no contacts in the video game business and the project itself was on nobody’s radar. My friends and family don’t play games either. It was a textbook cold start. And within a couple of weeks the trailer got close to 150K views (when adding all the instances) and the campaign garnered an amazing media coverage (articles on most major sites, plus radio and TV interviews). Today the game is on the first page of the “Most Rated of All Time” on Steam Greenlight. I couldn’t have dreamed a better outcome. So regardless of whether or not the campaign succeeds, it’s a very positive thing in itself.

 

IGM – So if the game isn’t fully funded…is that it? Would Ghost of a Tale cease to exist?

Gallat - Yes, probably. Several people have asked me that same question recently. I’ve been working on Ghost of a Tale full-time for more than a year (that includes changing engines), funding everything from my own pocket. So if I can’t remain financially independent and get a modest budget to pay for a handful of collaborators I’ll have to pull the plug at some point. Although let me tell you in all honesty it would hurt like hell, since I love this project with all my soul; I’ve poured so much time, energy and love into it.

If the campaign isn’t successful I would still try to keep working on the project for as long as I could afford it. But at some point my savings will eventually run out. I’m not complaining though; it’s the risk I took so I’m the only one responsible.

I also have to be lucid on the fact that if there aren’t enough backers maybe it means that there simply aren’t enough people interested in a game like Ghost of a Tale. That’s what frightens me most.

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IGM – What are your thoughts on Kickstarter only accepting projects for the U.S. and the U.K.? And do you feel that Ghost of a Tale would have been more successful on Kickstarter?

Gallat - Indiegogo is more or less unknown in the US and has, I found out, not a nice reputation due to the fact that there isn’t much filtering at all and anyone can put up a shoddy excuse for a campaign. I understand that does not exactly elicit trust. On top of that it has at least 5 times less traffic than Kickstarter (or 10 times, depending on the source); “to kickstart something” has become a verb, like “to Google someone”. That’s just how much monopoly Kickstarter has today.

One of the most grating things is when I’m contacted by well-meaning persons asking me why I didn’t put the project on Kickstarter “because that’s the best site and no-one has heard of this weird Indiegogo”. And then I explain again that you have to be a US or UK citizen (or that your company has to be somehow registered there) to be able to use their services. Which, being a French citizen, I cannot.

So to answer your questions: I’m not happy about that. And neither are people from Canada, Spain, Italy, Germany, Sweden, New-Zealand etc… (basically the rest of the world). And yes, I think Ghost of a Tale would have been far more successful on Kickstarter, no doubts about it.

 

IGM – How has the overall reaction been, to Ghost of a Tale?

Gallat - The reactions are very positive (98% of them). I can’t quite follow everything that happens in relation to the project but overall people say nice things and react to the fact that it looks different from what you usually see. They pick up on influences (books, movies, games) and that really helps fire up their imagination. Of course there are always the 2% of extremely negative comments, but I just tend to ignore them when they do not seem to hold any constructive value.

In the end it is heartwarming to discover that so many people take a liking to your work and seem to actually “get it”. I feel very lucky so far that the contributors have offered good ideas and suggestions on what would be nice to implement. Usually when I work on a movie there is secrecy so no-one knows the details of what I’m working on. It’s only a year or two later that my friends and family get to see what I was working on at the time; but by then I have already moved on to another production and the delayed cycle starts again. This new way of interacting with the prospective players, almost in real-time is a new experience for me.

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Ghost of a Tale is currently seeking funding on IndieGoGo. With two weeks to go, the campaign still needs around 18,000€ to be successful.

Follow Lionel Gallat (aka “Seith”) on Twitter.

[Editor's Note: IGM reached out to Kickstarter about their inability to offer funding campaigns to projects outside of the United States and the United Kingdom. Their response: "As far as other countries go, stay tuned. If you've been waiting, we really appreciate your patience. We're working on it."]

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