Ghost Pirates Of Vooju Island
This year’s release of The Secret Of Monkey Island Special Edition and Tales Of Monkey Island has been a real catalyst for the long-awaited point-and-click comeback and we’ve already seen a wealth of similar re-releases and revivals announced in their wake. LucasArts and Telltale have proved that there’s still money to be made from the once-dead genre and we’re bound to see a number of bandwagon jumpers as a result.
As much as it may look like a copycat release, however, Ghost Pirates Of Vooju Island is anything but. Written by Bill Tiller, the artist behind The Curse Of Monkey Island, Ghost Pirates is an adventure that actually started off as an idea for a proper Guybrush adventure all the way back in 1999. “Larry Ahern was relating to me how Tim Schafer wanted to do more adventure games but was annoyed how long they took,” explains Tiller. “The idea surfaced that maybe instead of one project leader doing one big adventure game you could have three project leaders doing one small adventure each. One project leader could do an adventure from Le Chuck’s perspective, another from Elaine's and again another one from Guybrush’s. It was a cool idea that never got off the ground, but the idea stuck in my head. After I left LucasArts, I still wanted to do a Monkey Island game but Jim Ward said Lucas would never do one again. So I started formulating my own game idea that didn't involve the Monkey Island licence.”
From there, Tiller’s concept evolved into a single epic adventure where the player controls and switches between three independent characters, much like the system used in Maniac Mansion and Day Of The Tentacle. The pirate theme stayed, but with one radical change… Each protagonist would begin the game dead. The three playable characters, ‘vooju’ priest Papa Doc, female pirate Jane Starling and the ship’s cook Blue Belly, all find themselves turned into ghosts when they are cursed by Doc’s spiteful ex-wife, and from there they must work together to regain control of their bodies.
Solving traditional adventure game puzzles is difficult enough at the best of times but is even harder when you’re a ghost, as the trio soon discover. None of the three can be seen or heard by the living and cannot move anything but very small objects, so they’ll have to manipulate the world around them in order to coerce the NPCs into performing helpful actions they wouldn’t normally do. “Ghosts suffer from all sorts of restrictions,” says Tiller. They won’t be able to cross anything covered in salt, for example. “On the other hand,” he adds, “they also have a lot of power, so, similar to A Vampyre Story, they have to learn all about their new powers and limitations”. The three ghosts all have the ability to psychically communicate with each other, which means that some puzzles can be solved by calling on the telepathic advice of a remote friend.
Despite being the second project from Tiller’s Autumn Moon Entertainment, Ghost Pirates already looks like the work of a veteran studio. Its ideas are fresh, original and interesting and the mixture of hand-drawn backgrounds with luminescent 3D characters gives it a style more attractive than any other adventure currently in production. And if you think the slightly dark tone of the visuals also indicates a move towards darker humour, then you’d be right. “It’s more serious than Monkey Island, but not too serious. It's more like the tone of Full Throttle, having a serious plot but with some funny events and lines thrown in to keep it light.”
With Ghost Pirates’ originally conceived as an episodic adventure, we have to ask why Autumn Moon hasn’t followed the Telltale method of delivery for its newest game. “I‘ve talked to many publishers about doing episodic adventures, and so far they all tell me they are not sure yet if that model is actually profitable,” Tiller explains. “So we would do them if a publisher wanted us to. And, to be clear: Telltale is a publisher and a developer, we are just a developer, which means we rely on deals with publishers for our money and marketing. Running a small development studio is all the responsibility I want right now. But if the right opportunity came up and under the right circumstances, I would consider it.”