Ghosts Will Be Unlike Anything You’ve Played Before
I recently got to sit down with Jed Shepherd, writer and producer of last year’s hit found footage film Host to talk about his game Ghosts, which is currently running a Kickstarter campaign that just smashed it’s funding goal. We talked about Host, Ghosts, and how Ghosts will be something you’ve never seen before. Host blindsided most of us. July 31st, just 4 months after the pandemic kicked off in the U.S. in earnest, Host showed us the future of horror where even our seances are on Zoom.
The use of technology in Host is organic. Instead of being a movie about Zoom, it’s a movie within Zoom. The tech isn’t taking center stage, and the movie is even better for it. Shepherd is a fan of horror in all it’s forms, and describes himself as “protective” of horror. He wants to make something that he, as a horror fan would watch. He gathered up some of his good friends, and made a movie. Down to the costume department and stuntmen, they were all friends of Shepherd. It was not a big production, and Shepherd has called it “lightning in a bottle”. “It has 100% on RottenTomatoes”, he says, “It’s just us and Paddington 2“. He is still coming terms with the success of Host, and it’s explosion of popularity blew him away.
Enter Ghosts; an ambitious game project that aims to bring a new level of fear to your PC and consoles. When asked about the stress of following up such a huge hit, Shepherd stays grounded: “I really take things in my stride. I am so confident with this project and the people involved. Because I’m making it with my friends. It’s the exact same people as host. The makeup, the stunts, even the same cast. I don’t think there has been a horror game where you’ve taken the cast of the biggest horror movie of the year and transferred them to a game. Because I have great people around me, I don’t feel any stress whatsoever.” Shepherd does in fact come off as completely relaxed, with a friendly and chipper demeanor.
Ghosts is a real time, live action horror game where you play as a producer on a low-budget horror show. Drawing inspiration from UK horror standby Most Haunted, Shepherd wants to know what would happen if something paranormal actually happened in a reality ghost shows. He’s been teasing his antagonist, “The Long Lady” on his social media pages for a long time now, and as for his goal, he says, “I wanted to create a horror antagonist that was timeless. I always think there are very few antagonists that are enigmatic, layered, and scary.” The Long Lady, designed by well-known spooky artist Trevor Henderson in conjunction with Jim Henson’s Creature Workshop, is Shepherd’s timeless antagonist.
An interesting feature teased by Shepherd is a 10 p.m. time lock on the game. He fully intends you to play it at 10 p.m., and isn’t afraid to put a time lock on the game to achieve this goal. “At 10 p.m. you have to start playing, because the game is time locked to 10 p.m. which is I guess a controversial move because people assume once you buy a game you can play it any time you want. but I always think “whats the fun in that?” If you really want to be immersed into a game, and your job is to be the producer of a live TV show. You need to treat the game as life or death. At 10 the game starts, and you see that theme of the live show you’re doing and you’re in the game.” This in-studio premiere structure struck me as being a lot like Ghostwatch, the classic UK live broadcast that shocked the nation. “We took massive inspiration from Ghostwatch for Host. Ghostwatch creator Stephen Volk called Host “The new Ghostwatch“. It’s a massive inspiration, and there are some Ghostwatch nods in this.”
“It’s 10 p.m. every night, and they can play the game for as long as they…survive. You’re the producer first and foremost. You have to keep it entertaining, You can see the audience numbers. You have to go to advert break because this network needs money. you have a bank of trailers and adverts to play, and as the game goes on, they become more sinister. All the while you have to look out for the long lady…you can’t look away from the screen. you have too much to do, there is no pause. It’s your job to keep an eye on everything. You need to get your snacks ready, get you water ready, turn out the lights, get your headphones on because you’re in the game.” This all sounds absolutely terrifying, as a lot of my attention when playing games can be easily diverted by things like chips and life.
The guerilla marketing tactics used by Shepherd to tease The Long Lady, and other features coming to Ghosts, is influenced by the marketing of Host, with Shepherd stating, “When you say marketing. It’s just me. We have no marketing budget. I’m just doing stuff that I feel is cool, and that I wanna see.”. Eschewing a normal marketing plan, Shepherd instead wants to do it his way. With coordinated leaks, social media posts, and hints dropped in interviews (maybe even this one) Shepherd paints a picture of a pretty far- reaching marketing campaign for one man. “It’ll bear fruits in the months to come”, he explains cryptically. “The wool is firmly over the eyes of a lot of people right now.”. When pushed for an explanation or hint, Shepherd remains coy. “I mean, that’s to be discovered in the coming months. I can say, contributing to the Kickstarter will make your game experience different than those who buy at release. i like blurring the lines between reality and fiction, and i guess that’s what I can say. if you contribute to the kickstarter, the lines between fact and fiction will be a little bit thinner than it would be for people who buy it outside the Kickstarter. That’s all i can say about that.”
Shepherd truly seems like a one man show when you’re talking to him. When asked about how game companies reacted to his pitch for Ghosts, he brushes it off, “Like I say, it’s just me. I didn’t go to anyone. I decided one day to do this. There is no one, there’s not studio helping me do it. It’s just me. I have no one to answer to.” His dedication to his project is contagious. He embodies the spirit of indie. He wanted to make a horror movie, so he made Host. He wants to do a horror game, so he’s doing Ghosts. He isn’t requesting a boss or someone to look over his work. He believes his work will stand on it’s own. All he’s asking is for a bit of help to fund his vision, and if any of this interests you, you can do so here.
Near the end of our conversation, Shepherd dropped an absolute bomb on us that I wasn’t expecting. I figured he was all-in, tunnel-vision on Ghosts, but in his words; “I’ve already lined up the next game. I can say that, I haven’t told anyone that. I’m not allowed to say what it is, but its a very big game. Very big.”