Friday, January 10, 2014

There Ain’t No Money in Fanfic: Ghost Master

I brought Ghost Master with me on my vacation. It’s a 2003 computer game from Empire Interactive, but it’s one of those games that’s fun to come back to every once and again. In the game, you are the Ghost Master, and it’s your job to deploy various ghosts, imps, spirits, and elementals to haunt locales throughout the town of Gravenville, usually with the objective of sending all the humans on site screaming from the scene. The game looks a bit like the Sims, except you get to dump spiders on the people (if you’ve deployed Clatterclaws, a ghostly spider the size of a kitchen table).

You’re assigned some ghosts and in each haunting mission you have an opportunity to recruit two or three more spirits to your roster. These latter ghosts will introduce themselves to you and tell you what you need to do to free them up to your service. Sometimes it’s simple like getting a mortal to flush the toilet to free the trapped water elemental, other times it’s more complicated. Anyway, the ghosts each have different personalities and there’s some nice bits of voice acting.

"Please flush and remember to wash your hands afterwards."
The game ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, as if there was a sequel planned that never came to pass. Even an expansion pack with a handful of new ghosts and a couple of new locations would have been more than welcome, if for no other reason than the fact that you hardly get to use the ghosts you recruit in the later missions. (A bonus level was released that provided some closure, but it was only compatible with the British release of the game. According to Wikipedia, the bonus level is included in the downloads available from Steam and Good Old Games.)
As far as game play as the Ghost Master goes, sometimes your actions in Gravenville might be considered “good,” such as helping a little boy find his stuffed bunny or exposing a crooked cop to avenge an officer slain in the line of duty. Other times, such as setting your ghosts to rampage through a hospital, not so much. Basically, the supernatural world has its own agenda, and one aspect of that agenda throughout the game is to recruit a powerful supernatural creature known as the Darkling.
Since this is a fanfic post and since there is no hint that an official sequel is ever going to happen, here’s what I have in mind for Ghost Master 2: The Darkling Invasion.
The Plot: In the original Ghost Master, one of your goals is to free the Darkling. Since it happens in tha last scenario, you don’t really get to do much with it. But there’s another problem with the Darkling: it’s not one of ours. Look at it. It doesn’t look like any of the other haunters in the roster, not even Ghastly, who looks like he’s moonlighting from the first couple Hellraiser movies (the good ones). The Darkling is gigantic and looks like a full-fledged demon. That’s probably because it is. It eats souls for crying out loud. While your haunters may have set the odd mortal on fire for laughs,* they never actually ate anyone.
* Don’t worry, kids; it’s ectoplasmic flame. No (physical) scarring.

"Boo! I'm a ghost! Boo!"
Clive Barker: Call your agent.
Recruiting the Darkling was a mistake. Now it and all its demonic darkling friends are trying to take over Gravenville.
A lot of the missions will involve scaring humans out of a locale before the darklings get to them and otherwise prevent the Darkling from liberating more of its malevolent kin. (In this pitch, I’ll be referring to the Darkling from the original Ghost Master as “the Darkling.” The aforementioned “malevolent kin” will be referred to as “darklings.” They are all big and demonic-looking with their own power sets.)
Changes in Game Play: In Ghost Master, mortals have three attributes that the haunters can affect: Fear shown as a red bar, Sanity shown as a yellow bar, and Belief in the Supernatural shown as a blue bar. When the red bar is full, the mortal in question flees the scene. For example, appearing in front of a mortal and pulling your face off adds a lot to the red bar. When the yellow bar is full, the mortal goes insane and begin to run around randomly; they are immune to further scaring but for all intents and purposes are considered to have fled the scene as well. Having a bucket of spiders dumped on you adds fear and insanity, but running into your doppelganger who then pulls his face off is the Crazy Train Express. In most but not all instances, the blue bar is not much of a factor with regard to play; however, it may indicate how susceptible the mortal is to your supernatural shenanigans.
If a darkling gets a hold of a mortal, all three bars go gray, the darkling gets more plasm to fuel its unearthly powers, and that mortal is under the darkling’s control. Darklings will generally use their mortal slaves to bring more mortals to their master. More importantly, these mortals don’t scare, which means they don’t generate any plasm for your haunters. The more humans the darklings convert, the weaker you and your ghosts become.
One of the limitations in dealing with the Darkling and its kin is that haunters and darklings cannot affect each other directly. While you can set humans on fire for laughs and scares, you can’t do the same to the darklings. However, you can affect the environment. Use your various ghostly powers to move debris and/or fire to keep humans away from the darklings.
"Really, I'm just a ghost and am not involved in any kind of demonic invasion. Honest."
New Locales and Characters: With a new game, there should be new locales. Let’s have a high school, a spooky amusement park, some warehouses down by the docks, a modern office building with a secret high-tech R&D center, a nice country club, and a sketchy neighborhood complete with dive bars and dark alleys. A visit to the Darkling’s home dimension would make for an especially challenging finale.
More ghosts, of course. I want a scary clown, maybe some kind of howling beast-man, and a mad scientist ghost. Also, a demonic biker who shall not be referred to as “Ghost Rider.” Also, an undead creature called “Sparkles the Vampyre.”
The original Ghost Master game had a few wild cards among the mortal would-be victims: a medium, a priest, some amateur witches, and a trio of “ghost breakers” complete with proton packs. These guys had the power to detect and banish your ghosts if you weren’t careful. Here are some new wild cards:
·        John Heckburner is a paranormal investigator who hangs out in a bar in the sketchy part of town. He can banish ghosts and darklings and doesn’t scare easily, though he can be misled or distracted. He also drinks a bit too much.
·        Bunny the Slayer is a student at the high school. She will physically attack ghosts and darklings until they’re banished. She doesn’t scare easily either, but can be driven off with overwhelming force.
·        Billy Phantasm got caught in a mishap at the high-tech R&D center and can now change from an ordinary mortal to a hero with ghost powers. In his ghostly form, he is immune to attacks by haunters and darklings and is able to banish both with impunity. Luckily, he can only stay in this form for limited periods of time. The rest of the time, he’s vulnerable.
·        There are these four meddling teenagers and their dog—Frankie, Dana, Thelma, Shabby, and Scoopy Doo—who hang out at the amusement park. While they scare just as easily as other mortals (if not more easily), for some reason, the act as a natural ectoplasmic sink. Higher level ghost and darkling powers simply can’t be used while they’re on site. Even more frustratingly, although they can be separated, they can’t be driven away until the whole team is scared enough to leave. They seem to have some sort of history with one of the ghosts from the original game, Old Man Carter.
·        Finally, there’s Professor Weird, Master of Magic Powers. He tends to show up when a lot of magic is being used at a site. He’s immune to darkling and ghost powers and will banish anyone he sets his sights on. The best strategy is to turn your powers down and lay low until he goes away, though if you’re clever and careful, you can sic him on the darklings.
Finally, one important change to the original game: There was a poltergeist who was the combined spirits of all the chickens that had died in a poultry processing plant. Its name was Hard Boiled, but it should have been called Fluster Cluck. That is all.
"It's a chicken! A giant chicken!"

Follow-up: I just downloaded a version of Ghost Master from, which includes the game's spooky soundtrack by Paul Weir. It's great. Also, Ghost Master co-creator Chris Bateman has a blog that discusses Ghost Master's failures and successes and the unlikelihood of a sequel. It's interesting reading.

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