Ooooh have we got a treat for you here! The 7th Guest spooked and charmed us in equal measure, so much so that we simply had to podcast with its chief scriptwriter Matthew Costello back in April this year. What’s that you want? A 7th Guest fan game? Er, let us duly oblige! Adrian tracked down Ryan HoltKamp, the producer of the fine looking “The 13th Doll”, developed by fans all over the world, to answer just a few more questions for us about the impending return to the Stauf mansion…
What experience have you had making video games and what projects have you worked on before the 13th Doll?
I’ve worked on a couple small mobile games, and I taught/mentored a student group at my local University. Other members of the team have worked on a couple small projects too, But by far, The 13th Doll is our first major project. We’re pretty excited to be nearly finished with it and put it out into the world.
Can you give our readers a quick breakdown of the team behind the 13th Doll and what initially inspired you to work on this much anticipated game?
Well, our inspiration is definitely The 7th Guest! We’re all huge fans; it’s a game that truly inspired us when we were younger. When I first graduated college, I started working on gaming projects. I’d initially planned a game in the same spirit of The 7th Guest, and planned to call it The 13th Doll. Then I found out about fan games, and decided to put the game in the Stauf universe. I found some other fans of the game, who were all sort of in the same position in life as me. Young, with just enough technical know-how to be dangerous, and eager to put that to use somewhere.
Several iterations later, our team is about 5-8 people at any given time. I’m sort of a jack of all trades, we’ve got another programmer, an artist, a filmmaker doing all the filming and editing, a composer, and another guy doing press and marketing. Then, as needed, we hire freelance artists.
We’re a pretty diverse group, with members all across The United States, Europe and Japan. We talk weekly on Skype, but most of us have never met each other!
You mentioned it there, The 13th Doll is clearly closely linked to the excellent 7th Guest and 11th Hour games. Can you remember the first time you played these games and why do you think they are still so well respected today?
Every once in a while, I watch a film, show, or play a game, and think, if it just had a little more of X, Y, Z, it would have been a classic. Well, 7th Guest was a game that got all the X, Y, Z right. It was the perfect balance of horror, comedy, intrigue, and cheesy B movie gloriosity.
At the time, I remember being scared as hell playing it at night when everyone else had gone to bed. There was a point where I got stuck in the maze, and I just got so freaked out that I turned it off! At the time, there wasn’t anything like it! Aside from a game like Mario, where you get a sort of adrenaline kick when you juuuust barely make that jump, I’d never truly felt any emotion from a game before. So, to me, The 7th Guest was not only a game, but a testament to what a game could be.
We recently had the pleasure of talking to the 7th Guest’s chief storywriter Matt Costello. Is it true that he helped pitch a few ideas for your game and what are your personal views on the story and lasting legacy the 7th Guest bought to the video game industry?
Oh, not to me personally, but I bet others on the team have chatted with him. He’s a pretty cool guy, and obviously a brilliant writer with a humbling resume of games he’s worked on. It’s cool to see him supportive of our stuff!
I think what’s so brilliant about The 7th Guest’s story is that it’s so abstract – things happen, sometimes out of order, and sometimes even contradictory to other scenes. When we sat down to write The 13th Doll, we really had to sort of break down the old games to figure out what actually happened! The whole thing is a bit open to interpretation, and fortunately, Matt’s written The 7th Guest novel so we could get some insight into the story.
But I think largely, we can all identify with the characters in The 7th Guest. Superficially, they all seem fine, tho a little eccentric maybe. But behind the curtain, they were all very broken characters, who were all aching for something that was missing in their lives. I think, at some level, that really just sings to the human condition, where all of us are striving for something, whether it be connecting with other people, bettering ourselves, or just achieving or acquiring something. It’s interesting to watch these character face the same sort of problem, and the depths they go to achieve their dreams – lies, deception, murder, etc.
The 13th Doll looks incredible and still seems to stay faithful to the original games style. How did you aim to give the game a fresh look while still capturing the haunted look and feel of the classic games?
Thank you! We’ve put a ton of work into making the game look and feel like the originals. First and foremost, we are fans of The 7th Guest, and we really loved the look and mood the mansion lends to the universe.
Probably the biggest difference in our game and the original is that The 13th Doll is a real-time 3D game – you can look in any direction, where the tech of the time restricted the original games to pre-rendered views. It really lends our game a better sense of realism, and immerses you in the environment much more. Beyond that, we lit the environments in a different way. Many of them are darker overall, with intense lights that don’t shine very far to set the mood and make the shadows darker and more unsettling.
Can you share to our readers a quick summary of the games story and how it fits into the original series?
The 13th Doll picks up right at the end of The 7th Guest. Tad, from the original game, is now housed in an insane asylum after being traumatized from the events of The 7th Guest. There, he’s still haunted by ghosts and demons from his past, and has no way out, until a new doctor arrives at the facility. The idealistic doctor is naive to the perils of Stauf’s legacy, and decides that a ‘cathartic’ visit to the mansion might absolve Tad of his demons. Of course, things go awry, and the two are separated as they individually solve Stauf’s puzzles, and unlock the mysteries of the 13th Doll.
What are Rob Landeros’ and Graeme Devine’s views on the 13th Doll and were they ever involved in the creation of this game?
I haven’t talked to Graeme, but he backed us on the Kickstarter, so I guess he approves! He’s a hero of mine, so it’s a little intimidating seeing his name in the list of backers! I read a story where, as a teenager, he got in trouble for missing school while he worked on a port of Pole Position. To nerds like me, that’s the epitome of cool.
Rob’s a cool guy; obviously, he licensed the game to us, so he approves! To him, I think it’s like they say: imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I think he really appreciates that we’re big enough fans to pay homage to something he and Graeme created.
Rob’s always been supportive of us – we used to have a guy on our team who was probably THE biggest 7th Guest fan in history. He’d ping Rob for advice whenever we got stuck on something, to see how they did it on The 7th Guest. Beyond that though, The 13th Doll is essentially our game. It’s not cannon, and it’s not an official sequel, but is sanctioned by Rob and Trilobyte. Hopefully we’re the impetus for fans to come out of the woodwork and support an official sequel from Trilobyte.
Do you have a personal favourite puzzle in both the 7th Guest and 11th Hour games?
It definitely has to be the Cake puzzle in the dining room. “Two Stones, two skulls; the rest is just icing” – such an iconic line. I guess I have to admit I’m a bit of a sadist and actually LIKE the microscope puzzle, which is difficult enough to elicit many a groan of disdain from most fans.
I honestly haven’t played The 11th Hour in a while! I do remember liking the train puzzle though.
What sort of puzzles can we expect to see in the 13th Doll and do you think they fit the mold of the classic titles?
We’ve got a pretty big variety, 28 total. All are puzzles of our own design , tho some have obvious nods to the original games – we’ve got a cake puzzle for instance.
I think we really strove to find a good balance of puzzles – we’ve got the standard stuff, card games, chess puzzles, wordplay puzzles, that sort of thing. But there’s also some unique designs – floating eyeballs in the bathtub with color coded veins to indicate distances between each other on the board. Another has a series of weighted marbles that have to be placed on scales to balance equally.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Stauf game without some tricky AI puzzles also, so we’ve got three of those in the game as well.
It’s great that you got Robert Hirschboeck to reprise his role as Henry Stauf. What was it like working with him and the other actors in your game?
Honestly, it was one of best times in my life; it was a pretty grueling schedule tho. We shot over 80 hours of footage in 10 days. Even before that, we’d struggled to find a writer, and facing a strict filming deadline, we had to have the script and dialogue ready by the filming start date. We hired three people to take our script and flesh it out, but each one sort of balked, and just ate up our time. Finally, I just took it over and started writing. We had two scripts (one for each playable character). I finished one on Tuesday, the next one Wednesday, and we started shooting on Thursday! So the whole thing was a bit of a whirlwind. Creatively tho, I think it was actually beneficial to do it that way, which is sort of odd to say now.
Rob Hirschboeck was amazing. He’s a true professional – he’s had a tremendous career in theater, and it shows. He just commands the stage – it’s absolutely mesmerizing. The 7th Guest would not have been such a classic without him, and when you see his acting in person, it’s pretty clear why. The thought of meeting him, being a good host, etc, was intimidating, but Rob is a super nice guy, totally down to earth, and was a great mentor to all of the other actors. He brought a gung-ho sort of ‘rally the troops’ atmosphere, and it made the whole experience that much better.
If you were ever stuck in the famous Stauf mansion, how well do you think you would cope and do you think you would be able to get out alive?
I think I’d be the stereotypical buddy character – the one that everyone gets along with, but dies first, and most tragically. I doubt I’d last long!
Where would be the best place to learn more about the 13th Doll?
What exactly does The 13th Doll actually mean? Plus why do you think dolls are now viewed as quite scary and often found in horror films?
I was at a hip sort of thrift store in Chicago that sold vintage dolls – I bought one for us to film for The 13th Doll. The next morning, I set it up on my couch to take some photos to share on the website. I ran upstairs to get a lamp for better lighting. All of a sudden, I hear this bloodcurdling scream, and dash downstairs. The doll, just sitting there on a couch, had scared the crap out of my daughter.
I can’t describe what exactly it is, but dolls just inherently have this creepy thing about them. I mean, just sitting there, the thing is terrifying. For a while I was even afraid to take it out of the box!
As far as our game goes, The 13th Doll is somewhat ambiguous. To our main character, Tad, it symoblizes that he’s still stuck, at least emotionally/mentally, in Stauf’s mansion. It mesmerizes him, haunts him, and is a constant reminder of a sort of survivor’s guilt. He made it out of the mansion, but left many others behind, still trapped in the mansion.
Do you have any early ideas for a sequel to The 13th Doll or any other projects you may work on in the future?
We’ve got a ton of ideas; just no time to get to them until The 13th Doll is complete! It’s sort of a double edged sword to work on a game in a universe/franchise we didn’t create. The 13th Doll is very much our game, but at some level, it doesn’t always feel like our own. So, I think we’re excited to put it out into the world, but do our own thing as a followup. Logically, I think we plan to do something in the same sort of wheelhouse as 7th Guest, though that’s fairly broad – it’s a horror/puzzle/FMV/adventure game and there’s a lot of directions to go within that spectrum. I really enjoyed filming the game, so i think we’d like to incorporate FMV too, if possible.
If you could share a few drinks with a video game character who would it be and why?
Wow, that’s a good question… It’d be cheating to say Marty McFly, right? I think it would probably be someone from a Telltale game. Clementine from the Walking Dead, if she was older? Though in that universe, any beer left would be flat and warm. Maybe Bigby Wolf – I imagine he’s got some good stories to tell. Plus, if a bar fight breaks out, you wouldn’t have to leave your barstool.