A Ghost in the Machine

Game Design (1995-96)


A Ghost in the Machine (aka "Ghost") was perhaps the largest design I was ever party to. Started by Mike Kennedy at Presage Software, Ghost would eventually swell to attract the personal interest of Steven Spielberg at Dreamworks. After a two-year-long journey through the height of Siliwood that consumed a million dollars, two full design teams and three producers, Ghost was to end its rough-and-tumble life with a final cancellation.

My involvement with Ghost began after the principal members of the first design team (including Mike Kennedy) departed from Presage. I was brought in as the primary designer on a new team of designers and artists, to fuel it with new direction and "make something happen". I flew down to Amblin in Hollywood and hung out in Spielberg's office, played with his 3 foot high T-Rex model, and talked with Bryce Zabel, the Hollywood writer who was to go on to make "Dark Skies". Shifts in Dreamwork's staff had convinced them that our new direction needed more Hollywood involvement, so it fell to me to integrate the new story provided by Bryce, the new interface and elements desired by the Dreamworks producers, and the desires of management at Presage.

Despite my best efforts, there was no effective way to fuse the widely disparate visions of the three groups. Presage continued to hire and lose staff, as did Dreamworks, every new player bringing a new vision to the table. Design by committee is never a good thing, sadly, all of us would walk away unsatisfied by what Ghost became.

Halfway through 1996, Ghost's funding was cut off, Dreamworks walked away, and the project that we had known as Ghost came to an end. Others were to eventually pick up the torch, but it never again flared as bright.

What follows are a variety of "snapshots" from different portions of the design. They are illustrative of what is involved with the creation and documentation of a game design, without revealing anything meaningful about the specifics of the game itself. I'm not even sure who owns the design now, whether it is Presage, Dreamworks or Mike Kennedy - I suppose there were enough versions of the game design that each could own one or two variations and be happy.


Original Design Intent

Description: This pair of paragraphs describing Ghost from the highest level was the germ that seized the imagination of all who came into contact with the design.

Game Flow

Description: A flowchart breakdown of player progression through the game.

Animal Tests

Description: A piece of backgrounder material designed to flesh out the authenticity of the Ghost's universe, written by yours truly.

Human Tests

Description: A piece of backgrounder material designed to flesh out the authenticity of the Ghost's universe, written by yours truly.

Threshold Example

Description: This piece of the final design shows just how tragically far the game had migrated from its starting vision, to the point where people were saying "Well, Myst wouldn't have done it that way..."



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