Exclusive – Welcome to Boon Hill Project Creator Talks About His Graveyard Simulator

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gravestone03If you recall our most recent Kickstarter Spotlight you’re already aware that we’ve recently been following a wholly unique Kickstarter video game project called Welcome to Boon Hill. The project creator, Matthew Ritter was kind enough to tell me more about his motivations for creating gaming’s first graveyard simulator. From the time I’ve spent exchanging pleasantries with Matthew it isn’t hard to see that he’s a unique person with a very eclectic personality. Where many question the concept of a “graveyard simulator” I tend to almost immediately take interest. Unlike Matthew I haven’t spent much time in graveyards lurking about, but I do commute via mass transit and sometimes it’s hard NOT to wonder who all these silent people are that fill the rows of my 8:20 bus commute.


Dylan: Welcome to Boon Hill was inspired by the time you’ve spent in real grave yards. What is the most memorable epitaph you’ve ever read?

Matthew: It changes a lot. It’s hard to say what would be the most memorable one. Epitaphs aren’t actually all that common (at least not complex ones) in real graveyards. Mostly it just says someone’s name and the date they lived and died. Sometimes with a ‘in loving memory’ or ‘loving wife’ sort of deal. If there is anything more it is almost always religiously based in some way. I of course prefer the ones that have something more on them. Often it isn’t the epitaph itself (of which there are great ones) that really makes a grave memorable. Probably the most memorable grave I’ve seen in recent time I came upon, was a grave for a young child. Dangling from the tree over the grave were a bunch of dolls and toys. It was both creepy and a bit sad. The suggested story though of a life lived and the love of the family was powerful.

Dylan: Almost all of Boon Hill’ concept art consists of a single color that accentuates the character and scenery (ie the groundskeeper) The piece that initially drew my eye is of the character we’ll most likely be playing as with his hand on a headstone. Can you think of any reason you chose to colorize this piece with more detail than the others?

Matthew: The one that drew your eye was actually the first one. This was done before the whole single color thing had been started. As I think more monochrome looking stuff is pretty. So, that’s the reason he’s colored and everything else is more single tone.

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groundskeeperDylan: Boon Hill will consist of an estimated one thousand gravestones, where will your inspiration for producing that many epitaphs come from?

Matthew: Real epitaphs, real people, fake people, everything and everywhere. We’ve made a timeline of the town of Boon Hill and the epitaphs will hopefully give a sense of time and history. Following this place as it develops. Changing in tone depending on where in the graveyard you are.

Dylan: How successful did you initially think your Kickstarter would be? 

Matthew: Not as successful as it was/is. It’s a strange game idea, that might not even be able to be described as a game. Admittedly, I was expecting to be laughed off the internet. To me though, the response has been overwhelming. Some people try and tell me that there are tons of other kickstarters and other crowd funding projects making so much more money than mine. Which is great for them. For the idea I have and the game I’m trying to make? The amounts I’m getting are amazing. I can’t thank enough everyone who’s supported it so far, and those that will support it in the future. Complete strangers who I can’t pester constantly thinking my idea is good enough to back with real money.

Dylan: Boon Hill will give players a means of igniting their imaginations, and the freedom to fill in the blanks. This concept has been little explored as of recent in mainstream gaming. What is your favorite use of subtext or inferred story in video games? 

Matthew: As far as subtext in games go. It’s hard. A lot of stuff has been about the nature of free will. Which makes sense given the nature of games. You’re playing on rails even if the game maker is trying to pretend you’re not, so going in depth into the nature of control and if the character in the game (And in many ways the player) has free will is a natural progression of that. As for subtext not being that explored in games, there’s always been some. It’s often harder of course because the player’s POV outside of cut scenes is often not controllable. The game maker has to balance the idea of subtext with the fear of a plot element or a good concept being missed. Props have been seeing a lot more use. There are entire games coming out about exploring and playing with props. The kind of things in someone’s room can really paint who they are. It’s always been around, but has been getting a lot more subtle these days. Also, things like costume design have been slowly moving from ‘this looks cool’ to an attempt to tell a story of why a character dresses like that. I find things along these lines really fascinating.

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Dylan: Do you think that due to it’s contemplative and implied nature that Boon Hill is more like an art piece than a typical gaming experience?

Matthew: I think it’s more like an art piece because of its lack of a strict end game goal. Even the most artsy games I’ve played all have places your going. The only ones that don’t are mostly old school open world games, and even a lot of them have specific places you really want to be. The idea of a game that has nothing to gain or ‘win’ is very strange. I’m drawn to the idea because I often feel that having things to gain or win, goals you have to achieve, lock the player in a very specific mindset and it might be possible for some really interesting experiences if that mindset is specifically not locked in. Or, it might just be boring. We’ll have to see won’t we!

Dylan: Tell us a bit about yourself, what kind of experience or education prepared you for your career as a game developer?

Matthew: This one is always a hard one. Living? Classes on programming, art, writing. Writing, drawing, programming. Going on hikes. Taking Italian sword fighting fencing classes. Being mugged on the streets of new york. Having spent time in Japan, Germany, Canada. Everything prepares you for everything. You never know if you’re ready for something until you try. If you fail, at least you’ve probably got a bunch of experience for next time.

Dylan: How many people are contributing to Welcome to Boon Hill? 

Matthew: The core team is four people. Me, a sound guy, a programmer, and an artist. Other people might be brought in, but the core team is four people. If anyone wants to read about them they each have a bio up in the Kickstarter’s updates. They’re each incredibly talented. If i could do it all myself, trust me I would. I can’t. So they are special wonderful people.

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Dylan: What will inspire the personalities of your unique NPC characters?

Matthew: Considering the setting, most of the NPCs will be very normal people with a layer of sadness. As they will be mourners. People take on a vrey specific vibe when they go to visit a grave of someone they love. While I’ll be attempting to keep things interesting, it isn’t to likely the player will run into a bunch of hyper vibrant funny characters full of jokes. Though, all kinds hang out in graveyards.

Dylan: Is Boon Hill actually haunted? 

Matthew: All graveyards are haunted. That’s the whole point, a place for memories of the dead to affect the living.

Dylan: Your succeeding with a very unique idea, the project is already funded. Do you think that’s indicative of the overall state of the games industry? 

Matthew:  The most enthusiastic responses I’ve gotten have been from young people, 9-14, and game journalists and game makers. I don’t know why younger people seem to like the idea, my 9 year old brain would have thought this was stupid. As for game journalists and game makers, it sounds different. If you immerse yourself in gaming and gaming theory, something different is always interesting. I just have to make sure it ends up being good.

It’s safe to say Matthew has a very unique vision of the world around him. Welcome to Boon Hill’s characters, epitaphs and moody environment only reinforce that notion. Players won’t have anything threatening the livelihood of their character or time limits to worry about, they’ll have the freedom to let their minds do the work for once. I think that’s the singular selling point of Boon Hill. Matthew, and by extension the players of Welcome to Boon Hill will be thinking outside the box in an industry constantly constrained by rails. For a better look at the project head over to Welcome to Boon Hill’s Kickstarter Page. Thanks for joining us everyone!


Welcome to Boon Hill -- Kicktraq Mini

 

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Dylan Zellmer

Dylan splits time between games journalism, designing video games, and playing them. Outside of his deep involvement in the games industry, he enjoys It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Shameless, A Song of Ice and Fire, fitness, and family.
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