Adventure-Treff: Hello Lorelei, thanks as lot for taking some time for us, it’s a pleasure to welcome you here on Adventure-Treff. Please introduce yourself to our audience and give us an idea of yourself and your interests and activities.
Lorelei Shannon: Hi Ingmar! I’m a writer, editor, sculptor, and former game designer for Sierra On-Line. I’m the mother of two fine boys, one 15, and one 11. They’re both hardcore gamers. My husband, Dan Carver, is in the gaming industry too!
A-T: In the beginning I’d like you to tell us how you got hired at Sierra and how you remember your early days at the company.
Lorelei: Well, my husband got hired by Sierra as a programmer when we were living in Phoenix, Arizona. (Not all people from Arizona are insane and/or carry guns, just so you know.) We moved up to Oakhurst, and found it absolutely beautiful. I looked around town for a job. I figured I’d be working at a grocery store, but one day Daniel (the husband) came home and told me that Sierra was looking for a writer for their in-house magazine, InterAction. I’d been a fiction writer for quite some time by then, and I’d done some writing and editing at Flying Buffalo, where my husband and I worked in Arizona. I applied, and got the job.
I worked on the magazine for close to a year. It was a lot of fun—I spent a lot of time playing games and writing about them. Then a spot on the design team opened up. I applied, and was accepted. I was thrilled!
A-T: Please give us an overview of the next years at Sierra and how you worked your way up until the point where you were allowed to do your own game (Phantasmagoria II).
Lorelei: I started out just writing dialog for various games, including Police Quest and Dagger of Amon Ra. Eventually I got to do some design work on Pepper’s Adventures in Time. I had just completed my work on Pepper’s when my husband got a job at Microsoft and we moved to Seattle.
I was sorry to leave Sierra, but delighted when they opened an office in Seattle a few months later. Roberta approached me to work with her on King’s Quest VII. After successfully co-designing the game, I was given my own project, Phantasmagoria 2.
A-T: Give us an idea of your involvement in the Laura Bow sequel Dagger of Amon Ra. You’ve been working together with Josh Mandel closely on this game. Who was responsible for what and how was your experience working on that game? Please share some of your memories and anecdotes of that time.
Lorelei: I mostly just wrote dialog for Dagger of Amon Ra. The game designer on that project was Bruce Balfour. I got to work with Bruce on dialog and occasional brainstorming. He’s a funny, sweet guy.
Josh Mandel was my direct supervisor at the time, and he pitched in to work on dialog as well. The three of us had some very late nights, fuelled by Dr. Pepper, working together on the game.
Josh was a great boss. He’s incredibly funny and witty. We all loved him. He used to tell us these hilarious, gruesome “bedtime stories” that ended with “But it was too late, because they were all dead!” Well, I guess you had to be there…;)
A-T: The Dagger of Amon Ra lets the player do some weird things with the dead bodies. Was it Josh or you who wrote these gruesome but fascinating bits?
Lorelei: I would love to take credit for it, but those bits were designed by either Bruce or Josh. They both have demented senses of humor.
A-T: Another big game you’ve been working on for Sierra was the seventh part of King’s Quest where you probably took over a similar role like Jane Jensen in the predecessor. What exactly was your job on the game and how did you get along working with Roberta Williams? Please share some memories and anecdotes from the creation of the game.
Lorelei: I was co-designer on the game. Basically, Roberta and I would sit across from each other at her kitchen table, brainstorm, and write out the design longhand. Then I would go home and put our work into my computer. (Those were the days when most people didn’t have laptops, because they were big and expensive.)
Working with Roberta was a lot of fun. We cracked each other up a lot. Sometimes Ken would come home and we’d be laughing about something like a couple of lunatics. He’d just roll his eyes!
She really is an excellent designer. She has a way of seeing the game as a big picture, and connecting up the various sections with puzzles. Roberta did more of the puzzles than I did. I wrote most of the dialog. We created the story together.
A lot of the team was still in Oakhurst, including art director Andy Hoyos. I made several trips back to Oakhurst to work with the team. I was staying in this slightly scary hotel that smelled like smoke and fried eggs. You had to hit the TV on top with your fist before it would work. But I was glad to be back.
One of my favourite experiences was directing the voice actors. I got to cast them, and then I went to Los Angeles for three days to direct them. That was an amazing experience. Voice actors astonish me. Most of them are incredibly versatile. They were all great people too—easy to work with and fun-loving.
Roberta and I were very proud of how the game turned out.
A-T: Now let’s move on to Phantasmagoria II. When the first game came out, everyone associated it with Roberta Williams. How was the idea born that somebody else would take over the leading role in the development of the “sequel”? Please share the story how you got involved and let us know your thoughts about it at the time. In addition: What was your opinion of the first game?
Lorelei: Roberta had fun with the first game, but horror wasn’t her primary genre. She wasn’t particularly interested in spearheading the franchise.
A number of different designers wrote proposals for a potential Phantasmagoria II. One involved cannibal hillbillies, which would have been fun! My proposal was more urban horror, as a counterpoint to the original, which was a traditional haunted house story.
I like the fact that the first game is so rooted in traditional horror. I think games like Phantasmagoria were sort of a launching point for later games like Silent Hill.
A-T:Despite of being horror games, Phantasmagoria 1 and 2 differed a lot, representing very different types of horror games. What was your approach to a new Phantasmagoria and was it your initial thought that the second part should be very different than the first game?
Lorelei: Yes, I thought the second instalment should be very different, with a completely different cast of characters. For one thing, the horror genre of movies is notorious for making bad sequels. I didn’t want anybody thinking we were just making a knockoff of the first game. I wanted to set PH2 apart.
Also, there’s only so far you can go with a haunted house setting. A second haunted house wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting, in my opinion, as exploring a whole new aspect of horror.
A-T: Please share some anecdotes and personal memories from the creation of Phantasmagoria II: A Puzzle of Flesh.
Lorelei: Shooting days were long and tiring, but I think we all had a lot of fun. We had a very young, nearly all-male crew, and their conversations got a little, well, salty. To put it another way, they all cursed like sailors. Luckily, I do too, so it was a perfect match.
The actors were all very talented and very forbearing. We asked a lot of them, sometimes physically, and there was very little complaining. Even when we suspended Curtis from the ceiling! Okay, he wasn’t really hanging from the ceiling. He was hanging from a very large scissors lift that was just behind the wall of the set. They’d crank him up above the bed during takes, then set him back down in between. That was pretty funny.
We had an extremely talented special effects man. All of our gore was achieved with practical effects—fake blood and latex. (Computer generated gore was pretty rare at that time.) I think it came out quite well. The Hecatomb wore a latex costume as well. I think he did a great job—he never made me think “guy in a rubber suit.”
A lot of fun and funny moments happened when people were wearing heavy make-up, or we were filming a special effect. It was kind of funny to see an actor getting himself a cup of coffee and a donut with a two-foot gash in his abdomen. (Well, funny in a morbid sort of way.)
Our effects guy spent a lot of time working on the “head smashed by a sledge hammer” effect. He worked for hours on that head. When it was time to actually smash it, we all held our breath. If it hadn’t gone well, that would have put us behind schedule. Well, the head exploded beautifully, but we had to be quiet because the cameras were rolling. As soon as Andy yelled “Cut!” we all cheered and hollered.
The cast and crew all got along well, and I’m still friends with a number of people from the production. It was a great experience.
A-T: The last level of Phantasmagoria II is very different from the rest of the game. What led to the choice of making that game so different and were you happy with the way it fit in with the rest of the game?
Lorelei: The last level of the game was always meant to be an alien world. Unfortunately, due to budget concerns, it was shorter and less detailed than we had originally meant it to be. I don’t think the final product does fit in with the rest of the game particularly well, but it wasn’t our artists’ fault. They weren’t given much time or budget to work with.
A-T: Phantasmagoria II was the only FMV game you have ever been involved in. What are your general thoughts on FMV? Obviously, there have been tons of crappy FMV games that did a lot of damage to the medium while a few others (like your game or Gabriel Knight II and Tex Murphy) have proven how much potential this medium had when it comes to interactive storytelling. Would you agree that FMV has been dismissed too early, despite its enormous potential?
Lorelei: Yes, I think FMV was dismissed much too early. I think it could still make a comeback. Movies like “300,” where the entire environment is computer generated but human actors are featured, make me think there is a lot of potential for FMV games. Unfortunately, now I think it’s actually less expensive to fully animate characters than it is to pay actors, so we may never see it.
A-T: Mature adventure games are very, very rare. Phantasmagoria II, however, featured quite some gore and sexual themes and is quite exceptional in this regard until this day. Knowing the story of the trouble that Jane Jensen had with the first Gabriel Knight game because of its dark and mature themes, I’d be very interested in hearing if there were any people at Sierra who had a problem with were you were taking adventure games or if you could pretty much just do whatever you wanted to.
Lorelei: Oh, sure, there were people at the company who didn’t like what we were doing. But most of them opted not to work on the game. They knew the first Phantasmagoria had mature themes, and we were planning to go even farther with the second game, and they stayed clear of the production. But because Ken and Roberta were behind us, we didn’t really run into any trouble with anybody.
A-T: Speaking of mature adventure games: A lot of adventure games being released today are rather cartoonish and funny while there is no kind of offer for a mature audience at all. Do you think that there might come a time when that might change and this medium will finally grow up delivering more intense experiences for adults – following the path that you have taken quite some years ago?
Lorelei: Oh, I think so. There are plenty of dark games out there. I’d love to see games that aren’t just dark, they’re challenging and complex. There’s plenty of room in the industry for adult-oriented entertainment that isn’t just going for the gross-out.
A-T: Do you still follow what’s going on in the adventure world? If you do, I’d be very interested in your thoughts on the current situation of the adventure game genre.
Lorelei: I think adventure games are creeping back into Western culture, in the form of hybrid action or puzzle games. (They’ve never lost popularity in Asia, and “interactive novels” and other RPGs are big sellers over there.) I like games like the Silent Hill series, that combine action, role playing, and puzzle solving. Red Dead Redemption is another interesting example of the hybrid game. It definitely has more plot elements than a lot of people are used to seeing. I hope that trend continues. I like my games with a story!
A-T: Please tell us about your final days at Sierra now. When exactly did you leave under what circumstances? And what was the vibe of the time at Sierra?
A-T: I left in 1996, before the birth of my first son, and before PH2 shipped. Sadly, I didn’t leave under the best of circumstances. Legally, I can’t discuss it. But Sierra wasn’t the best place to work at the time, for a number of reasons.
A-T: Obviously, you are a big horror movie fan and people who want to find out more about your interest in the subject find a lot of interesting information on your website. What are the best horror movies of all time from your perspective and please also tell us the reason for your choices.
A-T: Oh wow — there are so many horror movies I love. One of my absolute favourite American films, a classic I’d recommend to everybody, is “The Haunting” (1963). Based on Shirley Jackson’s wonderful novel, The Haunting of Hill House, this is one of the most atmospheric and scary horror movies ever.
Obviously, I like gore, but “The Haunting” is proof that a movie doesn’t need gore (or even colour) to be scary.
A-T: You have a lot of knowledge when it comes to rather unknown and obscure horror movies. Do you have any insider tips on not so well known film from the recent past that we should definitely check out?
A-T: Some of my more recent favourites:
The Abandoned (2006)
Behind the Mask, The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
The Hills Run Red (2009)
The Midnight Meat Train (2008)
Mulberry Street (2006)
Plague Town (2008)
Session 9 (2001)
Someone’s Knocking at the Door (2009)
Wake Wood (2010)
A-T: The last century was the century of big horror legends like Peter Cushing, Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. If you had to do a ranking, what would it look like and who is your favorite horror legend of all time for what reason?
Lorelei: I love classic horror, and all of the actors you mentioned above. I have a particular soft spot for Vincent Price. My younger son’s name is Orion Vincent Carver, after you-know-who. I love all of his movies, from his days as a leading man, through the wonderful /Roger Corman / Edgar Allan Poe movies and horror comedies like “The Raven” and “Theatre of Blood,” to the work he did toward the end of his life.
Which isn’t to say that I don’t love everybody else on the list! Christopher Lee is an amazing actor, and he has an amazing body of work in addition to his beloved Dracula movies. I was lucky enough to meet him once! And of course, you can’t talk about Christopher Lee without talking about Peter Cushing. They were best friends in real life, and made some fantastic movies together.
And who doesn’t love Boris and Bela? I always enjoy seeing them, even in some of the sillier films they both made. Boris Karloff was the face of some classic horror TV shows, including the excellent “Thriller.” People always ask “Boris or Bela?” Although I loved them both, I guess I’m partial to Boris. He had such a great sense of humor.
A-T: What horror writers had an effect on your own writing for what reasons? I noticed for example that Phantasmagoria II featured a reference to Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu.
Lorelei: Thanks to my mom, who loves fantastic literature of all kinds, I grew up on the classics. Of course, Le Fanu and Stoker made a big impression on me, as did Mary Shelley, Oscar Wilde, and most of all, Edgar Allan Poe. I also read a lot of H. P. Lovecraft, which contributed quite a bit to all the slime in PH2.
As a kid, I read all the horror I could get my hands on, including Ramsey Campbell, Shirley Jackson, Richard Matheson, Charles L. Grant, Manly Wade Wellman—all the good stuff. I was also a huge fan of horror comics. Their golden age had passed when I was a kid in the 70’s, but you could find them in any used bookstore. I adored them, especially E.C.
A-T: Please tell us everything about your current book and spread the word about it.
Lorelei: My current book is called Mad Madame Lalaurie: New Orleans’s Most Famous Murderess Revealed. (How’s that for a mouthful?) It’s not fiction—it’s more like historical true crime. I wrote it with my friend, the wonderful historian Victoria Cosner Love. She did most of the research, and she did an incredible job. We wrote the text of the book together. It’s about an extremely disturbing and scary event in New Orleans history, and Victoria wanted a writer on the project who could really get the horror of the situation across. Since I’m the only horror writer she knows, she picked me. ;) I think we did quite a good job. The book has already sold out of its first print run, and the publishers have released a second.
A-T: What book(s) or other projects are you currently working on? Anything you can tease perhaps?
Lorelei: I’m working on several new projects, including a couple of new novels and a short film. As soon as I have something to share, I’ll post it on my