“Keeping the intellectual part of the Ghostbusters canon is something I’ll always be really happy about. It’s not a perfect game, but it had all of the elements we were really hoping to get in. Considering how small that team was, compared to major games now, there’s so much content in that game.”
-Ghostbusters: The Video Game producer John Melchior
If someone asks you if you want to make a Ghostbusters video game, you say yes.
That’s essentially what developer Terminal Reality thought when it was handed the Ghostbusters license in 2006, or so says former studio director John O’Keefe. But as Playboy’s Matt Paprocki writes, that may not have been the best answer for the now-shuttered studio.
Playboy’s full feature breaks down the long, rocky development process for the 2009 Ghostbusters video game, and it’s a story that manages to straddle both the rocky road of game publisher acquisitions and the manic managing of actor Bill Murray. But despite all their struggles the game’s developers believe their game helped renew popular interest for the upcoming film.
Vivendi’s Pete Wanat and John Melchior tell Paprocki that development started because they were excited over Terminal Reality’s physics engine that featured destructible environments, which allowed the developers to recreate the visual chaos of using the films' signature proton packs. Roping in actors Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis then proved to be a relatively easy affair, but getting Bill Murray to show up and record his lines required casting the actor’s older brother to sell him on the game’s promise.
At the time, this was the first major reunion of the Ghostbusters cast, which allegedly helped spark interest at Sony in pushing for a third film.
Murray never did record all his prescribed lines for the game, but the real development travails began when Vivendi merged with Activision Blizzard, and Terminal Reality couldn’t convince Activision CEO Bobby Kotick to keep funding the game.
Melchior says this was one of their darkest moments working on the Ghostbusters video game, but Aykroyd and Ramis remained some of their biggest champions through it all. “I sent an email to everybody saying goodbye because I didn’t know if I was going to be involved. Before I got home…both Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis called my wife to tell her it was going to be OK.”
Atari would go on to publish the Ghostbusters video game, but those interviewed by Playboy say its smaller war chest meant Atari couldn’t spend as much money on marketing, which impacted the games’ financial success. Terminal Reality then closed in 2013 after releasing two more unsuccessful licensed games.
Grappling with Vivendi’s business struggles, Atari’s lack of funds, and Murray’s unpredictable schedule may be an especially unique set of struggles for any developer, but Melchior says the praise from the late Harold Ramis was enough to make him think the game was a success.
“By all accounts the game is great to play and I hope it’s a big hit for everyone, and the fallout has been a keen interest in the future of a Ghostbusters sequel,” Ramis said in an e-mail to Melchior shortly before Ghostbusters shipped. “So thank you for keeping the spark alive.”