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Lorelei Shannon Interview

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[Lorelei Shannon]

This interview was conducted in January, February, April, June, and August 1997 by myself, Andy Bellatti, and Liam O'Sullivan via email with Phantasmagoria 2 designer Lorelei Shannon. Please note that this interview contains many spoilers.

[Visit Lorelei Shannon's Website]

Andy: Phantasmagoria 2 has been out for some time now and it has been selling very well. What do you think of the public's response to it?

Lorelei: Of course, I'm very pleased. A lot of work went into this project, not just by me but by Sierra's production team, the wonderful crew who shot the video sequences, and many other folks as well. We all put our best into it, and, in my not-so-humble opinion, it deserves to succeed.

Liam: If the movie sequences in the game were somewhat reedited and converted to VHS cassette format and distributed to video shops around the world, do you think Phantasmagoria 2 would do OK as a movie?

Lorelei: Oh, absolutely. We talked about doing something like that, but nothing ever came of it. I think it would be an excellent direct-to-video movie!

Liam: Were you the first person asked to design Phantasmagoria 2 or was someone else considered before you?

Lorelei: I was the first.

Anthony: Personally, what did you think of Phantasmagoria 1? What aspects of that game did you try to retain in Phantasmagoria 2 and which ones did you definitely want to avoid?

Lorelei: Phantas 1 was very retro - definitely classic 1960's type horror. I enjoy that stuff, but I don't write it. That's why I decided to lose the original characters and start over in a modern, urban setting. What I liked about PH1 was the fact that it pushed the technology envelope. We did that too [in Phantasmagoria 2], with our movie sequences. They're the most cinematic ever seen on CD-ROM. We decided not to go with the computer generated backgrounds because we wanted a more realistic look, so we shot entirely on set and location.

Anthony: What are the most useful game design tips you learned from ( Phantasmagoria 1 designer ) Roberta Williams?

Lorelei: Roberta has an incredible feel for the flow of a game. She taught me huge amounts about pacing and timing.

Liam: Has Roberta Williams commented on Phantasmagoria 2?

Lorelei: Not that I know of.

Andy: Did you ever think about making Phantasmagoria 2 a sequel to Phantasmagoria 1?

Lorelei: No. That kind of horror is just not what I do well.

Andy: What horror movies and/or books inspired you in any way while making Phantasmagoria 2?

Lorelei: Edgar Allan Poe has always been a big influence on me. I also love the work of Clive Barker, Kathe Koja, and Thomas Ligotti. As far as movies go, I think Jacob's Ladder was a big influence. So was Prince of Darkness and The Exorcist III.

Andy: What other plot ideas did you have in mind before sticking to the one you chose?

Lorelei: Oh, I kicked around magic realism in turn-of-the century Coney Island, and evil doings in backwoods West Virginia, among others.

Andy: In one of your other interviews, you remarked that S&M was a big thing in Seattle. Were the S&M aspects of the game originally part of it when it was first brainstormed, or after your trip to Seattle?

Lorelei: I live in Seattle, so that aspect was there from the start.

Anthony: Apart from writing the script and supervising your pet rat, how would you describe your leading role in the Phantasmagoria 2 production process?

Lorelei: I was lucky enough to be on set throughout most of the shoot. I would help out the director [Andy Hoyos] and the cinematographer when they had questions regarding the content or the intention of a particular scene. Most writers don't get that chance. Consequently, the game has me all over it!

Anthony: What is it like to play Phantasmagoria 2 from the game designer's perspective?

Lorelei: I think it's a lot of fun, particularly as a horror story. I think the story unfolds nicely, just as we intended it to. It was really a thrill to see my ideas and words played out on the screen for the first time.

Liam: How many pages was the original script and how many pages of the script were actually used to make the final product?

Lorelei: It was originally five hundred pages long. What we shot was a little over two hundred pages.

Anthony and Andy: According to some sources, Phantasmagoria 2 was originally going to be shipped on 7 CDs, just like its predecessor. Is it correct to assume that certain parts of the script were cut seeing that the final game shipped on 5 CDs? If so, could you please provide a rough idea of what material was taken out?

Lorelei: There was no plan to ship on 7 CDs, but we cut a lot of stuff due to time and budgetary restrictions anyway. There was a wonderful interactive chase sequence in the mental hospital, and a large chunk of the alien world region. In fact, we lost an entire character in the final cut. That was really a shame. He was a "phantom of the chemical company" type of guy, and a lot of fun.

Scenes that were filmed but cut from the gameplay

Find out about the cuts to the character of Bob Arnold

In regard to the cut chase scene, programmer Tim Weiss adds...

"It wasn't a budget thing at all. Everything was set to shoot in the basement of this army base/hospital and when they went to shoot there, the commander said that they couldn't, and from what I heard, without explanation. There wasn't any time to try and reschedule it someplace else so there was nothing left to do except remove it from the game."

Andy: There is a particular DUK file (movie) on the Phantasmagoria 2 disks that was not used in the game. It shows Curtis picking up his work telephone, seeing visions of Therese whipping him, and then hanging up the phone. What purpose did it have originally and why was it taken out?

Lorelei: It was supposed to show his guilt over cheating on Jocilyn. The movie was to have played when he tried to call Jocilyn at some point. I have no idea why it was taken out.

Andy: Lately, there has been a lot of debate between 3-D and FMV (full motion video). Which one do you think is the best medium? Would a game with high degree of dramatic content like Phantasmagoria 2 be the same in 3-D?

Lorelei: I don't think it would. I think FMV is much more effective for character driven games, and 3-D is best for action games.

Anthony: How do you respond to people who think of Phantasmagoria 2 as just a long movie with negligible interaction and thus worthy of only a very low gameplay rating? In other words, people who hate "interactive movie" type games. How would you like them to view Phantasmagoria 2?

Lorelei: I knew when I started this project that some hard core gamers would hate it. It isn't hard in a traditional adventure game sense. But it's challenging in other ways. You really have to dig, to talk to everyone you can, and use your computer to the fullest (in the game) to discover the entire plot. I think it's worth it.

Anthony and Andy: Some people say that sex, nudity, and gory violence have no part in computer gaming. Why did you design such a game that contains all these features plus quite a few adult themes, such as homosexuality? Also, what do you think of the fact that Phantasmagoria 2 was banned in Australia (at least its uncensored version) and Singapore (probably all versions)?

Lorelei: I don't understand why people say that these aspects don't belong in computer games and then go out and watch [the movie] Pulp Fiction. Actually, I do understand. There's still the mistaken perception that all computer games are for children. That's just no longer the case. As I've said in every interview I've had, this game is not for children, and I hope no one under the age of 17 goes near it. As for Australia and Singapore, if they want to censor what comes into their countries, that's their business, but they're missing a hell of a good game!

Andy: If players optionally censored the original Phantasmagoria, it was rated "PG-13". However, you claim that you don't want anyone under 17 going close to Phantasmagoria 2. Even if the game is set to "Less Intense", do you believe that the mature subject matter would be too much for anyone under 17?

Lorelei: Yes, absolutely. That feature is there for more sensitive adults who want to play the game but don't want to see all the gore.

Censorable Scenes in Phantasmagoria 2

Andy: Is Curtis bisexual? After all, he is attracted to Jocilyn and Therese but also to Trevor.

Lorelei: Yes, he is. As an alien creature, he is neither male nor female, and is attracted to both sexes.

Liam: When Bob is killed in the introductory movie to chapter two, he is supposedly murdered by the Hecatomb. The scene changes to show Curtis wiping his face with a towel. Unknown to him but apparent to the player, the towel holds bloodstains. Curtis, of course, did not kill Bob and he did not see the blood on the towel - cancelling any disturbing effect the Hecatomb might have hoped it would have on him. What do the bloodstains indicate? Was this incident just a wasted torment?

Lorelei: It's a red herring. Curtis just cut himself shaving or something like that.

Andy: What exactly happened to Therese in the bathroom of the Borderline nightclub at the end of chapter four?

Lorelei: She was tied up, eviscerated, and then electrocuted in her own blood.

Anthony: Therese, Bob, and Tom were murdered by the Hecatomb. The nature of their deaths strongly suggest that they were killed by non-electrical means. Does this mean that the Hecatomb can take on some sort of solid form whenever he wants to?

Lorelei: Oh, absolutely. His solidity is electrically generated, but it definitely has a corporeal form. That's what makes him so dangerous.

Anthony: How do you characterise the motivations of the Hecatomb?

Lorelei: The Hecatomb is insane, and consumed with jealousy for Curtis. It wants to drive him insane so that it can inhabit his body, and reclaim the life it once had.

Anthony: Why doesn't the Hecatomb try to inhabit a different body?

Lorelei: He could, but he wants Alien Curtis because he wants revenge. He falsely blames Alien Curtis for stealing his life. Of course, the person who really did that was Paul Warner, but poor old Human Curtis is completely insane, so he's not making rational decisions.

Anthony: Where are the aliens that communicate with Curtis in the Threshold computer room? Are they the same beings as the strange creatures that Curtis picks up and uses in his travels in the Alien World?

Lorelei: They are all aspects of the same creatures. The things in the alien world are hive-mind type beings. That's another reason the Hecatomb is so insane - he was an outsider, and basically alone for all those years.

Andy: A major gripe many people have about Phantasmagoria 2 is the allegedly weak ending. Players claim it is too sci-fi and does not quite fit in with the rest of the "phantastic" horror. Was this the ending you had in mind since the beginning, or was the ending changed due to the fact that the production may have been rushed in order to meet the promised release date?

Lorelei: It's my opinion that the people who've made this complaint did not play the game to its fullest. If you explored every avenue available to you, including email and conversations, the clues about the science-fictional ending were there from the very start. It was part of the game from its conception.

Anthony: How could Jocilyn have found out all about the Threshold project and Curtis's true nature in the space of a day or so when it took Curtis much longer and much more effort to discover the same information?

Lorelei: That was a scene that was cut, actually. We were supposed to see her looking in the observation window of the Threshold itself, and seeing Curtis in there doing his alien thing.

Anthony: Why would Alien Curtis choose to return to the Alien World at the end of the game? After all, he had lived all his life in the human world.

Lorelei: Because his true nature, under all the human trappings, is alien. The story makes it pretty clear that he has never fit into the human world. Maybe he thought he could find some peace with the aliens.

Anthony: If you had to expand the Phantasmagoria 2 storyline to include the rest of Curtis's life (assuming he remains in the human world), how do you think it would turn out? For example, do you think it is inevitable that he would mutate into alien form?

Lorelei: I think Curtis will always be attracted to the dark side of things, both because of the abuse he suffered at the hands of his human mother, and because he will never really belong in the human world. I think he and Jocilyn would probably stay together, but I don't see him being the best husband around. He may take on a double life yet again, depending on whether or not he wins his inner struggle with good and evil. I could see him going either way - becoming a loving husband and father...or becoming a serial killer. After all, he has all these alien powers that can potentially be lethal. No, he won't mutate. He's got too much control over his form to do that. It's his mind that we have to worry about. As to whether he can have kids with Jocilyn, who knows? That would be sort of a fun plotline, wouldn't it? Little half-alien spawn all over the place!

Liam: What is indicated by the word "Nielsen" which can be faintly seen near the top left corner of the game box/cd-case cover painting?

Lorelei: That's the name of the artist [Cliff Nielsen] who did the Phantasmagoria 2 box cover art.

Anthony and Andy: On the Phantasmagoria 2 Travel Map, one sees part of a brown ring on the right hand side as well as a few similarly coloured areas elsewhere. Do these have any significance?

Lorelei: No, those things were just "local color". The map was supposed to look like a ratty piece of paper that Curtis had carried around in his pocket for a long time. Of course, the ring could have been a real coffee stain. Our artists were putting in some pretty long hours there!

Take a look at the Travel Map

Origins of the Travel Map

Liam: Did you invent any of the game's many humorous Easter Eggs?

Lorelei: Oh, a few. Most of them came from the programmers, though.

Andy: Are there any funny tidbits you could share with us about the shooting of the game?

Lorelei: It was an incredibly long shoot, and we all got more than a little silly. At one point, when we were shooting the sequence where Curtis opens the hidden door in the network room, one of our grips was hiding in there, and nobody knew it. When Paul Stetler [who plays Curtis] opened the door, the grip totally mooned him! It was hysterical.

[Lorelei in Introduction]
Lorelei (in doorway at left) is pushed aside
by a mental hospital orderly during the Introduction

Andy: Many Sierra employees make cameo appearances in Phantasmagoria 2. In fact, you even make an appearance as a patient who rolls a green ball on the floor of the mental hospital - correct?

Lorelei: Yes, that's me.

[Lorelei as a mental patient]
Lorelei playing the role of a mental hospital patient
who wants her green ball returned

Andy: What roles did the other Sierra employees perform?

Lorelei: We were all over the place. The lunatic who had a heart attack when he saw the Threshold was our director, Andy Hoyos. Our webmaster, Cindy Vanous, was one of the Borderline patrons. In fact, the Borderline was populated with Sierra tech support people. Kinda scary, when you think about it. I was in the Borderline, too, but I'm not telling you where.

[Lorelei at the Borderline]
Lorelei Shannon (wearing mask) at the Borderline S&M club
with Cindy Vanous and husband Brendan in the background at left

Anthony and Andy: Is it true that Ragna Sigrun ("Therese") is married to Todd Licea ("Jonas Craig" - Curtis's father)?

Lorelei: Yes, that's true. That certainly made the "Curtis's Father Gives Him a Kiss While Therese Whips Him" nightmare more interesting.

Andy: Is Paul Mitri ("Trevor") a real-life homosexual?

Lorelei: He is not. Paul is a very heterosexual married man. He's just an excellent actor, and confident enough with his sexuality to play a gay man.

Andy: Blob (Curtis's pet rat) is in fact your very own pet rat Rosie. Was Rosie the only rat that played Blob, or did you handle this character like Adrienne's cat, Spazz, in the first Phantasmagoria who was played by two animal actors?

Lorelei: No, Rosie was it. Her sister Harley was often on set as well, but just to keep Rosie company. After a while, rats start finding the company of humans to be rather boring.

Andy: If you were asked to do Phantasmagoria 3, would you be willing to do something like this again?

Lorelei: Oh, I might. Stranger things have happened.

If you liked this interview, please read the following interviews with other Phantasmagoria 2 cast and crew members

Don Berg - Actor

Wes Plate - Editor

Tim Weiss - Programmer

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