Herinteractive emailed me back today with answers to my extensive questions. This is going to be hecka long and overflowing with spoilers, so under a cut it goes…
—How did the carbon monoxide affect everyone? Would the effects of the fire in the cellar reach out to the ruins and the graveyard? Also, was Harper around for the past 20 years keeping the faulty forge lit and it just so happened now the house finally burnt down?
Harper only came to Thornton Hall when she discovered Jessalyn would be visiting the island. In the dialog, Jessalyn mentions that Clara had done everything in her power to keep Harper away from the remaining members of the family. This is true. Harper had been trying to find someone to listen to her story for many years. Some people wouldn’t believe her, some people were too afraid of her to listen, and the rest just thought she was crazy.
I’m going to tackle a lot of the haunting questions here in one go – so a few of your questions will be lumped together just a bit.
As far as the hauntings concerned, this is where I will unfortunately have to be a bit vague. I first learned about the connection between carbon monoxide and haunted houses in an episode of a show called This American Life (Episode 319). The idea stuck with me for… about seven years I guess. During that time I would occasionally run across similar stories and articles – to me it really felt like something straight out of Nancy Drew. So I was excited when I found a story that would allow us explore this phenomenon.
There are a few possible explanations for the hauntings in Ghost of Thornton Hall, and we’ve hidden the answer in the game – and for the time being at least, we’re going to keep that secret. I will say this though, it isn’t just ONE thing from the list of possible culprits (Harper and Jessalyn dressing up, Low level exposure to carbon monoxide, the power of suggestion, that odd bit of film you find in the projector, or perhaps even a real ghost.) When it comes to deciding what caused each haunting, we’re leaving that up to you – at least for now. Perhaps we’ll revisit this again in the future, but for now we want to let everyone who plays the game put those pieces together themselves.
—Who wrote “Nancy Drew” on the headstone? It doesn’t seem like a hallucination since both Nancy AND Wade (if I recall correctly) were able to see it.
Harper. Was it intended to scare Nancy, or was it a Harper’s odd way of showing her appreciation for Nancy’s help? Or both?
—How was the ghost able to kill us if it was just a hallucination?(such as in the end in the tunnels with Jessalyn)
Not every second chance is fatal, sometimes Nancy is simply removed from the case. At this point in the game, Nancy has found Jessalyn. If she doesn’t work along with Jessalyn’s plan, the entire thing falls apart. Is there anyone else nearby who wouldn’t want Nancy to run to Clara?
—Why would Harper fake the extra ghosts/hauntings if she was under the influence of carbon monoxide as well and likely saw her own amount of ghost stuff?
Harper had a clear agenda when she went to the island. The extent to which she was affected by the carbon monoxide is debatable. Keep in mind that the exposure to carbon monoxide is only part of the story. The type of exposure we were talking about is directly linked to the type of furnaces that are thankfully no longer in use. These furnaces would allow small amounts of the gas to filter through the house – but at very low levels. These levels of exposure are still very dangerous, but they were for the most part not immediately deadly. The people in these houses would sometimes see strange things, but more often they would feel sluggish, irritable, and exhausted (exactly how Nancy feels during the game.) and often they would experience terrible headaches, like Clara.
Although she’ll never figure out how to use flashlights, I know that Nancy Drew would make sure to have a CO2 detector in her house. As a Midwesterner, I bet she’d also tell her friends to never keep their car running if they ever end up stuck in a snow bank. As anyone who was been exposed to carbon monoxide can tell you, it’s awful. It’s also extremely dangerous. The carbon monoxide knocked Nancy off her game somewhat, but the exposure isn’t the entire story – it’s the mood, and the weird weight and dread that are hanging over Nancy in the game.
—Why did Harper come up with those intricate puzzles for Nancy to find the safe/will if she already had all the parts necessary to find them?
Because neither she nor Jessalyn had the freedom to be running around the grounds gathering everything needed with everyone else there. Also, she may have had some of the clues, but wasn’t always sure how to use them. And lastly, she was testing Nancy.
—What was the significance of Clara’s father?
On a practical level, in a family with a large business it’s important to know your place within the family structure. On a personal level, Clara felt threatened by Charlotte for many reasons, but this was one of the larger reasons. She felt less secure about her place in the family. Charlotte had the family and childhood she wished she had had. Her insecurity wasn’t just a personal flaw, it was a response to her uneven upbringing. Of course, this doesn’t justify any of her actions. This detail is a very small peek into Clara’s childhood. GTH is a game that sometimes answers questions with hints instead of answers, like I’m doing now. I wanted our players to share Clara’s frustration about her father. Why wouldn’t Clara’s mother tell her? Was she selfish or controlling? Was she protecting her daughter from something – or did she simply not care enough about Clara’s feelings?
In many ways GTH is a very dark story – but we are a company that designs for ages 10 and up. Our goal in this particular game was to design a game that would engage the younger players, but really scare the older players. That’s why you have to connect some of the dots on your own as a player. This is not an approach we will always take, but in this case we wanted to deliver on the promised scares – but only for the players who wanted to look into the darker parts of the Thornton family saga.
—What was the armadillo/rat thing running across the cotton ginning room? (I’d leave this one without an answer. (It’s more entertaining watching everyone comment on their take of it than giving them an answer.) (this part in parentheses was not something I wrote out. I know that this email got forwarded around a bit in the Herinteractive offices, so I assume someone added that at some point)
I don’t remember! The artist who made that creature used a real animal as a reference, but I can’t remember what it was. It was really gross though.
—What was the Thornton family business?
This was kept intentionally vague, but the tools you’ll find can point you in the direction of the answer. To answer this question, I have to engage with a question many of our fans have been asking – Why was there no mention of slavery in the game?
The story of slavery must be told correctly. One day we may approach the topic, but it’s not currently in the works. If we ever do – that will be the entiregame. It won’t be a sub-plot, and it will be exhaustively researched and based almost entirely in fact. This game was only left room for slavery to be inserted as flavor or background information – and none of us felt comfortable using slavery as entertainment.
So, yes the information about the business is vague – but that is because we don’t want to half grapple with a tough question. With issues like slavery, even a positive seeming message can actually do more damage than good. A common conclusion when talking about things like slavery is “Those were bad people a long time ago.” That is entirely true – but the secondary message that sends is “So we don’t need to worry about that stuff now – we’re better, more civilized people now.” That’s not a great message to send, it encourages complacency.
When you approach a serious subject, you have a responsibility to add to the conversation. Our games most likely, are not up to that particular task.
—What were the ruins that Charlotte died in? If Charlotte’s bedroom was in the main house, what were the ruins outside and what was Charlotte doing there?
Those ruins were once the site of Charlotte’s 21st birthday party…
—How did the key to the crypt get out in the ruins? Did Jessalyn leave it there? If so, how did Nancy’s hallucination of Charlotte lead her to exactly where it was?
Harper accidentally dropped it in the tunnels (not all of which we got to see) that run from the house to the outbuildings, including the crypt and the old ruins.
—How did Clara intend to just “scare” Charlotte without actually killing her?
This is something I’d like to hold back on. A hint – the comment about striking a match wasn’t a literal explanation of what happened. Imagine the ruins on the night of Charlotte’s party – Maybe Charlotte is there putting the final touches on the decorations – adjusting the tablecloths, lighting the candles, enjoying a moment of peace before the party begins.
This is another detail that we left vague – there was no way to write this scene that wasn’t going to be too traumatic for our younger players, so we let you tell the story of this moment.
—What were the fabric things hanging up in the cotton ginning room?
They were neat! I believe they came from a real life reference, but I honestly don’t know.
—Why would Charlotte originally leave everything to her cousin, Clara, instead of her sister, Harper? And what made her change it?
The decision was made long ago – she changed it when she became worried about Clara’s behavior.
—What was the point of hiding the will so well? Did Charlotte know something sketchy was going on with Clara? Why would she hide it so well that it might never be found?(which would basically defeat the purpose of having it in the first place)
She did suspect, and only intended to hide it for a little bit before she could get everything lined up for the switch without Clara interfering. Unfortunately, she died before she was able to complete the change in succession.
—Was Harper sent to an asylum or just boarding school?
I’m reluctant to explain this particular point. There’s a rule I use to decide if we should explain a plot point – if one or more of our fans has found the answer to the question, and put the answer together in the manner we intended, then I like to leave those questions unanswered. I don’t want to tell you how to think about the characters – but I do want to make sure that the answers to the questions can be found.
The answer to this question can be found by studying the family dynamic, and considering the psychology of the characters.
—Why did Clara carry around Charlotte’s locket with her? Did she know it held something important, if so, how? If she knew it had something to do with the will, why didn’t she mess up the combination and destroy it? She had it from the night of Charlotte’s death and knew it was the key to unlocking something important.
Unfortunately she had been unable to find the half it unlocked (the locket front piece), and was still worried about what secret might be out there. She was holding on to the necklace until she could locate the missing locket.
—What happened on the night Jessalyn disappeared? What made her leave in the first place and then come back terrified?
This is when she met Harper – and the story Harper told her… Maybe Harper mentioned how much Jessalyn reminded her of Charlotte - how Clara must have felt the same way, and how this could explain why she was always so “cold.” To her own daughter.
—Who was the “Jackson” that was referred to on the paper in the cellar and what was the significance?
I think Charlotte was looking for something…
Hopefully this helps answer at least some of your questions.
I’ll add one more thing – this is a sad story in many ways, but I had hoped that in some way it would be a story about choosing to be good. At the end of the game, Nancy faces the exact same choices that have been plaguing the Thornton clan. She can be selfish and only care about herself. She can be return cruelty with cruelty, and let Clara (presumably) die. Or, she can save Clara – and send the message that she values all life, even Clara’s. I know what Nancy would choose to do.
As often happens in life, Nancy’s actions set the tone for the actions of those around her. When Nancy saves Clara – she encourages Wade and Jessalyn to do exactly what she did – fight for their values. And when the voices of compassion are loudest in the Thornton Clan, the story has not just one, but many happy endings. Nancy can’t go back in time to save Charlotte, but she can inspire those around her to live up to the legacy Charlotte would have created.