Video Games

Here’s a look inside the game behind eerie Titanic sinking video

Every room of the massive RMS Titanic will be recreated in “Titanic: Honor and Glory.”
Every room of the massive RMS Titanic will be recreated in “Titanic: Honor and Glory.” Vintage Digital Revival

As news spread this week of a mesmerizing video simulation showing the RMS Titanic sinking in real time, I was curious about the game behind the viral hit.

According to its website, “Titanic: Honor & Glory” is a murder mystery. Players assume the role of an Oxford University graduate framed for murder and other crimes in April 1912. In order to clear his name, he must follow the real culprit onto the RMS Titanic. By the time he solves the crime, the luxury ship smashes into an iceberg. He must then escape the sinking ship, racing against the real-time clock pictured in the trending video.

The website boasts a completely – as in every single room – re-created RMS Titanic. But why go through the trouble? Can’t you do a murder-mystery game in virtually any location and time?

“Everyone on our team has an interest in the Titanic,” said Thomas Lynskey, the game’s director. “I had a friend building models for the inside of the ship, and another modeling the outside. We decided to combine them into a video game.”

He continued: “The conflict in the game came from that. The mystery is our way of forcing the player to go through the Titanic and meet the people inside the ship.”

Kate and Leo won’t be making an appearance, as Rose and Jack were fictional characters from James Cameron’s “Titanic.” However, actual historical figures such as Capt. Edward John Smith will be part of the finished game.

Lynskey and his two friends have worked on the game off-and-on for about three years now. They’ve enlisted the help of various Titanic historians to create the timeline and perfect the ship’s layout. The modeling and script are nearly complete.

Lynskey, a filmmaker, has never worked on a video game before. Only one of the “Titanic: Honor and Glory” developers has ever worked on one. He was originally recruited to write the script, then sort of fell into directing the entire game.

The team, known as Four Funnels Entertainment, scrambled to complete the YouTube video in five days.

“We had to skip certain things like accurate water physics and the rope,” Lynskey said. The video did not depict any people on the RMS Titanic, but Four Funnels decided to add screams to the audio in the last few moments to make it more ominous.

The real reason for the video, which has racked up more than 5 million views since April 14, is quite simple: Four Funnels needs money.

“We need $6 million,” Lynskey said. “We’re going the indie route, but it’s on the level of a AAA game in terms of scale and model. This is not a cheap game.”

Four Funnels needs the cash to turn all of their research and plans into a fully functioning game. They’ve created a short demo using the popular Unreal Engine 4, the development kit used to make dozens of indie games and popular Japanese titles such as “Kingdom Hearts III,” “Street Fighter V” and the “Final Fantasy VII” remake.

There’s not much to demo. It allows you to tour part of the RMS Titanic, but there’s not really much game to speak of. The graphics are not anywhere near as nice as the screen shots would have us believe, but that’s quite common.

I am not worried. They basically have an entire game to create, so of course a pre-alpha (alpha means the first playable version of developing game) demo isn’t going to offer much.

The $6 million price tag may seem a little steep, but it isn’t that much in the grand scheme of video game development. The scale is immense, but Lynskey noted that many rooms and areas of the ship are identical. Once development gets going, programmers should be able to copy and paste large sections of the luxury liner.

Lynskey said the video has already led to calls from potential investors. Given the historical and educational value it could provide to schools or museums, I am sure he will be getting more.

“Titanic: Honor & Glory” will have a laid-back exploration mode for those people who just want to look at the pretty ship. Couple that with virtual reality support, and the game could appeal to quite a few groups.

Someone else is going to have to be the guinea pig and test the VR features for me. I get motion sickness just running a virtual restaurant counter; I don’t need to combine that with actual seasickness from riding on a sinking ship.