Expanded Scenes

June 2, 2017

More than any other Sleuthhounds game before, with the upcoming Christmas game I spent time working out the asset requirements and scope of the game. Having completed four Sleuthhounds games already, and having tracked the time I spent on them, I thought I was in a good place to estimate how long the different pieces of the Christmas game would take to create to ensure the game would be ready for the deadline. As I’ve discussed previously, I even had to cut some content from the game to hit my internal deadline. As much as I’ve tried to control the scope of the game I did encounter a case just recently where I had to expand things to a degree.

The central focus of all the Sleuthhounds games is always the story and characters. As much as possible, everything that goes into the games must support these two pillars. To put it simply, story is king. It’s exactly that mantra that led to the recent scope increase in the game.

Whenever I approach a story, whether it’s a Sleuthhounds or Robyn HUD game or a Satin & Sutherland novel, I don’t approach it in linear fashion. I don’t typically start at the beginning of a story and methodically work my way through to the end. Instead, I start by jumping around to the different scenes that I can already envision in my head. As these scenes develop more and more, it starts to become clear what material and additional scenes need to be put in between to connect all the parts of the story. The tricky thing is that when I start connecting the scenes they don’t always nicely line up. The scenes I started with may need to be reworked in ways both little and large to make them fit the overall evolving story. The best scene ever written is no good if it doesn’t fit into the story as a whole.

[The original barren hallway.]
The original barren hallway.

In the Christmas game one of the key locations is a hallway that connects almost all of the other locations available. This hallway sports a phonograph on a pedestal. During the game, the player collects several wax cylinder recordings that can be played out on the phonograph. As can be seen above, aside from the phonograph and the doors leading off to the other rooms, the hallway is quite a bare room. At least it was before I started filling in the details of the story.

The wax cylinder recordings that the player collects provide details on the mystery that our fearless detectives, Jane Ampson and Pureluck Homes, are investigating. I knew from the early design stages of the game, several months ago, what the mystery was and the overall direction it was headed. However, I hadn’t worked out specifically what was recorded on each of the cylinders. As development of the game progressed and I drew nearer and nearer to implementing the cylinders I realized I needed to sit down and figure out exactly what would be said on them.

Without spoiling too much, it became important from a character and story point of view that the hallway with the phonograph be more than what it was. The various rooms the player explores all show the interests of one of the characters being investigated. It became necessary for the hallway to also express one of the interests of said character.

[The new, improved music hall.]
The new, improved music hall.

As the story developed, the purpose of the hallway became apparent. Instead of being a connective hall with a phonograph player the room has now evolved into a music hall of sorts. Various instruments now adorn the hall. In addition to being needed for story and character purposes they have the added benefit of making the room more interesting and memorable to look at.

Of course, making the changes to the hallway involves more than just altering its appearance. Each of those instruments has to be a hotspot that the player can interact with. That means that this room now requires more coding and writing to allow for those interactions. It also means a few more lines of recorded dialog will be needed. However, story is king and the additions and changes should make for a more interesting experience.

Based on the project plan I put together earlier the game development had a little contingency time factored into it. Even with the changes and additions to the hallway the scope of the game is still anticipated to fall within that contingency time. The bottom line is that the game is still on track and will be available for the coming Christmas holidays.