Feature Length Design Challenge

January 26, 2018

Regular readers may have noticed there was no blog post last week. My apologies for that. My web host was having some technical difficulties that prevented from me from logging on to update the site’s content. The issue has been resolved and we rejoin our regularly scheduled blog post already in progress.

As pre-production of the next Sleuthhounds game continues the big challenge is to take the basic concept – Pureluck Homes and Jane Ampson work together for the first time to solve a mystery on a cruise ship – and break it down and refine it to the point where an actual adventure game can be constructed from it. This will be the first “feature length” Sleuthhounds game and as such it has different design challenges from the previous games in the series.

At a basic level a longer game means more of everything. More characters, more locations, more storylines, more puzzles. The difficulty comes in figuring out what all those different pieces look like. All software development, games or otherwise, is about refining the requirements over and over, breaking them down into smaller pieces, until they become manageable. For example, it’s easy to say the game will take place on a cruise ship, but even just defining that setting has challenges. How many locations on the cruise ship will be represented? How many cabins for passengers are needed? How many public spaces are needed and what kinds? What about below deck areas? Speaking of decks, where are each of the locations placed relative to one another? Are there any story reasons for certain locations to be off limits at certain times?

All of those questions and more come out of something as simple as the setting of the game. Characters have even more questions associated with them. What are the characters backgrounds? What brought the characters to the ship? How does a character behave? What connects one character to another? What locations does a character frequent? And on and on.

As can be seen, stepping up to a bigger game isn’t just a matter of dealing with quantity, it’s a matter of dealing with complexity. There are many more interconnections between different pieces that have to be dealt with. The trick is to figure out where to start in breaking down the large concept into more and more manageable pieces.

As described in The Unlocked Room, the owner of a cruise liner has hired Pureluck Homes to investigate a series of unfortunate incidents that have plagued the liner’s construction. From that, I knew that I wanted a number of those incidents to take place in the game itself. Without spoiling the details of those incidents, I was able to use that basic concept to first break the story down into four major acts with each act spanning a day. During an act, players will be able to interrogate suspects, search cabins and other locations for clues, and see the story of how Homes and Ampson came to work together. That’s all still really high level, but at least it’s a start for breaking things down.

Writing a novel is very different from writing a short story which is different again from writing a piece of flash fiction. While they all have similarities, each form of writing is structured very differently. Such is the case for the new Sleuthhounds game compared to the previous ones. Over the next several blog posts I’ll be going through the different methods I’m using to break the story down into an implementable state.