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Detective style game play

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#1 Sitio   Members   -  Reputation: 122


Posted 12 May 2012 - 10:26 AM

Hi GameDev Community!

I apologize in advance for the rather lengthy post. I have a rough idea for a story for a detective "like" game and was looking for input from this talented community. My main problem is right now I have a story, but haven't established game play. Here's the "pitch" so far....

Basic Theme: The idea I want the player to constantly be presented with or thinking about throughout the game is this:
The cost of security is personal freedom. How much freedom are you willing to sacrificedin the name of security?

Story: After watching a documentary on William Colby (Director of CIA who went missing for some time, eventually found dead once it seemed CIA 'dirty secrects' might be exposed) I decided WIlliam Colby's story would be a perfect way to present the main theme of the game. The basic story would be inspired from William Colby's life.

The main character would be the son of a William Colby-like character who is investigating his father's disappearance. The further he digs, the more he begins to realize the true nature of his father's work. Throughout the game. the main character discovers his father had maintained records on most citizens and most of the population was being spied on in secret without warrants. The agency had even organized assassinations on its own citizens, deemed "terrorists", that posed threats to the nations security. Essentially, he discovers that privacy is simply an illusion and the agency is able to obtain almost any piece of information on citizens without warrants and operate with unlimited authority, all in the name of national security.

The Father's Character: Despite the overreach of the agency into its citizen's life, it is important the father is not painted as a villain. As the story progresses, he discovers his father was actually a true patriot. Before becoming director of CIA, he had served in the military, volunteering for some of the most dangerous missions taking place behind enemy lines in the Vietnam war. Eventually, he is recruited to work for the government as intelligence analyst and is later promoted to Director. He dedicates his entire life to insuring the safety of the nation's citizens. He sacrifices his personal/family life, public image, and political relationships to protect the agency and the nation's security. By the end of the game, it is revealed that very few people actually REALLY knew him. Even his own family's image of him is a facade...

His perspective regarding the theme of the game ("freedom vs security") is freedom can't truly exist without security, therefore, security must be established regardless of the cost.

The Main Character's Backstory: The Main character is a much less extreme version of his father. He is rather straight laced and even served in the military (as demanded by his father) as a military policeman. After his service, he worked for the local police force in his hometown for some time before making detective. It is while he is working as a detective that his father goes missing. Despite a somewhat rocky relationship between him and his father he becomes very concerned when he hears of his father's disappearance.

After the a VERY brief investigation of the disappearance, investigators quickly abandon the case (for reasons that are revealed later in the story). The main character gets frustrated and begins his own investigation and finds out much more about his father than he ever realized. He is able to use connections in the police force and contacts from his past military service to find out "sensitive" information that would be unavailable to most. Throughout the game he is conflicted about where he stands relative to his father's principles and the views presented by his companion (player x).

Player X: I am looking for ideas for another character, very close to the main character, who's views are the absolute opposite of the father's character. They are more of a "free spirit" at heart and believe that citizens rights are being trampled over by the powers that be. They believe the general population accepts this only because of the government's use of fear tactics to gain acceptance by its population causing people to forfeit freedom for security. This character's primary role would be to provide the opposite view of the father and challenge the player with ideas/principles opposite of his father. I am thinking this could be the main character's love interest or a best friend from childhood. Any suggestions?

Gameplay: This is currently my largest concerned. I want to capture the essence of a detective novel (sherlock holmes, hardy boys, etc). The main character will explore, gather information, questions individuals, search for clues, and through these interactions slowly uncover a very deep storyline. However, I am concerned this won't be enough to hold the player's interest. I have been trying to decide on a genre of gameplay that a small development team with limited art skills could implement successfully. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated here.

Does anyone know of any great "detective-like" games I should check out for inspiration? Unfortunately, I have been unable to uncover any games that are similar to the idea I am trying to go for.

Any and all input is greatly appreciated! Thanks for taking the time to read through this rather long post.


#2 Yrjö P.   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1412


Posted 12 May 2012 - 03:48 PM

LA Noire? Sherlock Holmes games?

I would absolutely love to play a detective game where I get to actually observe and infer stuff. This is hard design-wise; either the cases would have to be obvious and boring, or there would be a high intelligence barrier to successfully cracking them, so most people wouldn't like the game. Most of the game could play much like an adventure game, but the "endgame" of cases is harder. For instance: how do you allow the player to demonstrate they have solved the case, without the game's UI narrowing down the possibilities and giving away information in advance?

#3 Sercan Altun   Members   -  Reputation: 137


Posted 13 May 2012 - 01:38 PM

how do you allow the player to demonstrate they have solved the case, without the game's UI narrowing down the possibilities and giving away information in advance?

May be you can implement a system that links evidences to each other in a way that it makes sense. Sort of like a web of conspiracy, on a wall full of photos, news paper articles that are linked with threads. Your player can go into roam to find these evidence, take photes etc. Then back at home he links not the evidence but specific properties of evidence to each other.

For example, two evidences could be a boot found in crime scene and a photo of a farm. Boot has lots of properties: Torn, size 30, brown, traces of mud. Photo of the farm (provided that the farm is a known place) wheat farm, wet soil, red barn. Most of these properties would be irrelevant but player can link all of them if he wants. When he links two properties it would become a hypothesis. Player than can try prove or disprove his hypothesis, may be with new evidence.

Player X may be a lab assistant by chance? She ( love interest? ) can test some of the hypothesis and verify them. Like when you link traces of mud with farm soil, she can say yes it is the same soil! Once you solve a good part of the puzzle you can move on to next chapter. Player can of course brute force the system. But if there are too many options the brute forcing would be to much effort than actually thinking, which is what we want player to do. Also player has to find the evidence first before brute forcing.

Anyway that is what i came up with.

#4 Yrjö P.   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1412


Posted 13 May 2012 - 03:36 PM

Matching simple physical evidence definitely works in game UI, but I don't recall many interesting stories based just on that.

Lies and mistakes: the content of a witness statement ("I was washing the dishes when the murder happened") is not fact. The witness may be lying, they may be telling the truth, or they may think they are telling the truth but the murder actually happened at another time. The distinction between these possibilities is hard to represent in game.

Events / locations over time: deduction of how suspects could and could not have moved inside the house at the time surrounding the murder could be quite challenging to represent in game. Further complicated by the above - you can't just put facts in place, but have to contrast potentially false statements with each other and the facts, and possibly find new facts. One such new fact could be "Mr X must have either lied about playing the piano in the living room, or lied about seeing Mr Y on the stairs". This could itself be hard to represent as part of a deduction later on, since it's not a simple statement but contains OR logic.

Often the absence of some manner of evidence is crucial evidence in itself. For instance: a piece of floor is not splattered with blood, therefore something shielded that part of the floor at the time of murder. The lady of the house was wearing a certain dress on the night of the murder, yet the player does not see it when searching the lady's room as well as the laundry, so it must have been either destroyed or hidden. Everyone in the house besides the gardener's adopted daughter is the wrong age to be the victim's biological child. Some of these could be hard to represent.

And then there's the social aspect and interaction, which is even more complicated but is the most fun part of many stories. For instance, the detective determines he has insufficient evidence to solve the whole case, but can construct a fake scenario in which the suspects' reactions (or absence of reactions!) is the final evidence needed. For instance, maybe the murderer will hesitate to drink from a teapot they think still contains the poison they put in, but another suspect will drink without hesitation. Allowing the player to do this type of testing whenever he wants and fail over and over would kill the mood.

Edited by Stroppy Katamari, 13 May 2012 - 04:05 PM.

#5 jefferytitan   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2219


Posted 13 May 2012 - 03:45 PM

Interesting idea. One idea that fascinates me is "he discovers that privacy is simply an illusion and the agency is able to obtain almost any piece of information on citizens without warrants and operate with unlimited authority, all in the name of national security". Perhaps he can get information by the same semi-legal means, but it builds grounds for a legal case that his enemies can use against him. Then he would need to cover his tracks, etc, becoming closer to his father. Or he can play it squeaky clean but it's much harder.

I like the idea of linking things on a board and forming hypotheses. Although it may be hard to work as a mechanic if there's a huge number of hypotheses. Also it could be frustrating if someone's figured it out but doesn't have the evidence on the board that they need, e.g. being stuck searching for that one boot. Perhaps certain shortcuts should be possible, e.g. if they force some event to happen and tell the police what to do and turn up at the right place at the right time etc. Although that may make it too walkthrough-able.

EDIT: This text editor is so frustrating, had to cut and paste the whole thing into Notepad and back to fix the text formatting!

Edited by jefferytitan, 13 May 2012 - 03:48 PM.

#6 Yrjö P.   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1412


Posted 13 May 2012 - 04:19 PM

Although that may make it too walkthrough-able.

Meh, I don't think anything can or needs to be done about walkthroughs. You can't stop the player from spoiling the game for themselves - just do your best to convince the player that the challenges, including the one they are currently stuck at, are fair and reasonable so it would be a bad idea to cheat/walkthrough/etc and deny oneself the fun of beating the challenge.

This seems to settle into an adventure/puzzle mold, but the huge amount of objects, abstract facts, etc. (most of them irrelevant in the end) and a powerful UI for assembling and proving theories and relationships would make the game play very differently compared to any oldschool adventures or run-of-the-mill puzzles which hinge on simple manipulation of a low amount of physical things and NPCs.

#7 Sercan Altun   Members   -  Reputation: 137


Posted 14 May 2012 - 03:37 AM

I realy like Stroppy Katamari's inputs on the diffuculties on representation of information. I am not a detective story guy, so i don't know much of the inner workings of how a detective solves a problem. System should be exteded to tackle these problem.

One thing comes to my mind is to use generic post-its to modify evidence properties. A portrait of suspect with quotes will be a raw evidence but you can put a "Lie" post-it to modify her statement and use that post-it as an intermediate for linking other evidence. So we can develop more complex hypothesis.

It is also evident that there is a need for different methods of verifiying the hypothesis than a lab test. Tricks, survailance etc.

All games can have walkthroughs its up to players. We can't do anything about it.

#8 kseh   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2154


Posted 14 May 2012 - 05:17 PM

It's no detective story but I'm going to point to the Myst series. You have an environment to walk around in, items to discover to complete puzzles, and those book pages that gradually complete a mystery. Further, I don't remember it being very easy to complete all the puzzles without reading the various pages you find so you end up feeling compelled to read and as you do so you get a lot of back story. If you have it so that the items that the player discovers are say clues to maybe forensic based puzzles (or whatever puzzles you'd need to pass to make progress) and if the over all writing and exposition is done well I might figure that you could potentially come up with an engaging game within the abilities of a small development team.

Of course, one of the main reasons Myst was successful was the artwork and as you may guess, any game with beautiful graphics will have something of an edge over one that does not.

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