Behind the Curtain: Strange Cases Interview & Concept Art

Posted by Conor Murphy on April 7, 2013 in Game Art, Game Development -- Share:

Want to learn about the Strange Cases game series and the steps that go into making a Hidden Object Puzzle Adventure? Check out our interview with Sulus Games below, and continue the latest adventure in Strange Cases: The Faces of Vengeance!

How did you come up with the Strange Cases  game series?

Strange Cases: The Tarot Card Mystery was our first game in the HOPA genre. And it must have been beginners’ luck – it just so happened that everything came to us quickly and naturally. We came up with an idea about a federal agent, a brave and clever woman with nerves of steel, but kind and feminine at the same time. The name “Claire” popped into our heads right away.  After that, we had the idea of tarot cards being left by an anonymous sender. Basically, we started with a simple, one-page story and figured out the rest from there! When the game became popular, we realized that we hadn’t made a mistake with the main character and her story.

Please introduce yourself/development team

Hello! We’re the tight-knit team at Sulus Games. We live in Yakutsk, a city located in Far East Russia. The first Strange Cases was made by the entire team, working days and nights – there were just few of us back then. At the moment, we’re quite a big family, but more or less everybody has still taken part in making the rest of the series. We’re all fans of game development. Many of us became developers without special training, inspired only by the industry itself, taking information from the Internet, books, and colleagues’ tips. And every day, each one of us develops not only games, but our own skills and knowledge. That is one thing we really love about our occupation.

What made you want to be a game developer?

The company was developed by twin brothers Alexey and Afanasey Ushnisky. They had been dreaming about making games since childhood. They didn’t have their own PC, but that wasn’t a reason to give up – they bought magazines about games and reviewed the screenshots, and even that was a lot of fun for them. One day, they came across a book called “How to make a Video Game,” and that was the moment their interest grew into a passion.

How do you get inspiration for a game?

We watch movies with similar themes, play games, and read articles about real-life strange cases. Once we come up with the story and main ideas, the game itself starts to give us inspiration to further the creative process.

How long does it take for you to design a game from start to finish?

It depends. The first two Strange Cases took us nine months each, which is less time than it took to make each of the latest two games.

What are the biggest technical challenges when you develop a game?

Optimization of visual effects. We wanted to surprise our players, and we prepared many beautiful effects. But then we realized that the game’s requirements had increased, and it didn’t perform very well on every machine. How could we entertain our players if they couldn’t even launch our game? We decided that we should be more careful with the quantity of such features, and we worked hard on optimization.

What is your favorite game at the moment and why?

For a long time and up until this very moment, we can say for sure that it’s Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst. Why? This game influenced the whole genre of HOPA games. It launched a new era in the genre’s history and development.

If we’re talking about our favorite among more recent games… There are sooo many outstanding games at the moment that it’s difficult to choose one that all of us would consider the best.

Any advice for new developers?

First of all, you should never forget about your player and that you must make a game he or she will love. That’s why you should always try to look at the game from the player’s point of view. Also, a good game can only be made if it’s made in a friendly atmosphere, where making games is considered a pleasure. And it is a pleasure, indeed.

What does your development team do that’s different?

Every single development team is a unique world, and every team has its own individual style in their games, even if they “share” ideas with each other. They all have different approaches to creating games, too. As a result, all of the games differ from each other. Basically, we think everything we do is unique in some way from other teams.

But if you want to talk about what differs drastically… Perhaps it’s the fact that when it’s -13F outside, we think it’s really warm, and we all go to the hills together – to ski and snowboard.

As a developer, after shipping a game, do you enjoy playing it just as much as you enjoyed making it?

Yes, we do. But it usually happens quite a while after release. You know, we’re always jealous of our players, because we already know what’s going to happen and they don’t yet.

Have you ever had to sacrifice a feature you really didn’t want to give up to keep a game in budget or meet a deadline

Yes, we have had such an experience. But it can also happen the opposite way, when we need to sacrifice the budget or deadline to implement a feature in the game because we know that our players will love it.

How many ideas have you had to abandon because someone beat you to the punch?

In general, we keep moving in the initial direction we chose. And if someone beats us to the punch, we don’t get upset. If we change anything, it’s to improve an aspect, and not to remake it in a completely different way.

If you could remove one cliché from the Video Game industry, what would it be?

If we’re talking about HOPAs, we’ve noticed in the latest titles we had the chance to review that there don’t seem to be so many obvious clichés, at least not any that we’d like to remove completely. All the latest HOPAs are made with such creativity, and that is great!

What do you find is the best approach for starting a new project?

We’re focused more on the story, game world, and the characters, rather than mechanics and game play. However, all aspects are important. But it’s better to focus on making an interesting story. It’s exciting and drives you in the game. And as in book writing, it often happens that the characters start living their own lives, and the initial story can change because of that. And that’s really awesome!

What do devs think about the people who get mad about a particular aspect of a game?

It’s always exciting to read the players’ reviews of the game. Every member of the team takes negative opinions differently – he or she gets more or less upset personally. But as a team, we understand that such criticism is constructive, and ignoring it would be fatal.


Do developers ever realize that the game they’re making needs a major overhaul?

We think that overhauls, including major ones, are a part of the creative process, especially in early stages of development. In the latter stages, only minor overhauls should be worked into the project.

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Conor is a Marketing Manager with Big Fish, working out of the Seattle office. In his spare time he enjoys watching science documentaries and playing old school adventure games. Get in touch with him on Twitter! or Google+

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