Last week, I caught up with Sergio Manucharian, co-founder of JoyBits Ltd., and co-producer Eva Frolkina to talk about the inspiration behind The Great Unknown: Houdini’s Castle. Keep an eye out for The Great Unknown: Houdini’s Castle, when it comes out later this month!
What was your inspiration for choosing Houdini as the focal point of the game?
First of all, there’s a really interesting and mysterious background behind Harry Houdini, and his tricks still attract a lot of attention. After reviewing many characters, we decided that Houdini would be the best fit. Real artifacts, locks, and tricks from his shows are featured in the game, so the player gets a chance to experience them, especially the famous Chinese Water Torture cell.
What do you think is the most important aspect of a Hidden Object Adventure game?
I guess any game has to be addictive and enjoyable first, so that players can dive into a new world and experience it like the real world as they play. For Hidden Object Adventure, the best criterion is when the game takes your breath away and gives you the feeling that you’ve saved the whole world by completing it.
The game has to evoke emotions from players – it can make them smile, or frighten them, or just make them say, “WOW!” and keep playing. I think the most important things are the story, the gameplay, and the “hooks” – things that keep the players going deeper and deeper into the game and keep them guessing until the end of the game.
Did any funny things happen during the production period?
There were a lot of funny things going on. One was a discussion about adding some magic tricks for the player to experience. We were considering a trick where the player puts a rabbit into a hat, and using a magic wand would turn the rabbit into a crocodile that would leap at the screen. However, we decided not to give our dearest fans and players heart attacks.
Sometimes, I would have dreams about the game. I would be playing through and the game would crash or programming errors would pop up. I’d even have dreams about other magicians trying to break into the game, and wouldn’t be able to find a hammer in my inventory. Then, my alarm clock would ring and wake me up, telling me it was time to go to the studio and make it all work. Crazy!
What was the biggest challenge you faced?
We wanted to incorporate some unique interactive gameplay. For example, in the beginning of the game, when the plane is going to crash, the player had to take control of the plane from the pilot’s chair and land using the steering wheel. After a few test sessions, we decided to not use the flight simulator gameplay and leave it as is. One of the biggest challenges for us was the storyline. We spent about two weeks creating the main plot, brainstorming.
Are there any features of the game that you like best or are most proud of?
I like that the game is not too dark and spooky. It also has some cool facts from the real Houdini’s life, which are mixed very organically with our own story.
I’d point out the movie projector and film reels in the user interface. The story is delivered in the form of black and white movies which are scattered throughout the castle. Once the player finds all of the reels, he can replay the story. We wanted to make it very organic and interesting to watch so that the player would want to find more and more reels during the game.
Also, in Expert Mode, the penalty for excessive random clicking brings us another little surprise. After a few clicks, a gloved hand appears on screen, puts your cursor in its palm, and using a little magic, transforms it into butterflies, disabling the click for a few seconds.
Have your ever tested the game on your parents, family and friends? What was the reaction?
I tested it on my family and friends and watched them trying to figure out the puzzles and which items to use. I could not even imagine what they would want to use the items on! One of my friends, who actually works in a cemetery, called after playing the game and said that “…a flying TV with Houdini inside has blown my socks off. Very scary!”. I laughed, but that was really surprising and interesting to hear.
I always ask my friends and parents to play our games, and usually they end up calling me at night with a question about how to use a magic wand. where to find an extinguisher, how to get into the cave from the pit, etc. That’s why we have a big HINT button.
Are there any upcoming projects or sequels that you want to share with your fans?
We have a few titles in production, but all I can say for now is stay tuned and thanks to all of our fans and players for the support, and most importantly, for playing our games! Cheers!