An Interview with Joe Shoop, Big Fish Games Designer
With the upcoming release of Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst just around the corner, we thought it would be fun to speak with someone who touches the Mystery Case Files brand on a daily basis.
Joe Shoop works as a designer in the marketing department at Big Fish Games. He is responsible for the Mystery Case Files Fan Site as well as many other marketing initiatives.
Joe sat down with us to speak about his role with the company.
How did you come to BFG?
I was at a house warming party for some people I knew from school, making small talk with all these people I hadn’t seen in a while, and the topic of jobs came up. A friend who happened to work at Big Fish said, “Hey, you should apply!”. So, I applied and here I am!
What is your primary focus at BFG?
I am a designer in the marketing department. Basically, my main focus here at Big Fish Games is to make marketing materials look neat.
Marketing materials? Can you elaborate on that?
To help get the word out about our games, we have fan sites, online advertising, postcards and various other things like bookmarks that we send to our Big Fish Games Game Club members. It’s sort of a “Hey, you should check out this new game!” type of thing. Each of these needs to be designed and built, and that’s what I do. Without a designer, everything might end up being white font on a black background, and that just wouldn’t be very compelling.
Tell us about your design process.
I’m not sure I have a regular process. It really varies depending on the project. For example, for the Mystery Case Files Fan Site I started out by playing through some of the games, looking through as many concept art files as I could find and even talking directly with the artists to get a feel for the “spirit” of the series. While I was playing, I paid close attention to the art styles – especially the interfaces of things like the crime computer.
Even though it all varies a bit between games, I started to notice there was an overarching mixture of art nouveau / steam punk style, with a bit of film noir detective thrown in for good measure. Once I felt like I understood the stylistic influences, I spent some time looking at images online that represent each of those styles. At this point I hadn’t even begun to design the site itself – I wanted to make sure I had built a strong reference point so I didn’t start going in the wrong direction while I was actually working on the design.
How have fans reacted to the new design of the Mystery Case Files fan site?
It is really cool to quietly add little bits of teaser content to the site, then go read all the speculation about it on the Big Fish Games Forums. One person would notice the change and post about it in a thread, then there would be all this giddy speculation about what it could mean.
It is fun seeing peoples’ reactions live in the forums. One time, I added an image at the end of the day, and the next day there were something like five pages of user comments about the change. I actually had an image from Return to Ravenhearst as the background image on the MysteryCaseFiles.com home page for a few months before the game was even announced. People who visited the site were seeing the new Mystery Case Files game right there and they didn’t even know it!
Have you learned anything from the forums that has influenced your design decisions?
People usually post comments rather than suggestions, but I would love to see some suggestions. After following those speculative threads leading up to the announcement of Return to Ravenhearst, I know that we have some pretty clever people playing our games and posting in the forums. I’d love to see someone start a thread about the fan sites and what they would like to see.
I’ve only worked on the Mystery Case Files site so far, but we are starting to talk about overhauling the Hidden Expedition Fan Site and the Azada Fan Site as well, so any input for those will certainly be considered. For both of those series there is a ton of great art we can utilize and each has its own back story that is rich and compelling.
The Mystery Case Files brand has been growing fast. Has it been exciting being part of a rapidly growing brand?
Yeah, its been really cool to see first hand the excitement and energy surrounding it all, both in Big Fish Games Studios and from our fans. Studios attention to detail is amazing and they have tons of ideas for different ways to move the games and the franchise forward.
Can you talk more about working with Big Fish Games Studios?
In short, it is amazing. For example, lately, I’ve been picking through all the art files for Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst, and there is one image in particular that I’ve been working with for over a month. It’s up on the Return to Ravenhearst game page right now, actually. Even after that much time, I’m still noticing new things in the art that I never saw before. It really speaks to the attention to detail that exists in Big Fish Games Studios.
Anything new we should expect to see on the Mystery Case Files fan site in the future?
I don’t want to go into too many details at this point, but there are a lot of planned updates. I want to add more depth and a lot more information to the site. I’d like to share some details about the process of how the games are created, start to finish. Long term, I want each of the fan sites to be on par with the richness of the games, which will be quite a feat.
The first website you created when you started working here was Mystery Case Files: MillionHeir. What was that like?
When the Mystery Case Files: MillionHeir promo page came to me, the deadline was right around the corner so the site needed to be finished right away. Because the game was being developed for the smaller screens of the Nintendo DS, there wasn’t a lot of high resolution art available. I ended up picking apart the box art and using a lot of elements from that. If you look at the box the game comes in, and hold it up next to the current MillionHeir game page, you can probably pick out a few similarities.
Since Nintendo was in charge of promotion and publishing for Mystery Case Files: MillionHeir, there was a lot of back and forth with them to make sure everything was in order.
What was it like working with Nintendo?
It’s funny…while I was working on the project, there was a part of me that was thinking, “I’m making a website and I’ve done this tons of times. No big deal.” Then, there was another part of me that was thinking, “Wow, I’m making a website for Nintendo. That’s a big deal!”
I remember playing Nintendo when I was a kid, and the whole thing was really mysterious to me, and now I’m sending my work off to them, and they are approving it? Wow. For me, the potential exposure of the site was really exciting. I’m seeing ads on TV for MillionHeir and I’m like, “I was a part of that.”
What do you do when you aren’t at work?
I do some freelance web design on the side and I love to cook. I’ve recently discovered I can make a pretty decent chowder. I’m also constantly on the lookout for the best sandwich in Seattle.
What is the best sandwich you’ve found thus far?
Can I go with the top two? I can’t limit myself like that. One of them is called the “Midnight Cuban” from this place in Fremont called Paseo. You have to wait for like 15 minutes in a line that goes out the door to the sidewalk, but it’s totally worth it. The other is just a classic Reuben from Treehouse in Ballard, but I think they must fry it in butter or something. I actually don’t get reubens from other places now because I just know I’ll be disappointed. They even call it something like “the best reuben in Seattle” on the menu, which I thought was pretty questionable at first, but it’s totally true.
What games are you particularly fond of?
I spent a lot of time playing Diablo and Diablo II in high school. I think that was probably the first time I started to really get interested in games, and everything kind of snowballed from there. More recently, I’m a big fan of Portal. It’s really an innovative game. It’s this mind bending puzzle game in the first person perspective where you catapult yourself in increasingly difficult ways to get to the exit of various rooms. It also has this great humor throughout the game, which I still find hilarious.
Any last second thoughts for our readers?
It has been amazing working with the art from all the games and seeing it progress from one game to the next. Every sequel I’ve seen has been a marked improvement on the previous game, and I feel like our games are only going to continue to get better in terms of art and game play. That makes my job that much more exciting.