A Look Back at Mystery Case Files: Madame Fate

Posted by Conor Murphy on October 13, 2008 in Big Fish Studios, Game Development -- Share:

We’ve asked Bill Meyer and Adrian Woods to sit down with us and take a look back at Mystery Case Files: Madame Fate. We’ll talk about the development of the game, the storyline, and the future of the Mystery Case Files franchise.

Bill Meyer and Adrian Woods are two of the key individuals responsible for the Mystery Case Files game franchise. Bill acted as the Art Director for Madame Fate while Adrian acted as Game Developer.

Talk about the release of Madame Fate. What challenges / opportunities did you run into?

Bill: Making a new game go beyond what the previous games offered is always a challenge. I think the puzzles in Madame Fate were a big step forward. Adrian really took the puzzles to the next level.

Adrian: We received a lot of good responses from users about the Ravenhearst puzzles and we really wanted to keep going with that. We wanted them to be more abstract and more themed around the characters in the game (The Mermaid, The Straw Man, etc.).

Bill: Putting more emphasis on the characters was important as well as more effort into the character art itself. Brian Thompson handled the character art work and really did a great job.

What can you tell us about the next Mystery Case Files installment? Anything?

Adrian: The next game will be a ‘return to a familiar environment’ (laughs). We’re working on emphasizing a more immersive experience and adventure oriented game play. The game is not going to be level based. It will follow more of a storyline like Ravenhearst did. Players won’t realize they’re close to completing the game until they are done.

Huntsville and Prime Suspects seemed to stand alone whereas Ravenhearst and Madame Fate were tied together. Will future Mystery Case Files releases continue to build on the current storyline and be more ‘episodic’?

Bill: With each release, from Huntsville through Madame Fate, there was more emphasis on a story line.

Adrian: But we have concerns about that. It is extremely difficult to get it right.

Is that because of the increase in time and effort needed to maintain the storyline and not introduce inconsistencies?

Adrian: Really, it comes down to how the person plays the game. A lot of people don’t read the story so they may not know the back story. If the next Mystery Case Files game requires you to go back and learn the storyline, that can present a problem.

How does the Mystery Case Files: Madame Fate storyline fit in with the other Mystery Case Files games.

Bill: I think Madame Fate is more like Prime Suspects than Ravenhearst. You have levels you play rather than a continuous storyline like in Ravenhearst.

Adrian: Right, you kind of know where you are based on the characters.

Bill: In Madame Fate there is nothing in the actual storyline that alludes to where you are in the game. Really, you could play the levels in any order.

Adrian: Ravenhearst had the story. All the other Mystery Case Files titles were more straightforward game play. In the upcoming release we are back to pushing the story and creating a richer back story.

What is your favorite scene out of all the Mystery Case Files games?

Bill: I really like the door puzzles in Ravenhearst, but my favorite scene was the super-hero scene in the apartment in Prime Suspects. It told a story about a character through the things I put in the room that helped create a mood.

Adrian: One of my favorites was the Abe’s Red Hots scene in Prime Suspects – it’s really vibrant.

Bill: It has a postcard quality.

Adrian: I would love to have a framed print of it.

How much more can you do with the Mystery Case Files franchise? Is there anything really cool players should expect in the next game?

Adrian: I think there are tons of things that could be done. I wouldn’t rule out a TV show! We’re playing off many popular themes that have been done before and riffing on them.

Bill: It’s that serious detective thing combined with humor.

Adrian: It has some Get Smart, some X-Files. In the upcoming release, you can expect a much more immersive experience. One specific thing is full motion video – real characters on video talking to you.

That’s a big step. How was working with video?

Adrian: It was a big learning experience for me and a lot of work. Even just the little stuff we did. We farmed it out, but we directed it. I have a whole new level of respect for people who work in television and film.

A trademark for the last two games in the series has been the door and crystal ball puzzles. What’s the process behind designing one of those puzzles? Who designs them?

Bill: Sometime it’s not too easy. There are many different approaches.

Adrian: We start with an idea. Sometimes Bill has an idea, sometimes me. It’s easy to make a difficult puzzle and it’s easy to make a simple one, finding the sweet spot is the challenge.

Bill: The immersive aspect is important. We don’t want to throw a wall up in front of people or they’ll just give up.

Adrian: It’s best to make the puzzle interactive so people have fun with it even if they’re not interested in it’s solution.

What was the inspiration to set Madame Fate in a carnival?

Adrian: It’s tough to come up with new environments for games. What hasn’t been done before? Haunted houses, ghost towns, treasure islands – they’ve all been done before. Mystery Case Files is about moodiness. It’s gloomy. Leaves are falling. It’s kind of dark all the time – yet, it should also be fairly romanticized. Something fun that has become dark and twisted. Something you are comfortable with that has become sinister. It’s comfortable yet a bit off-putting. Like Something Wicked This Way Comes. Actually, we originally called it Carnival of Souls.

Bill: That was before we knew there was a movie named that.

Adrian: Yeah, we ordered it!

Bill: The movie had a certain quality from that era.

Adrian: There’s a book called Great Movies You Probably Missed – it’s in there.

Was the movie great?

Adrian: Well…

Bill: (laughs) Back in the 1950s there were a lot of movies like this…Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Day the World Stood Still. Movies where people are trying to control you.

Looking back on Madame Fate, is there anything you wish you would have done differently?

Adrian: The big one for me would have been to not have her talk so much. It became a joke in the office…”Why does everyone want to kill Madame Fate?” (Um…because you don’t shut up!). It was all a learning experience.

Bill: Agreed.

Thanks a lot guys.

Bill: No problem.

Adrian: Happy to chat.

About Bill Meyer

Bill Meyer began pursuing a career in art in the mid 1980s. He studied graphic design and illustration at Seattle Central Community College before striking out as a freelance illustrator. From there, Bill spent six years working for Mindsai and Amaze Entertainment. After answering an ad he spotted on Craig’s List, Bill was hired as the first artist at Big Fish Games.

About Adrian Woods

Adrian Woods first fell in love with computer games as a child after playing Scott Adams’ titles on his Commodore Vic-20 and then the many Infocom releases on his Commodore 64. After studying graphic design and computer programming, Adrian began working in the gaming industry. His work quickly caught the eye of Big Fish Games founder, Paul Thelen.

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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+