Your Mystery Case Files Questions Answered!

Posted by Conor Murphy on January 20, 2010 in Game Development -- Share:

A few weeks ago over in the Big Fish Games’ Forums we gave you the chance to ask the Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove team your most burning questions. Certainly there were some question marks dancing around in your heads following the completion of Dire Grove? You responded with a great collection of interesting and inquisitive questions our development team members were eager to tear into.

We apologize for the delay in bringing this post to you…many of the members of the Mystery Case Files team were away on holiday following the completion of Dire Grove. As you can imagine, developing such a game takes a lot of time and energy and a break was much needed (and deserved!).

Without further ado, here are a sampling of the questions submitted!

Mystery Case Files Development Team
(back) RK Post, Mike Anderson, David Stevenson, Isaac Novak, (middle) Lara Schneider, Adrian Woods, (front) Jeff Haynie

Audio

Can you say a bit about what the process for creating the game score? Who writes the music? Who performs the music?

A game’s score is created by companies outside Big Fish. We have worked with Somatone in the past to add the somber, moody themes that run beneath the visuals. Typically, music is added late in the development process so we can match up the audio with what’s happening in the game.

How are the sound effects / background noises (ie. wind, creaking) created? is it composed just for this game?

We add sound effects in-house. Our audio team works with large libraries of stock effects that cover virtually any sound you can imagine. Occasionally we’ll use a field recording device to capture something specific, and usually several effects are layered on top of each other to create just the right Gzzzzort! If you listen closely you’ll hear a lot of the sounds found in the games on television and movies as we share many of the same sound libraries.

Development / Art

The art is wonderful but the lighting is just jaw dropping for me. Could you tell us a little bit about how the lighting is developed?

We believe the lighting is critical to the success of the artwork. Lighting can add a lot of mood to an image or it can make an image dull. We try to add a lot of drama to the lighting by designing the light with a lot of contrast between light and shadow to lead the players eye through the artwork. The end result is truly an emotional experience. The base lighting is created with either a 3d program or a photographic reference. Then we paint on top of it to create a stylized storybook type of lighting.

Do devices or techniques exist that allow you to automate the programming needed for different actions in a game or do you have to create each one from scratch?

We usually create effects from scratch. That said, there are often similarities in how things operate. Turning a dial in a puzzle, for instance, is very similar to rotating a gun to shoot an apple so there is some shared coding. A lot of what we do is key-framed animation which is great because it allows us to make very detailed motions. Unfortunately, they tend to be very specific to the interaction (pushing a mattress through a hole in the floor) and are only usable in a certain instance.

I’m interested in how long from start to finish, it took to dream up, plan, and create Dire Grove.

Dire Grove was created in less time than the last couple Mystery Case Files games. We started at the end of March and released it the night before Thanksgiving. Eight months is a tight schedule to create an immersive game environment!

Regarding the artwork, do you paint every scene first on canvas and then transfer it to a computer? If so, what equipment / techniques do you use to accomplish this?

We sketch out or block out the scene with a basic composition in Photoshop or a 3d program like Maya. This stage acts as an under painting which is a foundation of values, shapes and form. Then each artist builds up their scene in Photoshop using a combination of painting and photographic overlays. These techniques are common techniques used to do matte painting for movies.

How do you add the fine details to the scene artwork (ie. rusty marks on door hinge or fine texture of wood)? What equipment do you use?

We have an in-depth reference library of photographs the team has taken of surface types such as wood, metal, snow, ice, etc. At the start of each project the team gathers as much photo references of surface textures that will apply to the game locations. At the start of Dire Grove we drove up into the mountains and photographed about 2000 photos of snow, ice, snow on trees, footprints in snow, etc. We use bits and pieces on top of our paintings to add the level of detail we need to make the artwork look realistic. This is how many matte paintings are created for movies. The final result becomes a painted scene that has layers of realistic texture applied. This is one of many techniques we use to create fine details.

I found the snow in the game to look very vivid and realistic (ie. blowing in different directions). How is this effect accomplished?

The snow was created programmatically in a program from Adobe called Flash. The movement or direction of the snow is connected to the sound. All of this is scripted by our lead programmer.

How are the people who draw the scenes trained?

All of the artists have been trained in art school. Several of us have backgrounds in illustration, graphic design and animation.

Return to Ravenhearst & Dire Grove offer significantly different gameplay than the first four games in the MCF series. Can you tell us about how the team decided on this change?

We’re always looking for new things for the players to experience. Going back and forth between a hidden object scene and a map didn’t feel very immersive, and hindered the kinds of activities we felt would boost the fun and believability of the game. This move towards traditional, adventure-based play is understandably off-putting to some, but a welcomed change to others. Luckily for us the Mystery Case Files audience is very vocal, and keeps us informed of their opinions via our forums. We pay close attention to this, and while we can’t jump into every thread, we do listen intently to our player’s views. The morphing objects in Dire Grove are a good example. Several players mentioned enjoying this in Madame Fate so we brought the activity back in the Collector’s Edition of Dire Grove.

Return to Ravenhearst Connections

I love Ravenhearst and Return to Ravenhearst and want to know if that storyline will be revisited in the future.

With regard to upcoming Mystery Case Files release, no storylines are off the table.

How is Madame Fate connected to the other characters in the MCF series? Is she related to Charles Dalimar in any way?

Regretfully, we are not at liberty to talk about relationships between the characters in the games at this point in time – especially Madame Fate and Charles Dalimar. We’ll let you draw your own conclusions as to why…

Specific Game Questions

Why are the snowshoes left in the inventory at the end of Dire Grove?

The snowshoes are required in your inventory to approach the farm in Dire Grove. This is the only time you don’t actually lose an item in the game, and has spawned several comments from players. While not really a bug, this did turn out to be an odd design decision. The individual responsible has been relieved of their position; it won’t happen again…just kidding!

What is the significance of the Omega symbol on the Ravenhearst map in the secret room? Can we have the map and clues in the barrel deciphered? It would be good to see how close our speculation was.

Unfortunately, we’ll have to plead the 5th on this question. Yes, the map is there for a reason. No, we can’t share that reason at this point in time. Again, we leave it to your imagination, Master Detective.

Can we get the Master Detective Card shown in the video at the end of the game?

I would like one of those too. If enough like-minded players voiced their opinion in the forums, who knows?

Other than the phone call from the guy with the French accent and the two hidden Felix the Fishes (basement scene), are there any other “Easter Eggs”?

No, but don’t stop looking!

Storyline

With a series such as MCF, is there an overarching storyline developed that is then broken into different games, or does the team craft a new story for each new release?

There is an overarching storyline within the Ravenhearst mysteries, but the others are more or less stand alone. Like players, we developers enjoy exploring new environments. If it’s exciting and new to us, hopefully it will be that way for you.

How does the team dream up the MCF story lines? How far in advance do they have the story written?

Stories are tricky and very subjective. You take in a lot of ideas and just have to do your best to sift through the mess to find the gold – sometimes it works better than others. Some stories come easily while others take while to brew. Time seems to be your best companion.

Speaking of time, thank you very much for sharing yours with us. Hopefully you look forward to solving a new mystery as much as we look forward to creating it for you. We feel very fortunate to have such loyal players and, while we stumble occasionally, we appreciate your supporting hand…and snowshoes.

Your biggest fans – Team MCF.

Written by

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+