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The Trait of Charisma 

We are now at the final article in the “Introduction to the Traits” series. If you have not read the others, you can check them out here: first, second, third

Charisma is the final character trait that the game is built around. To me, a charismatic detective would be the kind that everyone may like but not everyone would take seriously. Think of a Nancy Drew or the Scooby gang who get underestimated because of their age. Or Blanche White, from the Barbara Neely series of the same name, who gets underestimated because of her class and race. These characters have the strength of know how to listen and that sometimes you have to do something for someone before they will do something for you. Like in the Nancy Drew story, The Scarlet Slipper Mystery, our protagonist takes over the management of her clients’ dance studio while they are in hiding from individuals that want to do them harm. Doing this Nancy not only gained the trust of her clients but she also gave herself a strategic position within the mystery that allowed her to gain more information.

However, the weaknesses of the charismatic detective are that people and institutions (like the police) won’t find you credible and not tell you everything they know. And, just like the Scooby gang, you might be able to find some clues by looking around but you aren’t as observant to see the obvious animation cell that you are about to walk on. 

Scooby brushing his teeth with a bar of soap with a painted background on his right and an animation frame at his back. You can see by the lack of detail. Hope nothing bad happens to him...  (Ep: A Night Fright is No Delight)

In the game, this is exemplified in the charismatic detective receiving more quests as well as utilizing the “give item” mechanic. Items will be sprinkled throughout the game that you can use as gifts, bargaining chips, and bribes that’ll allow you to open someone up for more information. Combining this skill with your secondary skills will open up a lot more ways to solve the mystery. This can be seen in the demo. If the player chooses to be charismatic, the player has the ability to converse with greater ease. Choosing the right options and helping out the traveler will see you to progressing to the next scene. 

Currently, I’m having fun creating the second section of Act 1 where the player learns how to combine these mechanics to get the best results! 

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The Trait of Class 

Welcome to the third article in the “Introduction to the Traits” series. (If you haven’t read the others, consider checking the first one out here and the second one out here.) Class is the second character trait that the puzzles in the game are built around. As a classy individual, you are stepping into the pages of an Agatha Christie novel as a Hercule Poirot or a Miss Marple. This trait gives your character more privilege when interacting with other characters, allowing you to extract more information from people who consider themselves a higher class as well as institutions like the police. However, your higher class restricts which characters will be forthcoming with information. 

Illustration: Saurabh Singh

I wanted to make the Classy character unique from the Intelligent or Charismatic characters, so I looked at the novels from the queen of Mysteries herself for inspiration. 

One of the early Poirot novels, Murder on the Links, by Agatha Christie, has Hercule Poirot facing off against Monsieur Giraud to solve the murder of Paul Renauld. Giraud was a Sherlock Holmes stand in who used only forensic evidence. Poirot on the other hand believed that crimes could only be solved through psychology.  Of course, Poirot solves the murder correctly and in the process separates him from his predecessors, like Holmes. In the same way, I wanted the Classy character separate from the Intelligent character by reducing the amount of exploration and increasing the amount of conversations. 

A flaws in Poirot’s character is his conceded nature. In the novel, The Labors of Hercules, Poirot almost fails a case because he misjudges the intelligence of Amy Carnaby, the put-upon female companion to the wealthy Lady Hoggin. I wanted to bring this aura of concededness to the Classy character which would separate it from the Charismatic character. The classy individual will be pre-disposed to thinking that people below their station aren’t important. 

With the general structure for the Classy character in mind, the main mechanic that it was built for it was risk. You have to be careful of what you say in high society, offending the wrong people will get you ostracized. However, knowing when to push people will often reveal pertinent information you need to progress. In the demo, Class is by far the shortest run by design. It shows off the fact that you character has the privilege to walk to the end and get what they want immediately. However, this can come at a tradeoff to the amount of information the character has gathered. 

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And don't forget to sign up for my newsletter. It comes out every month and I try and release special behind the scenes info. I’m trying to get 500 instagram followers and 400 twitter followers so if you could share this with a friend you think would be interested, that would be great. Everything helps! 

Using Grim Fandango to Influence my Puzzle Design 

Last week, I completed a playthrough of the classic adventure game Grim Fandango. For those who haven’t played, Grim Fandango takes place in the land of the dead, where departed souls must traverse before reaching the afterlife. You play as a travel agent Manuel “Manny” Calavera and try to save Mercedes “Meche”, a virtuous soul, on her trip through the land, as well as uncover the corruption in the Department of the Dead.

Image Source: Wikipedia

One of the locations that you visit is a port town called Rubacava. All souls must pass through Rubacava if they want to cross the Sea of Lament to make it through to the afterlife.  After Manny’s one year wait, Meche finally arrives but is being held hostage by one of Manny’s ex-coworkers, Domino. They escape on a boat causing Manny to need to acquire passage on a boat to chase after them. However, the only ship left is a cargo ship and he’s going to need a union card, one of the sailors to drop off and a set of mechanic tools if he wants to board. 

To me, this was the most fun section of the game. It was one solid chapter broken into three sections.  (Yes, technically there was a forth puzzle where you had to get your club shut down, but I found that section confusing and detrimental to the pacing). I thought it would be interesting break this section down to see how it was paced and how all of the locations were used. I was especially interested in how many items per puzzle existed in the environment verse how many were obtained through puzzles. 

Note, these puzzles can be done in just about any order, however, I liked the flow that IGN used in their streamlined walkthrough. To break down the game, I labeled locations as the player arrives to see where Items were being found and used: 



Items Found

Item Obtained through Puzzle

Items Used

Locations Traveled

Areas Opened

Union Card Puzzle






Job Opening Puzzle






Get Tools Puzzle







Furthermore, I broke the game locations into thirds and took a look at how many items a character got in those locations and how many items they used in those locations: 


Items Obtained

Items Found in Environment

Items Used

First Third of locations

10 - 11



Second Third of locations

5 - 6



Last Third of locations





The interesting aspects that I see is that Items found in the natural environment are fairly consistent per puzzle, you’ll need to find 2 -3 objects. However, these objects are only found in the first 3rd of the stage locations. This breakdown leads me to believe that that the designers needed to front-load all of the environment items to the first 3rd of locations because that opens the puzzles up to be solved in any order. I feel like this can be a pro and a con because it will allow the player to work on a different puzzle if they get stuck on one but it makes exploring later environments less rewarding. As for the pacing, it seems to follow a general interest curve: In puzzle one, a relatively low amount of items unlock most of the environment while you explore and gather materials, which feels great. In puzzle two, there is a slight ramp up in complexity as you use more of your items. In puzzle three, you are given a chain of item uses and a new area to punctuate the stage. 

Doing this process has been interesting and I am interested in breaking down other puzzle games to see how they work! 

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And don't forget to sign up for my newsletter. It comes out every month and I try and release special behind the scenes info. I’m trying to get 400 instagram followers and 200 twitter followers so everything helps. 

The Trait of Intelligence 

As I mentioned in my previous blog article, “Introduction to the Traits”, I wanted to break up the games puzzles into three major categories: Intelligence, Charisma and Class. The “Intelligence” based puzzles, inspired by the stories of Sherlock Holmes, would have the player explore the world, observe and manipulate the environment.

Image source: Wikipedia 

One of the short stories that inspired me was “A Scandal in Bohemia”. In this story, Dr. Watson meets his friend Sherlock Holmes after some time of separation and quickly gets involved in his most recent case. The King of Bohemia (today’s Czech Republic) has contracted Holmes to retrieve a sensitive photograph of the King and the Opera singer Irene Adler from Adler because its existence is a threat to the King’s marriage prospects. After a bout of Holmes’s trademark deductions, he proceeds to follow the woman while in disguise to learn about her and her habits. Once comfortable with the knowledge that he’s gained, he stages a scene that gets him, disguised as a priest, inside her house. After a signal from Holmes, Dr. Watson throws a smoke bomb in. Thinking the house was on fire, Adler rushes to the picture’s hiding place at which point Holmes tells here that it was a false alarm. Holmes then leaves the house with the knowledge of the picture’s hiding place with the intention of going back and stealing it. However, when he returns, all he finds is a note from Adler saying that she’s left the country but she won’t be using the photo against the King. However, she has taken the photo with her as a form of protection against him. (I’ll let you read the story to learn how she found out the plot against her 😜 ) This story is interesting because it is the only time that Holmes has ever been beaten and it contains an interesting proto-feminist character which was rare in that time period. 

I wanted to take many of these characteristics that Holmes displays and make it a part of my game. For example, the more points that a player puts into their intelligence trait, the more there character will be able to observe other people and the environment and make deductions about who they are and what they’ve been doing. These will often give clues to the player to solve the puzzles that are set before them. As for the puzzles themselves, the Holmes stories translated well to a videogame. For example, this story has Holmes actively completing linear goals that open up the next “level” for him. Level one: use disguise to get info; Level two: use disguise, and level one info to get into house, so on and so on.  While I can’t confirm that there are going to be any disguise options in the game… “Intelligence” will offer the player puzzles that will keep them looking at everything to try and find the solution. 

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And don't forget to sign up for my newsletter. It comes out every month and I try and release special behind the scenes info. I’m trying to get 300 instagram followers and 100 twitter followers so everything helps. 

PS. To me, the funniest tidbit about Holmes characterization is that he has devoted all of his time to the methods and tools for solving crimes. So much so that he is unaware of common knowledge like the fact that the earth moves about the sun. I don’t know if that aspect will make it into the game, but when I think of Benedict Cumberbatch from BBC’s “Sherlock” being unaware of how planets work, I chuckle.

Introduction to the Traits 

The idea for this game came into my head while I was watching a play though of Danganronpa, a near future dystopian game set in a high school that only accepts the best and brightest. In the story, an evil mastermind traps the incoming class inside the school and assures them if one manages to commit a murder without the rest of the students finding out, that student gets to leave the school. The game plays out as a series of murder mysteries that contains clues that lead you closer and closer to finding out who the mastermind is and how can you and the rest of the students can escape. 

image source: superjump magazine

The strong suit of this game was its story line and characters. The game came out in November 2010, and 11 years later the series is still running strong. There have been TV and print adaptations, and fans routinely dress up as their favorite characters. There is a lot to learn from this game on how to build a world and characters. 

The part that I felt non-plussed about was the gameplay. The mysteries tended to be fairly straight forward to solve; just click through a few multiple choice questions, and if you were paying attention, it wouldn’t be too difficult. Furthermore, the outcome of each trial was decided on how well you completed a variety of mini-games. These elements took me out of the fantasy. 

For my game, I wanted to make a game that could have an engaging story, interesting characters, and puzzles focused around solving the mystery. A fun and consistent fantasy. I took a look at the stories that I have been reading, Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie’s bibliography, and I tried to distill some traits. The three that I settled on were: 

Exploration - observing and manipulating the environment 

Social - getting to know the characters that are involved 

Privilege - being able to be trusted by and have a certain amount of power over the people around you 

These traits were molded into the characteristics of intelligence, charisma and class. When you start the game you will pick a dominant, neutral and recessive characteristic which will shape the way you see the story as well as change the puzzles you will have to solve in order to solve the murder!


One of the struggles with a mystery game is the balance between giving the player enough of a hint that they can figure out the next step to take without the game feeling like it’s leading you by the hand. Many games solve this problem with clever dialogue or an optional hint system. One way I would like to solve this problem is by using musical “leitmotifs”. 

A leitmotif is a short, reoccurring musical phrase that is specific to a person, place or idea. One of the most recognizable leitmotifs is the Force Theme from Star Wars. In “A New Hope”, the motif is used around the critical times in Luke’s journey to become a Jedi. It is loud and longing when Luke looks out into the double sun set; it is low and sinister when he finds his Aunt and Uncle dead; it comes in subtly in the battle of the Death Star when Luke embraces the force. Overall, it is a versatile and iconic motif that gives extra thematic depth to a scene. 

I believe leitmotifs can bring depth to the game as well. There are simple uses, like for characters. In the game, whenever you talk to a character, their leitmotif will play to let you know their musical signature. On top of that, there can be subtle musical signatures that act like a hint for when you are around an intractable object that is relevant to the plot.  We can get even more creative by having objects play character motifs to let a player know who that object relates too. Also, the leitmotifs can be altered to make objects seem more or less benign. The possibilities are endless. 

Now, you might be wondering why I put leitmotifs in quotes up at the top. The reason is that, with a video game, I can’t control the timing of the scene—that is, of course, up to the player. That means the motif would have to be able to mix with the background music seamlessly at any point, which is impossible. So instead of a set melody, like a true leitmotif, we used a music track that fades in and out depending on the proximity of the player to the object. Each motif has a different texture, color, or vibe to make it unique. What’s nice about Jazz is that we could get a musician who would work the character’s leitmotif into an improvised solo. I feel like this adds an extra layer of uniqueness to each and every interaction with the character. 

I want to thank Katie Carson @Okayycars for her work on flugelhorn on these motifs, and also Ethan Kimberly @Mindthegoat_music for the music production of the whole game. 

I’m happy to announce that the Demo will be out in a week on I’m excited to see what you all think! 

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The Hills are Alive! Or is it the Sound of Music 

One of the great parts of working on this game is creating the music that really bring the world to life. For this, I have to thank Ethan Kimberly for being part of my team. He has really outdone my expectations for how the game would sound. You can follow him at @mindthegoat_music. So far I have two tracks commissioned, the first is an intro theme and the second is the train station theme. 

For the intro theme, I was heavily inspired by the theme from the ITV show “Agatha Christie’s Poirot” composed by Christopher Gunning.  To me, that theme oozed suspense and intrigue and I wanted to incorporate that feeling into the game. When I approached Ethan, this was one of the first songs that I brought to him as inspiration. However, where Gunning scored Poirot’s theme for an orchestra, I wanted the game to sound more like a Jazz Quartet. 

In order to get the sound I wanted for the rest of the game, I looked for Christopher Gunning interviews where he explained his inspiration in making the Poirot theme to try and extract the elements that would make a good score. First, Gunning mentioned that he was inspired by impressionist composers like Debussy and Ravel. Composers in the impressionistic era used music as a tool to create mood and atmosphere. After combing through records, I came across Debussy’s “Nocturnes” and Ravel’s “Gaspard de la Nuit”. These songs captured the secretiveness and tension of the night that I wanted for game. Second, Gunning mentioned being inspired by the jazziness of the period Poirot was set in (the early to  mid 1900s) and utilized the alto sax in the piece to achieve the sound that he desired. After combing through my jazz albums and looking for saxophone related pieces, I listened to “My Favorite Things” by John Coltrane. This settled me in to my key piece of Jazz inspiration that I wanted to focus my game sound around. 

Coltrane’s  “My Favorite Things” album was recorded in the period of time where Coltrane was experimenting with modal jazz. Before modal jazz became popular in the mid-50s, jazz was focussed on a musical head that broke into tonal chords for the soloist to improvise over. Modal jazz took those chord progressions and lengthened them to make the changes less distinct and changed tonal progressions to modal ones. With tonal progressions, the chords want to resolve at what is called a tonic chord. For modal progression, each chord is given equal weight. This allows a greater freedom in improvisation where a soloist doesn’t always have to build their solo to resolve at a tonic chord. To me, this allows the music to be more impressionistic and atmospheric, similar to the classical style mentioned above. 

In this tonal progression, the G7 cord wants to resolve into the tonic Cmajor cord.

In this modal progression, each of the Dminor7, Eminor7 and Fminor7 are given equal weight

I was also inspired by Charles Mingus’s “A Foggy Day,” a more avant-garde composition that beautifully shapes the urban environment using only the instruments in his band. I wanted to add this environmental music to my game score to give it more depth and allow the hint of a bigger world without the use of sound effects. 

Finally, I wanted to give Ethan some examples of impactful game music that would lend structure to the final product. The games that I chose were “OFF” and “Pathalogic”. “OFF” is a game where, as a character named “The Batter” you are on a mission to “Purify” the world. Throughout the game you move through different Zones and fight entities known as "spectres". “Pathologic” is a game where you play as one of three separate characters and have to survive a Plague. What I loved best from these games were the segments where the player would be walking throughout the world and get immersed in the musical soundscape. Stylistically these games are fairly distinct from jazz but both games have an ambient soundtrack that are very environmental and haunting to listen too. 

Drawing from these inspirations, Ethan created an opening theme that really gives a sense of noir and mystery. The train station theme embodies the atmosphere of the player character disembarking on the last train of the day. The music is coming along great and I am excited for what we will make in the future.

Here is a link to the full inspiration playlist on my youtube channel.

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Notes on the Art 

The Murder on Hemlock drive is a game based around one of my loves, 1800s and 1900s detective novels. To make it feel like it was in that world,  I wanted to mimic the style of newspaper lithographs that would have kept track of police procedurals of the time. To get the style that I wanted, I brought on a local Cincinnati-based artist, Evan Verrelli. Through our collaboration, we added some inspiration from 1930s and 40s comic book illustration and 1800s impressionism to come up with the final art style. 

I chose Evan to create this world because his style matches my goals. To me, his work embodied the exactitude that would be needed to make this world look the way I wanted. Give him a follow on to see why. 

The process was fairly simple. First, Evan and I traded mood boards to determine the vibe of the final piece. Then, Evan created several concept designs for each character and object. I took a look at the selection he gave me and chose the one I thought would best set the game. 

For example, the main character: 

The brief for this character was a young person, having just graduated from college, who lives in downtown Cincinnati around the turn of the century. They are in the early stages of a somewhat academic career, such as engineering or medicine. This character would have the skills necessary to become a detective, but they have not yet had to use their skills in that way. 

Out of the characters Evan submitted, I chose “Concept 3” as the design I wanted to go with. I liked that interpretation of of the brief, and I enjoyed the character’s androgyny, which could appeal to more players. However, I wanted to add some elements, like a hat and earrings, that gave the character more personality. 

Evan also did concept art for the background of the piece, but that worked a bit differently. I created a 3D model of the train station level to test game mechanics. That 3D model provided the framework for the illustration that Evan created. Originally, Evan created a concept that was more in line with a traditional Victorian style of deep reds or deep browns. However, this caused the characters to blend into the environment. We thought about implementing atmospheric perspective, which is a technique of changing the color values and clarity of the background as it recedes from the viewer (think mountain range receding into the distance), but I looked into other video games and found one called Cozy Grove that had a better solution. 

Cozy Grove is a game about crafting, camping and soothing the local ghosts. This game includes a hand drawn art style and characters of color. The way that they have their characters stand out from the background is to mute and brighten their color palate while keeping the characters dense with black outlines. 

We took this concept and changed the whole color palate of the background to what you see now, an image that focuses a lot more on yellows as its focal point and subdued greens and blues as an accent. This paired with black outlines around the characters allowed the characters to pop off the screen instead of being swallowed up. 

Finally, Evan created the final line work for the characters and their backgrounds as well as animations. These all turned out quite nice and I’m very thankful to have Evan on my team while making this game.

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