Q: When you got the storyline from Lee Sheldon what was your next step?
Scott Nixon: The very first step we took was creating a blueprint of the island and house. We wanted to see if the locations flowed properly, where we could split up load times, and reassure ourselves that everything was spatially balanced. This turned out to be almost unnecessary, Lee has a very good spatial sense and his plan needed very little tweaking. Then we sketched out versions of every character and location to get a general feel of how the game would look, start the approval process, and nip any early apparent design problems in the bud. The next step was to begin building a very simple version of the island and house, one from which we could derive camera angles and blocking. Once we had done this and ran it by Lee for his input, we began building the actual sets for each scene.
Q: What is the most difficult aspect of your work?
Scott Nixon: It's difficult to narrow it down to one thing. I think striking a balance between exposition and player action is probably the biggest challenge.
Q: How do you construct a scene e.g. the arrival of the 10 characters on the island?
Scott Nixon: We basically storyboard out the entire thing as you would in a movie. The storyboard gets approved, and then goes to the animators, who set up everything from the cameras to the lighting to the characters themselves.
Q: Were some characters/actions easier/more difficult than others to visualize/animate ?
Scott Nixon: The most difficult character to visualize was the new character, Patrick Narracott. Agatha Christie was pretty specific about her descriptions of her own characters, so we had plenty to go on for them. To introduce an interloper, as it were, was difficult because he had to be up to her high standards (or at least as close as we could get) in terms of characterization.
Q: Do you play the game through and try to pick holes in it?
Scott Nixon: Absolutely. That's the only way to find the holes in a storyline this complex.
Q: Do the technical people have any input into the storyline or is that sacrosanct?
Scott Nixon: Everybody has input, technical people included. Sometimes the technology dictates the options you have, and in those instances, it is the technical people who define what can or can not happen.
Q: What influences the design of e.g. the house, the island, Vera?
Scott Nixon: The house is modeled as an 'alternate take' of Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water. It is art deco, with lots of angular lines - quite minimalist. The island was designed in contrast to the house. It is craggy, deserted, and rather spooky. The house, by nature of its design, isn't spooky on its own. What makes the player anxious in this game is definitely psychology based rather than visually based.
Q: Is designing a detective game very different to e.g. a fantasy/SF game?
Scott Nixon: It is more difficult. You have less deus ex machina recourse. Things have to make sense. You can't just explain away something incongruous as magic or future tech. When an inconsistency is found, you have to figure out a logical way to get around it - and that can be incredibly frustrating!
Q: Please could you explain for us technophobes what goes into making a game so that our readers understand a bit better what is and what is not possible with developing games.
Scott Nixon: There is an age old debate in games about linearity vs. depth of story. In general, the less linear a game is, the less depth the story can have. It's an issue of finite resources. The more paths you can take and things you can change, the thinner you spread your resources, and as a result, the story suffers. In a perfect world, game developers would have all the time and manpower they needed to make a game that was both completely non-linear and had countless story branches that could each stand on their own. In reality such a game would be exponentially more difficult to develop than a game that does just one or the other. The key is to strike a balance, and that is what we - and what (I think) all game developers - try to do. They want to give the player enough freedom to feel as if he or she is not on rails, but enough gentle nudging in the right direction to advance the story in the way it needs to advance. In our case, we are dealing with a book, so there is a definite linear path that the game follows. Where we give the player freedom is in areas of discovery and exploration, as well as having multiple concurrent story threads. The player will still need to accomplish X before the story advances to Y. But that doesn't mean the player can't go do things on other parts of the island or in other parts of the house to advance concurrent threads of the story before coming back to X.
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