Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Who Done It?: The Creativity of Mystery Games

The iconic courtroom index finger point
Raise your hand if you are familiar with old classic mystery story characters such as Sherlock Holmes, Dick Tracy and Tin Tin. Raise your hand if you're at least familiar with crime drama TV shows like NCIS, CSI, Law & Order, JAG, etc. Raise your hand if you have played mystery-themed video games.

I'd probably get a ton of hands raised for the last part.

It's easy to figure out one core reason why mystery-themed video games resonate with gamers. Even to this day and age, in 2016, mysteries still remain as an interesting form of entertainment for people. It's just that in recent years it has become apparent that game devs can pull off making fun video games based on mechanics that allow players to search for clues and find out who did what to the victim.

There are the usual suspects of mystery-themed video games such as Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, and to a lesser degree Professor Layton. Solving a mystery is generally very rewarding to the player who manages to figure out who committed the outrageous murder. The emotional investment is there as well as the emotional payoff, to know that you have seen an entire case through and that you found out what the end result to a certain situation was.

One great ingredient to this recipe is that as the player who has the tools of a case laid out in front of you, you are basically put on the spot. You are given the task to think all parts of the crime out, play them out in your head and then draw the conclusion that you think will be right. Even if you're not right, the learning experience of practicing your detective skills remains.

I admit that I once had the desire to create a video game based on the mystery theme. However, I've always made it a point to never let these kinds of game ideas to wander off into dark horror themes. I have always liked the "Who done it?" style of storytelling, no matter what kind of theme is being used in a video game. Even if you're progressing through a platforming game, if I can see mystery theme elements in that game it will raise my curiosity.

Consider the element of interacting with other characters besides the character you control, and you can tell right away that you're in for a unique experience solving a mystery because you know there's the chance that a character you're getting to know could very well be the killer. That abrupt sense of dread that you get when you put 2 and 2 together and realize that the character you kinda felt sorry for was actually the one who did it. Now you have to backtrack, get serious again and take down the suspect once and for all. Stuff like that in storytelling can be simply amazing if done right.

For the record I don't like all of the gameplay elements that are involved in games like Ace Attorney and Professor Layton. However, the few gameplay elements I do like are certainly those that I would like to build on for inspiration if I were to dig into making my own mystery game. In fact I have one angle I would like to take the mystery game genre to because I feel like this angle hasn't really been dissected enough. You have your courtroom dynamics and your roundtable discussions, but there's something else I would like to expand on.

Some of the strongest forms of character development in video games can come from the mystery genre. Once you complete cases you realize the growth of the character you control. You get that feeling that your favorite character is progressing as a detective or lawyer (or general crime-fighter), and that he or she is working toward a climatic payoff down the road where he or she will just settle down at some point.

Yeah, I'd have to say that solving mysteries can still be rewarding even today. The twists and turns alone should be enough to not only get people thinking, but to also make them come back wanting more suspense.

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