INTERVIEW – In Conversation With Spooky Doorway (The Darkside Detective: Season 2 Kickstarter)

By Marty Mulrooney

The Darkside Detective Season 2 Interview

The Darkside Detective: Season 2 was recently announced via Kickstarter with a £30,731 funding goal. With 3 days left to go before the campaign ends, Alternative Magazine Online is proud to present an exclusive online interview with the Spooky Doorway team where we talk about the second season of the award-winning comedy adventure game.

team_Paul2

Paul Conway
Artist

Hi Paul, thank you for your time and welcome to Alternative Magazine Online!

Hi there, thanks for having me.

You’re the artist at Spooky Doorway – what does this role involve?

My main role is creating all the visuals for the game. Pretty much anything you see on screen I had a hand in creating it. Outside of that I look after all the business development issues and the PR. So most of the silly GIFs and random things which end up online are from me, too. I leave design to the other guys, which allows me to be a good sounding board when they come to me with an idea.

You’ve been an artist in the video game industry for 10 years, working on over 100 games. What projects would you consider highlights of your career?

The most obvious is working on Darkside Detective. I’ve worked on a lot of games as a freelancer, but that was the first I could call my own. Other than that some highlights are: I worked with John Romero on one of his games, Gunman Taco Truck, which was fun. I got to work on mobile versions of Theme Park and The Sims which were interesting titles, too.

I also got to work on Lep’s World, which was basically Super Mario but with a Leprechaun for mobile devices. The game series was downloaded almost 200 million times so it reached a large audience for nerByte, its developer. It was a big success for them and a lot of people reached out to me to let me know how much their kids enjoyed it. That’s always a lot of fun.

How was Spooky Doorway founded? It’s a great name for a studio!

The company was founded in 2015 after we decided to turn The Darkside Detective into a full game. When we got the core team together, we needed a legal entity and a solid brand name, too. Dave came up with the name Spooky Doorway. We were called Isometric Dreams for a while, but that didn’t properly represent who we wanted to be.

The Spooky Doorway team

Where did the idea for the Darkside Detective come from?

The core idea of a detective investigating the paranormal came about in a game jam in Galway City in late 2014. I was running the game jam for the local developer community with a pal, Chris Colston. When we’d gotten all of the admin and house keeping out of the way, we decided to try to make a quick game in the time we had left, rather than sit around all day looking at other people.

We worked on an adventure game because there wasn’t too much to do tech-wise. We made a silly four screen demo on the day. It barely worked and the puzzles made little to no sense, but I had nailed an interesting art style. People liked what we’d made when we posted about it online. The response was so strong that we felt there was a bigger game to be made. Dave and Treasa came on board not too long after, and Dave’s input really helped to start filling out the world and characters. We kept the original theme and sense of humour, but expanded on it quite a lot over the years while developing it.

Who composed the delightfully moody soundtrack for The Darkside Detective?

The music for Season 1 of The Darkside Detective was composed by Ben Prunty, a well known musician on several indie games such as FTL Faster Than Light, Gravity Ghost and Into the Breach. I reached out to him early in development because he was already working with another Irish studio, so we knew he might consider working with us, too. He really liked what saw and was happy to come on board. He immediately started to compose amazing music for us, nailing the feel of the game in his first pass. His starting point was a homage to John Carpenter, but it grew into very unique pieces over the development cycle.

The Darkside Detective: Season 2 was recently announced on Kickstarter. What made Spooky Doorway decide to go down the crowdfunding route for the next game in the series?

The Darkside Detective Season 1 sold quite well for an adventure game. It’s a genre with a small audience, but we reached a lot of them. We invested a lot of what we earned back into the game to add more content, fix a lot of issues and also to port it to the Nintendo Switch, and also invested in some other ports we were working on in the background. To make Season 2 a reality sooner, we needed to reach out to our audience and see if we could source some of the budget through their support. We’ve always had an active following happy to engage with us online, so we knew they’d be willing to help us out.

What’s the premise of Season 2?

Season 2 follows on from a cliffhanger at the end of Baits Motel, the final bonus case we launched for Season 1. I can’t say too much more because it would spoil the game, but we’re back with six more spooky cases in places as wide ranging as the carnival, a castle in Ireland, their high school reunion, an amateur wrestling circuit and of course, the Darkside.

What rewards can Kickstarter backers look forward to?

We’re offering wallpaper packs, stickers, both digital and physical copies of a Darkside Detective Almanac, T-shirts and obviously copies of both Season 1 and 2. For some of the much higher tiers we’re offering people to appear in the the game in various ways.

I just wanted to quickly say, I recently bought The Art of Point-and-Click Adventure Games by Bitmap Books and I love the Collector’s Edition box art – you did a wonderful job!

Thanks, it was a pleasure to be asked. Sam Dyer of Bitmap Books produced a fantastic book and it was great to be asked to contribute to it. It sits proudly on my shelf at home.

Thank you for your time and good luck with the rest of the Kickstarter campaign!

Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure.

Dave McCabe
Writer

Hi Dave, thank you for your time and welcome to Alternative Magazine Online.

Cheers.

You’re the writer at Spooky Doorway – what does this role involve?

Writing mostly. 😛 I co-design the cases with Treasa, then we present it to Paul who acts as our sounding board. Sometimes something seems funny, but won’t work, or we’ve missed an obvious improvement on things or something makes no sense at all. He’ll suggest some fun stuff then, which we’ll integrate while we rework things.

Once we’re happy with the rework, I’ll take the outline and turn it into a step-by-step breakdown, lay out a map and place items and people; during this time the cases change here and there if a puzzle seems too hard or too easy. I’ll re-present this to the guys, then tinker with that breakdown until we’re all happy.

From there I’ll start building the basics of it with Treasa – putting the rooms and such in, setting variables and all that, usually with awful placeholder art. I write the stuff, hook it up in engine, etc. etc., playtest and then start it all over again.

I try to leave the business stuff to the others, but I chime in from time to time, trying to take our ideas and mould them into pitches for funding. I also manage some of the social media stuff, man the forums, that kind of stuff. Small studios and all that.

When did you first realise that you wanted to write for a living?

I’ve always been into stories, I read a lot as a kid. I got into writing stories in school, but when I played Final Fantasy VII, I knew it was games for me. It took me a long time to get from there to here, but that was the moment.

How would you describe Detective McQueen?

He’s a dork. A total dork, that kid who was also trying to solve crimes as a kid. Pretends to be jaded to look cool and avoid being bullied, but really is very excited by all the weirdness that goes on around him. He digs all this weird stuff.

How would you describe Officer Dooley?

He’s an optimist. He believes in a lot of mad stuff, but it doesn’t get him down. He sees the best in most situations and people. He sort of trudles along in life and things largely work out.

What makes these two characters work so well together?

I think it’s because they’re real buddies. McQueen has the higher police rank, but they’re really just two friends hanging out. A lot of their cases are things they stumble into as they go about their day, you know?

The Darkside Detective has a somewhat unique structure in that it is split into separate cases. Do you enjoy the storytelling variety this structure allows?

Yeah, it’s neat. It lets us build up a larger city over time, bring in a wider cast, revisit them over time, have people changing, see the world grow – we don’t ever state how much time has passed between cases, but we’ve seen Devon join the Bloodwolves and Raxa set up a small business. In a single longer story, that would be harder to do. Plus, we get to put in all manner of foes and creatures. If the game was one longer story, we wouldn’t have Tam or Nigel or any of the other, lesser hurdles that we got to include.

How important is humour when writing The Darkside Detective?

Well, like, it’s a comedy game, isn’t it? It wouldn’t review so well without it… But jokes aside, it’s important to me that we’re having fun making it. Testing adventure games is so tedious – you know the solutions, you know the right paths, but you have to try to fail over and over and read the same stuff… If our testers aren’t finding it funny, they’re gonna hate it. And, most importantly, if I don’t giggle when I re-find a joke, then it’s got to go.

What’s your favourite case in The Darkside Detective and why?

Ah, I love them all in different ways, don’t make me pick a favourite! Here are some neat moments, instead: Lovecraft and Poe bickering, Tam – everything about Tam, the priest on the water tower, the motel’s quest.

Do you write continually throughout development, or is the main story usually set in stone before production commences?

We have an overview planned for each season, then we break it into cases and focus in as described above. But sometimes a case doesn’t work (or doesn’t work as is) and we replace or change it. Either way, I’m writing from day one of production to about a week before launch (Treasa has to lock me out at some stage, otherwise…).

Thank you for your time, I’m excited to discover what ‘cases’ you’ve come up with for Season 2!

Thanks for the questions, they were really well thought through and researched.

Tracey

Treasa McCabe
Developer

Hi Treasa, thank you for your time and welcome to Alternative Magazine Online!

Hey! Thanks for having us. Nobody usually asks me questions so this is a new one for me. 😉

You’re the developer at Spooky Doorway – what does this role involve?

Developer in my case means general make stuff worky-ness. I do everything techy like the systems, frameworks, backends (hehe), ports, tech support etc. and I also come up with silly ideas and puzzles and help get them from the first inception of a concept to the point where myself, Dave and Paul can work on them reasonably independently. I also do a chunk of planning and project management, usually dealing with sprints and planning. I’m kinda fulfilling a tech lead, designer, scrum master, bug-fixing mammy role. Small companies tend to have a very ‘all hands on deck, jack of all trades’ approach from the whole team; we’re no different.

You previously worked in the world of finance; was it a difficult decision to leave that industry?

So I can tell you my disposable income has decreased considerably but on a day-to-day basis I’m a lot happier working on projects that make people smile than I ever was coding up microservices for banks. I have felt a bit morally squicky in some of my past roles. In Spooky Doorway I’m working with my best friends to make something we’re all proud of. It’s way more fulfilling and feels more worthwhile, even if I eat more pot noodles and drink Aldi wine now.

What’s it like working with your husband every day?

It can be challenging but also very rewarding. You end up becoming really good at communicating and a lot more honest with each other because you have this shared goal that you both want to be the best you can make it. That means sometimes though it’s a struggle between being a supportive partner and a colleague. We tip off kilter in the balance occasionally but every time the sway is smaller and it becomes easier to recover. We spent the first two years of our marriage and Darkside travelling and working remotely so we really had a baptism by fire. It could have gone either way (and I know it does for a lot of people) but for us it brought us closer together and made us stronger as a couple. We laugh a lot together, he’s a funny bastard and very level and loveable. That helps.

What game engine does The Darkside Detective use?

Unity. It’s total overkill and meant we had some performance problems because of the short, fast-loading small screens that we designed, but it helps in other ways. Like, the Switch port would have been way more of a pain in another engine.

How are the graphics drawn? Is it difficult to implement them in-game?

They’re all just drawn with the simple Unity SpriteRenderer.

It’s super easy because we’re using an engine.

What native resolution does The Darkside Detective run at?

1920 x 1080.

What is the hardest part of programming a game like The Darkside Detective?

I guess it’s shoehorning a 2D game like ours into what is essentially a 3D engine. There is a lot of crap that we don’t need that has to be sifted through. Unity has done a really good job of adding new 2D features recently but our game is still not really suited to it. Maybe I would consider a different engine in the future but honestly, if we were a just starting developer right now it would be a totally different ball game.

How is puzzle design approached for each case? Is it important to keep the puzzles feeling logical?

We start with a location or concept and come up with the big problem, how it is presented and what the solution is. Then we start breaking this into smaller puzzles, like an inverted tree structure. We usually have more branches than we need so that we can add or take away steps when we watch people playtest. Watching people play is really the key to knowing if you’re on the right track. You can see the blind spots in your own logic. It is incredibly iterative. Sometimes the case is nothing like our starting concept by the time we ship. We try our best to keep things logical but the odd head-scratcher can fall in as a product of our weird collective line of thinking.

The Darkside Detective has won several awards; it must feel satisfying for all your hard work to pay off?

It is great but they’re usually for narrative or music. I guess I can pat myself on the back for being a good editor to Dave’s nonsense. I come up with a tonne of the actual ideas and story though so I can quietly tell myself they’re partially mine, I guess.

How do you feel about The Darkside Detective fan art and cosplay?

It’s my favourite thing! I want to print out and frame every one of them. They are genuinely what makes me want to keep making games. Someone drew a picture of a day one bug we were having. I had been climbing the walls trying to find and fix it for everyone but seeing that just made me stop and laugh so hard. I realised at that point how cool, funny and chill our fans are. I feel really lucky, I think the genre we’re working in has such a lovely collection of people in the community.

What platforms will The Darkside Detective: Season 2 be available on?

Officially, desktop and Switch, hopefully, Xbox, PlayStation 4 and tablet as well. I’m working on ports to those for Season 1 so it wouldn’t be a lot of effort to port the second season once it’s figured it out and we’ve done the development. Fingers crossed.

Thank you for your time and good luck reaching your Kickstarter goal!

Thanks for having me. 🙂 This was fun, but I also totally get why I’m not usually allowed to talk to normal people.

For more information about The Darkside Detective: Season 2 Kickstarter – and to pledge your support – please visit:

Kickstarter.jpg

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/spookydoorway/the-darkside-detective-season-2

AMO would love to hear your thoughts via the comments section below! Also, don’t forget to follow AMO on Twitter and Facebook!

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