Playing Detective: How Mystery Games Silently Changed An Industry
In the world of games there are many careers. Among the Soldiers, Sages and Superheroes which players commonly personify with, another occupation continues to hold the employment and attention of gamers.
Since the earliest PC games, players played detective. From early ground working entries such as the 1982 command based Snooper Trooper titles from Spinnaker and the 1983 BBC computer game Granny’s Garden (which was commonly used in schools across the UK as a teaching tool) to the 1987 multi platform Police Quest series from Sierra games.
Console wise, the detective genre was having a more significant impact in Japan during this time. Early system based efforts such as the Famicom Detective Club’ games and the Kyotaro Nishimura mystery novel games of the late eighties were striking a chord.
A string of Sherlock Holmes games were also produced by Towa Chiki in the mid eighties for the famicom, but adaptations of detective stories form other popular media are just a small part of detective games as a creative genre. What’s really significant is the sheer amount of original creative detective works that are unique to games.
There’s been a constant evolution of the detective genre. It’s been a lynchpin for the industry and continues to change. When Lucasarts took their point and click games through the nineties from Sam and Max right through to Grim Fandango, they had progressively installed more cinematic approaches to their investigative games. It makes sense, after all this is the studio created and named after the man that gave the world Star Wars and Indiana Jones.
Nowadays, many games with a detective thematic at its core will use what works in films to act as a device in games. Not only do the script and characters need to be compelling but also the finer points; cinematography, lighting, scenery, music and many other elements are needed to involve the player.
In the look of recent yet traditional filmic fare like L.A. Noire and Heavy Rain (and it’s precursor Fahrenheit [indigo Prophecyin North America]), gamers are taken to the movies. Probably the most ambitious advances within the mystery medium in games have been made in a genre which still remains cultish in cinema and literature - horror.
Horror lends itself well to games, particularly within a detective mystery format, as it adds a level of jeopardy that wills the player to continue with their investigations. If the player can die then there’s more of a vested impetus to crack the case.
SNES era platformer Clock Tower had set requirements for the player to meet in order to reach certain endings and had cinematically referenced Dario Argentino much in the same way that Resident Evil would reference George A. Romero years later.
While the early Resident Evil games perfected this notion of clue collecting and mystery uncovering coupled with gunplay and fear. Giving the industry such a shot to the arm helped pave the way for Silent Hill, Alan Wake and a significant number of revolutionary entries in this field.
Cult DS mystery ‘The game with no name’ (Nanashi no Game) had a realistic first person perspective laced with a haunted 8 bit rpg throughout, a stylistic reference to both the Ring (Ringu) and the Grudge (Ju-on) film series. A concept that Tecmo Koei would take a step further in Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir for 3DS which would introduce 3D and Camera elements.
Rather than relying solely on horror, more pulp and cult mysteries like oddball slasher Deadly Premonition have developed their own following due to their more unique and polarizing aspects. Such ambitious mystery games that went against the grain of the industry such asHideo Kojima’s neon noir Snatcher and Suda 51’s Flower, Sun and Rain would lead to their respective auteurs gaining celebrated notoriety within the industry with later games.
A Novel Approach
While films have had a huge effect on detective games, mystery titles need to be clearly followable for the player which is likely why so many have been created within a heavily text based format, just as the original mysteries were in novels.
Handhelds are the mystery books of the games world. International hit properties like Professor Layton, Pheonix Wright: Ace Attorney and to a lesser extent Shu Takumi’s spiritual (in more than one way) off shoot Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective all combined puzzle elements with story based narrative.
Mystery games have also been used to attract new consumers to gaming. In 2009 Nintendo showcased Women’s Murder Club: Games of Passion amongst it’s E3 DS lineupin a conscious bid to attract an older female audience to it’s usually younger viewed system.
Another drive into the broader market came in the shape of Hotel Dusk. Hotel Dusk Room 275 was billed as a ‘mystery novel for DS’ in ads, promotions and on the game’s site. The intention was clear; If you read mystery novels you’ll like this game. It was a solid introduction to mystery fans that may have been computer game sceptics, and it worked. The title spawned the sequels Another Code: Two Memories (Trace Memoryin North America) andAnother Code: R – A Journey into Lost Memorieson Wii.
As recently as this week we’ll see another entry to this format in the vein of Guild02 eShop game Starship Damrey. This is the follow up to 1994 SNES mystery;Kamaitachi no Yoru(The Night of the Sickle Weasel ), which was written and co developed by Kazuya Asano and famed mystery writer Takemaru Abiko.
If you want to create a game that feels like a mystery novel, who better to hire than a mystery writer.
Finding clues or discovering new information is an equivalent to getting any difficultly obtained amour, weapon or star coin/chaos emerald. The challenge of striving towards these ‘level ups’ pushes the player along the game. The final verdict or conclusion stands in place of a final boss, and has little difference in game scripting structure or the traditional culture of game design to most action/adventure/puzzle/fighting games.
Just as literature crafted into the common psyche the immortal characters of Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Ms Marple so too did Television take its own turn in showcasing every sleuth from Columbo, Quincy, Murder She Wrote, Magnum P.I. To C.S.I and Dr House. Comics too have given the world Batman, Dick Tracy, Rorschach and TinTin, with many more besides. Cinema is too rich in detective films to do due justice to in this feature, but undoubtably games still feel the significant cultural effect of the Film Noir era of the 40’s when screen legends like Humphrey Bogart rooted the viewers perspective firmly in the detective’s raincoat and shoes.
Games are no different. Alan Wake, Detective Cole Phelps, Prof. Layton and Phoenix Wright are the detectives of this age and of this medium and they’ll be many more characters to guide gamers through future mysteries.
Read the full article at GamingIllustrated.com