After getting hands-on with Murdered: Soul Suspect, I managed to interview both the Chief Creative Officer of Airtight games Matt Brunner and one of the writers on Soul Suspect, Doug Van Horne.
I started by focusing my questions at Matt, starting with how the idea for Soul Suspect came along.
Q: Murdered: Soul Suspect has quite a different feel to your other games – Dark Void, Quantum Conundrum etc. – What made you go down the route of a detective thriller?
Matt: We sat down with Square (Enix) at the very beginning of this project and brain stormed on both sides of the isles with some I.Ps and game designs we felt interesting. The one that really excited everyone at its core, was a game about being a ghost. We then were fully onboard with creating a character that centres around a ghost, but we had to think about what that meant. We ventured down a number of different avenues, but as a result of story development, we came to the conclusion that you should be investigating something that was of importance to you when you were alive, which of course is who actually killed and why. Everything began to fall into place behind that.
I then posed the question to other genres, raising the question as to where they might like to go next.
Q: Are there any other genres, aside from a detective game, that you might want to delve into? Say, a racing game?
Matt: Oh my god. Well I can’t tell you…. actually I can, though I don’t know if I should.
(Unfortunately at this point, a Square-Enix representative suggested that he stick to his own personal preferences)
Matt: The studio right now is developing a number of different titles internally that we would love to make. Either they’re unannounced or they’re not even at the birthing stage yet, still being percolated.
Doug Van Horne decided to jump in at this point, offering his view on the matter.
Doug: Over my career, I’ve personally worked on sports, MMO, racing and adventure games, but as long as the game idea is solid that’s all you really want to work on. You want to work on a really solid game that you can believe in and get behind. I think that’s what we have here and what we’re looking to do in the future.
Matt: Our specialty really is about developing a new I.P from the roots up, it isn’t about a specific kind of a game, it’s more about being creative and coming up with really cool ideas to form the core of a really unique type of gameplay.
Q: There’s recently been criticism surrounding Murdered and its opening moments, particularly its pacing. What do you have to say on the matter? Is it more of a case that you want to guide the player in a very linear fashion to begin with, so that they know the controls and rules and are not gallivanting around not knowing what to do next?
Matt: Absolutely. The beginning of the game is definitely more on-rails I guess.
Doug: It’s tutorialised, maybe.
Matt: It’s strongly dictated by a cinematic experience, alongside some tutorials to help you understand that the rules of the world are. One of the reasons for that is because what we’re doing is creating a new game space, as it were, as you can’t just go into it and go, “I know this button must be the trigger button and this one is the jump button..” it doesn’t equate in this game. So we have to teach you a lot of new stuff at the beginning of this and we try to keep it as seamless as possible. By doing that it does have a fairly long ramp before you’re actually in total control.
Doug: I actually remember there was a period of time where our creative director really wanted us to investigate if it were possible to give the player no objectives, and if at the beginning of the game what would happen if we just threw them in this world. Would the player understand what is going on and would they understand/latch onto their objective – would they have fun? We tried multiple times, brain storming all these different ways to handle that. Ultimately, through focus testing, that wasn’t giving players the experience we wanted them to have, and we found they were more confused, than having fun. That’s not something you ever want, so what you see now is the result of lots of testing, honing in the best avenue to introduce you to a world you’ve never seen before.
I empathised with Doug on the matter, before moving more of my questions from his point as a writer on the game.
Q: With most of the material seen thus far, Murdered seems as though it has more of a focus on your environment and characters, bringing in a strong narrative, rather than over-the-top combat. Would you say that’s a good summary?
Doug: I would definitely say that over-the-top combat isn’t part of the game. I think the narrative is a big part of the game, but it’s focusing primarily on the investigation and your actions within that. The enemy encounters are the horror element we use to make you feel like it’s not just a murder mystery to solve. They’re there to remind you that you’re in a threatening world and that there are penalties for not moving forward. However, they’re used a penalties going forward too, as they become obstacles to successfully investigating a murder.
It does a great job of making this stand out as a unique type of game; it’s not just an investigation game and it’s definitely not a combat game, but they’re used as flavour to remind you that you’re in a limbo where you’re trying to figure out if you’re going to go forward in a positive or negative way. So you need that negative influence to narratively sell it to make the experience feel whole.
Q: Given that Ronan O’Connor will not rest until he’s solved his own murder, is it fair to say that this is a one-time story? Or should we expect to follow him through into reincarnation, as say, a Dog?
Doug: (Laughs) In any universe you can figure out a reason to have a sequel in anything, not matter what.
Matt: We’ve designed it with the ability to expand.
Doug: Yeah you definitely could. This is a very contained story, but that doesn’t mean this is running as a one-off character or that this world can’t be revisited again. It would be pretty fun to, as there were a lot of ideas that we wanted to do that didn’t fit into this time frame. There were also other types of characters that we were hoping we could fit in, however, they couldn’t make it in this round.
Q: So does that mean he’s not necessarily going to solve his murder?
Doug: Oh you’re not going to get the ending out of me, man!
I had to try! Besides, it’s been great playing the game and speaking with you both.
Doug: Thank you!
Murdered: Soul Suspect releases on June 3rd in North America and June 6th in Europe.