Interrogation - A noir psychological game


#1

Hi.

I’ve been stalking this forum for a while and realized I never really shared what I’m up to, so what better moment than New Year’s to do it? (when I’m hungover enough not to be able to code, yet still want to feel productive doing something)

About two years ago I grouped up with 4 other friends to start Critique Gaming. After experimenting a little, we settled on making Interrogation.

The game puts you in the chair of a police interrogator tasked with finding out the location of a bomb due to explode in a few short minutes. A number of suspects are brought in front of you and you have to ask the right questions, emotionally involve them and figure out how to best make them talk. Some of them may be innocent, some may be the bombers. As time ticks away, you might be tempted to cut corners and use verbal or physical violence.

As we’re not really funded yet, we’ve been working on this in our spare time, so progress is slow. Initially, it was built in Unity (here’s a playable prototype) and for the past months we’ve been rewriting it in Defold and overhauling and refining the graphics and the UI.

I think we got to a point where the gameplay actually feels very similar to talking to a real person, but it’s very text heavy right now. Since voice acting is out of the question, we’ve been working a lot on lifting some of the burden of expressivity from the text and having the UI and animation convey more of the feeling of the game.

Here’s a preview of how the Defold rewrite is currently going: (major WIP)

https://forum.defold.com:/uploads/default/original/2X/b/b334ae775bc1483ecf3129f6f714afba7cd61149.mov


#2

I really like the style! I wish you success!


#3

Looks really nice! I like the art style!


#4

That’s cool! Can you share your Unity vs Defold experience? Both development process-wise and also game performance-wise. Thanks!


#5

Ok. I have a lot to go on on this so I’ll split it in a few categories. Please take in mind that I haven’t explored Unity very in-depth and for some of the things that annoyed me at Unity there might actually be less frustrating solutions I haven’t known about.

The tooling

I think Defold offers simpler and more barebones solutions than Unity, which are often easier to use. This simplicity, though, is sometimes a blessing and sometimes a curse. It allows you to be more flexible, but at times requires you to put in a bit more work instead of using pre-made stuff.

I felt the Unity workflow is not really optimised for 2D. For example, making a simple fade out animation involved creating a bunch of animation files and fiddling with keyframes, instead of a simple go.animate().

Resource management in Defold also felt much simpler than in Unity. I find the fact that the engine creates atlases for you instead of you having to remake them every time you change / remove one of the images infinitely more convenient.

Unity has a lot of pre-made UI widgets, but some of them don’t exactly do what you need them to or if they do, they require a lot of configuration. Using Unity’s scroll view, for instance, was a bit like shooting myself in the foot. It felt poorly implemented and hard to make it feel right on all platforms. In Defold, I just proceeded writing my own, which took a bit more, but yielded a better result.

On the other hand, I miss Unity’s auto-scaling GUI layout system. I think Defold’s layout system tries to be simple, but makes it hard to control how things stretch and anchor, especially in nested layouts. I had to write a small layout library that listens to @render:window_resized and then does the right thing.

Sound is also a big pitfall of Defold. Not being able to do basic things like pausing and skipping through music is a bit constraining. But, I understand there’s work scheduled on sound.

The programming experience

This could be personal preference, coming from a heavy JS background, but for game logic and rapid development in general, I think languages like C# and Java are a poor choice. While working in C# I felt like I was unnecessarily constrained by classes and C#'s rigid syntax and static types. While it’s true that it’s much harder to write buggy code when the language watches your back like that, I ended up spending a lot of time writing boilerplate code I wouldn’t have written in a dynamic language like Lua. Besides time spent, I think that takes away from the joy of coding and from your motivation sometimes.

Adding to that, I think that Lua has some really smart and simple solutions to many design problems (from the flexibility of tables to emulating Python’s tuples with multiple return values to its awesome stack-based C API). I was in love with Lua long before Defold and, to be honest, it’s pretty much a joy to work in it. I sometimes miss the functionals that JS has (map(), reduce(), filter() etc.), but then I’m reminded that in game code you don’t really work that much with data structures more complicated than an object anyway.

Performance

While I could make a game pretty quickly in Unity, performance on mobile really took a hit. There’s a clear performance difference for 2D. I haven’t sat through and profiled it properly, so I’m not sure where the bottleneck was in the Unity build, but the Defold one is blazing fast.

What’s also to note is editor performance. The Unity editor sometimes felt sluggish, which isn’t something that I feel with the Defold editor.


#6

I am curious about why voice acting is out of the question.

The game looks really interesting, sounds like a lot of work for a scriptwriter.


#7

Our scriptwriter is a bit insane, indeed, but he enjoys his work :smiley:. The problem with voice acting is that there’s a very large amount of dialog to be acted (some of which the player might not even access before a number of playthroughs) and we’d also need a lot of different voices to cover the changing cast of characters we have planned for each episode (level). All of this dialogue needs to be acted by somebody that knows what he’s doing and then mastered by our sound guy. We simply don’t have the resources to hire that many voice actors for that amount of content.

What we can do (and what we’re actually doing this week) is call on a bunch of friends to act out the gesture animations for the characters. We then take the pictures and our artist draws over each frame. Since they just have to act out some passive gestures, they don’t need to have professional acting experience, hence we don’t go bankrupt.


#8

Yes, audio can be complicated if you’re aiming for a high standard or have a large cast.

I’ve just played episode one and two, and I really loved it. I did episode two on my first attempt, but I had to go back to episode one.

You mentioned you were interested in feedback. I would recommend that you look at the game keep talking and nobody explodes for some ideas about vibe (it is a really, truly great game and I would recommend you to get a copy of it right now and find someone to play it with).


#9

Your thoughts are really helpful to people like me coming from Unity. It makes me more conscious of which “problems” I might get in my game development, and also get me excited of getting rid of the heaviness feeling that Unity gives me with 2D projects… so… yeah, thanks :slight_smile:

Aboud your game… I am starting to play it now. Soon I’ll send you the feedback


#10

Thanks for playing :smile: Did you do it without any cruel actions? That’s more challenging.

I actually played Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes some time ago, but didn’t really make the connection. Now that you mention it, yeah, the sense of urgency is similar. As far as inspiration is concerned, we like to think our game is a cross of Papers Please and the interrogation scenes in L.A. Noire.


#11

Actually the first thing I did was roughed them up a little bit. That’s the most fun part, right?!?!

The second time I played, I had just 14 seconds left when I solved it and it was great. And in general, I think the time element of this kind of game is really important.

You mentioned wanting feedback (and as an amateur game designer, it’s impossible for me to play anything without instantly thinking of loads of feedback). One thing that I would have done differently would be to present four options (for example, interrogate, empathise, accuse, enhanced interrogation… etc…), and then let the player choose a question (or action) from a few sentences based on the option they had selected. That would make the game feel less “texty”.

I’m going to investigate papers please. I never got round to playing that.


#12

I can’t even pass the first episode with cruel actions!! ahahha my initial feedback is too much text for just 5min… that being said, audio is great, makes the difference, gives me the sense of urgency! The visual style is good: simple and distinct. A suggestion: now you use the keyboard to “navigate” in the scene and the mouse selects the dialogues… if you find a more simple solution, you could put this game on mobile too (mainly tablets because there are too much text to read on a small phone screen).


#13

I agree that when you first start, it seems like you’re going to have to read a lot. But in fact, I found that the time limit of five minutes was pretty well balanced with the amount you have to read.


#14

@otapliger: You can actually just use the mouse to navigate, it’s just that it isn’t very apparent in the Unity build. We’ve improved a lot on that in the rewrite. And yes, we actually found the gameplay most comfortable on a tablet.

And yes, the feeling is of “too texty”. That’s why we’re trying to add more forms of context like expressive gestures, text scrolling speed variations and a more visual representation of the player’s “tools” (questions, the case file and methods of abuse).


#15

Yes, after three times I almost get the right way to interrogate and within the fourth time, I managed to solve the case… with cruel actions… I mean, I still had 2:13 minutes left, but you know, after three times I thought I didn’t have time to play without cruel actions


#16

I see… my fault… when I read the introduction in which you describe the actions you have to do and put the keys to perform the action next to it… like Interrogation Rooms [A][D]… I just assumed it was the only way.


#17

Yaaay!
We also updated the Itch page with the GDC competition version, if you want to play it: https://critique-gaming.itch.io/interrogation


#18

Congratulations on submitting the game!


#19

Thanks. We’re all fingers crossed over here. :smile: We can now finally sleep. (or in my case, cram for finals)


#20

Here’s some universe lore: