Relentless and the Blue Toad Murder Files; The PS3 Attitude Interview
Blue Toad Murder Files is an episodic whodunnit-em-up from the one of the UK’s Top Ten most successful developers, and it will be their first self-published PSN title.
Paul Woodbridge, Design Director at Relentless, took some time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions.
[PS3 Attitude] How long is each episode and how many episodes are planned in total?
[Paul Woodbridge] As this is a social game it is important that each episode doesn’t last too long. We came to a decision that around 90 minutes was a good time, and that six episodes would be enough to tell our story. This also happens to be very similar to television which is important for us. We don’t want to alienate people who may not play a lot of games, but are comfortable with watching an episode of Midsummer Murders.
[PS3A] What sort of trophies have you included?
[PW] These are still going in, but we plan to try to have a nice variety in there. As well as the standard ones you’d expect, for example ‘game complete’, we’re trying to put in a few interesting ones that will require doing more than just playing the game from start to finish.
[PS3A] Do you see the team working on these more titles like this going forwards?
[PW] Although the prospect of making more games like this is exciting, at the moment we’re really just focused on completing this first series to the best of our abilities. Once we’ve had time to catch our breath we’ll be able to plan where we want to go next.
[PS3A] Relentless have pretty much mastered the on-the-couch social interaction gaming genre with the Buzz! franchise. Would it be accurate to describe Blue Toad Murder Files as a similar family-oriented game? How are you taking this growing genre toward the next logical step?
[PW] Blue Toad Murder Files has been designed from the beginning to be an on-the-couch social game, and I think it benefits from the interaction between the players just like a game of Buzz! does. However we’ve substituted the competitive rivalries of Buzz! for more cooperative gameplay. In focus tests most players have helped each other through the game, at least until the very end. When it comes to the point where you have to choose who you think the villain is people start to get competitive again, regardless of how helpful they had been up to that point.
[PS3A] You’ve mentioned in the past how BTMF is very much aimed at a certain type of gamer. For example, a parent who would like to spend some time gaming with his kids. We’ve seen anecdotal evidence that this demographic is an under-explored area. What has your research uncovered in this regard?
[PW] I think that the success of games like Buzz!, SingStar and Rock Band shows that there is a huge market out there for fun and inclusive social games. These games appeal to both gamers and their non-gamer friends and it is this word of mouth that I believe is largely responsible for their popularity. How many people have family who they played Wii Sports with, only to have them buy their own system shortly after? From a development perspective it’s an interesting area to work in as there are certainly many great ideas still out there that we just haven’t thought of yet.
[PS3A] The marketing of Blue Toad is going to be interesting as it will be a challenge to get across to the public that this is basically interactive Cluedo or an Agatha Christie-like episode. How will this game will be presented to the downloading public to create interest and sales?
[PW] This is a great opportunity for us to delve into the world of marketing and PR. Blue Toad is such a fun title that will appeal to so many people that we’re hoping to do some creative stuff with our marketing campaign. We’ll be at the Eurogamer Expo this month to show the game to the public for the first time and after that we’ll be doing lots of online marketing and PR. Is this a good time to also mention that our website has just launched?
[PS3A] What tools are at our investigators’ disposal? Obviously we can question witnesses but what other options are available? Do we get a magnifying glass for instance? Can we brush for prints? Search police files?
[PW] We toyed with all those ideas but found that detracted from the core focus. Our goal has always been to provoke the same deductive reasoning thought processes that you get reading an Agatha Christie novel or watching an episode of Jonathan Creek, and by adding investigative tools you deviate from this. Instead of posing the question “can you work it out?” you subtly change it to “have you found everything?” and that was something we wanted to avoid.
[PS3A] Can you tell us a little more about the characters in the game? We understand they’re based on some of the standard archetypes from the gamut of murder mystery lore. The precocious Nancy Drew type, the haughty Poirot figure. Any chance of a bumbling Columbo? We’re big fans of the trench coat, cigar-smoking sleuth here.
[PW] I’m afraid that although he was concepted the trench-coated sleuth didn’t make the final cut. We looked at all stereotypes we could find, and tried to gather them into a group that didn’t contradict each other and the result was a kind of family group that of all ages and sexes. You’ve got the Enid Blyton school boy, the Nancy Drew and Poirot types that you mentioned yourself, and of course the busybody old lady who just can’t keep her nose out of everyone else’s business.
[PS3A] We’ve talked about Blue Toad here among the staff writers and the one point that keeps popping up is: how hard is this game going to be? If the game is aimed at families of varying ages how difficult has it been to find a balance between accessibility and difficulty?
[PW] Getting the right difficulty, both of the puzzles and the mystery, has been a major concern of ours. Too easy and you rob people of satisfaction, too hard and you replace it with frustration. Focus testing has helped us try to find a balance and I believe that we’re at a stage now where most people will be able to solve most of the puzzles within a reasonable amount of time.
[PS3A] The investigative team gets to see all the info and then makes up their mind of who committed the heinous act. We’re assuming the finger-pointing is done at a team-level and individual detectives can’t pick their own personal culprit. In play testing have you come across the scenario where there’s been a difference of opinion?
[PW] We thought the same thing… and then we started focus testing! It turns out that no matter how helpful your players have been to each other, come the end of the game when the finger-pointing occurs many people want to hide their choice from the others. This led to a redesign and this part is now done in private. It seems to work well as the people who want to help can still say what they’re doing, whilst everyone else is able to hide their choice.
[PS3A] BTMF is planned as an episodic venture with new murders to solve coming online in the coming months. We’re not sure of the time gap between each murder but we’re assuming Relentless will be offing virtual people and asking us to collar the culprits well into next year. Sony’s Motion Controller will have made its way to market and become a potential tool for future crime scenes. Are there any plans to incorporate the MC? Or PS Eye for that matter, another great tool we believe would really accentuate a murder solving game through the use of augmented reality?
[PW] We’re very interested in both the Motion Controller and the Eye, and it would be great to work with these in the future. However Blue Toad hasn’t been designed to use either of these and I’d rather we made full use of them rather than just tacking them on. We haven’t really had time to think about any sequels yet, but it’s definitely a valid point and one that we would look into further.
[PS3A] As the PS3 comes with a built in browser, were you tempted to take the clue hunting process outside of the game-space and into the real world like an ARG? We’re thinking a few specifically tailored web-sites about Little Riddle that require the players to read and find out more about the area could act as a quirky way to expand the hunt.
[PW] We spent a long time talking about this but in the end decided that it diluted the focus rather than enhance it. There are some ideas which would be great to explore but I think they would be better suited to a game other than Blue Toad.
[PS3A] How important are unique and quirky games in the current economic climate?
[PW] I think unique and quirky games are important in any economic climate. Not only can they be brilliant games in their own right, but they also often try things that haven’t been properly tried. Of course, if a unique and quirky game does really well then it stops being unique and quirky and instead becomes its own genre.
We’d like to thank Paul and the team at Relentless for their time and effort. What have you deduced from our interview? Tell us what you think of Blue Toad Murder Files in the comments…