To celebrate the release of The Malgrave Incident, the latest game in the Mystery Case Files series, three producers from Nintendo and Big Fish Games fielded questions from GeekMom on what goes into developing a video game.
Nintendo’s Azusa Tajima and Masa Miyazaki, along with producer Shawn Seavers and the team from Big Fish Games, told us how they keep the world’s leading hidden-object series interesting, what to look for in the latest game, and what might be ahead for the series.
GM: What are the challenges specific to developing an E-rated game?
Big Fish Games: Our biggest challenge in making an E-rated game is creating a compelling story that is not too complicated. The goal is to have a plot that is easily understood but one that also has enough layers to keep players interested over the course of the game. In addition to the story, we also have to be careful when hiding objects. There are objects that could change the rating so we need to make sure that we keep those out of the scenes.
Nintendo: In general, it takes a big team effort to develop an E-rated game. We need to fulfill a lot of criteria set by the ESRB. For this particular game, there are so many hidden objects in the game that it was a significant challenge for us to eradicate objects that could affect the rating.
GM: What are the challenges you face when developing a sequel, especially in a long-running series?
Big Fish: For us, the challenge is two-fold. The first challenge always lies in creating something fresh and new without abandoning what it was that made the series successful in the first place. Players tend to come back to their favorite series with a complicated set of expectations. They usually want a similar experience, but they don’t want the exact same game. The trick is trying to match their expectations while offering an experience that feels new. At the same time, you can’t forget that there are people who haven’t played the series. The game has to be accessible by someone who has never played before. The trick here is to give the new player enough information to get started without feeling too repetitive to those players who are familiar with the series.
Nintendo: The biggest challenge would be to figure out what and how we should bring into a sequel to surprise the players in a positive way and keep the series fresh. Often times, this tends to be challenging to accomplish since we also need to make sure that we retain the identity of the series at the same time. For this new Mystery Case Files game, one of the things we asked Big Fish Games is to create the navigation scenes in 3D and the ability to look around by panning the camera. We think that this was a challenging proposition for Big Fish Games to undertake, but we acknowledge that they did an excellent job.
GM: What tone do you try to strike with the games, and how does that come through in the gameplay?
Big Fish: For each game we try to do something fresh. We like to vary the story’s setting and mix up the style of gameplay to keep things interesting. There’s always an undercurrent of gloom in the Mystery Case Files world, but we try to incorporate a lot of dark humor to complement the setting and lighten the mood. We also tend to create a sense of solitude in Mystery Case Files games. The player is typically investigating empty buildings or abandoned locations. Being alone in an unfamiliar place immediately creates a unique tone.
Nintendo: We saw how the Mystery Case Files series has evolved and developed on PC in terms of the tone and gameplay, and we felt that The Malgrave Incident should be in line with that stream of evolution. As a result, Mystery Case Files: The Malgrave Incident features a darker, more serious story with more adventure elements than Mystery Case Files: Millionheir, which was released on Nintendo DS.
GM: What sets The Malgrave Incident apart from previous Mystery Case Files titles?
Big Fish: We were excited to see what we could do with the series on the Wii! When we started thinking about this game, we imagined friends and family coming together to play in their living rooms so we tried to incorporate elements that would take advantage of this. We designed a cooperative element where up to four players can work together to find hidden objects. That is a first for the series. We also created a multiplayer mode that showcases the hidden-object mechanic in new and entertaining ways. The entire game was built in 3D which is a first for us. We also redesigned the hidden-object scenes with a “layered” approach that gives the scenes a look and feel that is different from our PC titles.
Nintendo: When we started to work on this title, one of our biggest goals is to create a unique experience of multiplayer hidden object puzzles that everyone can enjoy together in their living room. The single-player experience is also very unique. You cannot experience the 3D navigational scenes and hidden object puzzles with parallax effect in other Mystery Case Files titles.
GM: Any hints of what can we look forward to for future Mystery Case Files games?
Big Fish Games: There’s a great deal of fun to be had with some of our past story lines. We had some memorable characters, gorgeous scenery, and entertaining puzzles. At the same time, we’ve got some fun new game mechanics that might be better off with a new story line. We keep trying to “one up” our last game so we can’t wait for people to see what we’re working on!
Nintendo: This is totally Big Fish Games’ call. As a fan of Mystery Case Files series, we are looking forward to playing their next installment!
Up next: A Mystery Case Files party, and a Q&A for geeklings who are interested in careers in video-game development.