5 min read

Project Gumshoe's πŸ•΅πŸΏ Gritty Reboot

This one shares how we rebooted a prototype before it was even released (codenamed "Gumshoe"), plus reveals a little info on another game prototype (codenamed "The Perfect Home").

Revisiting "How It Started ... vs How It's Going"!

Hey there, readers! Lucas here.

Starting this month, I'm trying a new format to keep the "email" part of our newsletter concise -- we'll retain the more longform approach here on our website, though, so please let me know what you think!

Also, if you want to re-read the first and second newsletters, they've made the move to the website, too!

Project Gumshoe's Gritty Reboot

As mentioned in the first devlog (above), Gumshoe was prototyped initially as a dominoes game. That didn't come together very well, though... so it was back to the gameplay drawing board!

In terms of general objectives, I knew I wanted the game to feel like an old detective TV show or novel: never staying too long in a scene, with one key character as the scene's focus, and punchy (often playfully witty) dialogue between that character and the detective.

In September, we went back to paper prototypes and tried a few ideas out. I asked Athena (on X and Bluesky) to make some "rapid prototyping" art for cards, scenes, and encounters which we could use to test out how a "Crazy 8s"-style game mechanic would feel. She did a great job, especially in the time I gave her - thank you, Athena!

Gumshoe - Scenes and Characters

In serialized detective TV shows, you normally start off with the main character somewhere familiar and comfortable.

Then (after presenting the detective with a case to solve) you gradually move that character into stranger and more challenging situations. Moving from scene to scene, the detective will encounter people (who either help or hinder, depending on circumstances) and obstacles which must be dealt with in order to unravel whatever situation faces them. This continues for 3-4 scenes until - finally! - the detective does whatever is needed to solve the case.

That sounds like a pretty good recipe for gameplay, too! Add in some randomization to keep things interesting, and you could get some pretty fun stories out of a few simple game mechanics.

Your Office

In the first episode (Episode 1, Act 1), the game will start in your office.

What you see here are 4 POSSIBLE encounters which will set you on your quest. There will be a reward when you win this encounter, however winning isn't required for the story to start. Winning is, however, necessary to finish the story!

I've tentatively titled the first episode "Scent of Blood" - this is clearly subject to change, once we have a dedicated writer on board... - and your job is to find what's happened to a missing man.

Other Scenes, Other Encounters

Since we want to make each playthrough a little different, we decided to limit who you can meet in each scene.

This means that not every encounter will be possible in every scene; it's unlikely, for example, that you would run into a lady from high society in a dark alley - nor would she be likely to want to stick around for a chat!

We will also randomize who you meet in a scene each time you play, so replaying a particular episode can result in a totally different experience!

Gumshoe - Card Shedding Gameplay

During an encounter, the player will sometimes be given a simple choice which affects their capabilities - for example, if you find a lost wallet in a dark alley, the player decides to either return the wallet or keep it.

Usually, though, the player will enter into conflict with an AI-controlled character. When this happens, they will play a "card shedding" type game -- something similar to "Crazy 8s", where the players need to play cards (by matching suit or value of the previously-played card) until they have no more cards left to play. As mentioned above, the goal of an encounter is to win a clue, although not every encounter will be rewarded!

Our detective, like all noir detectives, can engage others in only 4 ways: violence, charm, wit, and money (as seen in some samples below).

Gumshoe - Dialogue-driven, Deterministic Narration

In a lot of games which give the player agency, NPC dialogue can be confused by player actions for which the narrative designer didn't plan. As we plan to rotate which characters you meet in a scene each time you play, the hard part of Gumshoe suddenly steps from the shadows: how do we tell the player a coherent story?

I think the solution is to lock in the overall story (e.g. - Episode 1, Act 1 is "find the missing person") and then... just write every possible dialogue option. ;)

We've not started this work yet, but we know how it should work; once we have a sample to share, I promise that all of you subscribed to this newsletter will be the first to know!

The Perfect Home - Concept & Visual Design

In our prototype codenamed "The Perfect Home", the player operates an interstellar colony ship full of hibernating humans fleeing Earth.

As the colonists are loaded onto your ship, you’re given a single directive: this planet is dying; find a new planet somewhere else for these people to call home. Sailing through the harsh emptiness of space between stars & surveying possible destinations once you arrive, you will need to balance the needs of the ship against the lives of the specialists you take out of cold storage β€” they can't be put back; every human you decant will almost certainly die before you reach the perfect home.

Heloisa (portfolio here) spent some time in September developing the visual identity for TPH; check out her awesome work, below!

Current Title Card

We're aiming for a futuristic, medical-technical feel. Heloisa was also inspired to show the destination through a frosty porthole to space.

I love it! What do you think?

First Draft Title Card

The "technical" look was there in the first draft, for sure. I wanted to see a bit more "hibernation pod", though.

Hiding the technical meant popping off a panel for the "under construction" feel.

(up next) More Prototype Concepts & Tutorial Design for "Null Sweat"

In the next newsletter, I want to share another game prototype concept we have underway.

Additionally, I'll dig into some details on how the first (tutorial) mission in prototype "Null Sweat" is put together.

Thanks again for following along on our adventure together – and be sure to clue in any friends you think would like to join us!