After its release toward the end of Summer 2017, The Darkside Detective quickly charmed Indie Ranger and many in the gaming community with its comedy and style. Today, developers Spooky Doorway launched their Kickstarter for a sequel, The Darkside Detective 2. We spoke with Paul Conway, Dave McCabe and Treasa McCabe about their successful debut, their experience as developers, and their plans going forward.
How did you get your start in game development?
Paul: I wanted to work making game art since I was a teenager and realized that people actually made the “graphics” in games. I studied computer modeling and animation then ended up as a pixel artist somehow in my first games job at a mobile game studio in 2005.
Dave: Like Paul, I always wanted to write for games but, for various reasons, ended up in film instead. In 2010 (I think) a friend from college was set up a games studio and asked if I’d write the storyline for one of their projects. Things just carried on from there, really.
Treasa: I got into games coding when my C++ lecturer, one of the founders of Havok, made it into a competition and set an Xbox as the prize for the best space invaders clone. Playing everyone’s creations I realized that with just your brain and a computer you could create an entire experience and make people smile. Student debts pulled me into the financial sector for a few years but finding the Irish game dev community and doing my first 1GAM rekindled the fire and I decided that being happy was more important to me than being rich. A few years later and here I am, making silly things to make people smile with the people I love and I’ve never been happier.
Being based in Ireland, do any challenges arise from your location? Are there other developers you work with or plan to work with?
Paul: Ireland has a great community of talented developers which all help and support each other. I’ve worked with quite a few of the developers here, either on smaller side projects or in game jams. Professionally I work remotely with a lot of developers from all over the world as a freelance artist.
Some downsides from the location are there are very few AAA studios here, funding options are very limited and also being on an island, we have to fly to all the main game developer conferences in Europe or the States. That can be a little isolating when trying to get your game noticed.
As a small studio, do you each have to participate in different areas of development? For example, are there developers who write the game’s dialogue too, or who design the art assets?
Paul: The three of us have our main roles which we cover (Me: Art, Dave: Narrative, Treasa: Development) but we all work on a lot of different tasks which would be done by other team members in a larger studio. For example, I do a lot of business development and PR related things, Treasa and Dave work on the design, she gets our stores up and running, and Dave does a lot of work on our press releases and some other business tasks I can’t get to. It’s all hands on deck, but it’s efficient and keeps costs down.
What inspired you to create The Darkside Detective as your debut game?
Paul: I like to say The Darkside Detective was an accident because a lot of the core concept arrived fully formed during a game jam, and the resulting demo helped us see that there was interest in the idea. The truth is, we all loved the world and were having a lot of fun working on it. We had to, we had zero budget and worked on it in our spare time over 2 years. It was also very complimentary to the skills we had as a newly formed team, and it was also an easy concept to communicate to the public through funny images and animations.
Were you surprised with the success and popularity of the title?
Paul: I guess we always knew it would find an audience, we had received a strong reaction to our social media pushes, and a lot of the larger media outlets covered the game when we first announced it. But I think we were very surprised by how much a lot of people seemed to really loved the game and its characters. We’ve received tons of fan art and very touching emails from players who said the game meant a lot to them and in some cases, had even helped them through some dark patches of depression. At the core of the game is a friendship between two characters, and that seemed to reach far beyond our graphical and budget limitations.
Some games that have clear influences fail to stand on their own. What did you do to make sure your title is clearly inspired by media that came before it, but can also stand on its own two feet?
Paul: I believe that the game stands quite well on its own. We had a lot of fun using references from movies and TV shows we all loved as kids, but the references, for the most part, are just a texture to the background of the world if you explore about a bit. When we brought them into the forefront, we subverted them and turned them on their heads.
The characters and world of The Darkside Detective have a lot of depth to it which we really enjoy exploring, but a good fourth wall breaking joke or reference hasn’t gotten in the way of that.
Did you have other ideas that you put on hold in order to make The Darkside Detective?
Paul: We all have different personal game ideas we’ve either shelved or never started because of the time commitment was given to The Darkside Detective during its development. There a few game genres I’d personally love to explore, but just don’t have the time right now.
We have a lot of ideas we want to work on as a team and have already begun fleshing out in the background. We may be announcing one of these later in the year if a few things align.
Humor is something that’s hard to do right. What do you think was the secret to the humor being such a high-point in the game?
Paul: I think the main answer to this is simple: Dave, our writer. His sense of humor really worked with the daft off-kilter world of The Darkside Detective. I doubt the game would have even been half as well received if we’d had another writer on the project.
Some other elements which helped are we’re working with familiar ideas and tropes and subverting them, and also we streamlined the game a lot, removing dialogue and character movement. This help to keep the flow of the story and the jokes quick and snappy. When we tried voice overs it really dulled the pace and killed the experience.
Last month you put out the season finale as the last in a series of free content updates. Did you plan ahead for the longevity, or was this in response to the critical praise it received?
Paul: The amount of cases and releasing as paid or free updates wasn’t set in stone, but we always wanted to add in more to the game after launch, especially the Xmas special. The TV-Series / mini-episode format lent itself well to adding more content, so it was a natural fit. Adding more cases also gave more value to the game and kept us engaged with our fans by giving them a little more.
You recently announced that you’re going to do a Kickstarter for a sequel, The Darkside Detective 2. What can you tell us about your plans?
Paul: We’re planning to do work on a whole new series of cases and to resolve the cliffhanger we finished on from the final bonus case, Baits Motel. There is more to explore in the world, more silly tales to tell. We also learned a lot while working on Season 1, so we want to do our best to bring that to bear and to bring better, funnier cases to our fans.
Are you going to release more cases and content after the initial launch as you did with the first game?
Paul: It’s hard to say at this time. I guess it really depends on how well the Kickstarter goes and how well received the second season is.
When can people expect the Kickstarter to go live?
Paul: It’s going live today. Your readers should be able to visit the Kickstarter page right now to check out what we’ve got on offer. Jump on over to http://darksidedetective.com/kickstarter
What other genres and styles are you interested in working with?
Paul: We want to work in several other genres, including action-adventure, FPS, RPG and RTS. We’ve discussed ideas for each of them. Our design ideology tends to focus on finding a means to streamline the experience, find an interesting angle to approach it from, and what sort of narrative we can fit into it.
Colton is a computer science student at SUNY Fredonia who hails from Buffalo, NY and would much rather be writing articles, scripts, and poems than code. Find him stressing in your nearest coffee shop. A few of his favorite games are Half Life/Half Life 2, Resident Evil 4 and Super Mario 64.