Developed by Quantum Conundrum developer Airtight Games, Murdered: Soul Suspect is a rare collaboration between Square Enix Japan and an external Western developer. When Siliconera spoke with Airtight Games last year, we learned the director of Dissidia: Final Fantasy was working on the game and it was inspired by Die Hard. Now just a week away from release, we caught up with Airtight Games again to talk about launching a new IP and the medium Ronan can communicate with.
What are some of the challenges when launching a new IP now compared to say Dark Void before or Soul Fjord earlier this year?
Matt Brunner, Chief Creative Officer at Airtight Games: New IP is the life’s blood of this industry, but very few publishers these days are willing to stick their neck out to keep that lifeline flowing. The incentive for a publishing executive is to find every reason they can not to risk their reputation and company’s resources on untested IP.
The primary challenge we have experienced with new IP is that you are always under the gun to make it AAA with resources that are usually far below the titles they are comparing you to. Square Enix, I am proud to say, was a very reliable, supportive partner in the development of Murdered and showed some real chutzpah in making a game around an IP that was developed from the ground up. I hope gamers give this title a fighting chance and by extension, encourage publishers to be more adventurous with their projects.
When did Murdered: Soul Suspect move to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One? What were you able to do on these consoles that you could do on current gen devices?
The decision to move to next gen consoles came very late in the cycle so we put our focus on making sure that the experience across all platforms was consistent and solid. There are some improvements in the next gen versions however, primarily visual and effects improvements.
Every good detective needs a sidekick. It’s a common trope to have the sidekick personify the reader or in this case player and summarize information they may have missed in other murder mystery stories. Ronan travels with a medium, can you tell us more about her?
A sidekick is definitely part of historical detective work but we didn’t approach the idea of a sidekick for our protagonist at the beginning of the story development. At some point however we realized that it would be extremely interesting to have a living character that Ronan could communicate and develop a relationship with. It also made the danger from the serial killer much more real and personal.
A medium was a natural choice for this character. The interesting thing about Joy, the medium, is that she wants nothing to do with ghosts or Ronan. They’ve plagued her since childhood and she’s sick of them. Ronan isn’t exactly the warm fuzzy type either. They must inevitably develop a common problem to even consider an uneasy alliance. The back and forth play between them as they navigate this alliance is what makes their relationship intriguing.
One tough part about designing a mystery game is avoiding point and click roadblocks where players don’t know what object they’re missing. Since Murdered: Soul Suspect puts you control of a character, you won’t randomly click on objects, but this can still be a design challenge for a player who wants to push forward with the story. How did Airtight Games approach this?
Investigations and clues were an enormous challenge for this game. In real life, clues have no pattern or visual call outs. You have to use all your powers of observation to collect them and then look at the problems from many angles to make a deduction.
We knew up front that we weren’t trying to emulate real life. It would be too frustrating and tedious for the player. At the same time we wanted players to feel like they were figuring the clues out and not just collecting stuff until that last item was found. I think we came up with some ghostly interactions that enable players to make sense of clues in ways that are accessible while allowing them to participate in the thought process of a detective.
How has Airtight balanced the combat with the demons? They look pretty aggressive once one spots Ronan.
The demons are terrifyingly deadly, even to someone who is already dead. But it’s key to understand that this is not a combat-centric game. What we decided to create were very dangerous encounters where you must use your tools and abilities to find your way past them.
There are a lot of different ways to approach an enemy and depending on the strategies you prefer you might never have to deal with one face to face. Don’t underestimate them though. If you’re not careful and alert they’ll violently descend and rip your soul from your (incorporeal) body.
What happens when you go off the beaten path? What kind of collectibles can Ronan find and how does completing side quests affect the game?
Side quests are entirely optional in this game. Our challenge was to make them compelling enough for players to want to do them because they were interesting and not do them because they had to. The side quests are for the most part centered on Ronan’s understanding of the world of the Dusk. They allow him to interact with other ghosts and get glimpses into his own problematic path of completion and escape.
All the collectibles in the game either give you information about Salem and your own back story or they give you a very real reward, such as a ghost story that is embedded in the space you are exploring. You could skip every side quest in the game, but you would be cheating yourself out of a mysterious and integrated gaming experience.