Marketing Tabletop Puzzle Games on Kickstarter — A Case Study
The Murder on Hemlock Drive – Murder, Mystery & Intrigue
Hey everyone, I am Mitchell Clifford, a mystery novel fiend and game designer working on a new adventure game, The Murder on Hemlock Drive. I am so honored that The Escape Roomer has given me the chance to tell you a bit about my new game! The Murder on Hemlock Drive is a murder-mystery, adventure game built around deduction and risk. I want to make you feel like you are stepping into the pages of an Agatha Christie novel full of lies, intrigue and little gray cells.
Here’s a brief teaser of the story: The year is 1928. You are invited to a New Year’s party by a friend that you haven’t seen since childhood. It seems strange, him reaching out after all this time, but you’re intrigued. You travel to the small town where his family estate sits. You never suspect your night of partying will be the stage for murder!
How does this game transport you into the world of Agatha Christie? One of distinguishing characteristics of an Agatha Christie novel is how the detective solves the mystery by looking beyond the clues and into the psychology of the people involved. In my game, I put character interaction first. In order to solve the mystery, you have to get to know the characters, find out what makes them tick, and maybe then they’ll reveal to you their secrets or become your ally. But don’t worry my classic adventure game fans– there will be plenty of puzzles to solve and codes to decipher along the way!
One of the hang ups I have with mystery games is that they don’t give you many choices. You start out as a generic detective, find a piece of evidence until the game tells you you’ve got it all and later the game prompts you with an obvious place to use that evidence. It feels more like the game is doing all the deducing for you. Before this game even begins, you are given the opportunity to assign varying levels of 3 character traits to your protagonist: charisma, class, and intelligence. These traits shape how they interact with the other characters and puzzles throughout the game, and it will be your job to determine what information is important and what is a red herring!
A “charismatic” detective is one that everyone may like but not everyone takes seriously. Think of Nancy Drew, Blanche White or Miss Marple. These detectives are down to earth and know how to listen and understand people, but they get underestimated by villains and authorities alike. As a charismatic protagonist, you will be able to pick up gossip and other characters are more likely to let their guard down around you. However, characters that prefer credibility, like the police, won’t tell you everything they know.
A “classy” detective is one that has more privilege when interacting with others. Think Hercule Poirot or Parker Pine. As a classy protagonist, you will be able to learn more information from people who consider themselves of a higher class or who are authority figures, like the police. However, your status as a member of the higher class restricts which characters will be forthcoming with information. Be aware that deference from people below your station may hide secrets.
An “intelligent” detective has the upper hand as they explore the world, observing and manipulating the environment. Think Sherlock Holmes. As an intelligent protagonist, you will observe people and make deductions about who they are and what they’ve done. Catching people off guard often yields clues that you wouldn’t get otherwise. However, you’re out of luck if the subject is outside the field of forensics. You’ll have to try hard to not come off as a jerk.
Assigning character traits isn’t the only choice you’ll have to make in this game, there are also a variety of different ways to influence conversations between characters. Items you’ve collected can be used as a gift or bribe, you can also push for answers and call people out on their lies. But, these choices also come with consequences — the more brash you are, the more you alert the murderer. Be careful or you might be killed yourself!
To demonstrate how all these choices work together, I will break down the initial puzzle of the game. (Skip this paragraph if you don’t want any spoilers!)
As the game starts, your character arrives on the last train of the evening and you are tasked with finding a way to your childhood friend’s house. Depending on the combination of the 3 character traits you chose, the solution of the puzzle changes dramatically. For example, if you chose high levels of class, the solution is to walk past everything to the train station attendant who will call a taxi for you. As a classy protagonist, you have an air of authority around you that makes people step in line. If you chose high levels of charisa, you can gossip with the traveler in the station until he trusts you enough to give you the task of finding his suitcase. Exploring the station, you’ll find the only place that could hold the missing suitcase is a locked office. You then have to convince the attendant to give you the key to the office where you retrieve the suitcase. The traveler will then give you a ride to your destination in return for your help. If you chose intelligence, authority and persuasion are not your strong suit and you’ll need to find another way out of the station. Talking to the traveler will alert you to the fact that he lost his valet ticket somewhere in the station. Exploring will yield nothing except a locked door and a paperclip from some brochures. Talking to the attendant will give you a clue to where you can find a spare key to the locked office. Once you unlock the office, you will stumble upon the traveler’s locked suitcase that you will jimmy open with the paperclip you found and, voila, a valet ticket! Your way out of the station is secured.
The Murder on Hemlock Drive is currently in its development stage. Right now I am crowdfunding to raise money to commission new maps, character and sprite designs, music and animation. I hope you’ll consider supporting the continued development of my game by heading over to hemlockmurder.com/crowdfunding and making a donation.
While you’re there, you can also read my blog that details more of my murder mystery inspiration, watch the game trailer, and even download the demo. Hope you’ll make the classy, charismatic, and intelligent choice and join me on this journey!