Interview with Paul Conway of Spooky Doorway, Creators of The Darkside Detective Series

The Dark Side Detective Series is a 3 episode point-and-click adventure game based on the odd and strange cases of the Dark Side Detective Agency. Players will find themselves in a town where supernatural activity has risen to an all time high with no logical explanation. It is up to the player to help the Dark Side Detective Agency solve the local cases from the mundane to the supernatural.

As you know, we’ve been covering the Darkside Detective series since it launched, particularly because it is one of the main reasons we love talking to developers on Twitter. Paul Conway, one of the co-founders of Spooky Doorway, has always been a pleasure to chat with since we picked up Darkside Detective, and we’re excited to be able to bring you a full interview today!

I recently had the pleasure of playing The Darkside Detective: A Fumble in the Dark and I was immediately captivated by this book. The clever writing style, the fantastic pixel art style, and the references to pop culture from the 80s and 90s immediately drew me in. To find out more about the magic behind The Darkside Detective games, we contacted the developers of Spooky Doorway. Paul Conway, CEO and lead artist of Spooky Doorway, allowed us a peek behind the curtain to explain how Darkside became a reality. First of all, I want to say how happy I am to have discovered The Dark Side Detective: A slip in the dark, even if it was pure coincidence. You could say I tripped you up. Sorry for the bad joke. We’re fans of bad jokes. Welcome to the club. word-image-6701 How did your dream team come about? Were you friends before you created The Darkside Detective or did you meet while working in the game industry? Dave and Treasa were already a couple, and they met me (Paul) in 2015 on the small island of Inishbofin, off the west coast of Ireland. This weekend saw a gathering of Irish developers, where everyone pulled out their laptops and got to know each other. We all got along well when we met. There was an immediate connection between the three of us and we continued to communicate. A few weeks later there was a game jam in Galway City where my mate and I presented a simple demo of an adventure game called The Darkside. It was terrible, only had 4 screens and the puzzles didn’t make sense, but when I posted the demo and screenshots it got a surprisingly good response. People loved the art, the setting and the brevity. Despite all its flaws, it still had some charm, so I decided to make it a full game. Dave and Treasa contacted me and asked if I needed help working on it. I do, I’m more artist and businessman than anything else, so it was great when the writer and coder wanted to be involved in the project. We came together quickly and a terrible demo with bad jokes quickly turned into a well programmed game with good dialogue and fun characters. Other people have come and gone while working on both games. Recently Ben Marques Keenan helped us, and Robert Meghone did the quality control and programmed the mini-games. word-image-6702 References to pop culture icons abound, and the town of Twin Lakes is clearly a Twin Peaks play. What are the other inspirations for The Darkside Detective games? The sources of inspiration for Detective Darkseid are extensive. Especially the TV shows and movies from the 80s and 90s that we all grew up with. Parodies of The X-Files and Twin Peaks played a major role in finding a voice for the world of Darkside, but much of the flavor of the game comes from our Irish interpretation of the American style. Old classic adventure games like Space Quest and Monkey Island have also had a big influence on the game’s design, and many of the characters are versions of people Dave has met on his travels, or parodies of tropical characters from old movies. We get our inspiration from everywhere, but most of it comes from old VHS tapes or floppy disks. Does Dave McCabe come up with all the lyrics and jokes himself, or is it a team effort? All the dialogue and all the latest jokes are written by Dave, but the structure of the case and the silly script are mostly written by both Dave and Treas. I collaborate on some jokes or help improve the tone of a joke if it’s already in progress, but overall most of what makes players laugh in The Darkside Detective belongs to M. McCabe. word-image-6703 Are there any jokes or storylines that didn’t make it into the program? If so, what entered the cabin? Many of the jokes from the first version of the first game have been completely removed. Darkseid is a healthy experiment that celebrates friendship and strangeness, but McQueen’s first version was too sarcastic at times, which didn’t feel right. We have toned down some of his comments or removed the hateful stuff. Nobody wants to play the fool. The game also contains some subtle adult jokes. We try to make them work almost in secret. Many of our players have played games with their children, and we love hearing that, so we don’t want to spoil that experience. All adult jokes should work as an ironic comment that doesn’t go over the heads of children, or as a layered joke that is funny on many levels. More than one joke was rejected for this reason. We have also killed one or two family members when we determined that a particular component or flow of a case was not working as we had hoped. Sometimes it was easier to remove some of the content and replace it with new areas, characters, or dialogue than to try to fix it. Each of the cases investigated by Detective McQueen and Officer Dooley begins with a seemingly simple problem that eventually takes a rather radical turn that is strange and unexpected. Do you start with a twist as the basic idea and work around that, or do you start with a relatively mundane problem and let the strange take over? Can you tell us about the creative process? Generally, every Darkside case starts with determining where we want the story to take place. It’s important that the setting fits our version of America and our wacky references to movies and TV shows, and that the location fits well with the simple pixel art style of The Darkside Detective. Once we understand this, the idea of a villain or scenario arises. Clowns at the fair, scary trains in the subway station, hyperactive old people in the nursing home. It usually goes like this: Our heroes are called to a certain place for one thing, or they end up in a situation that escalates into something completely different. We try to redirect the players’ expectations when a big secret or problem is revealed. Half the time, the monster of the week is not the bad guy, but someone who needs help. Once we’ve determined the setting and general idea of the story, Dave and Treasa get to work putting the idea on paper and finding ways to develop the odd one out. They’re also working on a case. What is everyone’s place? Who does what? How do I get from point A to point Z, etc…. Once that’s done, we’ll create a poorly drawn version of the thing in Unity to play with and see if it works and flows the way we want. Often at this point we throw out entire files that don’t work, or go back to the drawing board to figure out how to redesign and improve them. It’s amazing how different a game can be when you play it and not when you imagine it while writing a paper. Once everything is ready, I start adding the graphics, Dave adds the dialogue and interactions, and Treasa and the development team make sure it all works. word-image-6704 Although it is a pixelated game, I was impressed with the amount of detail in each scene, as well as the design of the characters. How did you choose this artistic style? Was it a budgetary decision or a conscious decision to pay homage to the adventures of the 80s and 90s? The great style of pixel art came from the fact that the game was made in a short time. There wasn’t much time to make the demo that day, so I decided to make pixel art in very low resolution to try and convey as much of the graphics as possible. Less pixels means less work, and the quick addition of lighting effects gave the image a great atmosphere and character. People really liked it when we released the screenshots, and the art style fits the genre well. He came in by accident, but brought a lot to both games. I really enjoyed the soundtrack to the movie Detective Darkseid: A Fumble in the Dark, which also seems to capture the spirit of many movies and TV shows from the 80s and 90s. Did you give composer Thomas O’Boyle ideas of exactly what you wanted for each scene, or did he come up with ideas himself based on what he saw? Our direction for the soundtrack was pretty much the same as for the first game. We had Thomas listen to some John Carpenter soundtracks, especially the Prince of Darkness soundtrack, and suggested that he use those as a starting point. We wanted a synth-heavy, semi-serious sound as a base, but after that we were free to go where it suited us. The setting of a case, such as Ireland or a carnival, partly determines what you expect to hear, but Thomas always goes the extra mile and finds interesting sounds that work really well in a case. At the end of The Darkside Detective, there is a mysterious seventh file: A Fumble in the Dark, which is simply titled To Be Continued. Do you plan to expand it with DLC in the future? We will definitely be adding a seventh free case called Tales from The Darkside, which is an anthology of various short stories about other characters in the Darkside universe. We are planning it and hope to have it ready soon. However, we are not sure that we can add more than the seventh case. We have some ideas, but we don’t know if we should save them for another season or add abridged versions as DLC to A Fumble in the Dark. word-image-6705 You have a relatively small team for a game studio. After the success of Detective Darkseid and Detective Darkseid: In Fumble in the Dark, do you think you will expand the current team for the next games ? We certainly hope to expand the team as needed for future games, budget permitting. For such a small team, we did a lot, but we will definitely need more help as time goes on. We all get older, we have kids, and we don’t always have the energy and time to keep playing alone. It’s about expanding the studio at a steady pace while trying not to disrupt our creative process too much. word-image-6706 Will you continue working on The Darkside Detective in the near future, or do you plan to develop other projects? As a team, we plan to work on other titles. We have two other demos in the works that are very different from The Darkside Detective. Our next demo, Eldritch House, is another detective game, but in 3D, more serious in tone, and much more focused on game mechanics than The Darkside Detective. We hope that something of our simplified design philosophy will translate into a new name. Now that I’ve discovered this series, I can’t get enough! Do you have any ideas for future seasons? From day one, we’ve always considered The Darkside Detective a trilogy. We certainly have plenty of ideas for another season. If the series stays as popular as it has been, we’ll do more than three. We just have to find a way to keep doing Darkside and still have time to pursue other ideas.

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