Ingmar: In what ways is the gameplay going to differ depending on whether players are playing as Jennifer or the ghost of Oscar Wilde?
Stephen: Both Jennifer and Oscar have their own unique skillset, and to solve some of the more intricate puzzles, players will need to combine the skills of both characters.
For example, although Jennifer can talk to ghosts, it would seem very odd if she walked up and started talking to a corpse in front of the gendarme. To avoid the possibility of Jennifer being sent to an asylum, Oscar has the job of approaching invisibly and chatting to some of the spirits, passing that information back to Jennifer. But, of course, Oscar won’t be able to talk to any of the living people in the game.
Oscar, being an intangible spirit, may also be able to reach areas that Jennifer can’t, though he is tethered to her, so he can’t stray too far.
Inventory items and the sketchbook narrative will all be the purview of Jennifer, although Oscar will often give his dry opinion, whether wanted or not.
Ingmar: Your Kickstarter page says that the choices players make are going to have an impact on the outcome of the story. Please explain that.
Jennifer's hand-drawn sketchbook will be an integral part of the investigative progress
Stephen: There are few different ways that your choices come into play. One aspect will be character building, and the story opportunities that presents. For example, perhaps you will choose that Jennifer prefers to date women, and as your story plays out, Jennifer’s backstory reflects this, as do the opportunities for romantic outcomes in the story.
The other aspect is direct consequences, and without any spoilers, the fate of certain characters will depend on the actions that Jennifer, and the player, make throughout the story. It won’t affect whether you can solve the mystery, but the player’s sense of morality and justice will have an effect on where key characters end up in the story. The life and death of certain characters will be in the players’ hands...
Ingmar: Can you give an idea of the different types of puzzles that you have in the game?
Stephen: As a game designer, I’ve created the puzzles in four main categories: sketchbook, dialogue, traditional inventory and environmental. Though, of course, these do cross over.
The comic book sketchbook mechanic will be the core method for solving the overall mystery. This is similar to the ‘notepad’ inventory in games like The Blackwell Legacy and Kathy Rain, but we add our own visual spin on this. It is presented as a series of narrative sketches that Jennifer must investigate, collect, combine and arrange in sequence to create a comic book-like narrative that will help her solve the mystery of her father’s murder.
Jennifer’s sketchbook can also store small items in the back, such as leaflets and flyers that she will need to use as more traditional inventory items. An example of this is the ‘wanted poster’ puzzle we have in our demo.
Dialogue puzzles are present; after all, with Oscar Wilde a protagonist in the story, we need to include his literary wit and charm (and, of course, Maura’s great script). There will be less of these than we had in Wailing Heights though, to make room for more varied environmental puzzles.
Stephen hard at work on Jennifer Wilde...
These environmental puzzles will usually be single-screen set pieces that you need to explore and solve. For example, you can see in our trailer a suitcase with a combination lock that Jennifer finds in her father’s hotel room. We want to tie a lot of these puzzles into Jennifer’s personal story, so to find the combination, she will need to investigate her father’s history. What numbers and dates are important to him? What correspondence can she find that will reveal these, and what will she discover along the way?
Ingmar: What’s your approach when it comes to the difficulty level of the puzzles?
Stephen: I know it is a cliché to say, but I want the player to do some proper ‘detective-work’. Our previous puzzles in Wailing Heights were purposely designed to be ‘mainstream’, so with a little exploration you could find the solution.
With Jennifer Wilde, we wanted to make a game directly for the adventure game audience, so the puzzles will require a bit more thinking. You may prefer to have a pen and paper with you, for puzzles that integrate nicely with the narrative.
Now, that said, I don’t mean really obtuse puzzling. It’s not a Grim Fandango situation. A comparative example we are aiming for might be some of the logical puzzles of games like Broken Age (I really like their variation on the ‘combination code’ that Mother constructs to let you into the control room) and Kathy Rain (the mausoleum puzzle is a recent highlight of my adventure gaming).
The puzzle we have in the demo is mostly a tutorial, and we’ll mix more straightforward puzzles like these with more narrative and layered puzzles. We are working hard to make sure they all have logical solutions and satisfying conclusions.
Ingmar: What other games have influenced the design of Jennifer Wilde?
... but who can work when the adorable Saffie is in studio?!
Stephen: I was referred to the Blackwell saga after mentioning to someone that we were planning to adapt Jennifer Wilde. I hadn’t played any of the Wadjet Eye games before that, but I’ve become a fan since. The Blackwell series share a few similarities with Jennifer Wilde in a way, and it showed that the format of a young protagonist and her ghost friend can work in an adventure game format. This may also have been the first time I played the ‘notebook inventory’ type of game (although I can’t be sure) and it helped refine some of the ideas I was formulating around Jennifer’s comic sketchbook.
I mentioned Kathy Rain earlier, and as a recent example, it helped show me that adventure game fans will allow me to design puzzles that are a little more layered. I was wary that current players want a game to be easy, and that true problem-solving would put players off a game, but Kathy Rain has given me the confidence to come up with puzzles that require thinking and aren’t just a matter of walking around and trying every inventory item until you get the right combination.
Ingmar: When I played the demo, I was under the impression that it was smoother to navigate Jennifer with the WASD keys, instead of using the full mouse control. Would you say that the combination of keyboard and mouse is going to be the ideal way play of playing Jennifer Wilde?
Stephen: The demo is still a work-in-progress, but my own personal preference is to play primarily with mouse, and avoid WASD altogether, so the game is actually designed equally for both. It still needs a fair bit of tweaking to get the balance right, especially how Jennifer moves around the environment with the mouse controls, and we are actually working on a control scheme that should allow the player to use just mouse smoothly, without any keyboard input at all, if that is their preference.
Ingmar: When I think of Paris in the 1920s, Midnight in Paris by Woody Allen comes to mind, which is one of my favorite movies. One thing I love about the movie is its way of portraying the vibe of the art scene back then. What’s your approach for Jennifer Wilde when it comes to the recreation of the atmosphere at the time?
Stephen: The story takes place at the start of the Jazz Era in Paris, so we plan to create an EP of great jazz music to establish the tone, and provide a backdrop to the adventure.
Lead artist John McFarlane shows off his work... (You can see where this is going)
Jennifer will also be studying art at the time Fauvism and modern artists were gaining popularity and Charlie Chaplin was in the cinema, so of course plays from Oscar Wilde were widely performed. References will be scattered across the game, but players shouldn’t feel they need any prior knowledge going into the game; they are just cultural touchstones for our world building.
I think you will also notice than John McFarlane, our lead artist, has done a tonne of research into the look and feel of 1920s Paris, and his detailed scenes capture the feel with his illustrative line work reminiscent of the era.
Ingmar: I remember that when we talked at gamescom last year, there was a notion of doing Jennifer Wilde as an episodic series. That’s not the plan anymore, right?
Stephen: That’s right, we want to tell Jennifer’s story as one complete game. Originally we had considered an episodic approach, but we’ve seen from Wailing Heights that although there may be a tail for adventure game sales, it might take a while before we raise enough revenue to fund the second episode, which would mean a long wait for players to play the conclusion.
This is why we are turning to Kickstarter. We want to raise funds to tell the whole story in one game, and to the level of detail and polish it deserves.
Ingmar: What were the biggest lessons that Wailing Heights has taught you?
Stephen: How long do we have? We have learnt a lot of lessons!
From a production standpoint, our biggest lesson was concerning the audio recording. Originally the game was not designed to have any voice acting, but when we recorded some test footage for our demo, we thought it added an extra layer of charm to the game, and we could not go back to just text.
... before the irresistable Saffie strikes again!
However, when the final script came in, with eight playable characters, there were over 5000 lines of dialogue to record. It was beyond the scope of what we had originally intended, and we ended up with quite a few dialogue mix-ups and levelling issues. We tried to find them all initially, but as it is possible to play the game multiple ways, and often not hear chunks of dialogue, mix-ups still made it into the game. We have fixed the audio files since, and the game will be updated as we build the console version, but it was a much bigger job than we had intended.
We’ve since completely rebuilt our methods for audio input, and with only two playable characters in Jennifer Wilde, the approach should be a lot more straightforward and error-free.
In terms of game design, we realised that a lot of adventure gamers want a true ‘Point & Click’ with mouse controls. So from the design of the levels, through to the method of interaction and interface, we’re designing Jennifer Wilde to be playable with the mouse, or direct control.
Ingmar: Speaking of ports of Wailing Heights, can you give us an update on the release of the console versions?
Stephen: The PlayStation and Xbox versions of Wailing Heights have been developed. We've passed certification one one platform, which is the final process for release on the console stores, and in the middle of the process with the other. It's a bit more intricate than Steam, and required a fair bit of work. We haven't settled on a release date, and we don't want to release during the busy Christmas season, so my estimate is early next year.
We also have a further console announcement coming soon, but I can't say much about that right now...
Ingmar: It was a pleasure to do this interview, Stephen. I’m wishing you the best of luck with the rest of the Kickstarter campaign for Jennifer Wilde! Do you have any last words for potential backers?
Stephen: Just to say that if Jennifer’s story, the ghost of Oscar Wilde, or a unique take on the classic inventory interest you at all, please do have a look at our Kickstarter campaign, play our free demo and pledge for the game.
We have some really cool rewards, from a copy of the game, to a digital jazz soundtrack and artbook. Physical rewards also include original hand-drawn artwork, and hard copies of the game and comics.
We really want to make this game, and we can only do that if we reach our goal! We need your help to finish Jennifer’s story!