Eric Fulton, Eric Ackerman – Voodoo Detective interview
Voodoo Detective is a lovingly made point-and-click adventure that almost feels like a recently-unearthed lost classic of the genre. The writing, voice acting, music and visual feel has made my limited time playing the opening hours a total delight. I couldn’t wait to chat with Short Sleeve Studio co-founders (and longtime friends) Eric Fulton and Eric Ackerman, who opened up about the history of their partnership, their design philosophy, their approach to comedy writing, and how they managed to collaborate with beloved composer Peter McConnell on the soundtrack.
Eric and Eric, how did you two meet each other and start your creative partnership? What other projects have you taken on prior to Voodoo Detective?
We both attended Santa Clara University and lived in the same dorm freshman year. I am a bit of a prickly introvert, but that didn’t stop Eric A. from befriending me. It turns out, we have quite a lot in common and our casual acquaintance quickly blossomed into a friendship that I think has become one of the highlights of my life. Prickly and sentimental. But I can only speak for myself.
Eric F. and I met freshman year of college. We lived across the hall from each other and I distinctly remember watching him repeatedly bash someone over the head with a wrench and thinking, “I will be friends with this man.”
[Note from Eric F.]
To be clear, Eric A. is referencing BioShock, the game Eric F. was playing when we met.
Prior to Voodoo Detective, we had been writing together, on and off, for years. We had a weekly sort of “peer review” session where the two of us would exchange our writing from that week for criticism and compliments. One of Eric F.’s short stories from that period of creative exchange was called “Voodoo Detective.”
The first puzzle of Voodoo Detective involves a wacky gag with the game's credits. Do you remember when and how you came up with this idea?
Eric and Eric:
Our philosophy with Voodoo Detective was to try to let the game teach you as much as possible without our explicit intervention. We didn’t want to force people to read instructions or play through tutorials if possible.
To that end, we decided to have the first level be a room you couldn’t escape from without first exploring most of the game’s core mechanics. The physical titles were a gag at first, but we quickly made it into the game’s de facto tutorial.
From the get-go, the game isn’t afraid to go to some wonderfully silly places, even while the characters deliver every line with a believably straight face. Do you have any personal “rules of comedy” you strive to achieve in your work?
I don’t think we had any hard and fast rules. In general, if either of us pitched an idea that made us laugh, we would put it in the game. Though there were some ideas that made us laugh that would not have been appropriate for the game. So, I guess that’s one rule we followed. We didn’t allow content into the game that would have embarrassed us in front of our respective grandmothers.
I have some extremely strict “rules of comedy.” I applied none of them to this game. (Though I do strongly believe one should “never punch down”!)
Voodoo Detective’s setting and themes feel pretty unique within the gaming sphere. Did bringing something so new to the table further fuel your team’s passion to create this?
Eric and Eric:
I know there are other games out there that contain Voodoo themes, or at least that borrow from the stereotypes about Voodoo that dominate in the United States. But for Voodoo Detective, we tried very hard not to latch onto those stereotypes.
Instead, we attempted to delve a little more deeply and what we found was an active religion. That’s what Voodoo really is. It’s a monotheistic religion with a pantheon of demigods called the lwa. Perhaps my own ignorance is showing here, but I don’t think that information has penetrated into the realm of common knowledge here in the U.S.
When we realized that, we were both excited and concerned. We wanted to be respectful, but also to share the incredible wealth of culture, lore, tradition, and art that we learned about.
So, to answer the question, I would say the themes we chose definitely fueled our passions!
You’ve been quite open about the pure giddiness you felt about getting to work with legendary composer Peter McConnell. How did you connect, and what interested him about the project?
Eric and Eric:
We actually met Peter McConnell through another Peter; last name Chan. He also worked on a number of LucasArts adventure games and although he was too busy at the time to work on Voodoo Detective, he did introduce us to both Peter McConnell and one of our amazing background artists, Soi Che.
As it turns out, Peter McConnell is a huge fan of the same noir books and films that we are. When we mentioned that Raymond Chandler was a big inspiration for us, what had been a productive email chain quickly devolved into a discussion of our favorite noir stories.
So I think what interested Peter in the project was the noir theme as much as anything. But also, music appropriate to the noir genre is an area where Peter shines with an eye-watering incandescence. Just check out Grim Fandango. Better yet, just check out Voodoo Detective.
I read on your production blog that the vast amount of character animation didn’t get started until the end of 2021, while voice acting and the soundtrack got going just early this year. The game released on May 24th, and it’s really quite good – so my question is: what kind of voodoo magic did you have to pull off in order to get to a finished product so rapidly over the last few months?
Eric and Eric:
First off, thank you very much for the kind words!
After I read your question, I had to go back and look at our contract with Little Blackstone to make sure the dates were correct. And, of course, they absolutely are!
But the reason I was so surprised at those dates is that I thought Little Blackstone had been working on the animations longer than that. Impressive! Animation was BY FAR the most time-consuming and expensive part of this project. The only reason “we” were able to get it done so quickly was because there was a team of good people working on it for about a year and a half. And Little Blackstone wasn’t alone either. We brought on some very talented individual contractors to do a number of FX animations for us. John MacFarlane, Noe Garcia, Matthieu Petit, and Josh Haberman all did amazing work.
The music and the voice acting were not nearly as time-consuming as the animations were, which is not to say the voice acting and music were easy! They just didn’t require as many raw man-hours as the animation did.
Looking back on it, it’s almost inconceivable how much effort went into animation.
What’s a lesser-known game you love that you think deserves more of a spotlight?
My favorite games are mostly ones that people have heard about. So instead of giving you a game that I think deserves more attention, I’ll give you a game soundtrack that I think deserves more attention. Check out The Neverhood’s soundtrack.
Cartoon Cartoons: Summer Resort. I don’t know if a person can even still find, let alone play this game. So perhaps this is a dead end of a recommendation, but no one ever talks about that game and it friggin’ rules.
Are you tired of people asking what you can tell them about voodoo?
Eric and Eric:
Like lobsters, some things never get old. At least I think I heard that somewhere… Lobsters are immortal, right? I should add that neither of us have played Gabriel Knight.
We greatly appreciate the time Eric and Eric took to provide us further insights into Voodoo Detective and their backgrounds. You can now experience Voodoo Detective for yourself, it's available on Steam, Epic, Mac/iOS App Store, and the Play Store.
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