Writing for Casual Game Guides is always cool, but never cooler than when I get access to game geniuses like Kale Stutzman and David Stevenson, two of the brilliant minds behind the Mystery Case Files suite of games. (For a game nerd like me, chatting with these two is a bit like sitting at the feet of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Go ahead. Look him up. You know you want to.)
As for my two "interviewees," you'll rarely find two more fascinating characters in one time zone, let alone one place. The MCF team affectionately refers to Kale as "Red Beard." He came to MCF from Sangerville, Maine where he moonlighted as a sweater model. Kale is a game designer, artist, and programmer extraordinaire all rolled into one. While some enjoy long walks on the beach, Kale prefers to laugh diabolically in Japanese while running his fingers on his keyboard back and forth.
David, aka "Silver Fox," happily lives in Seattle with his beautiful wife Vicki and their pug Mick. David is an avid connoisseur of fancy pastries, a world traveler, and scholar. David has previously worked on such titles as Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events. No joke! This guy is talented!
Tracy arranged this interview as a way to cap off our MCF review retrospective and, in doing so, earned my undying gratitude and a better Christmas present than she was originally going to get. Anyway, I got to ask Kale and David the sort of questions that plague me in the wee hours of the morning when my brain is still reeling from some devilishly tricky game or puzzle these two have thrown at me. So, pull up a chair and join the conversation.
CGG: How many people are on the MCF team?
Kale: There are 11 people on the MCF team, although we do grab some extra help from around the studio when we need it.
CGG: What roles do they fill?
Kale: I am the game designer and lead of the project, while David Stevenson is the art director and in charge of the story. The rest of the team is made up of six artists, two programmers and one producer. Most of the artists have been here for most of the MCF games, but the programmers are both new to the series on this project!
CGG: How do you determine storyline or theme?
Kale: We get a lot of inspiration from books and movies that we like. Once we've decided on a theme – for the new Mystery Case Files: Shadow Lake, it was supernatural horror in the style of Steven King - and the location, in this case, rural Maine, the story takes a while to hammer out. David will write something, I will edit it for gameplay and make suggestions, and then we go back and forth like that until the game is finished.
Above Image: Pea soup fog shrouding the motel in the new MCF game Shadow Lake.
CGG: What do you consider the most important elements in any MCF game?
Kale: MCF is known for a few things: beautiful art, unique puzzles, interesting storylines, and quirky humor. I like to think we hit all of these with Shadow Lake.
David: We set the mood and tone on multiple levels. It starts when we decide what the storyline and theme is going to be, and then we mirror that in the game and gameplay elements. Take for instance the color palette, this definitely plays a huge role in setting a mood. There’s always a certain color tone that screams “horror movie!” We chose ours while keeping that in mind. Another way we set mood and tone is through the sound design in the game in the music and sound effects. This helps to build up the scare moments, which add a feeling of suspense as the player progresses through the game. It keeps them on the edge of their seats, and keeps them guessing as to what’s coming next.
CGG: What do you see as future trends in gaming?
Kale: Well, no one can argue that mobile gaming has taken over the casual industry. I'd like to continue the MCF tradition onto mobile devices and present our games to a whole new set of users.
CGG: What can you tell us about the new offering?
Kale: Shadow Lake is an engrossing game! The story will suck you in and won't let you go till the end. I've seen it happen!
Above Image: Emma Ravenhearst's Dress from the Big Fish Studios.
CGG: Is there anything in the new game that will surprise longtime fans?
Kale: I'm sure fans will be surprised to see Lea Thompson in an MCF title! The quality and the acting in this game is the best we've ever put together.
Above Image: Lea Thompson doing a psychic reading to help the Master Detective.
CGG: Do you have a game development philosophy?
Kale: Don't design too much before implementing part of your design. Some of the best parts of our game are things we came up with and put in after 80% of the game was already finished.
CGG: Who do you see as your main demographic? Why do you think that is?
Kale: We try to make a game that the most people possible can sit down and have fun playing. Our stories are usually a little more grown than other games, because we know our core fans are a little older that most people would realize. The hardest part is actually making the game easy enough for beginners and hard enough for the experienced players.
Above Image: The MCF Team hard at work on the new MCF game.
CGG: Can you walk us through the development process for an MCF game?
Kale: Development starts in January each year, where David and I sit down and hash out the details of the story. From that I start making a design document which in turn colors how the story gets played out in the game. Once the base is set, the artists start making art for the base scenes and the programmers start making puzzles and updating the game engine.
We work pretty linearly through the game and go back for a polish pass on the whole project in November, fixing things that were pointed out during player beta-testing and our internal QA department. The shipping date is always around Thanksgiving so the second half of the year is always a rush to the finish line.
How nice of the MCF guys to gift wrap a lovely holiday present for us each year! Now, if you'll excuse me. It's about time I tugged the ribbon on Mystery Case Files: Shadow Lake.