Record Your Own Line

September 1, 2017

I like to create computer games that have a strong story component. That’s no surprise as those are also the kinds of games I like to play. As I develop my games, I’ve always insisted that story is king when it comes to deciding if something should or shouldn’t be in a game. If that means developing additional tech in the game in order to support those story ideas then so be it. And that’s exactly the case with the upcoming Sleuthhounds – The Yuletide Tail.

Examples of creating additional tech are readily apparent in earlier games in the Sleuthhounds series (currently discounted in The Sleuthhounds Series Summer Sale). The Valentine’s Vendetta has an optional sequence where the player has to dust off portraits (for a very important story reason, of course). The Halloween Deception has a bobbing-for-apples game that, on the technical front, involved adding 3D models into a 2D game.

The upcoming Yuletide Tail is no different. In this case, the story requires that our fearless heroes, Homes and Ampson, gather a series of phonograph recordings of a suspect and use those to generate a new, key sentence that unlocks a door. That’s an easy thing to write into a story, it’s a little trickier incorporating it into an interactive game where the player has to build that sentence. Several issues exist.

How does the player know the sentence to make?

In a linear, non-interactive story the protagonist can have an out-of-nowhere epiphany. You can’t count on players being able to do that so the sentence needs to be clued multiple times throughout the adventure.

How does the player construct the sentence?

Having collected various wax cylinder phonograph recordings, the player needs to be able to select the words from those recordings to make a new recording. Fortunately, Jane Ampson is a writer and so it’s in character for her, excited at hearing this odd form of conversation, to make transcripts of the recordings. Those transcripts can then be displayed on screen so that the player can click the specific words they want to include in the sentence.

How do the words get played back?

Since the player can arrange the words in any order, the only solution here is (or will be, when I get to this point) to take the recorded lines of dialog and break them up into short audio files with each audio file containing a single word. The game then needs to be smart enough to take the words chosen by the player and play back the individual audio recordings for those words in the proper order.

It’s been an interesting technical and design challenge getting this section in the game working. Certainly I could have had Homes and Ampson just create the key phrase themselves as would happen in something like a book or a movie, but by making this an interactive section of the game I hope it will be more interesting and involving for the player. Check out the current work in progress screenshot for this section below. Note: the keyphrase shown in the screenshot is not the one you need to make in the game – no spoilers here.

[The make your own sentence machine.]
The make your own sentence machine.
Click to view larger.