The New Sleuthhounds Cast

Janaury 12, 2018

Pre-production work has begun on the next Sleuthhounds computer game. This entails plotting out the story, determining locations, piecing together puzzles, and, of course, coming up with character designs for all the suspects that will inhabit the game world. It’s this last that I’ve been most focused on in the past few days.

Aside from Pureluck Homes and Jane Ampson themselves, this new Sleuthhounds game will feature sixteen characters that players will be able to interact with. To put that in perspective there have been eighteen characters in total from all of the preceding games (again not counting Homes and Ampson). Here’s the current cast shot for the characters in the new game:

[The cast of the next Sleuthhounds game.]
The cast of the next Sleuthhounds game.
Click to view larger.

The new game will be set on an ocean cruise liner. This presents a number of challenges including ones that impact the character designs, which is why I’ve been focused on those designs early on. Consider that a cruise liner is, in essence, one big location but where all the smaller sub locations need to follow the same basic architectural design. This is especially true of the cabins people occupy. One cabin on a cruise ship looks much like another. However, if I were to make all the cabins exactly identical in the game then there would be two major issues:

  1. It would be a pretty boring game to look at as everything would just be repeated.
  2. When searching a suspect’s room it would be hard to make the mental connection between the room and the actual character whose room it is.

This second point was driven home to me in the game Murder on the Orient Express. That game is set within a single large environment similar to the one in my game. In that case the environment is a train where all the cabins look the same. Murder on the Orient Express is a mystery game where it’s very hard to match up clues found in cabins to the characters because all the cabins look the same and the characters, who appear elsewhere in the train and not in their cabins, tend to have very generic character designs. This made it very difficult to mentally map cabins to characters while playing the game.

With that in mind when approaching my game, I knew that I wanted to have designs that tried to help players keep things straight. I have one advantage out of the gate that Murder on the Orient Express didn’t have and that’s that the characters in the Sleuthhounds world are all anthropomorphized animals. That means that simply by choosing different animals for each character I already have a starting degree of distinctiveness between the characters. In previous games that level of distinctiveness has been enough, but with so many characters here I felt I had to take it a little further, especially given the issue with linking characters to their cabins.

I’ve tried to give each character their own unique colour scheme. Colour is a tricky visual cue to use in designs because of the various forms of colour blindness that exist out there. That said, colour is still useful because it “reads” in a person’s peripheral vision in a way that shape alone does not. Beyond just helping to delineate the characters themselves, the intent is to take the colours used on each character and decorate their cabins with those colours. So even though the basic cabins make look the same by adding details like clothes on the bed or paintings on the walls that are coloured to match the characters I hope to both make the locations more unique and have them subtly tie back to the characters they represent.

To push the distinctiveness even further, I’ve tried to give the characters different standing poses. Some characters have a hand or two tucked in their pockets, some have their hands clasped behind their backs, some have their arms at their sides. Some characters lean forwards slightly, some stand straight up, and some lean back. Some characters are taller, some are shorter. Hopefully it all adds up to making the characters, and who they are in the story, more distinguishable.

With nearly as many characters as all the previous games combined and a larger story to track them across, making sure those characters are distinct in the minds of players in the new game is a great concern to me. It’s early days for the new game and the character designs may need to change for various reasons as I progress. However, for now at least, I feel these designs give a good starting point. Where they go from here, we’ll have to see.