» Interview: My Little Investigations

To wit, what feedback did you receive about the demo, and how will it affect your game going forward?

GabuEx: Well, we definitely did have some technical issues with the demo that some people encountered, and obviously we want to fix those when it comes to the eventual release of the game. Of course, it’s expected and understood that technical issues will be fixed for the final release.

In terms of more fundamental feedback, probably the most consistent thing relating to core gameplay that we heard from fans is that the puzzles in the case one demo were way too hard, and included way too little in the way of hints or guidance for the player.  I think that we definitely were right to start things too hard — it’s much easier to make something like this easier (just add more hints) than it is to make it harder (what can we remove without hurting the end result).  However, we’ve definitely taken this feedback to heart, and we can certainly say that we will be helping the player substantially more in the final release.  We’ll likely have private play testing prior to final release just to ensure that we have successfully struck a better balance in terms of difficulty.

ZeusAssassin: One of the biggest criticisms we got for the demo was the lack of polish in the sound editing department. That is why we decided to start recruiting for an Audio Engineer recently to help make sure the game sounds clean as well as add some more creative magic on this crucial part of MLI. There are also many, smaller things we plan to implement in the game like smooth screen transitions and properly syncing the voice to text, but right now, those are slated to be done towards the end of case one development, not now during the summer.

WarpOut: ThatCanadianDude accumulated all the complaints and posted them in one thread for us. This made it very easy for us to see what needed fixing and / or fine tuning. One thing was the lack of background ponies… this means more ponies! I was able to make one fully animated pony per week. So when there needs to be more ponies it takes more weeks. That’s time that I don’t have, so I started to find new ways to create more ponies easier and way faster. I love feedback, It challenges you to go beyond what can and gives you the opportunity to fix mistakes you didn’t see before.

How indicative of future content is the demo? For example, can we expect a return of interjections (such as OBJECTION! and Hold it!)?

Do I really need to explain this?

GabuEx: The demo is indicative in only one direction: anything that’s in the demo will be in the final product.  However, the reverse is definitely not true: if something isn’t in the demo, that does not by any means mean that it won’t be in the final product.  The demo was not intended to be a demo in the sense that people understand demos of retail products to be — it was not by any means intended to be a final, finished product; rather, it was just a demo along the lines of “here’s what we have so far.”

As far as interjections go, a lot of people have been asking us about them.  I can report that yes, they will be making a return.  However, they will not be appearing precisely as they appear in Ace Attorney, with the word bubbles and so forth.  We have a design in mind that we think will fit very nicely into the general flow of MLI, and we think fans are going to like it.  That’s all I’ll say about it at this point in time.

What are your plans for the game’s release in terms of content? Will it include only the first case or additional ones? Will there be more demos?

GabuEx: The game’s designed so that cases are completely modular. Every case is its own file, which enables us to release cases individually.  That’s our plan: once case one is complete, it will be released to the public, and then we’ll begin work on case two.  Fans definitely will not have to wait until we’ve completed multiple cases to be able to play the game.

As far as more demos go, if there are more demos of case one, they likely will only be updated versions of the demo that we recently released.  We will not be releasing demos that contain more plot-related content for case one.  If we did that, then by the time case one is released, players will have played almost the whole case by then, which would not be good at all for players’ experiences.

You’ve expanded the Ace Attorney formula in several places, such as using voice actors, integrating the logic and evidence systems, and introducing Confrontations. What was your thought process behind these changes, and what are your goals for expanding the game mechanics?

GabuEx: When I looked at Ace Attorney, I definitely saw a whole lot of good; I wouldn’t have designed this game after it if I didn’t.  However, I think it’s important to recognize that, even when a game is very, very well designed, that doesn’t mean that it’s perfect.  I think it’s always important not to just copy, but to innovate and improve where you can.

A good example of a spot where I saw an opportunity like this was in the way in which Ace Attorney implemented the health bar.  It was put there to stop players from just randomly guessing, and worked well in court, but when it came to psyche-locks, I don’t think I’ve met anyone who wasn’t just plain frustrated and annoyed by their usage here.

Argh, Psyche Locks!

Another clear spot for improvement was the partner system in Ace Attorney Investigations.  The concept of having partners was an intriguing one, but they were implemented very, very poorly in this game, which makes me wonder about the possibility that perhaps they were originally intended to be more than they ended up being, as in their state in the released game the identity of your partner was nothing more than just a sprite walking around with you and occasionally commenting on something, offering nothing of actual worth to game play.

Of course, identifying problems and providing actual solutions are two very different matters.  ZeusAssassin was absolutely invaluable in designing these gameplay elements — we spent a long, long time getting the partner system to work in a way that we both were satisfied with, and ZeusAssassin basically single-handedly saved the confrontation system by proposing almost the exact mechanism by which confrontations currently function.

We also looked at what worked in other games, as well.  For example, the evidence combination system was very heavily inspired by a similar system that exists within the Forensics mode in the game Trauma Team, another excellent game.

As far as what our goals are in expanding the game mechanics, well, I can’t really say a whole lot here other than that we want to give players the best experience possible in playing the game.  That’s really what just about any gameplay decision is all about in the end.

ZeusAssassin:  Since Gabu mentioned it, might as well go in detail about my thought process for the new Confrontations gameplay mechanic. It was pretty much a combination of ideas from a couple of games. My initial concept for this mechanic was that of a “logical maze,” where the player decides what topic to tackle instead of the game doing that for you like the AA series during its confrontations and courtroom sequences. To my greatest surprise, Shadow the Hedgehog’s story map gave me this initial idea on how to organize this new mode. [Editor's Note: And here I was thinking I was the only one who played that game!] But since this IS a maze of logic, I designed it so that the player doesn’t know what to expect as they go through this mode, unlike Shadow the Hedgehog which showed you the consequences of your actions via the pause menu. This means that not all of the topics are able to be tackled at the onset of the confrontation. The player is required to unlock hidden topics by completing the revealed ones and using the new evidence they find within them.

Another game I drew inspiration from was Ace Attorney Investigations 2’s Logic Chess. I really wanted to incorporate a bit of this mode into MLI since it seemed pretty cool from what I learned of it. Initially, the players were timed to get to the truth (Like Logic Chess), but Gabu found that to be prone to pretty unfair and cause unnecessary stress when players really need to think their hardest. However, I wanted to prevent blind guessing, so I thought this would be the ideal time to bring back AA’s health system. These confrontations are going to be the most dramatic and important sections of the game, so it was important that AA’s health system was incorporated here instead of anywhere else in the game, where the player may or may not have what they need to succeed. And although some people fear that giving your opponent health may cause spoilers, I can just say that their health can change dramatically throughout the course of a confrontation.  It can be a clever trick to both inform and deceive the player at the same time, and I really can’t wait to start writing the confrontations for case one very soon!

Continued on Page Five…

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