Daily Design: Day 2

Following on from yesterday, I’ve managed to update my blog 2 days in a row. Hooray! I’m already exceeding my expectations. For the uninitiated, I’m designing a game every day based on three randomly generated words. Today, they are;

Passenger, Coal and Boast.

So, the game I’ve designed is…

Express Enigma

(names are hard)

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In Express Enigma, players find themselves on board a steam train with their best friend. A few hours into their long trip, one of the passengers is murdered, and all the evidence points to your friend – only, you know they’re innocent. Can you prove the innocence of your friend, track down the real killer and keep the crew from tearing each other apart, all before you reach your destination?

Express Enigma is a game that would work on any platform, from phones to consoles to PCs. It’s exclusively single-player, and would work like a combination of Phoenix Wright or Danganronpa and the Telltale games, like The Walking Dead or Tales from the Borderlands.

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Danganronpa is an incredible mystery game that’s definitely worth your time.

If you haven’t played any of those games, I’ll break it down a bit. These are close to ‘visual novels’, or interactive comics. While the player can explore and make decisions that influence the narrative, the plot largely drives itself forwards until key points, where it asks for input. Sometimes, this is in the form of making a decision, but is also occasionally more action-oriented, as in the case of Telltale games.

In Express Enigma, players would have to track down clues surrounding the murder. They’d do this in a “point and click” first-person view, where a flat image would be presented to them and they could click anywhere to inspect or use an item.

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So far, so Danganronpa. 

However, there are also sequences where the player may have to fight (or flee from) other passengers, which are handled like “open-ended” quick-time events. This means that the player has to press the button shown on-screen when it appears, but also that they’re given the option to choose between different buttons that each result in a different outcome, or even choose to not press anything, each having an effect on the narrative.

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Recent Telltale games mostly work like this, but the effect on the narrative is often minimal.

For example, the player may be attacked by another passenger. Their options could include fighting back with their fists, grabbing a nearby weapon, trying to flee or taking the beating, each with different narrative outcomes.

Moreover, at points, the player can choose to falsify evidence. As the investigation continues, the evidence points more and more to their friend. As such, the player can choose to take the blame themselves (hence, the boast), leave it as-is or point the evidence towards somebody else by tampering with it. Until you know who the killer is, however, you could very well be convicting an innocent person.

To really screw the player as much as possible, the killer is picked randomly on each play through, from a set pool of characters. It couldn’t be completely random, as the clues would need to be designed to point towards whoever did it on each play through, but the result would be different over the course of a few runs through the game to keep it interesting.

So, can you prove the innocence of your friend, shoulder the blame and discover the identity of the real killer, all before the train arrives? No, because I’m not actually making this game, just thinking about how it would work.

Thanks for reading!

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