By King Padmore / June 04, 2020   

Inside 'Dark Nights with Poe & Munro'

A behind-the-scenes look at how the final game in the "Dekker-verse Trilogy" went from page to screen.

Husband-and-wife creative team Tim and Lynda Cowles love a good murder mystery. With this shared passion in mind, they started their company D'Avekki Studios in 2004 releasing murder mystery party games. In 2016, their dinner party game "Murder at the Disco" raised the bar on traditional question-and-answer mystery card games by including a downloadable Virtual Reality scene. It was around this time when they decided to use their knowledge and experience to expand into video games.

Their debut video game, The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker, was written, produced and filmed for under £3000 over the course of nine months. It was released in 2017 to universal acclaim and was awarded the Guinness World Record for "most full-motion video in a video game."

The following year D'Avekki released their sophomore FMV game, the TIGA nominated The Shapeshifting Detective, which introduced us to the charming radio hosts John "Poe" Pope and Ellis Munro played by Klemens Koehring and Leah Cunard respectively. D'Avekki then announced their next FMV game would be a horror adventure trilogy called Pocket Dreadfuls.

"After The Shapeshifting Detective came out, our original plan was to start production on Pocket Dreadfuls," says Lynda. "There were a couple of things that dragged us off course but the main one was getting Klemens and Leah together to record a Christmas message. That was so much fun to do and the four of us got on so well together, we thought Dark Nights with Poe & Munro would make a fun little project to do before embarking on the larger game. As it was, Poe & Munro turned out to be not so little, but it was very fun!"

Shortly after filming the Christmas message, Tim and Lynda informed the actors that their characters would be getting their own spinoff prequel. Leah was extremely pleased. "It was unbelievable really," she says. "It still doesn't feel real even now after it's been released!" For Klemens, it was an honour to be asked back. "Tim and Lynda always have projects in the pipeline and making an FMV game takes a lot of time, so for them to decide that they wanted to bring back Poe and Munro and spend so much time on expanding our characters was immensely exciting."

Tim and Lynda began writing Dark Nights using their own unique collaborative creative process. "We always thoroughly develop the game together but the writing process varies," explains Lynda. "With Doctor Dekker, it was easy to split it up by patient, but with The Shapeshifting Detective, where there were stronger links between the characters, we tended to both follow the story threads between characters. Dark Nights with Poe & Munro is episodic, so we'd each write whole episodes. Whatever approach we take though, there's always a lot of back and forth, reading and collaborating on each other's scripts."

Filming for Dark Nights began on July 22, 2019 with Tim serving as director. The budget was tight, so filming took place in and around the areas near the Cowles' "fairly rural" home in North Cambridgeshire, England. This kept costs to a minimum, as big city sets and locations come at a premium, and shooting locally resulted in backdrops that filled in wonderfully for the fictional town of August. Among the shooting locations were Wisbech & Fenland Museum which appears in "Episode 6: It Started with a Wish" and Tilney Hall which features heavily in "Episode 2: In Bed with Poe and Munro." The budget constraints also contributed to a few challenges while filming. "Everything had to be filmed very quickly," Tim remembers. "The fight scenes needed a lot of choreography, the bath scenes were difficult as there wasn't much space and bath bubbles disappear really quickly over time(!), and anything filmed outside was prone to fluctuating light and background audio."

Fortunately, Klemens and Leah were already familiar with each other which made their time on set easier. "It was very helpful that we had already had so much radio banter in The Shapeshifting Detective, which included quite a bit of improvisation," says Klemens. "Tim and Lynda then asked us to come back to do a Twitch stream of the game, which was very enjoyable, and we also did the D'Avekki Christmas video that year. So the preparation for the current game was made easier by staying connected with our characters and staying immersed in the weird and wonderful world created by D'Avekki for this game franchise."

That familiarity contributed to perhaps the game's most important ingredient: Poe and Munro's on-screen chemistry. "I think because of the background prep for Shapeshift it felt like coming back home," says Leah. "I do a lot of written work on my script before getting onto set, and then when we got onto set, with Tim and Lynda's direction, it all fell into place."

"Tim and Lynda have given our characters a lot of added depth in this prequel," notes Klemens, "so traits and peculiarities that were only hinted at in the previous game get explored much more extensively in this new game. Poe is an antiques collector, so he enjoys communicating with Munro in a somewhat quaint, old-fashioned and whimsical way. From an actor's perspective, this opportunity to deepen the characters was tremendously fulfilling."

Throughout the six episodes of the game, Klemens and Leah are often on screen together, however one particular crossover segment in Episode 4 finds Leah on her own, sitting on a familiar green couch playing a patient of Doctor Dekker named Elizabeth. "The Doctor Dekker segment was hard to film and write because we didn't want to disappoint existing fans," says Tim. "Our new patient had to be the best she could be... which she was!"

Playing dual roles on the same project seems like quite a challenge, but Leah made sure she didn't overthink it. "As long as you treat each character differently, it's just like picking up another role," she says. "The Cowles' were VERY thoughtful and put that scene at the very end of filming. So it meant I didn't have to jump back and forth between the two roles."


The Dekker sequence, which connects Dark Nights to Doctor Dekker, is a continuation of a thread Tim and Lynda started in Shapeshift (with the Dekker-branded radio) to tie all the games together. "I've seen people call it the 'Dekker-verse' and the 'Doctor Dekker Universe (DDU)', and we like to look at Poe & Munro as the end of that trilogy. Munro's past life regression therapy was the perfect excuse. Especially as you can draw your own conclusions about how real it is... did Elizabeth create August from the Doctor Dekker couch, or is it all just a charlatan induced fever dream...? We'll never tell!"

Filming for Dark Nights officially wrapped on November 1, 2019 after 25 days of production. Post-production editing would commence with assistance from Morph Girl writer/director Jordan Doyle. As for video game design, an inventive technique allowed much of the user interface to be filmed in-camera. "We wanted to do away with traditional text," explains Tim. "Knowing this from the start meant we could grab extra cutaways during production, to try and signpost choices on screen without needing text, and the split screens give Poe & Munro a distinct flavour. We really enjoy trying to innovate FMV with each new release, however that does mean sequels have been a bit few and far between for us though!"

Dark Nights was released on May 19, 2020 and instantly became one of the few standard-bearers for episodic interactive entertainment, or what D'Avekki refers to as "FMV-TV." Reviews of the game often note how well-written and well-acted the characters of Poe and Munro are. The characters have been compared to such iconic television duos as Mulder and Scully from X-Files and Angel and Buffy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. "We're so pleased (to hear those comparisons)," says Lynda, "because that kind of classic on-screen relationship was exactly what we were trying to create with Poe & Munro."

As for D'Avekki's forthcoming Pocket Dreadfuls project, the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns have resulted in a delay until at least 2021. "But we are about a third of the way through writing it," says Lynda. "We don't want to say too much about the gameplay at the moment but we're planning for the story to be darker than our two most recent games, with a bit of an homage to some of our favourite horror films from the 1970s, '80s and '90s."

"On the flip side though," adds Tim, "we've started developing an FMV game that can be filmed during lockdown, and we hope to release more details about that soon. Suffice to say it will be a murder mystery, and we'll be looking to cast at least 50 actors, so watch this space!"

  ➤  Purchase Dark Nights with Poe & Munro for Mac and Windows on Steam.
  ➤  For more information, visit the official Dark Nights with Poe & Munro website.

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