By King Padmore / June 01, 2017

The Making of an Interactive Murder Mystery

Co-Writer/Co-Producer Lynda Cowles and the stars of the psychological murder mystery 'THE INFECTIOUS MADNESS OF DOCTOR DEKKER' discuss the process of creating this exceptional (and record-breaking) project.

The premise of D'Avekki Studios' new FMV game The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker is a simple yet intriguing one: You are a psychiatrist who is treating the patients of the recently murdered Dr. Dekker. The patients, however, are also suspects. You must ask the right questions (using free-text input), to unravel the patients' secrets and solve the murder of Dr. Dekker.

The game takes place entirely in one room; just you and the patient. The fact that it works so well is a testament to the great acting and excellent writing by husband-and-wife team Tim and Lynda Cowles. Together they created D'Avekki Studios to write and film murder mystery party games and they expanded the company to produce card games, board games, films, and even a TV pilot. They both like writing and designing games and Tim is both a programmer and film director. With these talents and interests it seems producing live-action interactive mystery films was a logical step and Doctor Dekker is their first of (hopefully) many FMV games to come from the studio.

FMV WORLD: What inspired you to make this game and what inspirations do you draw upon when writing?

LYNDA COWLES: We'd originally planned to make a vanilla murder mystery FMV game set during a séance in a manor house, but soon realised it wasn't going to work and we needed something with more depth. Tim was already working on a Cthulhu-themed web series about a psychiatrist with strange patients, and when we developed that it seemed perfect. A lot of Professor Alderby's dialogue in the game is actually lifted from the web series verbatim.

Those scripts were inspired by the television series 'The Booth at the End', so in a roundabout way that's our inspiration - along with the works of HP Lovecraft, Stephen King, Stanley Kubrick, The X-Files, Buffy. We actually had a lot of creative freedom scripting Dekker as there are so many characters and we wanted them all to be unique. I'd also mention Tex Murphy but we did ask Chris Jones to do a cameo and we've yet to hear back....

That would have been a great cameo. Are you a fan of those Tex Murphy games or any other FMV games from that era?

They all have their merits but Under a Killing Moon was the first one we played so that will always be a favourite. After that we played pretty much anything we could get our hands on: Phantasmagoria, Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within, Ripper, Wing Commander IV, and more recently, Her Story, Contradiction, Roundabout, The Bunker, How to Shoot a Criminal. We grew up in the '90s with FMV games and they can be good gateway games for people who aren't gamers (which I really wasn't back then).

Writing Doctor Dekker must have been very complicated. There are so many different perspectives and storylines. How do you approach a project of this magnitude?

There were lots of spreadsheets and flow-charts and post-it notes involved. The initial headache was trying to work out programmatically how we were going to get the game to work. We started with the screen design and data layout then built a one-character prototype to make sure it would work (and be fun to play). The first draft of each character was stand-alone, and it was pretty much like writing interactive fiction, except we had keywords for branching. Later on we'd go back and weave storylines together.

And the murderer is randomly chosen at the beginning of each game?

Yes, the random murderer mechanic is something we've been using in our Murder Mystery Flexi Party® games for the last few years.

I think that's a wonderful idea. The game has so much to discover. The amount of video in this game (over 7 hours) is by far the most of any FMV game ever. It's a huge project.

The project has taken twice as long to deliver as we expected due to feedback from beta. We didn't realise how many players would want to find every single response, and also how important the subtitling would be. Originally we had around 200 hints and now we have over 1600, and we've only just finished timing all the subtitles. We really hope FMV fans enjoy it!


This question is for the cast. What was it like working on Doctor Dekker? How was it different from other projects you've worked on?

Aislinn De'Ath: 'Holy cow.' Those were my first words when I saw the script for my wonderfully unique character, Marianna. It was essentially a 37 page monologue, and whilst there would be a teleprompter on set, it would be much more naturalistic if I could learn the lines. I'm always up for a challenge, but within roughly a week and a half I think I went a shade of grey seen only to concrete mixers.

I've been in the industry a few years now, working on everything from the mobile app Zombies, Run! (In which I play kick ass teenage scientist, Veronica McShell) to theatre, to the BBC Series Silent Witness, to short films you might see in between programs on the Sci Fi channel, but this was a unique project. I had to get comfortable with the layout of the game script, learning different pathways and exploring how Marianna might react to a number of different situations - from the shady to the downright out of this world. All this on top of an American accent and no other actors to bounce off of.

Thank goodness for Tim and Lynda, who were a delight to work with and share my love of everything geek (the 10 hours of filming or so included much conversation around Buffy, Batman and some truly terrible horror films) as well as understanding the trickiness of depicting a character's many sides, fears and secrets. Marianna is a complicated, wonderful, tortured character - I hope I've done her justice!

I've always thought I was a team player, but I have to confess, sitting on that sofa, being allowed to have a direct and very intimate relationship with the audience, was an absolute dream. I've never worked on a project that was so all about the viewer, and it was an incredible experience. If I've done my job well, you should (at different points in the game) feel annoyed at, scared of, seduced by and protective of Marianna - but that's all I'll say for now, the rest you'll have to discover yourselves!

Helen Jenkinson: Doctor Dekker was one of the most interesting projects I've worked on to date. Normally I would have one through story for my character but in Doctor Dekker we had several different arcs depending on the questions that the player might ask. This means that how Elin's story pans out is in the player's hands. This was really fascinating to work with when preparing for the role. It meant that I could create several personalities for Elin depending on the line of questioning which could affect the ending that the player gets.

It was also the first time that I haven't met or filmed with any other cast member or seen their scripts and I found it refreshing to have that element of mystery to it. I can't wait to play the game and find out who the other characters are!

Bianca Beckles-Rose: Autocue (the teleprompter) was the most challenging and fulfilling aspect of performing mass amounts of lines for Dekker. As Tim will tell you, we had a few hiccups before we found a set up to get me into my stride with the autocue text. I have used autocue before but performing small sentences became a crazy pressure (on top of monologues) when the amount of material to complete had tighter and tighter deadlines!

I thrived on that problem-solving and it's really a testament to Tim's work ethic to ensure his actors were equipped and using their time most effectively. This will come across in the final game, the rapid efficiency of yes/no responses makes you as the player want to continue to crack on until you find the little detail that dominoes into that amazing creative artistic aspect of the game you were mining for.

For more information on The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker, visit the OFFICIAL WEBSITE.

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