Crafting a Replayable Murder Mystery in Murderous Muses
- A devs-eye-view revealing some of the design decisions that went into the making of this infinitely replayable murder mystery.
- Procedurally generated 3D environment with a layered murder mystery narrative to make every playthrough different.
- Murderous Muses arrives on today on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One.
Hi, I’m Lynda, one of the writers and game designers at D’Avekki Studios. Almost two years ago, we started developing our supernatural whodunit Murderous Muses with a very clear vision: to make a murder mystery you could solve again and again. In this article, I’m going to talk about some of the things we’ve done during development to make every playthrough unique!
Frame by Frame
Solving a murder mystery is usually a one and done affair and if you know whodunit, there’s really no reason to replay. But in Murderous Muses, like our previous games (The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker, The Shapeshifting Detective) the killer is randomised at the start of every game. That means that the murderer can be any of the six suspects every time you play – the undertaker, the clockmaker, the burlesque dancer, the tennis player, the criminologist or the ventriloquist.
This time we wanted to vary the mystery even more, so we decided to create nine different pieces of evidence that could be shuffled and shown as clips from a late night TV show, “Mirlhaven’s Unsolved Mysteries”.
In every playthrough, you’ll be able to solve the murder using just three of these evidence ‘frames’. That means in one game you might focus on the time of the murder, trace evidence left at the scene and the antique murder weapon, while in another you could be investigating a mysterious phone call, a piece of rope, and an occult symbol drawn in blood!
A big part of your detective work involves unlocking police interviews, which you can only do by outsmarting the gallery to reveal three specific clues for each suspect. We also shuffle these clues so the steps you take to find the killer will be different in every game.
In Murderous Muses, you play as the security guard working the night shift in a haunted art gallery. We decided early on that we wanted to exploit the supernatural theme to help make each playthrough different. Not only do the paintings come to life, but new rooms and corridors spawn every night in unpredictable ways, so it feels like the gallery is constantly shifting and changing around you.
It’s not just the walls that move either. The “open-world” gameplay lets you hang suspect portraits on various plaques in the gallery to reveal FMV clues about the murder. Early versions of the gallery had static keywords but we quickly realised during testing that it wasn’t really challenging enough, so we added a “clockwork” mechanism to change the keyword after you hang a painting. That means you’ll need to hunt for keywords and manipulate the plaques to use them – so each new gallery becomes one big environmental puzzle.
Layers of Story
Of course, before we got to any of this, we needed to make sure we had a good story. And just as importantly, we needed to work out how to reveal the story gradually, so more and more layers could be revealed each time you play.
The evidence that I’ve already talked about covers the nitty gritty of the case, but uncovering the suspects’ full motives requires a bit more digging. Every time you hang a suspect portrait you’ll reveal a bit more about what was going on between them and the victim, and why they might have wanted him dead.
You’re revealing these secrets in a non-linear fashion, so one of our concerns during development was that you might lose track of the story threads – especially if you left at some time between playthroughs. To combat this, we took inspiration from Double Fine Productions’2012 adventure The Cave, which used cave paintings as backstory summaries. So now, after you’ve seen a set of videos that reveal an important part of a suspect’s story, you’ll unlock a new “character lore” painting that ties all those threads together into one neat narrative package.
There’s so much more I could talk about – replayable puzzles, collectibles, the over-over-arching story! – but this article is long enough already. Hopefully, you’ll discover those for yourself as Murderous Muses launches on Xbox today!