What are the elements that make a good investigative game? This is a more complex question than one might expect.
From puzzles to shooting games, through titles more based on narrative choices, investigative games are very varied, while maintaining certain peculiarities specific to the world of video games. Whether it’s a raincoat, a spooky piano, or a tired world protagonist with a whiskey drenched voice, these are all things that have come to games through film noir or novels. police officers. Likewise, investigative games have formed their own special mechanics: finding clues, reconstructing events, interrogating suspects, using “detective mode” to sweep crime scenes with some form of logical deduction. Many of these mechanisms show an ideal of investigative work made famous by fiction, but how close is all of this to the reality of the facts? We spoke to Adam Richardson, a California Police Detective, author of Writer’s Detective Handbook: Criminal Investigation for Authors and Screenwriters, best qualified to recognize where reality and clichés meet.
LA Noire is the perfect starting point: a game that combines a great awareness of its own black influences with a fairly complete reconstruction of police work and procedures in the 1940s. “LA Noire did a great job of telling the story. investigative work realistically, but it continues to be a game, a fiction, ”says Richardson. “Many aspects of investigative work have changed dramatically over the past seventy years. LA Noire is ready. In an era before modern forensics, before the introduction of the ‘Miranda Warning’ (which requires police to read their rights before questioning in custody), as well as a host of other advances and changes in the police. ” The interrogation is a key part of LA Noire. Part of the game’s original marketing is based on the truth / doubt / lie system, which allows players to observe the motion capture performance of actors portraying suspects, and then use those chosen to put them under pressure. There is always a path in the game that leads to truth, to confession, but is this something typical of an interrogation? “Confessions are not uncommon, but certainly, in most cases, they don’t happen,” says Richardson. “The real interrogation process is to have our suspect tell a story, even if the story is full of lies. At this point, the evidence is used to find holes in their statement. LA Noire implements this mechanism, allowing players to use evidence and clues found to contradict the suspect’s story or demonstrate that what he is saying is clearly a lie. But a big part still depends on the performance of the actors. “I barely find the part of the gameplay where you uncover lies,”


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Richardson admits. “The mechanics used in LA Noire with capturing the movements of actors’ facial expressions was pioneering at that time. But the lie and the truth in this area include much more than a simple wink or muscle contractions in the face. “I barely find the part of the gameplay where you uncover lies,” Richardson admits. “The mechanics used in LA Noire with capturing the movements of actors’ facial expressions was pioneering at that time. But the lie and the truth in this area include much more than a simple wink or muscle contractions in the face. “I barely find the part of the gameplay where you uncover lies,” Richardson admits. “The mechanics used in LA Noire with capturing the movements of actors’ facial expressions was pioneering at that time. But the lie and the truth in this area include much more than a simple wink or muscle contractions in the face.

Action is also a big part of LA Noire. On the infamous streets of post-war Los Angeles, where crime is on the rise, shootings and violent feuds are inevitable. But we’ve always asked ourselves: is the job of an investigator really that exciting? “On the first day they took me in the middle of a big undercover operation that looked like something out of a movie.


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Richardson recalls, “There was the brilliant secret agent, the muscular pointer with a microphone, the surveillance team, a bag full of pounds of cocaine.” I thought, “This is fantastic! “But a week later I found out that most of my work was sitting in a booth reading incoming cases, schedule interviews / interviews in an adjoining room and write audit reports. History will never show how much writing is present in a day’s work. I’m grateful for that though, because if there’s one thing more boring than paperwork, it’s watching or reading someone else writing the paperwork.

LA Noire reflects a rather balanced balance between realistic elements and typical embellishments of the genre. However, it is also one of the best representations in a game of what is a key aspect of investigative work: speaking. “Talking to people is a fundamental part of the job. If on the one hand the operating rules have changed, on the other hand the task remains the same. If you can’t talk to people, you won’t be successful as a detective. ” 

The Sinking City is another game that blurs the lines between true investigative work and creative beautification. Made by Frogwares, a Ukrainian development studio known for its Sherlock Holmes series, the game sought to create an effective sleuth sandbox: an open-world sleuth title influenced by the classic board game “Sherlock Holmes detective consultant”. While it is debated whether he was successful in achieving this goal, there are nonetheless a number of mechanics that attempt to mirror this approach: lack of map markers, archival mechanics that rewards player ingenuity and, of course, the Palace of Memory. “I don’t know anyone who uses the Memory Palace and probably, even if they did, they wouldn’t share it for fear of being laughed at, ”Richardson said. “I guess everyone is using ‘if-then’ deductive reasoning at some point in the investigation, but then there is a need to fill in the gaps in the reasoning with evidence or proven facts. Thus, even if inferences can be made, only those which lead to finding more evidence can then be used. ” 

The Sinking City allows players to combine facts to make deductions in individual cases, but leaves some of the more important deductions to the player. Should we save this expedition of scientists or let them all die? Since there is no correct answer or confirmation, these deductions turn out to be more like personal judgment. Discretion is an integral part of the work of the police. Should we follow the law or the spirit of the law to the letter? “Says Richardson.


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“Investigative work really has to do with applied philosophy and ethics. Should we be concerned with the higher good or should we focus on our actions that have moral value? These are the types of decisions that the police must evaluate during their working days, and yes, they are extremely personal. “So while the game’s detectives have come to portray characters armed with power and choice, the truth is that they have both great obligations and great moral responsibilities.

But The Sinking City’s effort to create an open-world investigative game highlights a problem present in the genre as a whole: How do you create an open world made up of closed systems? When the mechanics of inquiry are incredibly recognizable and the role of information is so strongly defined, how is it possible to create something open? The open world of LA Noire, despite the presence of a few random events, does not really succeed in offering an open approach, in part also due to the linearity of the game. Only one title has managed to achieve what you might call a Open survey sandbox, but the best part is that it’s probably not even a survey game.

“I actually didn’t know I was doing a survey game until Obra Dinn was almost done, so I didn’t base all of the design choices on other survey games,” explains Lucas Pope, creator of Return of Obra Dinn. “Obra Dinn’s centerpiece is finding a corpse, examining the time of death and detecting information at the scene. Defining these boundaries almost immediately helped me focus on how to structure the overall storytelling and progression to make them understandable and revealing.

In Return of Obra Dinn, we play an insurance expert who, with the help of a mysterious watch, the Memento Mortem, must piece together in detail the tragic fate of all the souls who died while traveling on the ship of the same. last name. The centerpiece of the game is a gigantic logic puzzle, but its ingenuity lies in giving players the freedom to solve it.
“I think part of the freedom to infer is due to my development process,” Pope explains. “You can imagine that storytelling has levels: one chapter for each incident, one death for each chapter. Once I established the structure of what would have been the crashes and who would have died in each one, I practically started building the scenes. ” 

Where most other investigative titles give information an extremely predominant role, Obra Dinn is simply a sandbox of information, a tool to access it only through player ingenuity. It also shows organicity to the game’s central mechanics: each time a crew member’s fate is discovered, all other fates change slightly. “When creating the story and placing the clues, I relied on the fact that some identities are easier to deduce than others and that only by solving the easiest ones than the most difficult would automatically become easier because the options would narrow, ”explains Le Pope. “It’s a system that works well to allow all clues to contribute globally in one way or another to all identities.” This means that different players can find and interpret different clues and continue to progress in the game in the same way. ” 

Everyone knows the quote from Sherlock Holmes: “Once the impossible is eliminated, what remains, however improbable, must be the truth,” but is the process of elimination an instrument actually used by detectives?

“The problem with this logical deduction is that it can lead to premature theories about how something happened,” says Richardson. “It is never the purpose of an investigation. The point is to let the evidence speak for itself, leading investigators to the truth about what happened. The elimination process rarely plays an active role. in a survey because you rarely work with a data set that requires systematic elimination of its elements. Obra Dinn Returns is a brilliant puzzle game disguised as an investigative investigation, not the other way around. “It’s true: one of the reasons Obra Dinn is such a well-made investigation game is that it is not an investigation game at all, at least not in terms of genre. what a detective, what he does,

Obra Dinn is all of these, although it is difficult to represent intuition. In investigative games we often see a mechanic who represents this indefinable aspect of detective work: he is called “hunch points” in LA Noire, “Retrocognition” in The Sinking City or “Memento Mortem” in Obra Dinn. . There is one aspect of investigative work that we can always and only portray in a very broad sense.

“Oh, how I wish I could go back in time and see a snippet of what really happened at the crime scene!” Says Richardson. “As a detective I think our first line is when it comes to observing human nature, it’s important to develop a part of that intuition that allows us to understand when someone is hiding something or when something thing does not seem correct. I think it comes from unconscious experience and understanding the patterns in things … and when something seems out of place in this pattern that we are unconsciously knowing, intuition hits our brains to tell us something is wrong. not here and that we have to be careful. ” 

Investigation games often seem to show a conflict between style and content: they give us a hat, a gun, car chases, a town, all of those things that according to the clichés we must feel like real. detectives, but at the heart of the experience is the mystery, the puzzle and the freedom to reach consciousness alone. As Richardson describes it, “It’s like hearing a short, subtle vibration in the controller that most gamers won’t even notice. We don’t yet know what this vibration means, but we do know that there is more than it seems. ” 

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