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IG@FG: Charlotte Sutherland on Lord Winklebottom Investigates: The Case of the Expired Axolotl

We speak to Charlotte Sutherland, founder of Cave Monsters, about her upcoming point-and-click murder mystery Lord Winklebottom Investigates: The Case of the Expired Axolotl;

Lord Winklebottom Investigates: The Case of the Expired Axolotl was the primary inspiration behind our bumper “60 Indie Games To Look Forward To In 2019” feature from back in November. It was the first name on the list because of everything scheduled to release in 2019, it’s one of our most anticipated.

A whodunit mystery starring a monocle wearing Giraffe, the titular Lord Winklebottom, and his tea drinking hippopotamus companion Doctor Frumple, the pair must solve the who’s and the why’s behind the untimely demise of their host. Everything we’ve seen of the game so far has been bursting with charm and wit which really comes through in this trailer.

We recently had the chance to pose some question to the founder of Cave Monsters and solo developer of Lord Winklebottom, Charlotte Sutherland and she kindly took the time to answer them, all of which can you read here:

You’re currently working on Lord Winklebottom Investigates: The Case of the Expired Axolotl. What inspired you to make this game?

Having spent a few years mostly working on 3D models and animation, I wanted to get back into 2D drawing and painting, and in particular digital painting, having mostly worked in pencil and oil paint previously. I bought myself a Surface Pro tablet and one of the first things I painted was an old fashioned, oil paint style portrait of a giraffe in a top hat (I’ve no idea where that came from!). I then started to do a series of random animals in old fashioned clothing. I started thinking about the world they might live in and how their society might work, which somehow lead to me coming up with a plot for a murder mystery (I’ve always been a big fan of Agatha Christie novels and Sherlock Holmes stories).

I’ve loved point and click adventure games ever since playing The Curse of Monkey Island as a child, and it seemed like the ideal genre for this slightly strange idea I’d come up with.

The point and click genre is undergoing something of a resurgence as of late. How does it feel to be part of the wave of new comers?

Although this isn’t quite the first adventure game I’ve worked on, as I had a hand in one of the Doctor Who Adventure Games for the BBC, it’s the first one I’ve worked on as an indie developer. Ever since the Broken Age Kickstarter did so well, it seems like there has been a lot more interest in the genre, and there have been a number of really great adventure games over the last few years. You only have to look at the range of titles shown at AdventureX this year to see how much fantastic stuff is on the way. I’m really excited to be a part of it!

Anthropomorphic characters in video games are most commonly stylised or cartoonlike whereas Lord Winklebottom and the rest of the cast of the game are quite detailed and realistic (top hat and monocle aside). It looks brilliant but I was wondering what inspired you to break from the status quo?

It mostly came from the original paintings I did of the characters, though the style has changed a bit since then and become a bit more painterly. Although the game is clearly absurd in some obvious ways, it’s also going to be darker and lightly horror-themed in places (though more classic Universal or Hammer style of horror – nothing too grim!), so a cartoon style probably wouldn’t really suit.

You’ve worked at several big studios in the past like TT Games, EA and Rare but for Lord Winklebottom Investigates, you’re currently a solo developer. How have you found this change? Do you find it difficult being a solo developer?

I’m definitely enjoying the creative freedom that comes from being a solo developer. It’s hard to imagine a bigger studio wanting to make a weird point and click adventure game about a 1920s giraffe detective. It’s difficult to work on your own game when you’re already working a full time job at another studio (not to mention possible legal problems with doing that) so going indie was the only real way I could get to work on my own ideas.

The main downside is working on your own during the day, so there’s not much social interaction, or people to bounce off for instant feedback (other than the dog but, unlike the one in the game, she doesn’t talk much). I’m also working part time as a lecturer on a games design course at our local University, however, which means I’m not spending all my time working alone plus, of course, helps financially.

You recently showed Lord Winklebottom Investigates at the AdventureX conference. How valuable did you find this as an experience?

Lord Wninklebottom at AdventureX ’18

I was really honoured to be selected for AdventureX, and it was great to see the game going down so well with dedicated fans of adventure and narrative games. I got a lot of great feedback from players at the event, which will help shape the game as I go into full development. Even if people don’t give you feedback directly, it’s interesting to watch them play, and get an idea of their thought processes as they’re working through the puzzles. Sometimes a small thing – a couple of words in the dialogue to draw the player’s attention to something, or just the size of an item hotspot – can make all the difference.

It was great to get a chance to meet and chat to other developers too, though it was hard to get away from my stand, as there were people playing pretty much constantly, which was nice!

There’s a lot of clever wit and charm in what we’ve seen of Lord Winklebottom Investigates so far. Do you have a process on how to come up with this or is it all flashes of inspiration?

Thanks! One of the things with adventure games, compared to other genres, is that it’s really important that people pay attention to the dialogue, because that’s where you get the information you need to solve the puzzles. It was interesting, actually, showing an early build of the game at Insomnia, which is a general gaming show, that some people who weren’t used to adventures initially just clicked through all the dialogue in the game then got completely stuck as they didn’t know what they were meant to be doing, which shows, I guess, how important the dialogue is in adventure games. It’s got to be engaging and entertaining, because if you end up with players wanting to skip it, the game just won’t work at all.

When I’m actually writing the dialogue, it’s sort of a two stage process. When I’m initially blocking out the puzzles, I just use temporary dialogue which only really contains the information that’s necessary for the player to solve the puzzle. So you’d just have lines like “there’s a key under the rug” or something like that. Once that basic information is in place, and the puzzles are working, I go back and actually write the real dialogue, making sure I keep the key information in there. I’m not sure I have much of a process for this stage, except that I have a really clear idea about the voices and personalities of the characters, which makes the dialogue flow quite naturally.

You’re aiming to launch a Kickstarter for Lord Winklebottom Investigates soon. What can people expect from this campaign?

Although the bulk of the game is going to be done solo, there are things that I’ll definitely need help with. For one, I want the game to be fully voiced, in order to really bring out the personalities of the characters, so some of the Kickstarter funds will go towards voice recording and actors. There’s also localisation – there’s obviously a lot of text in an adventure game, which’ll all need translating into various languages. I’d also like to work with a composer to create an original 1920s style soundtrack for the game.

As for rewards, there’s the game itself of course. For the Kickstarter, I’ll be offering keys for PC, Mac, Linux and Switch, though I’m hoping to add more consoles to that at a later date. I’ve also got a number of rewards such as t-shirts, posters, pins and so on right up to the chance to have your pet or favourite animal in the game as a suspect!

The colon in the name “Lord Winklebottom Investigates: The Case of the Expired Axolotl” suggests that there might be more cases in the future for the giraffe detective. Could there be more in store should this game be a success?

That’s definitely the plan in the long term, if the first game does well enough. To be clear – this game is a complete, full-size adventure, however – it’s not the first part of a trilogy or anything like that. That said, I have a few ideas for other adventures, so I’d love to get the chance to explore the world a bit more. This first game is set quite late in Winklebottom’s career so it might be interesting to see what he was like as a younger giraffe, and also to see more of the wider world beyond the island that this game is set on.

Lastly, if you could offer up one piece of advice to anyone looking to become an indie developer, what would it be?

I suppose the main thing I’d say is to make sure you look after your health and your finances first. As amazing as your game might be, it’s not worth maxing out your credit cards and half killing yourself through overwork in order to finish it. Be realistic about what you can achieve, plan your finances and your time. You’ll end up with a better game at the end of it and you’re not risking your health or home to do it.

Also, please don’t make an adventure game about a detective giraffe. Other than that, go for it!

Lord Winklebottom Investigates: The Case of the Expired Axolotl is scheduled to release on PC, Mac, Linux and Consoles in 2019. You can follow development by following Cave Monsters on twitter or by joining their Discord server. You can also wishlist the game on Steam here.

IG@FG (or ‘Indie Games @ Finger Guns’) is a new irregular feature exploring the world of indie games. If you liked this, or anything else we create, please consider supporting our Patreon.

Sean Davies

Ungrateful little yuppie larvae. 30-something father to 5. Once ate 32 slices of pizza at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

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