It goes without saying that nature’s red in tooth and claw, but if a recent crop of adventure games are anything to go by, then animals are even more devious when it comes to their acts of killing than we previously thought.
Sheep, rabbits, cats, and mice are among the murder suspects in the forthcoming Chicken Police; the suspicious death of a feline businessman forms the basis of Goloso Games’ Inspector Waffles; and now we have the slaying of a wealthy axolotl to solve in developer Cave Monsters’ Lord Winklebottom Investigates.
Where Chicken Police and Inspector Waffles are steeped in the staples of American crime fiction – they’re all scruffy cops, urban malaise, and corrupt one-percenters – Lord Winklebottom Investigates follows the grand tradition of British thriller writers like Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle, and the movies adapted from their most famous works.
Lord Winklebottom is an urbane sleuth who also happens to be a giraffe; his sidekick is an unassuming hippopotamus named Doctor Frumple, and their latest case is the murder of Admiral Gilfrey: axolotl, ex-sailor, explorer, and old friend of Lord Winklebottom’s. Their point-and-click adventure is, to use an appropriately old-fashioned term, a proper ripping yarn.
“I’ve always been a big fan of old British murder mysteries,” Cave Monsters developer Charlotte Sutherland tells us. “I grew up reading Agatha Christie novels and then moved onto the Sherlock Holmes stories. I really enjoy watching the old black and white movies, and loved the fact that even though they were thrillers, they usually tried to add a bit of humour into them in some way.”
Winklebottom and Frumple’s point-and-click investigation takes them to the late admiral’s private island, and a bracing mystery that takes in a rogues’ gallery of suspects, an array of puzzles, and some increasingly bizarre discoveries.
But while the game has its roots in British murder mysteries, development on Lord Winklebottom didn’t begin with the fevered writing of a complex thriller, but rather a series of illustrations, Sutherland explains. “Originally, I just painted the characters as standalone pieces, and wasn’t really thinking about them being for a game,” she says.
“Winklebottom was the first character I drew, as I liked the idea of a posh, slightly snooty giraffe, especially after seeing how graceful they are in real life. After I’d created a few other characters in the same style, I started to think about the world they might live in, and the idea for using them in a murder mystery-style adventure game came together.”
Lord Winklebottom Investigates’ characters are a clear standout, and there’s a good reason for that: Sutherland has over a decade of experience as an animator at such studios as Sumo Digital, Rare, and EA, and has games like Little Big Planet 3 and LEGO Batman on her CV.
Now based in Sheffield, she divides her time between lecturing in game development and working on her first solo project. “I’ve found it allows me to have a better work-life balance and enables me to spend the rest of my time being dedicated to developing the game,” Sutherland says of her part-time work at Sheffield Hallam University. “It’s definitely not something I think I’d have been able to do if I were still working full time in triple-A.”
After one earlier false start on Kickstarter, Sutherland got her first big boost in May 2019, when Lord Winklebottom’s second campaign successfully amassed £12,551 in pledges – funds that she’s been able to plough into the current phase of the game’s development.
The difference the second time around, Sutherland tells us, is that she was able to build more of an audience through social media. “The second campaign benefited a lot from this, and got off to a much stronger start thanks to the people who’d found out about the game from the first Kickstarter. It’s very hard to build momentum if the campaign doesn’t get off to an immediate strong start.”
Since then, Sutherland has been working away on the game’s script and puzzles, since the two are so closely intertwined; once those are in place, she’ll then turn her attention to recording and editing the rest of the game’s quintessentially British voice acting. “I’ve not done the full voice recording yet,” Sutherland explains.
“I want to leave it as late as possible to avoid having to do pick-ups later. I’d expect the VO to run into a few hours, though, so there will be a lot of editing to do at some point. Picking the best takes, cutting out the individual lines and naming them correctly so they match up to the script in-game takes quite a long time, as I’ve found out while working on the demos. Sometimes lines change slightly when recorded too, so you have to go back and fix the game script to match.”
As you’ve probably gathered, there’s a rich seam of gentle humour running through Lord Winklebottom, from its plummy dialogue to its surreal visuals: there’s definitely something morbidly fascinating about the sight of a dead amphibian wearing a smoking jacket.
And as for the murderer – well, Sutherland tells us that we can expect the mystery to take a more macabre turn as the yarn unspools. “The game certainly gets darker as it goes on, and you’ll see a bit more of the nature of the animal characters come out from underneath their civilised veneer. By the end, I hope that people will feel that the animal characters made sense, and that this wasn’t a story that could have worked just as well with humans.”
Format: PC / Mac
Developer: Cave Monsters
Publisher: Cave Monsters
Release: Summer 2020