Behind the Scenes Devlog
Some notes I wrote on the making of this game.
Fangame: I really love playing Disco Elysium. I was happily surprised by the writing. It's top-tier and strangely poetic and very funny and heartfelt. It inspired me to make this fangame and I highly recommend Disco Elysium if you haven't played it already.
Writing: I tried to keep the dark, comedic tone of Disco Elysium, and tried to use the same formatting. Asterisks are used for italic text and actions are placed inside brackets. The text is displayed in short blocks, inspired by Twitter posts (this translated well from my past experience in writing visual novels, as VNs have you display text so that in fits inside a textbox in blocks).
Avoiding confusion: I decided not to use check difficulties (rolls that can lead to failures/successes) from Disco Elysium into the fangame because I knew that people who hadn't played Disco Elysium would be playing the fangame (for the O2A2 jam) and adding check difficulties would (wrongfully) imply that this fangame includes a random number generator (RNG), which would cause confusion.
Alienating players: To further avoid alienating those unfamiliar with Disco Elysium, I tried to make it clear that the RCM is this setting's police organisation, the player notes that they've survived a "motorcar collision" (instead of a "car" collision), and when Drama talks about actors, I don't mention whether they are actors for film, television, or theatre, as Disco Elysium has a different level of technology from our world.
Narration: Something that I did want to keep (despite it possibly being confusing to those who haven't played Disco Elysium) was having 24 different skills narrate the story. I hope that players who are new to Disco Elysium's world quickly deduce that the various coloured name tags represent parts of the player character's brain, starting with Perception (Sight) as the first skill the player reads in the fangame.
The player: Instead of playing as the same player character in Disco Elysium, or any character in the game, you're a civilian who is a detective writer. Because of this, Esprit de Corps is replaced by Fellow Traveller as the player's "occupation skill."
The story: I wanted to create a premise that feels like the prologue to a bigger story. There's a dead body in the player character's kitchen. Who is the victim? Who is the killer? What happened? Why was there bread in the toaster? Why did this happen in your kitchen? I also imagine that there's many directions this story could have gone afterwards. The player could have tried to make deductions from the victim's clothing, finding a lead after discovering the cause of death, etc.
Constraints: The game was made for the 2021 O2A2 VN Jam, which is a game jam that focuses on making a game in a week using the constraints of a limited amount of assets and a story told in under 1,000 words. So writing a story that felt like a self-contained prologue to a bigger story helped me stay within that word limit (though there were some lines that I still had to cut to lower the word count).
On death: I tried to make the description of the player character looking at the body believable, using past experience. Same for the experience of fainting from seeing the dead. I won't go too personal or deep into this, but the hands and face of cadavers do get covered in morgues for the reasons Empathy describes in the game.
The toast animation: The toast popping up is 4 frames. We'll label it on a scale of 1 to 4, where "01" is when the toast is low/inside the toaster, and "04" is when the toast is highest/out of the toaster. I had the frames arranged in this order:
- 1) Toast is inside the toaster. (01)
- 2) Toast is lifting out of the toaster a little. (02)
- 3) Toast is at it's highest. (04)
- 4) Toast is slightly lower.(03)
Instead of a linear animation, this created a nice "bounce" in the toast's pop up, where it over extends for one frame, before going back down to its final frame.
Title: I named the project "Mystery Miniaturist" because 1) it's a detective mystery story, 2) the story is short (miniature), and 3) a miniaturist is also the term for a short fiction writer, so the title might also be referring to the player character.
Programming: The visual novel was make using Disco Framework, a GUI (user interface) template I had programmed earlier for Disco Elysium fans who use the visual novel engine Ren'Py.
Art: For the background, I used a kitchen sprite asset pack by the artist JP Cummins. JP Cummins' art is very detailed and uses an isometric view, which I felt fit with the world of Disco Elysium. I created a character sprite as a semi-transparent person, which helped to 1) stay unified with Cummins' art style, 2) allowed the player to imagine and fill in the details of what the player character looked like, and 3) was minimalist enough that the asset could be completed within the time constraints of the week-long game jam. The main menu image was a photo of a cityscape by Mibi Mathew that I found on pexels dot com, that I put through an oil paint-like filter to imitate Disco Elysium's painted main menu of the game's setting.
Voice acting: Similar to my method for the voice acting in Dear Devere and Last Meal at Cafe Mori, I made a voice acting info document (a summary of the game's plot, descriptions of the voiced characters, and instructions on recording the lines) and a voice acting spreadsheet (once I finished writing the game's script) to the voice actor. A voice acting spreadsheet divides each voiced line into different rows, with different columns next to each line: The character who says the line, context (what a character is thinking/feeling, any info the voice actor needs to understand the line's context, etc.), the line number (the name of the audio file, from programming the line in Ren'Py), and notes (edits, etc). Mike Young, whom I've worked with before, sent me the lines in a professional manner, and I programmed the lines to play for each line of text.
Music: I sent some tracks from Disco Elysium to the composers, explaining what I liked about the music and what sort of tone I was looking for for the game. I talked with them about what plans they had for the music and they sent the music to me with instructions of what I needed to do to program it in properly (timing it to the plot in the game, etc). Using multiple channels would allow different instruments to play over each other, fading in and out to events in the game seamlessly. This is comparable to the iMUSE system used in the remaster of Monkey Island 2 (video example).
I did the following to program the music in:
- 1) Created custom channels (named "musicdrums", "musicpiano", etc).
- 2) Attached all those channels to the music volume control slider in the Options menu (so players could control music volume).
- 3) Had all the channels start playing at the same time when the game starts.
- 4) Changed the volume on/off of individual channels throughout the game (this creates the music shifts throughout the game).
- 5) Added fade ins and fade outs to the music channels (so the music shifts in the game don't sound abrupt).
Special thanks to my team, Mike Young, Orpheo Fenn, and Kija. They each kept me updated with their progress and were fun to work together with.
Thank you for reading. Turrah!
PS - Do we ever find out who wrote the Dick Mullen series in Disco Elysium, or can I headcanon that the player character in the fangame Mystery Miniaturist is one of the ghost writers?
Get Mystery Miniaturist
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