One of the developers I was most keen to see at EGX was Prologue Games. I always enjoy talking to them, mostly about crazy Florida stories with Wes Platt, Writer and Designer for Knee Deep, and some interesting stories from the game’s development with Colin Dwan, the Overlord…I mean owner.
This time around they were joined by Cory Farris, Senior Artist for Knee Deep—a part of me wants to believe they dragged him along for him to know how your body feels AFTER an expo—and while we waited for people to finish playing the demo I started talking to Wes, hoping to get some insight into the story-craft behind this episodic swamp noir.
As a fan of murder mysteries and writing a few of them myself, I wanted to know how they created the story for Knee Deep, did they start from the beginning with the murder premise or did they start at the end, with the revelations and work their way back through all the branches towards the beginning? “Yeah, I mean I know where the story goes.” Wes told me, when he said they start at the end. “We then have to keep an eye on pacing, on structure, on making sure we hit the right beats in every Act.”
When I then asked him if there had ever been moments when they had to go back and change story elements he said, “Of course. There were times I played through an Act and realised there was something missing. We went back and brainstormed what to add. As we went into Act Two, we had to keep an eye out on the decisions, so if I introduced this little plot element at the end, we needed to make sure you pick it up again in [this Act]. And I can’t imagine how it’ll be with the next one.
“My Job is to come up with stuff and Colin’s is to squash my dreams. I push, he pushes back and we get to a middle point we can actually do.” He mentioned and if only Colin had just then joined the conversation, it would’ve been perfect. But no, he was busy talking to people about the game.
So I moved on to my next question, something I’d wondered during Rezzed but never asked: Did the game have the Theatre visual style from the start or was that something that came later? Wes comments that as fans of Telltale’s The Walking Dead, they had first gone for a similar style only to notice that it was too similar to those games. “What makes us different? No one’s going to buy our game over Telltale!” They thought. So they went back to brainstorming and eventually hit on the play idea, with characters moving from stage to stage. Loving it, the only remaining question was: “Can we do it?” And after a short prototype they realised they could definitely pull it off.
As a software developer myself, I wondered how much re-work was involved, as I’ve done some major overhauls of systems. To my surprise, Wes’ response was: “Very little. There was a lot we could reuse. For example, the scene at the diner, we didn’t change anything there.”
A few weeks before EGX, Prologue Games announced they had voice acting lined up for Act 2 and the first one would get it as well. When I asked them if that was something they had planned from the start, just had to delay it, or if it came from feedback, Wes said most of the reviews they got fell on the side of “good game, but no voice acting.”
As both a writer and a reader, characters have their own voices in my head and I was sure it would be the same for Wes, so with the recent announcement, I asked him how the voice talent clashed with how he knew the Knee Deep characters really sounded like. “When we went hunting for the talent, I gave directions on how these characters should sound. I have to give them credit, they’re spot on.” Wes also mentioned they had trouble with one of the characters, Remy, as the original concept was a “combination [sic] of redneck and faux-Cajun.” When it proved difficult to get right, they shifted the concept into a “Hippy who throws around the term ‘cher’ a lot.” As he states, it wasn’t a problem with the actor but the original character premise.
Then I sat down for the Knee Deep Act 2 demo. It was a short one and began with K.C. Gaddis in the interrogation room. As I was playing a PI, my answers were cynical almost every time, and the voice actor was spot on for what I expected a Noir PI to sound like. It was something Cory and I agreed with when we spoke after the demo, he said “It’s the gravelly voice!” And he’s right. For some reason, Noir Private Investigators need to have that kind of voice, makes them seem rougher.
Cory mentioned something else with the voice acting, something I thought while playing the Knee Deep demo: “When you play it with voice acting for the first time, you immediately think ‘it’s so much better, how did we even play this without it’?” As I mentioned to Wes before I sat down to play the game, I’m an old-school adventurer, so I’m used to text-based games, with no voice acting, but when you have it and it’s good, it certainly adds value to it.
The scene shifted to Gaddis and a friend in a car and I immediately loved the detail of the background moving in a loop while their car was stationary, the same way it would happen in the theatre. As with every other such detail, it sells you on Knee Deep being a play. Gaddis and friend come to an Ambulance and you get your first few choices there on how to handle them, with consequences affecting the next scene, with Romana.
I won’t ruin this bit but I can only tell you it ends with a cliffhanger.
When I stood up, I turned to see the three Prologue Games guys watching me and grinning—they actually lined up, almost waiting for me to get to the end. They knew, from the look on my face, that I was hooked. “You’re evil.” I told them and they laughed. “How can you end it there?” They continued to laugh. “You’ll find out in November!” Colin said jokingly.
And so I will.
Knee Deep is turning out to be one of my favourite games this year. The story is intriguing, the characters are fun and I can’t wait to see where it goes next. Also, I know Prologue Games will tease me before Act 3 is out, giving me another demo with an excruciating cliffhanger, because they’re evil and I like that!
Knee Deep Act 2: Festival, is coming Early November, so keep an eye out on it!