Mystery Feed

What's the Motive in 'Psy High'? You Decide.

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Motive is the main concern in most fiction in the mystery genre, whether that's a TV show like Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries or today's sophisticated novels in the domestic noir category. But when it comes to interactive fiction, where reader/player choice matters, motive is a little more up-for-grabs. If you were a nerdy kid like me in the 80s, you remember Choose Your Own Adventure books, with multiple endings and reader choice all the way through. This form enjoys a vibrant life these days, as evidenced by the many interactive novels we've worked on here at Brunette Games, such as released games Choices: Veil of Secrets and Sender Unknown: The Woods as well as three other titles currently in development.

We're big admirers of Choice of Games here at BG; though we've never designed a game for that platform, we enjoy playing them. So we reached out to Rebecca Slitt, author of the COG game Psy High. Here's her take on motive.

Rebecca Slitt:

What’s the motive in Psy High? It’s whatever you decide it is.

Psy High is an interactive novel: on the border between a book and a game. As in all of the titles from Choice of Games, you the reader direct the action at every turn: you decide what the main character does and why. Not only that, but you get to choose the main character’s name, gender, orientation, personality, and goals. 

The story in Psy High is a mixture of mystery, romance, and supernatural elements, inspired by “Veronica Mars” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” You play a teenager with psychic powers – clairvoyance and telepathy – who uses their gifts to solve mysteries. When an old friend asks you to investigate why your classmates are acting strangely, you discover a plot that could put the whole school at risk. You have to maneuver around your teachers, parents, and even your friends while using your magical abilities to uncover the truth – not to mention going to class, trying out for the drama club play, and finding a date for the prom.

The culprit has their own motive, but you figure that out – along with the culprit’s identity – fairly early. The more complicated question is: what's your motive? When you discover what's really going on in your high school, what do you do about it, and why? 

Maybe you’re motivated by altruism: you want to do what will help the most people. That’s a noble goal, but it’s not always easy to figure out how to reach it. What helps one person might hurt another.

Maybe you’re motivated by affection: you see how all of these issues are affecting your friends and want to help them. Maybe you want to help your boyfriend or girlfriend, or do whatever it takes to make them happy, or just spend as much time with them as possible. The prom is coming up, after all, and what could be more important than that?

Maybe you’re motivated by power. There’s plenty of power to be had, both magical and otherwise, and plenty of secrets to uncover. Do you care about that more than you care about your classmates? More than going to college? More than anything?

Maybe you’re motivated by a desire to fit in. In high school, what’s worse than being different? You can try to reject your magical power, act like every other kid, keep your head down, study, and try to lead a perfectly ordinary life. 

Or, maybe you think that the villain isn't such a villain after all. Maybe you realize that you share their motive: you think that their plan will make the school a better place, not worse. That’s possible, too. You can team up with them and use your magic to help them.

What this all means is that you get to choose the kind of story that you’re participating in. It can be a story about love conquering all: You can find your true love and draw on the strength of that bond to triumph over whatever challenges come your way. It can be a story about discovering deeper truths about yourself and the world: learning what you truly care about, what your values are, and how far you’ll go to defend them. It can be a story about rebellion: breaking every rule, fighting the power wherever you find it, showing the world that you’re your own person. It can even be a story about failure: No matter how strong or noble your motives are, there’s no guarantee that you’ll succeed – so if you fail, what meaning will you draw from that?

There are dozens of stories to be told inside the mystery of Psy High, each with its own motive. You get to choose which story you want to tell.

Download and review Psy High.

Follow Rebecca Slitt on Twitter.

  RLS photo

Rebecca Slitt is an academic-turned-game-designer who uses her knowledge of medieval history to make sure that dragon battles follow the principles of chivalry and time travelers go to the right places in medieval London. She is an editor and author for Choice of Games, and has contributed to the tabletop RPGs Timewatch and Noirlandia

Note: This post previously appeared on Cat in the Flock.


'Stepping Stone,' from Student to Game Writer

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In-game art for the 'Stepping Stone' case in Homicide Squad: Hidden Crimes.

Here's BG team member Dexter Woltman, with some insight into what it's like to transition from student to a career as a game writer/designer.

During this past year, I had the amazing opportunity to join Brunette Games as a junior game writer/designer. This job has connected me to developer teams at game studios all around the world - our BG clients. One of the studios I’ve had the pleasure of working with is G5 Entertainment.

G5 Entertainment is the proud developer of Homicide Squad: Hidden Crimes. In Homicide Squad, players put their detective skills to the test as they search for clues, find hidden objects, solve cases, and arrest criminals. It’s a popular game that G5 continues to support and update, and it’s also the game that provided me with my first professional writing assignment, a murder case that would come to be called “Stepping Stone.”

When I first joined Brunette Games, I was still a student in college. As I continued to deal with the complications of school, my work in game writing was more limited. I was new, and my focus largely stayed with editing and localization work. But while I was still a student, Lisa Brunette gave me my first opportunity to write an original piece, a case for Homicide Squad, after editing several cases for G5's localization team. Safe to say, I was more than excited.

As the writing developed, that excitement turned to hard work. G5 provided us with a case outline about a woman who walked into her flower shop one morning to find three strangers dead. It was my job to turn the outline into a full-fledged piece of writing fit with charm and mystery. 

Initially, the hardest part for me was the characters. Although the new characters introduced especially for this case were easier and fun to develop, it was the longstanding characters that proved more difficult. Here I was with a game whose main characters had been around for a long time. They’ve grown and developed over the course of numerous cases. G5 had given me two tremendously popular main characters in Detective Turino and Detective Lamonte, and I wanted to respect those characters and make them as spot-on as I possibly could.

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Official G5 art for Detective Lamonte and Detective Turino.

The process for me meant going back to a lot of Turino and Lamonte’s older cases. I played through their dialogue again and again, trying to get the best sense of their characters I possibly could. In the end, I persevered, and I was able to keep them true to their characters while also adding a new layer to Turino’s sympathy.

Since this was my first original piece, another thing I wasn’t as familiar with was the revision process games typically go through. 'Stepping Stone' went through a lot of rounds of revisions, eventually resulting in about half of my dialogue getting cut. But in doing so, I learned to take advantage of textual spaces and really focus on efficient writing. So even though I lost half my dialogue, I didn’t actually lose any story. This is especially thanks to both Lisa Brunette and G5, who were extraordinarily helpful in making the case the best it could be.

'Stepping Stone' was an impactful, transitionary moment in my life. It opened the gateway to new projects with other clients, as well as further projects with G5. As a student, I wouldn’t have imagined I would make it this far in the game design industry at this age. I didn’t even think I would be a part of the game design industry at this age. That’s why, even when the stresses of school or other work were pressing down, Brunette Games always remained my priority. I knew what I was doing was important, and it made me feel better about myself every day.

There was also my transition from student work to real-world professional work. In my writing classes at school, I could basically write whatever I wanted. I didn’t have to regard tone or theme, I could just write. Then, maybe there would be an in-class workshop or two, and it was done. I was passionate about it, yes, but I was also writing for the grade. When I started writing professionally, it was a lot different. There is no grade, it’s just me always making the writing the best it could possibly be. Everything must always be efficient, quick, and top-notch.

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In-game art for the 'Stepping Stone' hidden object scene.

Another notable difference between student work and professional work is the creative freedom. When I’m writing for a class, I essentially just write whatever I want to write. Whatever characters or stories I wanted to be in the story could be in the story. With professional writing, it’s no longer always just me deciding what goes into the writing. I have clients with established characters and worlds. They have stories they want to see happen. But in that way, I’m almost more creative. Writing literally anything is a hobby. Writing specifically for a client’s need is where my real skill starts to show. So even if I’m writing something I didn’t necessarily consider myself wanting to write, I always strive to make it something I want to write. In doing that, I’ve created some truly extraordinary stories I’m very proud of.

When it comes to my growing professionalism, not only do I owe it to the guidance of Brunette Games, but I also owe a lot of it to our client, G5. After 'Stepping Stone,' I took on the role of regularly editing the game’s many other fantastic cases. Through repeatedly having opportunities to edit real, professional text, I’ve learned what makes game writing work. I know how to be efficient with my writing and create natural-sounding dialogue. Every time G5 has a new editing job for me, I get excited because it’s another opportunity to enhance my writing. Well, that and the team allows me a lot of latitude in creating puns for their quest titles, and that’s always the highlight of my day.

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In-game art for one of Detective Turino's quest debriefings.

Brunette Games and G5’s 'Stepping Stone' case marked a lot of firsts for me. I’m young, sure, but I’m growing into becoming a real professional. With our amazing clients and extraordinary team members at Brunette Games, I feel comfortable evolving into something better. I went to school for writing so that I could have a chance to become something more with my storytelling. Brunette Games and our clients have given me that chance, and I only become prouder of it with each passing day.

Play the Game

Homicide Squad: Hidden Crimes is developed by G5 Entertainment, with narrative design, writing, and editing support from Brunette Games. Find it on the App Store, Google Play store, Amazon App store, and wherever mobile games are sold.