Sunday, January 6, 2013

Et Tu? The Murder Mystery Evening Generator

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  Today I am joined by a fellow James, this one from across the pond in London, who is bringing us Et Tu?  The Murder Mystery Evening Generator.  Thank you for joining us today James!

Hiya James - good to meet a another James! Hope we don’t cancel one another out.

(Laughs) There’s always room for more James.  Your project is a Murder Mystery Evening Generator, what exactly does that mean?

Literally, ‘Et Tu’ is taken from the popularised final words of Julius Caesar to his thought-to-be-BFF Brutus; I’ve used it as a term of betrayal, signifying disbelief as to the identity of a murderer within the context of a murder mystery evening.

And that’s what Et Tu does - it procedurally generates murder mystery evenings for people to print out an play. This means that it creates a unique gaming experience for everyone involved, and will be all kinds of fun!

On a literal level, it’s a piece of software where a user can set up an evening, tweak it, and generate it. Et Tu creates the characters, the mystery, the story, everything. And the unique thing is that nobody knows what’s going to happen.

Are those still done?  I haven’t seen anything similar since the late 90’s.  

They’re definitely still done - in fact, it’s worth noting that I’m not posing Et Tu? as a replacement for the classic murder mystery evenings; there will always be a place for professionally run mystery weekends, etc. I see Et Tu? as a DIY version - a way for people to create an evening to play on the fly, if they so desire. But just because it’s a casual device doesn’t mean it’s for casual gamers. Naturally, there will always be options to make a deeper, meatier mystery, and I would be honoured if Et Tu? was eventually used by murder mystery evening organisers for their own ends.

Based off of your description this whole system grew out of a spreadsheet random mystery generator?  How different is your current system from just the output of a spreadsheet?  

That’s right, the original was an Excel spreadsheet, and it got pretty complex. There was a basic input interface for people to put in player names, as well as define gender, and the workbook did all the rest, generating a PDF that could then be - judiciously - printed out for play.

The software release of Et Tu? will, essentially, be a much more robust, polished version of this original concept. It will have an improved GUI for people to input relevant information, as well as the ability to tweak the mysteries that are generated to get more desirable results. There will also be a single player portion.

How complex can a randomly generated mystery be?  How hard is it to actually play out?  

That’s a good question - the complexity of the mystery generated will, in part, be defined by the person creating it. There will be a number of game modes to choose from prior to generating the mystery so that players will have at least a rough idea of the game they can expect to play.

For example, the ‘classic mode’ will be the staple of Et Tu?. Players can expect from this mode a ten round mystery structure that is solvable based upon deductive abilities and cooperation, or lack thereof. In contrast to this, there will also be a ‘narrative mode’, which is much more akin to traditional mystery evenings; in this mode, players simply read through a mystery in character and it is, in effect, resolved on their behalf.

The mystery will always be solvable. The metrics I’m using are implemented in such a way that impossible mysteries are... well, an impossible occurrence. However, the degree of ‘solvability’ will vary. Some mysteries may be fairly simple, but some will be unforgivingly fiendish.
Who are you gearing this product toward?  The Role Playing group?  The family?  Individuals who enjoy a good puzzle?

This was a really difficult decision for me, actually. When creating the Kickstarter campaign and setting it all up, I had to decide what category to place it under. The project is the creation of a piece of software, or a game, if you like, and so logically it should have been put under ‘video games’. However, my target audience is definitely not (primarily) gamers, and so I decided - after much discussion with peers - to put it in the tabletop section.

There’s an aspect of the product for anyone who likes games, essentially. Roleplayers will love the characters they get to play and the situations they are put in, ludophiles will relish the intricate puzzles and mysteries that are created, and the family - well, I think they’ll enjoy throwing accusations at one another and “I told you so” rights. For the original games I played with my friends there were drinking game elements, which even made it appropriate for parties!

How far along are you on the single player resources and design?  

There’s a lot of supporting literature and concept art for the single player element, and there was a very basic version of it in the original spreadsheet (very basic). It’s definitely not the focus of the project, though, as it began as a mechanic for me to simply test the mysteries themselves. And that’s always going to be what’s most important - that it creates cohesive plots. The great thing is that once the groundwork is in place for the generator itself, the single player portion of the release will be fairly simple (touch wood) to add on. Also, it’s definitely something that I am going to continue developing after the release (and will be made available to backers, or course!).

I understand you had a bit of a personal incident during this Kickstarter.  How much do you think it’s affected the project?  How about the campaign?  

Yeah, unfortunately my housemates and I were the victims of a burglary. Something like that is, obviously, never good, but it’s important to me - on a personal level - that a negative experience breeds a positive attitude. So, whilst it has undoubtedly had an impact on the campaign over the last few days just gone, I won’t let it alter anything at all moving forward.

You are here in the home stretch and one of the keys of a successful Kickstarter project is backer participation.  How are you engaging your backers?  What kinds of things do you have planned for updates?  Interviews?  Videos?  Stories from the project?

It’s already nail-biting and there are still days left... I knew from the beginning of the campaign that I wanted the backers of Et Tu? to feel like part of the project and receive the time they deserve on account of their support. To this extent, I’ve made it a priority to respond to any contact from any of the backers in as timely manner as I can, as well as frequently post responses within the comments section and actually listen to what the backers are saying.

I was speaking with one backer and made the point that, whilst I have the skills required to produce Et Tu?, I have never run a kickstarter campaign before - and I’m definitely not a PR guru or anything! So when a backer has made a suggestion about how the campaign could be improved I have listened, and in the majority of cases, implemented it.

In terms of future updates there will be more information about the project itself, the rewards, as well as a planned Q&A (though I’m open to any questions at any time). I had planned, prior to the robbery, to show a 3D representation of what it’s going to be like, but - unfortunately - that is now impossible.

In all honesty though, in addition to the above I am very much open to suggestions. If there are specifics that backers would like to know more about, or see, I will provide where I can!

What kind of media attention have you received with your project?  How are you spreading the word?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Google+? Youtube?  Advertising?  Are you using Kicktraq to help things along?

A lot of social media. As an independent developer I rely on my own network of friends and people who share my passion - and I’m genuinely blessed in this way. I have floated the idea to different media outlets, but Et Tu? is fairly niche, as you can appreciate! I’ve been receiving a lot of great feedback from MME organisers, as well as people in development. It’s been really cool.

Kicktraq is an incredible resource for anyone running a campaign, and backers too. I’ve used it before when following projects I’ve backed myself. Turns out it’s a lot scarier when it’s your own!

Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?

My biggest piece of advice would be to actually do it. My campaign’s not over yet, but it’s an incredible experience. When you get that first backer - the first validification of your idea - the endorphins almost permeate through your skin! And it’s holistically positive - I find even criticism wonderful because it means that I can hone my idea into what it should be. So, yeah - if you’ve got an idea - do it!

Other than that, I would encourage people to schedule the campaign, but include contingency plans should circumstances change or dramatic things happen. Preparation!

Thank you for spending your time with us!  Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

A pleasure - thank you. I just wish everyone a happy new year and hope that in 2013 violent crimes will be reduced to games rooted in fiction!

I agree that’s a great idea! Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!

Cheers, James!

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