Of all the Nip joints in all the towns in all the world, Jones walks into mine
Glass of scotch in her handlike nub, permanently scarred from burns, Emma Jones hangs up her firefighting smock. Though she saved countless feline lives from an endlessly raging inferno in Jones On Fire, it’s time to move on. Her next role: Private Investigator in a city corrupt to its core, hounded by crooked cats putting the squeeze on local shops. Glass Bottom Games’ co-founder and lead developer, Megan Fox, filled us in on the gritty details of Jones’ new noir excursion, Hot Tin Roof: The Cat That Wore A Fedora.
“Due to budget cuts, [Jones] was laid off from the death-defying firefighting department, so she and one of her rescued kitties headed back into the city, where they became investigators,” Fox told Gamezebo. “I mean what other work is there, in a city this corrupt, for an honest firefighter and her little buddy?” That little buddy is Jones’ partner Francine, aka Franky: the first feline private investigator and the eponymous “cat that wore a fedora.” In their new lives as trenchcoat-wearing, revolver-touting P.I.s, Jones and Franky will be tasked with solving a series of grisly murders related to an underground Nip smuggling operation. While the Nip ring is manned by a mob of rats and pigeons, the head honchos are the cats, some of which Jones saved in her previous job. “Other cats from her firefighting days might show up, too,” Fox said. “I hear the shop cat runs a basement black market, these days…”
This focus on cats that began with Jones On Fire was somewhat coincidental, according to Fox: “When I was originally concepting Jones On Fire at BlazeJam, I sat down to draw out all the animals—there was a bird, a squirrel, a cat, a dog, etc. I started with the cat, and quickly realized I couldn’t draw a dog that didn’t just look like an ugly cat. I am a terrible artist, and the pointy ears were important to the character (but read as ‘cat’). Then I ran out of time, so I went with just cats…which came to define the entire game.” Of course, Jones, our “boxian” hero, is still the star and player-controlled character, despite a strange aversion to having hands: “[Boxians] possess magical powers that let them move stuff around as though they had hands, even though they do not,” Fox said. “They eat and poop, even though they generally have no mouths or butts. Probably best not to think too hard about any of that, just… go with it.”
Jones will use those unique hands-free abilities in Hot Tin Roof to explore a large, Metroidvania-style world, solve mysteries, and upgrade her primary puzzle-solving tool: her revolver. This revolver was the initial inspiration for Jones’ new direction: “The revolver actually came first. I wanted to make a physical revolver, because I thought it would be cool to try. That kinda forced the noir angle right from the start, like—boom!—noir.” In-game, Jones’ revolver is loaded via a pop-up screen that lets you initially slot up to four bullets in the empty chambers. These bullets are the upgrades Jones will find throughout her exploration, allowing for abilities like grappling, planting tracking bugs, rocket jumps, and more—except causing physical harm.
The characters in Hot Tin Roof are unaware of this last fact, though. “[Russian Roulette is] the game’s persuasion system, how you can ‘talk around’ some problems,” Fox said. “Even with the current revolver, you can change the current chamber with the shoulder buttons… and if you press both at once, you actually spin the cylinder, randomizing which cylinder fires next. In the final game, that’s how you initiate a persuasion attempt. Load at least one blank in the gun, point it at someone, spin the chamber…As you can’t actually hurt anyone with the gun (you never, ever, get deadly rounds), the whole thing takes on this weird comical bent that stops just shy of a literal ‘BANG’ flag popping out of the gun… but even so, you’re persuading people by playing Russian Roulette. It’s, in game terms, a morally negative path, the easy road, that usually has negative consequences. Funny, and fun, but negative.”
This combination of light-hearted humor and dark noir overtones pervades Hot Tin Roof, its world populated by talking animals and bloodied corpses. Jones, like any hard-boiled detective worth her salt, smokes cigarettes and doesn’t take guff from alley cats. Deadpan jokes like “Blue plate special finally kill someone?”—referring to a diner murder—flush out Jones’ personality to fit the expertly-crafted noir theme that developed as a way to expand the already meaty gameplay. “I always start by focusing on the controls and ‘feel’ of the platforming, and I’d like to think I’m pretty good at it,” said Fox. “Exploration, especially of living/breathing simulated worlds, is then what drives those mechanics -in probably any game I make. Exploration is, to me, the heart and soul of gaming.”
“After that came the Metroidvania aspects, as a way of making it fun to get from point A to B, and to unlock new places to explore as you go. Then came the detective aspects, as I didn’t want to make a run-and-gun game. I found that running around looking for clues, once combined with the Metroidvania upgrades that made that looking around interactive, was a fantastic stand-in for ‘shoot 40 more bad guys to continue.’ They also slot nicely into that ‘secrets’ socket that most of us Metroidvania gamers have in our brain—finding secrets in the environment is already a huge part of those games.”
All of these features are already visible in the early stage demo of Hot Tin Roof we got our hands on: Jones and Franky must investigate a crime scene, interrogate witnesses, find “knockback” revolver rounds, and use those rounds to both rocket jump to new locations and destroy heavy, locked doors that were previously inaccessible. Dialogue is snappy and sassy, the city shadowy but colorful, and the unique 3D turning of the world to expose new areas is smoothly implemented. “The [turning] tech existed in the Jones On Fire engine, but the transitions were massively jerky, so I could never actually use it,” Fox said. “It’s also very, very hard to do it in a ‘soft’ way that doesn’t break physics. I can’t just hard-set the position of the character to be dead-center along one of the planes, I have to nudge them toward it. This way, if they come up against something blocking their path, they nudge around it, or push it out of the way, instead of the physical world exploding, sending either the character or the object off into the void…It took me a year and a half to figure out a better approach.”
That time and effort has paid off so far, but Hot Tin Roof is not a sure shot just yet. Glass Bottom Games has turned to Kickstarter to help fund the remaining development costs and get this larger, desktop-based game finished. Having gone the Kickstarter route once before with their racing game Gravitaz, which did not meet its goal, Fox feels more confident in Hot Tin Roof‘s chances. Why? “Two things,” Fox said. “First, this project is way more visually polished, and way more complete, and yet has a lower funding goal [than Gravitaz]. Second, I’ve gotten a bit better at business and PR stuff. I’m generally way better at getting the word out now than I was back then.
“It also helps that Jones On Fire kind of got us noticed. We’re not some major studio, but now we’ve got that solid success behind us that we can point at, and we can talk to the folks that helped us make it that success and go ‘Hey! We’ve got a new thing! And it’s cool!’ With Gravitaz, we were totally unknown, with no evidence we could make a solid game as a team, and we were making big promises—a bad combination.”
If Hot Tin Roof meets those reasonable funding goals, there’s potential for more entries in the Jones job-hopping series. Fox told us, “I’ve got at least one more game I really want to do in the Jones saga, if Hot Tin Roof does well—it involves scientists, contemplation on the nature of existence, and terrible math jokes. And also more cats. But first, I have to finish Hot Tin Roof, and make sure it kicks tons of butt!”
P.I. Jones, Franky, and the rest of Hot Tin Roof look well on their way to reaching that butt-kicking goal. If you’d like to help them do so, visit Hot Tin Roof on Kickstarter, vote for it on Greenlight, or check it out at PAX Prime next weekend.