I admit it. I was late to the game. I never really started watching the Criminal Minds TV series until about a year ago when I caught a marathon of episodes late at night. I couldn’t tear myself away! Each episode was captivatingly creepy and refreshingly different from the vast majority of the other “cop” shows on television. Little did I know that six months later I’d be tapped as the designer and producer for a light adventure/casual game version of the Criminal Minds license.
Obviously I was met immediately with a very unique set of challenges in trying to translate a show that revolves around an elite team of FBI profilers who analyze and hunt down the country’s most twisted criminal minds into something the intended audience of gamers would enjoy as much as I do. The show is darkly lit, contains disturbing themes, features a large cast of characters at different locations each episode, and plots that are driven primarily by very abstract psychological profiling. Where to begin?
I decided to approach the restrictions as a challenge. The Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) travels to a new city every episode? Great! We decided to make the game contain three distinct episodes (instead of just one as most games do), each in a different region of the US: Texas, Florida and the Pacific Northwest. Each episode would follow the same format that has made the series a ratings success.
Dark lighting and large primary cast? A big challenge for this game is to meet the casual game audience on their terms. We carefully examined what works and doesn’t work in some of the “darkest feeling” casual games and have learned to play with colored light and to make the brightest spots brighter rather than make the darkest spots darker. As you can see below, the result is a colorful but darkly moody feeling.
And our crack team of artists found a gritty, but realistic style for our characters that I think both fans of the show and casual gamers will enjoy.
Presenting an interactive experience that contains disturbing themes? Bring it on! Most (if not all) Criminal Minds episodes deal with some pretty dark plot lines. Tune into a random episode of the show and the BAU team is likely to be hot on the trail of a sick-minded serial killer who probably has some issues that can be traced back to a bad childhood. While this is admittedly titillating to watch on TV, I don’t think most people want to be immersed “up close and personal” in that world.
The addition of a cursor on the screen, the digital embodiment of the player’s presence, and active hidden object gameplay (now you’re touching the stuff!) to a story like that could be a real turn-off to most casual game players. After reviewing years of Criminal Minds episodes, we hired some of the best writers around to come up with three brand- new cases that the license holder (CBS) would love and scripted them in a way that could translate into exciting gameplay that doesn’t take things too far.
Below you can see an example of the hidden object gameplay from our first case where the BAU team has to track down an UNSUB (Criminal Minds-speak for “unknown subject”) who has apparently been killing random women and posing their dead bodies as his own twisted work of art. This particular scene is from the city park where two of the victims were known to have gone jogging. Perhaps we can find a common thread between the victims and in the objects on the screen. Hmm…
And what about the problem of presenting psychological profiling drama visually with very limited dialog? Well, that is a mystery we will have to save until the next developer blog. Be sure to check out the Criminal Minds game when it releases later this year!
Ryan Modjeski is the producer of Criminal Minds at Legacy Games. Criminal Minds for PC/MAC is scheduled for release in December 2010, and will be available on Legacy Games and other retailers.