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[Industry Interviews] Spooky Doorway

By Brett Hrin Feb5,2018

Joining The Switch Effect on today’s Industry Interviews is Spooky Doorway, an Irish Indie Games studio behind the retro-inspired, point-and-click adventure, The Darkside Detective. Having released this past July to PC and announcing the game will be making its console debut on the Nintendo Switch on February 7th, we knew our readers would want to learn more.

Thank you for speaking with The Switch Effect. Before we get into it, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved with the gaming industry?

Dave (Writer): for me, Final Fantasy VII was the clincher. After playing that game – specifically the Aeries scene – I knew this was the medium I wanted to tell stories in. There was no clear route for that back then, no college courses, no studios in Ireland, nothing. I ended up doing Electronic Engineering, but I started making films on the side, so when a friend was starting a games studio and they needed somebody to write the storyline, I did it. It’s been a lot of hustling onto this project and that since then.

Paul (Art): I’ve been an artist since I could pick up a crayon and I’ve always loved video games. But I recall one fateful day while playing Zelda on the SNES, when I actually noticed how the pixels formed the images. It suddenly wasn’t just “graphics” anymore; I realized an artist had placed each of those square dots on screen. My mind was blown and from that point I knew that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I studied computer animation in college, and eventually joined a games studio for a few years when I graduated. Eventually I went out on my own as a freelancer working on over 100 different projects, until we formed Spooky Doorway to create The Darkside Detective.

Tracey (Development): I first got into coding when one of my lecturers offered an Xbox to the person who implemented the best space invaders clone. For the first time in my college life, I produced something that was playable, something that was mine and something that seemed complete. I felt empowered and decided to study computer engineering. Somewhere along the way, that excitement got lost in a sea of financial technology and a need to earn cash. I found the Irish game dev community a few years in, where I rediscovered the excitement. The people who surrounded me were really into it. They had made something of their own and they were proud of it. They wanted to show it off, wanted feedback and wanted people to play their games and smile. They weren’t cogs in a huge machine, who considered them a resource and not a person. I wanted to be one of those people, so I started making games again.

What was your first console/game you owned?

Dave: For me, the first one I owned was the Sega Mega Drive. I can’t recall the first game on it, but I think it was Mutant League Hockey. My older brothers had a Master System that they shared with the rest of the neighborhood kids, so we got it two months out of the year. We had some old machines too, a Spectrum and BBC computers. It was a very techy house, especially for the 80s.

Paul: The first video game I ever played was a table top version of Defender that my sister got for Xmas one year. I loved it, but was barely allowed to play it because it was hers and batteries were expensive back then. My first console that I could call my very own was an Atari 2600. When we bought it came with Pitfall, Desert Falcon and Dark Chambers, which I thought we amazing at the time.

Tracey: My granddad brought us home a Vectrex from the UK, but all I really remember on it was playing Minestorm. After that we got a master system. The first game I played on it was Alex the Kid because, like Mindstorm, it came built into the console and it was a while before we got any more cartridges for it. I played it recently and could still remember the rock paper scissors combos. When I was a bit older I got a Playstation. It was taken over by my mum though and she would bribe us with chores to be allowed watch her play Tomb Raider. In hind sight we were getting totally shafted but it was nice weird family time.

Let’s talk Spooky Doorway and The Darkside Detective. The studio’s first title focuses on Police Chief Sully, Detective Francis McQueen, and sidekick Officer Dooley, the sole members of the criminally underfunded Darkside Division. Taking place within Twin Lakes, a town with people blissfully unaware of the occult and supernatural happenings around them, you’ll have to solve six humorous and bizarre cases.

How was this studio formed?

So we met at a retreat for game devs off the west coast of Ireland a few years back. We got on well, same sensibilities, sense of humor, etc. We kept in touch and always talked about making something together. Then in November 2014 there was a game jam in Ireland we all went to. The original demo for The Darkside Detective was created there in under eight hours. The short prototype proved to be quite popular after it was posted online, convincing the team that there was life in creating an extended game. We formed the studio along the way.

What led to the creation of The Darkside Detective?

The same as above, really. At the game jam, the theme of ‘Secret Worlds’ and the short time frame heavily informed it. Despite trying to change a few things after the jam – voice work, walk cycles, higher res, etc, a lot of the design and aesthetical choices made at that jam stuck and here we are. We then worked on it part time over the years with the odd game jam to push it along.

The game has received very positive reviews since its launch. How have you and your team enjoyed the success of your first title?

We’ve been over the moon. It’s really nerve-wracking releasing a game these days. Way back when you’d send off a million cartridges to retailers and wait months for the reviews to come in. Now, you get feedback within hours and it’s scary. Thankfully it’s mostly been positive while makes the negative stuff easier to stomach. We do read all the criticism and weigh them up, do they fit the core design, etc. Some of those changes can be seen in the upcoming DLC case, which will get onto Switch soon.

Let’s “switch” gears a bit. We at The Switch Effect are obviously huge fans of Nintendo’s newest console, the Nintendo Switch. What are your thoughts on the system?

It’s great. When you’re making games it’s sometimes hard to fit playing them in. That’s actually part of the reason we designed the cases to be short. We found it hard to squeeze in games, when we did it’d be often broken by weeks between them and we’d forget where we where, what was happening, etc. We wanted to make games more accessible to parents of young kids and people with busy schedules. The Switch’s portability fits that so well. Plus it’s easy to get in some gaming while the kids hog the TVs.

How was the decision made to have The Darkside Detective brought to the Nintendo Switch instead of other consoles currently in the market?

It’s a natural fit, really. We wanted a game that was playable in short chunks – the bus to work is a perfect place for some time with McQueen and Dooley.

For those who have previously played The Darkside Detective on PC, will any new features or gameplay be available on the Switch?

Well we take advantage of the newer tech, of course, the touchscreen and Joy Cons. But the biggest change between the two versions is the freedom to play where and when the players want thanks to the Switch’s portability.

Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. We look forward to The Darkside Detective arriving on the Nintendo Switch and all your future projects.

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