Indie Dev Interview: Will Ackermann of Kini Games – Signal & Echo: Iris is Missing
Interested in a point-and-click adventure which lets you take on the role of a journalist trying to crack a missing persons case? Then Signal & Echo: Iris is Missing could be the game for you.
We caught up with solo dev and former journalist Will Ackerman to find out more about his project, what’s fuelling his desire to create a detective adventure title and how his professional experiences have played a role in his game making journey.
If you are ready to hit the beat and start knocking on a few doors in the fictional town of Runeton, England. Get your note pad and head to Steam, to try the Signal & Echo: Iris is Missing demo and make sure to leave a nice rating for Will.
Please could you introduce yourself?
Hi! My name’s Will Ackermann. I’m a former journalist who’s now trying (desperately) to make it as an indie game dev, while still holding down a day-job. I’ve loved point-and-click adventures since I was a kid, and still play them more than any other genre – although, detective games are beginning to rival that!
And could you introduce your studio?
Kini Games is the name of my ‘studio’ – although, that sounds more grandiose than it actually is. It’s just me here! (However, I have had help from some very kind people along the way – with everything from testing, feedback and general support to the player character’s animations.) Signal & Echo: Iris is Missing is my first ‘proper’ game.
Can you tell us about Signal & Echo: Iris is Missing?
I’m billing Signal & Echo: Iris is Missing as “a point-and-click mystery adventure with innovative detective mechanics” (more on those mechanics later).
Essentially, I’m trying to mix Blackwell with Return of the Obra Dinn (it’s a bit easier than Obra Dinn, though!). I want to make the player do some real detective work, and to give them those satisfying ‘eureka!’ moments, while retaining the level of story, characterisation, world-building, theme exploration, and heart found in a great P&C adventure.
You play as Ollie, a young reporter on his first day at the Signal & Echo newspaper, in the fictional town of Runeton, England. Your first assignment is to solve the mystery behind the recent disappearance of schoolgirl Iris Wood. That means you’ll be out pounding the pavement, knocking on doors, interviewing witnesses, and following leads. You’ll need to take notes along the way!
How did you come up with the concept? You are a former journalist, right?
I am, indeed. They say you should write about what you know, and I’m just lucky that what I know – journalism – happens to lend itself very well to my favourite game genres – point-and-click adventure and detective.
I’ve worked as a reporter on local papers big and small, as well as for a London-based news agency, where I rubbed up against rivals from the nationals a lot, so I feel I have a fairly well-rounded view of the industry.
Back at the agency, I’d spend my more exciting days knocking on doors, and then following the leads I found across the city. I always knew I wanted to turn that into an adventure game one day.
Can you tell us a little about the gameplay? It’s text-based?
In many ways, S&E plays like a traditional adventure game: you right-click to switch between ‘walk to’, ‘look at’, ‘talk to’ and ‘pick up / use’ cursors, and then left-click on a hotspot to perform your chosen action. You also have an inventory. However, the game also uses a unique text parser system, which I devised to facilitate the ‘detective-y’ puzzles.
The parser system recognises any proper noun (i.e., capitalised noun, like John Smith, London, or The Beatles) found in-game, as well as the name of any hotspot. That means that, instead of using dialogue trees, you can ask anyone about any of these things at any time. Sometimes, you’ll also need to answer questions this way.
You can also use this system to search your computer for past stories published by the newspaper, and to find new locations on your map.
Where did the inspiration come from for this case in particular?
The case of Iris Wood’s disappearance? I really don’t know! I knew I wanted the player to be following leads across town, in the way I often did while working at the agency, so I guess I thought a missing persons case would be ideal, as you can start by going to where she was last seen, and then find out where she went from there, and so on.
As for how I came up with the idea of what’s actually happened to her, that I do know, but it’s too early to talk about, I’m afraid!
What’s your next step for the game and plans for the future?
I released the demo about a week ago, and I’m thrilled to see that people seem to be really enjoying it so far. I think that, for the next little while, I’m going to be continuing to push the demo, and trying to get people to leave Steam reviews – that sort of thing.
After that, it’s just going to be about getting the story out of my head and into the game engine!
Was it fun gamifying a newspaper and creating that unique world from your previous profession?
I love it! Because you can search your computer for any proper noun found in-game, there are a fair few stories you can find that aren’t actually required reading, but hopefully they help make the world feel more alive.
For example, if you search for ‘Signal & Echo’, you’ll find one about the town’s growing wealth gap. Those were a lot of fun to write, and it was fun to exercise that news-writing muscle again.
The same goes for asking characters about hotspots. You don’t need to ask your colleague about your chair, for example, but if you do, you’ll learn a bit more about how you’re viewed (you’re the new kid, so you get the crappy chair!).
Also, although I did have to do a fair bit of research (often relating to the fact that the game takes place in 2001), a lot of the writing spilled out very naturally, because I feel I know this world, and the kinds of characters who inhabit it, well.
When is it out and how can people stay updated?
The demo – which is actually the full first act, about an hour of gameplay – is out now on Steam and itch.io.
As for when the full game will launch, I’m afraid I can’t say for sure. I have a day-job, and that can sometimes throw a spanner in the works. That said, I certainly don’t want it to be more than a year from now.
For updates, the best places to go are my Twitter (@games_kini) and my website Kini Games
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