Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Development of the Locked Room in the 21st Century - Video Games and Locked Room Mysteries (2010)

Title: The Development of the Locked Room in the 21st Century - Video Games and Locked Room Mysteries / 「21世紀型密室の発展型ービデオゲームと密室ミステリー」
Source: Collected in Misshitsu Mystery no Meikyū ('The Maze of Locked Room Mysteries') / 『密室ミステリの迷宮』, 2010

Summary: An essay by Takumi Shū on the link between mystery fiction, and video games. He touches upon how he came upon the idea of the contradiction system for his own games, his memories of playing mystery games and an idea for a possible game to be made in the future. The essay was included in Misshitsu Mystery no Meikyū ('The Maze of Locked Room Mysteries'), a mook on locked room mystery fiction, edited by Arisugawa Alice. The mook also includes a questionnaire with respondents, including Takumi, naming their favorite locked room mystery novels of all time, as well other memories concerning the subgenre.

The Development of the Locked Room in the 21st Century - Video Games and Locked Room Mysteries

"I want to create video games focusing on the fun of mystery fiction!"

It has been 16 years since I first started making games at Capcom with that dream in my head. Up until now, I have created games like the Gyakuten Saiban (Ace Attorney) series and Ghost Trick. That is why the outside world, I say that I am a game creator, but actually, as a human person, I am not comprised out of video games, but out of detective fiction, rather overwhelmingly so.

Ever since primary school, when I read Edogawa Rampo's Shinri Shiken (The Psychological Test) and I stepped into this world of mystery, I've only be reading detective fiction and really became an adult with an unhealthy diet. I of course also loved games, so I had played several famous mystery games.  And it's a pity, but I personally never came across a game I was content with. It is true that all of them had the 'form' of a detective, with a murder happening and it being solved in the end, but that wasn't enough. What I wanted to play, wasn't just the 'form', but the fun of detective fiction.... a game that would let me have fun with that 'essence'.

Mystery fiction and games.... at first sight, the two seem compatible, but there is a big contradiction there when you look at it with the eyes of a game creator. The theme of a detective is to 'unravel the mystery'. But on the other hand, you enjoy it the most when 'you're surprised when the mystery is unraveled at the end' ....  and this is actually the complete opposite. What you want in a game is oc course 'to become a great detective and solve the mystery'. But if that is the case, you neccesarily lose the enjoyment of being surprised at the end. A great detective can't explain his own deductions and be surprised by it themselves... Just like that a magician who can't be surprised by his own magic. How can we overcome this contradiction? The key to mystery games lies precisely there.... that what was I felt. And what I made as my own answer to that idea was Gyakuten Saiban. This will always be a big problem to everyone who aims to make a mystery game, I think.

--- Yes. When talking about mystery games, I become a bit fussy... but actually,you can enjoy the essence of mystery fiction, even outside mystery games. For example, the point & click genre that focuses solely on the solving of mysteries....  Like the representative Myst series. When I first played it, I thought "this is mystery fiction". This game starts with the player being dropped in a beautiful strange world. At first, you don't know the 'rules' of that world, but as you walk around and play around with the machines there, you slowly come to understand something like "governing laws" and then, the answer to the mystery comes.... that feeling is truly an essential element of mystery fiction, and at that time, I was really impressed.

The point & click adventure genre, which is playable with simple controls, is quite old, but some years ago, it became very popular again after changing its appearance. The so-called Escape Games. At the start of the game, the player finds themselves imprisoned in a locked room. By clicking on suspicous spots, you solve puzzles and escape from the room. It has grown out to be a genre itself, starting with The Crimson Room, a game that was made public on the internet several years ago. What is so fantastic of an Escape Game is that it ties the essence of a locked room, that simple yet powerful charm, to a game; what a idea! When you're locked up somewhere, you want to get out: that is human nature.... a simple urge that everyone shares. That together with the ease of being able to enjoy it with a single click, has made the genre into a big hit. And so, in the current video game world, the representative locked room is the ones in Escape Games. By the way, I personally like Portal, which offers an experience only possible in video games.

However. As a lover of mystery fiction, I find this conclusion a bit sad. I dream of playing a locked room mystery that can only be experienced as a game using the newest technology. Personally, I think that the key to this lies in the physics simulation that is becoming common in especially action games. This is a technology that calculates physical effects, gravity, wind power and friction and reproduces it for every object that exists in the game. For example, when a player bumps again a table in the game, a vase falls off the table on the floor and breaks... every single 'movement' that we had to make seperately until now, can now be calculated and reproduced automatically. The advantage of this technology is that the reactions to the player's actions can become infinite. It is freedom. If we applied this to locked room mysteries....  for example, how about a game where you kill someone you hate who lives in a locked room, by coming up with a perfect crime using several tricks. Even the old-fashioned thread and needle locked room trick is thrilling, when you try it in a world that is realistically reconstructed. You examine the build of the room, keep in mind the location of the air vent and the door and then... do I stick the needle here.... but I would have to stick the needle in deep here, and then I would leave a mark...  An experience you can only get from a game. And what about the reverse, a game where you examine a locked room crime scene and starting off a small mark on the wall or some burnt cinders, you reconstruct the locked room trick of the murderer. How wonderful this would be! We won't be able to keep that locked room mania of ours silent!

And so, the real time for locked room mysteries to shine as games is still to come! Game creators everywhere, now is the time to strike!

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