This is final part of a series from an interview with Jongwoo Kim, the creative director of Lucifer Within Us, a unique mystery game. To read our writeup on the game, click here. To read part three, click here.
Headcanon, Scalpels, and Lessons Learned
Fritz Wallace: One of the things I mentioned in the writeup was that Lucifer Within Us does feel a bit short. Like, I solved the last case, and the big reveal happens, and I’m ready for the next part… and then credits roll. Was the game intended to be a setup for the next part of the adventure after those first three cases?
Jongwoo Kim: In my headcanon, Ada goes off and it’s a longer adventure in that world to find those acolytes, and exorcise each one. It would be much more episodic. LWU as it is almost functions as an origin story for this world, and Ada, to set up the other “Books” in the series, if we were using Sherlock Holmes as an example. I would love for her to go on more adventures.
Fritz Wallace: Another lore question, if you don’t mind. Is Ada’s ability to use the timeline a supernatural, or a technical ability? Or is it something else?
Jongwoo Kim: I think that’s an excellent question. She’s an exorcist, but what makes her special? When we initially envisioned the project, when the timeline was created, it was meant to be a mind’s-eye sort of thing. It’s someone replaying in their mind. But that was when it was one of multiple tools the player had access to.
Given how dominant it became, I don’t we ever really decided “how” it worked. I think if it was an actual supernatural ability, we would have had some visual of her engaging in the timeline mode, but we didn’t do that. So I think the reality of the game that we actually delivered is that Ada is just visualizing it in her head. It’s not magic, a special technology, or supernatural ability, it’s a skill she has. At the same time, given the setting, I can see why folks might view it as one of the first three.
Let me put it this way. Something I really wanted to avoid doing was… I feel very frustrated with Quantic Dream-style mystery adventure stuff. Occasionally the player gets amazing abilities. In Heavy Rain, the Agent gets Ari, where he can go into his own world, and solve stuff. But you can only do that when the player is allowed to. The game decides when you can do that.
It raises the question “Without this ability, is the Agent a worse detective?”
I didn’t want to diminish Ada, and by extension the player, by implying that this is just a trick, or magic. I wanted the player feel like they solved the case through their sheer intellect.
The only concession and supernatural ability is the ability to exorcise demons, and to enter the sanctums of the suspect. So, in that way, she doesn’t have any other supernatural crime solving abilities, because that would be truer to her character, and the spirit of the game.
Fritz Wallace: I feel like the game did that really well. Throughout the whole game, there was only one moment of adventure game logic: that bit in the second case where you have to pick up the scalpel, and then give it to the doctor to have them perform an autopsy.
Jongwoo Kim: God, that scalpel. Yeah, that case has a long history, and lot of iterations. I’m not super happy with how the scalpel stuff was implemented in the end. So I sympathize with you there.
I do want to comment on that a little bit. One of our challenges was figuring out if problems in the game were due to UI, or to mechanics. One of the things we ended up doing over time was simplifying down interactions you can take with a character. So instead of asking or presenting, it would be just one action.
Generally we wanted to avoid what you called “Adventure Game Logic”. Shouldn’t Ada be able to perform the autopsy herself? In terms of the scalpel, in terms of trying to ship with the assets we had, we ended up going that direction [having the doctor perform the autopsy]. If I could, I’d have Ada examine or autopsy the body herself.
Fritz Wallace: You’ve mentioned a few games whose mechanics you don’t feel do mystery very well. Were there any other games or stories that did influence Lucifer Within Us? I feel like the default suggestion is something like Sherlock Holmes.
Jongwoo Kim: So, as far as Holmes influence, I don’t think any specific case or book influenced the game. But it was important to me, as far as player experience or the dream of the game. The phrase I kept repeating during development as “The player should not feel like Watson, the player should feel like Holmes.”
I often feel that in a lot of mystery games, the rug is pulled from underneath you. As much as I like Dapangropa, I get frustrated with every debate, because it’s like “Oh my god, you’ve been withholding a critical piece of information the whole time. I could not have known the solution, or I could guess, but given the evidence in my log, I could never have solved this case the way you wanted me to with the given mechanics.”
In that way, Holmes is a big inspiration. While I complain about the Frogwares Holmes games, in some ways, Holmes had a very kinetic style of investigation. He got into scuffles, he was at the scene of the crime. Ada is distinct from that. It’s a very clean investigation, followed by exorcism. But within the space of the investigation, there’s no field work other than the scene of the actual crime.
So, for character and experience, Holmes was a big influence. Beyond that, Phoenix Wright for the contradiction system.
Fritz Wallace: It’s interesting, since it’s such a clean investigation, relative to a lot of other things.
Jongwoo Kim: It is a little ironic that to do that idea, we had to change the idea to be about the supernatural. I’m super happy with it too! But a part of me does wonder if it would have made a stronger mystery game [if it had maintained it’s Cyberpunk theme] even if the project is more interesting and compelling as a result of its unique setting. But I don’t know. I would love to try to make something with the timeline mechanic again to be sure.
Fritz Wallace: One thing that did happen to me was that the game gives you 3 demons, and by the third case, there’s only one demon you haven’t exorcised yet. So it feels like it gives the game away a bit.
Jongwoo Kim: I mean. I see it both ways.
On one hand, I think it’s inevitable that if a game has an overarching arc, the player gets some sense of it. I think rewarding them on that front is good. So at some level, I’m happy if an astute player can see what happens in the third case ahead of time.
At the same time, I was surprised by how many people were caught off guard by the victim of the third case, because they thought the abbot was set up to be the big bad, or what not.
If I learned nothing else, I learned that it’s quite hard to predict how someone else will perceive the intended arc of a mystery. And I think that makes it interesting from a mystery design standpoint. It indicates there’s more to explore, and different levels of challenge one can design, without overwhelming the player.
Fritz Wallace: I will say, I didn’t get the overarching structure of the game, with the spear and whatnot, until the second time I played it, and went “Oh, that’s how it all comes together.”
Jongwoo Kim: Awesome. Well, I’m glad that worked for you on the second playthrough for sure.
Fritz Wallace: I think that’s pretty much everything I had to ask. This is the part where if you want to give a shout out, or mention a current project, this would be the ideal place to do that.
Jongwoo Kim: Well, I definitely have something cooking right now, but it’s not ready to show yet. I’m excited to unveil it to the world, and it’s coming soon.
Fritz Wallace: Well, I’m looking forward to it. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me!
Lucifer Within Us is available for PC on Steam. If this interview has made you interested, you can find it here!