Can you believe it's been almost a year since I wrote the original preliminary report on what LEGO Investigations was supposed to be? Turns out that getting a job (and having an existential crisis) can really derail you.
After a very long time away, I moved on to design a secondary project; a Mad Max-inspired combat racer (born out of me poking around into LR2/Drome Racers a bit). As it turns out, that design really conveniently fit in the investigation mechanics of this project, and this I returned, opting to finish this proof of concept before attempting to integrate it into a much larger, more complex whole.
A lot of my writing and rambling has been in a bunch of unrelated Discords with Game Design channels. To save you going on a long, painful journey through the history of how everything has changed, I'm going to format the current state of the design and the key things I've been working out. This isn't a formal document; merely a write-up of the crucial aspects to understand what this thing is.
Summary of Story
The meta-goal of the story is CHANGE. NON SUM QUALIS ERAM; you will not succeed unless you can progress.
The game's first few cases are linear; these serve the purpose of acting as a progress tutorial, but also to tie into the meta plot-point of Change. After a certain mission, you die in an extremely similar fashion to the prologue. It's from this point forward that the player can really take control and change things up, and rightly so. Past the Point of Linearity, the game needs to be hardcore hard. The ending of the game reveals that the protagonist is permanently dead, his inability to pass on previously due to stubbornness and an unwillingness to change and accept facts.
A smart player should be able to dig under the hints and determine the true killer (The Commissioner, acting to protect his job security), and evaluate that all of the cases are linked together to the killer.
Summary of Mechanics
Looking back, the original mechanics list was a rough, rushed approximation of the design goals I was going for. It only continued the dialogue issues I identified in modern detective games, and it placed a lot more challenge in the seeking of evidence, as opposed to the logical thinking of connections. It was too Point-and-Click like. This new set of mechanics should address that, adding a wider variety of player choice and fixing the problems that annoy me most when playing detective games.
By default, the game will be in First Person perspective. The player must walk around the level to look for clues and to approach witnesses. As per Social/Streamer mode (see the Game Modes section below), there is also a static camera mode available, which acts as a bunch of Security Cameras focusing on all the evidence and witnesses within the scene, to reduce the amount of physical control required to play.
Evidence Items, which can be anything from junk on the streets to known facts, are used to unlock Events, potential happening which give context to why the crime might have happened. The ultimate goal of the game is to prove the exact sequence of events that occurred, thereby proving the innocence or guilt of the suspects. Evidence can be collected in three forms; physical items lying about (such as a gun), unique details on a location in the scene (such as a bloody spray), or talking points from witnesses and suspects (such as a confession of guilt to firing the weapon). Collected Evidence is used as below to create Event Items, and both are stored inside the player inventory called the "Notebook".
While Evidence Items are simply kept in a big pool, Events are categorised. Every level's sequence has a different number of "slots"; each slot represents a different type of Event, such as one slot for explaining how a suspect arrived on the scene while another showing how they procured a specific item. Every player is automatically granted 1 Event Item per slot at the start of the level (what the "official police report" has turned up), and the Beginning and Ending slot Events are always correct and cannot be changed (you are focusing on figuring out how the scene changed from A to B).
As per the Skill System outlined below, tools such as object highlighting can be available with a purchase.
In order to actually get new Events, you must demonstrate how Evidence fits together by "crafting" multiple relevant pieces together. Evidence Items have lengthy descriptions about their context and known facts; within the descriptions are keywords, highlighted in set colours. You must link together not just evidence with keywords of the same colour, but also where the keywords match a set theme (such as getting red keywords which are all computer part names). Generally, the keywords are relevant to the Event they unlock, as a bit of foreshadowing. Evidence Items can have more than one set of keywords in their description (colour and/or theme), which indicates that specific item can be used to produce multiple Events.
Furthermore, as a helpful management aspect; Evidence and Event Items can be "ruled out"; this effectively disables them and puts them on another tab in the Notebook. If an Evidence Item was used to generate an Event and gets ruled out, then the Event Item is by proxy also ruled out. Ruled out items will not show at all in the Question Time screen, but can still be used in interrogations.
Once Events have been unlocked, they can be previewed. The Previewer works like a video player, with a reverse, fast forward and pause. You control the scene a bit like the camera system in any modelling package/LDD, where you can click and drag to rotate the scene, and you can zoom in and out to focus on details. The Event will appear as a hologram over the top of the actual scene, allowing you to double check if evidence items end up where they should, and if certain witnesses/suspects were present or not.
Players have a space in the Notebook to record their own notes and thoughts.
As is the rest of the game, the focus of the Interrogation System is to either prove or disprove "facts" by using what knowledge you've acquired. Players can talk to witnesses/suspects in the world and ask them questions. The responder will then give their response, at which point the player must either agree, disprove it, cancel out with no penalty or use the Disturbance Mode option (detailed below). If the player is correct, they will be awarded new evidence, otherwise, the evidence reward is lost. Once a question has been asked, unless if the "Cancel" option was selected, that question cannot be asked again.
Questions are not pre-determined, only answered. Players generate questions from a basic syntax, designed to focus on what the player wishes to know. The first two elements of the syntax are mandatory, whereas the second two are optional (but must be used together).
The Mode [Who | What | Where | Why | How].
The Primary Subject (Either collected evidence, or "general knowledge", as in temporary evidence based on the context of the scene and who you're talking to).
The Verb/Subject Modifier (Had, Used, Doing, or another word to indicate the relationship you're testing between the two subjects).
The Secondary Subject (As above, minus the Primary Subject).
Valid examples may include, "Why You Have Key", "Where Key" and "How Car Stuck Fence".
If the player accepts the response, then no further input for that question chain is required. If the player believes the responder is lying, they will need to select from their collected evidence for something that proves they're in the wrong.
As per the Skill System outlined below, one potential purchasable skill is the Voice Recorder, which records every line of dialogue to a section in the player's Notebook for a player's benefit.
To engage in Disturbance Mode, the player must select the Disturbance option during an interrogation. On the surface, it appears to act as a dice roller; a successful pass will make the dialogue play out as if the player successfully chose truth or lie (with correct evidence, even if they didn't have it). However, fail a Disturbance check, and your player will engage in an aggressive (and odd) argument with the responder, losing you the evidence, locking you out of that question and reducing the success chance on any Disturbance rolls with that character. Regardless of a win or loss, use of Disturbance Mode will also have effects on the outside world; colours will distort, ghost objects will appear and other effects will occur. Ordinary dialogue lines for both player and response in all interrogations will also become more abstract (in tiers, depending on how many Disturbance options the player has used). The only way to revert to normal is to use the standard Truth and Lie dialogue options.
As per the Skill System outlined below, Disturbance Mode itself is purchased through tokens, and has an upgrade chain which increases the chances of success, and also makes the effects of Disturbance Mode wackier.
As a reinforcement of the Event mechanics, some Evidence Items might be in the possession of hostile forces, and require a combat sequence to collect.
In a combat scenario, the player is locked to a specific camera angle, and must (within a turn limit) identify and select items within the world to use against enemies, in some ways similar to certain sections of Telltale Games' Batman. Players have a pool of points they can spend to observe on elements inside the combat ring, such as the enemies themselves, nearby objects and potential hazards. These offer Combat Advantages, which are functionality the same to Evidence Items, except that they are not permanently stored in the Notebook, and will automatically be turned into Combat Choices (Event Items) which you collect enough, as opposed to needing to craft them. Previewing of Combat Choices is limited to watching a small clip in-frame of how the combat sequence may play out if successful. When players are happy they have enough Combat Choices, they can line them up with a similar feeling to Fallout 3 V.A.T.S., and watch the event play out. Depending on the difficulty and the enemies, the player must successfully beat a set number of goons without taking more than a threshold of damage to get the Evidence item.
Enemies cannot contribute to Combat Advantages; they instead bring up a popup with a description of that enemy's weaknesses and strengths, but viewing them costs points.
As per the Skill System outlined below, there are a number of skills to upgrade to improve Infiltration ability, such as reducing the cost of viewing elements in the scene, or giving the player a larger threshold of damage.
When the player is convinced they have every shred of evidence they need to conclusively rule what happened (and by proxy lay blame), they can visit whatever is used in the level to represent the end, and will be presented with a form split into two sections. The Event Sequence section requires the player to place the relevant events in order as they would have happened. The Question section requires the player to put Evidence Items in the gaps of sentences to demonstrate that the player understands what has happened. After submitting the form, the player is shown their points tally (50% for the Event Sequence, 50% split between each question for the rest). If they didn't get 100%, they are given a list of potential hints as to how they can improve when they retry. The level ends and the player is sent back to the hub.
To reward (and encourage) players for getting stuff right, every correct question, every individual goon defeated in an Infiltration sequence and every successful Disturbance check unlocks a token. Tokens are finite, and there is one for every unique instance of these encounters in the game, essentially acting as way to track how complete your progress in the game is. Tokens are used both to make the game a bit easier by making subtle things obvious (to reduce player mistakes), and to give the player some more fun content (such as concept art or funny "cheat codes").
The bulk of the game's content is intended for the Campaign mode, although individual levels for Streamer Mode and Workshop integration for custom levels would be nice.
Within the campaign, once you are past the Point of Linearity and free to select what you'd like to do, there are two types of Investigations to choose from; Cases & Scenarios.
Scenarios are individual crime scenes, and the entire investigation can be solved in that one level. Replaying the scenario will always act as if you are starting it anew; your campaign progress will only ever take your best result however.
Cases are a string of multiple, linked scenarios. (Relevant, as predetermined by the designer) Evidence that was collected in previous levels is passed on to the next, for continued usage. Since it's possible to fail by not having cruical evidence from a previous level, the game will warn at the end of a level (after submitting answers) if they have screwed themselves. When replaying a single investigation in a case, if you elect to replay from the second or further missions in to that case, the game will carry forward your best results from the previous levels (i.e. if you replay from Mission 3 and 100%'d both previous missions, the game will automatically grant you all relevant evidence).
Disturbance Mode effects are limited within the scope of a single Scenario/length of a full Case, and will not passthrough to other Scenarios/Cases. You can play, save, quit and load any Scenario or Case you like at any time from the hub, although you are restricted to one save per Scenario/Case.
Every Investigation has an associated Difficulty Rating; this is used to warn a player if something is considered a bit too hard for them yet. Completing other Scenarios/Cases and purchasing skills will dynamically decrease the numbers for each Investigation (according to their individual rules on what makes them that difficulty), but ultimately should only be considered a guide and players may find their experience easier or harder compared to what's listed.
Summary of Visual Design
There's not yet a significant amount of work to report in this department, aside from some basic concepts.
The game is aiming for that classic black and white noir style. Colours are used incredibly sparingly to represent important details; blues are good, reds are bad (and show connection to the killer). Consider that police lights are blue and red...
Certain abilities can increase the colour within the world, and Disturbance Mode will add sickly greens while also adding unique filters.
Smoke and Fog are the most important elements of the scene, usually lining the way towards something of critical importance.
The construction of the world is a mix of 40s - 50s American culture with classic LEGO craziness. Stereotypes should be played to their absolute max.
While the intention of the game is mainly to attract solo players who wish to get inside the atmosphere, it's important to recognise that everybody lives in different circumstances; different audiences will have different requirements for the game.
For this reason, I wish to introduce three modes which modify some of the game's mechanics and functionality.
Normal: The intended mode of play, everything remains the same. By default, all social features are hidden and the default UI layout is Single Mode, which is better for viewing individual items at a time.
Social: A local co-op experience, designed for multiple people inside the same room. The intent here is to remove the physical elements of play and focus more on the logical, group-minded tasks (so it doesn't matter who actually clicks the buttons to make the game progress, as everyone can participate to the thought process). Firstly, the First Person camera is disabled, replaced by static Security Cameras to scroll through, with all the relevant evidence/witnesses/red herrings visible. Since they rely more on fast reflexes (and we want to encourage players to go back and try the game in solo mode), combat sequences are outright disabled and any evidence they would have given can be simply collected. Cutscenes are disabled. The default UI is Multi Mode, allowing for seeing many items at one time to let players all fan out.
Streamer: An extension of Social Mode, better suited to larger audiences over digital interfaces. Streamer has its own, much more complex campaign levels that require a lot of people working together to solve. To that end, a companion app will be available that lets users scroll through all the unlocked evidence, events and also view dialogue if the player is in an interrogation sequence. The player can configure and allow the audience the ability to vote on actions, either limiting or increasing how much power and options the audience has. If the player is streaming through a service with a chat API (such as Twitch), the chat can be directly viewed inside the game.
It's a lot more more work, but building the game with these three audience types in mind will grant significant selling power to the title at a whole. There's still many questions to be answered, but this is already a good start into understanding what the different audiences needs will be.
Level Design Methodology
The actual implementation of the core mechanics (for the vertical slice, so long as you ignore a lot of the polish stuff like the game modes or localisation) is really simple; what's made to be tough is the puzzle design, to stress only the most enjoyable (through being challenging) experiences. As far as I've worked out, this is currently the best way to approach designing the levels.
This process begins by having a very vague idea for a location, crime type and difficulty (how many events for the sequence, how many combat encounters etc) and then continues on;
A rough outline of the level's floor plan is drawn (specifically only the playable space). It needs not be any more complex than some cubes, since everything can be shifted around and changed. There just needs to be a physical map for the sake of concepting to help motivate better choices.
At this stage, plot the sequence of events as crappy little stick figures on the map. Put circles for people, and draw tiny symbols and arrows to represent interesting detail that will be critical to note for the next phase. Add a number next to each event to say which stage it is. It's all about understanding what the player's goal is, and trying to space the content of the level around the entire level, instead of making the crime stuck to one tiny portion of the map.
For every event on your map, jot down in notes a description of what should be animated, who and what it involves and so on, so forth.
Going even further, circle the things that would make for conclusive evidence that the event happened. We're not yet ready to say what form of evidence they'll be found in, but we can at least confirm every single thing the player will need to finish the level.
With a high-level overview of the critical path ready now, it's time to go conspiracy-theorist and draw lines. Evidence "Elements" need to be connected together to show the relationship in how you can collect and use them. Some elements will simply only contribute to the unlocking of the event, while other elements should be used to unlock more pieces of evidence. Some evidence items prove, some disprove (both of those for dialogue sequences), and some act like keys. It's not time yet to say exactly what one does to another, you need only to mess around and try decide on some open or closed chains of progression for your player.
Now that you understand the item relationships, you can place them into the level. Mix it up; have some items as physical collections, some as environment details to study, and some as evidence extrapolated from interrogating witnesses. This is also the time to create your red herrings, witnesses, and flesh out the scene itself.
Lastly, you need to create all the valid permutations of dialogue and item descriptions (including the little coloured hints) for this level. There needs to be a mix of valid Truth and Lie cases. It'll also pay to begin thinking about Disturbance Mode modifiers for the level.
It's not a perfect process yet, but it's a start. As I become more comfortable making levels, I'll refine this process and figure out smart shortcuts, as well as a clearer set of designer rules for working within the bounds of the mechanics.
I'm going to just dump notes here whenever I feel like; they could be relevant of they could be completely garbage.
Also, I have been offered the chance to bring the Vertical Slice to a public exhibition in 5 months time, but I'll need to really step on it and start producing content.
Vertical Slice = Murder Investigation: It'd be easier to do an investigation about a character you find in pieces on the street, rather than having to deal with the complexity of making a bus explode into lots of pieces. Since they're LEGO, we can pretend that the person can be put back together again to be friendly with the kiddies.
"Slots": In the Simulation Mode, each different slot of the chain that you put events in is not in just some random chaotic order; each investigation has a set order, and the variation comes from what changed in each slot. As an example, pretending that each number denotes a slot, this is how it might look in a murder investigation:
Entrance - How the deceased entered the scene.
Suspect - What the suspect was doing before the murder.
Weapon - How the suspect acquired/primed the murder weapon.
Distraction - What caused the deceased to not notice the murder?
Murder - How was the deceased actually killed?
Escape - How did the murderer leave the scene?
Call - Who alerted police to what happened?
Potential Chain-of-Events #1: The deceased was killed by a careless banana-salesman who got into a fight with a monkey, tried to pull the banana off it but ended up launching the banana into the deceased so hard that he fell apart.
Potential Chain-of-Events #2: The deceased was squashed when two men who were guiding a crane carrying a piano got into an argument and misdirected the crane.
Animation: While we could try to pay someone to rig and animate the models, it's probably going to be best (given the 5 month timeframe) to simply cut down the animation content and keep it simple. Rely on rotating the body parts rather than deforming for things that absolutely MUST be animated, and try to use programmatic-animation where possible to reduce animation work. This demo can be graphically blocky so long as the gameplay is present and polished.
Those PCoE's are probably s***, but I'm tired and I'm not getting any big sparks coming to me. Feel free to bounce more ideas my way.
EDIT - 05/08/16
-> Face of the character gets rubbed off, falls to pieces
-> A character resembling Ogel should be present in every sequence, but despite how outwardly evil they appear, they should only be guilty in one minor crime scenario. This can help push a message about prejudice and assumptions, and help players understand why they need to find all the facts before drawing a judgement.
-> Forget FP for now; use Alpha Team-style cameras. This will make selection easier (for each camera, hold a list/array of the selectable items to cycle through) and gives a bit more cinematic control back to the designer. Should also reduce almost all physics-related work down to pre-designed cutscene stuff.
-> Work on one specific chain, and get those mechanics perfect. Forget randomisation for now. Once Chain A works, then work on being able to add more events and build in more content.
EDIT - 23/08/16
-> Floating Worlds: Each level is just a tiny chunk that floats in space, which has a camera that allows you to completely rotate the entire level around
One thing I forgot to cover in detail in my previous blog entry was regarding how my game fits into the 6m core values of the LEGO company. Once again, this is all just generalisation at this stage, but since it's part of the reason I'm making this game (to make a LEGO game which actually matches all the values), I need to address them in some capacity.
The 6 Core Values:
Imagination: It's important that kids can have enough freedom to express their ideas and develop their understanding of the world through the power of clever thinking and imagination. In my game, since there's no "action" mechanics that force kids into a fast-paced, deconstructive mindset, I can have the players invest a lot of the game time in their own minds, thinking about the way the world works and possible solutions to the problems they will encounter. The game very much is about asking the player to imagine what happened, and the simulation mode lets players play with their imagination based on what they find.
Creativity: While Imagination focuses on the player bringing their unique view of the world to the game, Creativity is more about how the player can express their ideas and make impactful choices. In this game, every choice (such as collection items or playing a chain-of-events in simulator mode) has clear feedback on if it will help, hinder or distract towards your end goal. While there will always be one right/best solution, it's going to be key to still reward the player for any successful progress they did make and inspire them, rather than scold them, into trying out new ideas. The end ranking system will need to take this into account.
Fun: LEGO nailed it when they stated that Fun comes through Mastery; that is, we enjoy when we learn and feel the rush of progression and succession. I feel as though the mechanics lend themselves to a very clear teaching experience about consequences and understanding the butterfly effect. With a strong feedback loop in place, players should always feel as though their actions inside the game are getting them somewhere, whether that be closer or further away from discovering what exactly happened at each scene.
Learning: While this could practically be the same thing as Fun, I instead wish to treat this more towards the actual tutorial/skill-building process. Not everybody will understand how cars falls apart when hit at certain angles when they first start out, which is why my game will need to incorporate some native, subtle hints within the mechanics and design of each scene. As a simple example, the simple use of lighting and colour can make more important items stand-out, guiding newer players towards the key evidence they may not be aware they need.
Caring: This value isn't going to be present so much inside the mechanics of the game itself as just the overall design goals of the game. By listening very carefully to Jon Blow's message about the human condition and the ethics of game design, I will be ensuring that players of this game aren't wasting their time on crap, but will actually have a deep and meaningful game experience with substance to enjoy.
Quality: Ultimately, this will be the biggest challenge. By setting minimum technical and design standards and keeping myself hostage to this blog, I can overcome some of the typical problems in keeping consistent, high quality throughout a project, but it's going to take a lot of organisation and effort to really make it sink in, especially if others come on-board for this project.
It's all very vague and mysterious at this point, but as I carve a clearer picture of this game in the coming weeks, these values will start to be nailed down to very specific elements of the game design.
High Level Overview
Welcome! Over the coming months in my spare time, I will be developing a new LEGO fan-game called LEGO Investigations. Before I can build the full title, I need to make a vertical slice that demonstrates the full thing is feasible and will be worth the effort it will take.
In this High Level Overview, I will be going over some generalities. In my next blog, I will upload a golden path chart, beat sheet, level design plan as well as an asset list and potentially a script sample, which should give more specific detail into how the Vertical Slice will work.
Section 1: The Jist
What is this game?
LEGO Investigations is a first-person adventure game where players are a detective and must investigate accidents and emergencies to determine what has occurred. Made in Unity for the PC, this game focuses on the player narrative rather than the story, and makes use of interesting mechanics such as simulation and seeking.
Why is anybody going to care?
The big goal for this project is to be a successful LEGO fan-game, and to do this there will be intense focus on meeting the core LEGO brand values, including imagination, creativity, fun, learning, caring and quality. The game will use LEGO in a way that makes it core to the mechanics, and will give the players a chance to try new and rewarding gameplay that tests a player on their logical reasoning.
Who is the game for?
LEGO Investigations is primarily for boys and girls between the ages of 12 - 24. This game is very specifically aiming towards fans of the LEGO brand, especially its video gaming merchandise. This game will favour more inquisitive, logical and careful players rather than fast-paced action-orientated players. There is no client for this game, and the game will not be sold for profit (per licensing reasons).
Section 2a: The Vertical Slice - Summary
LEGO Investigations: The First Case
Windows PC via Unity3D 5.1.4
The Big Idea
It's your first day on the job, and you've been called to the scene of a major accident; a double-decker bus has come off the road and crashed into a local shop, leaving dozens hurt or disassembled. While the ambulance crews scurry to help the injured, you'll need to figure out who the correct culprit was; mechanical failure, driver error, weather or foul play? Don't mess this up; the Government is already under suspicion of muddling the truth of its investigations, and another wrong case could put us in the pits!
As a highly trained detective, you have the uncanny ability to sniff out relevant parts and people to the investigation. Combine that with a brilliant mind which can simulate all kinds of possible scenarios that involve the evidence you locate and a knack for conversing and getting the truth out of potential suspect, and then it only becomes a matter of correctly piecing together the chain of events in the right order.
The First Case is a standalone level which will not be a part of the final product, should plans go ahead to turn this vertical slice into a full game. It will represent the majority of the mechanics of the full game and give a fairly accurate view of the game experience. The average playtime should be in the ball-park of 10 minutes to 2 hours, depending on how many events and how many pieces are in the final build and how good the player is. Since the LEGO Brick/Brand is owned by The LEGO Group, the results of this project cannot be sold for profit.
The First Case is intended to generate some kind of reaction that can be used to gauge if pursuing the full product is a good idea; it must, therefore, be enticing to journalists and YouTube Let's Players, as well as figureheads in the AFOL community, as opposed to the final product which would be directed more towards the children. The development of this project should be public, and therefore needs to be fairly flexible to allow for constructive criticism to guide how the product turns out.
Section 2b: The Vertical Slice - Mechanics
One of the most core aspects of the game is the ability to find relevant evidence to the case. The evidence the player needs can be scattered all over the level, and so it will take an inquisitive eye to find whichever pieces are most important to solving the mystery. Not even piece will help, and some may even be red herrings...
Movement Mechanics: The first-person player can move forward, backward, left and right (strafing). The levels are not designed to require jumping or crouching, but may require the player to look up or down.
LEGO/Item Collection: Items that can be interacted with are made of LEGO. Items that shine can be collected as "potential evidence" and are what the player needs to focus on. Collected items go into the player's backpack and will determine what events they can use during Simulation/Piecing. All evidence will leave notes and clues inside the player's notebook.
Detail Investigation: In some instances, the player can "zoom-in" on certain parts of the world; for example, the player can get a view up-close of a desk and everything on the desk to see if there might be something useful there.
Red Herrings: Many items in the world will outright be used to confuse or distract the player. Some items are from the investigation but did not play an active role in what happened, while other items may have been left-overs from the past before the accident. The player must simulate or collect additional evidence to determine if items had any relevance to the scene.
Item Cancelling: Collecting some items may ultimately cancel out the existence of others (collecting a photo of a character without a moustache may mean they never had need for a moustache brush). This will help eliminate possible events for Simulation/Piecing, and cross off irrelevant/confusing notes inside the notebook.
It's important to listen to key witnesses and suspects when trying to evaluate what happened. While not everything they say will be true (by accident or intentionally), some evidence can be very helpful or even crucial to figuring out what happened. The key to the dialogue system is to try and get information, and that sometimes means challenging the character on what they've said.
Conversation Options: When you initiate a dialogue with a character, you will have a Mass-Effect-style wheel of conversation topics to choose from. The main character's dialogue is never explicitly read out; you only witness the other character's side of the conversation. The conversation options on the left side are used to challenge what the character just said or their appearance/way of talking (when appropriate), while the right side allows you to ask more questions. The bottom allows you to leave the conversation at any point (you will resume from the same place when you return).
Intelligence: If you have learned evidence from the items you've collected/investigated or from other characters which conflicts with what the person you're talking to has said, appropriate dialogue options to call out/challenge the character with your evidence will be highlighted, and will allow you to get more accurate information. This can be disabled in the menu to increase game difficulty.
Notes: Any information you discover will be added to the notepad, and if that information is contradicted by correct information it will be crossed off.
A fast player may wish to simply rush through; collect the minimum-necessary evidence and submit their findings. In order to get an accurate sequence of events and rank high, a smart player will want to make use of the simulation system which allows them to mix-and-match possible events in a chosen order to see if everything leads to how the crime scene looks when you arrive.
Event Collection: An "event" is a thumbnail that sits in your backpack and represents a small snippet of time, usually a couple seconds, where a key part of the story happened (such as a part coming off a vehicle or a person getting out of a car). In order to use events in the simulation, you must have either collected enough evidence and/or notes for the simulation to appear in the browser. When you collect a piece of evidence, any events that require that evidence to be shown will be unhidden but locked; collecting all the required evidence items/notes will unlock the event for use. If you've unlocked evidence that makes an event contradictory, it will be locked and crossed-off.
Notepad: The notepad can be accessed inside the simulator, and allows you to go over information you've collected. Not all note-evidence can be used to unlock events; some of the notes you collect will be general knowledge for your benefit (such as the speed of bullet in the air or how glass shatters when it breaks in different ways). These notes are in a separate section of the notepad, and should be used to compare similar events to see which one is more plausible.
Event Chains: In order to use the Simulation aspect, the player must drag and drop events into a timeline. The start and end events are already given to the player, and the exact amount of "slots" will always be given, so the player knows exactly how many events took place. Each event has "handles" (different coloured/shaped edges on the left and right sides of the thumbnail); you can only put the correct-shapes and colours together in the chain. This prevents the player creating an order of events that is completely incompatible.
Event Simulation: The real meat of the Simulator is to put events in a chain and see how they work together. Once the player has dragged and dropped events into the chain they can then begin "Simulator Mode". In Simulator Mode, the player becomes a flying camera which can watch, pause, play, fast-forward or reverse the events. Simulator Mode takes place inside the same scene as where the detective is, but anything that is changed from the scene will be a transparent "ghost", which allows the player to determine if elements ended up in the correct positions in their sequence of events.
The ultimate goal of each scenario is to correctly identify what has happened. When you choose to finish your investigation, you must present your findings, and then you will be ranked on how close your were.
Level End: You can choose to finish the level at any point by talking to the Boss. Doing so will bring you to a screen where you can input your findings, or back-out if you don't feel you have enough correct information.
Notes: You can bring up your notebook or your bag of evidence at any point in this screen if you need to double-check what you have.
Event Ordering: The first piece of info you will need to add is the correct order of events. This is exactly the same as the Simulator Mode, except you cannot simulate the events from this part of the game; this is to prevent players trying to rush through and dump evidence in that "looks" correct.
Questions: After that, you will then need to provide answers to ~5 questions about the scene, including who/what was most guilty and some of the things that happened. For each "question", there will be a blank spot with a drop-down selection that will allow you to pick out an applicable item/note that correctly fills out the sentence.
Submission: When you are confident you got everything right, you will be asked one final time if you're ready to submit; you will then be shown the sequence of events you chose in a cinematic order, and brought to a ranking page. The chain-of-events counts for 50% of the mark, and the 5 questions are each worth 10%. If the player does not get 100%, they will be shown some hints to consider for the next time if they want to replay the level. 50% is the minimum requirement for completion.
These are miscellaneous mechanics that may not be applicable to the vertical slice, but could improve the experience.
Randomisation: The correct chain-of-events and the position of elements in the world could be randomised on each play-through.
Episodes: As well as having individual, "one-off" cases, it might also be good to have linked-sets of cases called "Episodes" where the player is trying to solve a big mystery by visiting different crime scenes.
Timed/Speed-Run Mode: A mode that tests how fast you can collect the evidence and solve the case.
Collectibles/100%: Getting the perfect ranking in each level (as well as the timed run) should give the player some unique items/abilities/additional cases. It might also be good to let players collect special items in the game world. Rewards could also include things like story/audio logs.
Hub World: To launch different cases, rather than use a menu, the player should be inside a hub world (like the Tt Games) where they can launch each case. If the player completes all the cases, they can then complete a special case in the hub world itself.
Hint System: It might be handy for less-experience players to have some kind of light hint system that guides them in the right direction, but does not solve the puzzles for them.