It’s nice to do something entirely different once in a while, and I’m in the mood for a change. We obviously spend the vast majority of our time reviewing and writing about games from indie studios that often aren’t particularly well known. This is great because it puts a bit of a spotlight on the devs and whatever awesome project they have at hand at the time. The problem is that we’re only able to do this within the confines of the game we’re reviewing, and that means that all of the other great stuff the studio has created goes unnoticed. Worse, that studio might only get a small amount of coverage and then disappear back into obscurity when they absolutely don’t deserve to. With this being said, I think it’s time to pull some of these studios firmly to the forefront and do a proper deep dive into who they are and the games they’re making.
This all started when I played and thoroughly enjoyed Murderous Muses. I had a great time with the game and the devs were really warm and welcoming. I noticed they had quite an impressive back catalogue for a relatively small studio and this left me wondering why I’d never heard of them. If I hadn’t, then quite a lot of you out there won’t have either, and this is a crying shame. With this in mind, I tracked down all of the games the studio had done and sent our intrepid Madeleine Acevedo out to have a chat with the clever folks behind them. Well, if you’re going to do something, do it properly, right? I’ll let our Madeleine reveal all the interesting stuff that came out of the interview and then we’ll get stuck into the back catalog and let you know what brilliant little gems might be waiting to take their place in your libraries.
D’Avekki Studios is an independent game developer and publisher known for their FMV games, which include titles such as The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker and The Shapeshifting Detective. Tim and Lynda Cowles are the husband and wife creators of the thrilling murder mystery games and are based out of the United Kingdom. I had the privilege of speaking to Tim, the director of D’Avekki Studios, after playing Doctor Dekker and was excited to learn about his experience in the gaming industry, particularly within the FMV genre.
Where does the name for D’Avekki Studios come from?
It came from my Warhammer roleplaying character called Jason D’Avekki and the word D’Avekki actually came from a book by Michael Moorcock.
You’ve released all murder mystery games. Will this be your focus moving forward or are you considering different video game genres?
We’ve done mysteries for so long now, since 2004, which is why we keep adding the supernatural elements to it and we’ll probably keep going with supernatural murder mysteries if we go forward. FMV (full motion video) is quite interesting. It’s got loads and loads of different things: comedy FMV all the way to kind of more serious stuff so there’s quite a range of things. We have quite a lot of ideas for different FMV games like sci-fi settings and not necessarily murder mystery, but we do end up coming back to that a lot.
Do you think you’ll continue with FMV or move into a hybrid format?
Murderous Muses is the most hybrid we’ve ever done with the 3D retro gallery. I’m a frustrated filmmaker so taking me away from FMV would be quite hard. I did a horror feature film before we started doing all this. It obviously can be cheaper to film something and get loads of animators working in 3D and having to get the voice actors in afterwards with all the correct lines. For me and some other people, being able to emote with a live-action character can potentially get you more immersed.
I played The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker and loved the prompts that help direct the conversations, as well as the option to type a question. I was amazed at how well this is coded with fairly accurate responses from the characters. What was the audience reception like?
Doctor Dekker originally came out just keyboard with none of the dropdown questions. But we added typing for consoles. A lot of people didn’t necessarily struggle through Dekker in the beginning with just typing, but some people gave up at the typing stage. You have to listen to what the patients are saying so if they say “I love bananas and parrots” and your next question is “Do you like swords?” then you get frustrated because you haven’t picked up on what they’ve been saying.
Doctor Dekker is keyword-driven so we were worried about AI engines coming in and people not liking that it doesn’t respond as naturalistically as ChatGPT. The only main problem we had with Dekker was that we didn’t have a traffic light system and a lot of people got frustrated trying to “go green” and finding every single response whereas we only intended the green to be non sequitur, Easter eggs for you to find. So, some people thought they were doing badly if they only got amber, for example.
Are all of D’Avekki Studios’ games tied together with a recurring theme or connected in some way?
Doctor Dekker is the first in, what we call, the trilogy. The Shapeshifting Detective, the second game, is more like an interactive movie and I think it’s a lot cooler because you can shape-shift into different characters and ask questions behind the scenes. It’s got a few Easter eggs, like the radio, which you’ll see is made by a company called Dekker. And then in Dark Nights with Poe and Munro, the third game, there’s a sequence where (spoiler) there’s a throwback sequence and we’re on Doctor Dekker’s couch questioning a patient so, yeah, they are definitely linked together.
When I played Doctor Dekker, I felt some Sherlock vibes. I’m curious, what is the inspiration for your directing style and developing the stories for these games?
Dekker originally came from a series of shorts that were put together because we thought we would make a short TV series. We got this kind of therapist that’s dealing with all kinds of people. In the shorts, the therapist succumbs to the madness. Linda and I also played loads of 90s FMV games, that’s why we wanted to make FMV games. I’m more a horror fan than Linda. For Dekker, reading too much of early Stephen King and Scream was a cleverly made movie for its time. Dekker is an interactive movie, doesn’t force you to make a choice. It’s more casual in that you get to investigate while the 90s FMV are more like point-and-click adventures.
Who is one of your biggest competitors?
There are 40 producers or more in the FMV genre, and it’s getting more and more saturated, but because it’s more of a rarity, people are more likely to purchase it. We’ve had interviews before about the resurgence of FMV in 2018 when Dekker came out. Some FMV are just doing it for the money and maybe it doesn’t go as well for them, or the product isn’t as great in the end.
Steam, which is one of the main platforms, has also changed. The most recent release we did, we ended up with about 95% fewer launch day impressions than before. And they’re saying that’s all down to the algorithm. Even when we launch with more wish lists, we end up with 1.15 million fewer impressions. One of the problems, if you don’t get coverage, you don’t get the sales and you don’t get people adding you to their wish lists. FMV struggles to compete with AAA titles. It can be quite hard to get onto somebody’s screen. Probably in the last 5-6 months, they changed it to “popular upcoming releases” where it used to say “upcoming releases”, so you need to scroll down a bit to see what is coming out. Essentially, there’s so much stuff now so there’s algorithms to highlight the good stuff but it’s all about the good stuff.
How do you scout actors for your games?
We put out a casting call for several different casting networks and people send in their auditions. Even though it’s great to reuse actors, it’s also nice to find new talent that can play a role exceptionally. It’s lovely seeing auditions because it brings the roles to life. It’s one of our favorite parts. The last couple of games we’ve had over 1000 applicants for the roles. It’s nice that a lot of people want to work for us. We’ve used Backstage as one of the places, but we tend to film in the UK. We do have some stuff where you can do remote but most of the stuff, we need to grill actors.
So, as you can very much tell from that highly informative chat, we are very much in the land of FMV with the games we’ll be looking at in our brief little overview. Having played all of these titles, we can honestly say that FMV, something that could, perhaps, have been treated more kindly as a genre in the past, is very much in safe hands now. I’m looking at you, Night Trap, you naughty game you. That’s a story for another time, though, or google it. It’s very interesting reading.
Coming back to the present, we’ll be looking at the three games Tim mentioned in that interview, specifically. These are The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker, The Shape-shifting Detective, and Dark Nights with Poe and Munro. I’ve already done some deeper analysis of Murderous Muses. It’s a brilliant game but at the risk of repeating myself, I’ll just let you go and have a read. I’ve been a dear and left you the appropriate link, click at your own discretion.
The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker (Overview by Madeleine Acevedo)
I feel like such a typical American when I say I’m an Anglophile but it’s the truth. I really love British culture, British lit, and reading about English history. Apparently, playing British videogames is also on that list because Doctor Dekker fulfills the immersive experience of a British murder mystery. I could see this being a fun party game (though not humorous like the Jackbox series) on account of the FMV elements. It would be so much fun working together with friends to decide which suspect to interview and what questions to ask.
This isn’t the sort of game where you can sit back and space out for a moment. You need to bring your A-game and pay attention to each suspect’s responses. Their words matter equally as much as the questions you’ll be asking, though the prompts on the screen certainly help guide conversations. It’s helpful having the drop-down to choose a question but I found it more fun and challenging to type my own to see if I could direct the conversation to reveal something significant.
On top of getting to play psychiatrist, the people you interview come with their own quirks. Depending on how you delve into their background, you’ll find information that will steer you down a certain path, almost like a choose your own adventure. With multiple endings, this game provides many opportunities to revisit and play again, making it all that more engaging.
If you’re like me and want to play Sherlock, this is the game for you. Just beware of the madness.
The Shape-shifting Detective
This one’s fun! So, the most difficult thing about police work is people not wanting to give up important information, right? It would be so much easier if everyone just told the truth and, more frustratingly, didn’t keep changing their story. You know for a fact that a suspect won’t tell the same story to the law as they would to their friends and this makes matters … troublesome. The best way to solve this problem is to have a shape-shifter do the questioning. That shape-shifter would obviously be you.
In The Shape-shifting Detective, a girl has been found murdered and the police aren’t getting anywhere. They have their suspicions but without proof that’s all they are and they’re hitting a dead end. You are drafted in to act as a deep cover operative and locate the killer. You couldn’t be more deep cover because you can literally become anyone that you’ve seen and had a conversation with.
You take on the role of Sam, though this appears to be just another alias. If you can solve the murder, a few of your own problems might go away in the process; getting caught would be bad so you’re going to need to be on your toes.
You’ll be staying at a boarding house. It’s full of suspects so it’s probably for the best. From here you’ll follow the mystery as new players are introduced into the mix. You’ll have to be careful how you question potential killers, you don’t want them becoming suspicious. The key is working out how to get the best information, bearing in mind that people always trust their friends and possible co-conspirators more than they’ll ever trust you. This is a good way of truth-checking their stories too. If alibis line up you’ve narrowed the pool and made your job easier.
I’m not going into any further detail here other than to say this is one that’s definitely worth playing for the mystery buffs among you. Being able to take the role of multiple characters adds a really interesting layer to the proceedings. The acting is excellent, too. This is something that goes without saying in my opinion, though, as cinematography, storytelling, and brilliant execution are all things that D’Avekki perfected.
Dark Nights with Poe and Munro
The third and by no means final installment of the excellent trilogy of games we’ve been diving into is Dark Nights with Poe and Munro. Here we’ll be taking the two radio hosts through a thriller with a touch of the strange. If you’ve played The Shape-shifting Detective, you’ll have probably already listened to Poe and Munro. It doesn’t really matter if you haven’t, though, this is a totally standalone story on its own.
I’m not telling you anything much at all about the plot of this interesting narrative adventure. I think out of the three games we’ve discussed here, this one would be most prone to spoilers. Let’s just say that a nasty incident involving a deranged caller might just be the least of the two’s problems. Things are only going to get more twisted as the story evolves.
Dark Nights with Poe and Munro plays out like an episodic tv show. You’ll be the one deciding how they will handle the situations they’re presented with and, as such, how the story will progress. The way that the two characters interact with each other and the situations they’re presented with will keep you hooked for hours. Whether you find yourself siding with the dour and somewhat nihilistic Poe or Munro who comes across as a little more innocent but is a master of scathing sarcasm is entirely up to you. What I will say, though, is that August isn’t a town I’d be headed to for a day out in a hurry.
Once again we have a cast of interesting and lovable characters. I’m deliberately defining lovable in the loosest sense here. I love them, but I wouldn’t call them nice perse. The story writing here shines through brilliantly and with the plethora of choices you can make there’s tons of replayability to be had for those of you that need that all-important bang for your buck. I wasn’t planning on completing virtually the entire game in one sitting but I nearly did. I intend on remedying that tonight and it will not be my only playthrough.
So, there you have it! If you’re interested in the FMV genre all of the games we’ve just mentioned are very much coming from, then why not start with this little lot? D’Avekki is bringing out some consistently brilliant work and I absolutely can’t wait to see where they’re going to go next. Personally, I think Mirlhaven has more secrets to uncover than a seriously creepy gallery so I’m hoping we’ll be staying in the world of Murderous Muses for the next game or two; but who knows? I’m sure that whatever this brilliant studio sends our way will be more than worthy of our gaming time. Being TVGB’s token Brit, I’m also feeling rather proud at the moment, so all the more reason to check them out.
If you enjoyed our first deep dive into the world of indie studios that may be a little bit lesser known and want more, we’re always here to be of service. Keep an eye out for our next installment of Studio Spotlight when Madeleine and myself will be throwing light on another brilliant developer. In the meantime, you’ve all got a bit of gaming to do. These mysteries won’t solve themselves, now will they?