What do you get if you mix a £4010 budget, full motion video and murder mystery? The answer is Contradiction - Spot The Liar! and an exhausted indie developer. We spoke to Tim Follin, the creator of Contradiction, about the challenges he faced delivering a British thriller to a global gaming audience for the price of a weekend in Las Vegas.
"I still think of it as a demo, really, because it was how we started out," says Follin. He's best known in the industry for his work composing music for games, this was his first solo project as a developer.
"It turned out the people coming into the pub were from a funeral party"
"It was a kind of a case of, 'right, I don't know if this is going to work, or how to present this or anything, really.' It was one of those things, it was so up in the air, I didn't know how to approach it. So I thought, I'll do a demo and then at least I'll be able to work out what works, what doesn't work. But I realised that with work I'd have to do to actually create a demo, I might as well make the game. That's what Contradiction is really, it's a cut down version of a longer story that I had in mind."
The good news for Follin is that the game doesn't feel like a demo, it's a smart take on the sort of British murder mystery you'd watch on a Sunday night. You follow Detective Jenks around a handful of locations in small British village, interview a number of suspects and finding clues. The key is to point out contradictions in suspect's testimony - doing so will force them to reveal more information or move the story on. It's a simple mechanic that belies the exhaustive development process.
"I think we worked out there were around 11 shooting days all together," says Follin.
"That's not consecutive though, I think we did six, maybe seven days consecutively, which was very hard because we threw ourselves into it quite early on."
Follin had the added pressure of working in real life locations with hired actors (including Blake's 7 star Paul Darrow) to create crucial scenes, a scenario that resulted in some awkward moments.
The owners of the location that serves as the headquarters of the shady business cult that appears in the game? They jacked up the price by hundreds of pounds as filming began.
"I think they just thought that we were some sort of huge production company. I didn't explain to them that we only had £3,400 from the Kickstarter, that was it," says Follin.
And the pub that serves as the central hub? The owners there were much more accommodating, but the filming ended up clashing with an unfortunate event.
"We'd got to 1pm and people started drifting into the pub, and we were saying, "we're just doing a bit of filming, we'll be out of your hair in a minute, it's about a murder mystery sort of thing, someone's got murdered.'
"It turned out the people coming into the pub were from a funeral party. The landlady, Jackie, was very nice to actually, said 'look, I'm sorry about this but I completely forgot we've this funeral party coming in.' We all just stuck our fists in our mouths. What have we said? So we had to clear out pretty quick."
Follin is clearly frustrated by the limitations the budget put on production, filling me in on elaborate set pieces that he wanted to film (most of which I won't mention here for fear of spoilers) but couldn't.
"A lot of the problem was because we didn't have the budget, so a lot of scenes that we really wanted to put in that were very crucial to the plot explanation, we just weren't able to film," he says.
"I had all these physical puzzles involving all kinds of things; switching on lights, moving things around in the court and someone appearing, a workman at one point leaving something behind. All this stuff that was written in that we just didn't have anywhere near the time to be able to film it."
I'd argue that the simplicity the lack of budget created actually works in the game's favour, making the interview mechanic the star of the show, but Follin is a perfectionist.
"You can see why I see it as a demo, in my head it was so much stuff happening in there that we just couldn't get filmed. It all comes down to budget, money, budget. That's why I'm cautious about a sequel, to be honest, because there were so many compromises we made with this just on the actual production of the shoot."
Talking to him you can hear that Follin is torn between the potential of a sequel and the memory of the backbreaking work he had to do to make it happen.
"It's been basically, pretty much every day either a full day or half a day basically for two years at least, more like three years really. I'm just not doing it again basically, life's too short. I just can't do it again," he says with a sigh.
"If I'm going to do it again it would definitely be ... I would split it and I would get people involved to do various aspects of it. But then that budget appears, that's why you need the budget isn't it? Because you need to be able to pay people to do that."
"I'm going down the other roots than the standard gaming roots, I think there's a limited appeal to the standard gaming audience"
He has a plan on that front, he hopes to approach a studio or a television network about partnering with him to bring it to a different platform. He explains that he always saw Contradiction as something for hardcore mystery fans but perhaps casual gamers and so wants to see it played around the TV, rather than on a laptop. He's got his eye on Amazon and the Amazon TV as the right sort of platform.
"My wife's a massive murder mystery fan. I always imagined her, when I was writing it, something she would enjoy playing. Sitting on the sofa playing with family. It's just, how do you reach those people? That's why I'm going down the other roots than the standard gaming roots, I think there's a limited appeal to the standard gaming audience," he says.
"I think definitely there's probably an untapped market for people who would enjoy playing that kind of game if they could ... If the technical side of it was more transparent to them."