The Darkside Detective and The Darkside Detective: A Fumble in the Dark from developer Spooky Doorway are an absolute joy to play. If you haven’t explored either of these point-and-click adventure titles before, each of the Darkside Detective games follow Detective McQueen and his partner Officer Dooley as they investigate strange, mysterious events in the town of Twin Lakes.
They’re games that will make you smile and laugh as you play through them thanks to their clever writing and the banter between the game’s two main characters. Adding to this, the cases you solve are equally fun and intriguing, keeping you glued to your seat from start to finish.
Following the release of The Darkside Detective: A Fumble in the Dark on April 15, we found ourselves itching to learn more about the developers at Spooky Doorway and how The Darkside Detective games were born. To help answer these questions, we spoke to Paul Conway, Lead Artist at Spooky Doorway, who was kind enough to give us the scoop.
So, whether you love the games or are simply curious about them, join us as we learn more about The Darkside Detective and The Darkside Detective: A Fumble in the Dark!
The Darkside Detective | Interview with Paul Conway of Spooky Doorway
How did the Spooky Doorway team first come together and where did the initial ideas behind The Darkside Detective come from?
We first met on Inishbofin, an island off the West Coast of Ireland. Irish game developers from all over the country were meeting to unplug and hang out. Dave and Treasa were a couple, and the 3 of us got talking while everyone was hanging out and we just clicked as a group of pals.
Several months later there was a game jam in Galway City where a friend and I worked on a short adventure game simply called The Darkside. I had a promising but basic prototype at the end of the day.
It wasn’t a good game by any stretch, it had only 4 screens and the ending made no sense (that’s game jams for you) but it had some nice art and a good setting.
People really seemed to like the screenshots and short demo I posted online, so I decided to turn it into a full game. Dave and Treasa got involved with design, writing and code and the terrible little demo started to grow into a complete game.
What are some of the core inspirations behind the Darkside Detective games? For example, we get some Twin Peaks and X-Files vibes, are any members of the team fans of those types of shows?
The game is definitely inspired by a broad range of games, movies and TV of the 80s and 90s. We’re all fans of the X-files and Twin Peaks and many more from the same era. The Darkside Detective plucks a lot of references and tropes from them but when things are viewed through the Darkside lens they are given a very unique spin.
How many people are working on The Darkside Detective: A Fumble in the Dark, and what has the development process been like?
At launch there were 5 people on the core game. Treasa McCabe as lead coder / designer, Dave McCabe as writer / designer. Myself, Paul Conway, for art and sound effects, Ben Marquez Keenan as developer and finally Robert Megone doing some dev and QA.
There were several people working with our Publisher to port the game. One or two other people have helped us along the way and Thomas O'Boyle composed the soundtrack. It was a challenging development cycle. It was different from the first game because we had a budget this time and we were working on it full time instead of evenings and weekends.
This allowed a lot more freedom to experiment and make a bigger game. Then Covid 19 landed on us like a bomb affecting how we normally got play testers to try the game which would always help shape the experience. It also slowed us down through a lot of other factors too.
Also, at the start of the pandemic lock down, Dave and Treasa discovered they were pregnant which gave us a very specific date where we had to content lock so they could go and have a baby and take much needed maternity leave. This left the rest of the team to work on polish, ports and bug fixing until they came back.
In the end we made a game we’re proud of, but it was certainly a project to remember.
Do gamers need to play the first Darkside Detective game before playing A Fumble in the Dark?
Not necessarily. The game will be a much richer experience if you have played the first game as there are characters we meet who we’ve met before. But the previous times we’ve met them is generally irrelevant to what’s at hand.
By design the cases can stand on their own and can mostly be played out of sequence if you want to. There is a brief recap at the start of the first case of the main event you need to know about from the first game, but that’s it. You can just jump in from that point.
What sort of gameplay can gamers expect in The Darkside Detective: A Fumble in the Dark?
It’s a point and click adventure through and through, but we’ve really focussed on streamlining the experience as much as possible, removing as many of the tedious elements from classic adventure games as possible.
The UI is simple and intuitive, characters don’t have to walk around to examine objects or change scenes which speed up the experience immensely, and dialogue is snappy. Our puzzle design is logical but still fun.
We want you to enjoy yourself and solve a case each time you play. We don’t want you coming back in two weeks unable to remember why you have a lamp stand and a rubber chicken in your inventory.
How did the team settle on the visual design of The Darkside Detective games?
The visual style kind of came about by accident in the game jam when the first game demo was put together. The big pixel low resolution style was simple and quick to do on the day.
Less pixels meant less work so to speak. And adding some juicy HD lighting gave it a real sense of atmosphere and character. The style almost arrived fully formed. It’s evolved and been refined a little over the course of the two games, but there are sprites in there from the first game jam project.
How did the team approach writing the cases that Detective McQueen has to solve?
Since the game riffs a lot on old movies and TV, we usually start with a location. What feels like a good place, has an Americana feel we can play with, and what will also translate well visually into the Darkside Detective style. We’ve a long list of places we want to set cases in.
Once we’ve settled on a location, Dave and Treasa will go away and spitball ideas of what villain or monster of the week we can use, how to subvert it in a silly Darkside way and how would it work as a basic plot.
Once we all agree on a general direction, they’ll rough out a design flow chart, figure out the main events and sequence of puzzles. The layout is usually refined and reworked a few times to make it flow well. Then we make some very rough scene sketches which we wire up into a basic functioning prototype.
At this stage we can see if it feels right and get some basic dialogue in. I start to draw up proper scene art and Dave starts filling out the dialogue and interaction text. Then it just grows from there. All the little interactions evolve out of the story or some unexpected cues from the scene art.
Adding to that, how did the team approach the comedy writing in the game? Were there any jokes or funny moments the team liked that didn’t make it into the game?
There are a lot of jokes that don't make it in. We’ve killed more than a few darlings along the way. Some jokes are just left behind because a story or environmental element will change, others are excised for being a little too off tone. Occasionally an abandoned joke might make a return later in another case, though.
What are some of the fun characters that Detective McQueen will encounter in The Darkside Detective: A Fumble in the Dark?
We meet a broad range of characters in A Fumble in the Dark. It's a bizarre mix of city sized monsters, wrestling demons, crazed clowns and riotous old folks. Suffice it to say there are a wide variety of peculiar people you’ll meet along the way.
Who did the soundtrack for A Fumble in the Dark, and what was their approach to creating music that fits with the events of the game?
The OST was created by Irish musician, Thomas O’Boyle. He had the tough job of stepping into the same shoes as Ben Prunty from season 1. We wanted a soundtrack that worked with the first game’s tone, but stood out as a unique game. No small task. Thomas did a great job, though.
Usually we’d give him a prototype of a case and a list of all the music changes we wanted. He experimented a lot with tones which just fit the dread, mystery or playfulness of each scenario. He’d go away and come back with a very loose sample that would more often than not work straight away and he’d just have to embellish.
We experimented a lot more with music in this game. It takes centre stage in some jokes and changes to fit the environment you are visiting in some instances. As a result the soundtrack is a lot more substantial than the first game.
With so many video game film and TV adaptations happening, we’re curious if you’d be open to having The Darkside Detective games adapted into a TV series if you had the chance? And if yes, who would you cast as Detective McQueen and Officer Dooley?
We’d love to see it as a TV show or animated series. A serialised show would work better than a movie. The game already feels like a TV show in a lot of ways. It’s really suited for animation because of the bizarre things in the world of Twin Lakes, but with the right talent it would work as in live action.
For a live action cast I love to see Colin Hanks as Detective McQueen and Zachary Levi as Officer Dooley. I think they’ve got the looks, comedy and acting ability to make them work as a duo.
Are there any plans for another Darkside Detective game in the future?
We’ll see how the second game goes before making that call. We’ve some more content we want to add to A Fumble in the Dark as a bonus case, but we’ll definitely take a break from the series for a while and work on some other game ideas we have.
We’ve always envisioned The Darkside Detective working well as a trilogy. We have some really die hard fans who want to see a lot more of Dooley and McQueen which is an amazing feeling. I think it would disappoint many of them if it didn’t return for another season.
We will most likely return, but possibly not for a while. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Where can gamers purchase and play The Darkside Detective: A Fumble in the Dark?
Both games are available on Steam, GOG, Itch, PS4 and PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X, Nintendo Switch and Google Stadia. So if you have any of those platforms, jump onto their store and search for The Darkside Detective.
And finally, where can gamers go to follow development updates for The Darkside Detective games?
We want to conclude this interview by saying thank you to Paul Conway for talking to us about The Darkside Detective, and thank you to the entire team at Spooky Doorway for making such an incredible set of games!
To our readers, we highly recommend checking out The Darkside Detective games – both the original and The Darkside Detective: A Fumble in the Dark – if you haven't done so already.