Today is not a review but is something a little bit different. Given the puzzle solving element of most mysteries, it is not surprising that fans of this genre are often also fans of games. Mystery themed games are not new, as there are quite a few dossier crime solving games out there – but this is the first time I have encountered a subscription based one.
Killer Mystery is a new company, which offers a subscription where each month you receive a new instalment of an ongoing mystery. In that way it operates like a TV series or a book – coming in episodes and chapters. There is a real emphasis on the story element in this game.
The opening season of their first mystery has a 1980s American milieu, with a young man looking like the chief suspect in his wealthy parents’ murder. There is a video trailer to introduce the story context, which you can view here.
According to the website: ‘Each season contains five episodes that are delivered to your door monthly. Each new episode provides more story, more clues, and more suspects that you will work through to solve the mystery.
In each episode you will receive:
- Welcome booklet
- Story cards with character descriptions, plot, and backstory
- Research cards that guide you on items to review
- Various types of clues to investigate that will help you identify important details about the killer and puzzles to complete to help narrow down the list of suspects.’
However, as you might have noticed in the blog post title, it is meant to be a guest post and it is, I promise. The brains behind the company and the mystery, Jason Dusenberry, is now going to share about what he thinks makes a good murder mystery and how it helped shape Killer Mystery, in particular looking at one of the core ingredients of a good mystery: the red herring. So over to you, Jason…
When I created Killer Mystery, my initial thought was to make something that makes the player question more than just the obvious questionable things. After all, how exciting can it be to solve a murder mystery right away? In my opinion, questioning things is one of the strongest components that construct a good murder mystery. Red Herrings are part of that, but they shouldn’t be the only thing. It’s an easy route to steer the audience toward a completely innocent “suspect” or story item, only to pull the rug out from underneath them. I’m not saying that Red Herrings are necessarily bad, but one needs to be careful not to overuse them at the risk of losing your audience. However, used strategically alongside great character and story development and mixed in with intriguing clues, you likely have a winner.
SPOILER WARNING FOR THE NEXT PARAGRAPH – SKIP IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE FILM THE SIXTH SENSE
One example I can think of in the theatrical world that made good use of red herrings is the movie, The Sixth Sense. Spoiler alert: stop reading this blog now if you haven’t seen the movie. In a nutshell, the two main characters, a boy and a therapist have their lives intertwined, only to find out in the end that the Therapist is, in fact, dead and the young boy can “see dead people”. It is a major reveal for most. This normally wouldn’t be recommended to have the entire piece be a giant red herring, but in this case, it worked. It worked because of a good story, a dark, overcast feeling, good acting, good character development, and many more reasons. Moral of the story? If you are going to use red herrings, either choose for them to be small and strategically placed or go big and base your entire project around it, with a stellar reveal, as was done in this movie successfully. If you muddle around in the middle, you are likely to lose your audience.
SAFE TO RESUME READING
I have always been impressed with Agatha Christie’s stories. Many of her stories motivated me in my creation of Killer Mystery. I loved how she was able to have the reader become so emotionally attached to the story and characters. The story within the story is unbelievably captivating. When this happens, it disarms the reader. One tends to forget about the logic of who the killer can be because of the combination of emotional investment and a great storyline that has so many different avenues.
With this being stated, my vision for Killer Mystery was to make a murder mystery subscription box game that played out like an immersive, mini novel that you couldn’t put down. I still needed it to develop like a game, because, well…it’s a game! So, the journey commenced with creating story cards that are a part of each chapter or scene, if you will. The story card is descriptive and introduces you to the characters (some who can certainly be considered suspects), details the action, and takes you on twists and turns. Each scene envelope houses several printed clues that also go along with that story card for the scene. For example, if that scene story card illustrates someone withdrawing money from an ATM, one of the clues might be the receipt from the transaction for the player to study. Lastly, there is a physical clue included in each episode (box). It is far from a dead giveaway, but it does help the player narrow things down a bit more and can be considered a “boost” clue compared to the traditional printed clues enclosed.
When all these things are combined well, it can send even the most logical, sensible, and studious person down the wrong road of who did it. That’s when the fun happens. If we’ve done our job right, you’ll not only need to beware of the red herrings but also a multitude of other things. The questioning kicks in, then more questioning, then even more. Sometimes the answer is right in front of you and other times it’s a lot trickier to solve. Frankly, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Over To You
Do you have any favourite red herrings? It might be a particular story that you love because it utterly fooled you, or perhaps it is a specific type of red herring that you enjoy?
I must say of my 2023 reads Evil Under the Sun (1941) by Agatha Christie is the book whose red herrings I have appreciated the most. This was a re-read for me, so I knew the ending, but I loved looking out for the red herrings which Christie uses in this book to trip up her readers. The variety is impressive.
I hope this is given you a flavour of what this mystery solving game series is about. I am very lucky to have received a review copy of the first season of this game, which you can see pictured below. I am excited to give it a go soon and share with you how I got on.