One of the things that I love about the point-and-click genre is that you never know what you’re going to get – the variety is endless and full of surprises. One of those times was when I first read up on Lord Winklebottom Investigates from British developer Cave Monsters. The game’s premise is about a posh British giraffe detective and his hippopotamus associate who investigate the murder of a wealthy explorer that happens to be an axolotl. Think Sherlock Holmes and Watson, except a giraffe and hippopotamus. Honestly, you couldn’t make this up if you tried. We caught up with Cave Monsters solo developer Charlotte Sutherland to uncover how she came up with the game’s premise, its inspirations and more ahead of its release on July 28.
WellPlayed: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today. I have to ask, how did you come up with the premise for Lord Winklebottom Investigates?
Charlotte Sutherland: Initially, I just started doing a series of paintings of animals in fancy, old fashioned clothes. It wasn’t intended to be for a game – I just enjoy painting animals and creating characters. The first one I did was of a snooty-looking giraffe which I named Lord Winklebottom III. I’ve always been a fan of murder mystery stories and point-and-click adventures, and the more characters I came up with, the more I started to think I could make a game based in their world. The final Lord Winklebottom looks a bit friendlier than the original painting, but that’s where the initial concept came from.
WP: What about the names? Lord Winklebottom just screams British nobility. Where did the names come from?
CS: I’m not sure where I got Winklebottom from – I just wanted something that sounded posh, but also a bit amusing. Some of the names are references to other things – there’s a toad called Spode, which is a reference to a character in Jeeves and Wooster – but I’m mostly just looking for names that fit the characters and the world they’re in.
WP: I feel like point-and-click adventures are games that people remember fondly from their childhood. What made you want to develop a point-and-click title and how much of your childhood is reflected in the game?
CS: The two games I loved most as a child were Curse of Monkey Island and Grim Fandango, and I’ve tried to capture what I liked about those games – the puzzles, the atmosphere and the characters. I also always enjoyed the storytelling element that point-and-click games allow, as I loved writing stories when I was a child. There’s definitely an element of trying to make a game that I would have liked to play.
WP: You’ve mentioned that British literature such as Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie served as inspiration for the game. What was it about those books that caught your creative eye?
CS: I’ve always been a big fan of detective stories, and I think they lend themselves well to games – Holmes spends his time looking for clues, talking to people and solving puzzles. Lord Winklebottom is sort of set between Holmes and Agatha Christie’s books – in an alternate version of 1920s Britain, as I’ve always loved the stories from that era. The main characters of Winklebottom and Frumple are obviously based in part on Holmes and Watson (especially the bumbling Watson of the Basil Rathbone films), and the plot takes some inspiration from Christie’s And Then There Were None, with the character trapped on an isolated island trying to figure out who the killer is.
WP: The art style reminds me of Graeme Base books (mainly The Eleventh Hour), what was the inspiration for the game’s art direction?
CS: I actually hadn’t heard about The Eleventh Hour until a few months ago when someone mentioned it to me! I’ve checked it out since and the art is so lovely. The inspiration behind my art direction was mainly classical oil paint portraits, I wanted to try and achieve an oil paint style and keep the texture visible in the art. Everything was hand-painted from scratch, so each painting would take quite a while to complete to get the desired look.
WP: Humour in video games is hard to pull off. How hard was it to write dialogue that players would find humorous?
CS: Again, I think I’m just guided by what I find funny, hopefully other people will find it funny too! It’s not a game that’s filled with jokes and puns – though there are some – but a lot of the humour comes from the characters and their reactions to the situations they find themselves in. It helps that I know the characters really well, so they almost write themselves at times – I just set up the plot and see how they react.
WP: What sort of puzzles can we expect in the game? How did you approach their design?
CS: The puzzles are very traditional point-and-click gameplay – finding items, combining them with other things and using them to progress in the game. Initially, I knew the overall shape of the story – I knew there was an island and who’d been murdered, and roughly how the acts of the game were broken up. I also had a few puzzle ideas I knew I wanted to do. There’s a lot of back-and-forth between plot and puzzles, though you need to come up with obstacles and choke points that the player has to get through to progress the story, so you come up with puzzles to fill those gaps. I’ve tried to integrate puzzles and story as much as possible. Sometimes puzzles in adventures can feel like they’re not really connected to the world or the plot at all – I hope that the ones in this all feel like they logically come out of the situations the characters are in.
Who’s snout is this round?
WP: Cave Monsters is made up of a solitary developer, how challenging did that make development?
CS: It’s very different from working in a big studio, as you suddenly have to learn how to do everything – not just development, but marketing, running a company, doing accounts and everything like that. All that other stuff takes up much more time than I expected, so it’s hard work juggling all the elements together.
WP: You’ve worked on a wide variety of games in your career, how did those experiences influence the development of Lord Winklebottom Investigates?
CS: I worked as an animator on quite a lot of big games before leaving to start my own company, so I knew that I’d be okay with the art side of things, but everything else was new. Working on games before, though, meant I had a good overall idea of how development works and the usual development pipeline, which helped a lot with planning. I also knew a bit about stuff like QA and console certification, so I wasn’t having to learn about all that from scratch. I knew all the processes involved but it was my first time doing a lot of them solo.
WP: How long will it roughly take to finish the game?
CS: It’s really hard to put a figure on how long a point-and-click game is, as it’s entirely down to the player, and how quickly they solve the puzzles. Even with the initial section of the game that I’ve taken to shows, some people have got through it in 10 minutes, while others have been 45 minutes or more. In playtesting, the whole game has come out at around 6 hours on average.
WP: What’s something about your game that you are especially proud of or love?
CS: I’m really happy with how the characters in the game have turned out – they’re all quite varied, and they all have their own personalities. I’ve especially enjoyed working with the voice actors to bring them all to life – it was such a boost to the feel of the game once I got all the voices in. All the dialogue is fully voiced, and we recorded hours of footage. It was a lot of work recording everything (and cutting it all up afterwards), but it just brings everything to life!
Spoken like a true vegetarian
WP: With a new Monkey Island game launching this year, how do you think it will impact the point-and-click genre?
CS: Hopefully, it’ll bring a few lapsed point-and-click players back to the genre, as well as introducing some new players. There are so many great point-and-click games that are coming out at the moment, with a great community of wonderful developers behind them, so anything that shines a bit of light on the genre can only be a good thing!
WP: Good luck with the game’s launch, we can’t wait to play it.
CS: Thank you so much for talking to me!
Lord Winklebottom Investigates launches on July 28 on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and PC.