Developer Interview: A Mystery Solved – Boomzap’s Iris Lim and Liliya Shaifulina reveal the secrets of Death at Cape Porto

Last Thanksgiving weekend, Boomzap released “Death at Cape Porto: A Dana Knightstone Novel”, the fourth in the hidden object puzzle adventure series. Though the mysteries always involve an unfortunate death, a romantic love story and the picturesque landscapes of Portugal still make it enjoyable. To know more about this new game, we interviewed game designer Iris Lim and artist Liliya Shaifulina of the Dana Knightstone team.

Tell us something about yourself. Where are you from and what do you do in Boomzap?

Iris: I’m Iris Lim from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I started my career back in 2006 when my friends and I won a local game pitch competition; we decided to start our own game development company. In between I have tried out web development business before finally joining Boomzap as a game designer in 2009. With Boomzap, I’ve worked on Awakening: The Dreamless Castle, Antique Road Trip: USA and all of the Dana Knightstone series.

Liliya: I‘m an artist from Russia and have been working in game development since 2005. Initially I worked as a 3D modeler, but I always wanted to draw more than to make 3D art. That’s why when I saw Boomzap had opened position for artists, I immediately applied. And now I’ve been working in Boomzap as an artist for three and a half years.

Now you’re both part of the Dana Knightstone team. What do you think makes it different from other adventure games?

Iris: The main thing that I think made Knightstone unique is the realistic theme. Haha I know this game has ghosts in it but we try to design with no nonsense quests and inventory puzzles by asking ourselves – “What will I really do if I’m trapped in this situation in real life?”

Like what? Can you share some examples?

Iris: In Death Upon An Austrian Sonata, there is a chapter where Dana was supposed to pass a note to an enemy discreetly without revealing her face. She noticed that the enemy ordered a cup of coffee and had a lightbulb moment – to slip the note under the coffee cup.

I love designing situations like these because I think they could happen in real life and hopefully by playing a lot of these, players can react more calmly and wisely to dangerous situations.

Dana goes to Portugal in this latest sequel. What made you decide on this setting and how did you make the sceneries and landscapes as authentic as possible?

Iris: The decision is a collaborative one that is made together with our Creative Director – Christopher Natsuume. As for making sure these sceneries are as authentic as possible, we refer to a lot of photos, writings from travel books, encyclopedias and maps.

Liliya: We always try to make sure that the environment and time of the year of each new part of the Dana Knightstone franchise wouldn’t be like the previous one, and the player wouldn’t be bored by monotonous locations. That’s why after the third part which was in the cold snowy mountains of Austria, we moved the action of fourth part in a warm autumn and golden vineyards of Portugal.

Our team of artists spends a lot of time and effort to look for a huge amount of references of place, where new Dana’s adventure is going to be. To look at photos and movies is our way to achieve maximum authenticity. Sometimes we specifically emphasize the most characteristic architectural details or interior stuff to make the country image more expressive.

How do you come up with the ideas for new subgames and stories? What inspires you in the development process?

Iris: I play all kinds of games to get ideas – casual, hardcore, board games and handhelds. Sometimes I watch playthrough videos of other games to get an idea of what other people enjoy. I’m also very lucky to have a fun loving 78-year-old grandma to share what we find fun.

What kind of suggestions did she have? Anything we’ve seen in the actual games?

Iris: She always gave me riddles to solve when I was young. Now as a game designer, I create riddles for her and it makes me really happy to see her laughing at some of the silly riddles and smiling at some of the well-thought-out riddles. You will spot a few of these riddles throughout the Knightstone series.

I also learn from the feedback of our players and recently I heard that our creative director’s daughter actually made a series of riddles based on the telescope riddle in Death Under Tuscan Skies. It is awesome feedback like these that inspire me to create even better puzzles and riddles!

What are you especially proud of in this sequel?

Liliya: We carefully drew the vineyards, fields and streets of Portugal. I believe the player will feel the atmosphere of this country.

Anything cool and new that you want people to know?

Iris: I’m quite happy with that we gave Dana a new enhanced paranormal ability – she is able to experience a small portion of the ghost’s living past to understand what had happened to the ghost. I think it’s a great first step to add something new and refreshing to the Knightstone series that I have not seen in other games.

Speaking of refreshing, there are always new characters in each of Dana’s adventures. Who do we meet in Cape Porto and how was the experience in creating them?

Iris: The first person we will meet is Richard Aldama – the wealthiest good looking man in Cape Porto. We had a very long discussion on whether to make him the good guy, bad guy or in between.. but I will not reveal the answer. You will have to play the game to find out! The other characters that played minor roles are fun to design too – we added a little love story between some of the characters.

Liliya: Oh, Dana is going to come face to face a serious enemy – the owner of a large winery, who isn’t  happy with Dana’s investigation of the murder of his grandfather’s first wife. But I’m sure Dana will find the real killer, even if the smug winemaker likes it or not.

What do you enjoy about the mystery novel storyline? Were there any challenges in choosing this genre?

Iris: The part I find most fun designing is what players need to do in order to gain part of a clue to solve the mystery. The biggest challenge is not in the mystery genre itself but what the Dana Knightstone franchise is all about – Dana is approached by ghosts asking for help to solve a murder mystery happened at least 100 years ago. We often struggle with the question “How did this piece of evidence last 100 years without anybody finding out or without getting destroyed by time?” It is especially difficult when the person asking for help is a ghost that can’t communicate through talking but I think in Death at Cape Porto, we’ve finally figured out a way to fight through these difficulties – Dana’s new-found ability to experience the past.

Do you have any words of wisdom for those who are aspiring to become game developers like you?

Lilya: I advise developers to always think about the interests of player – what he would want to see and what he would have fun to play. Developers should monitor the comments and reviews, correct deficiencies noted by players and of course, always look for something new to make a player impressed and surprised.

Iris: For those who wish to become a game developer, learn as much as you can from all aspects or simply said – learn what is needed to make a game eg. code, design, art, music, etc. You will have one thing that you’re really good at but in order to really contribute in the development of a game, you have to be well equipped with other knowledge. To make a game is a great team effort and to show you what the mindset of people is in a great team, here’s a quote by Samwise Gamgee from Lord of the Rings – “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you.”