When the Shutter Stops might be niche, but it’s a niche certain players (e.g., me) are hungry for. It’s not that Remort Studios—that is, Katrina and Ian “Nai” Glidewell—are seizing on the popularity of visual novels with elements of romance and mystery are having right now. No, they love it every bit as much as players do.
“For me, the draw to visual novels is intense,” says programmer Nai in an email. “Maybe I’m being dramatic, but I knew what I wanted to do with my life before I even knew the name for them.”
Glidewell came to love video game storytelling through multi-user dungeon games, or MUDs. A sort of text-based MMORPG, MUDs introduced Glidewell to the joy of technological storytelling and programming.
Though When the Shutter Stops is Remort’s first game as a studio, it’s far from the first game that Glidewell has worked on. In fact, it’s his experience working on other games that convinced him to do his own thing.
“I was frustrated with games,” Glidewell says. “Many of those that I worked on prior to getting into visual novels had vapid, next to non-existent stories that left me feeling empty for having worked on them. I wanted something with more substance, but I couldn’t quite figure out what it was.”
When the Shutter Stops, a visual novel with point-and-click elements, is precisely that. In this game, currently on Kickstarter, players take on the role of Priscilla Vate, a young private detective who got her start as a child prodigy in the field of private investigation.
“She’s what those child detectives of you might see in cartoons eventually turn into, except she didn’t stop because she was bored, or ran out of good to do,” Glidewell says. “She stopped because, like you might suspect would happen in the real world, she got too close to someone who wasn’t above hurting a kid.”
When the Shutter StopsREMORT STUDIOS
Players can see some of this in the demo that’s available now, which follows the beginnings of a case Pri worked as a kid. Not only is she solving a mystery, but she’s also dodging the expectations of adults, who either want to protect her or destroy her. These are themes echoed all throughout the game, as the full version will feature Pri mostly as an adult, exploring how growing up in such a difficult environment impacts her as she enters adulthood.
“The main driving force behind her starting as a child and growing into an adult is because the story is really about surviving abuse and trauma as a child and dealing with it as an adult,” says Glidewell.
This fits together neatly with the game’s genres. Mystery is obvious, but the specific noir subgenre is also hugely present, and not just in Pri’s genre-appropriate trench coat and hat. Classic noir is a pessimistic genre, typically focused on the cynicism of post-World War II America, and particularly the perceived threats to the era’s ideas of masculinity. By centering a female detective instead, When the Shutter Stops is already thwarting expectations, but it’s done in a way that calls to mind the features that make noir such a captivating genre.
“The things that make noir detectives so dramatic and thrilling are things that, in a child, would make them rowdy and defiant,” Glidewell says. “A smart mouthed, ill-mannered kid fills the wisecracking gumshoes, while the despondent child that’s struggling with (avoiding, in Pri’s case) the foster care system fills the role of the world weary, jaded PI. And as far as tragedy goes, the noir hero’s story usually ends in tragedy, but it’s the beginning and much of the in-between for Priscilla.”
But the game isn’t just committed to showing Pri’s lows. A game about tragedy and trauma could slip into dourness, but Remort balances the darkness with humor and romance. Pri’s hardly a shrinking violet, and her forthright personality makes her a pleasant spin on some visual novel protagonists, as well as cementing her within the noir genre. But romance won’t be a requirement, and players can enjoy the story without courting any of the characters.
Hints are available, but the game isn’t intended to be difficult.REMORT STUDIOS
Blending visual novels and mystery can also present a bit of a challenge. Mystery games are notoriously difficult to get right, as solutions often end up feeling too simple (especially in AAA games, where a “detective sense” can be more or less required, but can also reveal too much) or too difficult (as a hintless system may force players online to search for walkthroughs). Visual novels vary in difficulty, but aren’t usually focused on challenging players in exactly the same way as other genres; to strike that balance, Remort Studios doesn’t intend for the game to be difficult, but does task players with keeping an eye out for clues, just as a real detective would.
“It’s not going to be terribly hard to advance the plot,” Glidewell says. “I personally believe the most challenging parts for players is learning how to spot things that are missing that should be present.”
This manifests as point-and-click mechanics that aren’t necessarily guided by glowing clues, nor do the scenes feature a bunch of meaningless objects you’re expected to combine for some unknowable purpose. Hints are available if you need them, but Pri’s detective vision isn’t required to solve cases.
With this being Remort Studios’ first game, they’re banking on When the Shutter Stops‘ genuine charm and originality to help them fund their Kickstarter with a modest goal of $10,000. The demo, available for free, is a legitimately good time, showcasing the fun of playing a precocious kid detective in a sequence that will occur later in the full game. Its humor and heart come through in the writing and Disney-esque artwork, with some gritty themes to balance everything out. It’s clear the studio has a unique vision, one that they hope will connect with enough backers to fund the game. But even if it doesn’t work out, that won’t be the end of the studio.
“In the event that our Kickstarter does fail this round of funding, and we’ve accepted the possibility that it will, we don’t intend to stop making visual novels,” Glidewell says. “We’ll just keep trying to make better ones.”
– By Melissa Brinks