By JessPlayin / March 10, 2023  

Brush Strokes of Genius:

The Making of 'Murderous Muses'

D'Avekki Studios are ready to paint us a picture-perfect supernatural murder mystery in Murderous Muses.

Tim and Lynda Cowles, the husband and wife duo who brought us the likes of The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker and The Shapeshifting Detective, are now bringing us their 4th FMV adventure. Hearkening back to genre-defining classics while bringing the medium into the future, Murderous Muses will feature a unique blend of first-person 3D gameplay interspersed with live-action video elements. But what is the game about?

Mordechai Grey, a controversial artist, was murdered a year ago. Now a new gallery exhibition containing his art is opening up on the anniversary of his death and the main attraction is six portraits of his muses... but one of them is also his killer. You're a security guard making sure the art stays safe, and that you stay safe as well, during a 3 night stay in the haunted Gallery Argenta. Use devices called the "Eye of Mordechai" to bring paintings to life to uncover the truth behind Grey's death, but you'll need to choose carefully as these devices are not infinite.

Haunting not for you? Don't worry, it's not going to be too scary. In fact D'Avekki has stated "there's no jump scares." The only scream will be Edvard Munch's. While the story tows the paranormal line and takes place during Halloween, it is a murder mystery at its heart, not a horrific one.

You'll use keyword plaques, solve puzzles, and explore rooms to track down the murderer but this is no normal one-and-done mystery. The beauty of D'Avekki's design means that...

D'Avekki has stated that this isn't a murder mystery, it's "murder mysteries." While the primary goal of finding Mordechai Grey's killer will remain the same through each playthrough, who the killer is and what the gallery will look like will change each time. This rearranging of elements allows players to focus on the clues while getting a new experience every time.

"Who did it?" and "Why did they do it?" will always be new questions for a player to answer, and one will have to use a 3-frame system to find these answers. Once you've gathered all the clues you'll have to connect the suspects to 3 frames of footage that will reveal the killer. According to D'Avekki, that means "you can solve the mystery time and time again with no spoilers." Just like a work of art you'll see more and more layers every time you view it.

Mordechai's memories are everywhere. While you won't need to solve all the puzzles, see all the areas, or play all the mini-games to crack the case, you'll want to see all the different layers of this work of art. One of the major ways you'll be able to see these layers is with your inventory system. In a dev peek video we got a chance to see how players can interact with items to unlock secret areas, achievements, and videos. These secret areas will be found in the 3 different galleries that get procedurally generated every time a player starts a new game.

This procedural generation process came about from programmers Sam Johns and Tim Cowles working extensively over several months to bring the 3D gallery to life. Early on in development all the pieces were generated wall by wall, and tile by tile, but this didn't result in the desired experience. Sam and Tim wanted it to feel ever-changing, like the rooms had a mind of their own, so D'Avekki pivoted to make the handcrafted pieces "modular to fit together with each other."

There are two separate but similar galleries — the day gallery and the night gallery. In the daytime things are "fixed and handcrafted" while during the night the rooms are "procedurally-generated using a selection of modular pieces." As the rooms shift it adds an element of uncertainty and tension to each playthrough.

The blend of 3D with full-motion video, especially with the spooky atmosphere present in Muses, will remind many gamers of the classic '90s FMV The 7th Guest which also features tactile puzzles that confuse and confound the player but are a thrill to solve. In fact, it wasn't just the 3D that has 7th Guest influences. D'Avekki mentioned that some of the voiceovers featured in the game remind them "of Stauf from The 7th Guest which definitely adds to the atmosphere." This wasn't intentional. In fact, the biggest influence on the game's production was D'Avekki's own FMV game The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker, with D'Avekki initially wanting to make a game similar in style but leaving behind the "typing questions" mechanic. Nevertheless, they believe fans of The 7th Guest will find much to like in Muses and "might feel echoes of it in some of the puzzles and gallery narration" throughout the game.

Once the environment is together you have to get all...

The puzzles are related to Grey's memories and while they won't directly help you with the crime they do provide extra fun. "We call them puzzles but some of them are more like mini-games", according to D'Avekki. "Beating them will get you keys to secret treasure rooms" which give the player extra messages, collectibles, and more. Beating puzzles provides the player with answers that will help them unravel the "overarching secrets of Mirlhaven Island." Mirlhaven Island is a fictional island in the game, but we'll discuss that more later.

A new puzzle will appear each night to the player, and they're randomized just like the main story. To improve replayability and keep players engaged, the developers designed puzzles that could be repeated and be different in each playthrough. Every experience will be excitingly new this way.

The gallery is chock full of wonders to explore but the main focus is...

The Gallery Argenta holds six portraits of six muses. As you hang these paintings up you'll learn more about this motley crew with deadly intentions. During pre-production, while casting actors to play the titular muses, D'Avekki was faced with "over 900 applicants and 150 auditions to choose from." While it was a difficult choice, they seemed to have made excellent ones. Some of these faces you'll recognize from other D'Avekki works or FMVs that we all know and love, while others are new to the world of live-action video games.

There's the undertaker with a love of dark humor Lilith Rendell, played by Aislinn De'ath. Aislinn previously played Marianna the provocateur in Doctor Dekker and the hotel manager Violet in The Shapeshifting Detective.

The criminologist and power hungry Catherine Myers will be played by Beth Gatherer. This is Beth's first FMV! But hopefully not their last.

You'll want to watch out for clockmaker Xavier Haan played by David John-Bores. David has appeared in several short films and is a voiceover artist as well.

It's double trouble as Anna Fraser plays the identical twins Sunday and Monday Finch, two doubles tennis champions with a dark past in their family. Anna is an incredibly talented film and theater actress.

Charming us will be Dominique Serrant, an out of control burlesque performer played by Bex Finch. Bex has experience in podcasting, film, and more.

And our final muse is the very quirky and interesting Otto Pipistrelle, a ventriloquist who has a misogynistic puppet named Pip. Otto is played by Rikki Stone who has starred in several eerie films, so the supernatural aspects should come easily.

These are just the muses. They will be joined by Rachel Cowles, a veteran of FMV games who will be playing young Kira. Olivia Bourne plays the gallery manager Sasha Venice, and fans of Dark Nights with Poe & Munro will be happy to see actor Klemens Koehring (Poe) as Dr. Crispin Howe. Ayvianna Snow and Will Harrison-Wallace have voiceover roles as J.A.M.I.E and Higgins, respectively, who guide you through Gallery Argenta and make sure you survive your stay. You may recognize Ayvianna's voice, as they played Millicent in Dark Nights.

And in a turn of events that surprised and delighted everyone, Rupert Booth was cast as the voice of Detective Salisbury. Booth is well known for his roles in FMVs such as Contradiction and has appeared in other D'Avekki works.

The casting process is always an interesting experience for D'Avekki and they say they are always humbled "to see a lot of the same names return for each new casting." Actors are asked to send in self-taped auditions reciting lines, usually strange ones, in a monologue fashion. D'Avekki has them recite stuff out of the ordinary because they want to make sure the performances and characterization are engaging. "We don't want players clicking away or falling asleep!"

The characters are not the only unusual suspects in the game. It has many unsettling and odd features like...

Mirlhaven Island is a fictional place off the north coast of Norfolk. D'Avekki says cryptically that "it hasn't necessarily always been there..." Most of the puzzle pieces and paintings we spoke about earlier will lead to revelations not just about Mordechai but this mysterious place as well; creating a deep sense of lore and a richness to the overall story. You may be trapped in the gallery but that doesn't mean you can't expect to have a whole world at your fingertips. Mirlhaven is simply known as the "supernatural capital of the world" and you'll quickly discover why. The player can expect "hills that undulate" and "giant fish" that fall from the sky amongst other things.


Filming during Covid required taking extra care and consideration. D'Avekki wanted to make sure that actors were provided with a safe environment to do their work and the easiest way to do that was to film entirely on location at their own D'Avekki Studios. "We returned to our roots and used our own set, as we did for Doctor Dekker" they said. They have supplemented the 3D gallery with the "majority of the filmed segments taking place in the victim's art studio."

Announced on October 5th, 2021, Muses wrapped filming officially on July 5th, 2022 and players will be able to start touring the gallery on April 12, 2023. This project was over a year-long journey filled with lots of love.

The heart of the game is completed now, although there are plans in the future to hopefully add VR. Videos, puzzles, lore, and collectibles have all been finished and set in their places. With the release date rapidly approaching we won't have to wait long, and with:

  ➤  over 680 video clips

  ➤  30 paintings of Mirlhaven lore, complete with day and night narration

  ➤  17 collectible urns and 30 character lore paintings

  ➤  shareable seeds

  ➤  plus a gamescore at the end of each playthrough!

...I think it's safe to say Murderous Muses will be worth the wait.

For more information, visit the official Murderous Muses website & check back on FMV World for our playthrough of the game when it releases.

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