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$271 pledged of $5,000 goal
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By Corwin Brence
$271 pledged of $5,000 goal
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About this project

DOWNLOAD the entire first case of From Sloth to Sleuth! (Notice: Contains placeholder artwork and sound effects and does NOT reflect a finished product.)

POST #1771 - SUBJECT: PRIVATE EYE FOR HIRE
I am a local sleuth looking to flex my investigative muscle. Bring me a challenge! Prices negotiable. Call (***) ***-**** for more information.
-Crowley

There. That's probably good enough to get the point across. As I mentally pat myself on the back, I refresh the message listing to find that there are already a number of replies.

== What? What kind of private eye posts a want ad on a university BBS? -CQ

== One without enough money to put one in a newspaper, evidently! -MM

== Hey, think you could figure out where my Twinkies keep disappearing to? -DT

== PI's are old hat! The FBI dramas are where it at! -PA

== Leave it to the cops, man, that's what we're paying taxes for. -Asteroids
P.S. I couldn't think of a clever name, so I just stole one from my favorite arcade machine.

== @Asteroids, why not just use your initials like the rest of us? -MM

== Because the cops might find me, dude, they read these posts! They know who you are! -Asteroids

== Then why are you posting on a BBS? They can trace your phone lines! -MM

== AAAAAAUGH! Get me off of here! -Asteroids (EOF)

The public obviously doesn't get it. Maybe the digital age isn't ready for a sleuth.

(from Case 1: "A Mask and a Mood Swing")

About "From Sloth to Sleuth"

From Sloth to Sleuth: The Chatbox Shamus is a detective-themed visual novel, set in the mid-1980's on an ersatz West Coast US. It follows Bastion Crowley, a 25-year-old high school graduate and failed college student, as he takes up amateur investigation to pay the bills, advertising himself on a local BBS as "The Chatbox Shamus."

My goal here is not just to write a convincing mystery full of intrigue and the usual noir trappings, it is to do so while providing a cast of characters that you will actually care about. The detective is not a shell for the player; he is his own character with his own agendas, biases, and thought processes, that the reader will be clued into through the text.

One of my backdrop photos used in the game. From Sloth to Sleuth's backdrop photos will be entirely monochromatic and high-contrast, to emphasize the lighting and characterize the "film noir" feel that I aim to mimic.
One of my backdrop photos used in the game. From Sloth to Sleuth's backdrop photos will be entirely monochromatic and high-contrast, to emphasize the lighting and characterize the "film noir" feel that I aim to mimic.

Who's in it? TCS's planned five cases involve quite an array of unique people, but here are some of the recurring cast members and a little bit about them.

Bastion "Bass" Crowley
"That's 'bass' as in the fish. I swear, I spent all of high school trying to shake that stupid nickname."
Our protagonist (most of the time); Bastion was born a few years before the beginning of the Vietnam War, to which he lost his father. Since then, he grew up with a high respect of his father's military career, but mostly spent his school years watching Hitchcock and reading Hammett and Chandler. He never managed to get accepted into the local college, and spent the early portion of his twenties doing odd jobs and barely keeping on top of his rent. Somehow, though, he managed to scrape together enough money to purchase a Radio Shack TRS-80 home computer (already some years out of date by the time this story takes place) and a modem, which he uses to connect to the bulletin board of the college he failed to attend.

Antonia "Ruby" Travaglia
"Bastion, you dumbass! I spent two hours out here yesterday waiting for you to wake up, and you were already gone!"
Born to an Italian mother and an absentee father of dubious origin, Ruby works at the Pacific Daily News office as the editor of the police-blotter section. She has known Bastion since high school, even though she has not seen him since going away to college up-state. She is quick to anger and possesses quite a foul mouth, but she can show compassion when it counts, and is often more helpful to Bastion's investigations than either of them really want to admit. Despite the friendship, Ruby and Bastion reject the idea of a romantic relationship between them, as both of them realize that it would never work out. That said, though, Ruby does have some feelings for Bastion, though she would never confess to it.

Irma
"The cheese is fresh today, hon, it came from that farm down the freeway. Y'know, their cows are the only herd left in the state that don't have tracking devices on 'em?"The owner and operator (and most of the time, sole employee) of Irma's Diner, a holdover from the 1950's in more ways than one. Although Irma cooks a mean grilled cheese with bacon, it's really her dinner theater (i.e. constant rambling about conspiracy theories) that keeps her customers coming back. She doesn't quite realize that she has become the butt of a few jokes, but her heart is at least in the right place, which is more than can be said for her understanding of social cues. Bastion is a frequent patron of her diner; neither he nor she can quite figure out why Ruby doesn't enjoy the diner.

Albert Cervantes"You know work starts at seven, right? The chief doesn't like it when his people are tardy."Ruby's arch-nemesis and the editor of the Pacific Daily News obituary column, Albert represents all that is wrong and unjust in the world of office ethics. Albert constantly defers his work to other employees in other departments, in addition to demanding that his co-workers fetch his coffee. He is especially harsh towards Ruby, who is the only Daily employee to ever actively resist his domineering personality. As Albert is the only qualified obituary writer in the Pacific Southeast, he is practically impossible to fire, a fact that he becomes increasingly aware of as the story stretches on. Although Bastion's primary career is investigation, Ruby "hires" him to observe and keep logs of all of Albert's behavior toward her.

Detective Greg Standish"Alright...you there, state your business. I got a nap to get back to."Since becoming a police detective, Standish has been relegated to the most boring desk in the entire department: Missing Persons. He is all too content to spend his on-duty time sleeping or working on crosswords in his office, until Bastion practically solves one of his cases for him. From that point on, Standish becomes a vital contact to Bastion, who does not always have the needed authority to order searches or seizures. That said, Standish's job is dead-end in more ways than one; there are avenues that even he cannot hope to enter, and he tends to be a victim of bureaucracy and red tape within his precinct. He does, however, possess a reasonable knowledge of most of the Pacific Southeast's defense lawyers, which Bastion finds useful on more than a few occasions.

What's a "Visual Novel"? The visual novel as a genre has been around for many years, but has only recently began to surface outside of Japan. Visual Novels are only "games" in a technical sense; they are stories accompanied by pictures, sound effects, animations, music, and generally have occasional plot branches where the player may choose from a handful of options that may affect how the story progresses. Examples of visual novels that have become popular in the West include Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Hotel Dusk: Room 215, and Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward. While these three examples have other elements on top of the story, such as puzzle solving and exploration elements, I feel nothing is more frustrating than having a game's story come to a complete stand-still because of one puzzle. From Sloth to Sleuth will focus entirely on the story, as a result.

Why the 1980's? I chose this decade for two major reasons. Firstly, because I want to pay tribute to the 80's in a way that does not involve mocking them, but also because things like cell phones and the internet were only just beginning to exist as of 1984, and I feel that there could be a good detective story to be told from the POV of an investigator who does not live in a world where one can access information at the tip of one's fingers. Less digital, more character.

Bastion considers how to approach his client. (Development version; placeholder artwork)
Bastion considers how to approach his client. (Development version; placeholder artwork)

What Is Already Done

I already have a considerable amount of the project written and coded in Ren'py, a free, open-source platform for writing visual novels using a simplified Python-based language. Two cases are already "finished" (pending spit-and-polish, naturally), with a third in progress, and two others planned. I've placed the first case (sans artwork, music, and other luxuries - see below for why) for download at the link above.

What To Expect

I'm only one person, and I am not a jack-of-all-trades. My strengths primarily lie in writing and the little coding experience necessary to work in Ren'py. So while the finished product will certainly not look as professional as, say, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, I suppose you would at least enjoy reading it through.

Since Ren'py is inherently cross-platform, I can make the game available for Windows and Linux systems. Ren'py should also run on Intel-powered Macintosh computers, but as I do not own one myself, some testing may be required to make sure it will run for everybody. There is also potential for an Android version, thanks to developments within the Ren'py community.

I do not plan on making multiple story pathways or multiple endings. The ultimate goal of this project is to make a visual novel of five generally linear cases, with some choice paths for flavor. Each case is essentially a self-contained story, though there are a handful of recurring characters and an overarching continuity between them.

To characterize the "amateur" nature of the protagonist, characters will appear as sketches on sticky notes. (programmer-art, not final)
To characterize the "amateur" nature of the protagonist, characters will appear as sketches on sticky notes. (programmer-art, not final)

Where Your Money Goes

I am a college student, not a big businessman, so I am not demanding a lot of money for this. Unfortunately, even a small game like this will not make itself for free, but a majority of the funding will not just go into my pockets and pay for my food. The funding goal I've set for this Kickstarter will primarily go towards my hiring of a character artist to give my cast of characters some much-needed visual presence, because try as I might, I am not exactly cut out to draw an entire cast of characters with varying facial expressions and poses (see the "programmer art" above). Artists don't tend to work for free, either, so your money will be used to pay for art commissions. From Sloth to Sleuth has a large cast of unique characters, all of which will at some point need to have screen time, and this many characters will need lots of artwork. All those commissions add up.

Of course, a visual novel with no audio would not have a lot of substance to it. Not a lot of players are willing to sit and read in utter silence, and I do not blame them, so your funding will also go towards hiring a music composer to give the project some interesting tunes to follow along with the action.

While it is likely too early for me to be considering stretch goals for a project as tiny as this, I suppose no Kickstarter would be complete without a few. If contributions are high enough, I will consider the addition of character voices to accompany in-game dialogue.

A colorful character, despite having not even received placeholder artwork yet.
A colorful character, despite having not even received placeholder artwork yet.

How It Will Be Distributed

My plan is to use the classic Apogee shareware model for distribution. The first case, "A Mask and a Mood Swing," is distributed for free (by the way, that download link at the top isn't just for show, you can play the whole first case right now, if you don't mind it missing artwork and music). Purchasing the game will unlock the other four chapters.

I do not believe in DRM, online authentication, or meaningless registration key checks, so your copy of the game will always be yours. While I don't anticipate my product will get popular enough to have much of a presence in the warez scene, I don't intend on doing anything to stop it being distributed through those channels, because I don't want to be "that guy." Any popularity at all is just fine by me.

It is an undeniable fact that games like McPixel, Anodyne, and Game Dev Tycoon have already reported unexpectedly high amounts of success from the "pirate sector." While it may seem unorthodox, I intend to take advantage of "pirate style" publicity.

What You'll Get As A Backer

I feel that a big part of pledging to back a Kickstarter project is the feeling that you're a part of the game's development. As far as that goes, I'll post occasional updates about my development process, from little snapshots of what I've done to the game, to occasional insights into how I do things. I might even ask for feedback from backers, so bear in mind that you're not just providing my development budget, you'll also be involved - however much - in the actual creation of the game. This obviously goes double for those who pledge to a higher tier and actually wish to be in the game in some form or another (see the tier list for more information).

When It Will Be Finished...Maybe

Having never worked on a project quite like this before, I have no idea how long to expect it to take. Completeness is hard to quantify with this sort of thing, and while I feel I have two cases "done", I could at any time go back and work on them some more. The game will never be truly "finished" in my eyes. There will always be more to do. Therefore, a release date is very difficult to consider; I am tentatively aiming at a 2015 release, but I cannot make any promises about delivering it exactly on time, or even anywhere near it. Remember, this is a one-man project, artist and musician notwithstanding.

Risks and challenges

This project is not run by a game company or even a development team. It is literally just me. The only experience I have with projects like this is from making Doom mods and MegaZeux games; while Ren'py is an easy platform to work with, I expect to run into many technical hurdles as I come to grips with how the language works.

Unfortunately, since this is not my job, I will have to also make time to work on it along with the rest of my life. I do not expect to make enough money from this project to fully support myself. Remember, your contribution primarily goes towards the artist and musician, not me, so your money will not necessarily go towards making sure I can spend my full time on the game.

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    Pledge $1 or more About $1.00

    "All I've Got" Tier - Demonstrate your good intentions as a stark contrast to wealth. Backers who pledge at least a dollar get their name in the credits under "Modest Contributors" and will see all of my Backers-Only updates.

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    "A Modest Sum" Tier - Contribute more money to this little project than your average iOS app, and get your name in the credits as a backer under "Slightly Less Modest Contributors" as well as getting a digital copy of the soundtrack on whatever format it ends up being in. Oh, by the way, this and all other tiers also get the backers-only updates.

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    Pledge $10 or more About $10

    "Maybe a Bit More" Tier - Your name goes in the credits under "Slightly More Significant Contributors", you get a digital-download copy of the full game (DRM free) when it's done, and the soundtrack as well. (Note: $10 is pretty much what I hope to charge for the game, though it may be subject to change, given market trends and all.)

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    Pledge $20 or more About $20

    "Double Duty" Tier - Contributors who pledge twice as much as the game costs will get in the credits as "Very Significant Contributors" and will get the game, the soundtrack, and maybe I'll see about getting you some physical media for the game (also DRM free), in a jewelcase with a nice cover art or something.

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    Pledge $50 or more About $50

    "Pay Bastion's Rent For A Week" Tier - Contributors who pledge this much will be in the credits under "Contributors, Their Wallets Runneth Over" and will get all previous rewards, and I'll also see about getting you a physical copy of the game in a good box with some print copies of some of my working documents and other behind-the-scenes stuff. I will also place your name somewhere in the game text (at my discretion, though you may submit me any name you like as long as it sounds like an actual person's name).

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    Pledge $100 or more About $100

    "Awesome" Tier - For pledging this much, you get to be in the credits under the "Philanthropic Contributors" section, and will get all previous rewards, plus I will insert you into the game for a bit part with at least one spoken line (again, at my discretion). Note if you select this tier, I will need photographs of you; some artistic liberty may be taken to make you fit more readily into the period.

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    Pledge $200 or more About $200

    "More Than Bastion Makes In A Month" Tier - This tier places you in the credits under "Heavy Contributors" and gets you all previous rewards, plus you will be inserted into the game as a minor yet significant character (I will still be handling all the writing, but your name and likeness will be used) with spoken dialogue and some actual bearing on the case.

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Funding period

- (60 days)