Friday, January 17, 2014

Kickstarter Alert - Chatbox Shamus: From Sloth to Sleuth

It's been a long time coming, but I've finally elected to go live with the Kickstarter campaign for my visual novel, The Chatbox Shamus: From Sloth to Sleuth. TCS is a detective mystery set in 1984 that follows 25-year-old Bastion Crowley, a failed college student who runs his amateur investigation service from a university BBS. He investigates everything from insurance fraud, to kidnapping, to drug distribution, and eventually even organized crime. Not all of it goes as well as expected, given Bastion's amateur nature.

For those who want something tangible to show that this is not just me blowing smoke, you can download Case 1 here, though it is missing character artwork and music. If you would prefer to get more information first, read on.

While TCS shoots for the style of a traditional film noir (monochromatic backgrounds, general moral ambiguity), it's not all dark and depressing. I've aimed for more of a deadpan humorous style throughout the story. It's not madcap zany like a Phoenix Wright game, but it's not dead serious like an episode of Perry Mason, either. Even though Bastion has spent a large chunk of his own life absorbing detective mysteries from books and movies alike, he really isn't as professional as he thinks he is.

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though, he managed to scrape together enough money to purchase a Radio Shack TRS-80 home computer (already some years out of date by the time this story takes place) and a modem, which he uses to connect to the bulletin board of the college he failed to attend.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.

"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
" 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.

The art style primarily consists of greyscale photo backdrops, though I plan for all characters to be represented on screen by sticky notes with portraits sketched on them. The above example is my crude attempt at it.

TCS's development has been progressing nicely; I currently have two cases finished with a third about half-done, and a further two planned. My major obstacles, however, are art and music, which is why I have set up a Kickstarter campaign. My funding goal is only $5,000 USD, but this will go entirely towards the hiring of a character artist and a musician to give the game the style it needs. Again, here is a link to the Kickstarter pitch, and if you'd rather play the first case beforehand, here is a link to that as well. I look forward to any feedback and suggestions.

Yours sincerely,
Corwin "wildweasel" Brence

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