In the world of video games, Deadly Premonition is something of a cult classic.
Divisive on its release back in 2010, the episodic murder mystery sees players step into the shoes of FBI agent Francis York Morgan as he investigates the Raincoat Killer, a murderer roaming Greenvale, a leafy town inhabited by a wealth of strange characters. The game went on to amass a loyal following, and a Director’s Cut edition landed on PS3 back in 2013.
Fans of the game were able to return to Greenvale earlier this year, when publisher Rising Star Games launched Deadly Premonition: The Board Game on Kickstarter. Eight hours into the campaign being live and the project had hit its goal of $50,000. 30 days later, it finished its run with over $148,511 thanks to 2,440 backers.
For the creators of the game, Samuel Elphick and Daniel Perez, this is all new terrain. Both work within the marketing department at Rising Star Games and are huge tabletop fans, but Deadly Premonition marks the duo’s first foray into board game design, and it looks like it won’t be the last.
We caught up with the pair to unpick the development process behind Deadly Premonition: The Board Game and find out how they ensured the game would be enjoyed by both fans of the video game and players new to the world of Greenvale.
Where did the concept for Deadly Premonition: The Board Game come from?
The idea to create a board game for Deadly Premonition came about in early 2015 from a desire to continue making content for that world.
Deadly Premonition holds a special place in our hearts as one of the most original and memorable experiences in video games. After a year had gone by since the Steam version was released, we were beginning to miss York. And so, we rallied the team together, pooled our talents and set ourselves the challenge of building a board game!
It was proposed to Swery, director of the original video game, who was excited by the notion, offering his blessings and support.
Can you give us an insight into its development process?
When we first sat down to create Deadly Premonition: The Board Game, we looked at what makes Deadly Premonition tick and built a framework around these key ingredients. The pillars we identified were originality, the vast array of weird and wonderful characters, unpredictable plot and, of course the detective theme underlining a pursuit of an active killer. Bringing all these elements into a board game felt like an overwhelming task. We separated them out and tackled it head on.
Originality was important to uphold. We often see when video games and movies expand into board games that they take a popular mechanic and rebrand it for the purpose of creating a product quickly. We were adamant that we did not want to take this route, but instead formulate an experience that was bespoke to Deadly Premonition based on the merits of Swery’s creation.
The characters of Deadly Premonition, both agents and townsfolk, served as the foundation to our prototype. Having a host of detailed and varied personalities that we all know and love was a tremendous starting point. This is where we came up with the role-play element that each player is one of the agents or police deputies and they are sitting at the table discussing the residents of the Greenvale laid out before them.
Next we went about defining how these characters interacted. ‘Profiling’ is a core mechanic in the original Deadly Premonition where the protagonist, Agent Francis York Morgan, uses almost supernatural detective skills to piece together the unfolding of events based on the evidence he uncovers at the scene of the crime. It made sense to recreate this mechanic with cards where evidence is drawn from a deck and used to create a story involving your suspects.
“HAVING WORKED IN VIDEO GAMES PUBLISHING FOR MANY YEARS, WE’VE BEEN CLOSE TO DEVELOPERS DESIGNING GAME MECHANICS AND SYSTEMS, HOWEVER WE HAD NEVER BEEN FACED WITH THE CHALLENGE OF DOING IT OURSELVES. THE PROCESS OF CREATING OUR OWN BOARD GAME FINALLY PUT THE RESPONSIBILITY IN OUR HANDS AND IT HAS BEEN HUGELY ENJOYABLE AND SATISFYING.”
SAMUEL ELPHICK AND DANIEL PEREZ, RISING STAR GAMES
Finally the unpredictable plot and ‘murderer on the loose’ drove our killer mechanic. Initially, the goal was to be the first to prove all your suspects innocent. While the interaction mechanics were solid, we wanted to find a more climactic way to conclude the game. Bringing in the hidden player identity was a big injection of strategy, narrative and depth into the game. At the start of a round, each player draws a card which privately indicates whether they are an agent or the hidden killer. Agents win by outing the killer, and the killer wins by remaining in the game until a certain number of suspects are murdered. Instantly this creates distrust between players, a trend of conflict and a reason to analyse everyone’s actions and choices. It also allowed us to easily control the pace of the game by dictating how many suspects would be murdered in order for the killer achieve their win condition.
In addition, we built in an effective way to manage player removal in the game. If an agent is eliminated, their suspects are unprotected and more susceptible to being killed which drastically speeds up the game. This avoids the situation of someone being excluded from a game for too long while their friends play the night away without them.
Of course, the cloaked murderer is inspired by the events of the videogame, but we shan’t go into anymore detail than that for those who haven’t played!
We were set on making the game a ‘versus’ experience, which is certainly a new element for Deadly Premonition. We wanted to achieve consistent interaction between each of the players and also a game that would have a lot of replayability instead of a one-off set piece.
Why opt to use Kickstarter for the launch of the game?
Kickstarting the project felt like a very natural decision for us. While we have worked in video games for many years, board games were a new venture for us. Regardless of the countless hours and love that we invested into building the game, we still needed the vote of confidence from the community that we were capable of putting together a successful tabletop experience. Kickstarter allowed us to begin this journey into new territory while keeping the company’s focus and monetary investments in our passion of publishing video games.
More importantly, it gave us a platform from which we can receive feedback from fans of both Deadly Premonition and board games alike. Having concluded the campaign, we are extremely glad we chose Kickstarter as there have been tangible changes and improvements made to the final product based on the feedback and suggestions of avid backers contributed in the comments section.
Do you guys play many board games and did any titles inspire elements of Deadly Premonition: The Board Game?
We do indeed. Sharing a Friday night around a tabletop game with friends is far more common to us than a night on the town! The core mechanics of manipulating a collection of characters into a certain state while influencing others player boards and judging their actions wasn’t something that we had seen in other board games. To us it’s a new blend – however we’re sure someone will be able to point us to comparable games in the wider realms of tabletopia!
Of course, from the titles we play with friends, we identified the elements we enjoy most and made sure these featured prominently in our design. To highlight a few: regular and direct player interaction, creative strategies and card combinations, comeback potential, a developing ‘narrative’, clinching climaxes and a *small* sprinkling of RNG just to rock the boat from time to time. The games we most often play which inspired these elements are Citadels, Bang!, The Resistance, Love Letter and also the digital card game Hearthstone.
Was it important to enable the game to be a success with players that are not familiar with the video game?
Absolutely. From day one we decided that we wanted to build a game for both board game and Deadly Premonition fans instead of just the overlapping community. In turn, this would define how we went on to create and refine the game. The mechanics had to be quick to pick up, yet allow depth for higher levels of play. The information on the board had to be detailed and intricate, yet logical to follow without the need for bags of counters and stats sheets (or aspirin).
While the mechanics are inspired by the video game and the characters are plucked straight out of Greenvale, the board game focuses on a premise everyone should be familiar with. A murder has occurred and investigators are uncovering evidence in order to pursue a killer.
Any fan of the videogame will have a wonderful time uncovering the Deadly Premonition theme that runs throughout the tabletop experience. In addition to the buckets of references and the incredible, reimagined artwork of the characters and locations (by Fran Fdez), you finally get to play the part of either York or one of the deputies in a battle of wits over the townsfolk of Greenvale. The mystery and pursuit of an active killer amongst you is something we are most proud of being able to emulate.
For board game enthusiasts, we hope to have created something that is enjoyed far and wide on its own merit. We’ve hopefully brought something new to the table in the form of a hybrid that mixes compelling and strategic card play with a hidden identity mechanic that influences the way people play and interact with one another.
This is your first time designing a board game – have you been bitten by the bug? Have you got any other board games in the pipeline?
Designing our own board game has been one of the most fantastic opportunities we’ve ever had. Having worked in video games publishing for many years, we’ve been close to developers designing game mechanics and systems, however we had never been faced with the challenge of doing it ourselves. The process of creating our own board game finally put the responsibility in our hands, and our passion to the test. It has been hugely enjoyable and satisfying. The opportunity to work with the beloved IP of Deadly Premonition has given us an awesome platform to build from and a ton of community support which we couldn’t have got this far without.
Given the success of Deadly Premonition: The Board Game and the joy of working on such a project, we’d like to think there is more to come. Someone in the Kickstarter comments suggested a game where players have to outrun the Raincoat Killer in a chase sequence. We would absolutely love to create such a game since having the wonderful idea of calling it Homicidal Pursuit! But for now we are focusing on getting Deadly Premonition: The Board Game to our wonderful backers.
We’d like to thank our team here at Rising Star Games who supported this project from its conceptual beginnings. We spent over two years working on the design of the game which is a long time! This gradual and iterative approach toward designing the game allowed us to deeply consider and debate each and every aspect in great detail.
Entire afternoons were lost to heated discussions and disagreements of the minutest of detail between the two of us. The resolution of these years of cooperative building has produced something we’re very proud of and we’re thankful that we were able to take that time to do so.
Huge thanks to the fans and backers who have made this possible. For those who want to join us, we do have late backer options available for a short time!
And thank you Mojo Nation for this opportunity to talk about our game.