Ten Questions With… Tim & Lynda Cowles (D’Avekki Studios)
We’ve been big fans of D’Avekki Studios ever since they drew us into The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker. Since then they have continued to bring some class to the FMV game genre with titles like The Shapeshifting Detective, and more recently, Dark Nights With Poe and Munro. We were fortunate enough to catch up with the husband and wife team behind these hits to find out more!
Can you give our readers a quick introduction to yourselves and the studio?
We’re a small, husband-and-wife team who have been working together as D’Avekki Studios since 2004. We’ve made lots of different tabletop games over the years but mainly we write murder mystery dinner party games (the kind where you and your friends role-play to solve a murder)! We made the move to videogames fairly recently, in 2016, though we’ve been playing them since we were kids.
What made you choose FMV as the medium for your games?
Lynda: We couldn’t have made them any other way. We played a lot of FMV games together back in the ‘90s – games like Tex Murphy and Phantasmagoria, Gabriel Knight – The Beast Within. We loved those experiences so much and always wanted to make our own. In fact, many of our early murder mystery games contained DVD video evidence, including sections where you could question a key witness using a remote control!
What are the games/media that influenced you and how?
Lynda: Contradiction and Her Story (FMV games released in 2015) both demonstrated you could make well-received FMV games without needing a load of green screen and 3D environments. That really helped convince us to make our own. Thematically, we’re influenced by shows like The X-Files, Moonlighting, Buffy and Angel, but also games such as The Wolf Among Us, Until Dawn, and even The Stanley Parable! We love so many films, TV shows and videogames – which is why FMV is a perfect fit for us.
What were the biggest challenges you faced during the development of games like The Shapeshifting Detective and Dark Nights With Poe and Munro?
Lynda: Definitely scale vs budget! As a small indie, we always have to be mindful of budget when writing and developing ideas as each scene or character adds more production time. Our actors make a tremendous effort to help us pack as much footage as possible into our film days, but compromises have to be made. It’s much quicker and easier to film direct-to-camera dialogue of Doctor Dekker and The Shapeshifting Detective than the dramatic scenes of Poe and Munro – especially ones containing lots of movement.
What type of equipment do you use for recording the audio and video for the FMV scenes?
Tim: For Dekker, we used a Panasonic GH4, for Shapeshift a GH5s, and for Poe and Munro we used the Blackmagic Pocket 4k and 6k cameras. I’ve enjoyed working with them all, but I’ve loved working with Blackmagic Raw files in post-production. For audio we use Tascam recorders and Rode mics, gimbals to stabilize shots and a selection of LED fresnels for lighting. It sounds fancy, but they’re relatively cheap, and I’m a firm believer you can shoot a great FMV game with any equipment, as long as you’ve got a good idea and the right cast.
Can you tell us more about the creation of the incredible looking chapter intros used in Dark Nights With Poe and Munro?
Lynda: We’d love to say we made them ourselves but we used stock footage of slow-motion ink in water that we tinted to match the in-game colour grades. It’s not cheating if you don’t take credit for it!
Do the actors follow a strict script or is a lot of it improv and also will we be able to see the blooper reels at some stage?
Tim: Everything on screen is scripted, which was especially important for games like Dekker with keyword activated responses. We did do some voiceover improv for Poe and Munro’s radio shows in Shapeshift, but they were very difficult to edit, and generally contained lots of laughter! We’d love to share all the bloopers and may release some in later patches, but normally we’re distracted working on the next big project.
What are the future plans for D’Avekki Studios?
Tim: We’re currently working on an FMV murder mystery game, that can be filmed remotely for 50+ actors, and also finishing the scripts for “Pocket Dreadfuls”. Aislinn De’Ath returns in a starring role for “Pocket”, which is set to be our darkest and scariest FMV yet! I’ve also been helping Jesse Cox with his FMV game, so we might end up being involved in that one too.
What is the most unusual thing on your desk right now?
Lynda: I can’t bear to take a photo of my desk – I’m just too messy 😮 Probably the most unusual thing on there is a timer because sometimes I just have to force myself to sit and focus for 20 minutes to get anything done!
Tim: My desk gets filled and reset on a regular basis, but at the moment I’d say Chibi Cthulhu. A reminder of our Lovecraftian influence, who’s leaning against my Edirol speakers, in front of a Game of Thrones coaster, next to a bank card reader (reminding me I’m supposed to do business things as well as be artistic!)
Anything else you would like to add?
Tim: I’d just like to thank everyone who has supported us and our games over the years! We are a tiny team of two, who are genuinely fueled by the love we get from fans, and we hope we’re lucky enough to keep making FMV games that people enjoy playing. <3
A huge thank you to Tim and Lynda from our side for taking the time to answer our questions! Be sure to continue supporting their games and follow them on social media to stay up to date on what they are up to.