Filipe Duarte Pina

Nerd Monkeys

Posted by Hamza Ansari, Philip Jong.
First posted on 14 March 2014. Last updated on 16 September 2014.
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Filipe Duarte Pina
Filipe Duarte Pina and Diogo Vasconcelos (right to left) are the cofounders of Nerd Monkeys, developer of Detective Case and Clown Bot in Murder in the Hotel Lisbon.

The author wishes to acknowledge Diogo Vasconcelos, Nerd Monkeys, for his assistance.

For more information, visit Nerd Monkeys.

A game designer, artist, and animator, Filipe Duarte Pina is a veteran in the video games industry. Before cofounding Nerd Monkeys in 2013, he cofounded Seed Studios in 2006 that was among the first video game development companies to emerge in Portugal. At Seed Studios, Pina had led the development of a number of casual and indie games on the console platforms, including ToyShop Tycoon for the Nintendo DS and Under Siege for the Sony PlayStation 3.

With cofounder Diogo Vasconcelos, Pina seeks to establish Nerd Monkeys as a bona fide adventure game developer. Detective Case and Clown Bot in Murder in the Hotel Lisbon, the company's first game, confirms Pina's ambition and provides a glimpse of what is to expect from the nascent developer.

We are privileged to have an opportunity to interview Filipe Duarte Pina. In the interview, Pina reveals the inspiration behind Detective Case and Clown Bot, which adventure games of yesteryear are his favorites, what kinds of puzzles can adventure game fans expect from his new game, and what the future holds for him and his company.

How did Nerd Monkeys come to be? What inspired you to venture out on your own as indie game developers?

Well. First, it should be noted that for me, before Nerd Monkeys, there was Seed Studios. I closed that company in 2012 and worked on different things before approaching Diogo in March 2013 for the creation of a new company. My inspiration was simple: I wanted to continue creating games and for that I needed a partner, a guy I could believe in and he in return would believe in me. Diogo was the only choice for me to present this project.

What are your favorite adventure games of yesteryear? Why?

The Secret of Monkey Island and Shenmue are always up there as the two type of adventures that struck a chord with me. With Guybrush there was this insanity and crazy story going on that felt just right. You could be stuck on some puzzle or wandering around trying to find something that you would always have fun doing it and this type of "fun" was something that did not happen that often with other adventure games. I did not own a computer at the time, but a Mega Drive, so my playthroughs were done at friends house's and other places but the joy of playing that game was so big that it stuck with me for all these years. Later Ryu in Shenmue did the same but on another level. A serious game that was not afraid to try and be really serious, with extreme details of things that did not matter for gameplay but conveyed that extra sense of believability and real time. You wanted to meet someone? You waited for them. The NPCs felt a bit more real because they also had their own little lives and could not be bothered all the time.

Detective Case and Clown Bot in Murder in the Hotel Lisbon is Nerd Monkeys' first project. What past experience in game development are you been able to leverage for this project?

I have been making videogames now for 15 years, 8 of those professionally. I have produced, directed, written modeled, textured, animated, painted and among other things even used my own voice as sound effects for a 2005 silly PC game. Experience to actually produce a game was not a problem, but I had never made an adventure game before, and not with this amount of text (around 50,000 words). So I pulled experience from my comic books writing chops to pen the script for the game. It was a very hard to try and be consistent for every character while still being able to try to be funny and unique. I think I managed something really interesting since I had the pleasure of witnessing testers playing it first hand and watch them literally laughing out loud at some of the stupid things I wrote.

What inspired you to create the game?

After developing Under Siege for the PS3 for 3 years, I wanted to do something that was funny and silly--something with heart and filled with characters. I wanted to make the first real adventure game made in Portugal that showed our community over here that these types of games are still wanted by people and they don't need to be these over the top experiences with lots of action sequences and serious subjects.

When I was a kid, I saw on TV the short lived Police Squad series with Leslie Nielson. That was it. It changed me. My type of humor and jokes was never the same after that. And more than 20 years later watching those 6 episodes still makes me laugh. It is stupid, simple, funny and intelligent. I wanted that in my game. So, in short, thank you, Leslie Nielson.

To what extent was the game originally conceived as part of a running episodic series?

It is not episodic, but rather upgradable. From the start we wanted to make sure that, after buying our game, you would have access to more cases for Case and Bot. Be it free or paid we were not sure but it had to be made. We included in the design the possibility of inviting famous Portuguese writers to come in and craft a case for our duo to solve. And we managed to do it. Right now we have 2 famous guys writing 2 episodes that will be on sale this year. We also have a big update coming that will include 2 new side-quests and lots of other stuff. Fans who paid for our game deserve to be treated right, so getting the free side-quests is important. But getting new ideas and stories made by professional writers is also key to expanding on the universe of Case and Bot so that's why they will be paid DLC.

The game's art style is decidedly retro. To what extent does it pay homage to the classic era of adventure games?

It pays total respect. I decided early on that the resolution had to be the same has the famous 80's micro computer Sinclair ZX Spectrum. So the game native resolution is 256x192 (also the same for each of the Nintendo DS screens). This is because the machine was extremely famous here in Portugal, Spain and UK. It marked a generation of developers that would go on to create famous games later in the 90's. Unfortunately this resolution created a few problems such as text readability so we had to cheat a little and in the final build the text is actually double the resolution of the art.

But I would also like to point out the counterpoint that exists with the music. Back then it was impossible to have full orchestral music, which we have. The idea was to make sure that you were playing a game with an old visual style but also up to date and with a soundtrack that would help you get transported back to that era.

How long was the game in development? How different was the development process when compared to your previous projects?

Pre-production was from April to May and production from June to October. We launched on the 5th of December. So the total time would be of 8 months, 6 months if you don't count pre-production time.

The process was very different from past projects. Since this was an adventure game, the story had to be king. But although it was the most important thing, it changed and moved according to outside ideas like the characters design, the way the environments flowed together from one to the other, and also the general pace of the game. Sometimes a long explanation is too boring and a quick joke about nobody wanting to hear a boring explanation is better than the explanation itself. Or if a character like Garcia has a stick in his hand all the time, maybe referencing that or even making an entire side-quest based on that is more interesting. Speaking of which, the side-quests were written only near the end of production. This allowed me to first make sure the main story was solid and only then focus on the secondary characters to let the player learn a bit more about them through these silly quests. They were also placed in a way that, if you are lost or tired of the main storyline, you can start a side-quest to just have bit of extra fun while you try get back to it.

The game was created using GameMaker: Studio. What led to the decision to use a third-party development tool for the game? Why did you choose GameMaker: Studio over other free or open source development tools such as Adventure Game Studio?

We were searching for a tool that would allows to quickly prototype and create the world for Detective Case as well as making sure that we could port the game over to other platforms later in an easy way. Game Maker was the right tool for the job: a simple way to create games but at the same time with enough freedom to go in and code ourselves if we need anything extra.

Who are Detective Case and Clown Bot? What literary characters from classic crime or detective fiction, if any, are these characters based on?

Detective Case is loosely based on Dick Tracy. I wanted the old type of private investigator with the raincoat and cigarette but with a twist. So even in the game design when I still didn't have a design for Case, some pics of Tracy were used. As for Bot, Clank from the Ratchet and Clank PS2 games was the inspiration. I needed a counterpoint to the brutal and stupid Case with a nice smooth and friendly small guy who could also act as a carrier for all the items and tools. As an added bonus Bot is also a robot, which means he knows more than what he is supposed to which was perfect for the meta jokes about being inside a videogame and other crazy stuff.

Without spoilers, what is the creepy secret residing in Hotel Lisbon? What is the inspiration behind this mystery?

Creepy secret? It is not creepy and it is not a secret :) The premise of the game is that a man committed suicide with 14 stabs to the back while drinking coffee. That is perfectly normal in the world of Case and Bot. As for the Hotel Lisbon itself, I wanted to make sure that the title of the game mentioned that the game is in Portugal so the name of the hotel is Lisbon. On the other hand, I also needed a place that I could replicate and expand as needed since I was unsure how many extra rooms I would need for some side-quests, so a hotel is perfect for that since all the rooms are the same.

What kind of puzzles can gamers expect from the game?

Our game is a bit different from other traditional PnC games. Our main gameplay feature is the interview. The player gathers items which are then needed to be used as evidence to push characters to reveal clues and other things. The interview gameplay is better seen in action than explained so I would recommend checking our videos for that.

What can fans expect from Detective Case and Clown Bot in their next adventure? What can fans expect from Nerd Monkeys over the next 5 years?

For now Case and Bot will have to solve the cases that are being written by our two new writers as well as the 2 new side-quests. All of them are totally different and should take our heroes to weird and strange places. As for 5 years? Expect strange and new videogames. One of the new ideas might even make it this year, so keep looking out for our weird press releases and crazy photos.

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