Creating an engaging and humorous point-and-click adventure can be a hefty challenge at the best of times, but for developer Robust Games, the endeavour provided a much-needed release from the isolation that the nationwide lockdowns spawned during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Since its initial announcement for the Switch at the tail-end of 2021, you’d be forgiven if Loco Motive slipped from your mind through 2022 as its planned release window came and went. But when a simple tweet from creative director Adam Riches garnered nearly 15,000 likes just a couple of weeks ago, it’s clear that this comedic twist on a classic Agatha Christie story is resonating with murder mystery fans worldwide.
Now scheduled for release this year, we sat down with Adam and his brother, Joseph Riches (technical director), to dive into how Loco Motive got started, how it differs from “classic” point-and-click titles, and most crucially, how development is progressing on the Nintendo Switch.
Nintendo Life: How did the idea of Loco Motive come about? What is it about this particular setting that interested you?
Adam Riches: Our childhood was filled with memories of playing point-and-click games, and as we grew up, our passion for these games stayed with us! It was sort of a shared dream between my brother and I to make the kind of games we enjoyed playing as kids.
I had been talking about working on a point-and-click adventure with Joseph for some time, but didn’t know where to start. When the pandemic hit the UK a few months into 2020, it wasn’t long before everyone was working and living at home under lockdown. At first, I enjoyed the novelty of working from home without a long commute, but it quickly became isolating. In addition, Adventure X, an annual narrative games convention in London, announced they were cancelling their event that year, and would instead hold their first-ever game jam, dubbed AdvXJam.
it felt motivating and achievable to create something in two weeks.
I had been admiring the beautiful environment art of Over the Alps, a narrative adventure game set in 1930s Switzerland. I was daydreaming and remember seeing distinct imagery of a character on a train, it was cutaway so you saw the interiors as they moved through the carriages.
Remembering that imagery, I started thinking about how we could do a short, contained story set on a train. I still had that visual with me in my back pocket when the game jam came around, so it made sense to use that idea. Once I pitched the idea of joining the game jam to Joseph, he was immediately on board. We jumped on a Discord call together and started brainstorming ideas, it felt motivating and achievable to create something in two weeks.
When we released the jam game, the reception was immediately very positive, with press coverage and many people asking for more. It made us consider pitching a full-sized game based on the same concept. With Loco Motive we want to simultaneously pay homage to the pixel art LucasArts point-and-click experience of our youth, but with a modernised twist.
Can you walk us through how you gained the attention of publisher Chucklefish?
Adam: I was working for Chucklefish at the time as part of their in-house development team. After receiving a great reception to the jam game, I wanted to demonstrate it during the company show and tell. It went well and the marketing team especially were very supportive. I felt comfortable approaching them later with questions on how to pitch, as it wasn’t something I had experience with. Luckily, they had a lot of good advice to share.
It took me several months to put something together, which I then sent through the official submission form. I think the first time most people knew I was pitching the game was when it landed in their inbox to review. Ultimately I was able to start my own indie studio, Robust Games, put a small team together and we’ve been working on the game ever since!
How is development going for the Nintendo Switch? What challenges have you faced?
Joseph Riches: The ‘chunky’ pixel art style scales well, so I’ve found it perfect for the Switch’s varying display modes. The game looks great whether you’re playing in portable or docked mode.
as we’ve been able to focus specifically on the Nintendo Switch platform from the outset of development, we’re very happy with the results so far.
When it comes to playing point-and-click adventure games on consoles, it was important to us for the controller support to be up to scratch. This was a challenge we wanted to tackle head-on, and as we’ve been able to focus specifically on the Nintendo Switch platform from the outset of development, we’re very happy with the results so far.
Thanks to direct character control and hotspot selection, players are able to easily navigate their way through the game without, say, emulating a cursor. We’ve also been able to implement Nintendo Switch-specific features like HD Rumble!
One of the obvious comparisons with Loco Motive is Agatha Christie’s ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ – was this a key influence for you in coming up with the game? In what ways do you think Loco Motive differs?
Adam: It’s fair to say that Agatha Christie’s work was a big source of inspiration for our game. I’ve often described it as a blend of Monkey Island and Murder on the Orient Express.
We drew a lot of visual inspiration and took reference from the real-life passenger train itself, but I also researched a lot of behind-the-scenes photos from the various film adaptations of Murder On The Orient Express.
Our goal was to put a comedic spin on the classic murder mystery formula. For example, what if the celebrated detective in the story wasn’t Agatha Christie’s famous Poirot, but was actually a bit of a bumbling fool, trying to solve the case but in reality they’re flying by the seat of their pants?
Loco Motive definitely seems inspired by classic point-and-click adventure games, but it also demonstrates modern sensibilities. Are there any specific games that you look to for inspiration?
Adam: Loco Motive draws inspiration from classic point-and-click adventure games, such as Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle. While certain gameplay elements remain core to the genre, they’ve continued to evolve over time. To ensure the game felt fresh, we researched other games and incorporated modernisations where they made sense.
In terms of visuals, we leverage modern lighting and shadow techniques that complement pixel art. We also utilised particle effects and shaders to create weather effects and even implemented rim lighting on characters to help them stand out in the environment. While these effects are subtle in some places, they all work together to create a great aesthetic for the game.
Another modern feature in the game is the in-game hint line. While its purpose is to aid players who might get stuck or need help, we’ve designed it to be an in-universe mechanic. Hopefully, it will be a fun and engaging feature to interact with, even if you don’t necessarily need a puzzle solution.
We also took inspiration directly from Return to Monkey Island, which recently introduced fantastic modernisation and accessibility features. It should hopefully be seen as the new standard for point-and-click adventure games moving forward. I played the game on the Nintendo Switch and it felt really natural.
Can you give any indication as to when we might see Loco Motive release for the Switch?
Adam: All we can say right now is that we’re aiming for a 2023 release, but we have a demo available on Steam this weekend (until May 8th) that people can check out. We’d love to receive some feedback from the community!
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Our sincerest thanks to Adam and Joseph Riches for taking the time to answer our questions. If you’re interested in checking out Loco Motive, then you’ll be pleased to hear that Robust Games is currently taking part in the digital event LudoNarraCon on Steam, which will be running until May 8th, 2023. As Adam says, you can try out a free demo during the event while we patiently wait for a release date on Switch. Needless to say, the game is looking excellent so far, and we can’t wait to play the final product!