Foul Murder

Today we’re working on murder! Yes, it’s a lovely staple of Victorian gothic horror, particularly the madness of contemplating and planning the act, the dread of the murderer, and the horror of the crime after the fact. It’s all very appropriate for the setting of Clockwork Empires, so of course we shall embrace the act of murder with all the Victorian sensibility we can muster (and sneak in a lovecraftian twist whenever possible).


Well, this is most awkward, isn’t it?

The problem with murder, however, is that you can’t just have people going around murdering one another. It’s simply not interesting because you’re removing the interesting moving pieces of the game.

The Motive

Murderers need a motive. It’s best if these tie into core gameplay mechanics that players interact with because there’s not much point if a colonist shows up looking for blood just because. We’re making a game here, the question is always “what’s the player gonna do about it?”. So the motivation for murder has to be in response to problems players can solve – or keep from happening.

I won’t list every possible motive, but one of the most direct is hunger: a colonist gets to the point of starving where it’s either they die or they kill. The character of a colonist will generally determine which way they’ll go. It’s up to the player, of course, to keep people well fed enough that it never comes to this.

Leopold was just really, really, really hungry. "Hangry", even.

Leopold got hangry.

As said, there are more ways for this to happen but we’ll let you find those out for yourself. Wait … no, one more.


Before today, the ‘vanilla’ murder sequence was a bit of a Tornado Problem in that it’d come from the sky with no warning. Well, little warning. It required a colonist that’s angry and maddened and made a really (un?)lucky roll.

So Chris is fixing this up for us! The conditions for murder will now instead trigger a “contemplate murder” job which will make a murderous thought-bubble appear. If this builds up enough, if in-fiction the murderer comes up with their plan or psyches themselves up enough, then they can begin murdering. So instead of a tornado, you can spot a murderer coming from a ways away and try to deal with the root problems causing them to be upset enough to contemplate murder. Or not; whatever.

Finding the witnesses!

Technical aside: It can get fairly involved to sort out murderer from victim from witness. You have to give each party an appropriate memory and appropriate tag. If a murderer is witnessed, they get automatic Frontier Justice. If not … more on that in a bit.

A conversation this morning prompted a solution to a hitch I was having in pushing memories to the bystanders who witness murder. So: we ping out a “murder witnessed” event to all characters in a radius upon death. If a character is neither the murderer or murderee, then they’re a witness. Easy! They can report the murder and be appropriately upset.

Wait, but what about the attack in the first place? It’s not like everything should be dandy up ’til the killing bow. Okay, new plan: spit out a “witness” ping when one colonist attacks another, do the same check. If the attack is witnessed, then create an alert, create one of those invisible alarm beacons that soldiers will automatically rally toward.

The problem of murder mysteries

So what if there is no witness?

It seems like a cool idea at first to hide the fact of a murder taking place from the player, or at least attempting it. Yes, we discussed the spirited effort that Dwarf Fortress makes at hiding mysterious deaths. This can get extremely complicated, particularly when it asks the UI to lie to the player and for game systems to track a different assumed state of affairs from the actual state of affairs — take, for example, an overseer’s workcrew. Were you to assign an overseer who is missing (and certainly murdered) to a new workshop, there would have to be a secondary path to assign proper jobs to all the labourers and … no, this is Bruising The Fat.


When discussing the cost of a feature, however cool, we must ask “Is this what Clockwork Empires is about?”. Is Clockwork Empires a murder mystery game? It isn’t! We can’t hide murders from the player.

We can, however, hide the fact of the murder from the in-game authorities. And maybe you know that this colonist is the murderer, but there were no witnesses so you can’t pin the crime on them. If you order Frontier Justice, it’ll look arbitrary and tyrannical. What do you do?

(I know what I just did – I just made more work for myself by posing this scenario. Ugh!)

Vengeful spectres

It wouldn’t be gothic horror without them. We won’t get too far into details here, but a murder victim may haunt their murderer (and anyone else nearby) from beyond the grave. You did bury them, right? No? Oh boy.


Better call the Vicar.

Posted in Clockwork Empires | Tagged , , ,

9 Responses to “Foul Murder”

  1. Grant says:

    The conditions for murder will now instead trigger a “contemplate murder” job which will make a murderous thought-bubble appear.

    This worries me slightly, because the thought-bubble popups are very easy to miss. (Really, I’m having issues noticing any major changes in my colonists’ condition unless it’s triggered by an event which notifies the player directly.)

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    • AdminDavid Baumgart says:

      Well, two thoughts here: Contemplating Murder will happen a bunch of times before it’s actually acted upon so there’ll be many chances to spot it, and we’ll absolutely add higher levels of notification if that turns out to not be enough to warn a player. There are lots of options here!

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  2. Wootah says:

    So how is the murder solved. I would think that you should get a message right away that ‘so and so was murdered’ but that the murderer is unknown unless you were watching it unfold. Even without evidence you could be bribing authorities to investigate the right (or even wrong?) person.

    Which leads me to wonder, if someone gets away with murder, are they more likely to murder again?

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    • GDwarf says:

      Wootah: Given the murder system as outlined here, it seems like what would happen should a murder occur is that the murderer will have whatever drove them to murder satiated in the short term, but if the problem is systemic (so if they’re hungry because there simply isn’t enough food, and the person they killed was a farmer…) then the condition will arise again, at which point…we don’t know. It seems somewhat “right” that someone who has murdered once is more willing to murder a second time, but it may be that someone who was in a position to murder once is already more likely to murder again simply because their position hasn’t changed any.

      It occurs to me that the murder system, combined with alcohol, could theoretically lead to a serial killer who doesn’t realize it. They kill someone, the memory haunts them so they drink, they forget the murder, and then one day the idea comes to them about how just one murder will solve all their problems…

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  3. Sam Atkins says:

    Ooh, forgive me if you’ve already thought of this but this post has given me an idea: Some murderers experience guilt over it, which can contribute to madness. They might confess to the vicar, or even hand themselves in to the authorities. (By way of a pop-up event or otherwise. Pardon them and make the empire a bit grumpy, or execute them still and face the results of that.)

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    • AdminDavid Baumgart says:

      The follow-up events can go deep indeed! We’ll see how it feels in a first iteration and see what looks like a good route for expansion from there. There are even some … features … that are not yet implemented that might be relevant to what you suggest, and we’ll see how they fit together when we get to them. (Okay, that was super cryptic. Uh. Sorry!)

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    • Bropocalypse says:

      Ooh, that makes me think if a colonist murders another for reasons they consider ‘just’ (IE, in-line with the rest of the colony’s opinion or not, such as if the victim was a complete jerk) then pardoning or executing them could have different effects on the colony’s morale as well.

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  4. Sapphire Crook says:

    I wonder what the priority of “Want to murder” is in the job/thought queue.
    “I’m sorry, but I’m too busy making cheese to ‘contemplate murder’ “

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  5. Jabberwok says:

    I really hope that contemplating murder will have an animation with it, hunching while rubbing their hands together, maybe chuckling a bit. Even while performing other actions.

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