A Homebrew Draws Near!
A blog series by @Scrobins
Episode 7: Quest Arrest
Behind every great homebrew game is a developer or team with a good story about why there was an irresistible urge to create a new game. As we can all relate, inside them resides that memory from our youth in which we passed days on end, perfectly content with one or another game that gripped our imagination. If we were lucky, we found other games that gave us that same good feeling, but inevitably we reached a point when we surveyed the gaming landscape around us and wondered why no one was making games like the ones we loved. For the avid brewer, the answer to that question is: because they haven’t made it themselves yet. That was the case for Roo, a devoted fan of the Police Quest games who decided to make his own entry into the genre he loved and incorporate the tropes of a few other gems he encountered along the way.
For this entry, I’m breaking this blog's console barrier to cover Quest Arrest, a police procedural role playing adventure for the Gameboy by John Roo. As of the time of this writing, a limited edition CIB of Quest Arrest sold out, but due to popular demand, Roo produced a second print CIB that can be purchased here, and the game’s rom can be downloaded on Roo’s itch.io page here.
John Roo: programming & music
krümel & Multiface: music refinement
Budget Nostalgia: cart & manual art
Suleman Abid: box art
Quest Arrest CIB
Quest Arrest was first announced on July 29, 2019, when Roo posted about the game on his Twitter page and created a separate account dedicated to the game for future updates. As an added fun fact that Roo noted, the announcement came one day before the 30th anniversary of the Gameboy’s launch. Over the following months, Roo posted many updates highlighting the game’s inspiration, graphics, battle system, and sometimes just to express gratitude for the following the game had already cultivated.
On May 23, 2020, Roo announced the PC version of Quest Arrest was available for purchase through VoxPop Games, a peer-to-peer independent games distribution and development platform. On August 17, 2020 pre-orders opened for the Quest Arrest limited edition Gameboy CIB. Within 2 ½ hours of the post, the first batch of 55 copies sold out (a second batch of 35 more copies was made available for pre-order and sold out the following day). The overwhelming demand and support encouraged Roo to launch a poll to gauge interest for a second print run, which has since been produced and is in stock.
Roo deputizing the masses
Quest Arrest describes itself as a police procedural adventure in the spirit of the Police Quest series mixed with a dash of Pokémon. You play as Detective Alison Bennett, a rookie investigator and recent transplant to the city of Strange Meadows. Unfortunately Bennett doesn’t have the luxury of easing into her new job because a crime wave has washed over the city and the Chief has tasked you with making the streets safe from a gang of miscreants led by the mysterious Athena.
Because out there is a city full of streets...of rage!
The game unfolds as you explore Strange Meadows: walking the beat, talking to people, and fighting crime as you happen upon it. The city is an open world featuring nonlinear game progression. More importantly, how the community perceives and interacts with you is an open question, based on your credibility points (a quantitative measure of your reputation with the public), with the possibility of gaining or losing points depending on your approach to crime. As you encounter criminals throughout the city, you fight them in Pokémon-style battles.
Gotta arrest ‘em all
You have a range of options for subduing a suspect from pepper spray and a taser to bringing out the big guns with your...well, your gun. Once a suspect’s HP is low enough you can try to arrest them or ultimately kill them. If you are able to successfully effect an arrest, you move to a straightforward “push the buttons as they appear on the screen” sequence in order to conclude the battle. However whereas a successful arrest will net you credibility points, the death of a suspect will cost you credibility points and potentially the community’s trust. The story branches based on whether you are regarded as a good cop or a bad cop, and you may have a more difficult time doing your job and gathering clues if the people don’t like you anymore.
I'm starting to wonder if this is an adaptation of the 1992 film Bad Lieutenant...
An in-game menu displays your stats (health and credibility), items (clues and items to help you progress), and a map of the city (which is so rough, even the game mocks you for consulting it). Scattered around the city are save points that mark your progress and restore your health (both essential if you know another fight is literally around the corner).
Quest Arrest provides fun gameplay that will satisfy a wide range of gamers, from casual players who will be charmed by the fun crime-solving adventure to intensive players who will play obsessively just to experience each possible story arc.
The multiple potential narratives based on your credibility points means replayability is a feature baked into the game’s code. Much like Undertale, how other characters treat you and help you along the way depends on how bloodthirsty you are, and what information you get from NPCs can make for a very different experience. Meanwhile Quest Arrest’s nonlinear gameplay mixes things up further. Detective Bennett is generally free to walk the streets and protect & serve as she sees fit. As a result there are myriad possibilities for community engagement across the various parts of the city you can visit and what your credibility score happens to be when you get there.
Possibly the most metal thing to come from a rock
Regardless of your credibility score, the townspeople you meet on the streets of Strange Meadows (including the robbers and even an inanimate object or two) are colorful and silly, but not afraid to throw some 4-letter words into conversation. It’s a touch that gives the game an air of adult relatability while also signaling that as a homebrew, Quest Arrest is not constrained by Nintendo’s infamous family friendly limits of old. The overall story is also fun and simple, offering several mini-quests for you to solve without getting bogged down in the nitty gritty procedure the Police Quest games would have required, such as Mirandizing arrestees...
…or remembering the basic rules of walking around a friggin city.
Although Quest Arrest can be beaten in one sitting, the save feature is still essential because it also offers a means to restore your health. Furthermore though Strange Meadows isn’t a particularly big place, peppering save/health points around the city allows players to focus on playing rather than a tedious search for checkpoints.
The battle system when confronting baddies creates a fun pivot in gameplay. While shooting a suspect is not immediately fatal it is a more powerful weapon than the taser or pepper spray, which are largely similar in their effect during a fight. My only gripe is that the probability of an arrest being successful, and moving on to the button-matching sequence, is somewhat random. No matter how weak a suspect is or how many times you try to arrest, even if arrest is the only option you select throughout the entire fight, sometimes it doesn’t work and the suspect takes damage from each attempt. If you are trying to maximize credibility points this can lead to unfair point reductions because of suspects killed unintentionally. Luckily the ranges of credibility points that access different story arcs appear to be wide enough that the occasional death of an enemy shouldn’t impact gameplay.
The state of your immortal soul is another story
To solve any mysteries left unanswered about Quest Arrest’s development, I interrogated Roo to get to the bottom of this game…
-Before we dive into Quest Arrest, I would love to talk about you and your background. What first inspired you to become a homebrewer? What is the origin story of Roo and The Retro Room?
The origin story of The Retro Room is unfortunately not very interesting haha. I started a Twitter page because I was sort of desperate to find like-minded people who were interested in the same sort of retro stuff in the same way I was. It has grown into sort of a brand and I tied it with my name John Roo. Retro Roo.
-Who are your influences? And whose work are you watching closely now?
Right now I'm being influenced by a few developers that I am working closely with. They advise me. They have some really cool projects in their pasts that I’d love to brag about and I'm certain you know, but I don't want to throw them under the bus haha. We might come out as a collective in the future, but for now it’s in the dark. As far as other developers that I don't personally know that I admire? I could say anyone who makes games. It’s a tough mountain to climb and to those who do it, I salute you.
-What tools do you use to code and compose?
Right now I'm making games in GameMaker Studio 2, but I have past experience with a few other things. I started coding by playing around with microcontroller chips with my dad. It’s since grown into game design.
-In your interview with Budget Nostalgia, you mentioned how much the Police Quest games influenced Quest Arrest. What about the Police Quest series resonated most strongly with you?
I somehow ended up with the Kings Quest and Police Quest games as a kid. I enjoyed both of the series, but one seemed like it was more for kids. Police Quest was gritty and violent. I think that’s what made it more appealing to me as a kid. Now as an adult, I wanted to see that same feeling done but in a way that was more acceptable for modern generations. Police Quest is a point and click adventure, and those types of games don't resonate with as many gamers anymore...including myself. So I had to bring back the concept with a fresh flavor.
Screenshot from Police Quest II: The Vengeance
-At the heart of Quest Arrest’s gameplay is the ability to make choices about being a good cop or a bad cop. What inspired this feature of the game? Was there a conscious decision to connect with the prominence of police conduct in recent years?
I never wanted this game to have any ties to real life police behavior or any of the controversy that follows. In fact I wanted quite the opposite. I wanted to parody real life. What turned out to be the fair solution was to leave the choice of being good or bad to the player. I always liked games that I could go back and play over and have an entirely new experience. That was really the goal in mind when doing all of that.
-Developing a game requires careful choices in designing the game’s world and how its look and feel impacts the player’s experience. How would you describe your design aesthetic? What features do you see in Quest Arrest that you consider a Roo signature?
Well, to call anything that I've done to be directly unique would be a stretch. The game plays a lot like Pokémon or other RPG games. I think what makes this game unique is a combination of things including the adult themes, mixed with police simulation, mixed with choice, mixed with these small cute little sprites that have bad mouths all make up the grand picture. I would like to expand on those things.
-You also developed the game’s music, is your creative process for composing the soundtrack similar to when you are working on the game’s code?
The soundtrack was refined by krümel and Multiface. Two talented artists, but a lot of the composition was also done by me. I've been in the music industry producing music for a long time. I have to say that producing Gameboy music was one of the hardest things I've ever done. It’s just very limited and the tools are not very user friendly haha. I feel lucky to have come out with it being halfway decent. Haha.
-What challenges or surprises surfaced in developing Quest Arrest? What lessons did you learn that you would like to share with the people who aspire to follow in your footsteps?
I think the entire process of game development is a challenge in itself. So the ultimate challenge is to actually finish. Possibilities are literally endless and you could develop forever tweaking and refining things. To finish something is an art.
-Ever since my first blog episode, M-Tee planted this idea in my mind that a game’s protagonist serves as both the player's point of immersion in the game as well as a reflection of its designer. What was the intention behind the design of Quest Arrest’s protagonist, and do you feel the character reflects you in any way?
That's an interesting concept to think about. My character is a strong woman who defeats crime. It’s hard to say how that reflects me, but I do like a good hero story. Or villain. It's the players choice.
-There has been a lot of support and enthusiasm for Quest Arrest on social media. How does it feel to see so many people enjoying your game?
To see people enjoying the game is very weird to me. I've always explained it as this vulnerable feeling. It feels like 1000 people looking at you naked while you try and cover yourself, but at the same time they like what they see. Haha. So it’s a really bizarre feeling honestly. I enjoy making the games more than the attention from them, although the attention is great. It’s a positive thing for me in the end. My job feels complete when someone enjoys the game.
-Are there any other projects you have lined up on the horizon, Gameboy or otherwise? Any dream projects?
I have 3 other projects that I’m currently working on and all of them are a team effort. I will be making some announcements very soon. I am excited.
-Are there any homebrew games in development that you are excited to play?
I see indie games all of the time and I absolutely love playing them. I feel like there is somewhere along the timeline of gaming where we lost touch with what games should be. They are so massive and realistic now that we forgot they don’t have to be. Indie games show us that the best of games don't have to be huge or high budgeted.
Two more new Gameboy homebrews (Dragonborne is also available on cart)
-I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me and share your experiences. Is there anything else you would like to tell readers and fans?
I really just want to thank you for giving me an opportunity to talk about my game. As well as having interests in my game at all. It’s very cool. Thanks for having me Sean. Anyone who wants updates on the Quest Arrest project can follow
or follow me
If you made it this far in the interview, you're the best ever.
Thanks for tuning in to this latest episode of a series that highlights the latest gems of homebrew and has officially moved into other consoles. What are your thoughts on Quest Arrest and its passionate development team? What homebrews are you eagerly looking forward to? Perhaps you’ll see it here soon when…A Homebrew Draws Near! Command?