23 Aug 2021 3:07 PM +00:00

The Big Con Interview – How Mighty Yell Brought This Nostalgic Tale Of ‘90s America To Life

For anyone who's ever considered themselves a “90s kid”, Mighty Yell looks like they’ve got your number. Taking us back to ‘90s America, The Big Con features a curious premise, having us hustle cross-country as a teenage con artist. With our mom’s video store under threat from loan sharks, its down to Ali to ditch band camp and pay off these debts, but $97k isn’t something people have lying about.

As such, we’ll be swindling strangers, pickpocketing unsuspecting targets and helping out those in need of assistance. Launching this month on August 31st, this colourful indie adventure’s coming to PC via Steam, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S. In preparation, I sat down with Mighty Yell’s Dave Proctor, Game Director for The Big Con, who told me more.

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Remote Beginnings

The Big Con game. Screenshot inside a grocery store, Ali's attempting to pickpocket a staff member, pickpocket gameplay bar is on screen.
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For Mighty Yell, The Big Con represents the Toronto-based team’s studio debut and while each member’s previously shipped games, they’ve now formed a new team. As an already remote studio, Mighty Yell’s gotten through the COVID-19 pandemic more smoothly than most, though not without some issues. Previously holding weekly meets at tech director George Degenkamp’s house, they abandoned that after February 2020.

Shortly after, we discussed Mighty Yell’s inspirations and Proctor advised that he’s a big fan of adventure games and con artist movies. Telling me he looked back to “quirkier” ‘90s games like The Secret Of Monkey Island, he elaborating on a scene where you’d make the shopkeeper leave to break into their safe, calling it “very criminal but goofy”. Seeking to capture that spirit, this time you’re hanging up the pirates life to play a hustler, talking people out of their hard-earned cash.

As for the ‘90s setting, it’s clear The Big Con leans heavily into nostalgia for the era but as for why they chose it, Proctor advised it’d be much harder to pull off in the modern-day. Thanks to the internet and smartphones, pulling a con would be significantly trickier considering much information people have available to them, meaning they had to set game boundaries in line with the story’s boundaries. This story had to be one where you can con everyone, so taking us to the “non-communication eras” were needed.

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A Moral Thief

Ali wondering about a street in The Big Con, outside a flower store called Blossoms.
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Choosing ‘90s America didn’t just impact gameplay, it also inspired the game’s vibrant visuals. Asking how they settled upon this approach, Proctor informed me that with Mighty Yell’s art director, Saffron Bolduc-Chiong, they considered what would feel ‘90s, looking at “stuff from Nickelodeon and early cartoons like Doug and Real Monsters” – specifically the “really colourful stuff with thick dark lines,” - alongside comics like Ghost World. As such, they aimed for something familiar that stands out on its own, saying creating a visually distinctive Indie is significantly challenging.

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Moving towards gameplay directly, Proctor calls the joy of a con artist story being how you outsmart people and with The Big Con, you’re committing questionable actions for a good cause. Questioning The Big Con’s morality, I asked how Mighty Yell balanced this pickpocketing element when many players hesitate at morally dubious decisions. Proctor advised he’s “not the biggest fan” of moral choice meters like Mass Effect’s Paragon and Renegade approach, saying its not an accurate reflection on reality, so they didn’t wish to “mechanically incentivise” players into committing a particular action.

Instead, The Big Con relying on narrative incentives by explaining who we can target and listing your available options. Explaining they wanted us to think about who we can interact with, Proctor explains that puts the power into our hands, making “people think a little bit differently about who they approach”. Saying you don’t need to pickpocket everybody – though you can, if you’re really inclined – that narrative design lets you decide what action feels right.

Queen Of Robbery

Ali, main character for The Big Con, saying "Okay. Can't let the man win, right?"
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However, that alone doesn’t fully capture The Big Con’s spirit. Placing a strong emphasis on comedy, I asked if that’s a means of relaxing players while committing these acts. Proctor confirmed that’s true, while empathising the importance of “the humour, who Ali is, and how she relates to the world”, letting us laugh at these situations Ali finds herself in. Advising “there’s enough at stake for Ali already trying to save her mom’s video store”, Proctor believes comedy was necessary, stating it can also explore serious themes.

Having accessed a review build for The Big Con before this interview, I also queried the game’s accessibility options. Letting you automatically pickpocket individual targets, adjust font and dialogue effects, I wanted to confirm how this factored into their design. Explaining that “games are for everyone”, Proctor advised they wanted to accommodate for that wider audience, letting you turn off background animations if they become distracting and give players more visual clarity when reading this story. Proctor also confirmed they’re looking into full controller remaps, which they’re including in a post-launch update.

As for The Big Con’s other future plans, I asked whether they’d consider releasing a Switch or PlayStation version, and Proctor that while that’d be fun, they’re “ really focusing on Xbox and PC” right now. Finally, between the Xbox One and Series X|S editions, I inquired if there are any real differences between them. Proctor advised that the only major difference –, outside of loading times thanks to the new-gen console’s SSD - is that Xbox One runs at 30fps, while Series X|S hits 60fps. I’ll have a full review prepared for The Big Con closer to launch, so stay tuned.