Behind the scenes: The making of Tangle Tower

Creators Adam Vian and Tom Vian share the design and development process behind the murder mystery point-and-click adventure game

Behind the scenes: The making of Tangle Tower

SFB Games Tangle Tower is a murder mystery point-and-click title initially released on Apple Arcade in 2019 and became one of Apple Arcade's top three most highly rated games of all time with a 4.9 rating globally.

The game has now found its way to even more players as Tangle Tower is now available on both iOS and Android. In addition to the mobile launch, SFB games previously made the game cross-platform with releases on both Switch and Steam.

We caught up with SFB Games founding brothers, Tom and Adam Vian, who have been creating games together since 2003, to discuss Tangle Tower’s original development process and bringing the title back into the hands of gamers with the new mobile launch. Where did the original idea for Tangle Tower come from?

Adam Vian: Tangle Tower is an expression of our love for the mystery/detective/adventure genre, and in particular, Ace Attorney and Professor Layton. We made a game previously called Detective Grimoire: Secret of the Swamp, and Tangle Tower is basically a massively improved continuation of that world, with a handful of returning characters.

As for Tangle Tower itself, my initial plan was that I wanted all the suspects in this murder mystery game to be related. I thought this would be a good way to ensure they all knew each other and had formed opinions about each other. So, naturally, I thought setting the game in a big house would be the way to play it. I love big, weird, spooky houses as settings - the Resident Evil mansion, Dracula's castle, etc. Tangle Tower allowed us to explore all the archetypes for rooms you'd find in a gothic mansion - the library, the observatory, the aviary, the music room, etc, but each with our own unique spin.

We worked solidly until launch on a handful of platforms, and then spent the last four years gently porting it to almost everything else
Tom Vian

What was the original development of Tangle Tower like?

Tom Vian: Development was stretched out over seven years, though we weren't making it that whole time - we put the project on pause to go make Snipperclips, and then when we picked it back up, we worked solidly until launch on a handful of platforms, and then spent the last four years gently porting it to almost everything else, while working on new projects.

Having that big break near the start did stall the project somewhat, but it actually ended up being beneficial - we came back to it with new skills and perspectives learned from our time working with Nintendo, and Tangle Tower became a better game for it.

Tangle Tower has a really unique art style. Was this something you had in mind from the get go or something that developed over time?

Adam Vian: The look of Tangle Tower naturally evolved as lead artist Catherine Unger and I worked together. We both felt like we'd levelled up our skills since last time and wanted to deliver something fresh, unique and memorable. The art style has to allow for a mixture of silly humour and sincere, serious moments, so it can be quite a balancing act.

Designing the characters is a process of working back and forth with Catherine. I'd do a drawing, then send it to her, and she'd improve it, send it back, and we'd work like that until we landed on the designs we were looking for. In terms of inspirations for the art style... from my end, I think I'd mostly cite Tove Jannson and Genndy Tartakovsky.

I know premium on mobile is in a tough spot at the moment, and it usually takes a lot of existing momentum to sell a lot on the app stores that way
Tom Vian

How has the launch on iOS and Android been?

Tom Vian: Launch has been about what we expected, not a runaway success, but it will be great for quietly chugging along, helping us make the next thing. I know premium on mobile is in a tough spot at the moment, and it usually takes a lot of existing momentum to sell a lot on the app stores that way.

How do you feel about cross-platform gaming? How important is it to have games that are accessible on a multitude of platforms?

Tom Vian: I think for us, it's about getting the game in as many hands as we can, whatever the device. Fortunately, games like Tangle Tower aren't especially taxing for even quite low-end devices to run, so it was relatively easy to bring the full product over to mobile and other less powerful platforms. I think that when it's possible, it will usually make sense to have a game across as many platforms as possible.

What do you think is the biggest trend in the gaming industry right now? Is there something you are really excited about?

Tom Vian: Even with the shutdown of Stadia, I'm still excited about cloud gaming and its potential. I think the technology is there and really solid. It just needs some big players to throw lots of weight behind it.

Is there anything else we should know about Tangle Tower or should be on the lookout for from SFB Games?

Tom Vian: We just announced a new game, Crow Country, with a demo on PS5 and Steam (for now), and while we don't have anything else to announce just yet, fans of Tangle Tower should look out for news from us later in the year!

Deputy Editor

Paige is the Deputy Editor on who, in the past, has worked in games journalism covering new releases, reviews and news. Coming from a multimedia background, she has dabbled in video editing, photography, graphic and web design! If she's not writing about the games industry, she can probably be found working through her ever-growing game backlog or buried in a good book.