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Comics vs. Games: Thinking Outside the Panel
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Comics vs. Games: Thinking Outside the Panel


August 3, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next
 

Michelangelo and Houdini

A Comics vs. Games team-up could be compared to asking Houdini and Michelangelo (no, not the turtle) to produce a new illusion. Both sides are obviously great at their individual work and the artist's boundless skills for visualization and imagination can have numerous applications toward the final goal. It's up to Houdini, though, to decide what ideas may actually be possible, and there are still going to be parts where only he knows the technical tricks that make everything work.

So when you normally work alone, keeping the considerations of a partner in mind while their presence simultaneously changes up your routine can be a bit rattling. Christine Love, creator of the visual novel games Digital: A Love Story and Analogue: A Hate Story, teamed up with comic artist Kyla Vanderklugt to create The Mysterious Aphroditus, a Victorian-themed turn-based fighting game whose simple rock, paper, scissors setup is twisted by a bluffing mechanic. Not only is the game style a departure from what Love is known for, but she said working with a partner required relinquishing sole ownership of certain responsibilities and her specific way of doing things.

"It was really weird and a little bit scary just trusting that to Kyla's hands," Love said. "She absolutely delivered, but usually the first thing I do is start with the design work and move from there, so it was just a totally different experience for me."

Vanderklugt, whose art has appeared in anthologies Flight and Spera, said she is more familiar with collaborative work, but also faced similar challenges as Love in creating the art assets more spontaneously, before the team had finalized its game.

"[W]hen I work with script writers on comics, they give me the entire script and I have everything in front of me and I know what to work on, and then my art is kind of like the final stage of the whole project," Vanderklugt said. "When working with Christine, you do the art first, and then she goes into development, and so it was like a big loss of control. I trusted her entirely -- I figured she was going to make an amazing game -- but I was asking myself, 'Is she going to be able to use this art? Is it going to work out?'"


The Mysterious Aphroditus

The hand-drawn characters, from the fighters to the androgynous theater star they are battling for, did come out beautifully. Unfortunately, as the game deadline neared, Love ultimately had to sacrifice roughly 10,000 words of dialog she had written to flesh them out. Where egos could have flared, Love remained cool, deciding the extra text was ultimately detracting from the pace of the gameplay. What descriptions remained combined well with the art, she said, enabling players to fill in the details with their imaginations. The addition of an unabashedly foppish fight announcer also helped.

The jam nature of the project, and specifically its three month limit, may have served as a double-edged sword. Several teams noted they may have been initially overambitious and wished they could have embellished their games with more features before time ran out. On the other hand, the timeframe seemed just long enough to encourage many participants to explore outside their most trusted skill sets.

Fristrom, creator of Schizoid and lead developer on Spider-Man 2, used Comics vs. Games as an opportunity to take the Unity game engine for a test drive while developing We're No Angels.

"Even though I have been making games for so long, the landscape is always constantly changing," Fristrom said. "Five or 10 years ago I would've said you could never make a game like this in this amount of time, but now tools have gotten to the point where you can make fairly amazing stuff in not very much time at all. Things people are able to produce in 48-hour game jams these days are incredible by standards of a few years back."

Fristrom was able to tackle We're No Angels while simultaneously exploring the limits of the game engine. At one point, a bug was found that would make the player's character (Jimi Hendrix and Amy Winehouse are also playable, by the way), literally rise above the playfield. His initial impulse was to fix it, but Fristrom saw the potential benefits of the transcendental hiccup and added it to the game in the form of a drug-based power-up.

Manale loved the addition, awarding a point to the surprises that can arise in the art of programming. Many of the artists said they were mystified by this part of the process, having to place full faith in their partners.

"It was interesting to me, in our final hours, which things were easy to add in Unity and which things were difficult to add to the game," Manale said.


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