If you're a fan of elaborately produced, gorgeously hand-animated 2D point-and-click adventures, there is a good chance you've known about Stuck in Attic’s “comedy cosmic horror” Gibbous: A Cthulhu Adventure since its successful Kickstarter campaign in 2016. Now that the game's development is nearing completion, we reached out to the Transylvania-based studio to discuss their upcoming debut release. Read on as the team’s Creative Director Liviu Boar sheds light on what is essentially a tribute to both the classics of the adventure genre and the horrors of H.P. Lovecraft.
Ingmar Böke: Hi Liviu, it's great talking to you now that Gibbous: A Cthulhu Adventure is getting so close to release. To get started, please take us back to the past: How did your team originally get together, and how was the idea for Gibbous born? Mixing H.P. Lovecraft and comedy doesn't seem like the most obvious idea.
Liviu Boar: Hey there, thanks for your interest! One of the biggest revelations I had as a kid came while watching someone play Day of the Tentacle. I had dreamed of being an animator, but now I realized you could make cartoons AND games, at the same time! Creating a point-and-click adventure became a life-long goal that I'm finally achieving, 20-something years later.
Our three-person studio came together because of an accident, literally. Myself and Cami, the artistic two-thirds of Stuck In Attic, were working as a tiny in-house animation studio within a bigger IT firm. One fateful day, someone managed to crash into both my car and Nicu's (our programmer). We had been working at the same company but we didn't know each other, and once we got to talking we realized we shared the same dream: making a video game. Vehicular damage, bringing indies together!
It wasn't easy to decide what the game would be about, until I realized that I just needed to make it as fun for myself as possible – just like a puzzle. I took completely unrelated things that I loved – the Cthulhu Mythos, old Warner Brothers cartoons, LucasArts adventure games, ‘40s noir movies, cats – and challenged myself to blend them all into something that felt cohesive. It was so satisfying to see them come together and work as one, and this approach meant that I was able to enjoy every moment spent in the game's universe while making it.
Ingmar: Please introduce us to the story and playable characters of Gibbous.
Liviu: Gibbous revolves around the dreaded Necronomicon, an evil book that is rumored to hold the power of changing reality around itself. Detective Don R. Ketype is on the case to retrieve the eldritch tome, but unsuspecting librarian Buzz Kerwan stumbles upon it and accidentally transforms his cat, Kitteh, into a walking, talking abomination. Being humanized? Quite the downgrade.
Controlling Don and the Buzz/Kitteh duo alternately, you travel the world, deal with strange cults, voodoo, and abominations both cosmic and man-made, all in an effort to turn a very ill-tempered cat back to normal.
It's all about playing as three characters with very different personalities: Don, the grizzled and jaded detective that's seen it all; Buzz, the everyman that serenely puts up with the supernatural; and Kitteh, the feline that is angry at suddenly having to deal with human-like thoughts, feelings, and problems.
You can think of the game as being comedic on a moment-to-moment basis, but with an overarching darker plot that has some genuine thrills, and even some scares.
Ingmar: Your website calls Gibbous a "classically-inspired adventure game with a modern approach." Can you clarify what this statement means in terms of your design philosophy and the game's difficulty level?
Liviu: Gibbous started as a love letter to the games of yore, but we soon realized we wanted to ensure more people could enjoy its story without alienating the genre's hardcore fans. The latter can rest assured that there are a lot of puzzles to be dealt with, both of the inventory and dialogue variety (no sliding tiles or mazes, heh). The game does come with two separate hint systems and other neat features like a hotspot revealer, unlimited saves, and localization into ten languages (for now).
Production value-wise, we've got huge hand-painted HD environments, everything is traditionally animated, all characters are voiced, we've got a weather system, real-time lighting, reflections and dynamic shadows, tons of parallax-scrolling layers... We went all out and took advantage of everything the engine can pull off in 2D. I love the idea that we can have an adventure game sporting the same type of eye-candy that games in other more mainstream genres do.
Ingmar: Do the playable characters have individual abilities that have an impact on gameplay? And do some of the puzzles require cooperation between protagonists?
Liviu: Individual abilities – that's a yes! The main reason we went for the verb-coin interface was that both Buzz and Don have three possible actions: examine, interact, and a special ability. We're keeping Don's special skill under wraps for now, but Buzz's is Kitteh herself – think of how Max works in Sam & Max Hit the Road. However, don't think of her as a mindless automaton always at your bidding: she's got a strong personality, and might even refuse to help unless you provide her with reasonable motivation. Or treats.
There's no cooperative play between protagonists because the game is designed to feel like a TV show: every time a chunk of it is completed, we change perspective and location, and there's a lot of ground to cover, literally. Think Game of Thrones, but with fish-people and talking cats. However, the protagonists do share information, both among themselves and with friends they make along the way – we build this sense of bonding and purpose with the help of animated cutscenes.
Ingmar: There must be an enormous amount of effort behind the hand-drawn 2D graphics and animations of Gibbous. Please give us some insight into the work process behind the visuals.
Liviu: Oh, boy! This part was both the most fun and the most excruciatingly lengthy. There are over 70 fully animated characters in the game. To put that into perspective, each second of animation at 24 fps [frames per second] requires three different drawing passes – that's 72 different drawings for one second of movement.
There are a lot of different environments in the game, all hand-painted, the biggest one measuring 6000x5000 pixels. Whereas Cami and I split the animation effort halfway, I've had to paint all backgrounds by myself, and the attention to detail resulted in some taking over 40 hours to complete. Our hope is that these huge, lovingly rendered areas with many hotspots to poke at will satisfy even the most exploration-obsessed adventurers.
Ingmar: As your official homepage reminds us, Gibbous is "lovingly made near Vlad the Impaler’s birthplace." How much of Transylvania – real and/or fictional – can be found in the game?
Liviu: Transylvanian nature and architecture are almost everywhere in the game! Not just when you visit Transylvania per se, but also making up most of the Lovecraft-inspired locations, like Darkham and Fishmouth. “Lovecraft Country” equals New England, but we've never been there, so we decided to put our own local twist on everything instead. A lot of ancient, creepy buildings from our small town of Targu Mures stand in as Miskatonic landmarks in the game. We can pompously call it “architectural syncretism”, but really it's just a way of making our environments unique, authentic, and believable. And creepy. Very creepy.
Interestingly enough, Transylvania and Romania do feature in one of Lovecraft's works, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. It's more of an implied backstory, so I had a lot of fun expanding it and extrapolating a more fleshed-out narrative from it.
We're also taking the opportunity to make fun of the vampire clichés most people are familiar with from old movies, and we're stoked to have local voice actors provide characters with that truly authentic Trrrransylvanian accent.Continued on the next page...