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Liviu Boar – A Comedy Cosmic Horror Adventure Made in Transylvania

Among all types of games, point-and-click is a quite common category even if it has declined for some time. The popularity of mobile game has renewed the genre and gives new opportunities to designers.

Point and click refers to a type of adventure game, in which the user interacts mainly with the mouse or any pointing device (be it a finger on mobile phones). This type of game requires a minimal knowledge about computers and is really simple to use even for casual players compared to 3D-FPS or such game in which you will use a 100-button-mouse to survive. To make it as simple as possible interaction is generally made of: click, double-click, drag-drop, and that’s all.

All the game is built around interactions with items of the world. The most classic interactions are: talk, look at something, take something, use an item, combine items.

Most parts of the game design phase are to liberally use these possibilities, to make the player find solutions to problems. Resolving them will make the adventure continue. In a sense, point-and-click games are similar to puzzle games.

LucasArt games are often seen as most important in point-and-click history with title like Maniac Mansion. They were made using a scripting language called SCUMM. This language is descriptive, and was created to allow game designers, scenarists, dialogists, etc. to modify the game without the help of a programmer at each step.

Gibbous – A Cthulhu Adventure is a point-and-click adventure game developed and published by Romanian developer Stuck In Attic for Windows, macOS and Linux. It was released on August 7, 2019 on Steam and GOG.

Gibbous is a comedy cosmic horror game – a modern adventure that is classically inspired, features gorgeous HD art, detailed traditional animation, and a lengthy story that will see the three protagonists travel around the world and deal with abominations both cosmic and human-made, voodoo, and Things That Should Not Be.

Hey Liviu, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. Can you tell us a few things about you and your team? We’re specifically interested in your backgrounds. How did developing games come about in your timeline?

Hi! Gibbous was made by a team of three – a programmer and two artists. I met our programmer, Nicu, when someone crashed into both our cars in front of the company we were working at; we got to talking and realized we wanted to do the same thing – make games.

Cami and I were already sorts of a mini-animation studio within the company, and adventure games are pretty much long-form interactive cartoons. We decided the two of us would handle everything creative, from writing to art, music, and design, and we’d rely on Nicu’s technical skills to put it all together into a playable package. And it worked!

How did the idea of Gibbous come about?

I have to admit I had a bit of writer’s block when I realized I could finally make a video game – it’s not like I had always dreamed of making a particular one. My approach, then, was to treat this like a puzzle itself: I grabbed very different influences that at face value had nothing to do with each other (90s adventure games, Lovecraft stories, 50s cartoons, 30s noir movies, local Transylvanian flavor), sat down and eventually figured out a way to tie everything together coherently.  I think that’s one reason why so many different people find so many different reasons to enjoy the game, and that’s reflected in many user reviews.

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.

Absolutely – as I said before, making a game in this genre and with this kind of look is akin to producing a feature-length animated movie. 

The animation itself for 70+ characters took a very long time since we animated everything at 24 frames per second – that means at least 24 individual drawings for one second of movement – but the lengthiest process was by far painting the backgrounds. Some of them are huge, measuring more than 6000 pixels in width, and the intricate, detailed style I chose for them sometimes drove up the necessary working hours to produce one to 70-80.
It was all great fun, though, and we feel it paid off in spades – the game’s visuals and animations are probably the most prevalent praise we’re getting.

How was the writing process?

A bit intimidating at first because writing for an interactive medium is very different from regular writing. I might have gone a bit overboard in the desire to make the game feel as responsive and verbose as possible, but most players really loved the kooky characters and the pretty unique mix of comedy and horror, both light and dark.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the process, editing can sometimes be more important than the writing itself, and it’s a thought that I’ll keep in the back of my mind from now on.

A lot of voice actors are involved in the project. Can you tell us what it was like to work with so many?

It was both amazing and frustrating. Amazing because we were lucky to collaborate with professionals that needed very little nudging and directing to get their characters done beautifully, but also frustrating because of unforeseen stuff like health issues on their part and other delays that significantly held back the time of release.

What’s important, though, is that overall the game feels exactly how we intended – like an interactive cartoon, and voices are a huge part of that.

We know you guys are huge fans of the Lucas Arts titles from the ’90s. What adventure game classics have especially left an impact on you throughout the years? What other sources influenced your choices for the game development (including graphics, storyline, dialogues)?

As far as adventure games are concerned, probably the most influential for Gibbous was Day of the Tentacle, Grim Fandango and The Curse of Monkey Island. Being able to “use” your sidekick on character and environments came from Sam & Max hit the road, and Steve Purcell himself is a role model for me.

When it comes to other types of media that were an influence, obviously HP Lovecraft’s works, the 50s and 60s comedies such as the Pink Panther series, Chuck Jones cartoons, everything Studio Ghibli made movies by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Tons of very disparate influences that we tried to blend into one coherent experience.

What are the realities of life in game development?

Indie game development is pretty much Russian Roulette; most games sell little to no copies, some manage to survive decently, and very few are legitimate successes.

I think we fell into the second category, and we’re incredibly grateful – it’s kind of crazy to think that tens of thousands of people have bought the first game that we ever made.

We get to make more games for now, which is all we could ask for. It’s definitely not the kind of career you jump into if you want to make tons of money fast, but doing what you love every day and having so many people appreciate and support your art really is a dream come true for us.

What game design theory you wish you had known when you started?

Any, really. Gibbous was 100% learning as we made it, and I’m now very painfully aware of all the mistakes I’ve made. I feel like we got a pass for a lot of mistakes, I’m grateful to everyone who could see past some of the stumbles we’ve made and loved the product overall, and I can’t wait to address every one of them in our next game.

How much of Transylvania – real and/or fictional – can be found in the game?

In a way, Transylvania is visible on every single screen, since Târgu Mureș and its vicinity inspire all of the buildings and environments; however, with Gibbous, we’ve both made fun of the classic vampire movie cliches more than focusing on actual folklore, and I also had some self-imposed limitations since my ambition was to take a very small bit of backstory regarding Transylvania from one of Lovecraft’s novels (The Case of Charles Dexter Ward) and expand on it.  Thankfully, it turned out to be one of the most appreciated chapters in the game, so I guess it all worked out Ok.

What was the biggest problem you encountered during development, and how did you solve it?

Production time. Gibbous took way too long to make – three years of full-time work since the Kickstarter was funded. In a way, I don’t regret it, since that meant that we could deliver an experience so polished that I’m sure helps a lot when it comes to people deciding what game to throw their hard-earned cash at.

Thankfully, we’ve learned our lesson and evolved a lot as artists (and project managers), so our current project is moving along at a much faster pace, which is great.

What do you think of the reception you’ve got for the game so far?

Frankly, it’s way better than I had anticipated or even hoped for. This being our first game in a genre with many purist players, I think we did way better than we’d hoped for and better than most newcomers in general.

When reading reviews, one thing that comes up, again and again, is that the players can feel the genuine love and passion that we put into the game, and that’s one of the best things that you could ask to be recognized for.  I love the fact that so many of our players say they can’t wait to see what we come up with next. I think they’ll be very pleasantly surprised.

What’s your advice to people who want to get into game development?

Just to know that chances of making it in this business are very low, because the competition is insanely high, and you really need to know not just how to make games, but how to market it, and I can’t stress the importance of this latter point enough.

There are 20-50 games releasing daily just on Steam, and a lot of them are made by people with more experience, skill, talent. You name it. You really need to play to your strengths and make sure you come up with a unique product to convince players to choose you over so many, many others.  There’s a lot of stress and a lot of risks and a LOT of hard work involved, and being able to stay focused and dedicated for long stretches of time is an absolute must.

We know you’ve made animations as well, like music videos for famous Romanian and foreign bands. Can you tell us more about these projects?

Yeah, we made two animated music videos that we’re super proud of – one for the legendary band Pixies and one for Romanian rapper Vlad Dobrescu. They were both amazing experiences for us, and that’s because what they had in common was they both granted us absolute creative freedom.

They were a ton of work – especially for Vlad’s song since it was just me and Cami working on that one – but we’re super proud of the result, and having made an animated video that’s currently at 18 million views is such a great feeling.

Did these projects help you in any way in the process of creating the video game? Can a film animator pivot to video gaming?

Absolutely, it was a pretty smooth transition. It also helps that we’ve veered towards narrative gaming, which is much closer to movies and cartoons that most games, but it’s a big part of the video game market itself, and there are always going to be players that are hungry for good stories that they can really be a part of.

What’s next? Films, games, or both?

We’d love to make so many things, but there are only three of us, so we’ll stick to what we love most, and that’s video games. We’re currently hard at work on a project that we’ll announce officially in the near future; its working title is Project Greenhorn, and it will take place entirely in Transylvania… And beyond. We can’t wait to reveal it in a few months.