Anyone with a fondness for adventure games has probably heard of The Neverhood at some point along the way. Released on PC in 1996 by The Neverhood, Inc, this title stood out from others at the time because it had a rather distinctive look: it was produced using claymation instead of pixels. This form of stop-motion animation meant that each character and background was made of a malleable substance and it lent itself to creating a unique setting for a video game.
A crowdfunding campaign for its spiritual successor Armikrog was launched in May 2013 and a total of $974,578 from 18,126 backers was raised for the project. Unfortunately though, it just wasn’t that good. Its gameplay was buggy oversimplified, with repetitive puzzles and characters with limited personalities; and the game would have benefited from more time to polish up the clay-work so the end quality was the same standard as the beginning. I can imagine many of the Kickstarter backers came away disappointed.
Unfortunately, it’s ambitious projects like these which tend to come up against the most problems. Stop-motion animation titles aren’t cheap or easy to make and usually come with huge budgets, and that can be a daunting prospect for any independent developer. Perhaps the answer is to capture the feeling of stop-motion films while still benefiting from the possibilities of the digital world.
Well, lo and behold: there’s now a new campaign on Kickstarter for a project that does just that. Harold Halibut is an underwater adventure where everything seen in-game is built in a real-world workshop using classic sculpting, set-building, and clay and puppet fabrication techniques. Developer Slow Bros. took the decision to switch from stop-motion to 3D scanning all objects and animating them via motion-capturing technology for the most part.
The team are using a similar process to that being used for another Kickstarter campaign I’ve backed this year, Beautiful Desolation by The Brotherhood. Photogrammetry sees them taking ‘a bajillion pictures’ of the physical in-game items they’ve crafted by hand ‘from every conceivable angle’ in order to make a 3D model from it. They’re also using a material-scanning method developed by Apex Visual: their proprietary mains picks up even the tiniest details of handmade surfaces.
All of this sounds like a hell of a lot of time-consuming work, but so far the evidence displayed on the Kickstarter page for Harold Halibut shows that it’s worth it. Take a look at the promotional video from Slow Bros. to see what I mean – the game looks amazing. Players are able to zoom right in to get a closer look at the world in front of them, including the expressions on the puppets’ faces, and everything appears so tactile; that doesn’t mean this title is just a pretty face though.
The video also explains the project’s storyline but here’s a quick overview for you. Hundreds of years ago, a generation ship was sent out as humanity’s last chance to continue life elsewhere. But poor planning and silly fights in the cockpit resulted in a crash-landing on a planet made of water. Janitor Harold must help Professor Jeanne Mareaux find a way to relaunch the ship and enable communication within a society that has long been fixated on being the last outpost of humanity. Players should be prepared to make things around the station ‘bleep and bloop’ but be careful though: breaking the wrong item may cause someone to hold a long-time grudge with you.
There’s also a chance that you may be randomly challenged to a thumb-wrestling match – if that’s not a final reason to back this campaign, then I don’t know what is. The Kickstarter page remains open until 04 August 2017 and Slow Bros. if you’d like to show your support for Harold Halibut.