Agreeing to help Shaun make Mudlarks was certainly an eye opener for me. I perhaps foolishly said I could find a way to knock out graphics quickly and effectively to bring his vision of a mysteriously subdued and quaint London jaunt to life. Prior to Mudlarks, Shaun had created a one room game for an art show using AGS, so essentially this was our first game.
If memory serves, the original aim was to bring a short ten screen game to life. A month later I was facing 30 screens and 60 characters as Shaun’s story had blossomed. The instant challenge was how to create so many sprites in as short a time possible. There were only a handful of hours I could devote to the project each week and so some early decisions were taken to use photos as the basis for the games look.
Shaun would take most of the settings pictures while out and around London. Where no picture was possible, backgrounds were constructed from components. Most of the character sprites involved us taking pictures of friends in hilarious poses- few had any clue what on earth was going on. Again, when no one was available characters were constructed in makeshift poses, creating hilarious monstrosities and some very questionable limb proportions!
I’ve enjoyed the fuss that the graphics have caused. This cheap digitised look hit heights with Mortal Kombat and then became known as no go area for graphics. It’s not a style I’ve seen used much in modern gaming at any level. No other technique would have got Mudlarks done in that time frame. I grew up around Mortal Kombat arcade cabinets and magazine articles explaining the techniques- I’d always remembered the development team emphasising the time saving factor of graphical digitisation and the concept stuck with me- wow this worldwide hit was created by a handful of people! Does that mean anyone can make a game? Enjoy the silly graphics or hate them, they are definitely part of the satisfyingly unsettling Mudlarks experience. I also feel that somehow the quirky look and feel of game (though audio as much as anything) was able to capture the mood of London’s rare quiet hubs in quite a unique way- which I have not seen before. My Grandmother stuck with it and that’s a triumph!
To say Mudlarks encountered a few graphical hiccups is an understatement. Let’s take resolution- the first sprites I cut out were large full size images- big mistake, shrink them down to 200 pixels and it’s game over! It took me a while to get used to working in with images under 300 pixels tall. The early sprites of Winnie and Vincent had facial characteristic changes, such as bigger eyes and contrast variants. But as the game grew and grew, we began to lose focus with this look as we bunged more and more stuff in. We were saving to the wrong format (leading to further clean up), I was using a dodgy monitor and creating sprites ranging from amusing to truly awful. None of that seemed to matter though, a world was created and it was all great fun. The main sprite of Winnie was a test animation that made it all the way into the final game- absolutely shocking!
What I’ve really been impressed by is during this whole experience and it’s something I would never have predicted- is the communities passion and support to these sorts of games. I’ve grown to despise social networks, I think it’s dumbed down our society, yet I put my hands up and say Twitter allowed us to get a game out and for people to play it. The follow up release of the short 'A Date in the Park' no doubt cemented this digitised style as one of choice for our team- Cloak and Dagger games, the company who bring out disturbing photo manipulated graphics. Hopefully some of our future games will shake off this image- but don’t worry, we might address this style again someday.
I guess the point of this post is to emphasise the importance of getting something out there and not be afraid of its shortcomings. Sure, we could have tried to labour for hours and make the game look as pretty as possible- but would we have ever completed it? Would we still be designing the Thames shoreline? Who knows… It was our stepping stone into the bold world of game making and it was done from start to finish within a year. The feedback has given us confidence and desire to make new even more ambitious projects. So if you are reading this, whilst labouring over your own project, keep going until you get it done and get it out there for the world to judge.