In a quintessential mid-century American metropolis, tension is mounting. A brooding watch salesman is embroiled in an affair with a jazz singer who is already in a relationship. As you might expect, complications ensue, leading to a gunshot that could change the fate of the world.
welcome to Genesis Black, a video game that recently won the Grand Prize for Excellence in Visual and Audio Art at the Independent Games Festival. The moody, monochrome world of the game, with a restaurant inspired by that of Edward Hopper’s iconic 1942 painting Nightjars, is a product of the Feral Cat Den design studio, run by developers Evan Anthony and Jeremy Abel. Players take on the role of the watch seller and travel through time and space, from Pompeii to feudal Japan, to prevent this fateful gunshot.
The narrative is rooted in the works of Italian postmodern novelist Italo Calvino. “I heard about his work on NPR Radiolab in an episode where Liev Schreiber was reading “Distance from the Moon,” says Anthony. This was part of Calvino’s news collection Cosmicomic, which combines fiction, history and science.
Genesis Black had been in the works for almost a decade. “Making a video game is a lot of work,” Anthony admits. “It’s very difficult.” He and his partner met while they were students of the New Media Design program at the Rochester Institute of Technology. They started their collaboration in 2013 while still in school and extended it after graduation, working as freelance animators and creative developers for, in Anthony’s words, “promotional sites. interactive for major films and advertising experiences ”.
After a few years of creating stories that would last a few months at most, they aspired to create a long-term project. A video game, they decided, was the ideal medium. Between independent concerts, they worked to describe the characters, build scenarios and polish the narrative.
In 2016, the duo created Feral Cat Den and dedicated themselves full time to the project. It meant a constant pitch to publishers for help. “We created a vertical slice, which is kind of a prototype or demo of your 15-minute game that, like a slice of cake, shows each type of part of the game,” says Abel. A Kickstarter campaign launched in early 2018 helped them raise over $ 40,000 to fund the project; it also gave them a sense of their potential audience and what elements of their work resonated the most. The game was released in the spring of 2021.
Having distinct visuals “is pretty essential, especially just to grab people’s attention,” says Abel. “There are so many games in the works now that you must be getting noticed by all means. In fact, their unique style is steeped in artistic and cinematic references, reminiscent not only of Disney’s early shorts (“The Skeleton Dance” comes to mind) and classic movies, but also of scenes depicted on Greek vases and in Japanese woodcuts.
For their building blocks, collaborators adapted an industry standard, Unreal Engine, which is paired with rich textures and well-lit 3D games. But he had his limits. “When you build a game in Unreal Engine,” Abel notes, “you have to worry about the lights and performance of how many lights you have … but we didn’t use any. Unreal emphasizes one. realistic lighting and textures, he explains, but the creators didn’t want the software to dictate the overall look of the game. in some special effects. “
“I think it’s very important for developers to try to use the tools imaginatively and use the constraints of their project to come up with interesting solutions,” says Anthony.
Their years of using Adobe Flash in their daily work have paid off in their 3D animation. “A special plug-in we wrote allows us to export to Flash as vector animation,” says Abel, comparing their plug-in to Turtle, a way to teach kids programming.
To create the visual fabric of Genesis Black, the couple immersed themselves in the history of cinema and art. The set for the film noir came to Anthony as he crossed the Williamsburg Bridge in New York City on his way to work. “I was looking at the skyline and I thought what an amazing piece of art it was, and the idea of a film noir came to my mind,” he says. “I realized that ‘the Big Bang'” – a central part of the story – “already sounds like the title of the classic film noir The great sleep. “
The film Alphaville provided another inspiration, for how he adapted the black tropes to a sci-fi story set in the future. “They didn’t create crazy sets or new sci-fi props,” notes Anthony. “They photographed modernist architecture in Paris in a way that makes it abstract and lets the viewer imagine a sci-fi story while using the contemporary environment. . . . Especially for video games made with a small team, you need to be very thoughtful and aware of your constraints and limitations. So Alphaville is truly a great example of a story that you can tell just by using the environment around you.
These are not the only artistic references in the game. The hairstyle of the Golden Boy character (who looks like a level B Elvis Presley) is actually symbolic of the golden ratio or the Fibonacci spiral. Sequence in which watch salesman, named No Man, is crouched on the ocean floor pays homage to William Blake’s painting Newton (1795-circa 1805), which depicts a young Isaac Newton drawing with a compass. “William Blake, he deals with these kinds of existential themes, like a dialogue between faith, spirituality and science,” explains Anthony. “We feel like William Blake is sort of a freelance artist or freelance comic book illustrator. I think if he was there in our time, he would be radically independent and create that kind of visionary art form.