Comic Jumper is the third original IP console title from the award-winning independent
studio Twisted Pixel, the creators of Splosion Man and The Maw. In Comic Jumper,
a comedy action game that draws inspiration from games like Gunstar Heroes, you
play as the loudmouth Captain, a half-witted comic book superhero who discovers
that his fans are losing interest in his comic books. Along with Star, the Captain's
back-talking and foul-mouthed chest symbol, he obtains the assistance from his creator,
Twisted Pixel, in order to "jump" into other comic books franchises and earn the
love and respect he needs to re-launch his own series. Star and the Captain battle
villains and help other heroes across four different comic books, each with varying
takes on gameplay and their own distinct art style inspired by recognizable real-world
The second comic book is revealed here, where we walk you through the creation of the style starting with early concept art to finished screenshots. But first, here's the cover:
The idea for Comic Jumper was originally conceived by the game's director, and Twisted Pixel's Chief Creative Officer, Josh Bear. First, he answers some basic questions about the comic book that is being revealed: Nanoc The Obliviator.
How would you describe this comic? How is the content different from the first style represented in the Captain's own comic adventures?
JB: The first issue reveal was really showing a modern approach to comics in visual style and the tone of the dialog. With this comic, Nanoc The Obliviator, we really wanted to drastically change the art style right off the bat so you knew we weren't kidding when we said we were changing the look of the game per level. So we went with a really cool Frank Frazetta style of painting, and added a lot of cool stuff, like the jungle/mayan temple environments. Star becomes a medallion hanging around the Captain's chest, and the Captain himself has a badass facial scar and war paint that we borrowed from a certain movie that gave us inspiration for this style. Other things that we changed to make this radically different from the first level is the style that characters talk (even changing the font to match) and having Josh Mosley score it as he would if it were a new Conan film. The Captain's gun and all the visual effects in this comic are also completely different. Another big thing we introduce in this comic is a new gameplay mechanic. Based off another Treasure game we are big fans of (Sin and Punishment) at certain times in the game (starting with this comic) the camera goes from a 2D plane to a 3D one behind the Captain. The Captain runs on rails as you control his left and right movement with one analog stick, and then control his shooting cursor with the other stick. This breaks up some of the 2D progression and gives us an opportunity to do some awesome camera work and expand the shooting and platforming gameplay just a bit more.
The Captain and Star visit three different comic book worlds in addition to their own. Why was Nanoc The Obliviator chosen over some of the other genres not covered in the game?
JB: The main reason is that this has a very different style and color palette. Although the Frazetta art style of comics might not be the first thing comic fans think of when they think about comic books as a whole, we thought it was a good fit for the game since the hand-painted look is very different right off the bat from what they previously saw in the first comic style. It is also an excuse to include a lot of Conan references which is something we will always do when given a chance. I swear to KROM on this.
What makes this comic style so cool to look at and to play in?
JB: There is just something really cool about the hand-drawn painting style of the level and the characters, especially compared to the normal art style we have here at Twisted Pixel. Out of the different art styles we have in the game, this style has proven to be the one that has taken the most time to get right. It is a lot of work for Brandon and Marshall to nail down the look of these textures, and I think it will be something really awesome that players will enjoy experiencing.
The first comic has its work cut out for it in terms of introducing a lot of characters that are important to the whole storyline. But the Nanoc comics have a few interesting characters of their own. Josh talks about how these characters came to be:
Who is Nanoc The Obliviator?
JB: Nanoc is the hero of the comic Nanoc The Obliviator. He and the comic have been around for awhile, thrilling readers with tales about porking, eating big meat, killing, porking, riding horses, killing, and porking.
How did he get to be so incredibly fat?
JB: After the Captain's comic gets canceled, one of the Captain's arch-villains, The Puttmaster, goes into Nanoc's comic and tricks Nanoc into eating many a sweet meat and candied delicacies. Nanoc becomes so fat that he can't stop The Puttmaster from performing his evil plot to take over the comic and make it his own.
How must the Captain and Star help Nanoc?
JB: Nanoc has gone missing and readership is starting to plummet, since readers want to see Nanoc if they are reading a comic about him. Nordya, Nanoc's favorite concubine contacts Gerda and begs for the Captain to help her find him. Being his first gig as a "guest star" in someone else's comic, the Captain isn't exactly thrilled to do it, until he and Star see what Nordya looks like. They immediately begin to fight and argue over who will win her affections.
Why do the Captain and Star want to help Nordya?
JB: Really, the Captain doesn't have a choice. He and Star need money so that they can restart their own comic again, so they need to take whatever job comes their way. Once they get into the comic, they think it will be a cakewalk until a bunch of stuff happens to them and they start to regret taking the job in the first place.
When Twisted Pixel began pre-production on Comic Jumper, the first order of business was to take what Josh has had in his head for the past 18 years and turn it into something we could use to make a game. This job fell on our lead concept artist, Brandon Ford, who answers some questions about designing the character Nanoc:
How many iterations did it take before you landed on the final character design above for Nanoc The Obliviator?
BF: It took 5 or six tries before I landed on the design we ended up using. I drew fat versions of him first and some of those design elements stuck, but it wasn't until I tried drawing him in his prime and then making a fat version of that design that I found his true glorious form.
What references did you use when you were doing early concepts for what Nanoc would look like?
BF: I of course looked at a lot of Frank Frazetta's work, as well as the old Conan comics and of course the Conan movies, which everyone should see. I also browsed lots of pictures of huge obese dudes on the internet, which no one should see.
How many iterations did it take before you landed on the final character design above for Nordya?
BF: She didn't take too many designs to get done. We knew we wanted her to be a scantily clad slave girl, so there wasn't a whole lot of messing around with costumes or anything, it was more about trying to get the right body shape. I had seen "Coming to America" around the time of her design and toyed with the idea of her having a huge feather headdress, but ultimately we decided keeping her hair simple would be better.
What references did you use when you were doing early concepts for what Nordya would look like?
BF: Once again I looked to Frazetta's work when designing Nordya. I love the design of his women, they are curvy and soft, more classic in proportion than most of the Barbie doll women you see in most games and movies these days. I tried to make sure Nordya had the wide hips and curvy belly that make Frazetta's women so awesome. I also spent countless hours scouring the internet for beautiful women, a journey that may never end I am afraid.
Can you explain what you were trying to do with some of these character designs?
BF: These designs were part of the quest to find our big bad beast enemy for the Nanoc levels. When I start to design something I try to think in as many different directions as I can at first, sometimes random little thoughts turn into the best ideas. Those last few drawings were done while sweating and shivering, my body riddled with swine flu courtesy of PAX, don't judge to hard.
After Brandon designs the characters and worlds, it's up to Art Director, Dave Leung, to take those amazing illustrations and turn them into 3D playable assets. He answers some questions about doing this with the characters from Nanoc:
Is it more or less challenging to animate a uniquely huge character like Nanoc?
DL: I don't necessarily find it more challenging, though I guess it depends on all the character needs to do. However I do find it more fun as there are more opportunities to add interesting character traits and heavy things always add fun weight and secondary motion. In Nanoc's case he is just so fat that he can't really get up and do a whole lot other than eat chickens and meats so he was actually pretty easy.
Looking at Brandon's creature designs, it looks like there are some really interesting winged and multi-legged beasts - is it fun animating those types of characters?
DL: Any time there are new shapes and skeletons to animate I find it fun and refreshing. Really animating any of Brandon's awesome designs is a blast. Though multi-legged stuff can be quite a pain.
How many characters are unique to the Nanoc comics?
DL: Counting the Captain's style change there are 10 unique characters to Nanoc's comic, a few with some additional small variations, such as different costumes and weapons. I think that is probably almost as many characters as we had in all of Splosion Man just in this comic.
A major first for the Twisted Pixel team this time around is the inclusion of voices in the game. This involves casting voice actors, directing their performances, syncing characters performances with their voices, and much more. You may know Chris Sabat as the voice of Picollo on Dragon Ball Z, but we know him as the voice of Maw, Mr. Meatenstein, and now the director of voice acting in Comic Jumper. He answers some questions about his role in the Nanoc comic:
What kind of voice were you and Josh looking to create for each character in the Nanoc comics?
CS: It was impossible not to avoid the similarities to that popular movie about a near-naked tribe of bodybuilders. And it was harder to avoid choosing the voice for Nanoc that we chose. You'll know what I mean when you hear it. Chris Rager's voice stylings of the well-upholstered barbarian are hysterical. As for Nordya, we wanted her to be the commanding force of the comic so we chose the lovely and talented Stephanie Young. And though our original idea was to go with a Scottish voice for the Puttmaster, R Bruce Elliott's British read blew us away.
How much hilarious stuff are you coming up with on the spot during the recording sessions for the Nanoc comics?
CS: The scripts are coming in pretty solid, but we've had all sorts of hysterical moments donated to us by the actors. Chris Rager is a comedian by trade, so he's used to bringing the comedy gold whenever he's around. Of course, I'm usually the funniest guy in the room. If you don't believe me, just ask me.
Were there any challenges in getting the voices or personalities down for characters in Nanoc?
CS: The hardest thing about recording the voices in the Nanoc comic was having to clean up all the tinkle. We laughed that hard. No lie.
Are you as handsome as your voice is manly?
CS: I gotz three times the motherfrakkin' handsomeness of Hamm, Downey, Clooney, and Depp combined... .... when I'm on the phone. In person, however, is a different story.
With voice acting comes writing, another big first for Twisted Pixel. We used the help of professional writers Matt Entin and Ed Kuehnel, who we asked some questions:
As compared to the first comic book world in the game, how much harder or easier was it to write for the Nanoc The Obliviator comic?
EK: In some sense I felt that the Nanoc storyline was the easiest to write, insofar that much of it is a parody of Conan the Barbarian, specifically the 1982 film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. So between the film and the comics there was a lot to make fun of, we had a really cool antagonist to write for as well. I'm really happy with how it turned out.
What's the nature of Nordya and Nanoc's relationship?
ME: Slave and master, for sure - but unlike other members of the Nanoc harem, I
think Nordya isn't quite content with being the Warrior King's plaything. She takes
great pride in her people and to see their figurehead grow to such pudgy proportions
irks her. She might even be carrying a little torch for him.
Nanoc really isn't one for meaningful personal relationships. The most meaningful relationship he has in Comic Jumper is with bowl of party mix. I think it's because he wasn't breastfed as an infant. But I have no professional training in the field of Psychology, so take my opinion with a boulder of salt.
What kinds of topics does the setting for Nanoc The Obliviator allow you to play with, writing-wise?
EK: Weight gain, which is a personal hobby of mine. Also, the Conan comic books are quite fond of showing strong, empowered females who dress like strippers. Also minigolf.
Since each comic book needs to have its own distinct style, Josh decided to use a different composer for each comic book to increase that feeling that they're each made by different creators in different eras. For the Nanoc comics, the composer is Joshua R. Mosley.
What were some choices you made in the music design in the Nanoc comic?
JM: The Nanoc Comics take place in very barbaric and battle torn environment and
I definitely wanted the music to reflect and enhance the sheer brutal and epic tone.
Josh Bear and I also went with interactivity in the music again which always makes for a great gaming experience. With XBLA games you don't have much room memory wise so I wanted to make sure the music changed in dynamics and textures as to not become too redundant.
Are there any themes for the comic style or the characters?
JM: The themes in Nanoc are definitely more textural. There isn't really a strong melody theme defining the characters. There are themes for each major change in environment for example a theme for Boss Battles, "Nanoc's Lair", and the different melee sections. There is a general theme and tone that you will notice throughout for this comic style.
What references did you use?
JM: You cannot approach a "Conan Style" comic without starting with Basil Poledouris. I definitely drew inspiration from his Conan The Barbarian score. I also checked out the Age of Conan video game score by Knut Avenstroup Haugen as well as Mike Reagan's Conan video game score. Each score helped fuel the creative direction.
What instruments did you use?
JM: The instrumentation of the music for the Nanoc comics definitely used the full spectrum of the orchestra. It included big, heavy percussion, large brass sections, some strings and big choirs.
Chainsaw is a bearded genius who handles the sound work in all of Twisted Pixel's games, including Comic Jumper. He answers some questions about his sound duties:
How does the Nanoc comic style impact your sound design choices?
MC: For the audio in the Nanoc comic style, I wanted to make sure the sounds were as beefy, animalistic, and savage as possible. This style is all about big manly action sequences, facing down vicious beasts, and hacking off limbs with swords. So I worked hard to make all the various beastly animal designs sound as dangerous, menacing, and distinct as they look, and to make all the violence sound as hard hitting and thick, and painful as I could. And then, for the voices of the humanoid characters in these levels, I played off their tribal design and tried to create an almost half human/half animal vocal soundscape, which is definitely comical at times, but can also provide a sense of menace. If you hear bunch of villagers whooping and hollering offscreen behind you, bearing down with all sorts of weapons, I think it gives that much more urgence to your forward progression.
What sounds are specific to Nanoc and how did you create them?
MC: Almost all sounds heard in the Nanoc levels are specific to these levels. The vast difference in art style demanded that the audio change dramatically as well. For the Captain, I wanted him to sound a lot heavier as he's running through the world. So his footstep sounds are partially taken from close mic'd recordings of bull steps. All of his other movement sounds have changed in this comic as well. When he jumps and performs a vicious melee, you'll hear a bit of tiger roar mixed in there to make him sound meaner. For the giant Tigersaurus animals, I created their distinct vocal sounds by morphing my own voice with actual jaguar snarls and roars.
Were there any other challenges to approaching the sounds of Nanoc's world?
MC: In addition to creating all the unique creature and character sounds found only in the Nanoc levels, it was also a bit of a challenge to create the ambient soundscape. I needed to try to flesh out a prehistoric world, complete with all sorts of creature inhabitants that you never even see, but simply hear calling out from the jungle. While the comic style is heavily action driven, with intense action music blaring along as you run along wreaking havoc, you still need that ambient bed underlying everything to make the world feel real, even if the player doesn't even notice it half the time. If it wasn't there, though, you'd definitely notice.
Once the 3D assets are made by Dave, it's up to our programmer Mike Henry to hook them up in the game and make sure things keep looking pretty.
How have the Nanoc comics been made to look so much different than the first comic?
MH: All of the art for this comic was created from the ground up specifically with this style in mind. The models have more of a primitive look, we went with a hand-painted watercolor look for the textures and backdrops, and there's a full-screen shader that gives everything a painted-on-canvas feel and a Frazetta-style palette.
What are some of the harder aspects of achieving such a unique look?
MH: Mostly it's a matter of getting to the desired level of "paintedness" without ruining the ability to read what's going on with the gameplay. We went through a bunch of different prototype shaders before settling on the final version, and it was easy to either make the game too dark, or make everything bleed together too much, or obscure the expressions on the characters' faces.
What were some decisions that were made to come up with these effects?
MH: In addition to the gameplay concerns we wrestled with, we also had to make a bunch of stylistic choices, like how prominent the canvas look should be, and whether or not to give everything an outline stroke. I'm really happy with our final result.
The game's Level Designer, Sean Conway, is responsible for building out the levels using all the content and gameplay pieces that are being dumped into the game every day:
Do you have a different approach to creating levels for Nanoc than you did for Splosion Man?
SC: There was definitely a different approach for a number of reasons. Comic Jumper
is story driven whereas Splosion Man was crazy chaos. With Splosion Man I could
chug a few (dozen) beers, just jump in, slap the computer around, and throw out
a few levels. I could make a level without having to worry much about story elements
at all. With Comic Jumper we had to have a story before we could make any of the
levels. We had to have something totally new to me that I like to call "a plan".
Our CCO Josh Bear wanted a comic based on a Frazetta art style. I'm pretty sure he kept saying things like "I want Frazetta" and "Give me Frazetta". The two obvious choices were Tarzan or Conan. The choice was easy for me. As a huge Conan fan I really wanted to go with a comic based on him. I went ahead and wrote a story to serve as a guideline for the three Nanoc levels. Wanting to wear the influence on my sleeve I named the character Nanoc (Conan backwards) and hoped that it would stick.
The process didn't end there. After I finished the first draft, Josh, Sean Riley, and I met to look over the write-up and we determined what had to be cut and which storylines had to go in other directions. After another draft the storyline was approved. With a core storyline set in place I could then start building the levels..."but that is another story".
Where are you drawing inspiration from for these Nanoc level designs?
SC: As a big Conan fan I drew inspiration from the Conan comics and the movie Conan
the Barbarian. The movie is different from the comics but I have always loved the
movie and wanted to draw inspiration from it as well. This will be apparent in parts
of the game like the "Tee of Woe" segment.
As far as gameplay goes, I drew inspiration from Contra, Gunstar Heroes, Metal Slug, and Sin and Punishment in these particular levels. I have always been a huge Contra fan, especially Contra 3. Thanks to that game if I ever find myself hanging on a launched missile in real life and need to jump to a new one while blowing away enemies, I now have the confidence to do it. Before I played Contra 3 I never believed in myself enough to succeed at it. Now I believe.
What were some of the challenges you face with designing the Nanoc levels?
SC: Early in the game's life cycle we weren't sure if we were going to allow the
Captain to jump through platforms, shoot through platforms, and fall in pits, so
a fair amount of the Nanoc levels are designed around not relying on these mechanics
and trying other things instead.
Another challenge arose once our environment artist took my layouts and built final level art out of them. I realized that I didn't want to go back through and tweak the layouts too much or else Marshall would have to go back and do a lot of editing on his end of things as well.
The nice part of me was concerned with his welfare and I realized that it would have caused more work for him and he was already swamped for this project. The cowardly part of me was concerned for my own welfare. Truth is, I simply didn't want to get hurt. I was eating our intern Alex's lunch one day when I glanced over and noticed how huge Marshall's right arm is. It is like two times the size of his left arm. How does that happen?
So anytime I had to make changes in a level I would walk over to him with my head down lower than his, I would avoid making eye contact, and I would open the conversation by telling him that he smelled nice. Then I would blame the reason for the changes in the level on our intern Alex. If any aspiring game designers take anything away from this interview, please I beg you, always have someone to blame along with at least two backup people to blame.
What's your favorite gameplay moment from the Nanoc comics so far?
SC: My favorite gameplay part in Nanoc is after the Captain slides down a hill he gets up and begins to run in 3-D for the 1st time. It is a cool feeling.
That's it for today's episode kiddies, but be sure to tune in next month for another exciting look behind the scenes of the epic development for Twisted Pixel's biggest and most amazing XBLA action title ever...