In my efforts to discover yet more indie titles in the making on crowdfunding platforms, I found another Kickstarter campaign for what is a very promising passion project based on a beloved comic book series. Little Nemo and the Nightmare Fiends is a 2D non-linear sidescroller based on the works of the innovative US comic book artist and animator Winsor McCay. Having inspired famous animators and artists since, including Walt Disney himself, he left behind a legacy and a mythos in equal parts beautiful and surreal, and this all serves as the inspiration for this game. The player controls 4 different characters throughout, including Peony, a character added to the mythos exclusively for the game, to explore non-linear 2D sidescrolling levels whilst along the way collecting hidden items, engaging in different varieties of combat, and making each character stronger as time goes on. Similar to Mickey Mania, the levels are based on classic Little Nemo episodes and stay faithful to the art style that McCay perpetuated throughout his career.
Wanting to know more about this gorgeous-looking and ambitious title, I contacted the project lead Chris Totten, head of Pie for Breakfast Studio based in Kent, Ohio, to get a better idea of this game amidst its Kickstarter project, and a better idea of the varied team behind it ranging from a variety of different indie development studios who are also helping out on the project. Here’s what Chris Totten had to say about little Nemo and the Nightmare Fiends:
Of course, the main influence behind the game was Winsor McCay’s classic comic book series of the same name. But what video games have been kept in mind most throughout development?
We’re really big retro gaming fans so when coming up with a game that involves a cast of characters like this, we take a lot of inspiration from games like Little Samson or Demon’s Crest (where the player character could change his form.) We’re asked about Little Nemo the Dream Master a lot as well and while we can’t remake that (it’s not public domain like the comics), we are going to make lots of nods to it.
What has the developmental process been like?
Our team is geographically distributed so that’s always a challenge, but one we’ve dealt with before. Making a game during a pandemic has been a bigger challenge, but it’s also provided something to keep us occupied. I’m mainly responsible for the art and animation so far (with bits of level design alongside Adrian Sandoval) so that’s been a lot of intense drawing – each character has dozens of frames so far and will probably need dozens more before release!
How close are we to seeing the finished product?
Our production schedule is mapped out as an 18-month project from the end of the Kickstarter, assuming we’re funded, of course.
What has been the most exciting aspect of development?
In my day job, I teach game development at a university and my research is on the intersections between games and older fiends of art, design, and animation. For me, this is an opportunity to use the process of making art to explore an important piece of comics and animation history.
What has been the most challenging aspect of development?
For me specifically, all that drawing! In general though, when you’re working on the first stages of a project trying to produce sample gameplay on nights and weekends, it can be very difficult to balance when you’re trying to put something out.
How well has the game been received so far?
Incredibly well! Folks seem to love the characters and the art style. Either they know the original comics and are excited to see someone use public domain stuff in that way OR they didn’t know about the comics at all and we’re educating them!
How did the collaboration with so many other indie developers come about?
These are all friends that I’ve made through years of going to conferences and conventions. We occupy a lot of the same spaces.
Do the additional developers share the same love for Little Nemo that you have?
Yes, the team is pretty passionate about Little Nemo. We all have our entry points: either renting the NES game or seeing the movie, but as everyone’s learned more, they’ve discovered a favorite character or comic.
What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?
If we reach our initial funding goal we’re going to launch on at least Windows and Mac, but we’ll consider other platforms depending on funding. We’d love to bring it to consoles!
Have you found many other fans of the comic book series have offered their feedback in regards to the game?
Yes! One of our main cheerleaders has been Zachary J.A. Rondinelli, a researcher doing a social media project called Welcome to Slumberland:
Every day he posts a new Little Nemo strip and delivers really excellent commentary along with an audience of contributors. We’ve been able to boost one another’s projects and it’s been fun having a community like that.
How much fun has it been celebrating the license by adding new elements to the Little Nemo mythos?
This is the best part of working with the public domain, I think. You can add your own twist to things or address problematic parts of an original work. There are parts of McCay’s comics (from the early 20th century) that are pretty racist, so we worked with a BIPOC artist to create characters so that Slumberland can be for everyone.
Have there been any ideas at this stage of development that have since been scrapped or reworked?
We’re always reworking things. I don’t want to cite anything specifically but we’re always tweaking what characters can and can’t do. It’s a normal part of game development.
If you had the opportunity to develop a game with any company or any franchise, which would it be, and why?
I’m a shameless Nintendo fanboy so anything Mario, Zelda, or Metroid would be in my wheelhouse. I’d love to do a hand-animated Mario game that looks like the original promotional art!
Out of the many varied things you’ve done throughout your career, would you say this project is what you’re most proud of?
So far this has been a high point, but one of the best parts of being a game design academic is that I also have a lot of freedom to work on self-directed projects. One of the best things I’ve done has been to write a book on level design. I’m also really proud of the tabletop game I released in 2019 based on Don Quixote (which was also a Kickstarter project!)
Do you have any advice for aspiring developers that may be reading this?
Learn the tools, but don’t think that’s the whole game development experience. Games are about the player experience, and you can make wonderful things no matter what tool it’s in. Make lots of little games, don’t just try to make something that looks like the big commercial games.
Where on the Internet can people find you?
Do you have anything else to add?
We hope you love Little Nemo and the Nightmare Fiends! Please support and share the campaign so we can make this the game of our dreams!
I’d like to close out by thanking Chris for taking the time out to talk to me about this wonderful-looking game, and to wish him the best of luck with Little Nemo and the Nightmare Fiends and its Kickstarter campaign. Little Nemo is clearly a labor of love, and if it sees its full release, I have every confidence that this will be a gaming experience loved by fans of McCay’s work, as well as fans of the 2D sidescrolling genre, and that it will be a fantastical journey that McCay himself would’ve been proud to see. In the meantime, you can check out the Kickstarter page of you would like to back the project via the link provided by Chris, but I hope you guys enjoyed reading this Q&A because I certainly had a fun time learning more about not only this game but also about the inspiration behind it.
Scouse Gamer 88.