GOROGOA: How Interactive Comics Became an Award-Winning Game

Jason Roberts, creator of Gorogoa, a game that relies solely on its hand-drawn art to both tell the story and provide the gameplay, doesn't hate words, he was just feeling a little disillusioned with language when he conceived of the game, “I wanted the gameplay of Gorogoa to be as simple and accessible as possible, and trying to design it so as to require no instructions at all was a useful constraint.”


Roberts describes his inspiration in creating a game that could be understood, played and enjoyed without a single word of text written or spoken anywhere, “Games without dialog or much language at all are uncommon, but not unheard of. Limbo and Journey are other examples which I admire. Those games also require minimal instruction.”

This minimum of hand-holding and a peculiar kind of gameplay leaves Gorogoa open to interpretation that might differ from player to player, but at its core, the game takes place among four panels in a single frame. Players move forward by shifting the available planes around, both in relation to each other and 'forward and back' within each to progress and uncover new panels. Experienced comic readers will quickly pick up on how it plays with the form, and as Roberts reveals Gorogoa started with that audience in mind.

"It began as an idea for an interactive comic. Each comic panel is a window into the world of the story, so what if you could enter a panel, or at least manipulate its contents? And because the panels are laid out on a page as part of a larger composition, and have a spatial relationship to each other, what if the panels could communicate? What if the gutters between them could dissolve and two panels could fuse together?”


For gamers, this provides plenty of the kind of satisfying moments that players of puzzle or adventure games feel when the solution to a particular challenge suddenly snaps together in their minds and then on the screen. In Gorogoa's case, this feeling is heightened by the attention to detail that Roberts has placed in every frame, detail that has a very low-tech start.

"I [draw the frames] in pencil on paper, then scan them in and color them in Photoshop. The Photoshop documents are big and complicated with many layers and groups and masks so that I can play around with colors and change my mind about them later. But ultimately, the process is pretty simple. In some cases I first model parts of a scene in 3D in order to guide the drawing and help me get geometry lined up correctly. I might either draw from the screen or print out a 3D rendering and trace over it. But most of the drawing is done freehand."

While some character animation is done via sprites or by rotoscoping over 3D animations at 12 frames per second, to create the crucial 'zoom' effect, Roberts employs some classic visual trickery, “If you zoom in on something, there are at least two different images of it, one from far away and one close up, but the transition between them is done by simultaneously scaling and cross-fading the two images.”

Overall the look of Gorogoa feels instantly familiar, but Roberts is humble about his own artistic abilities, citing Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth) as an inspiration for visual composition, and that he aspires to the talent of classic novel illustrators like Edward Gorey, Chris Van Allsburg (Jumanji), Gustave Dore and David Roberts.

Though incomplete, Gorogoa is already making waves on the independent game circuit. Roberts and Gorogoa picked up the award for Visual Design at IndieCade 2012 for “[...]bring[ing] unique vision, both literally and figuratively, to interactive media, exploring a wide range of visual styles beyond the well-trodden approaches of photo realism or the arcade cartoon.”

Jason Roberts is cautiously satisfied with his game's success, “I'm happy with what I've made so far, but I certainly won't consider it a complete success until it's finished. I would also be disappointed if it didn't find much of an audience. I don't require it to be financially successful to call it a success, but frankly making some money is important if there's going to be a game after this one.”

A demo for Windows and Mac is now available here.

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