Sebastian Kempke is an illustrator and the founder of Studio Buddelfisch (which means bottled fish in English). The studio is the practical shop where his fellow artist and him not only prepare comics and other publications for their own small press business, but also do commissions and projects for other companies.
The wonderful and unique FreudBot talked to his team about the process of creating the backgrounds, animations and story of the game, and how making games differs from creating comics.
FreudBot: Sebastian, who the heck are you?
Sebastian: I’m 33 years old, I was born in Hamburg and I got in touch with German comics only five years ago. Before, I studied Chinese for a good measure of years, worked in a library, stacked dog-food, sold action-figures at a wholesale dealer and designed videos for different companies. Nowadays I draw comics for different projects and publishers. Recently, I created the adventure game Night of the Rabbit with my brother, who is a really talented game-designer at Daedalic Entertainment. Right now I’m working on a zombie card game and the latest story of my own horror comic book, which will be about hopping Chinese vampires.
FreudBot: Comics, eh? Don’t you think comics are intellectually substandard?
Sebastian: Hmm… Maybe you should give Sandman by Neil Gaiman a try.
FreudBot: Anyway, why did you line up with these strange people trying to make a “game” out of me?
Sebastian: Well, on the one hand, actually because I really liked the pitch. When I first listen to an idea for an upcoming project, and I start to giggle madly, it’s a good sign that this project is worth the effort. The humor is very corny but pretty intelligent too and if you do a game, it should be something special every time. I hope we can make it something special!
On the other hand, I heard it through the grapevine, that this game could have been done by the comic artist Schlogger, and I really think she’s a genius, so that was really an opportunity that was not to be missed. I hope she likes the game when it’s out!
FreudBot: How did someone like you get all this character and background art stuff right?
Sebastian: We have a team of two authors, headed by Dirk M. Jürgens, who is a real idea-machine and who has a deep understanding about stories which you should have, even if it’s a comedy about a robot psychotherapist…
Sebastian: … then we have Cori Ertl, who is our animation specialist. And then there’s Gregor Schenker, a very talented cartoonist from Switzerland. The art style (which is really emphasizing the very great script by our writers) was always going to be based on Gregor’s character designs, which are hilarious. So, when creating a character, Gregor and me would both start doing some scribbles, and we would then choose from his designs the most crazy version. And then I’d rework it, add colors and create the overall art style. Then I prepare the characters for animation and send them over to Cori. And then she works her magic. I don’t know how she does it, but it’s amazing.
For the backgrounds and the other graphics, we’d just choose a style that would fit the character style, complementing it. Let’s ask the team for their inspirations concerning the game.
FreudBot: So Dirk, and you’re with him? Why?
Dirk: Almost all of my previous comics had been underground projects, so that’s why I’m trying to do more mainstream these days. But of course the projects have to be crazy and weird enough to get me interested. FreudBot meets all criteria!
Also, after having written comics, prose fiction, audio drama and screenplays, so it was appealing, to add an interactive story to the list.
FreudBot: It’s difficult to capture all of my genius work in simple, ordinary words, right?
Dirk: The biggest part of the game’s narrative is focused on dialogue, but it was to be avoided to create a wasteland of texts, so it has been very important from the beginning to keep the lines short and to the point, which makes it all the funnier, if you have some good jokes in there. Sitcoms and comic strips were a big influence. If you’ve only got four panels to set up a story and finish with a gag in the fourth panel, that’s a demanding art form!
You yourself and all the other characters, that joined the story one after another, sport such strange personalities and that makes it total fun to write them into new situations.
FreudBot: Cori, you’re animating all of this. How can someone with a mind so much simpler that mine even handle that?
Cori: When doing bigger projects, excel sheets are really helpful. Every animation and character is put down in a table, and every entry will be color coded, depending on the current progress. Work in progress is marked yellow, and another piece which I just finished will be marked green. A lot of notes will be added for each entry, like date and time when something is finished or send off to the programmers, feedback and so on. That way, I always know what’s finished and what’s left to do. Animation itself is done in Spine though, not in excel! (laughs)
FreudBot: Your laughing signalizes despair and exasperation! Interesting! Tell me more about this animation stuff!
Cori: Aside from Steve, you’re the game’s most prominent character, of course and you’re the most complex character to animate, because you’re explaining the game to the player, you’re helping Steve and so on. You’re supposed to look crazy and funny, but sometimes even a little menacing.
FreudBot: I AM funny!
Cori: To make that work out, I try to build up on the fact, that you looked very silly from the very beginning (thanks to the great work done by Sebastian and Gregor) and that you’re mechanical body is nothing short of ridiculous, but also a little bit disturbing. If you bring all those aspects into the different animations, it’s a wonderful and exciting challenge.
FreudBot: I’m flattered.
Cori: Steve himself, well, he’s suffering throughout the entire game (laughs). Having that in mind, I try to show it in his animation, without making him to whiny, passive or monotonous. Once again, the great artwork really helps to show all the different emotions.
About the enemies, although they all behave in a similar way, it was important to still make them recognizable. Every character that you work with as animator already brings with them a certain personality by the way they are drawn. That you have to build upon as an animator. You take inspiration from the artwork and try to push the character a little further, to make his or her traits stand out even more. So it’s all about to test, how far you can push his or her traits while still delivering a believable character who, in the end, still has some surprises up his or her sleeve.
FreudBot: You lazy folks are working from home?
Sebastian: Well, of course it’s not always easy. But it really helps that we all have been working together for some years. Doing it professionally, as we now are, we always wish we’d share a neat little office to make communication and swapping ideas so much easier and faster
While developing FreudBot, we just do regular Skype meetings and send a million mails. It’s not the best or most effective way, but it can be done!
Dirk: It was a great advantage that we have been already working together for so long. Together with Gregor I already wrote a web comic for a number of years. Such an experience comes in handy when working out the comic sequences for the game.
FreudBot: Working with me is way better than making comics, right?
Sebastian: We are used to do everything on our own. You have an idea, write a script, and draw the pictures. With you, that wasn’t all that different, although you first draw everything without putting it on page, then dump it into a cardboard box and place it in front of the programmer’s office. Then you slowly back away and then, when nobody’s watching, they make the game out of it. Amazing!
Dirk: Yes, although I always liked working as a team, this was an entirely new experience. Apart from the creative stuff, every idea has to be checked, if you can realize it technically. Comics sometimes are called а poor man’s Hollywood because special effects are free, but in games, where everything has to be done within a budget and put together by programmers, you have to plan ahead rationally and not just throw in everything you want to have in the game.
Sebastian: The biggest challenge was to bring Steve, our protagonist and yourself to life. And to make this adventure timeless and modern at the same time. It’s always best to not think about doing designs for a game but for a story. With our main focus on illustration and comics outside video games, we hope to create game visuals that could also work with the story outside the medium. Maybe that makes the story and characters memorable. I hope. What was I talking about?