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  • Postmortem: Joshua Nuernberger's Gemini Rue

    - Joshua Nuernberger
  •  I was about eight or nine years old when I played a game called The Secret of Monkey Island. Little did I know that this one game would implant an idea in my head that would alter the course of my life. The idea was that one day I would somehow create my very own video game.

    Although I had been playing games since I was four, Monkey Island changed my view of what gaming could be. It showed me that games didn't have to be about jumping across pits of spikes, firing at endless enemies, or landing planes successfully, and then reaching a high score screen, although those types of games can be fun. Monkey Island went beyond that -- it showed me that games could tell stories, make you care about characters, and bring you into another world. And for some reason, I knew I had to create those types of games for myself.

    Of course, that was just a dream, and I was still just a kid, but the idea is what counted. And as any gun-toting, dream-invading, Christopher Nolan-written character might say, "The most resilient parasite is an idea." And that's true for games, as well. All it takes is one little idea to create the grandest of games.

    And so, years later, after a laundry-basket-full of incomplete learning projects, two freeware game releases, and a trip to the Independent Games Festival later as a Student Showcase Finalist, I am happy to say that I came at least somewhat close to fulfilling that idea. It took a lot of hard work and multiple failed projects before that, but I finally created my "dream" game.

    That game was Gemini Rue -- my first full-length, commercially released adventure game. I started the game (then known as Boryokudan Rue) as a senior in high school, and finished it during my third year in college. Gemini Rue has since been published by the independent studio Wadjet Eye Games. What follows are some of the lessons I've learned along the way, the good and the bad.

    What Went Right

    1. Choosing an Art Style That Resonated

    When I started production on Gemini Rue, I was in my last year of high school, working on games in my free time. Because of that, I needed to come up with an artistic style that would allow me to mass-produce backgrounds, yet still evoke a strong atmosphere with minimal time investment. Yet I didn't realize how the simplest (and one of the quickest) design decisions would be what many people would remember the most from the game: the visuals. There was something about the combination of pixel art, impressionistic brush strokes, and a striking palette that resonated with people. Whether it was nostalgia or luck, something about the art just clicked with people.

    First, I chose to use a minimal palette -- something that frequently comes up in pixel art -- in order to evoke a stronger visual response from players. I took inspiration from the anime Cowboy Bebop, regarding its strong color choices -- particularly from the episode "Ballad of Fallen Angels." I was striving to capture the entire feel of Cowboy Bebop, not just in the aesthetic. The resulting colors were a darkish blue for the land, and a beige-purple for the skies.

    As far as the pixelated and impressionistic approach, I knew from the beginning that I was going to be working with upwards of fifty, sixty, or even more backgrounds (it eventually turned out to be around eighty), so I wanted a technique that I could be comfortable reusing. This immediately eliminated hi-res art as an option -- it would take twice as long per background, and it would be a pain to animate -- and even with lo-res art, I knew from past experience that I could spend hours and hours defining every pixel, erasing every smudge, and making everything look as "clean" as possible. So, I quickly realized that working "cleanly," even with lo-res art, wasn't going to work at all on a large scale. Instead, I turned to using quick, impressionist, low-resolution sketches where brush strokes would often show through, backgrounds would have a grimy look to them, and there would be general feel of decay everywhere.

    Using this method, I was able to produce a placeholder 320x200 background in probably less than thirty minutes, and a more finalized version in sometimes as little as one or two hours. This approach to the art worked. It saved me a vast amount of time (I probably never would have finished the game otherwise) and I was able to keep producing backgrounds that had a distinct visual style.


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