When you think of comics, you probably have classic comics in mind that have been around for almost 100 years. In the recent past, digital comics have been added, analogous to what e-books are for books. For some incredibly space-saving, for others the charm of what you hold in your hand while reading is lost. And: In all likelihood, a digital comic will never be worth as much as, say, the first edition of Action Comics.

What does the next stage of evolution look like? Liberated (Test) attempts to answer this question by connecting a digital comic book to interactive and playable panels. But is this really the future of comics? Or just one of the many shapes? “I speak for myself here, but I know the team tends to take that point of view,” says Piotr Gnyp, director of BizDev at publisher Liberated Walkabout Games. “To me, comics are eclipsed by superhero movies these days. Yes, masked heroes are incredibly popular, but only in blockbusters or TV series. “

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“Fewer and fewer people read comics,” he adds, highlighting the problems resulting from the current corona pandemic. “The reality of the pandemic is that the traditional comic book industry is suffering. Publishers are laying off their creative teams, running ongoing series, and comic book stores going bankrupt. “His hopes for the future are all the greater:” Perhaps this interactive and digital graphic novel, but at the same time, will breathe new life into our beloved medium. Our hope is that Released and this playable graphic novel format will gain popularity and other established comedy franchises want to explore this new formula with us. ”

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So far, not much has happened in this area, which is surprising. The idea is not that unusual and the big publishers would have the financial means to do it: “To be honest, we have wondered for a long time,” says Gnyp. “Seems like the perfect combination, doesn’t it? All the individual pieces were there and they were waiting for someone to come and put them together. If you ask me, everyone was too busy with the success of the movies to make this connection. To see obvious things, you have to step back every now and then and look outside the box. ”

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The fact that Liberated is kind of a pioneer here is the hope of the company, which would like to do more titles and work with well-known brands. “We have learned a lot,” he says about the evolution of the title. “There is no recipe for merging two different media. It was necessary to rely on our intuition. We couldn’t predict how players and critics would react to this new formula. And the reactions that we are seeing are extremely interesting. Some critics praise the story but want less action – others love it and would like more. For me, this proves that it is worth continuing on this path. ”

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“We’re currently reading reviews – there are a lot of them – to see what people liked and didn’t like,” he says. “But one thing is 100% clear and we are very happy about it: People love this new formula. For us, this is the most important discovery, because everything else can be improved in the next games. “

The game has been in the works for more than two years and the topic it deals with is now more relevant than ever: “The game suddenly becomes more relevant than we expected,” he explains. “We set the release date a long time ago and we couldn’t change it. It’s not like we’ve prepared ahead of time for what will happen in 2020. It’s pure coincidence. “

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“We tried to tell a universal story,” Gnyp adds. “The weighting of privacy and security is becoming an increasingly important topic as technology companies know so much about us and we are seeing how that knowledge can be used. It doesn’t take us long to ask ourselves the questions that a few years ago A few months ago it sounded like a dystopian cyberpunk novel, “Would you install a tracking app to help fight the pandemic?” Is one of them. ”

As with video games, some people still think of comics as “kid stuff” which couldn’t be further from the truth. Libéré has both players and non-players in mind. “We hope to speak to liberated people who don’t play games but are interested in graphic novels – and vice versa,” he says. “We have a player mode for those who prefer to enjoy the story instead of demonstrating their gaming skills. And a player mode for basic players. “

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Enough is enough.

Having the idea for a project like Liberated is one thing, implementing it is another. What was the biggest challenge? “Just one? Gnyp asks. “Let’s say it was the rhythm. The comics are extremely dynamic. You don’t spend a lot of time on one panel. You move forward – and quickly. Long gameplay and scenarios had to be avoided. It’s the contrary. of traditional video game design, where you watch a five-minute cutscene and then play for half an hour. ”

“And technically the game is more complex than it looks,” he explains. “There are three different cameras that are active at the same time, showing you the book, the page and the panels. Technical tricks were needed to make you feel like you were interacting with a “real” graphic novel. “

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In terms of styling, Gnyp names Frank Miller’s Sin City as the inspiration for Liberated, and Will Eisner classics like The Spirit on the other, and black films such as The Trace of the Falcon and Woman Without Conscience have. had an influence on the design. In terms of gameplay, the new and classic double stick action games and the platformer are the models, here he mentions Inside, My Friend Pedro, Flashback and Another World as ideas.

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Doubts arise.

“It took a few tries,” Gnyp explains, referring to the alignment of the graphic style between the 2D panels and the 3D sequences. “At first we thought about keeping the game completely in 2D and hand-drawn. The gameplay would therefore have seemed a little too rigid visually. Then we tried it with 3D backgrounds and 2D characters, which didn’t match. We have tried it is also completely in 3D which is too far from the real comic book. It was difficult to find the right place – and all the more satisfying since we were able to do so.

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The question of how many interactive elements are good for the game and when they distract from the story is a tricky one. “It’s a difficult subject,” he admits. “Finding the right balance between story and gameplay has been one of the biggest challenges. There is no advice for this. Some reviews have said that some players want more action because they love the shooter. Others had more fun with it. if there had been less interactive elements. In the future, the difference between reader mode and reader mode is significant. Generally speaking, we want to create the same immersive feeling you get when reading a comic – it wouldn’t be fair to take too long for yourself attached to a sign. You don’t hold onto a photo for half an hour while reading. ”

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The choice was deliberately focused on a black and white black style. As Gnyp reveals, the developers experimented with elements of color, but ended up finding it boring. “We tried to use just one color to highlight individual elements in the game world,” he says. “Red, yellow or orange – or a different color for each chapter of the story. We quickly discovered that a single color “contaminates” the environment when playing with light and shadow, and with different lighting conditions. “

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Liberated consists of four editions.

In the end, everything at Liberated leads to the same result, no matter what decisions you make in the game. Which shouldn’t always be the case in the future. “It depends on the story we want to tell,” he emphasizes. “Here we had a degree in mind and we wanted to send a message. Other than that, it’s not a purely creative decision. With hand drawn graphics, it takes some time to draw and animate each different path. “

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“We’re an independent studio and think carefully about what we spend our money on,” he says. “The framework of a playable graphic novel is extremely flexible. He has the potential to be a medium who tells all kinds of branching and open-ended stories. “

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