VENUS PATROL PRESENTS: THE ART OF HONEYSLUG’S FROBISHER SAYS


11.2.2012

Brandon Boyer

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One of the core tenets of Venus Patrol, and Offworld before it, and really basically all my work over the past several years is that bringing in artists of all stripes not traditionally immersed in the world of games can (and has) only ever resulted in some of the most sublime work videogames can offer.

That’s only one sliver of why I think Honeyslug‘s Vita minigame collection Frobisher Says is so brilliant — there’s also its self-awareness, and its irreverence, and its holistic approach to wringing out basically every absurd interaction you can manage with Sony’s hardware — but it’s a very non-trivial sliver.

For as much as I’ve been a fan of the art Honeyslug and cohort Dick Hogg have produced — going back to their 2010 Gamma IV contribution Poto & Cabenga (and going back even further to some of Hogg’s work for UK design house Airside), and their gorgeous and still in-progress adventure game Hohokum — Honeyslug themselves have as voracious appetite for amazing art, something that shines through blindingly with the dream team of illustrators they assembled for each minigame in Frobisher Says.

And so, to get a better sense of how they hand-picked their lineup, I asked designer and programmer Ricky Haggett (above, right) and Hogg (above, left) to go game-by-minigame to give us the whos and hows and whys behind every artist chosen for what’s become, hands-down, one of Sony’s “coolest” games — in that old, original PlayStation Designers-Republic-doing-art-for-Wipeout sense of “cool”.

Says Haggett:

Nat Marco is a game designer and one of the co-founders of Honeyslug, but I worked with her for years before that. Until we made a game called Kahoots, in which everything was made out of real stuff, I was only dimly aware that she studied animation. Turns out she did her her entire degree in plasticine, giving herself RSI as a result! When we came to do Frobisher, it was a great opportunity to get her back on the plasticine, so she modelled a whole load of toffs and pirates, which she then had to squash! Nat’s desk is pretty much covered in strange little plasticine things these days..

Adam Schofield is the most talented illustrator I know who hasn’t made a game of his own yet. His work has a strange other-worldly Englishness, which he makes with a combination of vector, gradient and painterly techniques, built up in layers. His characters are always slightly unpleasant looking, but oddly compelling: we knew that he was the perfect person to draw Frobisher’s board of trustees.

At Honeyslug we work a lot with a Spanish comic-book artist called Henar Torinos. She makes a manga called Mala Estrella, but the things she draws for us tend to be super-cute.

I’ve known Jerry Carpenter for years: we used to work together making mobile games in the strange days before iPhones, where he was the pixel artist and I was the coder. For the past few years he’s been doing a regular blog called KBsGameToilet, where he posts up cartoon descriptions of videogames that don’t exist. Jerry is amazing at drawing – his sketchbooks are full of odd little characters and ideas for videogame mechanics, and you normally can’t tell where one ends and the other begins. We really wanted to work with Jerry on Frobisher, but he was too busy to make us proper game sprites, so we figured that some of his Game Toilet ideas would be perfect for ‘Delete Rudolf’s Savegames’.

Pixeljam are indie developers who make brilliant flash games: we’ve been a fan of their work for years, and finally met them at GDC in 2011. Their work has a strong, distinctive look, which is rare in pixelart, and their animation is simple but highly effective. Although they are pretty busy making their own games, we were delighted that they agreed to make the art for a couple of Frobisher games.

Kwok Fung Lam is a very silly man who does animation. His animation always makes us laugh – he worked on Poto & Cabenga and Hohokum. But like many commercial animators, he is great at drawing but rarely gets to use his own drawings in his work. We had a lot of fun working on Fight this Bear with him, and laughed a lot (the grumpy hill in the background with the road going through its face is one of our favourite things in the game). Kwok also got me into Demon’s Souls, for which I am forever grateful.

Charlie Knight makes videogames which all involve enormous amounts of shooting, particles and glowing things. Games like Scoregasm, Bullet Candy and Space Phallus. So when we designed a Frobisher game which has a lot of glowing and particles, we knew there was only one man for the job!

Greg Wohlwend is an indie game developer who we met when both of our games were selected for Gamma4 (us: Poto & Cabenga, him: 4Fourths with Mike Boxleiter). He has since worked on Solipskier, Puzzlejuice, Gasketball, Ridiculous Fishing and Hundreds, and you can see his striking graphic design sensibility in the things he made for Frobisher Says.

Amy Dixon is a friend of Greg Wohlwend’s who isn’t in the games scene, but came to GDC and hung out with indie developers for a few days. She studies medical illustration at John Hopkins but she drew us a lovely village, a bell tower, and a sunrise.

We’ve been fans of Davey ‘Swatpaz‘ Ferguson for ages now: I don’t allow more than a few months to go by without going back to his site to laugh at his amazing animation shorts, such as ‘Terry Runders Kicks a Stone‘ or the adventures of the Brillso Brothers. These days he is busy making a new series called Turbo Fantasy, but he was up for making us some cool characters for Frobisher Says. My favourite is ‘Strong Ice Cream’.

Dick made art for a number of the games in Frobisher Says: mostly the ones where he did a sketch version we fell in love with, and couldn’t imagine anyone else doing it.

Says Hogg:

I like talking to people on the telephone. None of your new-fangeled ‘instant messaging’ or ‘synaptoplasmic thought transference’ for me. Jon Boam clearly agrees and while working on Frobisher Says he would often ring me up for a nice chat about how things were going. Such a lovely bloke. I could talk to him all day… Also, his work is beyond rad. it comes in two different flavors JB and DB.

I think we saw Jude Buffum‘s work at a Giant Robot Exhibition. Crazy pixel-paintings of mutated marioesque stuff inside bell-jar-terrariums. Then, later on we knew that we wanted some pixel art games in Frobisher said and I thought Jude might be good, kind of left-field, choice for that. It worked out really well.

Napatsawan Chirayukool is from Thailand. She only eats sweet things. Nan divides her time between drawing crazy stuff and writing an an epic sci-fi saga that she publishes online. Only in Thai though.  Also, Nan’s dad is the lovely asian dude who says “Fro-BISH-er” in the Frobisher Says trailer.

Jack Cunningham is also in the Frobisher Says trailer! He is the chap sat in the middle on the park bench. The Vita they are using there is actually a pre-release dummy one so they are really not playing Frobisher Says at all, just pretending. (I was stood behind the camera screaming directions at them like a demented silent era movie-director. YOU ARE SCRATCHING A BACK! NOW OPENING A CLAM!)  I think they did pretty well. Perhaps if he wasn’t already an illustrator and animator Jack could be an actor.

I don’t really know who Crispin Finn is. He sounds incredibly posh. Perhaps he is one of Frobisher’s old school chums? He only works in the colours red, blue and white. Which is fine by me as they are three of my favourite colours.

Timothy Winchester. You know, THAT GUY. Timothy Winchester. Creator of the marvellous comic People I Know. It is well known that he can not draw hands. Less well know is that he can draw certain other parts of human anatomy with breathtaking accuracy.

Right from the start I knew I wanted there to be some really shoddy, half-hearted, or just plain rubbish art in Frobisher Says. You know, like most of the art in WarioWare. Stuff that looks like it was done in about ten minutes. Straight away I thought of Henki Leung. His lazy phoned in style would be perfect. Henki lives in Tokyo and mostly hangs out in that place with the giant sexy robot girls.

Martin O’Neill is a classically trained collage artist. A stranger to Photoshop, He still makes all his collages by hand, cutting up priceless old books and magazines. His beautiful studio houses an incredible collection of source material, although, for some reason, I am mainly drawn to the wrestling magazines and 70s-porn. He also collects ambulances.

It is really cool to be able to contact some guy on the Internet (who you don’t know anything about other than that you love his work) and say, hello Ross Philips, can you please draw some ladies and some badgers….here is some money.  A week or two later you have some splendidly designed and animated ladies and badgers. It’s that simple. Well, ok,it isn’t that simple. We had to send the ladies back because someone at Sony thought they were too saucy. He made them less saucy by adding beach balls and sand castles. We live in strange times.

I like to think I am the acme of professionalism in my dealings with the people I work with. However with Mr Johnny RyanI was reduced to a cringing sycophantic super-fan. Oh dear. Still, we got him to draw some stuff, that’s the main thing. I wish I could show you the boy-scouts that he has drawn for a forthcoming Frobisher game: they are my favourite Frobisher art ever. Instead, here is Erotic Art Collecting Squirrel.

For me Tamas‘s rendering of the character Frobisher IS Frobisher. More so than when I draw him myself, which feels weird. Tamas are Midori, Junjiro and Poquito. They live in Sapporo. This is starting to rhymeo. Sorry. Erm, check out their amazing icon/wallpaper project Kolme.

If you haven’t picked it up already, Frobisher Says is currently available worldwide as a free download for your PlayStation Vita, with an expansion pack due for U.S. release next week.


COMMENTS


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