With illustration and animation simplicity, Kids, a new game by Michael Frei and Mario von Rickenbach has initiated a gaming storm since it’s release. A short, interactive game that encourages players to “move with and against crowds until everyone is gone,” this pair have proved that undemanding narratives in gaming can make you very addicted.
Forming a dream team with their mutual background in animation and game-making, Michael and Mario met back in 2013 when the former was looking to turn his short film Plug & Play into something interactive. Meeting Mario, the pair “established that we had a very similar understanding of how to achieve that,” recalls Michael, whereas Mario was “curious to see what could come out of working with a filmmaker, especially one who likes to play ping pong with me.”
Realising they were both “equally interested in unconventional approaches to making things work while retaining an accessible and intuitive design language,” the pair launched a studio, Playables, to build a place where they could create “peculiar interactive stuff” with Kids being an embodiment of this ethos.
Initially, Kids grew out of simple questions. “How do we define ourselves,” Michael tells us, “How much are we just a product of our circumstances?” and “How do we decide what to do and where to go?” for example. Thinking about human relationships “by the positions blank characters take in relation to each other,” Kids was already a small idea when the pair were developing Plug & Play. From there, the duo decided to test and abandon ideas “until Kids grew into something we liked,” says Mario. “It was a painful process but I do not regret it.”
Making relatively simple aesthetics is often the hardest creative task, with Michael having to draw “about 4,000 frames of this fearless character and trying to name all the files correctly. Mario then tossed them around using physics and some other magical calculations until everything worked to our liking,” he tells It’s Nice That. “It is basically just image sequences, code and sound files behaving properly.”
Already getting to grips with how they would work together, as well as what their overall approach to designing games would be on Plug & Play, this project saw the pair refining their workflow. “One of the main goals was to make the design work on a variety of screen sizes,” points out Mario. “We wanted it to look great on cinema screens as well as on tiny smartphone displays.” With its stripped back illustrational quality, a lot of importance was placed on the sound used in Kids in order to “define the space and give the bodies the weight they deserved” too.
Now out in the world and already meme-d a hundred times over, Kids has had an amazing reaction from both illustration, animation and gaming audiences. “It has been great indeed!” says Mario. “We were featured in some nice articles, got some good social media buzz, and heard about people who questioned their life after playing the game.” Michael is also “humbled” by such feedback, adding how “I’m glad my little niece and my grandmother like the game equally.”
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