by Marjolein Verheij
previewed on PC
A clay surprise
Visiting the Versus Evil booth at this year’s Gamescom, the last thing I had expected was the pleasant surprise in the shapely form of a game created almost entirely with clay. Georgina Verdon, Marketing Director of Versus Evil, demonstrated Armikrog which became one of the highlights of the show for me.
Armikrog is the the spiritual successor to The Neverhood, created by Pencil Test Studios. It’s a point-and-click adventure created in stop-motion animation. Frame by frame and set by set, it came to life through the efforts of Ed Schofield and Mike Dietz. Every scene is built in a real life box made from clay and further adorned with other materials such as a tin can lid or patches of moss. To my mind, the two men did not fuss too much about which materials were used, it was basically anything they could get their hands on that would make the backgrounds of the game look absolutely beautiful.
The two bendy characters, astronaut Tommynaut and his faithful friend Beak-Beak - a blind alien dog that was affectionately called ‘Beaky’ by Georgina Verdon - were designed by Doug TenNapel, creator of the Earthworm Jim. To be animate the characters, skeletal armatures were created and then sculpted in clay. From that sculpt a mold was made, which was then filled with foam rubber. They ended up with characters that looked like clay but were a little easier to handle - the rubber bends just as easily as clay but does not disfigure and can be put in any position possible needed for the animation.
Tommynaut and Beak-Beak have crash-landed on a strange planet after they set out on a journey to find out what happened to Tommynaut’s brother - the hero of the family. Soon after the crash they are attacked by a horrible beast. To escape, they flee inside a fortress called Armikrog. Through puzzles and exploration, they have to find their way out. To spice things up a little, you can switch between Tommynaut and Beak-Beak and each brings different skills to the table. Where Tommynaut is big and strong and does the heavy lifting, Beak-Beak can enter small passages that might hide clues you need to solve the puzzles. He might be blind, but he can still ‘sense’ in black and white. There is no inventory. Tommynaut can carry one item at the time, which is fine as you won’t ever need more.
The sheer amount of work put in Armikrog is staggering. There are hours of gameplay from start till end though the actual time spent depends on how you play. You can choose the ‘quick & dirty’ way, where you simply pick up and combine the stuff you need to progress. Yet to really enjoy this game you should explore every scene and take in every detail. Only when you do that, you will discover all the craziness put into it. Even just looking out of the same window again and again will show you different things and give you a bit of background information.
Armikrog has a rich cast of voice-over talent to bring the characters to life, including actors Rob Paulsen (Pinky and the Brain), Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) and Michael J. Nelson (Mystery Science Theater 3000). The original soundtrack is created and recorded by American songwriter and record producer Terry Scott Taylor.
With the release just around the corner - September 8th - I sure can’t wait to get my hands on it, even if my puzzle skills are a little rusty.