Darkness With a Twist of Dime-Store Novel
White Whale Games brings the pulp fiction aesthetic into the Modern age
A nefarious, unknowable force travels the universe, washing away the history of the worlds it passes. The darkness absorbs its victims' stories and gods then spreads to new planets. The darkness can be beaten, with various swords. What this universe needs? A hero. Only call him something catchier. Perhaps ... a God of Blades?
That's what Austin-based company White Whale Games – made up of Studio Director Jo Lammert, Creative Director Jason Rosenstock, and Lead Designer George Royer – is calling its first game, the soon-to-be released God of Blades. It's a 2½-D side-scroller featuring the ghost of a former king whose planet is one of many under attack by the unnamed darkness. An homage to the fantasy and sci-fi worlds of pulp fiction, God of Blades will include a few technical and artistic updates for the modern swordsman. For one, it's built for mobile devices, which means descendants of great warrior stock worldwide can find relief from their quests' daily drudgery anywhere they go.
Rosenstock explains the games' various swords, which physically battle both the darkness' terrestrial manifestations and the cultural limbo they instill in the people. "A sword is from a particular time and history of that world," says Rosenstock. "So the use of it keeps that story alive and fights against the forgetfulness of it."
The game purposefully offers scant explanation of all this, however. "We want the character to journey through this world. There will be stories told linearly as you walk through a space that you can tell from things like ruins and natural formations," says Rosenstock. In this way, God of Blades diverges from many current fantasy works.
"We looked at how fantasy is dealt with today. I always think of it as post-Lord of the Rings movies – a lot of it is taking the real world and transposing it over a fantasy world or revealing a fantasy world as if it's the real world, which is a great achievement," says Rosenstock. "But I miss the days of fantasy painting where the edges are all blurred out and it's all these saturated, swirling colors. It feels like a totally alien place that you get to go to and explore yourself. We really want to bring back that world of grandeur so you're not like, 'Oh, we're coming to the snow level.'"
To help players organically and quickly grasp the game's lore, White Whale periodically releases on the company blog cover art for faux fantasy novels about worlds and characters in the game. "We like to pretend [the novels] are in our world," says Royer. "People read them, but then they forgot."
Rosenstock painted the most recent cover, Cult of the Hidden Star, which introduces the game's antagonists – a cult in worship of an evil prophet-king, who long ago looked to the stars for hidden secrets. He found instead the aforementioned dark force. (Oops.) Like the game, the cover stylistically nods to one of the White Whale's favorite painters, Frank Frazetta, whose influence you've at least seen on the sides of 1970s taupe vans. But the team attributes more than an artistic technique to Frazetta. The game's universe and its relationship to these faux novels draw heavily on the way in which Frazetta not only illustrated but also helped revitalize Conan the Barbarian. "Conan has become a very popular figure in pop culture," says Rosenstock. "But in between the Thirties and the Sixties, Conan wasn't really around that much. There was a very small subculture of people who read Robert E. Howard, but it became popular again because of Frank Frazetta's work. But what if there was no Frank Frazetta? What if no one brought Conan back? There were no comics – nothing. It just went away. And then someone stumbled on all his old books, and was like, 'These stories are awesome! Why doesn't anyone know about this?'"
While helping to crystallize the game's universe and perpetuate the game's central dialogue around the dangers of cultural decay, these covers contribute to collaboration across the development team. "It's a great way to remind me, while I'm building the art of the game, where we were coming from and where we are going," says Rosenstock. "It's a great constraint and guide."
White Whale Games is currently raising money on Kickstarter to complete production on God of Blades. See www.whitewhalegames.com for info.