The action-adventure comic book-inspired video game Liberated from developer Atomic Wolf is arriving soon as a Nintendo Switch timed exclusive. We had the opportunity to ask the head of business development at publisher Walkabout Games, Piotr Gnyp, about adapting the medium of comic books as best as possible into a completely different outlet of entertainment and the iconic pop-culture phenomenons that inspired the upcoming release. Liberated attempts to create a digital space that best replicates holding an actual comic book issue, rather than just taking in a multitude of popular characteristics and tropes audiences often found in games heavily influenced by the physical media. How does it do that, you may ask?
Liberated’s gameplay, cutscenes, and transitions all are reminiscent of those feelings you may have while shuffling through an actual book. In the past, several other companies have attempted to create comic book stylized titles. We have seen games like Gravity Rush and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker build foundations that contain chaptered formats and static cutscenes that have taken various elements from the realm of comic books, but they never attempted to completely replicate where they drew the vast majority of their inspiration from. On the other hand, other titles such as Comix Zone, have tried to completely transfer the storytelling format of comics, but ultimately inherited the traditions of game creation. While all these past releases have found success in diving into the static form of entertainment, none have embraced it quite like how Liberated has.
Liberated brings the feelings of physicality to the digital front by literally creating a playable comic book.
“Most comic book games use the medium just to present their story: through static images and speech bubbles. We wanted to actually simulate the paper comic — embrace its boundaries, make you feel like you are interacting with a real comic book. We love the smell of paper, the sound of pages turning, the dynamics of framing, the way onomatopoeias stimulate senses they don’t actually pertain to,” says Gnyp.
“Liberated is at its core a comic book story, a graphic novel — like the ones you can find in comic book shops. It just so happens this one is rendered and has panels where you decide what happens through gameplay. But it has a cover, pages you can turn, issues to collect, and it’s ‘printed’ on a glossy paper that reflects light when seen from a certain angle. It doesn’t break through the comic book limitations, it embraces them and lives within them.”
Liberated hops between interactive cutscenes and standard gameplay just like any other video game, but it also incorporates the conventional reading traditions that comic book buyers look forward to. While it takes a lot of cues from the limitations of the physical medium, it is a video game at its core and it aims high to retain and refine the engaging aspects of both forms of storytelling. It dons the aesthetics of books while transitioning frames into individual bursts of gameplay. The game lacks voice acting and does not always properly transition between settings like other titles traditionally would due to the presence of visible flipping pages, panel transitions, and plenty of on the spot appearing speech bubbles.
While the reading to playing ratio will be half and half in the game, each issue will differ from one another. Its story is divided into four issues where some are presenting the world and spotlighting individual characters integral to the plot of Liberated, while others are mainly focused on taking the player directly into the action that will ultimately have a larger hand in dictating the outcome of the game’s narrative. The greatest obstacle the developers behind Liberated faced when adapting the limited aspects of comics into a more manipulative format was streamlining what makes both mediums constantly entertaining- jumping between reading and playing.
“The biggest challenge was the pacing. Comics are a surprisingly dynamic medium. You never linger too long on a single panel, you keep moving and moving from one to another. Comics are fast. So, we couldn’t have long stretches of either gameplay or story. You play for a couple of minutes, read, play, read, play–it’s a moving affair, far from traditional video game design. We took some inspiration from cinematic platformers which often mix gameplay with story elements,” says Gnyp. Many outlets have been comparing the game’s cinematics to several dark political comic books and they rightfully should. Behind Liberated’s development were avid readers of graphic and standard novels. It is easy to see how writers such as Alan Moore, Jacek Dukaj, and Frank Miller all impacted the game’s final narrative direction and bleak tone.
“The main comic inspiration was, of course, V for Vendetta, but there is more. You can see a Sin City vibe in the aesthetics, Watchmen style of narrative etc. We drew inspiration from Will Eisner’s classic tales, and even The Long Tomorrow and Transmetropolitan,” Gnyp says. “While some team members love to read comics and graphic novels, others are more into books. Gibson, Morgan, Stephenson come to mind instantly. But not only them. The new book by Zuboff about surveillance capitalism was also important to us.” All of the developer’s inspirations draw into creating a science-fiction political action thriller set in the near future.
Ensuring that reading is just as accomodating as gameplay for every user is crucial in telling a story in a living room or on the go.
Out of all the platforms Liberated is being brought to, the Nintendo Switch seems like the hardest to properly accommodate for on the surface. Gameplay in handheld mode compared to that of its docked counterpart can come often come off as cumbersome for most games as they fall victim to incredibly hard to read fonts and text sizes that practically require a microscope to understand. A lot of users have found that some games with heavy text reading are often in need of dedicated optimization development, but the developers behind Liberated are taking things one step beyond to ensure that on-the-go Nintendo Switch users do not feel cheated in any regard.
“Having a choice between big and small fonts was one of the first things we included in the Switch version, and then in the PC as well, because why not? We’ve also invented a lot of programming tricks to make the game look and feel the same as the PC version. You get the full experience. You can tailor it to a larger or smaller screen, and, if you get the Switch version, take Liberated anywhere with you.”
Liberated is a unique gameplay experiment, and Gnyp wants players to stay updated with their official Facebook, Twitter, and Discord with the direct links here. Liberated will be available June 2nd as a timed exclusive on Nintendo Switch, with the game arriving later on other platforms. Users who decide to pre-purchase the game on the Nintendo Eshop can currently buy the title at a discounted price.
“We hope that you will try Liberated and tell us what you think about our new formula. We would love to do more of this type of game, so your feedback is crucial to us,” Gnyp says.