Piecing together FRAMED Collection, with Loveshack Entertainment: Aussie Developer Interview
Nintendo AUNZ took a freezeframe in time with Melbourne indie studio, Loveshack Entertainment, to bring you a Q&A for bite-sized Nintendo Switch serial, FRAMED Collection.
Do you ever wish that you could stop time and alter a chain of events that befalls you? With Australian-developed FRAMED and FRAMED 2, you can! Available in Nintendo Switch eShop, FRAMED Collection employs an imaginative mechanic where players shuffle the panels of an animated comic book to craft the story of a Noir-styled spy adventure.
Tell us about Loveshack Entertainment and the team behind FRAMED Collection.
Stu Lloyd: Loveshack was co-founded in 2012 by Josh Boggs and Ade Moore, with Ollie Browne joining closely after and myself starting as a contractor but officially becoming one of the directors in 2016. We all met working at the Melbourne-based studio, Firemint, which was acquired by EA in 2011. Ade is the industry veteran in the group, having worked on many great titles before Firemint. For Josh, Ollie and myself, Firemint was our first games gig.
We brought our combination of design, code, art and musical experience to the table, but we couldn't have done it as swiftly without the help of a few friends, contractors, and publishers. You'll have to see the credits list for all the people responsible, but some key contributors are Tristan Lewis, who played a huge part in programming for FRAMED 2 and for the collection, and Sam Izzo for the Nintendo Switch port, and of course the help of Surprise Attack (now Fellow Traveller) for all their help marketing and aiding us through the collection. Thanks to all.
How did you come up with the concept of FRAMED and FRAMED 2?
Joshua Boggs: FRAMED began as a thought experiment. Rather than play with a set of actions like you normally would in a game (run, jump, shoot), I thought: what would happen if you played with the context that an action happened in instead?
I struggled for a while to work out how this would even be possible, until I read the brilliant Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. The idea of encapsulating these actions as individual panels and being able to re-order these panels to change the outcome of a scene naturally emerged after that.
What was the motivation behind using comic book styling as a storytelling device?
Joshua Boggs: Well when you think about it, a comic panel is a great way to encapsulate an action; and since a series of panels can create a story it became a natural fit as a storytelling device.
Since stores in comics depict a series of events via panels over time, it meant we were able to really play up the mechanic of re-organizing these panels within a snapshot of an event or scene – and apply those ideas to the overall narrative structure itself. So, the motivation was to marry the mechanic and storytelling device under that theme of ‘change the order, change the outcome’.
The game’s art is hand-crafted with a crisp, minimalist Noir style. What was involved in creating the art for FRAMED Collection?
Ollie Browne: Firstly, there was the research phase, which involved watching a lot of Film Noir movies and looking at a lot of pulpy Noir comic art from the time. More specifically, we looked at the intro sequences to Hitchcock films of the 50s and 60s. Saul Bass, who was responsible for a lot of those (as well as a lot of the films’ promotional posters and art), really inspired us in finding the tone and palette of the art for the game; a kind of stylish, playful seriousness.
FRAMED Collection was the first game I’d ever done art for (I was in Design and QA earlier in my career), so it was a big challenge for me. I have a degree in fine art, so I wasn’t totally unfamiliar with the art-making process, but I’d never really made digital art before. A lot of other artists in our building (which at the time was a shared space with other game studios) were shocked to see I didn’t use a tablet and made all the art with a mouse and keyboard.
Making the actual art itself was just hard work and tenacity. Luckily, for each scene, there was often always similar panels, so there was a bit of copy-pasting I could do to save time. But conversely, the hardest part of making the FRAMED Collection art was the fact that there were often multiple small panels that had to convey a lot of visual information, so I had to design a set of mental/visual tools to use to make sure the art wasn’t too complicated, but not too simple either, and that the puzzle elements could be easily identified in each panel.
What are some of the challenges and rewards you found in telling a story without dialogue?
Joshua Boggs: Not having dialogue was a huge challenge. It meant that subtle emotions and intents were hard to communicate, so the story had to remain simple. Because of the type of game it was, we used Noir genre tropes and expectations to our advantage to help embed the game with communicating particular feelings and intent, in what is essentially a puzzle/action game.
Talk us through storyboarding FRAMED Collection and the process of coming up with multiple outcomes for each panel placement (including the amusing fails!)
Ollie Browne: We’d first start by doing a storyboard of the overall plot and any branching narratives, and placing these sketches on cards on the wall. Then we’d decide which of the key moments in the plot could work best as puzzle moments, and which would be better as a scene with minimal input, or even as a simple cutscene with no input. Then we’d each take a few scenes (a mix of puzzles and cutscenes) and go away to try and individually come up with a puzzle for the scene, or if it was a low-input narrative moment, a ‘cinematic’ treatment for that. These simpler scenes were often relatively easy to design, but the puzzle scenes could often take days.
The way in which we did this was very rudimentary. We basically drew simple sketches on small squares of paper (the ‘Panels’), with crude stick figures running in and out of the panel and avoiding the obstacles we’d placed there or whatever it was they had to traverse. Then you’d literally play the level by moving the bits of paper around and trying to ‘break’ the logic of it. When that happened, you needed to regress the design to allow for that outcome and try again! When you were finally satisfied with your design, the whole team would meet, and we’d play through it and try and break it again (often happened!) or make suggestions and alterations, as well as assess it for difficulty (both gameplay-wise and content creation-wise).
The amusing fails were really the work or our incredible animator Stu, who has a bit of a twisted sense of humour. Often when a scene had a potentially amusing fail in it somewhere, Stu would exaggerate and amp it up so much that even we would watch the animations over and over, laughing our heads off.
Not only is the jazzy soundtrack super catchy, but the sound effects entwine with the visuals on-screen. How did the audio production come together?
Adrian Moore: I started playing around with moods and melodies for FRAMED right at the start of the project. The original music was quite dark and foreboding, and we all decided it would be more fun to be more light-hearted, more 'pop'.
I eventually struck upon the main theme (the track 'Framed' in the first game's soundtrack) quite quickly while hurrying to write something for the first game's official trailer. In that trailer I used snare drums for gun shots as a bit of an experiment. Once I knew we were all happy with the first track, I set to work writing more pieces to complement it. I wrote something quite jazzy for the femme fatale (the track 'Grace') and created a variant of that for the train scenes, featuring the feel of a moving train by using percussion.
I was developing the music in Reason and I felt a compulsion not to move away into an audio editor to create sound effects the standard way (importing realistic samples and editing them). The snare drums as part of the music that played in time with the gun shots in the trailer had gone down so well, so I committed to continuing that direction. I found percussive sounds to represent all the other key game events such as a cop falling into a dustbin and our fall guy smashing through a window. I'm really glad I stuck to this more unorthodox way of representing sound effects, as people have often commented on how much they enjoy them being entwined with the music itself.
Being a tale of espionage, the protagonists often arrive at unfortunate (often funny) outcomes when players incorrectly place a frame in the sequence.
Given the self-deprecating nature of humour down under, how do you think being an Aussie studio has shaped the spirit of FRAMED Collection?
Ollie Browne: As I said, our animator Stu has an overactive and pretty twisted sense of humour, so as lot of the very amusing stuff that happens in the game is his doing. He would even sometimes just add unexpected funny stuff in and not tell any of the rest of the team until delivering the final animation, just to get an extra laugh out of us. I definitely think we have a culture of self-deprecating humour in the studio, and it’s also a thing in Australia to not take things too seriously. So that helped us bring some humour to the game.
It’s healthy to laugh as much as possible and bring levity to the workplace, ‘cause things can often be very stressful when deadlines kick in or things go wrong in development. So we’re always trying to make sure we find a balance, for example, to head out to the pub as a team every now and then. In fact, some of those pub sessions would often be where a lot of the more crazy, unfortunate, and funny in-game situations were dreamt up!
What makes the experience of FRAMED Collection unique when played on Nintendo Switch?
Adrian Moore: FRAMED Collection on the Nintendo Switch is a great hybrid between console and handheld game.
The touchscreen controls feel really great with the device in your hand but it's also great to be able to sit the device in the dock and experience the game on a large screen. It's a slightly different experience playing with the controller. Only on Nintendo Switch can you experience both!
It’s hard not to feel remorse for a wrong move that sends the protagonists tumbling to their demise… despite being faceless, nameless silhouettes, they convey so much character and expression.
Tell us about the process of creating realistic human (and animal) movement to portray the characters of FRAMED Collection convincingly.
Stu Lloyd: The secret is time, time, and more time... but funnily enough, many people think it's either motion captured or 2D animation, but it's neither. Every character and many of the props are modelled, rigged, and animated in 3D. A flat black or white texture was used, which actually helped quite a bit to cut corners, for example, sometimes an arm might go through the body to get the desired effect easier, but of course no one would be able to tell as it all blends into the silhouette.
I was lucky to have creative freedom in how I portrayed the characters, so when an opportunity arose, I added comic relief as I saw fit. A lot of research was put in to studying movement, especially for the animals, but for what we could, we went outside and filmed many actions for reference, so in a way we are all the actors in FRAMED…
Do you have a history of playing Nintendo games? What were your feelings about making a game for a Nintendo console, and how have your gaming experiences influenced you as a developer?
Adrian Moore: I have always loved Nintendo games, back from the days of Donkey Kong in amusement arcades through the Game & Watch series of handhelds and the various consoles. I have always really enjoyed the quality of the games; their attention to detail, the high degree of polish applied to the games. To me, Nintendo products feel alive, sometimes almost as if computers were not involved in their making. They are like living and breathing cartoons.
In 1992, I was particularly in love with the game Super Mario World on the SNES. I had never played anything like that before – it was so charming, so rewarding, so joyful. The controls highly responsive, levels ingeniously designed and the music immersive and catchy. Jumping on Yoshi's back and hearing the clip-clop percussion be added to the melody was so much fun. I was working in a residential recording studio when Super Mario World came out. I was so impressed with that game it cemented my desire to leave the music studio, head out into the world and pursue a life as a game designer.
When I knew that the FRAMED Collection was coming to Nintendo Switch, I was incredibly happy about it, as I'd always wanted to bring a game to a Nintendo platform. The Nintendo Switch's innovative console/handheld hybrid experience fits the FRAMED games perfectly, too. The games play great with a controller, but they are even more immediate and fun when shuffling panels around directly with your finger on the screen.
My experiences with Nintendo games have influenced the games I've worked on. I tend to favour colourful, light-hearted games, and I think that influence came through with the FRAMED Collection too; comedy moments such as being burst in on while using the toilet, for example.
At the start of developing FRAMED, the art and audio were quite dark, and I remember suggesting that we lighten everything up and go with more colour and a more 'poppy' cartoon feel. In FRAMED, the full music continues to play while watching the puzzle scenes successfully play out, but when it's the player's turn to re-arrange the panels on the page we drop out the lead instruments to leave a percussive backing track playing. The music never stops, it just changes. This feature was directly inspired by that seminal title Super Mario World from over 20 years ago!
Random question time! If you ever got “framed” in real-life, how do you think being the developers of FRAMED Collection would help you get out of trouble?
Adrian Moore: It would be extremely convenient to be able to re-arrange the events leading up to the framing! Perhaps the framer would end up experiencing a comedy fail such as slipping on a banana skin and falling head first into a dumpster.
FRAMED Collection – the complete FRAMED experience on Nintendo Switch
In FRAMED Collection, players rearrange the panels of an animated comic book to craft the story of a Noir-styled spy adventure.
Presented in an extensive series of visual puzzles, requiring logic and imagination, each panel move changes the current narrative, leading to all kinds of comedic blunders, untimely deaths--and when solved correctly--stylish heists, fast getaways and nail-biting escapades.
From the first frame to the last, FRAMED Collection oozes with stylish, Noir, award-winning art and animation. Unique, hand-drawn silhouetted characters, incredibly fluid animations, and beautiful, mysterious settings all bring the FRAMED world to life with a wink of mischievous personality.
Featuring live jazz performances fused with modern themes and funky beats, the soundtracks to FRAMED and FRAMED 2 are as mesmerising as they are evocative, setting the mood and upping the mystery-laden tension.
FRAMED Collection is out now in Nintendo Switch eShop.