Genesis Noir explores a mysterious liminal space that somehow feels both small yet expansive. The protagonist, No Man, travels through the history of the universe, and it’s all for the sake of saving the love of his life. It’s the debut from two-person studio Feral Cat Den, and it will be launching a Kickstarter campaign in early 2018 with a goal of $40,000. It’s aiming for a PC and Mac release sometime in 2019.
I played the demo at Double Fine’s annual Day of the Devs indie festival this past weekend. It evokes echoes of Cubist paintings, Donald in Mathmagic Land, and old film noir where objects are in shadow more often than not. Rather than go into too much of the story, the demo presented a few scenarios, such as No Man in his house and in a field where he plants seeds to sprout trees. In each scene, you interact with objects and solve environmental puzzles. In the house, for instance, you have to find the number to dial on a rotary phone.
“Genesis Noir takes place before, after, and during the Big Bang. To save your love, you have to stop the expansion of our universe,” explained Evan Anthony, Feral Cat’s creative lead, in an interview with GamesBeat. “So you jump in, experience a bit of a star formation or a black hole, all the way through history until you encounter human beings and see maybe what kind of role they have in this story.”
Anthony and Feral Cat programmer Jeremy Abel dreamed up the concept for Genesis Noir after hearing an excerpt from author Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics on the podcast Radiolab. Each story in the Cosmicomics collection is a magic realist exploration of a scientific concept. “The Distance of the Moon,” for instance, revolves around the story of long-distance lovers who travel back and forth between Earth and the moon back when the two heavenly bodies used to be closer together.
In Genesis Noir, Abel and Anthony combine Calvino’s mystical approach to science fiction with a film noir aesthetic. This emerged organically from their background in advertising. They’ve both worked a lot with web design and motion graphic animation, so they knew they wanted to make a 2D game. Genesis Noir’s aesthetic is flat, and objects and people appear more like sketches of an idea. It’s an abstract representation of a world, which enables Feral Cat to add in references to mathematics and science.
“There’s a whole bunch of weird symbology in the visuals, which is kind of like the stuff that we’re not showing directly,” said Abel. “So like the person who creates the seeding environment is the embodiment of the golden ratio, and the tree that you see him sprout at the very beginning, the fruits are the phi symbol, which is the symbol for the golden ratio in the Greek letter.”
As for the gameplay, the team describes wanting to create a “tactile” game. It’s inspired by point-and-click exploration games such as Amanita Design‘s Samorost series and Vectorpark’s Windosill. Abel says that they didn’t want to create complicated puzzles with obfuscated solutions or troublesome mechanics like inventory management.
“Creating interactions that are understandable within this very simple, abstract world is definitely a big challenge,” said Anthony. “So we’re trying to find a balance where things are simple and feel nice, but have moments of delight and surprise and a progression to them. Sometimes we might have some more traditional game mechanic-y, design-y kind of things, but the majority is things you solve and experience by exploring the different ways you can interact with the system rather than mastering or deducing how to solve it.”
It’s been working on the game for about a year and a half now, though the idea started percolating in 2014. Anthony says that it’s been an enjoyable experience getting to spend more time on a project rather than adhere to the fast-paced schedule of the advertising world where a project might last only two or three months at a time.
“So it’s been really, really refreshing to approach a project and create a task without having to feel like an imminent deadline,” said Anthony. “Just kind of being patient with it, the story solves itself or takes itself into directions that if I sat down and tried to like blow through it I might not discover.”
For its Kickstarter campaign, Feral Cat will be releasing a free demo that showcases the style and mechanics from the main title. Instead of taking an excerpt from the game, however, it will be a standalone experience.
“We’re making a little web demo, so it’s a little side story web experience,” said Abel. “You don’t have to install anything, you just go on the web browser to play a little bit of a side thing just to get a feel for the interactions and the kind of stuff we’re going for.”
“Yeah, it’s a fun little experience where No Man, the main character, is busking,” said Anthony. “So you kind of draw constellations and you create little music synthesizers. So you can create your own constellations and make music out of it.”