Joe, the main protagonist of The Silent Age, has undergone numerous iterations before ending up wearing a tight boiler suit and a moustache. Here are the stages from start to finish:
Joe came to life in 2011. At this point he was a nameless ambassador of a faint game idea, visually presented as a placeholder rectangle. At this point we knew that the game would be about time travel and that the main character would be human. We didn’t know if the game would be side view or isometric view or whether Joe would be male or female.
Once we knew that the main character would be a man, and that the view in the game would be 2-D side view, I added a little more detail to the character. Stickman Joe was used mostly for size comparison.
For a while we considered making the game very art-oriented, almost completely without any text. I was highly influenced by the desolate science fiction universe presented in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker at the time, and the main character was a mix of male characters from Tarkovsky movies.
Once I started working on the backgrounds for the post apocalyptic future, I realized that the general tone of the visuals tended to be dark and desaturated. It was hard to visually distinguish Joe from the background imagery, and something drastic had to be done to make him stand out. I started out by replacing his dark clothes with a highly saturated yellow suit just to see what happened.
The yellow colour was a tad too dramatic, but I liked the idea of a using a single coloured boiler suit. I changed the colour to orangey red, partly inspired by The Dig, one of my favorite adventure games. The red boiler suit makes Joe a highly recognizable character, and for a while I considered making him an escaped convict, just to justify the suit.
Having decided on the red boiler suit, I tried to make Joe more realistic by adding more fringes to the fabric. At this point we had decided that Joe would have some kind of maintenance job, which I tried to emphasize by giving him safety shoes and by adding a slightly visible white t-shirt.
The extra fringes made Joe look great on screenshots, and we actually thought that we had nailed the look. Once we started animating Joe however, the fringes didn’t animate along with the character. It looked odd, and we realized that we’d have to either animate all the fringes or skip them entirely. And, yes, I actually did try to manually animate all the fringes along with the animation. After having spent 4 hours animating 6 frames, I decided to go for plan B. So, we ended up removing all the fringes.
During production we made the decision to change the game setting from 2012 to 1972. The first thing I did was giving Joe a Seventies makeover, including a shave, long hair, a tight polyester suit and some extra heel on the shoes. At this point we also decided to give Joe a slightly passive and naive personality, which I tried to reflect by making his posture less erect.
The moustache was actually meant as a joke. In a November blog post, I wrote that Joe supported the Movember Movement by sporting a well trimmed hipster moustache. Our marketing guy posted a poll on our Facebook page, asking whether Joe should wear a moustache in the game. The majority of the voters voted yes, and thus Joe now has a moustache. I personally think the moustache makes him look a lot like Richard Benjamin in Westworld or a male Seventies porn star.
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