Former Call of Duty creative strategist and community manager Robert Bowling unveiled his first project at new studio Robotoki, Human Element, last year. The company's next project, The Adventures of Dash, is something different.
It's a 2D side-scroller, a platforming and puzzle adventure. It's cute, charming and currently seeking funding on Kickstarter.
The idea for The Adventures of Dash is rooted in classic 8-bit and 16-bit games, the type of game Bowling himself says he turns to when he's "burned out" on modern day games. The first game Bowling name-checks when talking about his fondness for 2D side-scrollers is Super Mario World for Super Nintendo.
Bowling said he assigned the Dash team to play that game and three others — Aladdin and The Lost Vikings for SNES and Super Mario Bros. 3 for NES — as homework. Those side-scrolling classics encapsulated the type of experience Bowling wanted to create, he says.
But The Adventures of Dash was also inspired by illustrators who work outside the game industry, creators who publish their work to personal blogs and deviantArt. Bowling says he wanted to hire those illustrators to make a game using their art, their visual personality. Rather than contract talent to illustrate in a unified style, they'd work in their own, bringing varied aesthetics to one game.
Those artists will create The Adventures of Dash's dream worlds, where the narcoleptic Dash will run, jump, hack and slash. Each dream world will have its own visual style and its own gameplay mechanics. The mechanics and design of the game's levels, Bowling says, will be tailored to match the art, not the other way around.
One prototype dream level sees Dash wielding two axes, like a vengeful lumberjack. In another, he's armed with a sword, adventuring through a pen and ink world. And one sees Dash in a surreal pastel dream, where tubes of toothpaste eject squirts of minty gel from their pronounced butt cheeks. Those dreams are accessed from a cohesive awake world, a sketchy, colored pencil cartoon.
Currently, Robotoki has eight artists attached to the game, but Bowling hopes to attract more and add their creativity to the game, should the Kickstarter fundraising drive meet or exceed its goal.
In addition to an Awake World, where Dash will adventure and fall asleep, and a series of Dream Worlds, the game will feature an arcade, where Robotoki hopes to explore "super experimental" level design. It's also where Bowling and company will "pay homage to the franchises that lead the way."
One of those trailblazers is Jazz Jackrabbit, the PC platformer designed by Cliff Bleszinski at Epic Games. Bowling says Robotoki has the blessing of Epic "to do what we want to do" with Jazz.
"They really like what we're trying to do," he says.
Bowling says we'll see other "little winks and nods," but that the arcade is where prototype gameplay will go, then maybe evolve into a full level later on.
The prototype build of The Adventures of Dash features a handful of styles, some early and some locked in. Every frame of animation is being hand-drawn, Bowling says, an expensive proposition.
Robotoki is seeking $400,000 in funding to get Dash out the door later this year. Bowling says he's already invested about $100,000 of his own money into the game.
The Adventures of Dash is developer Robotoki's second project. Its first, Human Element, is the ambitious survival game coming to next-generation consoles and mobile devices.
Bowling says the stark differences between the whimsical, animated rough-sketch look of The Adventures of Dash and the serious horror of Human Element is reflective of Robotoki's approach to game development — "Getting out of the grind of doing the same franchise every year."
"I wanted to learn a lot from our mistakes in the past about how you run a creative team," Bowling says. "To be able to think about Human Element problems and design decisions that are very technically challenging, but also creatively challenging, to be able to break out of that and work on this 2D platformer that is completely different has been so refreshing for everyone on the team."
Bowling says that development on Human Element continues at Robotoki, and that there will be little crossover between the two teams. They'll share some programming talent and perhaps the music of composer Danny Baranowsky (Canabalt, Super Meat Boy), but the two projects are mostly independent developments.
If Bowling's dream of Kickstarter funding succeeds, The Adventures of Dash is slated to come to Windows PC, Mac and Linux later this year.