Too often, depictions of postapocalyptic society focus on grimdark, gritty, and gruesome. But Harold Halibut offers another perspective: dreamy and awkward, channeling Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic. It’s a PC point-and-click adventure with a stop-motion aesthetic, and it’s the debut effort from German indie studio Slow Bros.
The studio has been working on Harold Halibut for over five years. It started as a part-time project, and two years ago, cofounder and game designer Onat Hekimoglu and three others began working on it as a full-time endeavor. Slow Bros did attempt to raise funds via Kickstarter, but the project didn’t reach its goal. Yet the studio’s still forging forward and plans to complete it in about a year-and-a-half.
Slow Bros showed off a playable demo at Double Fine’s Day of the Devs indie games festival earlier this month. You play as Harold, a perpetual daydreamer who lives in a future where humankind fled Earth 200 years ago in the 1970s. He’s a fifth generation descendent, so he has no idea what his home planet is like. All he knows is the interior of a crashed spaceship stuck in the depths of an alien ocean, beholden to an organization called the Allwater Corporation that acts as a government that controls everything. At the start, he’s a janitor who also helps a professor onboard who’s trying to find a way for them to escape the ocean.
Though this sounds dark, Harold Halibut feels whimsical. Its retrofuristic vibes play a part in this, since much of the castaways’ technology grew from what existed in the ’70s.
“The timeline starts from the 1970s, so they haven’t invented copy-and-paste yet,” said Hekimoglu in an interview with GamesBeat. “There’s a guy writing all of their spam emails one by one. Stuff like that. It’s fun to think about situations like this. Of course we also have futuristic devices that the player doesn’t necessarily know from somewhere else. That opens a lot of doors to put our imagination in it, but still have references to real-world things. That was one of the reasons, actually, why we wanted to have this timeline.”
Harold Halibut also has a distinct handcrafted look. Slow Bros builds all the sets and characters by hand, and though it’s not stop-motion by definition, it does evoke that same feel.
“What we’re doing now is we’re building everything you see in the game is a real-world workshop,” said Hekimoglu. “We have sets and puppets. But from that point on, we 3D scan everything, and the actual animation happens in a computer. We’re partly motion-capturing real people and partly hand-animating them. It’s kind of the best of both worlds, because we wanted to have this handmade, analog feel, while still be able to use things like dynamic lighting and shadows.”
Though the arresting thing about the game is its aesthetic and world, Hekimoglu says they’re interested in exploring the stories. He points to Pixar’s films as an influence on the kind of narrative they wanted to pursue.
“We wanted to tell a story that’s enjoyable for both children and adults,” said Hekimoglu. “That’s one big inspiration behind the our way of telling the story. But also it’s a story about friendship and the relationships on the station. We’re concentrating more on all the characters.”