Genesis Noir takes place at the beginning of existence, where the Big Bang and the natural expansion of the universe are reimagined as the violent end result of a lost love triangle. It’s a marriage of jazz and film noir in a point-and-click adventure game that sometimes works better as an audiovisual toy than a series of puzzles. But the visual style of the game is a clear highlight.
The monochrome, abstract, line-drawn look that creates Genesis Noir so unique comes from a myriad of influences: classic film, Italian literature, other indie games. The real mystery that needed to be solved was combining those ideas in a logical way – and it actually ended in a playable game.
Genesis Noir creative lead was Evan Anthony’s starting point Cosmicomics, a collection of science-inspired short stories by Italian author Italo Calvino. “I think at first I tried to translate what I was imagining when I read that book,” says Anthony The edgeCalvino’s writing, even in translation into English, is “very visually rich storytelling,” says Anthony.
Those ideas started to solidify into a style when Anthony and technical leader Jeremy Abel saw it Umbro Blackout Created by Buck, a creative studio specialized in animation, Umbro Blackout tells the story of a soccer player who visited New York during the 1977 blackout. “It’s just very simple black and white images. I wanted to bring those kinds of smart transitions and juxtaposition of settings and scenes into an interactive space, ”Anthony recalls.
The actual emergence of Genesis Noir started on newsprint. Anthony and Abel outlined the early character designs that would become Genesis Noir ‘s first trio of film noir archetypes – which became ‘gods’ in the language of the game – in charcoal. They would later become No-Man, the player’s character and manifestation of Time; Miss Mass, a jazz singer femme fatale and representation of gravity; and Golden Boy, a star saxophonist and some sort of creator god whose attempt to kill Miss Mass sets in motion the events of the game.
Indie games also served as a guide for Anthony and Abel, neither of whom had a game background or previously designed a level. You can find a few Kentucky Route Zero in Genesis Noir‘s interactions, fixed perspectives and transitions between scenes. Children, the 2019 short film / video game hybrid, was also a big North Star because it did a lot with a little.[Kids] was definitely a great reference of what you could do with one asset, ”says Anthony. “Like how we can be thrifty, really thrifty with the assets we have,” Abel continues.
While both Abel and Anthony had embarked on ambitious creative projects before, a Google Maps pinball machine for Google – the images of Genesis Noir were a different beast. They realized that game engines weren’t really designed with hyper-styled visuals in mind. “There’s a reason games don’t really look like this,” says Anthony.
Part of that difficulty, admittedly, came from the couple’s inexperience and the abstract direction in which they decided to play the game. An early level called ‘Seeding’, set in the first microseconds of the Big Bang, had to be reworked several times from Anthony’s original idea of a level made of ‘vibrating lines and strings’. Creating a level of wobbly lines that not only could run, but players would actually want to explore was a hurdle.
According to Abel, the biggest technical considerations they had to take into account were the performance and translating the art Anthony created in Flash into the game’s engine. On some platforms, like the Switch, that meant tweaking and faking some visual effects. Abel also had to create more custom solutions for the 2D animations themselves. “I worked with a friend of mine to develop a solution to export all the animations from Flash and draw them as vector artwork in the engine,” he says.
Anthony and Abel’s multi-year journey to create Genesis Noir provided them with some valuable lessons in design and a beautiful final product. Even if you don’t relate to the variety of sources Genesis Noir is draw, playing the game really captures the feel of an interactive animated movie. And the goal of expressing big, abstract concepts with a familiar genre and setting pays off too. I will not spoil where Genesis Noir goes into the final levels, but there’s more here than scientific facts and noir storylines. “I think my goal was to find some poetry between comparing two very different things,” says Anthony. “I am very happy with how everyone experienced it.”
Genesis Noir is available now for PC, Xbox Game Pass and Nintendo Switch.