This week, we announced the winners of Gaming Like It’s 1924, our game jam celebrating the works that entered the public domain in the US this year. Just like last year, over the next few weeks we’ll be spotlighting the winners from each of our six categories (in no particular order), and today we’re kicking things off with a look at the game that won the Best Visuals award: Hot Water by reltru.
We never expect much in the visuals department from people who submit digital games to the jam, since one month is hardly enough time to produce elaborate graphical assets for a video game, but canny designers like the creator of Hot Water can surprise us by finding ways to create something visually striking with a combination of pre-made sprites, powerful choices, and attention to detail. The game, which is based on the 1924 silent film of the same name starring Harold Lloyd, has a clear and simple goal in mind: capture the distinct aesthetic and feel of early silent comedies in a retro 8-bit style video game. It’s a beautiful little idea in and of itself, and one that exemplifies the fun of remixing multiple sources from throughout history: each of these two distinct and instantly recognizable visual styles occupies a similar spot in the timeline of its own medium, but they are separated from each other by more than half a century — so what happens when you put them together?
You get Hot Water, with its black-and-white 8-bit scenelets and its pixelated interstitial title cards (though a still image doesn’t do the latter justice):
The gameplay (which is “soft boiled” by the designer’s own admission) is your basic reaction-test obstacle course, tasking the player with dodging and jumping over benches and other obstructions to complete a mad dash to the end. It can be a little frustrating — while it’s no Battletoads hoverbike or anything, the somewhat-sluggish controls and unclear boundaries on the obstacles are enough that I doubt anyone’s getting to the end without a few false starts. But the manic music, and the silly and amusing little story unfolding via title cards, will make you keep trying until you reach the end of the game’s one short level and receive one final little visual gag. And while the game clearly has no intentions of being anything more than the brief diversion it is, some fine-tuning and a few additional levels offering new story vignettes would quickly turn it into a full-fledged (if still simple) game. But either way, as a demonstration of what you can get by combining these two disparate vintage styles, it’s a great success that makes me imagine an anachronistic arcade cabinet in a 1920s jazz club where dappers and flappers line up to play the new tie-in game for the latest Harold Lloyd movie.