The five-year journey of making an adventure game out of ink and paper

The five-year journey of making an adventure game out of ink and paper

“I couldn’t stay away from pen and ink,” says John Evelyn, the idea’s creator. Collage Atlas, A dream-like narrative adventure that was recently released on Steam. The entire game is hand-drawn, from the tiny flowers and insects to the massive buildings and clouds floating above them. Exploring this world reveals its dream-like story, with environments appearing in response to your approach.

“I had been drawing for many years before that […] And I always drew with ink on the spot, without any kind of pre-sketching or pencil drawing. “I loved all the incidental details and incidents that happen along the way.” He compares it to improvised music – “actually, sometimes things go very wrong!” — but he says the feeling of getting into a move and being surprised by unexpected results was important to the entire game.

That’s why the art style supports the rest of the experience. Where individual pieces of game art can fall into the background, Collage Atlas He demands your attention to detail – and rewards it. At the beginning of the game, a pinwheel appears from a grassy plain; I look at it, and it starts spinning. It was one of the first things Evelyn created, for what was originally an app intended to accompany a picture book.

The book, which is a follow-up to a self-published work called Asleep as the breeze, was intended to explore themes of power and the feeling of disempowerment that can come from traumatic or chaotic life experiences. “You can start to feel like life is something that kind of happens to you rather than something you have meaningful control or authorship over,” Evelyn says.

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As he experimented with the subject, “everything fell into place” as the pinwheel spun, he says. “It suddenly made sense that this was the essence of what I was trying to talk about. That, in fact, even when you don’t feel it, your mere presence in the world has real meaning and has an impact on it. Even your gaze and observation also have meaning.”

“Even your gaze and observation also have meaning.”

Evelyn based the idea for the app for a short artistic experiment, which he showed off at the Leftfield Collection at the UK gaming conference EGX in 2016. At the time, he says, he had no intention of continuing to expand it into a game that would eventually make it to Apple Arcade then Steam. Instead, he says, it was “something I personally felt like I really needed to do.”

“I went through a really bad period of years, and I was having a hard time finding media outlets that talked to me about the things I was going through,” he says. Other media seemed too specific to others’ positions, while Evelyn wanted something broader. “Things that push toward universal themes I find really helpful.”

At the show, people connected with his piece. In particular, Evelin was touched by the interest of the “businessmen”, who were asking him how long the full game would be finished. “In my mind, I was like, ‘Oh, do you really think people are going to want this?'” He says he was impressed by them because, if they were coming at it from a “fairly cold financial perspective” and thinking there would be an audience for it, he might be able To believe it himself.

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Photo: John William Evelyn

He knew he wanted the experience to be something that could “take you in slowly” — that is, a few hours, rather than 10 minutes. Over the next four years, he did his best to fill this range. Although he had experience and knowledge from a career that included spending time creating Flash games, working on freelance illustration, and releasing music EPs, he also had a lot to learn. “The day I started Collage Atlas As it stands now, not the mini beta, that was the first day I opened it [game engine] Unity,” he said.

In order to convert the illustrations into 3D, a process he had never done before, he began by creating models in Unity before printing out their maps and drawing the details in pen. Once scanned again, those textures are read back to the model to create a world Collage Atlas And everything that constitutes it.

“Businesses don’t have any kind of permanence, they can just disappear.”

After nearly five years of work, in 2020, the game was released on Apple Arcade, but in 2023 it was delisted when the exclusivity period expired. Not long after that, even people who had downloaded it couldn’t play it. “That’s the sad thing about the way our creative media is going: works don’t have any kind of permanence — they can just disappear,” he says. Evelyn felt he owed it to his past self who did all the work to make sure the game was still available and recently released it on Steam.

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After the game was released on Apple Arcade, Evelin thought he was done working on games. “I talked to one of my friends who’s a AAA developer and said, ‘This is it. This is what I did. I’m never doing this again.’ He said, ‘I’ll give you six months.'” About six months later, he started working on his next game, Sycamore Suites. It’s also hand-drawn, and serves as a spiritual sequel to Collage Atlas.

atlas “It tries to explore the idea of ​​falling inside,” he says. “Sycamore Suites It’s about flying. And after you can climb back out of the depths, I hope you have the pure joy of flying.

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