Like Cuphead before it, Little Nemo and the Nightmare Fiends delves deep into the history of animation for its cartoon look: it’s based on the work of pioneering artist Winsor McCay, whose early 20th century animation had a profound impact on the medium that is still being felt a century later.
This isn’t the first game based on McCay’s work, though: in 1990, Capcom released the NES platformer Little Nemo: The Dream Master, based on the McCay-inspired animated feature of the same name.
It was that game, says Nightmare Fiends developer Chris Totten, that first attracted him to McCay’s work. “I fell in love with the Little Nemo comics years ago when trying to learn more about the original Nintendo game,” Totten tells us. “The Little Nemo comics went into the public domain years ago and I had had some success making games out of other public domain works, so I got a design document together and put it in my ‘potential projects’ folder on my computer. That was several years ago.”
Together with producer/tech lead Ben Cole and designer Adrian Sandoval, Totten aims to make a modern platformer in the style of McCay’s comics and animation; inevitably, the team’s making use of digital tools like Blender and drawing tablets, but they’re keen to capture the delicate nuances of McCay’s analogue techniques. “McCay’s art style was indicative of Art Nouveau – especially the thick outer lines on background objects and characters – so we wanted to capture that in the sprites along with the colors of the old newspaper comics,” Totten says. “Secondly is the temptation to /not/ use some of the features of a digital art program that makes artists’ lives easier… We wanted the game to have a classic hand-animated look, so we had to cut ourselves off from some of the convenience items in the software and do things the old-fashioned way.”
Totten’s project recently surpassed its $70,000 minimum goal on Kickstarter, meaning Little Nemo and the Nightmare Fiends now has the chance to bring McCay’s work to a whole new audience.