Too often I find myself playing a video game, blindly fighting for fake points and collecting needless items, without asking myself “Am I actually having fun?”. Sometimes, when I seek the answer to that question I feel like I’ve somehow wasted valuable time – I think all gamers have been in that situation. When playing Rumpus Animation‘s new Bertram Fiddle game, however, I just sat back and enjoyed the ride. I was reminded of the whimsical point-and-click games of my childhood (the best is still Putt-Putt Saves The Zoo, deal with it).
I sought the creators of this game to see what makes them click and found that they actually started as an animation studio out of England. I had a chat with Seb, one of the founders, and I’ve become really excited about all the content they’re churning out. Following Bertram Fiddle and his cycloptic, Peruvian pal Gavin through Victorian London, solving a string of murders, is really just pure fun.
ALBOTAS How and when did Rumpus start? Who was involved and how did everyone get onboard?
I had been working as an illustrator for a few years then moved to Bristol to study animation. After my course I got some jobs working as a character designer at various animation studios in the area and kept meeting this guy called Joe Wood, an animator, on all the projects I was working on. We found we had a similar sense of humour and disliked all the same things (That’s the secret to true friendship – not what you like, but what you hate). We kept getting teamed up to design, direct and animate together so just decided one day we should do it ourselves.
I lied to an advertising agency that we were a proper company and that got us our first job… since then we’ve just kept going and now have a small team of 5-6 people and a bunch of freelancers we work with depending on the project. We’ve just signed a new director from Hungary called Panna Horvath. She’s brilliant. Her ideas are so dark!
We also like collaborating with other illustrators and designers.. like Kate Hindley, Matt the Horse and Jon Boam. These tend to be on short films that we make just for fun, but we’re hoping to develop them into something more substantial soon.
You said that you and Joe both hate the same things, what kinda things are those?
Hate is a perhaps a strong word. Joe and I are just grumpy. But we do have a strong dislike for not wearing socks with leather shoes. As Bertram might say “When your feet rot, don’t come running to me.”
What are some of your primary influences? Games, animation, movies?
Joe and I both grew up watching cartoons like He-man, Bravestarr and Defenders of the Earth. And there were some epic live action shows such as Knightrider, Manimal and Street Hawk. I also remember watching lots of movies about Sinbad and Doug McClure films like Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Warlords of Atlantis. Krull was a good film too. And the Princess Bride. There is definitely a big sci-fi/fantasy influence going on! We were alive pre-internet so watched a LOT of TV. More recently British comedy shows like Spaced, the Mighty Boosh, League of Gentlemen and Reeves and Mortimer have all influenced our sense of humour. Joe says his biggest gaming influence was Hunchback on the Spectrum.
I guess now we try to take influence from as much as possible. Books, comics, music, comedy, films… even actual REAL life! Ha ha.
Some characters from Betram Fiddle.
Do you have any experience with any other point-and-click games? If so, what ones were you into?
My favouritist ever game is Machinarium. It has such a beautiful story and atmosphere. And is so cleverly designed too.
And of course we’ve played the classics like Monkey Island. I tend to enjoy the funnier, less serious point and click games. One that I really like, mainly for the design of the creatures is Full Pipe, which is based around characters by Ivan Maximov, a Russian cartoonist and animator. I love the melancholyness (is that a real word?) of the world.
Aside from Rumpus who else do you think is doing great things in animation right now?
I think we are in a Golden Age of TV shows at the moment. Adventure Time, Chowder, Over the Garden Wall, Flapjack, Gravity Falls… there are so many great, funny cartoons being made. And there is also loads of indie animation that’s happening that is amazing. One of our favourites at the moment is the Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared series. Anything that comes out of France tends to be brilliant! And there is an animation school in Denmark, called the Animation Workshop, that I visited that is churning out brilliant animators every year. Check out Space Stallions and the Reward by Sun Creature Studios.
What creation are you guys the most proud of?
Our favourite character is probably Jasper Donuts that Jon Boam designed. We’ve not actually done much with him, but he’s magic.
There’s a distinct style of humor in your works – does that originate from one person who do you practice a more collaborative sense of humor?
Both Joe and I come up with film and character ideas. We tend to have our own ideas but then work on them together to develop them into something stronger. If we can make each other laugh then we know that’s a good start. After that comes the hard part of trying to make other people laugh. Now that the studio is growing we want everyone to feel free tohave input and tell us if something is or isn’t working and come to us with their own ideas for stuff. (Although I may choose to ignore them…)
The Dodo Room
What challenges did you face when making Bertram Fiddle, considering it’s your first game?
Ha ha ha! That’s a good question! The biggest problem I faced was giving away control. In animation you control everything to influence the viewer. Not just design, but timing, mood, everything! Suddenly I had to allow the player to take control and decide if they wanted to click on objects in a certain order (or not at all). We had to include many more options for if they did or didn’t do something. It was quite tricky to get my head around at first. I had loads of arguments with Alex, our game designer, about whether or not someone would click on a door… turns out he was right… players don’t always click on a door…
The other biggest challenge has been marketing. How the flip do you get people to hear about your game? What? I have to do PR??? But I like sitting in a dark room, drawing pictures of hairy little men.
I love the subtle pop culture references. I saw Star Wars and Indiana Jones almost back to back. Were there any others that I missed?
There were LOADS. But I’m not going to tell you!
Are any of the Rumpus team the voice actors in the game or did you hire outside actors?
The main voice of Bertram is by Louis Jones. He’s a friend who has his own animation studio, but does voices too. He’s actually the voice of Timmy the Sheep in an Aardman kids show… he did a load of voices. And we got in friends to do the others. Most had a bit of experience, but Dan, one of our animators, did a few for the first time. He was really good, but you could see the fear in his eyes when he got up to the microphone.
I tried some myself… but crumbled. I have to much inherent shame…
We had tried to get a famous comedian to do the voice of Gavin, but couldn’t afford him. In the end, Count Skylarkin, a DJ friend of ours did it. He was so good we got him to do a load more characters too. I think he wants to give up DJing and become a voice actor now.
Betram’s got quite a rivalry with Sherlock Holmes.
Like Count Fulchmuckle said, “We all have our little… whimsies”. What interests do you folks have?
Joe likes brewing his own beer and taking long walks in the country. I like sitting around doing as little as possible…
What are you working on now? What should we expect to see in the future?
We’ve got a few little projects we’re working on. One is a kid’s show idea. And we’ve got some special plans for Jasper Donuts. We just need to raise some money to make them.
I’m also working on Episode 2 of Bertram. Trying to make it bigger and better than the first one. I really want to make a game set in Spade where everyone wears jumpsuits and has a bowl haircut. That’s about as far as I’ve got with it so far… but it WILL happen!
Rumpus Animation is a studio out of Bristol, England. They’ve collaborated with Aardman, BBC, Google and more. Grab Adventures of Betram Fiddle: Episode 1: A Dreadly Business on Steam or the Apple App Store (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch).