Whereas in Britain the tastiness of bacon is a given, bacon munchers in the US continue to celebrate the pork based treat even despite their inability to cook it properly. We've all seen comical bacon toothpaste, bacon soft drink and the less amusing baconnaise, so Skymap Games' bacon-centric platformer Bacon Man shouldn't have come as such of a surprise. But surprised I most certainly was.
Bacon Man is a sidescrolling action platformer set in a detailed 3D environment built with the Unreal Development Kit. As the title suggests, the game's hero is an anthropomorphic “Bacon Man” tasked with clearing his name after being framed for the murder of his grandfather, Old King Roast Beef. But Bacon Man features not only the titular porky protagonist, but an entire world of delectable kingdoms and characters such as Meat Zone,Vegan Valley, the Pork king and Feta the samurai.
It's no so much Bacon Man's weird and wonderful world that surprised me, but just how far development for the game has already come. An alpha build already exists, with a playable demo and other impressive gameplay footage being shown off at various conventions – all prior to the Bacon Man Kickstarter, which asks for $20,000.
Almost as interesting as the current version of Bacon Man is the games transition from a purely 2D, pixel art based game to a 3D sidescroller. The game's Kickstarter video specifically mentions a previous, 2D incarnation of Bacon Man which was dropped in favour of more contemporary 3D graphics. However the reason for the move away from retro aesthetics isn't explained.
“Everyone on the team knows a little bit about 3D, but only one of us knows 2D well,” Skymap Game's Neal Laurenza tells me. “By making the switch, it allowed us to increase the speed and quality of what we're able to produce. We would have lost a lot of time not doing this. Additionally, a lot of independently developed sidescrolling platformers are in 2D, so 3D is a good way to experiment and make something that stands out.”
In all honesty, I was expecting Laurenza's reason for preferring 3D environments over 2D pixel art to be some sort of comment on the near ubiquity of pixel art in indie platformers. Although he's clearly aware of the prevalence such aesthetics, Skymap's avoidance of them is simple matter of practicality. Even when asked directly about the possibility of pixel art's popularity waning, Laurenza's answer was equally humble.
“I don't think interest in the style has waned,” says Laurenza. “But I do think people want to see some variety. We're living in a time where pixel art isn't necessary. Computers and consoles can pump out some serious polygons. A lot of indie game developers are now using pixel art as an aesthetic which can be really cool. The problem is if everyone uses pixel art, it becomes a little stale. I'm excited to see more indie developers move into other styles of 2D and 3D."
Pixel art may have made Bacon Man's ties to retro gaming more obvious, but Skymap's interactive foodfight is still very clearly a product of the nineties. In fact, Skymap have no reservations in labelling themselves “90s kids”, citing Mega Man X, Earthworm Jim and Rayman as inspirations. But as exemplified by Bacon Man's switch from 2D to 3D environments, Skymap's aim is to build upon greatest attributes of their inspirations, rather than regurgitating them.
"Earthworm Jim's gunplay, Rayman's difficult platforming, and and Mega Man X's moves are all inspiring,” Laurenza tells me when asked about what aspects of those games Skymap intend to draw from. “What makes Bacon Man different, is our ability to re-imagine many of these mechanics in a physics based environment. The result is a game that forces players to think about their momentum. Since almost every move can change Bacon Man's momentum, hesitation can be disastrous. Like many older titles, it's not an easy game. “
Speaking of Earthworm Jim, while its gameplay was certainly solid, it was its larger-than-life characters and weirdly unsettling environments that gave it a comedic edge over the myriad platformers it competed with. Laurenza references Earthworm Jim's shooting mechanics as a source of inspiration, but I suspect the game's absurdity and humour rubbed off on Skymap as well.
Bacon Man's peculiar, food themed world and characters clashes with its dramatic, orchestral score and Shakespearean plot, leaving players comedically disorientated in a universe that defies explanation. Its a very different and, in my opinion, more organic method of imbuing a videogame with comedy than recent trends of simply presenting unwieldy or broken games, as is the case with Goat Simulator and Octodad.
“Yes, I think that's accurate,” says Laurenza in response to a question about the integrality of Bacon Man's comedy. “Bacon Man creates comedy through an absurd storyline and bizarre atmosphere. The game is a platformer so we always put gameplay and tight controls first, but there's a lot of funny moments through cutscenes and in game animations. A lot of people start cracking up just trying to make a difficult jump and falling short, only to see Bacon Man turn into an ice cube.”
Skymap Games' Bacon Man has a lot going for it and, considering the wealth of high quality gameplay footage shown, it would not be all that surprising if the Kickstarter campaign was a success. But when all's said and done, I feel I'll still be left with one burning question that I must get answered: What is it about food that Skymap Games find so inspiring?
“When we started coming up with ideas for the game, we were in college,” explained Laurenza. “Eating tons of food and sitting at the computer was constant, so a lot of our inspiration came from what was around us. It ends up that it's also really fun creating worlds made of food. There's a lot of ways to get creative within the constraint of the food pyramid.”
Man, I'm hungry.