When I was a kid, I had an introduction to video games via consoles that were a generation before me. I got to play my friend’s Atari and some DOS games(Warlords, Civilization 1) on an old computer. Envy though, flowed through me when I watched my older brother play the NES.
That very original Nintendo system(one blessed day); fell into my lap. With a tiny TV that still had nobs but was in color, I had my first gaming system all to myself.
Super Mario Bros and Ultima were the only games I had, but there was this beautiful thing called “Blockbuster Video.” I would do any chore needed to get a dollar and rent a game every weekend.
Eventually, I got my hands on a copy of Little Nemo. I loved that game so much that it was one of the first things I ever asked for as a gift. I played the hell out of it. I let my little sister play it. I let my friends play it. Heck, I brought it to their house. I wanted everyone to enjoy this game because it enamored me.
Soon, I was watching the animated movie and touting how I thought it was the next big franchise. Everyone at school talked about Little Nemo. Then, somehow it only got one follow-up game on the SNES and vanished.
It faded into a happy memory I still fondly go back to on an emulator. I even watched the film again recently (it’s free on YouTube).
While watching it, I was working on a project called Blood Lungs, and to do research had to browse other Kickstarters. The algorithm must have known what I was watching, as it tends to, and sure enough, I came across this Little Nemo game.
The art, the demo, and the passion behind the creator make me feel a generation of kids will experience the same joy I did. I had to contribute. I even reached out to him and was surprised to learn he was a personable fellow.
I was amazed by how much of this wonderfully charming platform/Metroidvania is completely in his hands.
Without further ado, here is a recap of the interview with one of the hardest-working men breaking into the indie game scene today, David Mauro.
Bryan: What inspired you to tackle a Little Nemo Property?
David: I was introduced to Little Nemo as a kid from the Capcom NES game: “The Dreammaster.” Later, in college, I was re-introduced to Little Nemo by studying animation(learning about Winsor McCay). It popped into my head that Little Nemo’s in the public domain. It’s a pre-Mickey IP. Why don’t I make a new Little Nemo game?
Hidden Trivia: Winsor McCay animated a 1911 silent film about Little Nemo!
Bryan: You’re doing all the art yourself; is that true?
David: That’s not entirely true. Right now, there is an intro animation. That was like one of the Kickstarter stretch goals. Somebody is doing that specifically. It’s like the attract mode, the intro to the game.
Hidden Trivia: Fernando Finamore is the artist working on the intro animation.
David: The sprite work? I’m doing all that, and I think it would be hard to incorporate another artist into the project and maintain the style. Whereas dialogue portions appear on top of the in-game art, so another artist there would be ideal.
Bryan: A lot of comic books are made that way. They have a different stencilist for the lettering, the inside art, and the cover art.
David: Yeah, I think the cover art is a great example. Because suddenly it’s bigger, you know the character is a couple of inches tall. Now, they’re taking up half the screen! You can add more details! I’m drawing them in a different style already. Having another artist do them would be fine.
Bryan: But if they don’t, you are willing to carry that load?
David: Yeah, it’s a lot of work doing the art. It’s honestly the hardest part of making the game. I think that’s because I consider myself to be primarily a programmer, but I went to school for painting. I’m not as good at painting as I wish; you know what I mean? I have this level of quality I’m always striving for in the game with art assets, and I’m constantly not quite meeting that bar. I’m always having to keep working harder. It’s very laborious.
Bryan: How are you doing the art? Are you drawing it over a pad or hand-drawing and putting it in?
David: I’m doing it all on my iPad. I worked out, early on, a style I was trying to target. Ultimately, I have a pretty dialed-in way I draw on the iPad. Targeting about 256 pixels an inch. That gives me some leeway but allows the art to render at least at a 4k resolution. I can then import it into the computer and create sprite sheets.
Bryan: When you first started this game, was there a flood of ideas at once? Out of those ideas what blossomed, and what got thrown away?
David: When I imagined a Little Nemo platformer…well, it’s a Metroidvania. I had to cut this scope creep. Originally the world was going to be also dynamically assembled for multiple play-throughs. Maybe if there is a sequel someday, I’d love to incorporate it. The way the game is built, it would be fairly doable.
Hidden Trivia: If you backed this project on Kickstarter you could get your pet put into the game!
David: I had this idea for a Metroidvania Little Nemo that was, “Oh! It’s like a Metroidvania but cute and colorful instead of grim and dark.”
Bryan: I love Metroidvanias. One of my favorite games of all time is Symphony of the Night.
David: It’s good you brought that up. There are so many counterpoints in terms of how I think about the game design of Little Nemo and how I’m bouncing them off of Symphony of the Night(SotN). Taking what I like about SotN(there is so much that’s great about it). Then there’s also a lot I don’t like about it. For instance, the map in Little Nemo shows you where you haven’t explored; there’s an icon!
Bryan: Instead of having to “luckily stumble upon it?”
David: Yeah! In SotN I’m holding up like a magnifying glass scouring.
Bryan: Yeah! “Where’s that last ten percent?”
David: It’s brutal, and that’s not a fun thing (to me at least). So, on my map, that’s something I want to address. Same with familiars. In SotN, there are two things about them I don’t love. Which is like, they are mostly boring. They don’t do much. They just float around following you.
Bryan: When you spend hours and hours hoping that the Ghost will be interesting when it reaches LVL 90, and it’s not.
David: Yeah, that’s pretty frustrating. My take on that was you could make familiars exciting and fun. The two ways I’m trying to tackle that is they each have a unique passive ability. So, they’re all very different. In the demo I got of the early build; you can get a little robot buddy. It’s like a justification for all the work put into building the Pathfinder system. He’s jumping with Nemo and everything.
Bryan: It did seem to have a lot of the fun of older Platform games mixed in with boss battles.
David: I think this is a great topic. I love to talk about this. It’s hard to convey in a blob of text. “Hey, this is a Platformy-Metroidvania.” Most Metroidvania’s call themselves platformers but end up being more an action-adventure game. It’s combat; it’s not platforming(focused).
The abilities aren’t like, mobility options. In Little Nemo, I’m trying to take inspiration from those retro NES and SNES platformers. The abilities you get tend to be useful in combat, but they primarily give you mobility options. They increase the range of how you can move through the world to make that more exciting while also allowing you to get to new areas.
Hidden Trivia: Little Nemo: GoS will auto-save progress. The beds are checkpoints into the dreamworld, not save points. You never need to worry about having to re-fight a boss!
David: The Moon Meter(when it fills up) will heal you. BUT! If you’re playing well and have full health when you fill-up the Moon Meter, you will ‘rank up!’ That makes the game more difficult for the better players. That’s where I’m trying to cater to an audience that is maybe new to Metroidvanias by making the baseline experience easy. Then also cater to players like me who want to make the game more challenging.
Hidden Trivia: In the game, Nemo can equip different pets and pajamas! You pick up items that give him abilities. Such as a yo-yo and a cape!
Bryan: How’d you develop the tale of this retelling?
David: My first baseline experience with this was it’s just gonna be like classic retro-platformers. A lot of the design documents I wrote were, “Some McGuffin is drawing the player to Slumberland.” That was it. I drew these kids and was like, “Wait, these are cute! These should be characters.” That’s how they became the ‘Guardians of Slumberland.’
Hidden Trivia: The writer assisting with narrative design goes only as Cid.
David: I started working with Cid, who is helping with narrative design. They took my very loose idea of the story and expanded it. There’s some stuff in the narrative I don’t want to dig into because it’s like spoilers. The game presents itself as a simple story but gets deeper as you get further into it.
Interviewer Note: I could not get a spoiler out of him.
David: The Oblivion stuff didn’t even exist until Cid started helping. For instance, each zone is covered in Oblivion. Nemo wipes it out by recalling the memory of the dream. I was just like, “Oh that’s so cool! That’s so much better than I would have done!” The narrative stuff has been mostly Cid; then it’s me trying to reign it in. Cid has awesome ideas. I’m sort of like, what can I accomplish though? Also, still having it fit my preference, where the narrative steps aside for the gameplay. However, when the story is there, it should be impactful.
Hidden Trivia: Each zone(map area) is unique in its design, monsters, and music. They were crafted with inspiration from the classic Nemo game as well as games like Sonic and Kirby! There are NINE areas altogether as of this interview.
Slumberland and Flip
Bryan: Are you familiar with the movie Slumberland?
David: I learned about it well into the development of my game. Having seen it recently, I was surprised about some similarities between it and my game. They’re gonna be very different, but I think what the Netflix Slumberland did that we’re also trying to do is: incorporate the waking world into Slumberland in an interesting way.
Bryan: How did you come up with your Flip?
David: Originally, I was thinking I would do something more traditional. Like, straight out of the comic. Just more in my visual style. I was talking with some of the other people who were helping me. Mostly a conversation between me and Cid. We were talking about what role Flip serves.
Hidden Trivia: Flip is played by Jason Momoa in Netflix’s Slumberland.
David: He’s just sort of like this troublemaker. He’s friends with Nemo, but everyone’s worried about what kind of trouble he’s getting into. I felt like his design was sort of like a clown or maybe a Carnival Barker. In the 1920s, maybe that would be like a “cool adult” for a kid. I was like, what would my “cool adult” be as a kid? For me, it was Cyndi Lauper.
For Cid, it was David Bowie. My Flip takes inspiration from both of these real-life characters. I was looking at 80s Cyndi Lauper outfits and designs. Then getting a bit of the classic comic book Flip in there. The personality is intended to be similar to the comic books but with more of a Cyndi Lauper styling.
Bryan: What a “cool adult”! What a rare praise from a kid that all adults search for. Let everyone know where they can find the game when it is released and how they can follow you.
David: I’ll send you to the Steam Store, search for Little Nemo and the Guardians of Slumberland, and hit the Wishlist button. It should be released towards the end of the year.
Important Note: It will be available on Steam for the PC and for the Nintendo Switch! Here are the links to Discord and Twitter.
Question: Is Slumberland a Little Nemo movie?
Answer: Yes, it is.
Question: Is Little Nemo and the Guardians of Slumberland about the Netflix movie?
Answer: No, they’re based on the same old comic strips and characters but very different takes on the world of Slumberland.
Question: Is Flip a girl in the new Little Nemo game?
Answer: Flip will no longer be the cigar-smoking male character but will maintain their troublemaker attitude to ensure Nemo has plenty to do.
Little Nemo Interview with David Mauro: That’s All
I had a great time speaking with David throughout two interviews and learning about the game. I’m very excited to pick it up and give it a play when it comes out. I hope you all are as well. Make sure to check out the Discord, as he is active on there with constant updates, and also add it to your Steam Wishlist as that helps build momentum for the project’s launch.