Monday, November 9, 2009

I Want a Calvin & Hobbes Game

Over the weekend I finished off reading through Calvin and Hobbes entirely, a comic strip produced by Bill Watterson from 1985-1995. Initially, I began using it simply to breakup my reading of Peanuts, and was prepared to hate it for being the strip that most often got praise in the circles I tend to orbit. Well I finally succumbed it its charms after Calvin first began yelling for a bat in order to kill a monster. I’m now in agreement with those who constantly relate the two strips and what they did as an art. Schulz was a very tragic figure despite his 'success', and Peanuts above all else reflects that. It represents a very consistent commentary in terms of negativity for people, be it their insecurities, callousness, or vices. Watterson took a more self-righteous approach with his strip however, very outspokenly standing tall for the general comic as an artform. He refused all animation, merchandising, and general ‘exposure’ for Calvin and Hobbes apart from the strip itself. The only thing that’s available to date are the famous forged logos of Calvin urinating on various symbols of culture. Although I understand every bit of what Watterson refused, I still now find myself among saddened fans that feel ‘the hole’ left by his final strip in 1995.

"Bill Watterson draws wonderful bedside tables. I admire that. He also draws great water splashes and living room couches and chairs and lamps and yawns and screams, and all the things that make a comic strip fun to look at. I like the little arms on Calvin and his shoes that look like dinner rolls. Drawing in a comic strip is infinitely more important than we may think, for our medium must compete with other entertainment, and if a cartoonist does nothing more than illustrate a joke, he or she is going to lose. Calvin and Hobbes however, contain hilarious pictures that cannot be duplicated in other mediums. In short, it’s fun to look at and that is what made Bills work such an admirable success."
-Charles M. Schulz

Where the game comes in to play lies all in theory as usual. I honestly don’t know if it could even be done (as I’m assuming Watterson grew even more cynical and reclusive with age), but I refuse to just ignore the potential the character could have within a game. As I stated above, the strip shares a lot with Peanuts (and Watterson has definitely acknowledged Schultz as one of his largest influences), but it’s far from being a mere derivative of it. Instead, I’d call it an edgier and far more potent blast of what made Peanuts so significant to begin with. Calvin himself for example, is an amalgamation of every character within Peanuts with one exception, Charlie Brown. Hobbes was more of a rational extension of Calvin, but ran in the same beat as him. This is to say a callous and self-absorbed six-year old boy who has no friends (unless you count Susie, who he tormented as much as he could), runs out of the classroom at his own whims, and philosophically undermines his own perception of the world at every turn he can.

"The wonder of "Peanuts" is that it worked on so many levels simultaneously. Children could enjoy the silly drawings and the delightful fantasy of Snoopy, while adults could see the bleak undercurrent of cruelty, loneliness and failure, or the perpetual theme of unrequited love, or the strip's stark visual beauty."
-Bill Watterson





Particularly most speaking of the strip was how sardonic it was, often making very poignant strikes against various cruxes of culture, be it art, philosophy, or just basic human nature. Generally speaking, the best strips did this anyway at some point or another, but both Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes stood out in this regard prominently. With the rise of more stylized 2D indie-games, I don’t think it’s a leap to contemplate the possibilities of a side-scrolling C&H game. In fact, I’d even go as far to say that it’s the ideal (if not only) way to ever see Calvin animated. Watterson refused all merchandising of strip due to it infringing upon its spirit. I think there’s now a little tug room with the state of how games are made now. We’re now finally (albeit slowly) moving into the phase of a game’s maturation where writers have more leeway in titles, animation is becoming more prominent, and the overall drive to JUST make money is slowly antagonizing itself (all of which foster the spirit of the strip).

There’s also the various tools of Calvin’s imaginative subconscious which could make some lovely mechanical wrappings without becoming mere gimmicks. Spaceman Spiff, Stupendous Man, and tools like the Transmogrifier all have endless applications of game usage in this context.

A few example rules I proposed to myself:

  • Some of the various 'rules' cannot be broken. The strip is built on the premise that the reader can either accept Calvin’s perspective on life, or the reality of everybody else around him. Those rules must be obeyed at all times (i.e. anytime another ‘real’ character is onscreen, Hobbes cannot be anthropomorphized).

  • No voicing, the use of text bubbles would be far more gracious in a game like this, and it would help play with the animation and visual design as well.


  • The animation itself would have to be phenomenal. The strips were all drawn in the style that basically communicated movement in every panel. Anything that ever comes along to animate it would have to top even that. It would have to naturally pick up that beat of movement and expression.

  • Absolutely no narrative, or at the very least small arcs that can flow in and out of one another. Having some quirky plotline that superficially meshes with the game's cultural status wouldn't be enough and it would be insulting. Having the game designed to be infused into the strips own world however, would be clever as hell. Not just because of the possibilities, but because of the respect it pays to the strip as an art itself.

  • How Hobbes and Calvin are utilized would have to be delicately handled. This is assuming there’s even room to make Hobbes controllable. Personally, I can see him working more in the context of the newer age characters that have far more memorable use as 'actual characters' alongside the player (i.e. Alyx Vance). With the way Hobbes constantly makes dry statements on Calvin’s often-impulsive craziness (e.g. the famous sleigh rides), it may be better to simply let him follow the little guy around while conversing with him.

    Of course this game will never be made, it's far too dangerous of a risk. It also has too many hoops to jump over (e.g. I can't imagine Watterson being so generous to even allow it a consideration) and I'd be one of the fans to actively boycott it if it even began looking remotely insulting towards the strip. I just thought it would be fun to lay the idea out, as usual.

    ~sLs~