A case study for an HD remake of Toonstruck and Toonstruck 2.
Before we discuss Toonstruck HD / Toonstruck 2, we must first note that there is a trend of taking classic games and remastering them in HD. The formula is simple; take a much-loved game from the annuls of history and give it the high definition treatment which wasn’t viable when it was originally made.
Many titles, such as Monkey Island, Baldur’s Gate and Age of Empires II have had great success by faithfully updating the original game.
Transversely, the 8/16-bit generation of games seems to have not only withstood the test of time but has also inspired a tidal wave of games created in this visual style, which has proved popular, not just with gamers for whom this era is nostalgic but new generations of gamers, too.
Toonstuck was released in 1996, and in many ways, it was ahead of its time. The game centres around the Protagonist Drew Blanc (Christopher Lloyd), a cartoon animator who gets sucked into the cartoon World.
Much of the appeal comes in the form of the humorous dialogue with the cartoon world’s many colourful characters for whom Drew must solve puzzles in order to get back to reality.
The game plays much like other previous point and click classic adventure games such as Monkey Island, but it was released during an unfortunate period where 3D games were gaining traction on the PC. This change in gaming trends alongside some poor marketing meant that Toonstruck went largely under the radar, making it more of a cult classic than a hit.
Though it felt well-rounded, a hasty release meant that there was a great deal of content that was not included with the original game. Following the release of Toonstruck, the intention was to finish the rest of the content and release it as a sequel in the form of Toonstruck 2, however, weak sales meant that this material never saw the light of day, though a little bit can be seen briefly in the video below.
With the intellectual property for the game being sold by moribund game developers Interplay, we constructed this case study to explore the viability of an HD remake of Toonstruck by recreating several assets from the original game, while also looking at new ways to breathe life into this cult classic.
Aspect ratio and resolution
Our journey began in the trophy room of King Hugh’s castle. The original backgrounds were hand painted and rendered in a resolution of 640×480 pixels, which is an aspect ratio 4:3. Modern high definition graphics are typically 1920×1080 pixels, which is an aspect ratio of 16:9.
The shift in aspect ratio meant that, in addition to recreating the existing assets, we would also need to create things that weren’t ever there in order to fill the gaps to the left and right of the scene.
In this quick test, we drew in the background for the missing side sections and then applied a vector filter to clean-up the noisy pixelated background.
The result looks ok, but the vector filter has predictably removed some of the finer details from the original artwork. It was clear that a true HD remastering would require that all visual assets be redrawn.
Characters and Animation
We put the backgrounds on hold for a while and began to look at the process of redrawing the game’s characters.
The game features characters from the worlds of Cutopia and Zanydu, which are (unsurprisingly) cute and zany, respectively. There are also the more sinister characters from Melevoland. Several characters from Cutopia also become malevolent when they are…wait for it…melevolated.
The first thing we noticed is that the non-sinister characters (like the Footman) were much simpler to draw, whereas the malevolent characters were far more detailed on account of the light and shadow used to accentuate their wickedness.
Spike the clown and Mistress Marge were much more time consuming to draw than the Footman.
Characters in Toonstruck feature very well executed animation, albeit at a somewhat low framerate. Ideally, a HD remake would include a higher framerate for smoother character animation. For the purpose of this case study, we included some basic animation.
Spike the clown with glowing eyes and a spinning propeller on his hat, which is similar to the depiction on the homepage of the original game.
Once melevolated, Mistress Marge can be found on the Wheel-O-Luv, but in the original game, the wheel didn’t spin. We thought we’d do something about that!
Breathing new life into a classic
Some remakes choose to turn the 2D original into a 3D game, making it more of a reimagining. Because Toonstruck’s very premise hinges on the world being a cartoon, making the game 3D would be out of the question; however, we decided to explore ways to make the environment more dynamic while staying faithful to the original.
This town scene is interactive. Move your mouse around (or tilt your tablet/smartphone) to experience a perspective shift.
We created everything in this town scene from the ground up, including a lot of additional artwork that was necessary to fill the 16:9 aspect ratio gaps and allow the camera to pan around the buildings.
Toonstruck 2 Release Date
I picked up Toonstruck in 1996 and absolutely loved it. Like many others, I would not even find out about the unreleased content until many years later. The game is of an odd age; too young to be retro and too old to generate a new fan base in its current form. As a fan of the game, I would be happy if they released the sequel in its original low-res form, but to grab a new generation of gamer, a HD remake would be a smart move.
From the work we did for this case study, we estimate that to recreate the visual assets from the original game in high definition with a higher frame rate of animation would take approximately 2000 staff-hours, which should give you some indication of the kind of production budget that would be necessary.
The intellectual property for Toonstruck may soon be in new hands, but the release date for Toonstruck 2 is still very much up in the air.
What can I do?
All original concepts were created by the late Burst Studios and its respective artists. The Big Dot Company has no affiliation with Burst Studios, Virgin Interactive or Interplay.
This project was a personal exploration of viability and direction for the potential remake of Toonstruck (1996).
If you have any questions regarding this project, then please contact us for more information.