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The Dreadful Show

The Dreadful Show

Lucas Guibert
by lucasjoestar on 1 Jun 2020 for Rookie Awards 2020

The Dreadful Show is a cooperative beat 'em up playable up to 4 players, online or locally, taking place in a Victorian era. Play as one of the 4 "freaks" stars from Mr Loyal's Circus, each with their own abilities, and investigate through punches in the face on the bewitchment of your fellows circus companions.

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On a Tremendous Stage

So, wanna fight?

The Dreadful Show is a cooperative beat 'em up playable up to 4 players, online or locally, taking place in a Victorian era in which you play as one of the 4 "freaks" stars from Mr Loyal's Circus, under a strange night when mysterious events take place.

Select the character suiting the most your playstyle of the moment, each one with their own abilities and gameplay mechanics, and set off on an investigation journey through punches in the face, with your friends or on your own, to discover what the hell is happening to your beloved circus.

The game is available on download for Windows right here.

A Freak Show Story

"This story takes place at night, in a dirty street pub where all 4 freak stars from Mr Loyal Circus were passing time until one of them, Archibald, accidentally started a fire by a bad sneeze.

On their way back to the circus camp they come across misfortunate encounters, as their circus fellows seem under some kind of bad bewitchment and attack them. No better way to put their minds back in place than punching them in the face! And so begin their investigation on the Dreadful Show."

Under this moonlight adventure, you will have to fight against all kinds of circus-related emblematic figures like Mimes, Mighty-Men or some devilish Siameses and, out of respect for beat 'em up, victorian Punks and their evil mohawks.

Our Straight Odd Purpose

When we made The Dreadful Show, we wanted to deliver an old school, punchy and unique game experience with its own flavour that we could build entirely, from top to bottom.

This was a huge challenge for us, as we were a small team only composed of 4 people: 3 Game Programmers and only 1 Artist. Hopefully, we were joined by an additional Artist at half of the production, which greatly helped us to keep and satisfy our goals and game scope.

We worked on this game from October to December 2018 on the pre production and prototype, and the production spread out from January to September 2019. Ultimately, that's a whole year our team spent on this project.

Styling a Circus Flavour

The freak-show inspired artistic direction of the game was an important decision, as it influenced all game aspects and drove strongly our creative process towards one uniform experience, and helped to determine enemies and players abilities.

At first we knew we wanted to make a cooperative game with each playable character having their own characteristics. We started with a super heroes comic-inspired atmosphere, but the quickly the idea was to move to something less represented, and then the freak-show style came into mind.

It evolved through different stylistic representations, from a realistic more detailed direction to a cartoonish juicy appealing style.

Select your Fighter

As you can play as one of 4 playable characters, you can choose between their different capacities to select the character you are most interesting in.

It was important for us to offer various playstyles across the characters to the players, as it allows each and everyone to select the one suiting the most their desire, offers a variety of actions and strategies on screen and increases the replay value of our game, among other things.

The 4 "freak" stars from Mr Loyal Circus are:

• Abby, the malicious tiny Bearded Lady!

Fighting with her growing-over-time beard, the more it is broad, the more damages she deals. Be be aware that striking with tends to spoil it!

• Willy, the incredible Three Handed Juggler!

Long range combat expert, he can juggle with multiple objects and throw them on his opponents with an unrivaled high degree precision!

• Archie, the impressive Fire Eater!

Firing up foes with his attacks, he can also drink alcohol allowing him to throw fireballs. But be careful, swallowing alcohol tends to make him drunk!

• Martha, the fabulous Grande Dame!

Short range combat expert, she can load her attacks and eat a part of her favourite cake to heal herself if the situation becomes tricky!

The Bad Guys

All along the game, you will punch various characters in their face and each opponent will fight back with their own abilities.

The most common enemies of Beat’em up games are also present in The Dreadful Show: The Punks are the first encounters you will meet after a huge brawl in a local pub. They aren’t the strongest guys around but there is a lot of them.

Then, You will probably meet the Mimes, those guys will shoot you in the heart with their finger guns and drag you smoothly with their imaginary fishing rod.

The Mighty-men are quite the henchmen around here. With their enormous arms they can easily crush you with one punch or while charging toward you.

The Fakirs will sting you by throwing all the swords and knives that are hidden in their body. And if you come too close of them, you could be surprised!

The Acrobats will drive you crazy when they jumps all around the place, performing gracious figure to beat you up!

And there are even more, but you’ll have to discover them by playing the game, we don’t want to spoil you everything.

Multiplayer: Through Hell and Back

Cooperation is very important in this game, revealing all its flavor. Initially planned for local multiplayer only, we moved to an online structure basis on demand, allowing to play together from multiple machines. It was no peanuts, as it considerably changed our code architecture and was something no one on our team was comfortable with, so we had to learn first how it really works.

This caused many struggles in the development process, but we finally managed to set it up and maintain it through a centralized method redistributing all events, besides implementing local multiplayer too (of course).

Staging our Show

We knew we wanted to discharge the most of the work as possible from our artists to let them focus on gorgeous asset creations. In this process, they created small environment assets for each of the levels (like house bricks, windows, trees or barrels), all separately. These assets were then imported into the project and assembled to create unique stunning environments constituted of multiple thousands of sprites.

This way, assets could be put together in various forms, colors and scales to create pieces of environment all differents from each other, giving a sense of progression to the players.

Since many hundreds of sprites on-screen with multiple lights mean exponential draw calls for a single frame, we created a tool allowing to “bake” multiple sprites in one with their light, resulting in a single draw call and significantly increasing the game performances.

Behind the Scenes

On this production, we quickly set up our workflow and used many tricks to obtain the result we wanted.

As an example, our game is in fact rendered in a 3D world, but with an orthographic (2D) rotated camera, flattening the geometry to achieve the desired rendering. To assist us we also created many tools, from sprites color management to spawn points, passing by multi-tags system to reach the level of quality desired.

About the artistic workflow, our main artist was focusing on creating assets and animation lines which were then delegated to our second artist for coloration.

Curtains Down

Well, this was a long journey filled with development struggles and creative bursts, full of lessons and enrichment. Of course we learned a lot making this game from our mistakes and the aspects we discovered, and if we had to do it again, we would do it differently based on our experience.

Here is the main team behind this project:

Our great thanks to these talented fellows, responsible for the game sound assets and to whom we will never be grateful enough:

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