Refining Ransome

by Gary Winnick
Dec 09, 2015

It's an interesting process working on an adventure game like this from inception to finished form, for us it's definitely a very character driven process. One of the first things we do, is establish our main player character(s), aside from each's obvious visual traits and associated costuming etc., it's really based on the major aspects of their personalities formed by a character's motivations short and long term.

At its core, Thimbleweed Park is about each of the five playable characters specific story arcs: Who are they as a person at the beginning of the game? Where are they going? Typically, not just down a path from one side of  town to the other, it's about each one's personal journey of discovery and how they might tend to grow from the adventure's start to finish.

At the start of the process you can easily get attached to who you think a character is (and in my case, how they look). As an artist/character designer I have a tendency to almost immediately imagine a character's appearance from the get go. Once I have an image of that character in my head, it's usually not long to go from paper sketches to an initial pixel art representation.

In the event of putting something like the kickstarter pitch together, we had to pretty quickly make up our minds about the character representations and just run with it. This was a double edged sword as it served to put an important stake in the ground, but didn't really allow us the opportunity to fully refine any of the designs.

Ransome described as a ‘Creepy Clown' out of the gate had a fairly well formed personality (we had quickly thought up the rude clown persona and that gave us a lot to work with). He had immediately came to life in my head as a standard white faced red nosed bozo-type. Although this was a good stepping off point, we realized it was definitely too stereotypical to be his final look.

As a result, the first thing we tried was giving him a somewhat more unique hairdo. Given the 80's vibe I then went ahead and tried a Mohawk version of his hairdo, after all, what could be cooler than "Ransome the Mohawk Insult Clown'? Although we sorta liked this, we got over it and moved on to try a variety of other approaches. Ultimately Octavi came back with a brilliant range of Ransome variations.

One of the things we really liked about Octavi's designs, is that he really didn't have any of the pre-conceived notions about the character I had stuck in my head from living with his formative personality over the previous year. Keep in mind we'd had a pretty clear vision of his personality forming in our psyche and it can be hard to get past that when you think you know a character - especially one you've had a role in creating.

One of Ron's best pieces of advice is always be ready to change and refine when it truly makes sense. I had also been keying off of our earlier character development for Maniac Mansion and we really wanted to push some degree beyond that in the evolution of this character. Once we had an opportunity to see Octavi's fresh takes, while somewhat out of the box they absolutely complimented our artistic vision and really did click. After a little back and forth we unanimously gravitated towards this version...

Here is Octavi, describing his process of designing Ransome:

Ransome's creation process was really interesting, because Ron and Gary deliberately gave me very little information on how they imagined the character's look and personality, as they wanted me to have full creative freedom. Of course, I had in mind the first version that Gary made for the Kickstarter campaign, but my job here was to create five completely new takes on the character to see if any of them would be suitable.

All I knew was that Ransome had to be a mean, bitter clown, victim of a curse that prevented him from removing his makeup. With this information I started working on my five renditions. I tried to make them as distinct as possible, with different ages, body sizes, clothes and facial expressions. But in my head all of them had to look kind of gross and scruffy. In my opinion the version that came closest to my overall idea was the last one: his skinny look, messy hair and missing teeth worked very well with the initial description of the character, so I'm glad that it was chosen as the final Ransome.

However, we soon realized that using this version would be a challenge when working on the animation, due to the asymmetry of his body. We didn't want to lose the balloon as it gives a kind, childish touch, to a character that represents exactly the opposite, increasing its sinister look.

But the extra work of animation is well worth it. Of all the characters I've had the pleasure to work on for the game, Ransome is clearly my favorite, as it's probably the most personal.

- Octavi

So behold Ransome in all his clownfro glory!

Additionally, all these other designs are still very useful, as there could still be other clowns around...? Or who knows maybe instrumental for a sequel.... ‘Ransome's Revenge' or maybe ‘Attack of the Killer Clown Clones?.... After all anything's possible...

- Gary

Paul Jacobson - Dec 09, 2015 at 12:03
Nice work, I can't wait to see him come to life in the game.

I love the little things in this, like one sock has fallen down and he clearly can't be bothered anymore to sort it out.

Also Is Ransome available for kid's parties? =)

Iron Curtain - Dec 09, 2015 at 21:52
"Also Is Ransome available for kid's parties? =)"

That's NOT a good idea; Ransome would instantly turn those kids into coulrophobes.

Dominik - Dec 09, 2015 at 12:03
Greate post! I like how the art development entries add a completely different angle to the dev blog.

In Ocavis second paragraph in the second sentence there might be something people could consider a mild spoilder?! If it were my, I would remove it.

Keep up the great work!

spiffy - Dec 09, 2015 at 12:11
No spoiler, it's even on the Kickstarter campaign page:
"At the long abandoned circus grounds, Ransome the Clown had been cursed and can never remove his make-up. How did he get into this situation? How can he get out? Does he really want to? What’s up with that dead body slowly bloating in the water? Who knows!"

Christopher Griffin - Dec 09, 2015 at 12:12
Agreed.  Did not know about Ransome's curse, of course it seems like something that will be revealed right off the bat in the game, still seems a little *revealing*.

Octavi Navarro - Dec 09, 2015 at 12:36
Sorry if it sounded spoilery, but it's all in the Kickstarter page. That's where I learnt about Ransome's curse, long before knowing I would be working on the game! :-)

prbalbontin - Dec 09, 2015 at 12:44
Enhorabuena por el diseño, Octavi. Es genial :)

Dominik - Dec 09, 2015 at 13:26
See, I threw my money at you without even *READING* the kickstarter page ;-)
Cool design btw! I really like this creepy, depressed clown style... Wow, that sounds weird.

FloWo - Dec 10, 2015 at 06:57
That info was already given in the character descriptions from the KS campain.

Michael Hoffmann - Dec 09, 2015 at 12:05
"Everything down here floats" ;-)

Great choice for the final design! I really look forward to playing Ransome!

juan - Dec 09, 2015 at 12:15
Wow!!! I love it! Two questions: Is the balloon part of my inventory? What happens if I give it to other playable characyers?

prbalbontin - Dec 09, 2015 at 12:47
The balloon contains his soul. If he lets it fly away (or give it to someone else) he will die.

Nah, I don't think that's the case, but I would love that ;)

urielz - Dec 09, 2015 at 12:20
Great post! Thank you Gary. When I saw the five clowns I took a few minutes to pick one myself before reading the rest of the article. Happy to find out that you guys went with #5. Definitely my favorite. I like #4 as well, but not for Ransome's character, he looks like a genuinely sad, not creepy, clown with a potentially interesting background story.

Farooq - Dec 09, 2015 at 12:21
Mark my words. This game is going for some award next year. The story seems adequately distinctive and impressive.

urielz - Dec 09, 2015 at 12:24
That would be fantastic. It would certainly impulse a renascence of classic adventure games.

Patrik Spacek - Dec 09, 2015 at 12:25
The best looking clown is in the IT movie :)

Christopher - Dec 09, 2015 at 12:35
Afro Ransome looks like he’s a proper dick. Mission accomplished!

Guy who sits on stone - Dec 09, 2015 at 12:42
I always imagined that Clowns werent human. That they were some non-human species who live among us, like elves, dwarves and Rick Ashley.

DC - Dec 09, 2015 at 12:46

Guido de Caso - Dec 09, 2015 at 12:46
What about the animations extra complexity? Does that mean that simply horizontally flipping will not work for him right? Are you guys considering this new flexibility to revisit the animations for the other characters?

Ricardo Marichal - Dec 09, 2015 at 12:53
De las 5 opciones,  definitivamente, la que mejor describe gráficamente la personalidad de Ransome es la que han elegido. Me encanta.  Felicidades.

vegetaman - Dec 09, 2015 at 13:02
This is why I love this blog -- so much great and interesting stuff that goes on that when you play the end game, you don't get to appreciate all the nuance and concepts that went into a character and what was left on the cutting room floor or wound up as something else in a game. Great update!

Joe - Dec 09, 2015 at 13:22
If he's always holding a balloon, does that mean any animations require him doing things one handed? What a pain. Good luck. :)

Zak Phoenix McKracken - Dec 09, 2015 at 13:25
It's very well designed, congratulations!!
Wow, this game will become the new masterpiece of the 21st century, I feel it!

Big Red Button - Dec 09, 2015 at 13:39
Great sketches! You could use the other ideas for a mix'n'bozo code wheel.

Big Red Button - Dec 09, 2015 at 14:07
Besides, as the game takes place in the 80s, what about including a gang of boys with a boombox on a sidewalk in TP, listening to hip-hop?

Big Red Button - Dec 12, 2015 at 09:38
Even better: A guy with a boombox on his shoulder running casually along the road. It might be quite funny and atmospheric, unless he appears too often.

Mattias Cedervall - Dec 09, 2015 at 14:34
Great work, Gary and Octavi! :-)

Carlo Valenti - Dec 09, 2015 at 14:49
The hair! It does not rotate with the body!! Really cursed indeed...

Jesper - Dec 09, 2015 at 15:00
Was just about to write something similar. Reminds me of how both of Mickey Mouse's ears are always visible no matter how he stand.

Ema - Dec 09, 2015 at 18:29
Not to mention the checkers on Stan's suit! :D

Derrick Reisdorf - Dec 09, 2015 at 22:11
I was going to mention that as well.  I would assume that will be changed...

Okona - Dec 14, 2015 at 07:36
In fact it would be quite funny if that would not be changed. (-:

Jesper - Dec 09, 2015 at 15:03
With him holding a balloon how will you control the animation if I make him walk in one direction and then while walking click for him to walk in the opposite direction? Will it float and then get pulled in the opposite direction, or will it just be a static balloon that quickly switches direction together with the character?

Big Red Button - Dec 09, 2015 at 16:50
I assume the latter case.
If you liked to, you could even implement a differential equation which describes the movement of the balloon in relation to the movement of Ransome's hand, but it wouldn't be worth the effort.

Daniel Wolf - Dec 10, 2015 at 03:09
That would be really cool! I always find that strings or ropes in games have to be really well-animated, or they kinda stick out. A balloon with a bit of inertia to it would be great!

Big Red Button - Dec 10, 2015 at 06:16
Well, if the dev team wants a simple equation for that, I think I could set up one (for free of course), since I'm currently learning such a stuff for an exam ('simulation technology').

Darkstorm - Dec 09, 2015 at 15:55
Man, lightning bolt clown is disturbing as hell, defo the creepiest of any of them.  If he had the bells as well he'd be nightmare fuel

hope he makes it into the game somewhere.

Jochem - Dec 09, 2015 at 16:09
Change and rifine at its very best!
Thanks Octavi, really like the design!
Can't wait to see him in action

Steven Don - Dec 09, 2015 at 17:29
As I reached the five versions made by Octavi, one character instantly "clicked" with the description of Ransome. Glad to see that it ended up being the one that was chosen.

Bogdan Barbu - Dec 09, 2015 at 19:16
Since I don't know much about Ransome in particular, I can only comment on the sprites. I *really* like the third of Octavi's concepts above, and the first is my second favourite. I kind of hope you find some use for these. We'll just have to wait and see.

Ema - Dec 10, 2015 at 18:21
Bogdan? Or Mattias? :-/

Ema - Dec 10, 2015 at 18:24
I mean... This comment is signed Bogdan, but I see Mattias's Gravatar... And gravatars are messed up also in other messages. Does this happen to me only?

Bogdan Barbu - Dec 12, 2015 at 11:37
I don't know why you are seeing someone else's avatar. I (Bogdan) see my own.

Ema - Dec 12, 2015 at 16:06
Yes, now it is fixed. I don't know, it was a temporary bug. Avatars were messed up... you had Mattias' one, and so on for everybody. Sometimes computers do strange things. Maybe it was my computer...

Iron Curtain - Dec 09, 2015 at 21:50
Octavi, ¡Me encantan tus payasos! ¡También me gusta que el mejor payaso ha sido elegido!

Derrick Reisdorf - Dec 09, 2015 at 22:14
I'd like to see a rainbow clown fro.  Or, would a rainbow clown fro be too colorful?

Derrick Reisdorf - Dec 09, 2015 at 22:16

Zak Phoenix McKracken - Dec 10, 2015 at 01:38
You have only 16 colours on a Commodore 64... oops yeah, you could nowadays!

Andrew - Dec 10, 2015 at 00:40
This is great! I love the process the whole team walks through. It's very inclusive and thorough.

Roman - Dec 10, 2015 at 02:40
What happens if some other character kills his balloon....does he get more angry...more depressed..will he cry or explode....or grabs a new one out of his pocket...can he make cool balloon animals...does he have a ballon which looks like himself? I hope all balloon questions will be answered next year....

Zak Phoenix McKracken - Dec 10, 2015 at 11:32
I think Ransome will act like Weird Ed in Maniac Mansion, when he discovered that you cooked his hamster... a new object "Tombstone" will show up!

Jammet - Dec 10, 2015 at 03:35
Wow! This clown looks absolutely creepy! But then again what clown doesn't! :D

entropy - Dec 10, 2015 at 04:56
You guys are amazing!

Gv - Dec 10, 2015 at 05:41
Octavi is a great artist, but I think his style is a departure from the original "Maniac Mansion-esque" style. I think I prefer the original design. Mark Ferrari is great also, I love his work in Loom and MI1, but I think he's giving the game an aspect that is too modern. There should be at least a constraint on the number of colors used, sixteen would be fine. After all it is 1987. It is like the year 1900, everything was black and white then ;)

Mathias - Dec 10, 2015 at 10:40
You got me at "sequel" ...

Arto - Dec 10, 2015 at 11:59
I'm so excited about the sequel! Can't wait!

Soren Ladegaard - Dec 10, 2015 at 13:37
G.A.M.E.  O.F.  T.H.E.  Y.E.A.R.!!!!

Carlo Valenti - Dec 10, 2015 at 14:09
For sure it is going to be VERY interesting to play such a character which does not raise any epidermic empathy at all at first glance. This is very different from everything you guys have proposed to us in the past, as far as I can remember. Every playable character has been nice-appealing in some way until today. Ransome is definitely a different stroke. This is innovation!

Ron Gilbert - Dec 10, 2015 at 14:18
Yes, Ransome is a complete dick. I want players to feel uncomfortable playing with him. There is a small chunk of the game where you have to play as him, but he can be ignored most of the time.

Carlo Valenti - Dec 10, 2015 at 15:48
I don't know (don't want to know) if Ransome is going to be a creepy-dick-and-that's-it character, or if he will end up to be a dig-beyond-the-surface-and-you'll-love-him character.
What I know is that the most satisfactory relationships I had with characters were the not immediate and obvious ones.
For instance: I never liked the Ferengis in Star Trek TNG, and that's what they were made for. But the way they were developed in Deep Space Nine was remarkable, and the character of Quark was most rewarding: a thief, and ugly as all Ferengis, but to be found as strongly ethical in his own very particular way, and devoted to what he valued most in life.

Soong - Dec 11, 2015 at 02:43
I agree with you about how it was nice to see the Ferengi more developed.  However, all in all, TNG is of course the best show ever™.

Carlo Valenti - Dec 11, 2015 at 16:05
I simply can't get enough of, too :)

Carlo Valenti - Dec 12, 2015 at 01:48
(Are you Doctor Noonien Soong?)

Soong - Dec 16, 2015 at 03:38
I wouldn't say I _am_ Dr. Noonien Soong, but that's what the nick refers to, yes. :-)

Soong - Dec 11, 2015 at 02:41
That's cool!  I enjoy playing a dick sometimes.  Maybe I'll play more with Ransom than I need to (no idea if that's even possible).

Franzy - Dec 11, 2015 at 15:46
Ron, I loved this Mohawk hair!!! Any way for Ransome to wear wigs and change from times to times?

Sushi - Dec 10, 2015 at 19:15
Those five sad-looking clowns would make for a fine and funny line-up in the likely event that a certain clown is a suspect for a certain crime in Thimbleweed Park at one moment or another during the story...

Grafekovic - Dec 11, 2015 at 06:37
I just noticed, that you saved some work with the hair. They are the same for front and side view.

Zarbulonian - Dec 11, 2015 at 09:11
It defies rotation. That's part of the curse :-)

Seriously, I love this kind of cheating.

It's used pretty often in comics and animation, and it looks right home to me.

tomimt - Dec 11, 2015 at 06:51
Ransom is an ugly sod, but then again, he's a clown, so that's just fitting.

Zombocast - Dec 11, 2015 at 21:27
For the next 35 hours GOG has a 75% off sale...
10 games for $17, You might recognize these Lucas-arts Classics:
(Indiana Jones, Sam & Max, Monkey Island, Zak McKracken, The Dig, Afterlife, Outlaws, LOOM)

Zombocast - Dec 11, 2015 at 21:40
I want to apologize now if my previous post is in bad taste..
I really love this genre of games and thought it was relevant news.

Derrick Reisdorf - Dec 12, 2015 at 01:31
Kentucky Route Zero is on sale too

Valdir - Dec 12, 2015 at 04:26
Hi, sorry about the late comment (hope you at least read it), but I think you nailed it!

The first Ransome with Bozo like hair looks more simple, 1987 game style. And would be great on a Maniac Mansion style. But c'mon now you got the compute power to make thinks looks better but still pixelated! All the screenshots are more like Monkey Island now, so, Great Ransome it looks creepy and weird.

Is he going to keep things in his hair defying physics like the giant key for a giant monkey head?

About the other four ones. 1 and 4 looks like "just" normal clowns. 2 is grandpa clown and 3 looks like a thief clown, or like a nerdy one who didn't want to dress like a clown.
But every five of them will work as clowns if you flip the mouth and make it a nice smile. Except if the smile is a creepy one like The Joker smile.

And by the way, Ransome looks like the name of a comic book criminal, one who kidnaps people. It would be fun if the dumber investigator have obsessed speech lines like: "His name is RANSOM, it must be a criminal!" Even when nothing points toward this.

Great work guys! Congratulations on all the process of keeping things updated about the project without leaking spoilers.

Brett - Dec 12, 2015 at 12:34
I cant stop seeing Ronald McDonald in the new version of Ransome (which Im sure is an inspiration). I really like the second concept (the older one with no hat) so I hope you get to use him at some point!

Gffp - Dec 12, 2015 at 13:07
Are the caracters displayed in 320x200 resolution? Is that the same we see in Maniac Mansion or Day of the Tentacle? Just asking, I'm curious about it. Nice work indeed keep on this way, Winnick + Ferrari + Navarro is a dream team.

Carlo Valenti - Dec 12, 2015 at 16:38
... Iiiiii.... neeeeeed..... poooodcaaassst....

Mister T - Dec 12, 2015 at 17:08
Immediatly fell in love with the last version, glad you picked it. I love how the ballon is completely contradicting the feelings of the character. I bet if he tried to get rid of it or it popped at some sharp corner, it would just grow back, so he kind of surrendered to his fate and keeps it in his hand....

Carlo Valenti - Dec 12, 2015 at 18:27
.... poooodcaaassst.....

Zak Phoenix McKracken - Dec 18, 2015 at 07:05
It's too early, Carlo.

[Italian insult fight mode ON]
Ho sentito dire che sei uno spregevole codardo.

Zak Phoenix McKracken - Dec 18, 2015 at 07:10
Uhm. My message postet a few minutes ago is dated
Dec 18 at 04:05
But all the previous messages are dated Dec 12 ~ Dec 09.
Does anyone have built a Time Machine?!

Zak Phoenix McKracken - Dec 18, 2015 at 07:33
Mystery solved: I answered the wrong post :-(