Check the Xbox Store and you might find an unusual new point-and-click adventure there. Looking like it stumbled out of the very earliest animations, The Many Pieces of Mr. Coo is a mixed media, surrealist graphic adventure that can’t help but catch the eye.
Of all the games we play, it’s the eccentric, unusual ones that we look forward to the most. But there’s a conflict there: a point-and-click needs to have some logic to it, or it will be impossible to complete. That’s going to bump up against the eccentricity.
To find out more about how this was solved, among other questions, we leapt at the chance to interview the man behind Mr. Coo, Nacho Rodríguez.
Hi, could you please introduce yourself and your role on The Many Pieces of Mr. Coo?
Hello! I’m Nacho Rodríguez, creator of Mr Coo. I directed the game, wrote the script and animated every frame of it. I’ve been a professional animator for more than 20 years now, always aiming to work on creative and personal projects.
Could you give us a quick overview of the game?
The Many Pieces of Mr Coo is a surreal point and click, with rich cartoon animation, no words and minimal interface. The player will be immersed into a dream-like experience, full of mysteries, puzzles and laughs.
The Many Pieces of Mr. Coo looks truly amazing, one of the best-looking and most original games coming to Xbox. How did you hit upon his and the world’s look? It seems to draw on a lot of early animation from several countries.
Thank you! I’ve been drawing all my life, always trying to explore new creative territories. In the early days I wasn’t sure what my style was. And it turns out you don’t need to worry about style, it just develops by itself. One day, after years of drawing and animating, I found out I did have a personal style, and it keeps evolving. I just followed my aesthetic interests without fear of mixing different languages or contradicting elements. Like the big collage of styles that make up this game. They work because they’re filtered by a single artistic intention, even if I couldn’t predict the result as I was creating it.
As for the animation references, I do indeed have great interest for early animation, like 30’s rubberhose cartoons, but also eastern european and russian animation from all the 20th century. You can find many gems of amazing creativity. And I was impressed as a child by the great Italian movie ‘Allegro non troppo’ by Bruno Bozzetto.
This isn’t the world’s first exposure to Mr. Coo, is it? What has been his journey so far?
Mr Coo’s design inspiration comes from the white guy from Pink Panther. I was already drawing Mr Coo when I was a teenager, but he didn’t have a name yet. He got his name when he first appeared as a 1 minute animation in 2004. From then to 2007 I put together 4 animation parts into the 8 minute piece ‘Las aventuras de Mr Coo’. In 2008 I created the first Mr Coo videogame, ‘El laberinto esférico’, an animation/comic-based point and click. He also appeared in a music video for the song ‘Ça Ça Mirlaquerr’, in 2011. Then in 2012 ‘The Many Pieces of Mr Coo’ started its long journey.
How did your collaboration with Sara López begin? Her props and backgrounds in The Many Pieces of Mr. Coo really ground the surrealism – and look beautiful too.
We first collaborated in a short film/music video called ‘A Lifestory’ (2013), which was nominated for the Goya awards. She contributed with her beautiful objects, and a fantastic sense for collage and atmosphere as an illustrator. So as the Mr Coo game advanced, I just needed to have the yellow guy jumping among this antiquary universe. We built the sets together, in some ways the objects themselves gave birth to puzzles and game mechanics. It nevertheless took great work of Photoshop to integrate the photos with the drawings, so that they blend, without trying to hide the collage. It was important for me that you could feel the physicality of these objects, so we used stop motion, video, and dedicated great care to lights and shadows.
Your background is in animation, so what has it been like transitioning to game development? Is the leap as big as someone would think?
For me it was quite natural. In the early days, when I was learning Flash as an animation tool, I was equally interested in its coding capacity. So I was both animating and making little games, and Flash made this blending seamless. My interest is in making the animation truly alive, so adding interactivity to it just boosts this aliveness. My only concern is that Flash and its simple coding language is now outdated, while the industry hasn’t provided a good alternative for crazy people like me who would like to code over different timelines of thousands of frames. Flash did that easy.
Animation and videogames are actually so close. But I’ve been in contact with both industries, and there seems to be an invisible wall, where you are either on one side or the other (with exceptions, of course). But every day we see more and more animation-rich games.
Surrealism and point-and-click adventuring must be an odd mix to get right. You want to include some logic so that players can solve problems, but surrealism demands illogic. How have you got the mix right?
Exactly, it’s an odd mix. The crazy stuff has to be logical and consistent. Some ideas would work wonderfully as mere animation, but don’t work in a game, because the player has to understand the mechanics he’s using, and his puzzle solving has to be logical and fair. These are riddles that I enjoy solving in the design phase. First, it helps to have a powerful, coherent subtext, so even if crazy things happen, there’s an underlying logic and meaning to it all. Then any action can be surreal and crazy, but with its own internal coherence, so the player will be first amazed, and little by little connect the dots and solve the puzzle. And all this without words, which adds to the challenge. The eureka moments when I find a good solution for this design paradoxes are some of the most satisfying parts of the process.
Can you tell us anything about how Mr. Coo has ended up in pieces? Who did this to the poor little guy?
It was a mischievous crocodile. Although it happens after a few chapters into the game, this was one of the main ideas when I started the project. To have Mr Coo cut in 3 parts, with different personalities, so they have to collaborate between them. It’s like shuffling the deck of cards at the beginning of the game, you need some chaos in order to play.
You have talked about burnout and the issues of developing a game alone on Inside the Artist’s Studio. What advice would you give to a solo developer looking to make their first game?
Oh, that one interview came out a bit too dramatic for my taste. I’d like to clarify that I don’t have back pain, as it states there. I was just struggling to find the perfect chair. Sometimes my words denote more drama than what I actually mean to. Then the interviewer gets carried away. (He’s actually a friend of mine, and I send him a hug from here!)
It’s funny how that interview was made in 2018, a much simpler and easier time, but that didn’t keep me from worrying. I was just starting to work with the game’s producers, and I was in a hurry to finish. Pre-pandemic, pre-many troubles.
So yes, this project went through hard times. Although I never thought about quitting. It’s true that one has to take good care of one’s energy, and know when to rest. We usually learn the hard way.
I’m afraid to say that the hardest parts of the process came up when working with others, and not as I was on solo mode. This is a very personal creation, and its quality for me is a must. This sometimes conflicts with the logic of the industry, which is “low cost first, and quick”. But Mr Coo likes to get into trouble, and this has been a deeply learning experience.
My advice to any solo developer is probably not original: keep it small in order to keep it finishable.
And most important: know your tools. Be sure you have a solid technical base from which to build. It’s not that you must be the best coder, but to make sure that the system you’re using can take you all the way to the end of the project without surprises. Every second spent on settling that base will save you months (maybe years).
Oh, and since I’m advising the young folks here: Be unapologetically yourself, even if you’re not sure what you are (you’re on the good path then). Bring something unique to the world.
What was your experience like working with Ubisoft on the O.zen project?
I moved to Lille in 2010 and spent a year and a half working as animation director for that very innovative project. Great talent all around. They did the thing I just advised: to build the proper tools, in close collaboration with the workers, in order to make sure that the production would flow. Also, the working conditions were way better than what we’re sadly used to in Spain. Even if the game aesthetics were not 100% my style, I was able to contribute with doses of cartooniness and crazy flowy life. They also appreciated my narrative and creative inputs. But I don’t last long under the same roof. After finishing my part I went back to freelancing. A while after that the game was released, along with its cool biofeedback hardware (the game synced with your breathing via your pulse). But mysteriously it disappeared from the store after some time. I have no idea what happened. It might have been too innovative for the gaming world. Anyhow it’s refreshing that a big company like Ubisoft had these daring, uncertain projects. And I keep in contact with Sébastien Kochman, the very talented creative director.
How are you feeling, knowing that your debut game is releasing soon?
I’m feeling like a pregnant mother after an 11 year gestation. Big uncertainty, mood swings, and the only intention for the child to be all it can be.
And finally, you wake up like Mr. Coo, with two body parts missing. Which ones can you do without?
It’s funny how I got a similar question in a recent interview. Let’s see… The point is that it’s not up to us to choose. Life comes and takes away what it will. And with whatever I’m left I’ll try to keep making good animation and games. Or just music if the rest is impossible. Maybe we can do that with just a foot?
This long and trying project has indeed cut me into pieces in many ways. I’d like to think I’m in the way of alchemically rebuilding a new Nacho, quite different from the one that started over a decade ago.
But, to take your question literally: my head works too much and gives me a lot of unnecessary trouble, so that one goes out. The legs have some practical bits to them, but they have been used and enjoyed a lot already. Let’s keep the torso, whose arms are quite convenient, but most importantly has a heart inside with many more mysteries to unravel.
You don’t have to wait long to wrap your head around The Many Pieces of Mr. Coo. In fact, you don’t have to wait at all: it is out now, and is ready for you to tinker with. We will be tinkering right beside you, as a review is in progress as we speak. Expect a verdict soon!
Huge thanks go out to Nacho for giving us some time in the lead up to release of Mr Coo.
The Many Pieces of Mr. Coo is available from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S. It’s also on PlayStation, Nintendo Switch and PC.