A little over seven years have passed since CiNG, the Fukuoka-based developers behind critically acclaimed titles such as Hotel Dusk: Room 215 and the Another Code (Trace Memory) series, filed for bankruptcy.
Fans of CiNG’s atmospheric mystery titles in particular – games that stood out as some of the finest Nintendo-published software of the ‘Touch Generations’ era – will no doubt still be mourning the premature loss of their originality and thoughtful approach to using hardware that served as hallmarks of their creations. 2016’s Chase: Cold Case Investigations, a 3DS mystery visual novel developed by a number of ex-CiNG staff, offered something in the way of hope that the spirit of CiNG’s games can still be kept alive today, but for those whose admiration is reserved for the gripping tales of former detective Kyle Hyde, there is no better time than now to reflect on how those stories came to be told.
In question is a video produced prior to the release of Last Window: The Secret of Cape West, the sequel to Hotel Dusk that failed to see release in North America, and ultimately served to be CiNG’s final release before their closure. The video itself, produced in 2010 to promote the game and dubbed into English by Nintendo of Europe, offers a rare glimpse at the production of a second-party Nintendo title, in particular the unique rotoscope animation style that manipulates video footage of real people to capture the nuances of human movement and expression.
The process of rotoscoping is explained to be a complicated one, involving the initial casting of actors to bring each of the game’s characters to life, followed by the arduous production of numerous hand-drawn frames of animation. Surprisingly, the game’s director and character designer Taisuke Kanasaki openly discusses the struggle of outsourcing the game’s artwork to external companies, fearing that the distinctions of his illustration’s sketch-like style would be lost and highlighting the need for every frame to be re-drawn or modified in some way to create consistency across the game’s cast.
Perhaps the use of such a resource-intensive and time-consuming process to create assets can be considered a factor in CiNG’s closure; one that was, after all, financial in nature. In some regards, it is a decision that pays off sheerly for how unique and memorable it is – artwork in games created through rotoscoping remains a rarity, with the 1989 Prince of Persia standing as one of few other notable examples of its use. The art style found in Hotel Dusk and Last Window acts as a perfect tool for building atmosphere and effectively captures the moody yet thoughtful tones associated with the era of detective stories it aims to replicate thematically.
Whether or not a company of CiNG’s size would be willing to take the risk on a process such as rotoscoping in the future remains to be seen. However, both the video in question and the positive legacy of Hotel Dusk and its sequel showcase how potentially rewarding it can be to take a risk or try something different – perhaps these unique illustrations can be seen as something of an embodiment of CiNG’s willingness to experiment and push the boundaries of what is considered the norm when striving to tell an excellent story, for which they’ll be remembered long past their departure.