Little Nemo and the Nightmare Fiends

Created by Team Nemo

An indie game based on Winsor McCay's groundbreaking comic strip.

Latest Updates from Our Project:

Backers Only: The tools of Little Nemo's non-linear level design
about 2 years ago – Fri, Mar 12, 2021 at 11:04:25 PM

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Game Inspiration & Mechanics
about 2 years ago – Thu, Mar 11, 2021 at 07:25:37 PM

When we initially started planning Little Nemo And The Nightmare Fiends, of course we looked to some classic games for inspiration, though maybe not the ones you might be thinking of.

We knew early on we wanted players to be able to control characters other than Nemo; after all, Nemo isn’t alone in his adventures through Slumberland in the comics, why should he be in the game? And of course we wanted those characters to be unique, so we looked at games that had a lot of variety in their move sets, such as Capcom's Mickey’s Magical Quest where the titular mouse could change his costume and become a firefighter who can put out fire and create ice blocks in certain levels.

We also looked closely at a game that also had multiple characters with a lot of variety between them; Little Samson, a niche (and very expensive in the after market) NES game from developer Takera. In that game, players can freely swap between four characters, each with different abilities and trade offs: Samson, who is able to shoot a Mega Man-esque projectile and can climb any wall or ceiling; Kirika the Dragon, who is able to hover in the air for a short distance while also breathing fire that spreads in different directions; Gamm the Golem, who moves slowly but has more health than any of the other characters, is invulnerable to hazards such as spikes and can extend his arm for a strong melee attack; and K.O. the Mouse, who like Samson can climb walls and ceilings but is also able to get into narrow passages that Samson cannot and is able to plant bombs that can devastate enemies. This provided us a great model for our characters and their abilities.

Of course we wanted our game to not just be a clone of another game, and while Little Samson is an excellent platformer for its time, it is limited in some ways. Probably the most notable is that, as a linear level by level platformer, different parts of the game’s level design are really meant to accommodate one character over the others. This makes some levels’ structure feel repetitive over time as well as downright unfair if one of those character’s has died and is no longer available for the player to use.

Naturally we wanted to avoid those issues, so as Nemo’s friends join him on this adventure, they will always be usable; this helps avoid the issue of not having an ability when you really need it. And in that way, we started thinking of each character’s unique abilities as an extension of one another; a toolset that expands for the player every time Nemo meets a new friend. This opened the game up to two exciting possibilities.

The first was allowing the game to be non-linear. New abilities the player always has at their disposal means they can revisit past levels and use their abilities to explore areas they were previously unable to reach. This brings the structure more in line with games like Monster Boy and Demon’s Crest, and so we’re taking inspiration from those games as well, as both the world and the narrative will expand as you discover new secrets in previously explored spaces.

The other was allowing players to freely switch between characters at any time - including in mid-air and during their other abilities. This opens up a lot of new and exciting design possibilities for us, such as understanding how each character works with one another, and how we can best fit that into the level design to create new and exciting challenges. We’re still fine tuning the game to make this feature as fun as possible, but you can see in the game’s trailer a couple of examples of character swapping in action!

Of course, we fully expect players to find new possibilities for these characters that we haven’t even thought of. The plan is to allow for a lot of freeform experimentation and we imagine the streaming and speedrun community are going to have a lot of fun with this one! If you’re a fan of technical, skill based platformers such as Celeste, Guacamelee! or Hollow Knight, we think you’ll be right at home here.

That’s all for this update. Hopefully this was insightful, and stay tuned for other updates in the future! And thanks again for all of your support!

- Adrian

Backer exclusive! Little Nemo Brainstorming Podcast #1: Nemo's Glide Ability
about 2 years ago – Thu, Mar 11, 2021 at 07:25:26 PM

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We're 1/3 of the way there! Plus: Discord Server Reminder!
about 2 years ago – Thu, Mar 11, 2021 at 07:25:01 PM

This post is for backers only. Please visit and log in to read.

Artwork Wednesdays - Overview of the game's art style
about 2 years ago – Thu, Mar 11, 2021 at 07:24:56 PM

Hello dear backers! 

I realize that this is your second update of the evening after the Discord update (or if you're seeing this not as a backer - please consider becoming one for all the exclusive stuff like our Discord server and developer brainstorming podcast!), but there's an exciting update series that we wanted to introduce today: Artwork Wednesdays!

This is going to be where we show off new artwork for the game or deep dive into the game's look. For this introductory episode, I thought I'd share the elements of the game's art style, and where how it connects to the source material!

Historical context

As we discussed both on the page and in a previous update, the game pulls from a lot of retro classics, but the heart and soul of our game lies in the original Little Nemo in Slumberland comics. These comics were created by comics and animation pioneer Winsor McCay starting in 1905. A self-trained artist, McCay's comic was known for not only its serialized storytelling (stories were told over the course of multiple strips), but also for its draftsmanship, 4th wall breaking, and inventive use of page layouts

One of the most popular Little Nemo strips, in which a servant of the King of Slumberland tries to fetch Nemo using the Moon, complete with terrifying grimace. The circular central panel allows the Moon to get a full-panel treatment, where he would otherwise be cropped out or shown at a distance. (Source: Wikipedia)

"Art Nouveau Line"

In this scan of original Little Nemo in Slumberland line art, you can see the quality of the lines: the thickest lines are around the characters, giving them visual prominence. In drafting, this is called "line weight."

McCay drew with a thick outer line, which he drew first when he drew his characters, and thin inner and background lines. This is consistent with the Art Nouveau style, a movement in the graphic and applied arts popular between 1890 and 1910. This connection led Winsor McCay biographer John Canemaker to refer to this technique as the "Art Nouveau" line, and it's a key element of our drawing. McCay's thin inner lines on many of his characters have an almost minimalist sketch-like quality - boosted to clarity by the  carefully drafted outer line.

In this picture from Blender, where we are drawing the characters, you can see the brush settings for characters (this is set to a radius of 35px, which I use for inner lines). You can also see that I keep different layers (top window on the right) for outer and inner lines in case I need to make ajustments separately to thicken or shrink the line.

We recreate this in our own process via separate adjustment layers for outer and inner lines, in case we implement a character and find that their artwork needs to be adjusted. 

Simple inner details

We also try to keep details on the characters simple and not over-drawn so that the characters are economical to draw and animate. 

Another Winsor McCay drawing of Nemo. The inner details have an almost sketch-like quality, but placed so that they represent painstaking rendering at a quick glance.

McCay's character's faces have dot eyes with tiny eyebrows, the bottom lines of noses (unless the character has a particularly large or round nose), and mouths drawn only where their shadows occur (corners of the  mouth only on smiles, single lines, or circles when surprised) We are adapting this style to be inclusive of techniques in comic art that have come in the intervening years between McCay's and  our own times - for all of McCay's skill, he did not have the graphic language that we do today to create character expressions. 

Likewise, cloth is drawn minimally. Modern cartooning minimizes clothing wrinkles since they are hard to  animate and increase drawing time. McCay was not animating his drawings but was working on tight deadlines so he drew clothing wrinkles with quick, thin, pen lines to show at least some minimum draping.

The Princess has lots of flowy cloth in her design, but the draping lines on her character are kept to a minimum to increase readiblity and reduce drawing time. Here you can also see the simple lines on her features.


Little Nemo in Slumberland was not colored by hand, but using the Ben Day Lithographic process. McCay would include detailed color notes with his pages on what colors things should be. While there are pages that include smooth gradients and other effects, art generally used 1-tone blocks of color encased in black lines, except in very occasional cases (Nemo's pajamas, which usually featured some shadowing to break up the white.) As I tell contributing artists in our style guide: "do not use shadows or shading on characters unless instructed."

These background detail items for the Slumberland biome (level theme) show big blocky areas of color. You can see shadows used only in a few select places to create detail or depth (on shrubbery or on the staircase.)

To get the older comic look that's become a Hallmark of Little Nemo, we sample all of the colors we can from the comic itself, this gives characters a richness that otherwise wouldn't be there (if Nemo's pajamas were straightforward white instead of an aged-newsprint off-white. 

In Blender, we often have episodes of the comic open in the program's image editor while we work so we can sample colors to get the right look.

Last is how we deal with the color black. If a character was wearing a dark suit or dress, or if there were very strong shadows, McCay would just black them out completely with his ink brush. This eliminates a lot of work for us on characters like Doctor Pill or the Nightmare Fiends, but it also means that we have to be creative with his animations so that we maintain a good silhouette, meaning that you can read his pose if you were to only look at him as a shadow. While this is normally just a theoretical animation guideline, we are literally animating as silhouettes with these characters. 

The Nightmare Fiends (Phobetor, Thanatos, and Nyx) have to have very carefully planned poses, since major portions of their bodies are colored in extremely dark colors or all black.

As you can see, getting the look of Little Nemo and the Nightmare Fiends right is no small task! We think that the final product will be more than worth it though. We also hope you enjoyed this Artwork Wednesday look inside our art process and stay tuned for more updates and game development deep-dives.


Chris and Team Nemo