Though much of the game has been loosely designed the team needs something concrete and productive to work on. We need a goal to strive for that represents real progress on the game, so a good start is the first playable level.

A first playable level doesn’t have to be pretty, but it has to be functional. The main character Tommynaut should be able to walk on a floor, push a button and collect an item. The Unity engine will be up and working as we apply temp sound effects and make sure music plays, character animation can load, and the camera presents the best point of view for the player to experience the game.

While my designs are still images, it’s the magicians Mike and Ed at Pencil Test Studios who do the animation. The first playable level might have some puppet animate visible, but most of it is “pencil test” animation, which consists of roughly drawn, loose animation sequences that aren’t even cleaned up. The drawings still represent correct proportions and snappy timing, so they act as a playable proof of concept before we pull the trigger and devote expensive resources to final puppet animation.

We’ve got about a month to make the first playable level, but if it succeeds we’ll have a huge, reliable and definitive tool kit to make about 75% of the game! While Mike and Ed are working on this first playable level, I’m working on a super-tight design for the first 1/2 of the game. So if the first playable works out, we’ll be ready to go into production on the first half of the game, and the work being done will be very close to finish when it gets dropped into the working engine.


I’m amazed at the similarities between all of the art mediums I’ve experienced. Much like siblings, the early process for designing a game is near identical to making a TV show, movie or sculpture. Everything is planned on paper, and it has to start loose so that nothing feels like cement yet.

There’s nothing worse than going rock solid with an idea too early on because once I see something that looks permanent it’s hard for me to think of it any other way. A variety of solutions need to be explored before the best one is chosen. The problem with a bad game idea and a good game idea is that they look similar in the earliest stages.

But the reciprocal is also a problem in that if nothing is ever firmed up then the entire idea remains a ball of much for too long. Indecision is at least as destructive of a problem as is impulse.

Though I had a variety of gaming press and bloggers trying to stop the creation of this game, I got generous help from over 18,000 amazing people… and no, you can’t put them in a box.

This isn’t a Christians vs. Homosexuals victory because many of the people who boycotted let me know that they were Christians. My work has never had a lot of support from evangelicals, and the PC Pharisees regularly line up to make sure I know how un-Christ like I am. We probably agree on that conclusion, though attribute it to different reasons.

Ah, but the other reason why this wasn’t a Christians vs. Homosexuals victory is because many of our donors are outspoken LGBTs and a majority of them are for same sex marriage. Liberals everywhere wish the lovers of my work would just go back in the closet. Out of 18,000 donors we are going to have every world view imaginable. Every one of them is a legitimate member of the team, even the donors who dislike me. That’s not unique to Armikrog, that’s a normal part of life.

I learned early on to not give in peer pressure.  Get in line with every other force in my life that says I can’t create art, I can’t make, I can’t write, I can’t do a game…. You’re just this week’s excuse and it’s not gonna work.

I’d like to dedicate today’s work designing Armikrog to the following gamers:






One of the most common questions I get is “How do you come up with your ideas?” They are no doubt talking about my bigger successes like Earthworm Jim, The Neverhood, Nickelodeon’s Catscratch or any one of my 13 graphic novels. But while a broad variety of my work is out there, people don’t see my ideas that don’t make it to the public. I’ve created HUNDREDS of ideas and only a handful of them have made it to where the public can see them. That’s right, for every Earthworm Jim you’ve seen there are twenty Earthworm Jims you haven’t.

The truth is that ideas are easy to come up with, but execution of any idea is near impossible. Earthworm Jim had so much working against it that it boggles my mind how it ever got made. My job at Shiny was offered to two other people who turned it down and if either of them went for it I wouldn’t have been hired and wouldn’t have created Earthworm Jim. When young designers ask how to make it in the gaming industry it’s hard to tell them, “Be incredibly lucky, and hope that two other people better qualified to do your job turn it down.”

Getting the opportunity to make Earthworm Jim was a complete freak accident of coincidences and lucky breaks. Not just for me, but Shiny just-so-happened to have an open invitation to create a unique title by our investor Playmates Toys. The Neverhood was created solely because Dreamworks was aggressively trying to start their gaming division and gave me an open invitation to create something unique and interesting. I didn’t go to business school, I was a fine art major and Dreamworks funded my company. No other company in the world would have greenlit The Neverhood, a clay animated puppet animation adventure game.

But opportunity is a fickle lover and my game projects could get no heat for fifteen years. People ask why I left games and I say, “I didn’t leave games. Games left me.” I’ve pitched plenty of games, at least as viable as Earthworm Jim and Neverhood and I got the sound of chirping crickets. Rejected by disinterested publishers, I always assumed that the gaming medium would be dead forever to my work. Then came Kickstarter. Then came Tim Schafer’s appeal directly to players for funding, circumventing the usual publisher route. After his DoubleFine game got over 3 million dollars in funding, Brian Fargo blew the door wide open with the crowd-funding of his games Wasteland 2 (edit) and Torment.

My old pals Mike Dietz and Ed Schofield were running their animation studio Pencil Test on fumes. We were trying to find a project that would be appropriate to Kickstart and we were spinning our wheels trying to make a 2D animated movie make sense. Finally, Mike said, “Why don’t we just make another puppet animated point and click adventure game?” Within a few hours, Armikrog was born. There was no way I could have predicted that Kickstarter would exist one day, or that if we proposed a game that it would get successfully funded. Once again, if a young designer asks how to make an Armikrog, I would say, “Wait for fifteen years after you’ve become a gaming has-been and hope for some new invention known as crowd-funding to come along and rescue your idea.” Just five days before our campaign funded, many were still betting against our success. Even Mike, Ed and I had regular Skype sessions where we went over the principles of crowd funding to try to look for any positive hope, a fool’s hope, to see the thing through.

Now that Armikrog is funded, people will play the game, and like so many of my other projects it will seem like they couldn’t do anything but exist. But now you know the truth. My punctuated string of successes are an unforeseeable stroke of luck, coincidence, and perhaps even miracle, one after another.

There are better creators than me working in game companies right now and they can’t get a break. There are amazing artists, designers and idea men who have the world’s best ideas that can’t reach that unachievable goal of execution. Your lack of opportunity is not necessarily because of your idea. It could be because of the normal problem of how difficult it is to have any idea executed.

It’s my great hope that the successful funding of Armikrog will only make more ideas by more people become a reality. But it’s not a given that you can follow the exact trajectory of Armikrog, it may not be Kickstarter that makes your idea become real but there are more options than ever available to my fellow artists. There’s always hope… a fool’s hope.Image
Ed Schofield, Brian Belfield, Doug TenNapel and Mark Lorenzen work on The Neverhood (Photo by Joe Sanabria, circa 1996).

Your last chance to get a TenNapel Sketchbook Archives

For most of medieval literature, there were no female elves. Tolkien was criticized by fairy-genre purists for having female elves in The Lord of the Rings because it was considered redundant. To the pre-modern mind, there were men, and the mystery of the female was represented by elves and fairies. The male elves represented women, so it breaks the genre by creating female elves. It’s like making chocolate out of chocolate.

Tolkien was the master of the genre, and knew which rules he could break and which ones to uphold. But given the liberties he took with the genre, I find his use of women and elves in that epic tale fantastic. The same rules were broken by another, C.S. Lewis who had Father Christmas show up in Narnia. If Aslan is the Christ, then Father Christmas would be Father Aslanmas… but Lewis, like Tolkien was transcending his genre in the same way. They were pointing to something higher than the boundaries even of fairy tale.

This from Tolkien on the Virgin mary:

“Our Lady, upon which all my own small perception of beauty both in majesty and simplicity is founded.”

To fully understand the Lord of the Rings, one must first understand that Tolkien was a devout, pre-Vatican II Catholic who faithfully attended the Latin Mass. As a Protestant, it’s difficult to view Mary like a Catholic. She is called “the Coredemptrix” which they believe tells of her unique role in participation of the redemption of man through Christ. So you’ll find elves in LOTR constantly co-redeeming mankind throughout the epic. It’s not specifically about Mary, because even in the language of story, Mary is just a conduit, to be blunt. It is the female mystique that represents the mystery of God, beauty and longing for glory.
Tolkien never publicly spoiled the spell of LOTR, he was even careful to ascribe future edits of the work to a failure in Bilbo’s memory when he put pen to paper. But in a private letter, Tolkien spills the beans:

“The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like “religion”, to cults or practices, in the Imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.”

This is telling, because he protected the story’s religious elements by removing religion from within the narrative. It’s also what freed him up to make female elves… for elves no longer symbolized women, but symbolized what Mary stood for to a Catholic, a coredemptrix. Similarly, it was Dr. Michael Ward in his book Planet Narnia who explains why Father Christmas can show up in a land with Aslan, because the entire book was more about Jove or Jupiter, the Christ figure of the universe who changes winter to spring in any land, not just Narnia. There is no need to have religious characters soap boxing within a fictional narrative, because the whole story is the soap box.


In Middle Earth, like in our Earth, all of mankind is low, prone to the weaknesses of the male species. Man is proud, greedy, and cannot resist overt power. This is embodied in Boromir. Every man who is tested by The Ring fails, but Aragorn is the only one to turn it down when offered the ring by Frodo. Why? Aragorn was raised by elves. He inherited their suspicion of men, and it tormented him. The elves, or the women of fairy tale provided him the humility that made him resist the power of low men and made him the only worthy king of men. Being a ranger, he was still a man’s man, so he also embodies the humanity of Christ, triumphant on Earth.

A further symbol of the redemption of man, is that Arwen, an elf, gives up mortality to marry him. This is the Christ who marries the church. It doesn’t cost Aragorn anything, but it will force Arwen to experience death. When the beauty of the higher things redeems the lower, it injures the higher thing.

Tolkien’s view of women personally? No higher praise could be given to his wife, Edith Mary Tolkien where her tombstone read: “Luthien” while J.R.R.’s read: “Beren.” These are the elvish names for Arwen and Aragorn. After 50 years of marriage, Tolkien claimed he could still remember how Edith sang and danced while he sat on the grass, spellbound. This is also how Aragorn first meets Arwen in the Appendix of LOTR.

Legolas and Gimli
It’s a long story, but elves and dwarves are long rivals in Middle Earth. Elves are considered high while dwarves are considered low, not only in stature, but their own creator Vala Aulë offered to destroy them before they ever awoke. But the creator of all, Ilúvatar, offered to adopt them as his own with the condition that they were awaken after the Elves. That’s Jacob and Esau, but off topic for the purposes of this post.

By the beginning of The Two Towers, Legolas and Gimli have struck such a rich friendship that when Eomer the Rider of Rohan threatens to kill Gimli, Legolas points an arrow at him and says, “You would die before your stroke fell.” Gimli the low is defended by Legolas… womankind. It is Gimli who is completely smitten by Galadriel upon meeting the highest elf of all. It’s no coincidence that the highest elf is a female. At the end of the age, it is Legolas who builds a boat and brings Gimli with him to the Grey Havens (heaven).

Frodo and Arwen
When Frodo is sure to die by a mortal wound from a Morgul Blade (the weapon of the most powerful of men, the Witch King) Arwen shows up just in time to save him. (Correction: since I posted this, reader Jenni Noordhoek corrected me that it’s not Arwen who waves Frodo in the book, it’s Glorfindel who saves Frodo. But the point still stands, because it’s an elf who rescues Frodo.) When Arwen gives up her own immortality, she gives Frodo her place on the boat to the Grey Havens. Enough said.

Eowyn and Theoden
When King Theoden is crushed by his horse from a blow by the Lord Nazgul, it is Theoden’s niece Eowyn who stands between the King and death. The Lord of the Nazgul is the most powerful man, brought down by a woman who was forbidden to join the battle. She wears the armor of a man to participate. Eowyn is womanhood militant on earth, forced into battle.

Shelob and Sam
Contrast the soaring beauty of elves with Shelob. Older than Sauron, she is the last daughter of Ungoliant (the devil) known as the giant spider Shelob. There is no character described by Tolkien as more gut-wrenchingly foul than Shelob. Female gone wrong is a horror far worse than even that of the greatest failings of mortal men. The oldest, most powerful female of Middle Earth is defeated by the lowest, most humble male character: Frodo’s gardener, Sam.

Female as the North Star

The three great females of LOTR are named after lights and stars. Stars are fixed ideals by which we can guide a ship, measure the size of the universe and keep from getting lost in the woods. Their names: Galadriel, the Lady of Light, Arwen, the Evanstar and Luthien, the Morning Star. Each of these characters play a role in guiding men. Even Galadriel has Gandalf’s number. He may be a wizard, but he is subservient and knocked off his feet by the highest elf.

Tolkien was criticized by feminists for his lack of female characters in his books. I don’t have go into how thin that view is, but I believe it proves how Modernity forces us to not only miss what would be obvious to a pre-modern mind, but by addressing those false problems it ruins good story telling technique. Women weren’t short changed in Tolkien’s world, they were the firm backbone of that entire work, elevated to the highest place in a Catholic, pre-modern, story-teller’s mind: the magic redeemer of fallen men.

Here’s a group portrait of all of the commissions. Lots of familiar faces and some new ones. (Click the pic to have a closer look)