The show Stranger Things is arguably one of the better Netflix originals to date. The set design, the amazing acting, the haunting score and spot-on soundtrack — all of it combines to accentuate the taught, tension-filled story that grabs at our sense of nostalgia. Which is why it should really embrace that and go for broke with an ‘80s-inspired video game.
Any attempt at turning the Netflix mega-hit into a game would do well to stick to that same formula: a reverence for the past told through the narrative of a fresh story. By blending elements of the series with a classic LucasArts-like world, designer Jacob Janerka rung that bell, and then some. A view of Janerka’s pixellated version of Hawkins, Indiana were all over the internet last week.
Sadly, this GIF is all there is of a Stranger Things adventure. A full game is a long ways off, if it ever gets made at all. Janerka — a one-man video game developer out of Perth, Australia — took time away from making his own game to speak with Inverse about his love of the show, his concept for the Stranger Things game, and what exactly is stopping him from making all of our collective dreams come true.
What was it that appealed to you about the show as someone who makes video games?
Primarily, it’s just like the execution of everything. Some people complained about how it was relying so much on nostalgia, but really it was the execution that made everyone love it. From the really killer music, to the amazing cinematography and lighting, to the really good casting of all the actors, and stuff like that. I don’t see how you could complain really about anything except for like a few minor things.
Why do you feel that old LucasArts style fits so well with Stranger Things?
It comes down to it being in the ‘80s. Back then, adventure games were more like text adventures, but it’s still that pixel aesthetic that fits in with that kind of time era, so it has that connection, but with modern techniques. It’s more aesthetically pleasing.
What is your favorite classic adventure game?
That would probably be Day of the Tentacle. I love most of the LucasArts games like Sam and Max and Monkey Island, but Day of the Tentacle is really special, because even though it’s not as long as the others, it has a really tight design. So to design something that has three characters interacting with each other in three different timelines is like such a crazy design theme, generally the art style by Peter Chan is amazing. I can’t even imagine how to draw in that perspective.
You’re designing your own game, Paradigm. Do you have any formal training?
I initially started with a degree in illustration, and pretty much most of my skills are self-taught. I started learning how to draw properly at 16, and then I just kept going from there.
When I was in university, I had a chance to do a project on whatever I wanted to do, so I decided to make a game. I got to see Indie Game: The Movie, and I was like, “Oh wait, I can actually do this.” Then I found an adventure game engine which allowed you to do things without programming — which is perfect for me because my main thing has always been art. I just learned that as I went; I just kept experimenting. Lots and lots of trial and error.
The Stranger Things GIF was just a proof of concept, but how do you see the game working?
Initially, I thought it would be really cool for them to use it as like a promotional product to push for Season 2. So you’d have like a prologue for Season 2 which you could play for about an hour or so in the game mode. Then you’d release that maybe like two weeks before the new season comes out, people get really excited and hyped, and then they get to watch the show. I think that would probably be ideal.
If the Duffer Brothers were to call tomorrow, would you put your own game aside?
I definitely wouldn’t put aside my Paradigm project. That’s the priority number one right now, but I definitely would go into some talks to make this one. It would have to be after I finish my game, which is not too far off, so technically it would be within the bounds of reason. Since no one has done this before, it would be completely new territory, and it would need lots of discussion.
Would you just shelf it otherwise?
I would probably make more fan art for it. I probably wouldn’t dedicate more time into making a game for it. I already started doing a Seinfeld project, so this was kind of like an offshoot from that -
What I like the idea of eventually doing in the future is kind of what Telltale does: Starting a company that uses these IPs that are out there, but it is also a company that will also use that as funding to make really weird projects and more innovative stuff.
You said you talked to David Harbour, the actor that plays Hopper as a result of you posting this GIF. How did that go?
David is really active on Twitter, and he likes adventure games — like old-school games. He said his favorite game was Link to the Past, I think.
He just really loved [my GIF]. I saw some people sent him fan art, and he was just really into it. I was like, “That would be really cool. I really like the show. I’ll just make some art.” Like what I did for my Seinfeld stuff, he followed me and sent me private message that said he really love it and that made me really happy.
Ending the interview at the finish, what did you think about how the Stranger Things ended?
I think it was really good, to be honest. They’re already in talks about doing the second season cause like if they tied up the ends really nice and everything was happy, that’d probably be sort of a buzz kill, but they implied that everything is actually not ok, which I think is good.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.