Fellow Manoförcers and metalheads. Here’s how to create a background in GIMP.

The Backstage Background with a shadow layer.

Here we’ll tell you all how we created the backstage area background in GIMP (an open source Image Manipulation program), for our game Manoforce: A True Metal Adventure. It’s a nine-year-old story with plenty of detours, but bear with us and we’ll try to make it worth your time. Keep in mind that we started from scratch. With no clue, what so ever, how to do a game.

We’ve been clawing our eyeballs out bringing life to Manoforce: A True Metal Adventure. Mostly it’s been energy boosting as power metal on speed, but sometimes it’s been as energy draining as being trapped in a dark cellar, forced to listen to modern R’n’B. The idea for Manoförce has been around for a long time, and now we’re finally being able to see the lightnings of Thor at the end of the tunnel. But it hasn’t always been like that…

How to create a background in GIMP

Since we didn’t have any previous experience with low-resolution retro pixel graphics, it’s ALL done “trial and error style”, and believe me, there have been more errors than shreddin’ on a Zack Wylde concert. But to paraphrase CHIEF, the band leader of all mighty Manoförce, if pixel graphics was poetry I’d be a god damn “lyrical genius”.

Just watch Zakk shred away:

To show you our development progress in the noble Pixel Graphics business, I’m going to demonstrate how the backstage background in Manoforce: The Adventure Game was created and developed over time. When I, that is “Badger”, and “Lynx”, the co-creator and game developer of Manoförce, hatched the idea for this game, we thought it would be nothing more than a 15-minute puzzle. But our creation has sparked into life, and now it stretches over several hours of gameplay.

Version 0.1 (nothin’ but a toilet sketch)

All right! The first version is, of course, nothing but a simple draft. We can see a few of the main elements from the final version, such as the location of the doors, the star sign on Manoförce’s dressing-room and the big red curtain dividing the stage from the backstage area. Nothing fancy, but hey, what the heck, now it’s time to improve this toilet sketch and make a mind blowin’ background in GIMP, right?

Version 0.2 (Odin’s eye! What just happened?)

A shitty painted backstage area.

The second version of the backstage area in Manoförce.

For the love of Loki, I still choke on my mead every time I see this repulsive version of the backstage area. How was I, the persistent Badger, able to do something as horrifying as this? Sure, this version is a decade old, and much has happened since, but this is even worse than the first shitty draft…As you can see this background was lazily made with a thick pencil and preexisting patterns, such as the horrible wooden floor and the grey “stone walls”. This is the art of wimps and posers, not very Badger-ish at all.

Version 0.5 (Another misstep in making a background in GIMP)

All right. This version makes me a little bit confused. Some things are actually quite cool, while others are just plain awful. At least I’ve removed the white pixels around the curtain and the corner, and the new wall pattern is…decent? Darn it, who am I kiddin’? It’s revolting!

What I learned to do here, was to add images from my computer to GIMP, transform them into a decent size and give them an outline. Big hurray for Badger! Also, the pixel size of my outline pencil is decreased and some cool details, that has survived until the final version, are there. Such as the Orson Welles autograph, the Batman poster, and the classic bone white Fender Stratocaster.

Version 1.0 (A somewhat decent background)

All righty, now things are startin’ to look somewhat decent and recognizable. You must keep in mind that when we started to make this game, we didn’t know anything ’bout GIMP. We thought this was as amazing as Leather Lung Louie’s (the lead singer of Manoforce) bow hunting instruction videos. Even as good as his undisputed masterpiece MAN VS RODENT.

The entire image canvas is doubled (640 x 400 pixels) and the choke-worthy patterns are completely removed. Also, most of the computer images are replaced with pixel drawings. But still, it wasn’t good enough by a long shot and because of this, and a variety of reasons, such as not knowing how to program a game (for cryin’ out loud!), we left Manoförce like this for nine freakin’ years, uncertain if our game would ever be going to see the light of day.

Version 2.0 (an almost amazing background made in GIMP)

Backstage background in GIMP v. 2.0

It took nine years of resting and thinking but, heck, now it’s actually startin’ to look cool. The walls have gotten a fresh and sexy wallpaper treatment, and all the black outlines are replaced with darker shades of the items’ main color. The wall to the left is slightly darker to give the room more depth. Also, some items, such as the guitar and the curtain has gotten shadows to make them look more natural.

The room itself is twice as wide making it possible to add a big fat door to the right. Also some crazy Manoförcers, with bandanas and eye patches and shit, are added in front of the stage area. Startin’ to feel good. Good Badger.

Backstage 2.5 BA-DA-BING!

Backstage Background made in Gimp. Now it's really cool!

Now we’re talkin’! This is how you draw a background in GIMP! Almost everything is improved. The door handles are updated, as well as the star on the dressing room door. MORE Manoforcers are waiting for the final gig, and there are MORE items added to the room. Yngwie Malmsteen‘s doubt in the sayin’ “less is more” really rings true in the world of old-school pixel graphics. I mean look at that Love Pump poster! Look at those weights! Holy Judas!

A poster with a woman pumping gas into a bike.

Manoförcers waiting for the band.

The final step is to add a layer of transparent darkness on top of the whole picture to make it all look more connected and cozy:

The Backstage Background with a shadow layer.

So, this is how we designed the backstage area for Manoforce. Of course, we couldn’t show you all of the steps, but you get the idea. It’s important to think about the details.

Here’s a checklist on how to create a heavy metal background in GIMP:

  • Use a 1-pixel wide pencil.
  • Don’t use crappy prebuilt patterns.
  • Only use computer images as inspiration.
  • Work with shadows and different shades to give the image more depth.
  • More IS more.
  • Don’t be scared to fail. It’s gonna take some time to get the hang of it. When you’ve outlined your style and vision, and practiced a lot, it will go waaaaay faster.

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