After 14 years in the making, Harold Halibut finally launches next month

Harold Halibut stands tall.
Slow Bros.

Harold Halibut, a game that’s been in the works for 14 years, is finally coming out. The handcrafted narrative adventure is set to launch on April 16 on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC. Ahead of its release date announcement, Digital Trends got a closer look at the project, going hands-on with the first five hours of the ambitious project and getting insight into its unusual development from its creators.

The debut title from Slow Bros. tells a sci-fi story about a small community living entirely within a spaceship, the Fedora, that’s trapped in an alien planet’s ocean. Players take on the role of Harold, an assistant to a scientist aboard the ship who’s looking for a way to free it and continue its intended journey. Though that premise may sound dark, it’s warm in its tone, focusing on the relationships between its cast of eccentric characters.

What’s notable about it, though, is that just about every object in the game has been handcrafted. It looks like a work of claymation, which starts to explain why it took so long to make. In a presentation to press ahead of its launch, Slow Bros. co-founders Onat Hekimoglu and Ole Tillmann went into depth about the project’s development cycle and the many iterations of Harold Halibut that came out of it.

Harold Halibut stands in a spaceship's cockpit.
Slow Bros.

The project was first conceived in 2010 as a traditional point-and-click adventure game with a focus on puzzle solving. The co-founders noted that, at the time, the decision to use handcrafted objects was less an aesthetic choice and more a necessity since no one involved in its early creation “knew how to draw.” Thus, the team decided early on that it would create models of everything from characters to sets and scan them into the game.

While Harold Halibut looks like it’s stop-motion animated as a result, that’s not exactly accurate. Instead, all objects were scanned into the game using photogrammetry, a process that would task the team with taking and uploading hundreds of photos of each object to digitize them. Objects were cleaned up from there and characters were animated using motion capture technology, giving the puppets their movement.

While that meant that Slow Bros. didn’t necessarily have to animate real objects frame by frame, it still required a tremendous amount of work for a small team that was mostly doing it as a side gig from 2012 to 2016. Each object was painstakingly made with multiple materials, with the studio going as far as to handmake flooring in spaces that barely even appear on-screen. Tillmann noted that the physical models were even subjected to some wear and tear to achieve the Fedora’s weathered look.

All of that work shows in the game’s first two chapters. When I first boot up Harold Halibut, it’s a bit of a surreal experience. Nothing about its characters or sets feels digital in the way that I expect from games. It more resembles a lost European cartoon from the 1990s, one that I have full control over. The co-founders cite a wide range of animation influences, from Czech legend Jan Švankmajer to MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch. Each one shows as I explore the Fedora’s halls, which are filled with rusty walls, dim fluorescent lights, and characters that feel like they’ve been molded by thumbprints.

Harold Halibut stands next to a mailman.
Slow Bros.

When I begin playing, I’m initially surprised that Harold Halibut isn’t as much of a point-and-click game as I assumed it would be. Rather, it’s a straight narrative adventure where I largely walk back and forth between a few key locations and chat with a handful of local eccentrics. The only puzzle solving I do in the first two chapters comes when I need to unscrew overlapping cover panels off a 3D printer.

That light emphasis on gameplay is by design. The scope of the project entirely changed during its long development due to how rapidly the idea of what a game can be shifted over 14 years. In 2010, the studio felt that puzzle solving was the bare minimum one could put into a game. The rise of visual novels and narrative-focused games gave the team the confidence to cut out what it felt were gameplay components that only slowed the pace of the narrative.

That decision may end up making Harold Halibut a bit of a niche title. The five hours I’ve played are an artistic triumph, filled with sharp worldbuilding and mesmerizing environments, but it’s certainly a slow experience. The inherently limited setting means that I’m slowly bouncing between the same sets multiple times, with each area interrupted by a long animation as I’m sucked down the ship’s water tube transit system. While a Chapter 2 cliffhanger teases that there may be more to see and do in the rest of the story, your interest in it will likely hinge on how invested you get in its sci-fi story, which is rich with social satire and dry humor.

If you do end up digging it, rest assured that Slow Bros. isn’t planning to ditch its signature style after such a long development process. The studio notes that part of the reason it took so long was due to inexperience and the team tackling problems with inelegant solutions. Now that they’ve smoothed out their workflow, Hekimoglu and Tillmann are confident that their next project won’t take as long to put together.

Until then, the team’s focus is on finally bringing Harold Halibut to the world. We’ll soon find out whether or not it’ll click with players, but that’s almost besides the point. It’s the type of one-of-a-kind curiosity that begs to be experienced.

Harold Halibut launches on April 16 for PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.

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