Amy Engine & The Sky Lords
The development processes that generate the most interesting stories are for IPs that go through lots of iteration. "Amy Engine & The Sky Lords" is another great example of that. This property went through a unique development cycle: from being pitched as an animated feature, to a TV show and to a videogame. So let's jump right in and talk about it. Starting with..
Stage 1: The Concept
Amy Engine was co-created by my wife, Lisa Wong and I in collaboration with artist Luciano Herrera who you may be familiar with from his work on Nibbles. This IP went through a lot of different versions and development cycles. Instead of going through all of them - I'll just focus on the end result. So let's kick things off with...
"Secrets behind the futuristic city of Atom-Sphere are revealed to young Amy Engine when a folklore boogeyman called “The Underghoul” appears, putting the very nature of her reality into question."
Our primary location - the city of AtomSphere is a fully automated, self-managing and self-sustaining city built by the illustrious XOOM corporation. Floating above the clouds of the planet Virgus, the city is the pinnacle of human innovation. Everything is run and maintained by friendly and trusted XOOM robots and gadgets.
Underneath the thick layer of clouds however, sits a hostile, lifeless planet. Extreme radiation, raging electric storms, and seas of acidic waters make the surface uninhabitable. But it does provide a good source of spooky fairy tales and bedtime stories. Better behave kiddo, or else the flesh-eating Virgus “Underghouls” will come for you! Boo!
Young Amy's frustration with the boring and overly “safe” nature of her environment pushes her to look for trouble...and in the literal bubble of Atom-Sphere, “adventures” are often viewed as "disruptive". Curious by nature, Amy likes to break things apart and see what makes them tick, pushing the envelope and driving everyone crazy. And what better way to do that than to mess with the tech that so carefully manages her life?
Stories about spooky surface monsters never frightened Amy. In fact, they always sounded exciting! “Bring on the Underghouls! I have so many questions to ask them!” One day, Amy’s wishes come true. To her amazement, the “boogie-man” actually showed up! An oddly dressed, gas-mask-wearing culprit invades Atom-Sphere. And Amy is certain: it came from the surface.
And faster than you can say “intruder Alert” the XOOM Sentinels rush in to capture and hide the invader. But not before Amy catches a glimpse of the monster behind the mask: a pale, scruffy-looking teenage girl - just like her. How can that be? People that came from the surface? That has to be a mistake. Right? And why would XOOM work so hard to keep this incredible revelation a secret? Amy curiosity turns into obsession. She has to find the truth. The first step would be to find and rescue the so-called “Underghoul”, and find what secrets lie under Atom-Sphere’s slick facade.
Stage 2: The Main Cast
AMY ENGINE and The Sky Lords was designed as a 6-11 animated action/comedy with an exciting original story, told through a fleshed-out new world that's riddled with secrets and a unique cast of characters that will keep the viewers glued to their seats. The main cast comprised of three characters: the curious and inventive Amy Engine, the wealthy and naive Steve Xoom, and the bad-ass survivor/warrior Nyx. Each of the characters represented one of the 3 primary locations the story was focused on.
Amy was obsessed with old-school mechanical engineering. She's innovative, curious and projects a sense of awe and wonder: like the abandoned surface of Virgus. Steve represented Atomsphere: idealistic, polished, complacent, and future thinking. Nyx represented Underville: tough as nails, trigger happy, quick-witted, and unapologetic.
Stage 3: The World
The plot of Amy Engine and the Sky Lords revolved around three distinct locations, with a shared history and distinct visual styles. So let's start from the top with:
Atompshere: The World of the Future
Built by the XOOM family when an environmental disaster rendered the Virgus incapable of supporting life. Atom-Sphere’s slick, clean, and yet strangely colorful look was designed for optimal comfort. The citizens (also known as ATOMS) have no real problems to worry about and the family-owned XOOM Corporation makes sure that always stays the case. To continuously drive technological progress XOOM Corp built the XOS system. A company-controlled, highly intelligent operating system capable of learning and adapting to address the ever-growing needs of every single Atom.
XOS manages XOOM Robots across the city ensuring that no crisis will go unnoticed. Now, we know what you’re thinking. A city controlled by a high-tech corporation? Sounds like trouble. But you’d be surprised! Alexander Xoom, CEO of the XOOM corporation and patriarch of the family may be high strung, but the XOOMs intentions have always been in the best interest of their community’s safety, security and comfort. And yet, after hundreds of years of peace above the clouds, chickens that were buried on the surface of the planet are coming home to roost. As hidden truths unravel the question remains: were certain details regarding the colony’s past forgotten? Or was the truth buried for a reason?
Virgus: The World of the Past
This previously habitable world has turned into a hellscape, forcing the Virgus colonists to raise their city above the clouds in a desperate attempt to survive. The air on Virgus is now thick toxic gas, bombarding the surface with violent electric dust storms that scramble any kind of electronic equipment. XOOM corp considers the surface an unsalvageable mess, and thus uses it like a dumpster. Whether it's toilet paper or old, busted robots- everything ends up in massive piles of garbage. The previously flourishing commonwealth is now a reminder of the tragic exodus that people in Atomsphere prefer to forget. Surprisingly, Virgus is not completely barren. Dangerous creatures native to Virgus are now flourishing in the old wasteland. But the real miracle is what lies beneath it all...
Underville: The World Left Behind
Unbeknownst to the people of Atomsphere, miles below the surface, there is a city full of people! How can that possibly be? The city of” Underville” is the polar opposite of Atomsphere. Harsh and dirty, it relies on a mix of modern technology, heavy mechanical solutions, and brute force to operate. The Underville community scavenges scraps from the busted XOOM tech garbage piles and repurposes them. The Undervillians have deep, one-sided resentment toward the so-called “Sky Lords” of Atomsphere, and it goes way beyond the trash-dumping nature of their relationship. A dark secret tying Underville and Atomsphere is buried in the ruins of Virgus. A secret that thanks to Nyx, Amy, and Steve may finally be dug out of the ashes of this world.
The Next Step!
So....we had a world, we had a story and we made them work as either a feature or a linear TV show. But development did not stop there. We felt like this concept could also act as...
Stage 3: The Game
Remember who you're dealing with folks. I'm obsessed with developing IPs and then applying them to different mediums...and Amy Engine & The Sky Lords received the same treatment when we were running Binary Bubbles as a dev team. We developed a PC demo for an exciting, story-driven 3D robot-recycling, collect-em-up action game based on the Amy Engine's world and characters. The game's design was meant to utilize as many of the cool components the world and its unique elements had to offer.
Player's were to destroy XOOM Radbots before they tear downall of the target items in a level (which may be random objects, or key items to the plot), Recycle the robo-scrap and take it to a XOOM Recyclex, which will produce an item to assist the player in shutting off the hostile bots and rebuild / repair destroyed bridges, generators and other damaged essentials. The goal was to have all 3 Playable characters with their own unique strengths and weaknesses, and use them to produce different results when receiving items from the Recyclex. We put a short gameplay demo together - and you can check it out in the video below.
I also designed an entire GDD and plot progression to show how the final game leads the players to reveal more of the world's mysteries, from Atomsphere to Underville, while unlocking new playable characters, powers and powerful items along the way. It was pretty damn cool.
Stage 4: Now What?...
Same old story. Our company, PopBase developed its own proprietary technology and that ended up dominating our entire business model. Amy Engine was pitched as a creative IP to a few publishers and film studios, but we never managed to push it through, nor did we have the proper bandwidth to do so. In addition, in the time we developed this concept a lot of different shows played with similar themes. So while Amy was unique in its own right, it had just enough about it that felt a bit too familiar to the people we pitched it to. But...that was then. So now...who knows?
I hope to do something with Amy Engine at some point. It's an IP that went through a ton of iteration and development work to be able to work in many different entertainment mediums (feature, TV show, game etc). But for now- at least I get to share it with you, dear reader, after years of chipping at this story behind closed doors!