Last weekend, game developer Jeff Ramos posted a gif he'd made on Twitter. It showed a disembodied human hand dressed like a dishevelled police detective, simultaneously running on two fingers and holding a massive pistol with the rest. It's strange, funny, and undeniably well animated – all of which helped it click, receiving a few thousand retweets and over 10,000 likes.
Emboldened, Ramos wondered what Reddit might think. When it hit r/gaming, the gif reached the same number of upvotes fairly quickly. Then it kept rising. Suddenly it hit Reddit's front page. At time of writing, it's passed 100,000 upvotes. Ramos' work had officially gone viral.
"Many people commented [saying] that 'this could be a great game!'" Ramos tells me over email. "I tried my best to explain that this IS a game."
In fact, it's a game that's already a year into development, aiming to mix the narrative of Max Payne, the sheer style of Superhot, the score attack chase of Hotline Miami, and couch it all in an '80s-inflected story of a little hand with a big gun. Ramos calls it the world's first Fist-Person Shooter.
Meet Michael McWrist, the star of Handcop:
Born in Brazil and living in London, Ramos has been working in animation since he was 17, eventually landing at Bossa Studios (Surgeon Simulator). The idea that became Handcop began as an experiment: "I was playing finger football with my wife and I saw a TV commercial featuring the hand from The Addams Family. So I thought it would be funny to learn procedural animations using a hand instead of a humanoid."
That prototype – which saw disembodied hands playing football (you can see a gif below) – eventually became an experiment in animating a more realistic hand while turning a VR experience into a non-VR game. That in turn became Hand of Pain, a fully playable, neon-hued shooter made for an itch.io game jam. As Ramos puts it, "The feedback was great so I had to continue."
Ever since, Handcop has been made in Ramos' spare time almost entirely alone, aside from some help from friends and Twitter acquaintances on voiceover, animation rigging, and concept art. Recently, the developer began paternity leave, which helped him increase the pace when not looking after his new child.
What's emerged from that work sounds – and looks – genuinely intriguing. Handcop's actively drawing on some beloved sources, not least '80s buddy cop movies, but Ramos is keen for his lead character to function as more than a sight gag, and offer more unusual gameplay opportunities. McWrist's small size is used for stealth runs, allowing you to enter tight spaces or tip-toe (tip-finger?) across power lines, while snapping his fingers allows for a blink-teleport ability. But that small size also means that Handcop is currently a one-hit kill game, adding the need for some more hardcore technical play.
"Different from most comedy games, the shooting is for real here," Ramos explains. "It is very satisfying and the headshots are superb." There are other action game staples too: dashing, slowing time, risk-reward dodges, execution manoeuvres that boost end-of-level scores at the expense of time taken, and more. McWrist can throw his gun at enemies, even enter melee combat, and Ramos is including multiple weapons, alongside planning wearable "rings to boost one of your stats."
It's definitely funny to watch, but the work being put in is no joke.
What do you call this camera? Is it first person? Third person? Over the knuckle? I don't know 🤷♂️#screenshotsaturday #gamedev #game #indiedev #madewithunity #unity3d #handcop #retro #retrogame #gaming #outrun pic.twitter.com/qo0YNTt8vZ— Jeff Ramos 💙 (@jeffaramos) July 10, 2021
Despite that hard work, it's been a struggle to get noticed until now. "The week before [I posted the Reddit gif], I tried to boost the game by posting [everywhere] I could," Ramos tells me. "It was stressful and I missed quality time with my wife and my baby. I decided to never do that again.
"This weekend I couldn't sleep because my phone didn't stop, [I had so] many messages from people saying they want to make a game with this, this should be a game, or how weird this character is. It felt good, mainly because that 3 second loop is a year of hard work on a concept that I truly believed in and I am passionate about."
For Ramos, that reaction has been the vindication he needs to keep working on Handcop. He sees a potentially big future, and has been actively courting publishers to see if he can secure interest in his project. "The game can be much more than what a solo dev with zero funding can do," he tells me of that search. "I want to find a publisher, I want to explore the possibilities of this project, of this character."
What Ramos wants is more hands to make Handcop. But even if they fail to come, that Reddit response and the boost it's given him have made up Ramos' mind. "My dream has always been to direct a game, and that's what I want to do with Handcop, even if I have to animate, program and design at the same time." Fittingly, he'll do it one-handed if the job demands it.