Amazing visuals and an intriguing concept – if you were watching the PlayStation Media Showcase during Paris Games Week, you can't have failed to notice Concrete Genie, Pixelopus' unique third person 3D action adventure, which stole everybody's heart.
It's only the studio's second title (after Entwined) but it's already cementing itself as one of 2018's bright spots on PlayStation 4. As lonely protagonist Ash, you're tasked with bringing a polluted town back to life with magic paint, by using the Dualshock 4's motion controls to freely draw friendly and helpful creatures on its crumbling walls.
There’s a lot to feel good about in the game, so here’s six reasons why Concrete Genie should put a smile on anyone’s face.
Listen to the score of Concrete Genie’s announce trailer, debuted at Paris Games Week 2017. Written by Pixelopus’ composer and audio director, Sam Marshall.
Development for Concrete Genie started in 2015, born from the desire to tell a tale which showed how empowering the feeling of creation can be.
"We had a lot of combined experiences in the team to help inspire the game," says creative director Dominic Robilliard. "One of our designers comes from a fishing town in China where the children painted lots of bright drawings on the walls to make the town more beautiful and lively.
"I also took inspiration from the long history of my hometown Bristol’s urban illustration and street art, which is where artists like Banksy and Inkie are from. We wanted to celebrate that expression of joy and freedom via Ash bringing his paintings to life."
The sensitive subject of bullying isn’t an easy one to tackle, but Pixelopus’ game is handling it with a thoughtful tone where the darkness of Ash’s struggles are balanced against the vibrancy brought about by his creativity.
"During the early stages of conception, our VFX artist created a picture of a boy painting characters on a wall to stand up to bullies," explains Dominic. "That sparked a lot of conversation, and we all started sharing individual stories of bullying.
"Between that and our experimentation with painting, we thought we could make a really interesting exploration of that theme. There’s darkness there, but there’s also optimism in Ash’s journey against the bullies, which the player takes a meaningful part in."
Not only that, but Concrete Genie also delivers an ecological theme as Ash’s beautiful living artwork cleans up his desolate and polluted town. As you advance through the game you can return to previously completed areas and use different paint styles and brushes to improve the environment.
If your artistic talent only stretches to stick figures, don’t worry. Pixelopus’ design philosophy is very clear: with the Dualshock 4’s motion controls, everyone can create something amazing.
"We’ve carefully selected all the artistic elements so you don’t have to think about layers or anything too complicated when creating pretty landscapes," says Dominic. "There’s no penalty or requirement to paint in any particular way. It just works for someone like me, who can’t draw. But if you are artistic, you can still orchestrate that image the way you want."
"And there’s no pressure to make a perfect illustration," adds Art Director Jeff Sangalli. "The game doesn’t judge you, and you can be abstract if you want. So if you want flowers hanging upside down, coming from the sky, or create a creature with 50 tails and horns growing from those tails, that’s fine!"
Ash’s paintings don’t just look pretty – they have physics and, in the case of the creatures, artificial intelligence. So your painted lily pads will spread out and bloom over time, while a sun or moon will illuminate the rest of the elements in your illustration. You can even add weather effects, like rain and thunderstorms.
And the creatures you create sport a variety of personalities and attributes based on how you draw them, although most will happily interact with each other and your landscapes, peeking around the trees you paint, going for a swim, picking leaves off the ground, using flowers as an umbrella… and that’s just for starters.
"The creatures get sad when you leave, and are happy when you come back," says Jeff. "And when I’m painting an environment, they’ll follow and watch what you’re doing. You can call out to them as well and sometimes they’ll come over, if they feel like it!"
"Sometimes you’re never sure how a creature will react," laughs Dominic. "When I was creating the PGW trailer, I would start painting to capture a scene and another creature would suddenly come into shot and photobomb it! It’s fun to see these unexpected things happen and when you have a base set of systemic interactions, you get these wonderful emergent reactions."
Given all the unique possibilities of your creation, it’s only fitting that Pixelopus wants you to spread the joy.
"Because you can paint freely anywhere in the game world, everyone’s towns will look different," says Dominic. "So we really hope players will use the social features of PS4 and share their versions of the town. We’re looking into other ways that may help you share your creations, too…"
After the great initial reaction to Concrete Genie, Pixelopus is even more energised to get the game in your hands.
"The PlayStation Showcase was a really emotional ride," says Dominic. "We videoed the whole experience and wrote a long email to the team back home. It’s been a great burst of enthusiasm and inspiration to get this out there, especially with the response being so great.
"The team’s mission is still the same – we want to give newcomers to the industry the perfect start to making games, and that’s something that we still hold on to very dearly.
"There are less than 20 of us in the core team and we all wear our hearts on our sleeves when it comes to the game – the optimism and the style of tone that Concrete Genie offers is something precious to us."