I recently got the chance to get hands-on with an early edition of Concrete Genie, an artsy action-adventure game developed by PixelOpus, exclusively for the PlayStation.
The game focuses an abandoned town called Denska, that has been overrun with strange pollution.
The protagonist, Ash, is a bullied young boy who discovers he can bring his drawings to life in the form of genies (his only mates) to protect and help him.
Following my session on both the PSVR and standard game, I spoke with Dominic Robilliar the Creative Director and Jeff Sangalli the Art Director for Concrete Genie to dig a little deeper.
Concrete Genie has a huge emphasis on art and features two very different styles within the game.
After finding a magic paintbrush, Art discovers the ability to make his creations come to life.
These ‘genies’ help you paint colour in the small town of Denska, solving puzzles and reaching previously locked map locations.
“The idea for the game came first and from the moment the first painting was made to describe the concept, we envisioned a small kid who was being bullied and was drawing big characters on the wall who stood up for him,” Said Dom when I spoke with him at the Sony headquarters in London.
“As we dove deeper and more people got involved that was when Jeff started working out how it would grow from there.”
Jeff spoke more about where the inspirations for the art style and concept came from.
“For the art department, it was pretty spectacular, we dug into inspiration we had from over the years, people like Tim Burton and Jim Henson come to mind and how they were able to create imaginative environments,” Jeff said.
“For the 2D world, we were inspired by children’s book illustrations and by urban illustrators who have really strong personal voices through their work.
“It’s less about tagging but about creating pieces of artwork that are beautiful for the environment itself.”
The development team at PixelOpus is really important to both Dominic and Jeff in the creation of their games, with a flat hierarchy, everyone in their small 17 person team is multi-skilled and can work on pretty much anything!
Not only this but PixelOpus is rather unique in the fact that they employ a high number of students straight out of university.
“Our bosses at the studio felt very strongly that they wanted to make a team and an environment to give new people coming into games the best possible start,” Dominic explained.
“It’s really what attracted us to come down and help with that, it has been a mission right from the very beginning”
Jeff has been teaching at San Jose State University for 12 years and often ‘poaches’ students from his final classes to come and work for them at their studio.
Jeff said: “San Jose State it is rated top ten in the nation.
“So it’s great to be able to be in the classroom and to know some of the students will hopefully apply for internships,” Jeff continued.
“Quite a few of my ex-students work here, including twin sisters who are our animation leads!”
With such a close-knit young professional team, Jeff explained it’s important to take everyone’s thoughts in stride when working on a game like Concrete Genie.
“We take everybody’s ideas incredibly seriously, we want to make sure there is a balance.
“It’s really truly a full exchange of ideas, the idea for Concrete genie came from our VFX artist and we named the main character after him.”
My favourite part of the playthrough was getting hands-on with the PlayStation Virtual Reality (PSVR) portion of the game.
Although not part of the main story, the PSVR holds up on its own as an extra little addition (especially in a game that only costs £24.99!).
You are plunked into a 3D world where using Ash’s magic paintbrush, you can sculpt and paint the environment as you wish.
If like me you aren’t naturally gifted in the artistic department, Concrete Genie’s VR tools make you feel like Bob Ross or Pablo Piqqusa.
Instead of traditional paint colours, you use ‘objects’ to paint, such as grass, trees, stars, butterflies and the like.
Dominic said they always intended to include a VR mode in their game.
“We reached out to some people we used to work with at Lucas who had some experience working in VR and we showed them the game and they came up with this awesome idea, where if you could through the medium of VR step into one of your paintings which is what it’s all about,” Dominic said.
“We loved that so much we hired them on the spot and built a team of them right next to us.”