How do you cope if you’re being bullied? In Concrete Genie, the upcoming action-adventure PS4 exclusive, young protagonist Ash has to deal with demeaning, abusive bullies roaming the streets of his town. His main solace is in art, with the game giving you as the player the ability to paint vivid images on the town’s dreary walls. Ash can even bring his paintings to life, with these creatures not only allowing him to solve environmental puzzles, but also serving as companions and friends throughout the game.
Concrete Genie will allow you to custom build these creatures almost from scratch, imbuing them with movement and personality depending on the shape of the creature you make. It’s one of the more innovative features of this whimsical-looking game, and it’s one developers PixelOpus (of Entwined fame) hopes will result in strong, emotional bonds between players and creatures. But how exactly will PixelOpus build that bond? How will they make you care about your monsters? We spoke to PixelOpus creative director Dominic Robilliard and art director Jeff Sangalli to find out more about how exactly Concrete Genie will (hopefully) connect you to its menagerie of strange creatures.
Dominic Robilliard: [The creatures] have an important part to play in the gameplay. But narratively, that kind of emotional part of them, is that they’re the friends that Ash wished he had in real life. And when we realized how important that was going to be, that was really where the puzzle-solving gameplay came from. We knew that in order for players to have an intuitive care for those creatures, you had to go on meaningful gameplay adventures with them.
Depending on how you paint them [your creatures], they’ll have different personalities. But more importantly, the color that you pick gives them inherent gameplay abilities. So if I make a red creature, then he has fire abilities. Or if I make a yellow one, then he has electrical abilities, and so on.
GameSpot: And these creatures are persistent and will stay with you?
DR: Yes. And that actually becomes a very important aspect of the game.
Jeff Sangalli: [The player] can erase elements in the environment. But once you bring these creatures to life you can no longer erase them. They’re alive to Ash.
Can you edit them subsequently, though, once you’ve finished creating them?
DR: No, no.
Because that would be cruel to a living thing, right?
How does the way a creature is created impact what sort of personality traits it has?
DR: You can choose the body type. And right now, that’s how we’re changing the personality that they have. We have personalities roughly analogous to the seven dwarf character types. So there’s Sleepy, Dopey, that kind of thing. They’re profiles that you would intuitively recognize.
How many creatures can you have?
DR: More than we originally thought. But we still haven’t figured out exactly what that count will be. You know, we’ve had 30 creatures in there running around, and it’s not really caused an issue. So I would hate to put a number on that right now.
Do you have to feed them? Are they like Tamagotchi? You have to keep them happy?
DR: You know, we go back and forth on that. And I think because there is so much action in the game, we wanted to keep the flow as streamlined as possible. There’s essentially a huge amount of interaction between the creatures and between them and the environment to discover, if you do want to chill out and hang out with them. But all of that stuff is not critical to progression. And so we’ve streamlined that. We didn’t want it to feel like you have to do all that. But if you want to feed them and play with them, you can.
Can these creatures be hurt?
DR: One of the things that happens with bullies in the world is that when they’re nearby, all of the color and the life and the movement just fades out of the paintings. And the same happens to the creatures. So they kind of get frozen. That’s why the bullies are like a dynamic, roaming gameplay hindrance to you.
Thematically, one of the key things you’re looking at is the effects of bullying on someone. How does that connect to what the player’s actually doing with painting and creating creatures?
DR: When we were in the concept phase and we were looking at various game ideas, one of the pictures that came from our VFX artist was this idea of a kid who’s being bullied. But he uses painting and makes these creatures and characters on the walls, and he uses that to help defend himself against the bullies. So that idea was something that we were thinking about, and the reason that it got traction is we thought we could have something to say about that in actual gameplay.
When you’re painting these landscapes and you have all this freedom to do whatever you can imagine, and you make these creatures, you get really invested in them. The interesting thing is when the bullies come in, they start by just pushing you around, but it gets worse and worse until they are actually ruining your hard work. We realized that that was actually a really unique way of making the player feel what Ash is feeling. Because it’s not just his artwork, it’s your artwork. And that was really the kind of emotional core that we’ve been unpacking for the last couple years and trying to make that work and resonate through a story.