Creating a launch-title on a next-gen platform is a daunting task for any developer, nevertheless one of the indie variety, but that is just the task that Montreal based Compulsion Games have taken up. The Canadian developers will be pushing artistry to the forefront of the PlayStation 4 when they release the shadowy Contrast as part of the PSN Instant Game Collection at launch.
Set to the backdrop of a 1920’s film noir, Contrast tints the traditional “platformer” experience with tints of poetic sorrow. Moreover while console launches are usually associated with safe-bets and aren’t typically synonymous with “risk”, sometimes you need to gamble on original ideas and hope that the gambit pays off. Just days away from the debut of both Contrast and the PlayStation 4, I was fortunate enough to speak with Compulsion Games’ PR & Community Manager Sam Abbott about the shadow that the team hopes to cast at launch.
Contrast is built around the ingenious mechanic of utilizing shadows to traverse virtual space. How did you as a team decide upon this structure for the game?
Actually, our creative director, Guillaume Provost, came up with the idea on his own when he was working in France several years ago. He was thinking about different ways of moving through space, after being inspired by Portal. His background was graphics programming, so he thought about shadows… and thought “why don’t I just physicalize them?” He loved the idea, and so came back to Canada to found a studio that would eventually create Contrast.
Shadows do not simply serve the role as a tool of game design in Contrast; it also plays directly into the game’s French film noir aesthetic. What makes the setting such a great dressing for the mechanics?
Well, the various inspirations (film noir, vaudeville, etc) were chosen because of their consistent use of shadows in storytelling and performance. Film noir movies will often use the silhouettes of characters to help tell a story, and we figured, “we have shadows, let’s do that!”. Building the world around the mechanic is probably the big reason why it all works so well – and it’s something we’re quite proud of.
The world of Contrast is wonderfully unique. What are some of the influences that helped shape and sculpt the world you’ve created?
Artistically we were inspired by German Expressionism – that early 20th century world of warped buildings and odd angles. This worked because we wanted to build a dreamscape – a world that was similar to, but not quite the same as, our world. We were also inspired by Pan’s Labyrinth and the City of Lost Children, both of which occurred in dreamlike fantasy worlds.
The game is undeniably gorgeous, but it is also seems as though the game explores some rather melancholy themes. Can you share a little bit about lead characters Didi and Dawn as well as the overarching narrative of the game?
Melancholy is an interesting one – it’s perhaps not quite that depressing J But we do cover adult themes. The story is about Didi, the little girl, and her imaginary friend, Dawn (Dawn is your playable character in Contrast). Didi lives at home with her mother, after her father abandoned the family a couple of years ago. The story is about that adult relationship – and how much Didi wants it to work. Like all kids in a broken home, she just wants to get her family back together.
Contrast also features a tailor made soundtrack which is highlighted by the sultry voice of Laura Ellis. How much does it mean to you as creators to have a stylistically authentic music to score the game?
This was super important to us. We involved our audio partners, WaveGeneration Audio, at a very early stage, to ensure that you felt like you were part of this world of the 20s. Jazz had just exploded at that time, and a soundtrack without that wouldn’t feel right. We wanted a world that made sense – and the sound of an era is equally important as its look; and WaveGen has done some awesome work.
As a studio you have done a great job at keeping certain aspects of the game private. However one aspect we do know is that Canadian actor Elias Toufexis has joined the cast. What does an actor of Elias’ quality lend to your project?
He sure has! We kept everything quiet because we want people to experience the game without significant spoilers – it’s actually a pretty tough balance to get the right amount of information out there. Enough to tell you about the game, but not so much that it is spoiled. Having Elias on board was excellent – his performance is outstanding. We haven’t really trumpeted his involvement too much (perhaps not enough?), because all the cast is good, but I think you’ll love his depiction of Johnny.
The industry has undergone quite a significant shift over the last few years and now it seems as though the spotlight is set firmly on the indie game community. What is it that indie games bring to the table that perhaps you would not see in a traditional big budget title?
Risk and unusual creative direction! Big games get vetted by many people before the project is greenlit. They cost so much to make that you can’t have significant risk – there is too much at stake. But, we had the freedom to do that – Contrast would never have been created by a larger studio. Imagine trying to pitch “1920’s film noir shadow game where you play an imaginary friend” to investors who have only heard of GTA and Call of Duty. It’d be difficult – we pitched to multiple publishers, and until the game was ready to go (and we could show them how much love had gone into it), they were very reticent to support us.
Many Canadian developers rely on partnerships much like the one you have with the Canadian Media Fund. How integral are entities such as the OMDC (Ontario Media Development Corporation) to local game development?
Super important, especially if you’re starting out. What the CMF and OMDC allow developers is the ability to think bigger than they can on their own. Not so big that you can challenge the AAA studios, but enough that you can build the game you want to create, without having to worry about where your next meal is coming from. We’re fortunate to have their assistance.
With indie games making up such a large portion of the focus leading into the release of the next-gen consoles, what position do you see independently developed games taking in the industry moving forward?
I think we’ll see the resurgence of a middle tier of game development. AAA studios will remain the same as always, perhaps consolidate a bit, but ultimately keep producing excellent quality games. There will also still be the small 1-3 person shops that create amazing games for their size. But, there will be teams between 5 and 25 people, who create games like Natural Selection 2, Tiny Brains, Outlast, etc. Games that are innovative, but also have the team size to innovate on a number of levels, rather than just one (eg, a lot of smaller games will focus on gameplay at the expense of visual quality). There will probably be a mid-range price point too – $15 – $30, rather than $1 – $10 for the smaller teams and $50-60+ for the big guys.
Speaking of consoles, where will we be able to find Contrast upon its release?
Contrast will be available on PC, PS3, PS4 and Xbox 360 in mid November for $15(US). You can pre-order now on Steam, and that’ll give you the Collector’s Edition (Soundtrack and Programme included) for $15 until release. Yay, marketing and sales and all that other stuff!