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Sony's Concrete Genie releases October 8th (9th in Europe), priced at $29.99, photo mode confirmed


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Hands-on impressions:





Eurogamer: PS4 exclusive Concrete Genie is a unique exploration of bullying's impact



There's more to discover and go back through after you've completed the game, too. "Once you finish the game there is a continue mode that reflects what you've done in the game up to that point," Dominic said, "and there's lots of other brushes to go and find and we've hidden some other secret hidden painting puzzles in there as well. They are there when you go through the first time, but people don't obviously find all of them when they're following the story.


"Each of the levels - we call them open neighbourhoods - they kind of build up, so you can always backtrack, and the footprint of the world grows as you play through the game."


"And we're such as small team that the whole world that you see was modelled by 2 environment artists," Jeff added. "There's a lot of care and attention to detail in that environment for sure."


These open neighbourhoods are named as such because you can traverse them however you like, and complete the puzzles in whichever order you come across them in. You'll need to use the little nooks and crannies to hide from the bullies lurking around, and even climb up to the rooftops to avoid being seen. They aren't huge open worlds like you might be used to, but more contained zones - reflective of the fact it's based on a small fishing village in China.





The gameplay loop of Concrete Genie involves Ash collecting these pages of his torn-up sketchbook and creating genies from them. Painting these genies on the wall leads to them requesting certain things through icons and speech bubbles, like campfires on the ground or stars in the sky, to fill up lightbulbs hanging on those same walls. As Ash works to rehabilitate the port town, he fills up each region with paintings and genies, transforming the area into a living, breathing space once again. Sometimes puzzles need to be solved that involve getting multiple genies into one spot, which requires leading them from walls and around buildings, oftentimes some distance away.





That’s why it’s vital that paintings have a hand-authored feel. But it requires a careful balance that PixelOpus took a while to figure out. The controls have to allow enough freedom for creativity but, at the same time, always be intuitive. “The moment we over-assist, you stop feeling like it’s your artwork,” Robilliard reasons. The team’s first trial with the painting mechanics involved splotches that you chucked at the walls and then filled with faces. “That wasn’t working because you just didn’t feel connected to it enough,” Robilliard says.



As it is, the darkness of the seaside village can be seen to represent Ash’s deteriorating mental health. His efforts to bring the colour back to the town could be a metaphor for how his creativity helps him deal with it. But he really is being bullied and you get to see that, and so I hoped that it’d be present for the game’s duration, reflecting the violent reality of bullying for victims and maybe helping them overcome it.


While I’m unsure which direction Concrete Genie will go, I am reassured by the fact that I’m not the first person to talk to the developers about their depiction of bullying. “We were at an event and a mom came up to us in tears, and it affected us pretty deeply, talking about her son who’s being bullied at school and she felt like this game might help him in some way,” Sangalli tells me. “So it definitely made us go back to the office and put even more into the game itself, as much as we possibly can.”



It’s delightful enough but then the walls drop – and so does my jaw. No longer am I painting on 2D surfaces. There’s a fully 3D meadow stretched out in front of me to decorate as I wish. I don’t just paint trees, I pull them out from the ground, steering the weaving branches into shape. Splotch grabs a few flowers and fashions them into a crown while I drape light bulbs across the trees. I can blow wind through reeds to create music, drag fireworks across the sky – Splotch looks up in awe – and shoot butterflies from the end of my brush.


It’s a magical space to be inside and there’s much more to it than what I got to see. Remarkably, the VR mode will be included with the main game at its humble price of £24.99 when it releases on October 9. I can’t wait to step back inside and cleanse my soul.


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Concrete Genie's main story lasts around 5 to 6 hours, hence the $30 price tag, but does include a pair of VR experiences if you've got a PSVR headset handy. Experience mode is a persistent game of "appease the genie" where you create a 360-degree mural while following the directions of Splotch (a mini genie that lives on Ash's backpack) while Freeform mode is essentially a blank canvas where you can create whatever comes to mind.





Robillard: Nobody’s phrased it like that, but that’s exactly what we’re trying to do, make it fun all the time for everyone. From the moment that we wanted to try to have art as a mechanic, the idea that we would try to make anybody feel like they could be an artist has definitely been our central gameplay fantasy. In terms of how it’s meant to feel, we just knew that if we could use the motion controllers to let anyone make marks and gestures in the wall, and then just get the amount of assistance that the game gives, just the right amount so that it doesn’t feel like it’s doing too much — if you do that, it doesn’t feel like your artwork anymore.


Getting that balance from the gameplay, agency versus assistance, getting it in just the right place, and then having a lot of sophisticated stuff under the hood that layers everything correctly for you, or tries to connect the elements you’re painting together — we draw ground around the things that need ground. There’s a lot of light touches in there that help compose the image for you, but never change it or add too much so you feel like it’s not your artwork.


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