Fighting Bullies With the Power of Art – Concrete Genie Hands & Head-on Preview

We were recently invited to PlayStation HQ in San Mateo to meet up with the developer team of Pixelopus and tour their studio space. We spoke with members of the team and got some hands on time with their upcoming title, Concrete Genie.

Ash vs. The Bullies of Densk

Before heading to the studio space, I played roughly 90 minutes of the first level of the game. The game is an action-adventure title that follows a young man named Ash as he tries to save his abandoned town of Densk from a darkness that is covering its walls. The only other people in town are a bunch of punk kids that bully Ash every chance they get, so he must avoid them as much as humanly possible as he uses his artistry and magical paints to bring this town back to life. Along the way, he finds that his little monster creations on paper turn into Genies that can help by not only directing his artistry, but also by unlocking new abilities.

The game has a very unique feel to it, and the Genies are actually your creation. They can be as scary as you like, or even as nice and pleasant as you like. You can give them appendages and make them tall or short, skinny or fat, whatever your heart desires. The development team has created so many different animations that, no matter what you draw, it truly comes to life, and their uniqueness helps give the game a more personal feel. The animations are entertaining to watch and are remarkably smooth to the eye.

Light vs. Dark

It isn’t just Genies that need drawn. Those punk kids took your book and tore out a bunch of pages from it and scattered them around each level. Finding those pages unlocks more and more designs for Genies and the town of Densk. With the help of your genie, you’ll unlock a super brush which can cure that dark infection from the walls, and allow your Genie to direct your artistry to lighten up the place by adding many types of plants, objects, and even the sun to help lighten up the place. Speaking of light, each level has light strings you’ll have to find and interact with to completely lighten up a level before you can move on to the next area. It’s an interestingly fun take on the light vs. dark symbolism that often plays out in literature and storylines.

Each level has a specific number of light strings to light up, Genies to find, wall areas that need to be cured and decorated, and interactive stories to collect. These stories will incorporate your unique Genies, so even they can have a personal touch. Always keep an eye out for those punk kids though, as they are mean and will not be nice to you if they find you. If they are in your way, you can holler at them and they will move to where your voice came from. It is a helpful little tool that can make them go running off and allow you you access to an area they don’t want to vacate.

VR Content is Separate from the Story

Concrete Genie contains two PSVR modes – VR Experience and VR Free Paint. These are separate from the story mode and the story mode is not playable in VR. In Experience, players will help a Genie discover a mysterious power through painting and see their art come to life from a new perspective. In Free Paint, players use two PS Move motion controllers to create beautiful living landscapes, using the sketchbook pages collected from the VR Experience. As I played through the VR Experience, I found myself completely immersed in the title, as the stunning graphics and imagery were so well detailed that it went a long ways into making my brain think it was almost real. Very impressive.

After spending 90 minutes playing the game, we were taken to the Pixelopus Studio space. Walking in, the first thing I noticed was the incredible amount of art work they had generated while storyboarding for the game. These images would make for an incredible book that any collector would be happy to own (hint hint). After playing through the game, it was amazing to see how much of the storyboards played out in-game, and how the imagery was actually used.  Several team members took the time to walk us through their animation processes, and show us how the game was brought to life. I really wish we could have taken some photos of their work space and storyboard areas, as that was as impressive as the game itself. Special thanks to the young ladies and young men who took the time away from their busy day to walk us through some of their processes and speak to us.

On our way back from the space, I spoke with Jeff Sangalli, an Art Director at Sony Interactive Entertainment, about his team at Pixelopus and was impressed to find out that PlayStation has an intern program with San Jose State University and several of the Pixelopus team members had gone through that program. SJSU is one of the top animation schools in the world, and Jeff actually graduated from there himself in 2000, so I shouldn’t have been too surprised that quite a few graduates have got a foot in the door with PlayStation through that program.

Concrete Genie has an official release date of October 8th, 2019 and from the 90+ minutes I played, it is already a fun and fantastic game, with a beautiful art style that you can truly make your own.