Arise: A Simple Story is a very different kind of video game. And if you think about its genesis and where it came from, it becomes a bit easier to understand how it came to be.
Polish game publisher Techland (maker of Dying Light) is publishing the game on December 3 for $20 on the PlaySation 4, Xbox One, and the PC via the Epic Games Store. It is the first title from Piccolo Studio in Barcelona, and game director Alexis Corominas walked me through a demo yesterday. It’s about an old man who dies, and then awakens in limbo. He gains the ability to look back on his life and relive it.
It’s a pretty game with an thoughtful premise and interesting time-driven gameplay.
The birth of a game studio
Corominas is a gaming transplant. He and his cofounder Jordi Ministral worked in advertising for 20 years. But they were always doing interactive experiences for big brands like Nike and Coca-Cola. They were making money and winning awards. They started their own company to get away from the crunch work, but then they felt like something was missing.
“We were over 40, and we were having our middle-age crisis,” Corominas said. “We were looking back in our lives at what we always wanted to do. Advertising was having its own middle-age crisis. Especially after the economic slowdown in 2008, it was data driven. Creativity was getting cornered. We were still making money with advertising, but it wasn’t fulfilling anymore.”
So they shut down the ad company and decided to pursue their childhood passion of making video games. They recruited some friends like Oriol Pujado to start the company and brought aboard developers who worked on the hit game Rime.
“It was crazy. But we decided that if we’re going to fail at something, it might as well be something we are passionate about,” Corominas said. “With all these people, we were ready to start working on our first game. Our main goal of our company is to touch people. To make people feel. Human emotion. We said we would not make games; we would craft them. Even our logo is a needle and a thread, about crafting.”
That was how Piccolo Studio was born in Barcelona. In the past 22 months, it grew to 15 people. They came up with the idea for Arise: A Simple Story because it involved a man with a similar tale. He lived his life but had regrets. You get to see them and replay his life in 10 chapters.
The story of Arise
Arise is an emotional journey through the life of two people where memories come alive and time bends to the player’s will. Each chapter represents a specific turning point in a man’s long life filled with relatable moments of joy and sorrow. It has a heartwarming love story that lets players experience diverse powerful emotions.
Your journey begins as an old man’s life ends. His body is burned in a ritual funeral, and then he awakens in a snow-covered world. He is in a state of limbo, and he begins to wander through the landscape. He finds that he can relive crucial events of his life.
“An old man has less to look ahead and a lot to look behind,” Corominas said. “We didn’t want a conventional game, so an old man was great. He has no future, and so he’s forced to look back because it is all he has. Arise is the story of an old man who dies, wakes in limbo, and starts remembering the key moments of his lifetime.”
Time machine gameplay
Every level is rendered in a beautiful 3D cartoon style. Each level represents a key moment in the old man’s life. As the player, you follow his footsteps. With one controller stick, you control his movement. With the other, you control time.
If you move the right analog stick to the right, you can accelerate time to different points of the day. The environment changes, as you move from morning to night, and the position of the sun changes. The man stays still, but everything around him moves in time.
You can use your newfound gift of time manipulation to help you overcome many obstacles along the way. For instance, I had to jump up to the top of a big mushroom. But I couldn’t jump high enough. But if I moved the time of the day, a snail would slither by. I could jump on the top of the snail’s back (did I mention that you’re a small creature in a large world?). I could fast-forward time to the point where the snail passes by the mushroom and then jump over.
“You explore the world with one stick and time with the other one,” Corominas said.
When I picked up the controller, the piano music began. The old man was lying on a pyre. His tribe lights it on fire, and he transitions to an icy world. I asked, “Where does it take place?” I expected Corominas to say Sweden.
“Limbo,” he said.
The game has no spoken or written words. It only has visuals and a soundtrack. The latter was composed by David García, composer for Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and Rime.
“The music and the environment are the language of our game,” Corominas said.
We skipped over to chapter two, dubbed Joy. It starts with two children, a boy and a girl, flying a kite. The kite string slips away and the kite gets carried away on the wind. The children chase after it. You are small, and everything else is big because you are seeing the world through the eyes of a child.
As the old man, you then start moving around the world. You move with the left stick, but the game itself controls the camera. It periodically changes the view on you, as you maneuver with one stick through the 3D world. This takes some getting used to.
The right stick would normally be the way you control the camera, like in a first-person shooter. But in this game, the right stick only controls the passing of time. You can stop at any given place in the game and move the right stick back and force to see how the scene looks throughout the entire day.
When a bee came close to me, I saw that a circle appeared around it, and then it turned orange as it was in the right range. Then I could hit the X button and lasso it with a rope. Then I could hitch a ride on the bee and move across gaps. As I moved the right stick, the bee would move to another place. And I would let go of the rope when I reached my destination.
I had some trouble jumping around, in part because I was not controlling the camera in the 3D world. But I got used to it. If you hold the button down and let go, you can execute a bigger jump, and that is what I needed to get across some gaps. I got to one part where I was jumping on to sunflowers that tilted in different directions throughout the day. That was pretty cool.
The next level, dubbed Away, was more somber. It was darker and moody. It was called Away, representing a time when the two kids were separated.
Some spots were kind of like dead ends. But if you went to them, you could uncover a cartoon image, a snapshot of life. These collectibles convey a piece of the story to you. You can, for instance, see in one image that the two kids have an argument and separate. If you find all of the collectibles, you have a better idea of what happens in that chapter.
You can also play the game with local co-op mode. In this mode, one player controls the movement and the other human player controls time. You can drop in or drop out in co-op and switch seamlessly from two players to solo. That could make the game more entertaining.
I’m looking forward to this game. It won’t be a long experience. Overall, the game will be about a six hours. But as Corominas said, it’s just a simple story. Sometimes those are the best kind.