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The Game Awards showed us the future of gaming, and one of titles coming is After Us. Piccolo Studio is making the exploration adventure game and Take-Two Interactive‘s Private Division label is publishing it.
The title arrives in the spring of 2023 for PC on Steam and on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S. It’s a beautiful game with an interesting narrative and creative approach.
I spoke with the game developers — Alexis Corominas and Jordi Ministral, two of the founders of Piccolo Studio — about their approach. They chose to set the game in a post-human world, which usually isn’t a pleasant premise for a video game.
But while it’s devastating to think about what caused the apocalypse, the creators view their title as being about “legacy and hope.” The demo featured no words, much like an experience like Flower. It has a similar kind of spirituality about nature, but this game is much different in how it looks.
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You play as Gaia, the Spirit of Life, to bring hope to a broken planet in a surrealistic, post-human journey. You’ll traverse environments and save the souls of extinct animals and harness Gaia’s powers to fight the dangers that plague a scorched Earth.
After Us features Piccolo Studio’s style of delivering impactful storytelling and combines it with compelling exploration and adventure. Gaia must jump, glide, dash, wallride and swim to evade deadly obstacles and enemies. As the embodiment of life, she has the power to help restore and reconstitute the planet. By emitting bursts of light, Gaia sparks new plant growth revealing new paths for traversal.
After Us depicts a fantastic world wrought by the destructive actions of an unbridled society, experienced by the player across ten different biomes. Players learn the final fates of various majestic creatures, such as the last whale harpooned, the final eagle caged or the last deer hunted down, before resurrecting their spirits to return life to the world. Each new environment presents new challenges for Gaia and tells the stories of these animal’s final moments before their climactic moment of rebirth.
A studio with passion
This title has a lot of passion, and Corominas reminded me in our interview that we had talked before about how that came about.
Corominas and Ministral are transplants in the gaming industry. They worked together in advertising for 20 years. Over time, they started creating more 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.
So they shut down the ad company and decided to pursue their childhood passion of making video games. And they started Piccolo Studio in Barcelona along with Oriol Pujado in 2015.
“We were over 40, and we were having our middle-age crisis,” Corominas told me in 2019. “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.”
In 2019, the team was finishing work on Arise: A Simple Story, which was published by Techland on the consoles and on the Epic Games Store on the PC. 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.
The founders were proud of the risk they took. They built a successful game with a team of around 15 people.
“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.”
When you look at those origins, it’s easy to see the commonality between the studio’s beginnings, the Arise game and the latest After Us title. Arise got a solid 81 out of 100 on Metacritic, which aggregates game review scores.
“Arise was reflecting our personal situation. We had a middle age crisis. We started to look back and decided to quit advertising and create a video game company,” Corominas said. “For our next game, After Us, we decided to look forward look ahead instead. We have grown older, we have become parents. So we started thinking about the ideas of legacy. What are we leaving behind us? Not just your children or grandchildren, but as a generation or as a human species.”
They crafted a tale about legacy, with a game that starts in a desolate and somber world, where all life on the planet was extinct at the hands of mankind.
“We cover some hot topics about environment. But we find that there’s a lot of negativity around that. So we wanted to go the other way and make this game about hope, to be positive,” Corominas said.
The game has a lot of exploration, platforming, puzzles and combat. But it’s a journey that has an uplifting sense of hope, Corominas said. The wordless nature of the game was meant to show that people of any culture could play it.
“That’s what we want two people to feel at the end of the game,” he said.
They made the main character powerful, as evidenced by the name Gaia. But she is also small and vulnerable in a big hostile world. She throws her heart at the environment and brings back life to animals and the world.
“We are about emotional rewards. We have more than 100 spirits of animals that you can retrieve in this world,” Corominas said. “They start populating the world and roaming around.”
A bigger effort
The studio has now grown to about 30 people, or more than double compared to when it was working on Arise. And it has been making the new game for about 2.5 years. It will cost $30, and that lower price reflects that you can finish the game in a few days. You can sprint through it or spend a lot of time lingering in the environment.
“Ultimately, the game is talking about the different sides and faces of humankind. And what we want to tell with this game that we know that humans are agents of destruction. But at the same time, we’re agents of hope and love,” Corominas said. “And there’s a statement that we love from a physicist from Barcelona. We like it a lot. It says that humans are the only animal that kills for pleasure. At the same time, it’s the only one that writes the most beautiful poetry.”
And while the game has a message around climate change, the studio doesn’t want it to come off as being too preachy.
“That’s not our job. Our job is just to tell stories,” Corominas said. “So we are telling a story with the main character and things that happened in that world, which is an allegory of Earth. It’s very fantastical and surreal. We’re not an NGO. We make games this is a game.”
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