With PlayStation 4 and Pixelopus’s Concrete Genie, players get an illuminating look at how art can change the world and what it’s like to be bullied all the while exploring the ins-and-outs of a new video game.
Players step into the shoes of a young boy named Ash and help transform his dreary town of Denska into a playground of his artistic creations. The harbor town is a dark vestige of what it used to be, mostly abandoned and polluted. Ash mostly keeps to himself and spends days drawing in his notebook but one day, bullies rip pages out of his notebook and scatter them across Denska, leading the young artist to scour through the town in search of his work. He ends up coming across Luna, a magical being known as a genie, who endows him with a giant paintbrush and puts him on a quest to bring new genies to life through his magical gift. So alongside looking for his lost notebook pages, Ash paints landscapes across Denska and creates new genies through his artistic abilities.
Although drawing is a major component of Concrete Genie, it isn’t the only part of the video game. As you explore the city, you’ll also have to avoid bullies or distract them through various means to clear your path to a new painting spot. There are even some semi-combat sequences — it turns out not all genies are so nice and you’ll have to face off against some of them. But the people behind the game wanted to make sure that these action-packed scenes still aligned with the overall tone of the game.
“In the beginning, we had a very complicated combat system but it felt like the violent aspects didn’t fit in with the game at all,” Game Designer Jing Li tells Teen Vogue. “We started changing the stroke that Ash does to be more artistic. He’s not born into an action game. It’s more like he’s trying to tame a wild animal than hurt one. When he paints [the evil genies], it’s cleansing. And every stroke Ash does has like butterflies or stars coming out of it. It’s kind of like he’s spreading positive energy and his original inspiration for painting the genie.”
The dark genies also fit into Ash’s first mission of finding his missing notebook pages; they’re actually the ones helping manifest the bullies’ bad behavior and mistreatment of Ash. So while Concrete Genie is a lot of fun and games, there’s an underlying theme of teaching kindness and that being a bully isn’t OK. Additionally, as lots of research has shown, that bullies are often victims of bullying themselves.
“The other part of the game where you're healing the genies, it very much relates to how Ash tried to deal with the bullies themselves,” Lucie Roberts tells Teen Vogue, who worked on the project as an Artist/Animator. “No one in this world is inherently bad. You're trying to help them find their true selves and to not get pulled into the cycle of bullying or of darkness. In the way Ash deals with bullies, we know that kids and people who have been bullied will probably be players of our game. We want them to get the message that it's not their fault that they're being bullied, that it's never really the bullied person's fault. That's something that hopefully that players can draw strength from when they play it.”
Don’t worry if you’re not that great of a drawer IRL. Concrete Genie’s controls make it fairly easy to paint using the DualShock controller’s gyro controls. You don’t have to be extremely precise, instead, simply guiding Ash’s brush to design murals all over Denska. The fun comes when you get to personally customize the new genies to your own liking, using whatever sparks your own inspiration. These genies all have their own magical powers but can only live on walls. However, as you bring more to life, the more you have to help with the numerous puzzles and obstacles throughout the game as you search for your lost pages.
While creating the game, Jing was actually inspired by her own hometown of Xiamen, China. In Xiamen, there was an area similar to Denska that was forgotten as other corners of the city grew. Put people began painting murals to bring splashes of color and life to the neighborhood. It’s not unlike what we’ve seen in neighborhoods such as Williamsburg and Bushwick that have seen waves of gentrification in part to the street art that brought new commerce and tourism to the areas.
“It was very intimate and sweet [working on this game],” Jing tells Teen Vogue. “After seeing that art can bring those areas to life, it feels like what Ash can do is actually very realistic in a world point of view.”
It has been a years-long journey for those that worked on Concrete Genie, including Artist/Animator Becky Roberts, Visual Development Artist Lancing Love Chen, along with Lucie and Jing. The team has seen various iterations of the storyline and gameplay functions before the final product, which came out earlier this October. For example, prototypes of the games had the genies a bit more abstract and without the landscapes that they live in.
“It was actually a really big jump for the team when we realized that we would be painting a whole world inside of the wall for the genie to live in,” Becky tells Teen Vogue. “For a long time we were very focused on the genies only and then when we decided: Oh, we're going to be creating amazing landscapes too. It changed how I thought about it. The paintbrushes became more magical and less literal. It's more like magic growing and something beautiful, than a literal paint stroke.”
Although the genies became more magical, they became less abstract and took form once Lancing joined the team. The genies are actually heavily derived from her own personal art style. Then animators like Lucie and Becky were able to bring animation to the mix, developing how players interact with the genies while playing.
“When I first came onto the team, I really resonated with Ash as a character. I saw a lot of myself in him,” Lancing tells Teen Vogue. “I also drew a lot and never paid attention to my classes. I drew on everything, even my shoes. In terms of the genies, they kind of are his little doodles that I would also do as a kid too, just the spirit of how fun and spontaneous that is. I wanted to put that in the genies as well because they are just pure representations of what his brain’s like.”
As Concrete Genie hopefully motivates players to imagine what ways they can bring their own light and art into the world, Jing, Lucie, Becky, and Lancing have been lucky enough to be inspired by working together to build Ash’s world. It’s almost like they’re each other’s own genies, all bringing a specific role to making a video game.
“Most of the people on the team are pretty quiet and shy and thoughtful. But everyone's so easy to talk to that it's not intimidating to go ask a question. When we walk over to the engineer's side of the room, it's always nice hearing them answer our questions and you're like, ‘Oh yeah, I can help with that,’” says Becky. “Everyone's just so easy to work with. We had our wrap party the other night and when it was over, I was leaving and it actually made me really sad ‘cause it's been so fun working on this game with this team.”
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue