On the biggest gaming stage, it can be worth it to be small.
Nobody can reasonably say that E3 2021 the spectacle was missing. After a year of hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, some publishers swung for the fences, showing upcoming tentpole games and offering initial revelations for games like Star field and Elden ring. If you’re even an occasional observer of these things, you know that big publishers tend to add to their showcase setlists by putting indie games in the spotlight. And this year only a few stood out from the crowd Replaces, Belarus’ debut game Sad cat studios.
Continue reading: The most beautiful game of E3 2021 could be this 80s-inspired platformer
Replaces, a 2.5D platformer that exudes neon and 80s-inspired cyberpunk vibes, surfaced almost immediately in the middle of Microsoft and Bethesda joint E3 press Ohso and aahso. Amid the praise, some pointed to similarities between Replaces and The last night, a controversial indie platformer. But Replaces it is more likely that development will be completed right now.
It’s not just the striking art or the crispy look John Wick-ish struggle, or the absurdly compelling premise in which the player is portrayed as an artificial intelligence program trapped in a human body. Replaces caught my eye by catching my ear, mostly the result of incredibly irresistible background music – a dark, moody synth-pop track that sounds like a catchy tune that you can’t all
That solid first performance heralded an unprecedented level of attention for Sad Cat. Igor Gritsay, one of the co-founders of the studio, told me on a Zoom call that the first 72 hours after that were hours Replaces‘s big stage debut, “Basically the world almost stopped”. His phone rang from the receiver. Notifications for comments and new followers rolled in every second. “It was good – but at the same time you also want to sleep.”
Like every game Replaces, which has been in development for around three years, has changed a lot. At one point, not even the crux – the 2.5D perspective reinforced by that delicious pixel art – wasn’t yet established. There was once, Replaces “Closer to 3D, like 2.75D,” said Gritsay. This idea barely lasted six months.
In this earlier build, the 2.75D, Replaces with complex camera rotations. You could turn the corner of a building and the camera would follow you, not dissimilar Has, the indie puzzle game of 2012. That proved to be a Herculean task, especially for a team that started with just three people.
For example, if you rotate the camera around a building, a sprite sticks out of the area unnaturally and creates a disjointed look. What may seem like a little technical conundrum then drove a whole series of existential questions about the core principles of the project. “Are we going to make a complete 3D object out of it? Then what’s the point of pixel art in this game? ”Said Gritsay. Yura Zhdanovich, one of the co-founders of Sad Cat, added, “It was very confusing.”
That’s not all. The inclusion of 3D elements created confusion that was all too easy to get lost in while exploring. That meant designing a card system, says Gritsay, which created a whole host of new problems. If you’re talking about a narrative, side-scrolling game, such navigation features are nice, but not strictly necessary.
So it was settled. 2.5D. Somewhat handier like that.
“2.5 D is very vague in its definition because there are many games that [say they’re] 2.5D, ”said Schdanovich. “From our point of view, 2.5D, especially in our case, is a game that has depth in the environment, but has mostly linear side-scrolling gameplay.”
When Replaces comes out sometime next year, it will be day and date as part of the Xbox Game Pass library. It’s a distribution model that is radically changing the way independent developers present their games to gamers – and for some it gives them access to an audience beyond what they could get with a traditional marketing campaign.
Game Pass, for those who don’t know, is Microsoft’s games-on-demand service, essentially a “Netflix for video game” offering. First introduced in 2017, you get access to a few hundred games, as well as all titles published by Microsoft, for a monthly fee. You can then play these games indefinitely as long as they are stay in the library
“Within the scene, the main problem is just here [to] stand out because there is a lot of competition among indie games. There’s also this huge market of triple A games that always get all the attention, ”said Gritsay. “The main motivation here is just to let more people know about the game… It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for us. We have to use every possibility and every chance we have. “
The downside here is that appearing on Game Pass could hurt total potential sales. Think about it: if a movie is on Hulu or HBO Max or any other streaming service, why should you pay to rent it the traditional way? You can already watch it “for free”. The same principle applies to games in a games-on-demand library.
But Gritsay says the studio is still drawing something valuable from the experience, and that Game Pass “helps”. [boost sales] kind of. “Gritsay admitted that there was no open data for such things. (Microsoft does not disclose financial details of any developer agreements. Last year we were with The edge, Spencer described such deals as “everywhere”.)
Yes, the project has got off to a good start in the last few months and has undoubtedly received a boost from attending such a high profile event. But there is still a long way to go to release – one that supposedly ends in a broad and undefined “2022” window that could always shift in the blink of an eye. And right now, Sad Cat isn’t ready to share more of the game beyond that first glimpse.
“We’re going one step at a time,” said Zhdanovich.