The To­mor­row Chil­dren

Q-Games’ PS4 ex­clu­sive is part sand­box, part so­cial ex­per­i­ment



One com­plaint from those who watched the an­nounce­ments dur­ing Gamescom and E3 this year was that so many of the trail­ers were CG ren­ders rather than in-en­gine game­play. But in the case of The To­mor­row Chil­dren, a sand­box game from Ky­oto stu­dio Q-Games, view­ers were not see­ing what they thought they were.

“At Gamescom, the trailer be­fore ours was all CG, and I got a lot of com­ments from peo­ple say­ing they thought ours was CG, too,” stu­dio head Dy­lan Cuth­bert says. That’s one of the rea­sons Q will hold a pub­lic al­pha for its strange new game from Oc­to­ber 30 un­til Novem­ber 12 in Ja­pan. “It’s mainly to test our sys­tems and give peo­ple a taste. Hope­fully, peo­ple will re­alise than that all the stuff in the trailer was re­al­time and dy­namic, and not CG.”

Cuth­bert was in­volved in the early stages of both PS2 and PS3, cre­at­ing tech demos and PS3’s XrossMe­di­aBar, so per­haps it was only nat­u­ral that Sony’s Mark Cerny would in­vite the cre­ator and Q-Games to make a tech­fo­cused game for its new­est con­sole.

“We’re us­ing ‘asyn­chro­nous com­pute’, which is a new term,” Cuth­bert ex­plains in ref­er­ence to The To­mor­row Chil­dren’s ad­vanced vi­su­als. “We use the GPU in PS4 almost like a very-high-per­for­mance CPU geared to­wards large vol­umes of data that are pro­cessed the same way. You can fire off all th­ese cal­cu­la­tions as you see fit, and then it all just slots in to get a huge per­for­mance in­crease.”

The footage shown of the game so far is all re­al­time game­play, Cuth­bert says, and its Bur­ton-cum-Laika-doll-like char­ac­ters and pla­s­ticky ex­ca­vat­able is­lands look almost solid enough to reach out and touch, thanks in part to a trio of si­mul­ta­ne­ous an­tialias­ing tech­niques for smoother lines and the use of cas­caded voxel cone ray trac­ing to light them in a vol­u­met­ric form.

“It gives us a lot of sub­tle de­tail and a lot of in­for­ma­tion that you have in the real world,” Cuth­bert says. “It’s sub­lim­i­nal, almost. As you dig a tun­nel, it gets darker and darker, and you get the [light] bounces com­ing in from be­hind you – like, say, the sun is set­ting and you get all this yel­low light bounc­ing into your tun­nel.”

The game was de­signed to take ad­van­tage of not only PS4’s hard­ware but also its so­cial fea­tures. It is set in a retro-fu­tur­is­tic world that has di­verged from ours in the ’60s or ’70s, dur­ing the Cold War, when a calami­tous Soviet ex­per­i­ment wiped most of hu­man­ity off the planet in an at­tempt to meld the race into one global con­scious­ness. Play­ers con­trol clones cre­ated to re­build mankind, dig­ging for hu­man DNA and other re­sources on mys­te­ri­ous is­lands and trans­port­ing them back to a com­mu­nal town that runs on a sys­tem sim­i­lar to Marx­ism. The con­cept was in­spired by the DualShock 4 Share but­ton. The fi­nal part of the game­play loop is that the towns face con­stant at­tack from Izverg monsters, so de­fences against th­ese threats must be care­fully main­tained. Play is es­sen­tially solo, but also net­worked, with play­ers briefly ap­pear­ing in one another’s games as they un­der­take ac­tiv­i­ties to­gether and then dis­ap­pear­ing again.

Cuth­bert de­scribes the game as be­ing a so­cial ex­per­i­ment, and in the al­pha he is cu­ri­ous to see how a group of 50 or 100 play­ers on the same server will in­ter­act. Will they work to­gether to­wards a common goal, or will they try to get ahead of ev­ery­one else?

Q-Games’ Pix­elJunk se­ries was orig­i­nally de­fined by sur­pris­ingly deep me­chan­ics that ap­peared sim­ple on the sur­face, but it has strug­gled to con­vey the con­cept be­hind its lat­est Pix­elJunk ti­tle, the con­cep­tu­ally com­plex Nom Nom Galaxy. From what we’ve seen so far, The To­mor­row Chil­dren also seems like a game that will re­quire a lot of ex­pla­na­tion be­fore it clicks, though the al­pha may help to crys­tallise the con­cept in the pub­lic’s imag­i­na­tion. What­ever hap­pens, this PS4 ex­clu­sive has great po­ten­tial, in terms of its tech as much as its the­matic core.

What’s yours is mine

Any game based on dig­ging and build­ing in a so­cial set­ting is sure to be com­pared to Minecraft, which Dy­lan Cuth­bert has en­dured many times al­ready. But the game­play in The To­mor­row Chil­dren is only su­per­fi­cially sim­i­lar. Cuth­bert says the min­ing el­e­ment of the game was im­ple­mented part­way into de­vel­op­ment as a way to use new tech cre­ated by Q. “One of our pro­gram­mers de­vel­oped the tech to do non-block-based dig­gable ter­rain. It’s a dif­fer­ent way of hold­ing the data,” he says. “So we de­cided to use that and changed the de­sign to do so. That gave us some par­al­lels with Minecraft. Peo­ple com­ing from Minecraft will en­joy that side of it, I think, but it’s a dif­fer­ent kind of game.”

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