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.”