Disclosure: Tom and I have known and worked together for a number of years, most recently on Blind Sky Studios's game 'Mandagon'; I was even initially going to do the music for EMPORIUM (as is kindly mentioned by him in this interview) before my schedule got in the way - Tom then took on the task himself, and having heard it I'm so, so glad that he did.
"...and we're back in the car park with a boat. You wonderful bastard."
-- Crib notes from my first playthrough
EMPORIUM is visual artist, hip-hop producer and skaterboi Tom Kitchen's first solo video game, with all graphics, programming, text and audio from the man himself. At the time of writing this he's already given this interview on the game's development which I'd strongly recommend you give a nose through. He's been incredibly and refreshingly open with key themes which are handled directly, effectively yet, to my mind, sensitively.
The game itself could be described (inadequately) as a narrative-driven isometic platformer with interactions focusing around text; reading, thinking, conversing. It's a beautifully designed minimalist short story, fitting into a gorgeously developed theme and variations form. The controls and mechanics are designed to allow the narrative to come first, unhindered by the player's technical prowess.
My minor spoiler is that there's no save function, so you'll have to play this game's sub-hour length in one sitting. This lack of functionality is fascinating - you HAVE to complete it in one go, and in that way you take the full brunt, the full impact; in that sense it becomes cinematic. A chat that we had once surrounded the difficulty barrier in narrative games - how a game's demands on the player's actual skill can hamper a focus on story. This is very much the case with EMPORIUM.
Oh my. These visuals. Monument Valley meets Inside meets Brutalist architecture meets Antichamber meets Tyler The Creator's video for 'IFHY'. These need to be seen, played through, dreamed in. Even the camera movements are perfectly aligned to refocus with such purpose and definition. I hadn't thought about it much before but I wonder how much the graphics team and the camera team work together in larger studios; the one-man mission really showing it's strengths here.
Stunning. Tom's writing feels like it's developed in leaps and bounds since that of Mandagon's couplets, which I was expecting but not to such an impressive degree. It's The use of past tense takes a while to get used to, but is entirely in-brand and fitting for the piece as a whole.
Perfect for this game. It absolutely captures the bleak emptiness, whilst continuously agitating the player into action. It's interesting that a game with so much aesthetic to admire uses a tic-tocing motif, juxtaposing a want to study and admire with a relentless sense of motion. The instrumentation is well-chosen, slim and varied enough throughout to give just enough variation and character throughout, and the sound design work is stellar. Tom's giving the five track OST away on a name-your-price basis and I'd STRONGLY suggest feeding it to your ears.
From experience with Mandagon, there will be those who'll say "THIS IS ART NOT A GAME BURN IT TO THE GROUND" and similar, so if you're in that camp then this is NOT a game for you.
While I'm morally obliged to remind the reader of my above disclosure, even knowing Tom and his work as well as I do, I was absolutely blown away with this. It feels like such an honest representation of what I know about the man's passion for the genre; it's a staggeringly clear translation of artistic intent.
Nice one Tom.