Most gamers know that one of the brilliant aspects of indie studios is the creative freedom they have to produce games that leave a lasting impact on their players. PaperSeven, a small, independent Hove-based gaming studio in Regent House, are hoping to do just that with their upcoming game Blackwood Crossing.
Managing director Alice Guy tells me that PaperSeven was co-founded with two developers from the now defunct Disney-owned Black Rock Studios, who share a goal to create games that explore emotional themes and take players on meaningful yet unpredictable journeys. PaperSeven’s first big title, Blackwood Crossing is a story-driven first-person adventure game that examines the relationship between Scarlett and Finn, orphaned siblings growing apart as they near adulthood. But when they cross paths with a mysterious figure, a seemingly ordinary train ride evolves into a magical story of life, love and loss.
Lately, it seems, more studios are beginning to concentrate on elements that can make a game unforgettable. While it’s clear gamers want titles that make you feel something – stories that jump out of the TV screen, or complex and relatable characters – sometimes players are less likely to take a chance on these games. Many of the more adventurous studios are relatively unknown with gamers wondering why take the risk when you know you’ll get an easy fix from a more mainstream title? In the case of PaperSeven, their approach to making Blackwood stand out on the shelf is more organic than one might assume. “We try not to look too much outside at what must we do in order to match up [with mainstream titles],” Guy tells me. “We just stay very focused on what it is we’re doing. Some of the elements we’ve thought about though are things like having more characters, having Finn become a force for you to bond with and follow through the game.” This is reflected through the accurate and warming dynamic that PaperSeven have formed between Scarlett and Finn, where players will find themselves silently self-critiquing their own behaviour and reflecting on the familiarity of sibling squabbles.
What feels promising about Blackwood Crossing is its creators clearly understand the difference between a bestseller and a game that can ultimately become everlasting. Like good literature, games are an artform and with Blackwood Crossing they’re obviously aware that players are yearning for something that really resonates with them. “The big budget titles will go for formulas that are proven to have worked because publishers know they’re likely to get a return on their investment. We don’t have to do that. We can take more creative risk and give something new to an audience.” But what about making the game memorable? Is there a formula for that? “I think definitely the characters that you’re interacting with and the story. If something can make you think and feel, it’s going to be something that sticks in your mind afterwards. But we have also invested in areas like our VO, used high-end actors, professional recording studios, and I think that attention to detail is very important.”
Though I only played a small portion of Blackwood Crossing at the studio, I have to say I was very excited by what I saw. The team behind it is passionate and clearly knowledgeable about what players want. This is definitely a game which will stand the test of time.
Blackwood Crossing will be released on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One early this year