Q-Games' The Tomorrow Children is a lucid dream of community, crafting, monsters and 'Marxist parody'. A world where inhabitants work for the good of a communal town. And if that means bribing others to make your vote more equal than others? So be it.
After years of the PixelJunk brand you'd be forgiven for thinking Q-Games had turned its back on the third dimension. Something they've proved otherwise with The Tomorrow Children on PS4, a gorgeously rendered quirky take on mining, crafting and community. Like many of the studio's recent PlayStation releases this is a take on a familiar genre but with a 'Q' spin on it.
Firstly, it's a gorgeous thing to look at. Take a look at the trailer below. That's all in-game stuff using the same playable chunk I saw in the presentation. According to Q-Games founder Dylan Cuthbert it uses a "completely new lighting technology called cascaded voxel ray tracing" that lets the team create beautiful effects and apply them to destructible environments in real time.
Where things get a little confusing is that it's a "networked-based game" explains Cuthbert, but single player. You'll go about your own business, only seeing the other inhabitants of the communal town everyone inhabits as they interact with things (the planned population will be 50-100 depending on what tests show is the most fun). Sparkly outlines appear as other people mine the strange islands in the surroundings, or mount turrets to fight off invading monsters. If they don't do anything, they don't show up - their presence effectively only felt if it has an impact.
The shared purpose to all this is the betterment of the town, which players need to collect resources for, build out and protect from invading creatures. There's no real 'end goal' as yet and Cuthbert gives the impression that the game will evolve and be shaped by the players over over time, mentioning features that won't be in the "initial release". One feature for example that's planned but not implemented yet is that each town will eventually have a voted for player as mayor who'll make important choices for the good of the group. Help the community and you'll earn recognition points and boost your status as a good citizen - standing out obviously being a good way to influence potential voters.
The main gameplay then currently involves striking out of the town to mine the islands around it. These masses are representative of the in-game mythology and history - the one I saw was a huge unhappy face surrounded by falling missiles, it's surface pockmarked with stairs, holes and the glimmering outlines of other players stripping it clean.
That mythology I mentioned has mankind recovering from a failed Soviet experiment in the 60s, the players "projected clones" rebuilding the world by mining resources, some of which are communal and can be used to create new buildings or repair damaged ones. Other materials can be used to kit out your character, with a labour office that tracks your actions and rewards you with chits to spend on gear, perks and even bribes in the communal votes the population take to choose what to build next.
Interestingly it's this take on what Cuthbert describes as a "Soviet-style semi-Marxist community" that seemed to draw a few small confrontational moments from the audience during my presentation. Two separate journalists questioned the setting and use of the 60s Russian styling, with one asking if it was "appropriate" because "it wasn't flowers and sweets to live there".
[Edit: I've just realised I completely failed to clarify that the two journalists asking questions had East European accents which is kind of important here. Sorry.]
I've obviously no experience that can relate to whether it's culturally sensitive to base a game on that period but I found it a surprise in such a beautiful game with an otherwise childlike air to see a developer defending political choices. Dylan countered it by saying it wasn't "serious in that direction. It plays using themes", pointing out that it was a fantasy and it "doesn't have to be good fantasy". As he pointed out, "If I play Call Of Duty I don’t want to go out and join the army. It’s humorous. It’s a parody". It was an odd moment in an otherwise interesting reveal.