You may not have heard about Contrast yet, but trust me, you will. It’s already found some cozy spotlight as the Best Indie of E3 in IGN and the E3 game of choice of several other publications.
You could probably call it artsy, but it’s for good reason. Contrast seems to have all its elements working ceremoniously together, affecting the heartening narrative of Didi, a troubled little girl with a mysterious friend in the shadows. I saw it in action at E3 and I was sublimely intrigued.
Contrast takes place in a 1920s film noir dreamscape, complete with cabaret, jazz and dazzling illusions.
You control Dawn, the adult friend of little girl Didi. As Dawn, you have the power to jump from the three-dimensional world Didi is familiar with to a two-dimensional world in the shadows. The world you think you know might not turn out to be reality after all.
Didi is just 8 years old. She lives in complex world but chooses to perceive simple possibilities.
She’s independent, but with the help of Dawn she’s able to view the world of Contrast. Didi’s family isn’t perfect – her mother is a cabaret singer who focuses a little too much on her career and her father isn’t around anymore.
Dawn must use her shadow-shifting abilities to solve complex puzzles and help Didi investigate the painful secrets lying behind her troubled family.
Contrast promises a magical world of mystery, drama and intrigue.
I spoke with Sam Abbott of Compulsion Games to find out more about this mysterious game.
Can you talk a bit about your decision to release contrast on the PlayStation 4 but not on the Xbox One?
Sam Abbott: Sure! It’s actually pretty simple – right now, we have a publishing deal for Xbox 360 and PS3, but not for the next gen consoles. Sony allows indies to self-publish, and provides us with a lot of support to do so, so it’s a no brainer to release it for the PS4.
Unfortunately, we can’t do this on the Xbox One – you have to have a publisher – so we simply can’t get on their platform right now.
I read in another interview that you’re a fan of the Portal series and it influenced you a bit. Were you influenced to start making Contrast (or during its development) by any other games? What about movies?
Abbott: Absolutely – our studio head, Guillaume Provost, was inspired by Portal (as we all were), as it was just one of those games that really blew your mind. We have had a range of influences, but films like the City of Lost Children and Pan’s Labyrinth, Tim Burton’s character designs, and Tim Schafer’s games (Grim Fandango in particular) have all played a significant part in creating our visual style.
That’s awesome. The visual style of Contrast is pretty spectacular and such a deliberate choice. Does its aesthetic serve to compliment the gameplay or narrative?
Abbott: It sure does – we designed everything in the game around our shadow mechanic. Vaudeville and film noir are key inspirations for the setting, partly because of the way shadows are used as central parts of performance and storytelling in those worlds.
Is the shadow mechanic a frequent part of the gameplay or will we get to control Dawn in regular form quite a bit as well? Also, how drastic are her two forms, gameplay-wise?
Abbott: Well, actually you control when Dawn is and is not in shadow, so it’s up to you. Typically you will need to shift between the two to go through platforming areas and reach areas where you couldn’t go if you only had one form. Gameplay-wise, the two forms aren’t that different, except of course that one is 3D and the other is 2D.
E3 was dominated by games with male protagonists, so it was a nice contrast (had to use that pun at least once) to see a game with not one, but two female leads. Does Contrast seek to subvert the tropes of women in games?
Abbott: Haha, puntastic. Honestly, while we were very conscious of what we were doing in choosing two female leads, we didn’t set out to subvert any tropes. Really, we just wanted to design characters that were interesting to us, and tell stories that we were interested in – Dawn and Didi are very much a consequence of that.
Very cool. One last question, how does it feel to see Contrast winning all these “Best Of” E3 awards? And if you have anything else to add for our readers, such as a release date, feel free to embellish!
Abbott: It’s a little bit surreal! But it’s also really nice recognition for the team, who have put a lot of love into making Contrast something special. Release dates/platforms: Contrast is coming to a PC, PS4, PS3 or Xbox 360 near you, towards the end of this year.
Johnny is a freelance writer whose work features on PopMatters, Critical Distance, Nightmare Mode, Writer's Weekly, GlobalPost and much, much more. Um, If his mom is reading this, he says he applied at that "one place" but they're currently not hiring. Now he's telling me to tell her that he'll, uh, be back with the car by six...