The mid-size video game developer is, sadly, a dying species. Since studio cuts and the growing sophistication of AAA titles, this sector of the industry has seen a significant decline in recent years. We’re missing out on original development with a AAA tinge, and that’s a disaster Ninja Theory won’t let happen.
In a world of £60 base game titles, £24.99 for a new release is nothing to be sniffed at. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice will launch in August for exactly that, and there’s a lot more to consider in this price point than first meets the eye.
This £25 price tag is reflective of Ninja Theory’s development mantra as well as Hellblade‘s position in the gaming industry of 2017. Developers want to reopen the floor to AAA quality without stereotypical AAA labels so many are becoming tired of. I was first introduced to Hellblade in a gaming magazine last year. While the intriguing mental health story basis grabbed my interest, the feature that kept the game in the back of my mind all this time was the label “AAA quality from an independent studio”. Is this the way forward for mid-size studios, who have seen a number of devastating closures in the past year alone?
It’s obvious from first glances that everything about Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice‘s development reeks of independent production. At roughly 6-8 hours in length, the final game will enter the shorter end of the length spectrum only cautiously tip toed by The Order: 1886 and usually reserved for indie games. On top of this, the development team and space has been kept relatively tiny. Using a combination of technical shortcuts (creating assets that could be reused in imaginative ways) and employing experienced, multi-talented developers, Ninja Theory has attempted a AAA feat in an office built for hobbyists. The Cambridge-based studio recorded their motion capture in-house using their own setup and maintained a strictly grounded design ethos throughout – find different solutions to achieve the same end quality as AAA.
Hellblade‘s development has also been religiously captured in the form of in-depth developer diaries uploaded regularly for the public to marvel at. It is possible to track every design premise, obstacle, and decision straight from this transparent development approach that would prove impossible in conventional AAA production.
And yet, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice carries a distinct AAA quality on its heavy shoulders. With extensive media coverage and a visually competitive set of trailers and demos, the game is set to take off in a flurry. With so many mid-size video game developers meeting their fates over the last few years, the current development mantra is bleak – it’s either get big, get indie, or get out.
It’s a situation that stifles creativity through a claustrophobic system of marketing labels, the unstoppable force of rising player expectations, and the resulting stagnation in variety as AAA studios bank their cash with fan favourite formulas. Hopefully, with Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice leading the way, we can open our disk trays to more original content from new voices with the budget behind them to compete with industry giants.
What do you think? Will Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice set a blazing trail for the return of the ill-fated mid-size video game developer? Will you be picking Ninja Theory’s latest game up on August 8th? Let me know downstairs in the comment section.