BlueSuburbia demo is out! (more about the project, vision, and things coming…)

It has been well over a year that I decided to learn Unreal so that I can bring my vision of “reviving” BlueSuburbia to life. This was a crash course in Blender, 3D animation, modeling, Unreal, scripting, textures, volumetrics… what any of these things even mean and how to do them right.
I still have a long way to go, but I’m proud to be able to finally share an early look at this new BlueSuburbia.

The demo was posted on the other day:

I already payed for the Steam store listing and will be working on getting it up on Steam too… after I make all appropriate changes and act on the feedback I got.

I have to admit, this is probably one of the scariest projects I ever undertook… and I’ve made quite a few things that I had to be brave about.
Most of the people that enjoy my “games” are not gamers, so they don’t have gaming systems.
This new BlueSuburbia is being built to be a modern AAA-like experience with all the graphics and trappings. It requires capable graphics cards, and hardware. I have no idea if that alone will drive people away.
Does it even work? Will requiring updating graphics card drivers chase people away? Do people that play AAA games care about giving things like this a shot?
I know that putting it on Steam will probably give me more clarity. Either way, I’m dead set on staying true to making something that looks like a “next-gen” AAA-like visually beautiful experience for poetry to live in.

So far I only tested it on my own machines, and I was proud to say that it ran well on my very old Macbook Pro under Windows… so I know it’s not THAT exclusive to modern PC gaming.
Making my work as accessible as possible by insuring that it runs on very old, not powerful machines, has always been a big central focus. This new direction is challenging.

I do find it ironic that a project like BlueSuburbia which, in it’s heyday was so controversial among “gamers”, is now being built like this. It used to cause a lot of heated debates about “this is not a game!” and “what is a game?” mixed with “all you have to do is walk around and read?”
BlueSuburbia was a pretty big deal with its own cult following. Even Jay Is Games covered it and included it in its “best of” roundups. You can still read some of the old comments.
It was very much ahead of its time. I look forward to seeing how well it will do now that the concepts of “what a game is” are more broad.
Is building this in Unreal going to doom it? Is building it in something that embraces the word “next-gen” foolish?
I’ve said that I want it to be “Death Stranding meets net-art”… will I doom myself to obscurity with a fools quest?
I do enjoy the challenge and I also feel like I have a lot to prove with this. I want to make absolutely gorgeous 3D worlds that you experience poetry in.

The original BlueSuburbia was all about interactive poetry. Way back in the early 2000’s (before things like “interactive fiction”, Twine, or all the interactive graphic novels of today that we have a vocabulary and genres for) there was net-art. I enjoyed terms like “literary hypermedia” “interactive [insert art word here]” and people explored all the ways that writing could be so much more than just text.
Back then I believed that you could illustrate poetry in more interesting ways than just having a picture paired up with a poem. I wanted to try to make the actual space the person was in *the illustration* for the poetry.
That’s the mentality that BlueSuburbia came out of. It is also how I’m approaching this new version.

In today’s indie game space we have an understanding of things like “minimal spaces” and “walking simulators”. There is game-literacy that this is a thing, and this is a way that you can interact with a game.
Way back people called this “meanderware”… The point was that there is no real point. You just experience literature.

I think there is something beautiful about embracing a trust in the audience that they can interpret what you make for themselves, and come away with their own meaning for it.
I am inspired by the idea of, this time, trusting gamers… That people that play games aren’t just “stinky angry teenagers in their parent’s basement” (like the trope we kinda embrace to brush them off with)… but that they are people that also seek out new and provocative experiences, or different ways of experiencing a game.
This is my way of saying that I’m tired of brushing off gamers or being afraid of them. Things have changed. The angry or borderline violent reactions to how different my older work was just don’t seem like a realistic thing to expect anymore.

I have to admit that I was inspired by hearing how the creator of Journey talked about the creative vision that went into it during a MoMA event. Journey was based on giving gamers a different way to interact with each other, and in doing so it required a faith that people are good at heart… otherwise such interaction would not be interesting or even possible in the game.
I would like to embrace that type of maturity for BlueSuburbia.
It is interesting to me too how, when I was at my literal lowest during the entire two years of the Kotaku ordeal, there were a lot of gamers that reached out to help too. They cared too. I have to wonder how much of my own perception of that crowd was influenced by me having some bad experiences that were then fueled by negative attitudes toward the idea of “gamers”. Sometimes you write groups of people off to protect yourself, but when that’s no longer necessary how much of that actually starts hurting you?
If you step back and think about it, it seems unfortunate that game developers would be so afraid of their audience. I know that there is a lot of toxicity (I’ve had my share!), but there’s a lot of good too. I would rather embrace the good and build on that.
I suppose working on this project has made me reassess a lot of negative stereotypes that I’ve built to protect myself with over the years. I would like to have faith that better is possible. It is worth giving a chance.

All that said, this is an early demo! The sequence of things in the demo are enough for the narrative setup to introduce you to the world, as well as hint at your “goal” while you journey through it.

(^ a playthrough of the original Flash version)

The original BlueSuburbia was filled with poetry that you experience via different environments the poems were based in. This will stay true to that, but also introduce an actual story (with a goal). You will then be able to follow either of these.
The story itself is based on my experiences of fighting for my life in the game space, because of how game journalism treated my sexual assault story. I do believe there is a lot to be said about how people feel owed the spectacle of someone’s pain, and how those hurt the most are stigmatized because they were hurt… mixed with society’s inclination to reward abusive people. That itself is good grounds for horror. I’m working on turning that into fiction. The demo gives an initial impression of this.

There is a very large open world space that I was building. It didn’t make it into the demo because it will take a lot more time. This space will be the home of the poetry and the opening for the journey through the “horror” story. I’m doing it this way becasue I realize that the actual horror story will be quite triggering so leaving people with the option of staying in the open world forever (to experience the poetry realms) OR you can go down the route of going through hell… seems like a good compromise. This way fans of the old BlueSuburbia can still experience it in this new context, without the journey.

Going forward…

I have a lot of feedback that I can act on now. I will refine the demo with this. Once that is done I will put the (new) polished demo on Steam.
I also need to come up with a trailer and website for it… So I’ll be stepping back from development and focussing on the presentation and PR part of it.
There’s a lot to do… so much… but I’m releaved that I can finally show something to people. It’s been a long time coming.

Alpha Beta Gamer posted about it too by the way! They said that:

It’s a mystifying, confusing, stunning and captivating game that does a great job of taking short form writing and placing it in environments that really elevate the experience. A powerful and poignant poetic experience well worth diving into.