Video Games

Why Sam Barlow Is Designing ‘Mental Metroidvanias’

“It is sometimes mind-boggling that 90% of the games, an important and popular workhorse of our medium, revolve around remotely controlling a small toy figure like a human scale Rex Trick. Well, it’s written on a Martian postcard.”

that is Sam Barlow tweetFounder of Half Mermaid and director of Immority. Immortality itself was rated in three categories: Best Game Direction, Best Performance (Manon Gage as Marissa Marcel), and Best Story. All three were worthy of nominations, but Immortality is an interesting contender – even one glance at its fellow contenders in any of the three categories immediately reveals how Immortality differs from its competitors. It has come to the fore.

Frankly, every other game it’s played against (and the majority of every other award nominee) is about “remote-controlling a little toy person.” Immortality is not.

answer any questions If I do not Game Possibilities and Methods If I do not Allowing players to express themselves has been part of Barlow’s mission throughout his career, especially in games like Her Story, Telling Lies, and now Immortality.

All three games tell stories and encourage player expression. This does not ask you to control a person in space, but simply reveals a specific object using various kinds of search functions (search for keywords, select objects, sort clips). Instead, it creates an underlying story, but effectively builds what that story thinks for itself.

In an interview with IGN the morning after The Game Awards, Barlow compared these works to the Metroid games, but they involve spiritual exploration rather than spatial ones.

“Exploring is really cool for me,” he says. “As a hunter-gatherer, I naturally enjoy exploring and being curious. It’s about taking the part and putting it into this big giant video and story. [Metroid] The game takes you back and gives you the ability to unlock new tiers of different locations and things. No matter where you are, you create this very vivid mental map of the planet.And it becomes more realistic and more interesting. Build a mental map, make connections, and start revisiting clips. “

As you play my game, you build a mental map of the story and start making connections.


Barlow admits his tweet about piloting the little guy was a response to Game Award nominations becoming saturated with such games. But the idea also came loosely at a time when the code was pouring in for various other judges such as DICE and BAFTA. There are types of games that deserve top awards in the industry, he says. “A decent and expensive game.” That his AAA world avoided his Barlow.

Of course, I can understand why all these “decent and expensive games” look like this. They’re part of the history of other small-guy-steering games that go back decades, each building on the success of the previous one. “If your game takes three to five years to make and is very expensive, whether you’re pitching someone or you’re in an in-house studio… you know someone’s going to spend a dollar. We have to streamline, we made a ton of cash on this game,” says Barlow.

Still, Barlow has actively opposed that “type” for most of his career. Even when he was working on his character-driven 3D games like Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, his goal was to defy convention as much as possible.

“At that point, the survival horror genre was very specific. When you were making a horror game, you expected to have health kits and ammo packs. We were collecting and we were solving these puzzles and things and it was very specific and when we made Shattered Memories we had a little window because it was for the Wii and at first everyone was excited about the Wii Because we were bringing all these new people in to play the games, and we thought all the games would sell as well as the Wii.Sports.

But it’s this huge new audience of normal people who have no idea what a horror game should be exactly like because they’ve never played Resident Evil or Alone in the Dark or anything like that It gave us a small rationale for having

“So when we were Martians and landed on Earth and watched all the horror movies and read all the horror books, like someone said, ‘Come on, make a video game out of this.’ , tried to push myself a little bit into everything.”

In fact, Barlow loves dozens of games that pilot little boys, even though he’s against it. who wouldn’t? He told us about his early development inspiration. Specifically, in his 1984 game called Deus Ex Machina, players follow the cycle of his life from one cell to a very old man, and all the sounds in the game are recorded as audio on his cassette. Separated and played with it.

He’s long been obsessed with immersive sims and misses how moving through space in games like Gone Home and the open-world scale of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild felt incredible. remember. He loves dishonor. And of course, he also worked on franchises like his Silent Hill and his Legacy of Kain.

“It’s very complicated to have a character walk around in space. Naturally, it’s fun, immersive, and engrossing,” he says. “It’s very atmospheric. But how much storytelling is actually coming out of this? And how much of an atmospheric effect is this?”

Having a character roam a space is naturally fun and immersive…but how much storytelling actually comes out of it?


Barlow’s clearly spent enough time pondering how much money and attention was put into the game about being a character in space. There are many other types of games out there, but few get the same kind of mainstream attention and funding as the likes of God of War and Elden Ring. So is it worthwhile for him to continue to question the status quo in his work?

“Do you look at it and say, ‘Oh, I can imagine different ways to do this,’ or, ‘I can imagine things that might be more interesting’? ‘ or ‘movies shouldn’t just be people acting in front of the camera’? And part of that comes from not being completely in it. I think [AAA] It’s about being a little bit on the indie side of things.

For now, Barlow has decided it’s still worth exploring. We also talked about how his plans after Immortal also include leaning into the action of every character, throwing in something unexpected or leaning very strongly in the opposite direction. . .

But in any case, Barlow’s optimism that his work occupies a growing space in the games industry suggests that experimentation on these themes that has existed for years at the indie level is slowly taking off. It’s certainly going up against traditional blockbuster games, though, and the utter lack of immortality in The Game Awards is proof of this. And hopefully that means more room for games that are similarly experimenting with form to grab mainstream attention.

Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. you can find her on her twitter @duck valentine.

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