Devolver Digital is known for its eccentric indie games. Both Gato Roboto and My Friend Pedro are a decent sampling of its general taste in the games it helps put out. Silly, violent, and gamey ass video games are what the publisher is known for, which is why Gris stuck out so much at PAX. Yes, it’s coming to the Switch and PC like most other games, but it’s also a gorgeous platformer with a dash of Journey with nary an ounce of blood or combo multiplier. But for what it didn’t have in mechanical complexity, it made up for in sheer beauty.
It’s hard to understate how lovely Gris looks. Each environment looked like a watercolor album cover from that indie band you’ve never heard of, wrapped in a simple style and draped in bright colors, which is ironic given that “gris” means “gray” in Spanish. While it may strike you as something out of Olly Moss’ notebook, it’s actually from Spanish artist Conrad Roset, the creative art director on the project.
Just one look at his Instagram page immediately evokes the art found in the and shows how faithfully his work was translated into the game. It’s full of pieces that look like they were taken straight from Gris although the opposite is probably true. Senior Artist Ari Cervelló Polo described how the team would take Roset’s ideas and implement them into the game.
“He has his ideas and does a few pieces of concept art,” she said. “You can see how it’s going to go in the game. So I have a reference, more or less, of what he wanted to do. What I do is look for a lot of documentation and a lot of references. And not only video games, but also art, illustration, and maybe a movie, TV show, or sculpture. Then with this, we make concepts and talk about what’s good and not good.”
Gris Preview: A Look Inside the Journey
Cervelló Polo described how the the team looked for inspiration from Ghibli movies as well as Journey, Limbo, Inside, and other similar titles. Given the how vivid the game looks and how fluidly it moves, that’s not surprising. And those concepts helped shape how the game looks today. But it started as something much more simple and grew into the bigger idea we see today.
“Conrad always wanted to do a game that started with no color at all; only a line and black and white,” said Cervelló Polo. “The main idea was you are adding colors to the world with the watercolors. That was the first idea. Then with the co-founders, Roger Mendoza and Adrián Cuevas, they did the history around this concept of adding colors to the world.”
Gris Preview: Platforming Without Pressure
While the demo did not show the progression from black and white to color, it has seemed to progress into a platformer. Death and failure is not an option in Gris. Jumping derives its challenge from simple timing puzzles and gathering small orbs to progress. During the demo, I eventually got the ability to super jump near butterflies and the ability to turn into a dense cube. It sounds like an odd power, but it came in handy in the later sections when that jackass bird was trying to push me off the platform.
It wasn’t particularly difficult, nor was that the point. The basic platforming controlled well but felt more like the conduit necessary to deliver the full experience to the player. The lovely visuals. The soothing soundtrack by indie artist Berlinist. The silent narrative about loss. I was more taken by all of these aspects combined than I was over the lack of Guacamelee-like death gauntlets. The platforming was serviceable for the type of game that it is and, while its simplicity might end up being the gameplay’s downfall, it can hopefully stay fresh by continuing to add new abilities and challenges.
All of its disparate aspects only slightly touch on why the Spain-based Nomada Studio set out to develop this title. It’s the developer’s debut title that is probably different than what you’d expect a bunch of former Ubisoft and Square Enix employees to make. And not to say that Ubisoft and Square Enix don’t create art, but the Nomada Studio believes that video games can do more and touch people in a way that other creative works have been doing for centuries.
“It’s an experience. The art and music are made for you to have an experience and it’s not only to distract you from other things but to learn a little bit about yourself.” said Cervelló Polo. “The main inspiration was that we believe that video games are also art.”
And, just by looking at Gris, it’s hard to argue against that.