Recently, publisher Wired Productions unveiled its own ‘Direct’ in which it revealed a sizeable number of games, five of which are coming to Nintendo Switch. One that caught the eye, in part because its teaser was also visually arresting and rather vague, was The Last Worker.
As a concept it’s intriguing. The setting is clearly post-apocalyptic, with a worker shown to be surrounded by a dystopian environment and a fearful machine. The ‘warehouse’ setting that’s been cited certainly brings to mind current day affairs around mega corporations like Amazon, with machines and automation increasingly phasing out workers. There’s serious pedigree in the development team too, and having spoken to creative lead Jörg Tittel to learn more, it’s certainly left us eager to see what the title will bring to Nintendo’s system.
Tittel himself has enjoyed a career across the arts, from theatre to video games, to film, TV and most recently back to games. As co-founder of Oiffy he has producer credits across artistic mediums, and his fascination with creativity of all types goes back to a childhood that broke down walls from one artform to the next.
It’s interesting, for me as a kid born and raised in Brussels, I’m half German, half Polish. I’m like some weird Pokémon if you combine them together. I was in a particularly boring part of Belgium outside of Brussels, surrounded by farmland. So, video games very quickly became my thing, as was watching countless movies. And my mom is a composer, she would write really beautiful film music, so being around musicians, artists and storytellers was something that I felt very much at home in, and games took me places, you know? I felt that especially when the graphics weren’t trying to mimic realism yet. So you have to read between the pixels. I love that. I could fill in those gaps, and I could add onto those pixels and add my own imagination on top, and I felt, wow, that is the future of storytelling.
Describing himself as a “SEGA kid” and seemingly with a knowledge of retro gaming that could see him hold his own against most enthusiasts, Tittel has a lifetime of blending mediums that itself comes with some amusing tales. Such as a childhood of earning pocket money by sending cheat codes to a German gaming magazine after seeing them in Famitsu months before those games were localised. Using that tale to then fund his study of theatre at New York University by getting into games journalism, before working at Treyarch on a Minority Report game and hustling to get an early look at the movie script.
Then there’s a tale that goes to the very heart of Tuttel’s artistic outlook, and how it was met with resistance as he built his career in Los Angeles.
I’ve actually had meetings with people in places like Jerry Bruckheimer’s offices, and I was talking about: “I want to make movies and games together, and share assets across from one medium to the other, and develop them at the same time, have the same creative team, dream up the movie and the game at the same time.” I was actually inside Jerry “I call the Pentagon if I need extras” Bruckheimer’s office, accused of being a megalomaniac.
Storytelling, creativity and immersion are clearly at the heart of what Tittel wants to achieve with The Last Worker, and believes that the games industry has not only earned its place at the highest tables, but can set standards. Partly it’s business, as the “film industry looks up at the game industry because the game industry makes more money”, but also through what’s being achieved creatively. Not always necessarily through games that strive so outwardly for narrative or emotional impact, or even gritty realism, but titles that can draw us in through sheer power of vision.
You have games like Celeste which will move you more than anything else, even though there are no realistic faces on screen. You play and you die a thousand times and you cry tears of frustration and joy, and also empathy, with this strange little pixel character. And that’s exciting, because now we have the Spielbergs of the game world right now, making, working with small teams and with distinct singular visions. I think we’ve arrived.
Video games can also attract multi-skilled teams, far from the days of ‘bedroom coders’ in the early ’80s. In this case, Mike McMahon is on-board to drive the art style of the game, producing work that’ll then be reimagined through development. McMahon is highly regarded in the graphic novel scene, with work in franchises such as Batman and Judge Dredd — among many others — on his CV.
The primary developer on the project is Wolf & Wood, a studio with an impressive history in VR development. Tittel immediately formed a strong connection with studio lead Ryan Bousfield, realising that the company’s work in VR would be a boon as the project came together.
With Ryan I felt like: “he gets it. He just gets it.” And he’s brilliant because he made his first game completely by himself. A Chair In A Room was literally made by him sitting in a chair in a room. Actually, he has a standing desk so it’s a bit of a lie. Don’t believe everything on the packaging. But he made that sat, partially. The graphics, the music, the code, the shaders, everything in the game. And that got him the attention of John Carmack, and people at Oculus. He also had a Vive launch title with that, actually. So, with him, instantly, it was a meeting of minds, and he’s just an absolute joy to work with. His team is fantastic, he’s assembled a team of people who also very much like him are multi-talented, multi-skilled, everyone sort of knows how to dig in there and take ownership of their work, so it’s a real pleasure.
The other thing that it does also from a technological point of view, that you have to be extra lean, you can’t just throw everything at the screen because if that thing doesn’t run at a minimum of 72 frames a second per eyeball, people will vomit. So that’s a huge framerate. People are constantly going: “That game is running at a constant 30 frames a second. Docked at 60 frames…” you know? And you’re going: “Whoa, hey, well done” [Slow claps]. And that’s for a single screen.
Its fair to say that Switch owners have dealt with their fair share of sub-par ports, as developers struggle to grapple with the reality of working on a mobile chipset alongside relative console monsters like PS4 / Xbox One and now PS5 / Xbox Series X. Yet the teaser trailer is, we’re assured, running in the game engine; more importantly, the first platform the game is being optimised for is the Oculus Quest. That matters because it is an untethered VR system, so it is essentially a mobile device. With the developers making a game and engine that’ll run at a high framerate on a mobile chipset for VR, that’ll make the transition to Nintendo Switch easier.