Platonic Partnership is not your everyday game studio.
Founded last year by a graphic novelist, a non-fiction writer, a film composer and a short-film enthusiast turned startup coach, the Ostrobothnia, Finland-based game studio is a big believer in the appeal and power of storytelling and unorthodox visual elements.
“We create narrative experiences, to put it shortly,” retorts Jussi Loukiainen, a co-founder and chief executive of Platonic Partnership. “We approach game development as if we were making a film or animation. Our primary focus is on the story, and we create the functionalities and other game-like elements around it.”
The end results fall into the genre of visual novels – but only barely, according to Loukiainen.
“We ended up going with the genre because it tells that the primary focus is not on game-like elements but rather on the story. But even that isn’t a perfect fit for us. We’re always trying to disrupt and introduce new elements,” he explains. “We don’t want to be confined too much by any genre.”
Bold debut, even bolder follow-up
Platonic Partnership also demonstrated its preparedness to address sensitive social issues with its bold, critically acclaimed debut, Lydia, a story-driven adventure game that delivers a grim portrayal of substance abuse through the eyes of its eponymous young heroine.
The game garnered rave reviews – full of offbeat adjectives such as bleak, gloomy and stark – and resulted in its creator being selected as the Finnish Game Developer of the Year 2017.
Loukiainen interprets the nomination as evidence that the game industry is maturing and shifting its attention away from mechanics towards content.
“Lydia is a game that doesn’t necessarily offer too many new features in terms of actual gameplay, but its innovativeness is related to how it deals with the story and introduces a new theme and approach to a sensitive subject,” he tells. “We’ll introduce new technical solutions with our other projects.”
Platonic Partnership is determined to push the envelope even further with its sophomore game, King of Peasants.
Loukiainen reveals the game has been described in-house as a storytelling game – a genre that does not actually exist – and will employ humour as a stylistic device to create a contrast to the gloom and melancholy of Lydia. Also, it will deal with serious topical issues such as racism, hate speech and social media but in a manner that is not overpowering, he assures.
“It’ll be bit like a Pixar film: all kinds of audiences will be able to enjoy it,” summarises Loukiainen.
Lydia and King of Peasants are alike also in that neither requires players to pour hours and hours into it.
“It’s game-specific, but one of the major defining factors is that we want to offer games to people who’d like to play games with profound themes but don’t have the time. It’s a challenge to deliver meaningful gaming experiences that are not only about mechanical gameplay but also storytelling in 10 minutes,” he says. “But that’s what makes this so interesting.”
The games are therefore a means to both appeal to a distinct new audience and reach out to a demographic of gamers who otherwise might not be inclined to contemplate issues such as substance abuse.
A storytelling renaissance
Loukiainen believes storytelling, on the whole, is poised to make a resurgence in the game industry.
“The game industry is cyclical just like any other industry. Storytelling has been slightly overlooked in recent years, but now it’s starting to re-emerge. Many independent firms are focused on stories, also here in Finland. There’s about to be a storytelling renaissance,” he predicts.
With trends such as e-sports and gamification simultaneously making games increasingly popular and widely accepted as both entertainment and, for example, educational tools, the future seems bright for a game developer with a knack for creating compelling narratives and the courage to tackle sensitive social topics.
“As a small and agile firm, we’re able to support the expertise of our graphic designer and allow him to use the same storytelling techniques he does in his graphic novels and introduce them seamlessly to games. That’s unprecedented in the market,” tells Loukiainen.
“We strive to innovate in terms of both storytelling and mechanics. We combine traditional games and animation in a way that has not been seen before,” he adds. “That’s our thing.”