Mechanically, To Leave is a very simple game, requiring players to hop from one safe location to another, avoiding hazards along the way. What elevates it beyond those mechanics, at least in my very brief experience with it, is its bold art style and soundscape. A simple platformer becomes the story of a young man escaping from the misery of his life, desperately clinging to a door as it flies through a bizarre dream world. There's no telling if that will be enough to carry a full game, but it makes for a very good first impression (watch the trailer if you haven't already).
For Estefano Palacios, To Leave is much more than the sum of its parts. Palacios is creative director of Ecuadorian studio Freaky Creations and, for him, To Leave is a shot at earning respect for Latin American games and developers. To Leave is headed to PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 4 as part of an incubation program that Sony instituted to court Latin American developers. Palacios believes – and Sony agrees, it would seem – that the region deserves more recognition.
Speaking with Joystiq at GDC, Sony account manager Mike Foster, who is in charge of the incubation program, tells me it came to be in 2007. A member of Sony's developer support group, who happens to be Guatemalan, wanted to "explore the developer landscape in Latin America," says Foster, "because nobody really knows what's going on down there. It's quiet."
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To Leave (3/21/14)
The incubation program took a couple of years to get get off the ground, he says. Sony began testing the waters by publishing a handful of Latin American games as PlayStation Minis, including WackyLands Boss from Costa Rican studio Fair Play Labs, and Freekscape from Brazilian studio Kidguru.
"Those were kind of the first baby steps," Foster says.
When the program began, around 20 developers had been seeded with PlayStation 2 and PSP development kits. These developers were given access to Sony's developer support website with "no requirements, no commitments." Developers that produced good concepts could then "graduate" from the incubation program to become licensed PlayStation developers, free to pursue contracts with publishers or self-publishing through Sony. In 2012, Foster became an account manager dedicated to Latin America. Now Sony is seeding PS3 and PlayStation Vita developer kits, though the basics of the program haven't changed, Foster says. PS4 kits are also being distributed in situations where it "makes sense."
"We're looking for companies who are doing some cool stuff on PC or mobile, and they want to make the jump to console, and we're just trying to remove those initial barriers." That includes things like the cost of development kits. Just receiving the kits can be troublesome for Latin American studios, he says, as they must be shipped through different countries and clear customs. In fact, Foster used GDC as a means of hand-delivering development kits to Latin American developers, eliminating part of the hassle. Prior to our meeting, he personally delivered a PS4 development kit to Palacios.
Even with Sony offering so much assistance to Latin American developers, Foster says they aren't beholden to the company. "We don't demand exclusivity from our developers in the incubation program. We understand that they have business needs, and they need to meet those business needs to keep their studios functioning and going." Of course, Foster admits that the goal of the program is to see "great games" on PlayStation consoles.
Having started with around 20 developers, the program has expanded to "about a 100," Foster says. "Brazil is a huge territory. Colombia is a huge territory. There are a lot of developers there, and they're getting support from the government which really helps them there." Out of the 100, Foster said 35 are located in Brazil. "And the number, it's continuing to grow. I have a lot more people in the queue."
We certainly want to promote these games, especially if they end up being console exclusives, of course. But, even if not, they're going to still have opportunities to be on PlayStation Blog, be a part of PlayStation Plus if they want to do that." Being shown at consumer-friendly gaming events like PAX and IndieCade is possible as well, he says.
"I've given a couple of talks down in Latin America, and one of the things I talk about is, you know, you can look at a game coming out of Japan and know it's a Japanese game. European games have a certain technical look to them, right? And I was wondering if there's going to be a certain style that you're going to see from different countries in Latin America. Are Brazilian games going to have a certain look or feel, or is the music going to be [presented in] a specific way?"
If the incubation program really gets its legs, it should help the world find out.