The Simple Genius Behind The Messenger- Indie Game DLC Review
Finding the New in the Now
There have been times when playing video games felt like simply repeating the same adventure over and over again. I’m not complaining, but one can only jump on so many platforms before the game is compared to Mario Bros. or Sonic the Hedgehog. As the video game industry heads into its 4th decade of mainstream influence, many of the newer indie titles are beginning to look like games from the NES and SNES eras; changing very little to give players a new and unique experience. Of course, there is “nothing new under the sun,” so creative IPs will always bear a little resemblance to past titles, but some are able to do it much better than others.
As most post-emo hipster coffee addicts are, I tend to pick up on cultural movements at my own pace (I’m still listening to Journey as if the band just hit the scene). That is why I recently picked up on a little indie gem called The Messenger, which for lack of better words, knocked me out of my Chuck Taylors. The game is absolutely delightful; it was able to take something that was clearly influenced by Ninja Gaiden and make it new and exciting. Along with its recent DLC, Picnic Panic, The Messenger can easily be considered one of the best indie titles around. Why is that even the case? Was Sabotage Studios able to tap into some sort of creative sweet-spot that others just can’t replicate?
Sort of. There is a hidden genius behind this game, and it all revolves around the title’s lead writer, Thierry Boulanger. He is the mind behind everything that is The Messenger, and it was his unique perspective on games that helped to create this wonderful little indie.
The Messenger at a Glance
Before we look at the creative minds behind the game, it is first important to look at the game itself. The Messenger is a 2D platformer that takes place on a distant island where a demonic army has been ravaging the human populace for generations. During every 500-year cycle, a new hero arrives to carry a sacred scroll to the top of a mountain. This prevents the demons from returning during that cycle. That currier is the Messenger, and it is his or her job to ensure the future of mankind.
Tasked to deliver the scroll, you are a ninja student living on the edge of the island. Throughout your journey, you will encounter new and outlandish characters who will not only provide a welcome source of humor, but also a wide array of challenges. Each level starts as a linear experience, but the game eventually transforms into a sprawling Metroidvania. Not only that, but it begins by being in an 8-bit format and then morphs into a 16-bit experience that will switch back and forth through the game. The Messenger is a new approach to an antiquated game-style, and it works very, very well!
Taking It All In
Thierry Boulanger is a fascinating individual with a rich past in working with “odd” and unique projects. Never one to turn down an interview, Boulanger is recorded on hours upon hours of audio and video clips relating what brought about The Messenger. One interview, in particular, provided an amazing look into the man’s beginnings as a gaming fan and developer. Most of what I will relate to you came from a Duel Screen Postcast, which aired on July 29th. In it, the hosts interview Boulanger and pick his brain about his past, present, and future. The insights gained from this interview reveal the core genius behind the game that would eventually become The Messenger.
As a native Canadian growing up in the ’90s, Thierry Boulanger grew up in the golden age of video games. One of his earliest gaming memories was of his grandfather bringing a large bag of NES titles home to surprise him. Thierry only got to choose six games, and guess what one of those games was?
That’s right, Ninja Gaiden. That particular game stuck in his mind for years. When he grew old enough to attend college, he decided to go into game development. After a few years of working for various companies, including having a hand in the development of Skylanders, Odd World, and even some mobile titles, Boulanger finally had the experience and contacts needed to create his first ninja-inspired game. Thus The Messenger and Sabotage Studios was born. Though his origin story as a developer may sound very similar to many others, Boulanger utilized one key ingredient that other indie developers rarely use when entering the scene…
Let me explain. Boulanger was not content with creating a game that had the same cookie-cutter mechanics as other titles. Every game featured jumping and attacking. Making a title that offers the same experience would be less than desirable for the player. He wanted to make a ninja game that reminded people of the good ‘ol platformers of yesteryear, but also added new aspects to the genre. In The Messenger, a new technique called the “cloud step” replaces the typical double jump. Boulanger explains that this mechanic rewards players for thinking about their next move. It requires the player to attack an object in order to activate their double jump. This is a new mechanic that adds a spin on a very familiar video game troupe, thus adding familiarity while retaining a unique quality.
The Messenger is filled with these “rehashed mechanics,” including a familiar who not only follows you but eats up your currency as a penalty for dying. There is a smart-mouthed shop keeper who turns out to be incredibly important to the story. And let’s not forget 8-to-16 bit mechanic that adds so much depth to this game that you would swear that it was two separate titles rolled into one.
Moving Past Mediocrity
The devil is truly in the details when it comes to The Messenger. Those details were not created through lazy or lackadaisical game design. Boulanger admits that this game took him years to develop. Once it was complete, however, he began working on other titles that are found within the same universe. After he and his team hammered out all the details in The Messenger, it only took them 8 months to develop the DLC for the game. As one last act of excellence, Boulanger and Sabotage released the free DLC in July of this year. It was a personal “thank you” to the fans. This is a simple gesture for a great group of developers that capture what it truly means to be “indie.”
For those of you who are indie developers yourselves, I hope that you will take a page from Sabotage’s book and strive for excellence in a sea of mediocrity. The Messenger proves that it doesn’t take high-end graphics or thousands of coders to create a great game. All it takes is patience, ingenuity, and a passion for the craft. Who knows, maybe you will create the next “big thing.”
I am a husband, father, pastor, teacher, gamer, writer, cat lover, and Steampunk gentleman. I like my coffee as black as night, so hold the creamer…