The Far Future of Simulation
Simulation games have been going through something of a renaissance over the last decade, and, with this renewed boost in excitement for the genre, most titles have polarized themselves towards one of two extremes. On one side, realistic simulators like Euro Truck Simulator and Microsoft Flight Simulator continue to bring players into incredibly detailed, realistic depictions of their subject matter. On the other end of the spectrum, farcical titles like Bread Simulator and Goat Simulator invite players to revel in the absurdity of their parody. Interestingly, SuchArt: Genius Artist Simulator developer Voolgi’s art simulation game, plays equally to both sides of the simulation genre, providing players with the tools and depth required to make truly interesting pieces while also not being afraid to dive into the absurd.
I didn’t really expect much of a plot in SuchArt, and, if I knew ahead of time that there would be one, I wouldn’t have expected what’s there. Not content to simply drop the player in an artist’s studio and let them get to painting, the game actually sets up some backstory for why the player is able to paint (and make so much money doing it). The game takes place in a far fictional future, and, in this future, quite a few things have changed since our present day. First, humanity has made contact with crab-like aliens that might want to invade Earth for its saltwater. This really doesn’t affect the narrative setup, but it does make for some funny art requests from the little guys that are trying to learn more (or make money off) human culture. Furthermore, robots have started to take over basically all human tasks, including art. It turns out, it seems, that machines are very good at spitting out massive amounts of art incredibly quickly, so humans just kind of give up on it. Despite this, the player character, by virtue of a genetic test at birth, has shown rare artistic inclination, and is sent up to the International Space City to produce great works. Does this setup really matter or go anywhere important? No, but it’s lighthearted and funny, and it sets up a pretty cool art studio with a view from the stars.
Painting With Freedom
Narrative setup aside, players will, of course, be spending most of their time in SuchArt painting, and I was impressed with both the creative options made available and the speed at which I got used to painting with my computer mouse. Upon first starting the game, I was actually a bit overwhelmed and underwhelmed at the same time, though my worry didn’t last long. A lot is thrown at the player right away, with only rudimentary explanations for how the game works. I didn’t expect the experience to be as sand-boxy as it is, and I quickly found my loft studio trashed with no easy way to clean up. At the same time, players aren’t given a terribly large number of tools to work with right away. While this ended up being a blessing in disguise that let me learn the ins and outs of my options as I acquired more resources, I wasn’t used to having to unlock supplies in an art game. Fret not, though; the artistic tool options are plentiful, and everything starts to make much more sense after an hour or so.
Actually putting paint to canvas feels a lot better than I expected it to, and the paint physics are some of the best I’ve seen outside of VR titles. Even with only the few brushes, spray paint, and roller that I started with, I found myself able to create recognizable works that weren’t too terrible. More challenging is actually managing the paint before it’s used. Paint is dispensed via a few different machines, and the pallets and buckets that hold it operate with fairly realistic physics. More than once I spilled my paint carrying a bucket from the paint machine to my canvas, and I knocked over more than a few pallets trying to set other things down. It was initially frustrating, but as I learned how things interact and unlocked better cleaning and space management options, I was able to maintain a pretty solid workflow and tidy studio. This became important as my tool options opened up, including things like blenders, scrapers, flamethrowers, and even pain-filled water guns.
Bringing Home the Bacon
As one might expect, Choosing what to paint in SuchArt is just as open as how to paint it. In the game, there are two main ways to make money. The first, and the one I recommend doing (at least first) is to take commissions from the in-studio computer. Different people (and not people) will frequently send in requests, each with a proposed price and subject matter. These range from super specific desires to general tools or emotions, but most of them let the player work with the same patron over the course of a few pieces of work, working through some enjoyable back-and-forth banter. This is the quickest way to make cash, but players can also choose to paint whatever they’d like and sell it on the open market, which takes longer but allows for more creative freedom. Of course, to split the difference, the option always exists to take commissions and still do whatever you’d like. While some requests have easily verifiable elements to check off (like “use X number of colors or tools”) the game doesn’t really have a way to know or just if you’re actually painting what the patron wants you to paint. It’s not the immersive option, but it’s an option.
After spending my time with SuchArt I found myself thinking much more fondly of it than I expected. It’s difficult to walk the line between a serious creative tool and a humorous pseudo-parody of simulators, but it’s done wonderfully here being both funny and technically rewarding. Walking through my virtual gallery, I was able to see tangible improvement in my work, and that’s a pretty cool feeling to get from a game like this. While I never really got totally comfortable painting with my mouse, this is still one of the better flatscreen art games out there. I’m left with only one request: can we please get it for VR?
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Walks the line well between being a serious tool and a parody, includes more narrative and dialogue than I expected from an art game, and has lots of artistic tools that allow for impressive creations.
While I got used to the controls eventually, painting with a mouse never feels totally natural.