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Hellblade – One journey comes to an end, and another begins


As one journey ends, the next one begins, and I couldn't be more excited. The final Ninja Theory developer diary for Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice is here, and right now I am climbing into her pixelated skin, and together we are confronting the demons of our combined soul.

I've covered almost every dev diary, starting with the first one in September 2014; “Hellblade's female lead – a character of beauty, anger, and history.” Ninja Theory's incredible journey with Hellblade seeped into my mind and lodged itself there for almost three years. In a way, it feels like I've already played the game on some level. I feel I know Senua, that I at least partially understand the madness that drives her sacrifice. I am fascinated by the technique Ninja Theory used to capture Melina Juergens who plays Senua in the game; it could be something we've not yet seen in gaming, VR, and film.

Then there's the new approach to how they've used sound in the game, how it will change and morph interactively so the player can hear the world as interpreted through Senua's mind. For me, the biggest drawing card is to play a video game through the lens of mental illness. It's something I am passionate about, and I believe as an interactive medium that games should be used more to elicit empathy and spark understanding for complex human conditions. Art, after all, has been used for centuries to take the mind and heart to places that mere words otherwise offend or shut down.

I am fully aware of the fact that I am entirely biased towards Hellblade, and that games almost always deliver less than hype, but I've already explained that topic in detail in “Why you need to support games like Hellblade.”

In Ninja Theory's final developer diary, they take us through their journey with Hellblade – and it's been their own private, 'hell.' It's the first game they funded and developed completely independently. “Fear and desperation can set in, but you have to keep reminding yourself that there's no point in finishing a game unless it's the game you intended to make,” says Game Director, Tameem Antoniades. From the start, they promised players an AAA gaming experience, while severely cutting the budget. They definitely already delivered on the cost size, as the game falls well below triple A price; R319 / £25 / $30 for PC and R475 / £25 / $30 for PS4.

Hellblade is also Ninja Theory's first game for the PlayStation 4 Pro and high-end PC's – meaning; it has to be able to run at a proper framerate (60fps on the Pro), and at 4K resolution – across multiple graphics cards. The game also supports 20 languages with subtitles and from what we've seen so far from gameplay and screenshots, it could be one of the most impressive-looking gaming worlds ever created.

“The list of areas you have to polish seems endless; combat, traversal, puzzles, animation, cinematics, audio design, music, v-effects, story,” continues Antoniades. “It just goes on and on and feels overwhelming, but you have to keep your cool. Focus on one area, polish it, move on to the next, focus, polish, and you just keep going until you can't go anymore.” According to Antoniades, Sony especially has a very tough checklist games have to meet before it's approved for PlayStation distribution. Hellblade succeeded only after the third and final submission; otherwise, they would've missed the shipment date.

One of Ninja Theory's core motivations behind creating Hellblade the way they did, was to have absolute freedom to create a game that would push their creative abilities, and reflect the vision in their hearts. It might not appeal to everyone, and it doesn't have to. “We hope to prove that the industry still has room for developers like us, who want to make smaller, more creatively-driven high-end games in genres that AAA publishers have abandoned.”

And so it ends, only to begin anew.

Hellblade Senua's Sacrifice releases today for PC, PlayStation Pro, and PlayStation 4.

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Han Cilliers

Han Cilliers

Lola puts the cobalt back in all things blue. An active, but odd master of the unorthodox, with more than three decades of sore thumbs under her belt. Oh cat! Writer at Glitched Africa
Han Cilliers
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