If you imagined the game an ex-Pixar animator would make, you might not expect an old-fashioned shoot 'em up (aka a shmup), but that's exactly what's happening over at developer Keelworks. This three-person development team is taking the genre and adding some serious Pixar flair to the graphics, to create Cygni: All Guns Blazing.
Arriving at some point next year initially for PC - although the developers are also hoping to launch on PS5 and Xbox Series X eventually - Cygni isn't your average shoot 'em up. It comes with the visual quality that you'd more expect to see from an AAA developer, not a small two-person development team, and that's what makes it stand out.
"The art was key for us. We wanted to focus on that," explains Meher Kalenderian, cofounder of developer KeelWorks. "Nareg, my brother, and his partner Helen [the two developers actually making Cygni] come from a film and animation background. Nareg worked for Pixar, Helen worked on various feature films, and Nareg also worked on Hollywood films as a visual effects artist."
A new generation
However, when it came to making games, neither Nareg nor Helen knew anything about it but decided to learn thanks to the accessibility of the Unreal Engine. Meher states that the trio decided to try and start a games business just at the right time, at a point where it became much easier for non-programmers to be able to develop games.
"My brother was always looking at it from a different perspective: How can I introduce high-quality art without being a AAA company, and without having a high budget? Or without having any budget?" explains Meher.
"Our aspiration was that we want to make sure we offer something different to the genre. But because we respect the genre, we want to keep all the best elements of the Cave shmup – the traditional arcade-style, and to keep that spirit there."
So what they've ended up with is Cygni: All Guns Blazing. A shoot 'em up game with a difference, a focus on producing literal Pixar-level graphics that put a spin on what you expect from a game like this. Many in the genre have tried it before, and titles like Resogun spring to mind, but the seamless transitions between cutscene and gameplay in this genre definitely have more of a cinematic flair than I'd usually expect.
"There's a reason why I saw we want to revive the genre," says Meher. "While we respect Cave games, we think they have a limited capacity… and can be seen as impenetrable."
Instead, the Cgyni team are hoping to hook people in with the cinematics of their top-down shooter that may otherwise pass some players by, and hopefully might inspire what Meher calls the "fire that we had in ourselves playing these games when we were kids".
"Anybody who has lived in the late '70s and '80s and '90s, there was no choice but to play shmups," laughs Meher. "So that's what we grew up playing. We played Life Force and Braden. We played OverKill and Raptor. These were a part of our lives, and we chose this genre because of nostalgia and because we wanted to do something that contributed towards this genre."
For Cyngi, there's as much focus on the game's story as there is on the graphics and bullet-hell gameplay. On the titular planet Cyngi, humans have been benefitting from an ancient technology it discovered in ruins left behind by an unknown civilization. The Cygni Force is tasked with protecting and policing the planet from the various threats that plague it, and you play as one of their pilots who's flying when a powerful bio-mechanical alien threat emerges and attacks the colony. The Cygni Forces find themselves as the last line of defence, with reinforcements too far away to be of any help.
"You're the last ship on that planet," explains Meher. "You're outnumbered, and you need to save your ship, and your forces with you."
With 10 levels each with a variety of landscapes to explore, it sounds like there will be plenty of visual variety to accompany those glorious good looks. Plus, with huge boss battles to contend with - as you'll have seen in the Future Games Show gameplay footage that you can watch below - ranging from strange biomechanical creatures to underwater predators, there's plenty to contend with when the game eventually launches on PC sometime in 2021.