How State of Play is bringing a new kind of craft to games

The studio’s founders discuss how screen-printing inspired its latest release, South of the Circle, and why games should move beyond glossy photo-real graphics

“We make stories that happen to be games,” says State of Play’s Katherine Bidwell, who set the studio up in 2008, together with Luke Whittaker. Over the course of six releases, the pair have introduced a uniquely tactile kind of craft to gaming. In award-winning adventure game Lumino City players journey through a game world made by hand from paper, wood and motors, while Kami challenges users to solve coloured-paper puzzles.

“I think visually, games have an aesthetic of their own … and we don’t find the overly produced glossy look of many games particularly attractive,” says Whittaker of the pair’s handcrafted approach. “You don’t get to see the creator in there, or any of the heart and soul. We’ve always tried to put as much of us into it as possible.”

For State of Play’s latest release South of the Circle – which tells the story of Peter, an academic fighting for survival in Antarctica – the studio turned to the time-honoured tradition of screen-printing. Not only has Whittaker been screen-printing for much of his life, he grew up surrounded by work created by his grandfather Ray Whittaker – who was also a keen screen-printer. The process of making prints, as well as the distinctive look of his grandad’s artwork, have all been major influences on the game.

“I’ve always been of the opinion that the least design is the best, and that you want just enough to say it – because it focuses people on what’s important” explains Whittaker. “You’ll find in this game that a lot of it is almost like a theatre set that’s lit very sparsely, so you focus on the characters and the extraneous stuff is gone.