GDC 2019 Hands-On IMPRESSIONS: Stela

Friday, March 29th, 2019

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Stela | Logo

Publisher(s): SkyBox Labs
Platform(s): Xbox One, PC (Steam)
Release Date: Late 2019
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In Stela, you play as a young woman who is seeing the last days of a mysterious and ancient world in a three-hour adventure. Developed by SkyBox Labs, the same studio who is co-creating Halo Infinite, Stela is an ID@Xbox title that tells its gameplay story with cinematic cutscenes in lieu of dialogue. For my hands-on experience with Stela, I was able to experience both the very beginning of the game and a snow level that takes place in the middle of the game.

Stela | Farm

Stela | Beetle

The first level of Stela takes place on what appears to be a farm. At first, the player is outside in the farmland, and then the gameplay shifts inside of a large barn…which ends with a giant beetle-like creature chasing the young woman. (Images courtesy of Skybox Labs).

The thing that is most obvious about Stela is that the game is simply gorgeous to look at. Stela’s animation style is something that is completely unique to itself, with the possible exception of the 2001 Cartoon Network series Samurai Jack. I found myself frequently looking all around the foreground and background of this dying world in order to drink in as many details as possible. The first level of the game takes place in a world that looked like it takes place on a farm. There, I had to do light platforming and solve puzzles in order to proceed as I transitioned first from the landscape and into a large barn. Every so often, I would have a ‘time clock’ in beetles chasing after me to kill me if I couldn’t solve the puzzle fast enough. There continued to be a puzzle motif of pushing objects and blocking passages to block the small beetles from attacking me in this level. After I cleared that level, I moved onto a snow-scape midway through the game that had strong blues, whites, and brown/grey color motifs. Here, there were creatures beneath the ice that would swarm towards me to kill me if I couldn’t avoid them or drive them away. I quickly found that the way to stop the underground ice creatures and drive them away was to ring a usually-conveniently placed gong through puzzle mechanics.

Stela | Snow

A level midway through the game takes place in the snow. As seen above, red ribbons indicate when the young woman can interact with part of the environment in Stela. (Images courtesy of SkyBox Labs).

Stela | Snow

In both areas of my all-to-brief Stela demo, objects that I could interact with were marked with bright red ribbons that stood out in stark contrast to the surrounding environment. This served to solve the common issue of ‘well, what can I interact with in the world?’ that frequently plagues cinematic puzzle platformers. The puzzles that I encountered in Stela weren’t that hard for me to solve, I just had a real issue with tearing my eyes away from the gamescape. Yes, this game is honestly that beautiful to stare at and enjoy. The platforming and environment interaction elements themselves control well also, and I didn’t feel like the controls were sluggish or poorly managed at all.

Stela | Swamp

SkyBox Labs has teased other areas that can be explored in Stela, including a swamp-like area in the image above. (Image courtesy of SkyBox Labs).

Overall, even this early on in development, Stela is proof that video games are art in much the same way that Journey and Flower by thatgamecompany are. For even though Stela is a silent title that relies upon the world around the young woman to tell its story, I cannot help but want to see more of it…and purchase the eventual art book that I hope will be released alongside this game.



Are you excited for Stela to come out? What do you think of the distinctive art styles that the game has in it?

Let us know in the comments below!

About Quentin H.

Likes pina coladas and getting caught in the rain. And video games. Cannot forget those video games. Anime too. Should not forget that either.