Saving the world, being the hero, fighting the good fight – it’s all well and good, but it’s not really representative, is it? It doesn’t show what life is or was really like for anyone.
Video games focus so heavily on the hero narrative; on players being the central cog in a vast machine of Good and Glory. It’s all a bit boring, really.
Landlord’s Super, meanwhile, plops you in a caravan, gives you a run-down ex-council house to renovate, and lets you nick cement from people’s gardens. Even now in (very) Early Access, it’s sublime.
Set in the fictional town of Sheffingham, Landlord’s Super paints a vivid picture of 1980s Britain: right-to-buy; Thatcher; an unerring sense of a general rumbling grievance with most facets of day-to-day life; grotty pubs and terrible beer.
It’s striking how real (and note this comes from a northerner who grew up in a poor northern town in the eighties and nineties) it all feels as you wander around town, looking for something – anything – to do. This is a fake place borne of a real world, of real situations, of real problems that are still very much apt to this day. It is, in short, a highly politicised game masquerading as a bit of a jolly, where you can wee in a cement mixer if you want.
Greg Pryjmachuk is behind Landlord’s Super, his dev company MinskWorks supported by The Yogscast on publishing duty. After achieving some success with 2018’s Jalopy – a game that saw you driving (and repairing) a battered old car through eastern Europe – his attention turned to something more personal.
“I wanted to be able to buy a home,” Pryjmachuk explains, “but I couldn’t afford the deposit. I was someone doing alright, too; it was off the back of Jalopy and for the first time in my life I was earning a nice middle-class income. I thought that was a bit terrifying, to be honest, so I started looking into how the country got into this housing crisis. That brought me to Thatcher’s Right to Buy and the UK ‘bang’ period of the 1980s.”
The research and realisation just happened to coincide with what was becoming MinskWorks’ next game: a house building simulator. While the project was originally intended as a pure building sim, the release – and success – of House Flipper put paid to that notion.
This would have to pivot to become something more, to add a ‘but that’s not all’ onto the package, as Pryjmachuk puts it. “It came time to pick a new project to get the bills paid,” he says. “And the two elements, [the genre and setting], just fit together like chips and gravy.”
While initially, it might have been about the practice of bricklaying and shingling, that aforementioned time and place impacted things massively. Putting things in an English regional setting – a vague mishmash of The North and the Midlands – meant this couldn’t just be aspirational profiteering, the sort of thing you’d see a reality show made of today.
The march of the political statement was inevitable. “It’s been really surprising that there hasn’t been much – if any, really – typically negative political reaction from players,” Pryjmachuk says. “Maybe it’s the nuance, or maybe it’s just because I’m a white man. Either way, a lot of it is lost on players. We’re Early Access and asking people to report whatever they find at fault, so of course, someone reported that the logo’s flag is upside down without considering why that might be.
“I was reading a comment the other day,” he continues, “about me doing a good job at making a British-themed game, because clearly, I’m Baltic because of my last name.” This isn’t the case, Pryjmachuk explains, with his grandfather arriving as a displaced person and aiding in the post-war rebuilding effort.
“His story isn’t unique. Post-war Britain was helped by immigration from all over, and we were stronger for it, until the whole ‘No such thing as society’ [Margaret Thatcher, 1987] came about… We should never forget that.”
Landlord’s Super is bleak, there’s no getting around that. It wouldn’t be honest if it wasn’t downcast, and it leans into this aspect with a desaturated, rough-VHS look to things. Your goal is to renovate a house given to you, to take advantage of the situation you’ve inherited – as one character in the game says, “You need to get in there first and get your little bit, otherwise it’s all gone, and no one is buying spuds for you.”
You have your targets, your gamey bits, your objectives, your subquests, NPCs, and everything else. But it’s not particularly aspirational. It’s that new beginning offered by the UK’s monetary policies in the eighties, viewed through the lens of a millennial living at the tail-end of it all. And in that way it’s effective.
Out now on Early Access, Landlord’s Super is taking full advantage of the public beta testing this release format offers. The game is intended to be the pre-release version, with updates for about a year (“So probably two,” Pryjmachuk jokes) before the finished version releases.
Pryjmachuk is also keen to point out that while he’s the main development force behind the game, Landlord’s Super is the work of a team. “My partner Rūta joined me last year to do a lot of the 2D art and concept work and actually make things like nature look like nature,” he says. “We’re also honoured to have Jeremy Warmsley doing the soundtrack again, which features Pete Fraser on saxophone.
“A lot of bug-chasing and suggestions also come directly from the community. And of course [publisher] Yogscast has helped hugely with getting it to where it is.
“The game wouldn’t be what it is without all these people. I like to make a point of this because… it’s important our industry starts being sincere about how games come about. They’re not just the results of one creative director’s delegation, no matter what the cover says.”
So in game development, at least, there is such thing as society.
Publisher: The Yogscast
Release :__ 2021 (out now in Early Access)