I’ve written about how much I wish the art and craft of video games would be more widely appreciated. It’s a far more challenging endeavour than most people give it credit for, and outside of a few big names like Shigeru Miyamoto and Hideo Kojima, individual creators are seldom recognized. They sometimes don’t even get mentioned in credits. Canadian game makers, specifically, despite their sizable impact, are perhaps even less well-known on the whole.
Quebec City-based Sabotage’s Sea of Stars, a game I already loved for many reasons, addresses all of this in one exceptionally cool set of collectibles: the Flimsy Hammers.
In the lead-up to the release of Sea of Stars, I was in a Discord alongside other media in which we could connect with Sabotage to provide feedback and receive tips. The transparency and quick responses from the devs were most appreciated, but I also took note of how other writers, who were ahead of me in Sea of Stars, had been discussing these items called Flimsy Hammers. Over the course of several days, I gathered that you’d earned four of them for completing all of the game’s side content, but their exact purpose was unclear.
Note: The rest of this story contains spoilers for Sea of Stars’ postgame content.
Eventually, we figured it out. In the Ancient Crypt on the isle of Mirth, you’ll find statues honouring all of the game’s Kickstarter backers, which is a really nice touch. But there’s also a hidden passage in the Crypt that pays tribute to Sabotage itself. To clear a path through this underground tunnel, you’ll need to use the Flimsy Hammers to break four walls. Upon doing so, you’ll meet the Shopkeeper, a returning character from The Messenger, who starts to get meta by addressing you, the player, before leading you into another room.
Here, you find yourself in none other than Sabotage Studio in Quebec City, populated by the sprite versions of the entire development team. Indeed, everyone is present in the office, from studio co-founder and creative director Thierry Boulanger and composers Eric Brown and Yasunori Mitsuda to animator and character artist Savannah Perron and level artist Axel Béliveau, and they each have their own unique bits of dialogue.
I immediately found myself smiling. What a lovely way to get the player to fully appreciate every person who worked on the game into which they’ve just invested dozens of hours! Naturally, I just had to ask Boulanger about this when I sat down with him for a wide-reaching interview about Sea of Stars.
“It’s the cherry on top. We don’t want to gatekeep 100 percent competition of every single optional thing to get the good ending, but if you do everything, you get the four hammers, because not everyone goes for it,” explains Boulanger.
For people who have played The Messenger, it’s an appropriately outlandish scene for a character who had so many long-winded rants. But for those without that context, Boulanger hopes it still makes enough sense.
“[Her] intro is, ‘if you’re gonna complain about a time paradox here, just remember, you just broke the fourth wall first, because you physically broke four walls before that happens.’ I don’t know if people will appreciate or see it, but I feel like it’s kind of clever enough to be like, ‘alright, you get to chuck that in.’”But even if you can’t get behind the admittedly wacky narrative justifications, it’s just a touching ode to the entire development team. While Sea of Stars builds on the ideas Boulanger has had for an RPG since playing Chrono Trigger as a kid, the Sabotage easter egg pays tribute to everyone who helped realize that vision over the course of five years.
“The only words in the game I didn’t write myself [are here]; everyone wrote their own line of what they wanted to say. And I didn’t correct anything. Some of them you can tell that they’re French, but we’re just owning this, and everyone got to say their final word there,” says Boulanger.
For instance, lead animator Jean-Luc Savard talks about how he’s “so proud” of what the team accomplished with the animations. Brown, meanwhile, mentions that he oversaw music and sound before joking that he’s now “trapped” in the game. Integrator Carl Dubreuil, for his part, explains how Sea of Stars is a “childhood dream come true” after growing up playing Final Fantasy.
Even the layout of the in-game room is 1:1 to the actual studio in Quebec City. “In terms of level design, it’s the actual studio,” says Boulanger. “The proportions are all exactly the way that they are — that’s 100 percent our studio right there.”
All in all, he says he’s incredibly happy the easter egg was added to Sea of Stars.
“It felt right. It was super wholesome. The team didn’t know we were going to do that, and when it was clear that we had the time to do it, they were all like, ‘Oh, I’m not sure I know what to say, but this is such a good idea!’ It’s the idea that we get to kind of live there [in the game] forever a little bit.”
Sea of Stars is now available on PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, and PC on August 29th. The game is also offered through Game Pass and PlayStation Plus Extra and Premium.
Image credit: Sabotage