Ultra Ultra, the small Copenhagen-based studio behind sci-fi stealth-puzzler Echo, have officially closed their doors today. Announced quietly through Twitter, they state that “Ultra Ultra has ceased to exist”. I’d always been aware that Echo had never sold as well as it should have, but it’s still tragic to hear that such a talented team are going their separate ways just a year and a half from the release of their first game. There is one small bit of good news – the recently-optioned film (as reported by Deadline) is still in production, also confirmed by the studio via Twitter.
While some aspects of Echo ended up putting people off, including some sharp difficulty spikes and re-use (however intentional and clever) of environments, I found the game enthralling from beginning to end. For those who haven’t played it, it’s the closest I’ve seen to Ian M Banks’s sci-fi – especially the Culture series – represented in videogame form. It’s a small, personal story about a young woman on the run and a sardonic sentient spacecraft, wrapped around a big lump of inscrutable cosmic weirdness. If that isn’t Banks in a nutshell, I honestly don’t know what is.
It is, oddly enough, exacty the kind of game I’d love to see adapted to film, although I’m not sure the Hollywood approach would work. The game has a vocal cast of two, and only one of them has a human face. It takes place in an enormous fractal structure – a nanotech-age palace of gold-trimmed marble halls endlessly repeated. It’s the kind of set that would need extensive CG just to portray, but in a videogame is an impressive example of a small number of art assets used economically. They were clearly a smart team – unsurprising, as many were formerly of Hitman studio Io.
Echo remains available on Steam and GOG for £19/€23/$25. The game will remain available in stores for the foreseeable future. I wish the staff at Ultra Ultra a swift trip and a following wind in the search for work, and hope to see their style shining through in other games in the future.