Even as a concept, slave labor is a particularly onerous gameplay feature, especially when it involves sending minors to their death in a system that grossly romanticizes hard work and patriotic zeal. But as a political commentary on the dystopian undertones of Soviet Russia, it works — something Q Games used to great effect in The Tomorrow Children, a collaborative building experience with all the mechanical requirements of Animal Crossing and Death Stranding, but with none of the joy, light, or charm. It was a revolutionary idea for its time and would have given Q Games the tentpole to launch similar games with; unfortunately, the studio incurred financial troubles only a year after release from the towering costs of running such a crowded online server, and The Tomorrow Children died along with it.
This was the launch video for The Tomorrow Children five years ago:
Q Games founder Dylan Cuthbert contemplates on what could have been while replaying a developer build for IGN Japan on Friday, in celebration of the game’s 5th anniversary. The Tomorrow Children developed a cult following despite its early demise, with fans clamoring for a re-release. The good news: a developer build still exists, so the game could theoretically be relaunched anytime. The bad news: the IP still belongs to Sony, which is not necessarily keen on reviving the Soviet-inflected construction game given the steep costs of maintenance and mixed reviews received.
Unlike Animal Crossing, The Tomorrow Children has no single-player mode. It can only be played online, which made phasing it out doubly tragic; most canceled games live on in campaign mode, but being online-only virtually made remaining user copies of The Tomorrow Children unplayable. Cuthbert actively mourns the game’s rapid decline in his gameplay video for IGN Japan. Check it out here:
“I don’t like having a game I made missing,” he tells IGN Japan on record. “People can’t play it. […] Especially one as pretty and interesting and rich as The Tomorrow Children — it just feels wrong to not be able to play it, you know? It’s great being able to play it now like this, and come back into the world. The people around the office playing it now, they’re just like, ‘Oh we can play it again?’ It’s great fun, you know? We’re all excited to be able to just get this old build running like this.”
Anyone who’s ever invested time, heart, and energy into a passion project that eventually went under can sympathize. For creatives, a finished product is practically a baby; it dies when it’s pulled out of stores or grows stillborn when shut down midway through production. Imagine giving birth to a complete entity only to have it erased from existence. It takes a great deal of dedication and unrelenting persistence to deliver a project to fruition; when both inevitably go nowhere, not only do developers lose money, their legacy flickers out with it. And nobody likes being forgotten. The Tomorrow Children boasted its own game and graphics engines, lighting techniques, deformable landscapes, and ray tracing, and was the only game of its kind (besides Animal Crossing) to feature Pixar-inspired art. It was a PlayStation original, yet couldn’t even survive a year in the elements.
Cuthbert hopes to reclaim the rights for The Tomorrow Children someday, and is considering having it entirely offline — or at least keep online play optional — to make upkeep more manageable. “I’ll keep trying to get the IP back,” he muses, “and if I do get the IP back, then I’ll definitely think about ways to kind of relaunch it but without a server, I think. Because it was the running costs of the server that brought it down, if it didn’t have that we probably just could have left it running and people could have kept playing it, right?”
A quick run-through of the build gameplay video’s comments section proves Cuthbert right so far. Seeing The Tomorrow Children back has reignited fan nostalgia, with many claiming the game was simply too complex for its time. The mid-2010s is stacked floor to ceiling with some of the greatest video games in known history, and yet The Tomorrow Children managed to stand apart from the blur by developing a Minecraft-esque experience its own way. Besides, nothing else matched the game’s intricate social economics, not even contemporaries like Animal Crossing and Death Stranding.
Still, if Sony does cough the rights back up to Dylan Cuthbert, who made his career helping program Star Fox for Nintendo, the horizon remains incalculably dim. Cuthbert already has the makings of an incredible campaign mode in mind, but not the hows of executing it. He would have to get the whole team behind The Tomorrow Children back and somehow remaster or improve the build without Sony’s backing. Unless Sony commits to staying on board, Cuthbert would have to find his own funding and rework the game internally, without help. And the studio already caved last time from the monetary weight of maintenance and general upkeep. Who’s to say it won’t happen again? “Hopefully, at some point in the future, maybe we can get the IP back and try to work out what to do from there,” Cuthbert adds. “We don’t know anything yet.”
Q Games eventually regained its footing after losing The Tomorrow Children in 2017. In-house developers are responsible for the PixelJunk series as well as Star Fox Command for the Nintendo DS decades prior.