There’s an England beyond Piccadilly Circus and the thatched roofs of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. A country where the residents wear tracksuit bottoms rather than tweed, and drink their tea from enormous Sports Direct mugs. Where unfortunate nicknames stick for life and neighbours gossip about the local soak.
That’s the England that Greg Pryjmachuk knew, and sought to recreate in Landlord’s Super. “These towns are at the mercy of global actions,” he says. “I worked in my town’s concrete industry up until 2008 when the economy made it go kaput. There was a lad in my local boxing gym who was a real talent, but got into a car accident and the corrective surgery for his leg couldn’t be done through the NHS. There’s a real prison of poverty to these places.”
Rather than set his life simulation in the modern day, however, Pryjmachuk traced the problems back to their root: the ’80s. “I was having a cup of tea with my nan and hearing about how her first house was five grand,” he says. “Morbid curiosity starts to take over at that point.”
You begin Landlord’s Super living in a caravan, but clutching a letter from Maggie Thatcher granting you permission to buy your late uncle’s council house at a hefty discount, how generous. But if you can make something of your dilapidated plot by filling in the floor, patching up the roof and other odd jobs, then maybe you can rent it out, lifting yourself out of poverty in the process.
It’s a game about bettering yourself through hard graft—while laying the foundations for the housing crisis the UK grapples with today. By removing a council house from the market, you’re pushing up rent for the rest, making life tougher for the people around you in Sheffingham.
It’s impossible not to notice that your actions have consequences for your neighbours. With cash short and concrete to mix, it’s tempting to nab the bag of sand you find in the back garden of number nine. But the next day at the job centre, work advisor Kashmiran seems more muted than usual. She’d saved up for a patio, she says, only for somebody to nick the materials. It’s as if Deus Ex swapped out Liberty Island for Lincoln.
“Playing through Fallout 2 back in the day, I had that impression of player action and consequence instilled in me,” Pryjmachuk explains as he reflects on the past. “It’s what made me fall in love with the medium.”
The diversity of Sheffingham’s population was instinctive – an attempt by Pryjmachuk to represent the Britain he saw around him. There’s a sense that people of different backgrounds have been brought together by adversity, reflected in Jeremy Warmsley’s soundtrack, which recalls 2 Tone bands like The Specials. “That was a big touchstone,” Pryjmachuk says. “But also I cannot overstate how much of an impression Anne Dudley’s work on The Full Monty had on me. A well-deserved Oscar, that one.”
For the town itself, Pryjmachuk took visual inspiration from Peter Mitchell, Tish Murtha, and Chris Killip – photographers who had put working class homes under the lens in the ’80s. “All of their work captures the face of Britain on the cusp of change,” he says. “Visually different games are always a hard sell, but I’m thankful people have been so open to the style so far.”
At the centre of Sheffingham is its pub, pointedly named The Anchor. It might be ugly, with its mouldy picnic benches and pots piling up in the kitchen, but, like life before the pandemic, it’s the place you go to connect with the town’s community. “You head there if you need to lift your spirits, earn a few bob, recharge your character, or get advice from Jimmy,” Pryjmachuk says.
It’s ‘Scouse’ Jimmy who teaches you the basics of construction, which is nice of him – but he’s also the man who points out the bags of sand in Kashmiran’s garden, which muddies his character a bit. More than anything, Landlord’s Super feels like a twisted Stardew Valley, in which your family inheritance is as much a curse as a gift.
“Stardew Valley is a huge influence for me,” Pryjmachuk says of ConcernedApe’s game. “I love games where, when you’re not playing them, you’re planning your next move. I want the player to leave the game and be thinking how they’re going to get that roof sorted.”