Last week, I was able to meet Director and Lead Designer Josh Sawyer and Art Director and Concept Artist Hannah Kennedy from Obsidian Entertainment to talk about their upcoming narrative-driven game: Pentiment.
First announced during the Xbox & Bethesda Showcase 2022, Pentiment was shown to gamers as a smaller-scale narrative-driven adventure set in the 16th century. The story follows a Bavarian painter, Andreas Maler, who gets wrapped up in investigating a series of murders.
Of course, this game has made quite a ruckus because many were expecting either an Avowed or even a The Outer Worlds 2 announcement, which never came.
However, when Console Creatures was invited to join Obsidian and talk Pentiment, we had to say yes! We were keen on learning more about the game and what to expect, including some interesting behind-the-scenes information.
Let’s begin by its title — Pentiment is based on Pentimento, which translates to “An underlying image in a painting, especially one that has become visible when the top layer of paint has turned transparent with age, providing evidence of revision by the artist.”
A game where time affects everything around you
First of all, Pentiment is a video game that will take place over 25 years, which means that you might end up talking someday to a young child who, with time, will end up getting married years later in the game. This, here, is definitely something worth mentioning since this 25-year length will occur gradually as the game goes on. Of course, people change in 25 years, which means that the NPCs in the game will grow older alongside you and will change and, of course, will have different emotional reactions and behaviours.
As you play through Pentiment, you’ll play as Andrea Maler, “a very clever journeyman artist who gets caught up in a series of murders and scandals that spans 25 years in the fictional town of Tassing and Kiersau Abbey”.
Josh Sawyer explicitly mentioned, as well, that the game will evolve with your decisions throughout time, like a butterfly effect. You will basically decide who is the murderer while investigating and finding as much evidence as possible. You will have eventually to make the choice you think is best even though it can be a bad one. Add to this the fact that you will need to decide which educational background and lifestyle of our protagonist, may change the way you will investigate the murders.
Taking place in the Renaissance period of the 16th century, the whole gameplay of Pentiment is all-out narrative without combats, navigating from town to town to chat with townspeople and completed minigames-like quests every now and then, like a point-and-click minigame of hanging portraits on an old widow’s wall which will ask you to break a crucifix on the wall because she is enraged to have lost her husband. Will you break the crucifix as she asks or will you decline? This decision will be yours to make and yours alone.
Pentiment is a narrative game that plays like reading a book
Pentiment is just like reading a book. Actually, the menu visual is a book with information all around the central main image on the page you are looking at. When you do a transition, the 2D scene is pulled out and you see the gigantic 3D book’s page-turning. Not only that, but Josh Sawyer really insisted on a point that shows how much the game’s narrative aspect is important: the ink.
“In Pentiment, all the fonts in the game can be changed by the player and the way the writings are made are reflecting real-life ink. What I mean by that is that it prints on screen from left to right and you may even see ink spots every now and then as if the person was really writing everything down at the moment,” says Josh Sawyer, Director and Lead Designer. “Since ink usually is thicker when you start writing, it will be interpreted that way in-game as well. The end of a sentence contains less ink since it spread away at first, making the ink dry faster by the end and slower at the beginning. Finally, if multiple colours are used, they will be written down one colour after another.”
He wanted the game to meld late-medieval manuscripts with early-modern woodcuts and prints. This is where Hannah Kennedy tagged along and captured the spirit of those manuscripts. They both even went to the Huntington Library and the Getty Museum in California for inspiration and were in touch with manuscript expert Christopher De Hamel and others.
“This game was made to be niche. As long as it finds its audience, then I think it will work out,” remarks Sawyer.
Releasing on November 15th, 2022, Pentiment will surely draw some more ink in the upcoming weeks.