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Xbox Game Pass’s next big indie builds a “bonkers” bond between painters and game developers

A story about a 16th century artist might be more relevant to modern times than you think.

Repentance launched a passion project for Josh Sawyer, director of studio design at Obsidian. Soon after, a small, equally passionate team had begun working on the game, turning it into a beautiful murder mystery that mimics the style of illuminated and woodblock art of the 16th century. What’s really interesting, however, are the similarities that have begun to emerge between the story of the game’s protagonist, Andreas, and the experience of Repentancethe development team.

“This project is Josh’s dream project, this thing he always wanted to do. Andreas’ journey is similar to that in some ways – he finally did what he really wanted and saw the struggles and the joys that flow from it”, explains Repentance Art Director Hannah Kennedy “It was a fun little self-insert, maybe, not just from Josh but from all of us. It’s such a crazy comparison, a 2022 developer and a 16th century German journeyman artist, but I’ve felt it sometimes.

Repentanceit is the overall artistic style is inspired by heavily stylized art of the 16th century, including illuminated manuscripts and woodcutsMicrosoft

Kennedy says the team had to do emotional “meta” storytelling with Repentance, focusing on the struggle to balance the art you make to your own standards with the academic standards expected of you. Before Pentent’s released on November 15, Reverse spoke at length with Kennedy about the next 16th-century narrative adventure. She talked about the game’s unique approach to font design and reflected on what history can show us about the role of art in the modern world.

The interview below has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Is the protagonist Andreas inspired by historical figures?

Kennedy— Visually, we designed it based on Albrecht Dürer’s archetype for several reasons. He fits the time period and region we were setting the story in, but he was also a regular young artist when he started his professional career. He is also, at least in Western European history, one of the artists who was first associated with the incorporation of his signature into his work. Basically, it’s the modern equivalent of branding.

I found that it was an interesting parallel with this story that we wanted to tell: you play this artist who tries to understand himself and to know what he wants to grow into.

Art had a unique importance in 16th century society because most people at that time could not read. How does the idea of ​​literacy and access to information influence the story you tell here?

Kennedy— A big goal of the game is to compare the cultural framework and societal contrast between Andreas and his position in training, but for a very kind of affluent career.

In the context of villagers and peasants, we have this group of farmers, we have the village merchant class, and then we have the Benedictine church. We really wanted to play with how all of these groups interact with each other, and Andreas’ role in all of that.

In some cases, we use art to contrast these groups of people. Benedictine monks all look very similar, but they also have different fonts that depict them talking and show that they belong to a different social class. So they use very heavy gothic text written very slowly to give that impression.

We had a group of historians who we were like, “Can you go back to that and tell us how far we landed?” So there was this process to get as close as possible to what these people would write. Then we also had the challenge of adapting that into a usable font, as we wanted to do the animation process where the text is generated as if the script was being written.

I think it adds a lot of character to the game, especially since we don’t have voice acting. So all the voice comes from text effects and the custom fonts we use to represent them.

Each group of characters in Repentance features a different font style and the game animates the text as if written with a quill pen.Microsoft

How did you balance rooting Repentance in this historic moment and make it accessible to actors who might not be interested in art history?

Kennedy— This woodblock art style, especially when it comes to landscapes and spaces, is flattened and abstract. They are handsome and look great in a painting, but as soon as you imagine having control of a little guy you have to move through space, it can get very confusing. Where are you allowed to go and how do you get there? At first we thought we could have free roaming on a ground plane and realized pretty quickly that wasn’t really at the core of what we were trying to accomplish with the story and gameplay.

So we defined the movement of the player on a track and composed the scenes in a way that was not confusing.

The overall art style of the game is quite different from the art style the characters create in the game. How do these distinct styles relate?

Kennedy— It’s something we had to play around with a bit because when you have a game that’s already designed to look like the art you’re referring to, in the game they literally draw that art. We had to decide: was their art going to be an exact representation of what it really looked like? But it doesn’t seem true to the story because they were doing stylized art instead of aiming for realism. It was also confusing to show the player, “Look, here’s this guy, and then here’s what he did, and he looks like him again.”

The art created by the characters of this world that you see on walls, buildings and murals is an even more simplified, even looser and more stylized version.

Then whenever the player is looking directly at a document in isolation, we wanted to take you out of the meta for a second, because we do this thing with the book where you take it out of the scene and into our menu. You zoom in on the margins and see a physical book there. So we wanted to emulate that feeling a bit with the document art we showed in-game. This is true for letters and book pages you look at or paintings. If you look at this through the eyes of the player character and they look at what they’re holding, then we’re showing it in as close a one-to-one version of what it would be in real life.

Obsidian has done months of research to Repentancebut some references were extremely difficult to find because the art of the time was simply not archived properly.Microsoft

In researching 16th century art, what did you learn about the role art played then versus the role it plays today?

Kennedy— It wasn’t necessarily a revelation, but the art wasn’t as accessible to everyone as it is today. Many of the depictions of the art that we still have from this period are of nobility or self-depicting artists.

So when we would like to refer to something, like what peasants or farmers wore at that time, there are very few recorded images of them. They are simply not in the historical imprint of this period.

There were a few by a Belgian artist, Peter Breughel. He was a little after our period, but I mentioned him a lot, assuming there are probably some similarities. But that’s part of what fascinates me about all of this. Who has access to art and how it is shared is for absolutely everyone now. Anyone can join.

I think it’s very sad to think that so much art is inaccessible to the vast majority of people. I’m sure there was art for people, like textile work or embroidery work, but none of that has ever been archived, so we don’t have any to reference.

I would have liked to know more about what art really existed at the time so I could incorporate it, but we no longer have the proof.

Repentance will be released on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and PC on November 15, 2022.