The protagonist, Andreas Maler, is an artist working in a time of societal upheaval, who eventually becomes involved in the investigation of a series of murders. As a player, you have to scrutinize nuns, nobles, peasants, thieves and saints to solve the crime. Maler’s job is to examine the murder victim’s body and question the villagers’ motives, or sometimes just help them around the house.
“Pentiment” isn’t RPG, developer Obsidian Entertainment’s usual fare. The studio is known for role-playing games like “The Outer Worlds” and crowdfunding “Pillars of Eternity,” and licensed titles like “Fallout: New Vegas.” Instead, the main character, Maler, already exists with set characteristics that the player cannot customize, although dialogue choices affect the outcome of the story. Obsidian credits Xbox for allowing the smaller-scale, historical, story-driven game to happen. Xbox announced its acquisition of Obsidian in 2018.
“I thought Microsoft would just be more willing to allow us to try something unusual and experimental,” Pentiment game director Josh Sawyer said during a preview of the game in late August. “If we had tried to fund this through traditional publisher methods, I don’t think it would have worked out very well at all. Maybe we could have funded something like that, maybe. But when it comes to the traditional publisher-developer relationship, I really believe that whatever ideas I had for me to do something like that didn’t really seem feasible until Microsoft acquired us and Game Pass was a clear platform for that.”
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The name of the game comes from an artistic term, referring to an element of a painting that resurfaces after an artist has painted it.
Sawyer and art director Hannah Kennedy had an interest and fascination with art history and history more broadly, which seeped into the conception of “Pentiment”.
“Art history had a huge impact on the making of this game, in part because it’s a story game.” said Kennedy. “Basically, it’s a story about the experience of the artists who were working at the time. So there was a lot to learn from art history, to inform this character and his existence in this world, as well as to inform the appearance of space. It was fun to directly reference different pieces of art in the story, to give little nods because we think our audience will share a lot of interest in those same things that we find interesting.
Kennedy said her training at a Western art school informed her of how artists worked in that period and added that since there were no cameras at the time, the developers based their historical description on paintings adapted to the time.
“The main appeal that we think this game has for players is a very unique art style,” Sawyer said.
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The developers said they designed accessibility options and tried to keep the gameplay simple and straightforward so that it could reach the widest possible audience. For example, historical game fonts and scripts can be swapped in game settings for better readability.
“While we have a number of mini-games throughout the game, they’re designed more for thrill and immersion than challenge,” Sawyer said. “We’re not trying to give the player very complicated things to solve. We’re not trying to give the player accuracy tests or reflex tests.