The Inner World launched in 2013 with all the hallmarks of the point-and-click adventure genre: lively and quirky comedy, stylish art and intricate puzzles. The developers at Studio Fizbin, a Berlin-based independent studio, were encouraged enough by the reception that they wanted to make a sequel — on a console as well.
That's where a pigeon comes in.
Point-and-click adventures don't work very well as a straight port to console because of, well, the pointing and the clicking. But Fizbin saw in Peck — the comedy relief of the first game — a way around that: By controlling Peck, users could accomplish the same tasks.
And so from there it became logical that the user may switch between three characters at any time when playing The Inner World: The Last Wind Monk, when it launches in September for PlayStation 4 and Windows PC.
"Now you can switch and say, 'There's something on that tree, I need it,' and send the pigeon. And then it falls down, and Robert (one of the main characters) can take it because it's too heavy for the pigeon," Sebastian Mittag, head of studio at Studio Fizbin, said in explaining the puzzle-solving interaction of the three characters.
Stepping back, The story of The Inner World requires a little bit of explanation. Robert and Laura are imp-like inhabitants of an enchanted "inner world" called Asposia. The Asposians are a people with pointy noses. Some are striped and a smaller number are able to play them like wind instruments. Robert is the latter, Laura the former.
In The Last Wind Monk, Robert was turned to stone and has been that way for three years. The evil Emil has taken power by playing to the stripe noses' resentments. The flute noses (who can play tunes by holding fingers over blowholes) are the scapegoats. The adventuring party of Robert, Laura and Peck seeks to end his tyranny by finding the titular Last Wind Monk.
The Inner World, for all its whimsy, involves some rather strong allegories about persecution and authoritarian control. Art on the game's official site makes clear references to Hitler and Germany under Nazi rule. But the writers try to do so with a light and inferential hand, Mittag said.
"It's not the most important thing about the game, and it's not a parallel universe," Mittag explained. "It shouldn't take these topics too seriously, but it should be something you can think about afterward. There's always a back and forth between humorous stuff and slapstick, and melancholic stuff, and also really big drama, because the story is about people with flute noses who are being persecuted."
The game features a hand illustrated and animated 2D art style, a creative choice that's gotten plenty of attention lately thanks to Cuphead. And Mittag knows The Last Wind Monk's appeal will ultimately rest on gameplay, which involves the puzzles Robert, Laura and Peck must solve and the manner in which they go about it.
That is supported by a hint system that, according to Mittag, will be aware of players' actions up to a point where they have gotten stuck and, should they ask for help at that point, give them something tailored to their situation, not something generic to the level, and not something that spoils a surprise either.
"It works because the system is dynamic and it knows to whom you've already talked, what objects you have in your inventory and so on. So it knows what your next task is," Mittag explained. "So it's like, it knows you have talked to the merchant, for example,; maybe he knows something more about where the Last Wind Monk is, because you need to know more, otherwise you won't find the exit, for example."
That said, there will always be the option to just have the game tell you the solution, for the easily frustrated who still want to see the story play out. The Inner World is a series whose development history now goes back seven years, and the characters — particularly Peck — are meant to be as endearing to users as they have been to the creators all this time.
"That was very important to us, because we made a very interesting world of characters and so on that one puzzle shouldn't be the reason why you're not finishing the game," Mittag said.
The Inner World: The Last Wind Monk, is launching in September on PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One. Its predecessor, The Inner World, launched on PlayStation 4 back in May.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Sebastian Mittag’s name. It has been revised.