Luca Redwood, the game designer behind breakout hits 10000000 and You Must Build A Boat, is trying something a little different with his next game, Photographs. The multi-platform title will be a far more narrative experience than his past games and, judging from the first trailer, it’s going to be an emotional journey.
“It’s quite dark, quite heavy,” Redwood told Polygon. “One of the things that I’m most worried about with this game is it deals with difficult themes, but it doesn’t pass judgment. And I think people might accuse me of sitting on the fence with that.”
To give the game its weight, Redwood is relying on Octavi Navarro, a pixel artist known for his nuanced, expressive paintings.
“After I made You Must Build A Boat, I wanted to branch out a bit,” Redwood said. “To do something different. I wanted to make a narrative game where I tell a story, but it’s tricky because I make games for PC and for mobile. People don’t read words on mobile, which makes it difficult to do a narrative game, or at least to appeal to a large number of people. So I decided that I wanted a game that told a story visually. Photographs.”
A picture is worth a thousand words, as the saying goes, and players will be rewarded throughout the game with Navarro’s splendid art. Each of its five levels will be immediately recognizable to the player and, in their own way, serve as bookmarks. But it’s the game mechanics themselves, Redwood said, that will drive the narrative forward.
“I had to tell a story and make a narrative game without letting you know it was a narrative game,” Redwood said. “The way it plays is through these super accessible puzzles. You’re being told a story without realizing you’re being told a story.”
When a level begins, Redwood said, it will be a kind of blank canvas. As you interact with it, details will emerge and the scene will develop. The puzzles may be simple, but discovering how they function will be part of the joy of playing the game.
“In one level, players will take control of an alchemist,” Redwood said. “In that level, there’s these two people and they’re trying to stay together. But the situation they’re in is forcing them apart. And that’s the mechanic for that level. You’re controlling two characters that are trying to stay together, but the situation is forcing them apart. And as the story beats hit you’ll feel those beats in the gameplay.”
Redwood is well known for his mastery of the match three genre, something that he spent years refining in the course of making his previous games. The hardest part this time around, he said, was bringing the same kind of refinement to five entirely new kinds of puzzles to multiple platforms.
“For the athlete story, which is the second story, I was very happy with it initially,” Redwood said. “I played it on PC. I was building it to an iPad, where it played great, and then I just thought, ‘I’ll try it on a phone as well.’ It just did not work. It was just rubbish to play, and I had to throw the entire thing away and start from scratch.”
Redwood said he’s a adding a few lines of spoken dialogue for each character. To tie it all together will be a soundtrack by Ben Prunty, who also did the score for FTL.
But, at its core, Photographs will be a visual game. Without Navarro’s help it simply wouldn’t be possible.
“You’ll see a photograph every time you solve a puzzle,” Redwood said. “I remember once I went to Octavi and I said, ‘Alright on this photo the alchemist is extremely sad about this, but he’s resolute. He’s steadfast. He knows what needs to be done. Can you please express that emotion in four pixels, please?’ And he fuckin’ nailed it. It’s one of my favorite photographs in the entire game.”
Photographs is being developed for Android, iOS, Mac and Windows PC. No price has been set, and the game is expected to be out this year.