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How Pentiment’s art and mini-games help tell its 25-year story

Pentiment's art direction and mini-games tell a 25-year story in the narrative-driven adventure game from Obsidian and Fallout: New Vegas director Josh Sawyer

Pentiment art and mini-games - Andreas maler, a man with long hair in a red hat, kneels down to pet a cat under the chin

Pentiment, the historical, narrative-driven adventure game from Fallout: New Vegas and Pillars of Eternity director Josh Sawyer and Obsidian, releases on November 15. Ahead of its launch, Sawyer and the development team dig into how Pentiment’s painterly, book-like art style and its use of fontwork help to tell a community-driven 16th Century tale that spans the lives of its people over a 25-year period.

“The idea to have the game take place over 25 years largely came from my interest in showing how the changes and the choices that the player makes impact the community over longer than the typical amount of time that a game takes place in,” Sawyer explains. So while the game sets out when your protagonist, Abbey artist Andreas Maler, is tasked with investigating the murder of a visiting nobleman, that’s just the beginning of things.

The advent of the printing press sparks a period of social upheaval. “More people are becoming educated,” remarks producer Alec Frey, “that literally changes who we are as people. Text plays a fundamental role in Pentiments narrative, too – with no voice acting, Andreas’s interpretation of the people he meets is depicted in the fonts used for their dialogue.

“The fonts that we ended up developing I think played a big role into giving characters different flavours of voices,” says art director Hannah Kennedy, explaining that fonts will be assigned based on how Andreas perceives each new person he meets. She describes how if something happens to change his perception, “then the font shifts to better reflect whoever they actually are.”

The game’s art style is a largely two-dimensional look that Kennedy says was, in part, inspired by the late 15th Century encyclopedia the Nuremberg Chronicle. She describes how the team worked hard to convey its book-like aesthetic, with the tone of the paper bleeding through underneath the colours. Sawyer notes that, while the game’s art looks completely 2D, the heads are actually animated in 3D. “We really tried to emphasise a lot of head movement,” he says, “especially when it came to the faces, being able to communicate expressions was very important.”

You’ll also get to engage in plenty of mini-games, though again these are more to serve the game’s narrative than to pose serious challenges. Kennedy says that these are “not presented to be functionally challenging, it’s not to have a game within a game, it’s just to supplement the narrative experience.” Frey and Sawyer mention a cookie-cutting minigame that tasks players with using as much dough as possible. “I’ve seen many people spend over half an hour because they just want to get it perfect,” says Frey with a laugh.

Pentiment releases on November 15, and will be available day one for subscribers of PC Game Pass as well as for regular purchase on Steam. You can watch the full behind the scenes video below:

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If you want to learn more, our Pentiment preview from Gamescom describes why we think its marvellous user experience and careful attention to detail is as exciting a proposal as the 1,000 Starfield planets. If you’re after more historical storytelling in your entertainment, some of the best grand strategy games on PC have plenty to offer in that regard.