Unless you’re an art history buff, you probably don’t know the meaning of “pentiment.” I’ll save you a trip to Google. Imagine if you scraped off the top layer of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and underneath was an unflattering cartoon of Michelangelo. Da Vinci’s rival, not the turtle, BTW. That bottom layer is the pentiment. What does that have to do with videogames? For one, it’s the title of Obsidian’s new project, Pentiment.
Middle Aged Gaming
One of the great things about video games is discovering something new and different. The world of games might be dominated by big-budget, focus-tested copycats and sequels, but there are still hidden gems to be found. One such potential jewel might be the upcoming Pentiment. It’s a narrative adventure/RPG that takes place in the late middle ages. That historical period was a tumult of clashing science and superstition, religious reformation, and political upheaval.
Created by a small team of 13 developers at Obsidian who are passionate about history (and games, of course), Pentiment takes place in Bavaria in the late 16th century. The player character is an artist. The story explores the drama of the artist’s life and relationship to dozens of characters. It also delves into the changing role of art and the artist in history. If all that sounds like a dull, scholarly exercise, rest assured it isn’t. Lead developer Josh Sawyer and his team previewed a game that was dramatic, emotional and surprising.
That said, Sawyer noted that there are definitely traditional game elements in Pentiment, like puzzles and combat. There’s even a character creator. However, the game elements are forgiving, leaving the focus on the narrative.
Right Out of the Pages of History
For Pentiment, Sawyer and company consulted with a team of historians to make sure everything that happens is plausible. However, what really stands out is the game’s art. It’s an amazing, animated 2D version of hand-drawn medieval manuscript illustrations. Trust us, you’ve never seen anything like it in a game.
Late medieval art was stylized but it did a fantastic job of conveying important details and a range of emotions, all of which make their way into Pentiment. In addition to illuminated — in other words, hand painted — manuscripts from the time, the game was influenced by artists such as Hans Holbein and Albrecht Durer.
A big part of medieval hand-copied book was the text. Monks slaved away in scriptoria to copy books, since printed books were rare and expensive. To mirror this, Pentiment’s text appears drawn in, stroke by stroke, sped up of course. The game uses ten authentic fonts, for different characters and educational backgrounds.
Sawyer acknowledges that Microsoft’s acquisition of Obsidian, and the opportunity for Game Pass release in particular, helped Pentiment become a reality. What could be a dry and off-putting niche game looks to be a fascinating and engrossing RPG that should have wide appeal. The art is totally unique, historically accurate, and absolutely at one with the story. Pentiment will release on PC and Xbox this coming November.