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Pentiment: Art, Writing, and Change

"Italian pentimento repentance, remorse (a1257), change of opinion (1630), correction (a1827)" (OED).

With my free time lately, I have been playing a recently released game called Pentiment. Released just earlier this month (November 15) by Obsidian Entertainment (the same team behind the amazing Fallout: New Vegas). The game follows the player, Andreas - an artist that is currently serving an apprenticeship as an illuminator at the Keirsau Abbey in Tassing (Bavaria). As you go about your first few days of work and meet the people in the abbey and nearby town, a shocking murder takes place - and you must be the one to solve who the murderer is.

The game plays as a 2D side-scrolling game - the camera follows along as you move left or right. What is most interesting about this visual aspect, however, is that it is designed to look as if you are playing on the page of a medieval manuscript.

Fig. 1: Andreas working in the scriptorium

The visuals are meant to imitate the sort of art that your character is creating - drawing-like environments, sometimes flat perspectives, and a large focus on script.

Fig. 2: An image demonstrating the illumination and script as presented in the game.

If players are unfamiliar with a specific term, location, or name used, there is the option to look at this information on the margins of the page you are on. Here you find an explanation of the term, as well as drawings and text that sometimes deal with the area of the game you are in, who you are speaking to, or time of day.

Fig. 3: The view of the game as it is enclosed within a book - the story taking place has been written down, and you can examine the margins of this book for explanations of terms used.

Dialogue from characters comes up on the screen in text bubbles - depending on who is speaking and what their occupation is, the text changes. Monks often are assigned a Gothic-style font (described as the "Monastic Script"), while one of the families who own a printing press are given the "Printer Type" font for their dialogue. Interestingly, this dialogue also shows the letters being lined up as if the blocks were being aligned in the letter case, with the lines of dialogue all then being "pressed" or stamped at once, rather than gradually being written out (as if by hand) like the other dialogue in the game. The game even imitates the appearance of dipping a pen for more ink - you can see in longer speech bubbles when the ink appears to be slightly fading, then suddenly becoming darker again, or bleeding slightly, much like in a real manuscript. An article has already been written about this in further detail here.

Fig. 4: The different font used for Claus, a printer in town. His speech bubble lines up the letters in a letter case before being made clear to the player, highlighting his job as a printer.

At the beginning of the game, you decide the background and education of the main character, Andreas. Where did he grow up? What languages does he know? Which of the trivium and quadrivium from university did you study most before dropping out? What was your personality as a child?

Fig. 5: The skills a player has chosen for Andreas, including where he grew up, what he studied, and his interests.

I have only progressed about 7 hours into the game, but already the themes are apparent - the monks at the scriptorium are anxious about their jobs becoming obsolete. Patrons are not as interested in commissioning work any more. Even worse, one of the most recent patrons - a lord by the name of Baron Lorenz Rothvogel, attempts to debate with the abbot about the changes happening in the church. He attempts to discuss Martin Luther and his 95 Theses (a debate in which, you can choose to participate, much to the disappointment of the abbot) and openly questions the authority of the church and recognizes the changes that are approaching. Talking to members of the nearby town, situated at the bottom of the hill that the abbey sits on top of, reveals their growing resentment to the church that literally looks down upon them. Nuns discuss their limited roles - one who works at the library at the abbey talks to Andreas The time period of the game, taking place in 1518, demonstrates the shifts that are beginning to take place in the world.

I am looking forward to the how the game plays out, and how established themes continue to develop.

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