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an inventive puzzle video game set against a backdrop of moving romance

If you like video games that turn your brain around and make you rack your brains, Model is made for you. This American indie game, the first from Graceful Decay studio, is a nugget available on PC, PS4 and PS5. 5-6 hour long concept game with puzzles of all kinds, it presents solid arguments to test the most lively minds. But in addition to complex puzzles, Model stands out thanks to the moving love story set as a backdrop. A double technical and narrative success that is worth the detour.

A crazy concept of “world within a world”

The concept of Model is that of a “world within a world”. After a short introduction that allows you to understand the controls and familiarize yourself with the first person view, the player is dropped onto a sort of large square plaza. On each side, there are buildings that must be accessed in order to progress: a princess castle, Arab palaces, houses in the style of San Francisco, a cabin in the woods… It’s varied, colorful and quite beautiful. In the center of the square, a large dome houses a model of the world in which the game takes place. Exactly the same, with the square, the buildings and the dome, but smaller.

In Model, which would be the equivalent of a Christopher Nolan film adapted into a video game, you have to interact between the two scales of the world to solve the puzzles. Example with the first riddle: a large cube blocks access to the house you have to enter. In real size, impossible to move it but by going into the model, the cube is no bigger than a toy. By taking it as a reduced model, it can be moved without problem, an action which also applies to the large large cube in the “real world”. Too simple ? Rest assured, the game gets tough quickly.

An independent game that took 10 years to hatch

This original concept was invented by Hanford Leemore, an American programmer, over ten years ago. “For five years, I worked alone. Several times, I believed that I would never make it. I knew how to program but I did not know how to make a game, I had to learn 3D on the job”, he tells Europe 1. When his idea began to take shape, he was put in contact with Annapurna Interactive, a video game publisher. “We created the Graceful Decay studio but for three years it was just me and a sound designer. When it came to bringing the game to life, the team grew, we were 5-6 people. , depending on needs, we went up to 16-17. “

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Reinforcements welcome to materialize the very conceptual idea at the heart of Model. “Just ‘world in one world’ involves endless physical and mathematical simulations. Theoretically, you can transfer an object from one world to another, in any direction, to infinity. If you look closely. , in the model, in the dome, there is an even smaller version of the world. In fact, we stack an infinite theoretical number of layers. We had to build a simulation just for this idea to work, before even worrying about the layers. puzzles, “recalls Hanford Leemore.

Puzzles are good, a story is better

A job that pays off since Model is very fluid. The scale changes are done in real time and the game is cut only by short cutscenes. We see the world evolving throughout the seven chapters while maintaining a remarkable visual consistency. At the beginning, it’s surprisingly easy, almost relaxing, with relatively simple puzzles and contemplative passages, punctuated by very enveloping songs (special mention to pieces by folk singer Meredith Edgar). Then the game gets complicated. Here, you have to cross a collapsed bridge, there find a key to open a door … And the atmosphere becomes more tense as you advance in the story.

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Because the singularity of Model is the fact that puzzles fit into a narrative. “I quickly realized that the mere concept of ‘world in world’ had nothing to do with a game as such. So I started to think about the story around it, the puzzles, to music, etc. It’s like a director has a great idea for a car chase and builds the whole film around that idea, ”says Hanford Leemore.

Unexpected romance and Hollywood actors

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It was still necessary to find the right story to tell. “I first thought of something very simple, someone trapped in this world in a world. But I thought it was too expected for this kind of game,” recalls the creator of Model. He then starts all over again and writes blank stories unrelated to the game. “I was looking for something that spoke to me. One day, I wrote a romance. It was very personal but I couldn’t seem to figure it out. connect it to the puzzles. But I dug and realized that was the twist that Model needed. It was human, therefore unexpected. “

This story is that of Kenzie and Michael who meet in a cafe. She spills her cup on the poor unfortunate’s sketchbook and the conversation begins on their shared passion for sketches. Small specificity: we never see the characters. They are just voice-over dialogues unfolding while drawings are formed on the screen. Drawings which constitute the artistic direction of the game since it is in Michael’s notebook that the buildings are born which then constitute the different levels of the game. “With this notebook, we revisit the memories of the couple”, specifies Hanford Leemore.

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The strength of Model is to manage to instill emotion in a seemingly very banal story that is told without being seen. The voice dubbing has a lot to do with it since they are two Hollywood actors who lend their voices to Kenzie and Michael: Bryce Dallas Howard (The village, Jurassic World…) and Seth Gabel (the series Fringe and Salem). “We were looking for two actors with real chemistry. Annapurna Interactive is a subsidiary of Annapurna Pictures, which produces films. So they suggested Bryce and Seth who are a couple in life. They brought a lot of authenticity. to the characters “, rejoices Hanford Leemore.

Model, a striking and moving game

In fact, the love story constitutes a common thread that is as unexpected as it is well exploited. At first idyllic, it tilts irremediably towards the routine and the precipice. Each puzzle unlocks a new stage in the relationship, a tangled construction that makes sense. Each chapter increases the complexity of the puzzles as if to signify the difficulty in maintaining the simplicity of the early days. A “double game” which holds the road from start to finish. New game mechanics are introduced regularly, whether it’s moving objects from one world to another to change their size or changing the scale yourself.

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Model is the kind of game that ties the brain together. Especially since there is no help, you have to fend for yourself. It is not always intuitive, so all the more satisfying when you manage to solve a puzzle. The result is an almost perfect success. Far from being a fairly ordinary puzzle game, Model left a lasting mark with its creativity, its not really joyful but very accurate love story, and its very particular visual universe.

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