LOST WORDS: BEYOND THE PAGE
An emotional story-led puzzle platformer with a twist
PUBLISHER MODUS GAMES DEVELOPER SKETCHBOOK GAMES ETA 2019 On the surface, Lost Words seems like a standard 2D puzzle platformer, but look beneath its bright colour palette and charming character design and you’ll find a thoughtful story about the exploration of grief. But it’s not just the juxtaposition between theme and visuals that makes this game so intriguing, it’s also how you play it.
You take on the role of Izzy, a young woman who dreams of being a writer, who is also coming to terms with the sudden illness of her grandmother. Your time is spent both exploring the pages of Izzy’s journal and venturing through the fantasy world that she’s created, called Estoria.
The Journal section introduces you to the core mechanic of the game: using words in a sentence to solve puzzles. The Estoria section is a fully rendered fantasy world which Izzy’s in-game protagonist can explore. Here you can collect words which you use to change the environment. One example we saw had Izzy’s protagonist using the word ‘rise’ to raise a platform for us to reach higher ground.
The gameplay is cleverly intertwined with the story. At one point, the pages of Izzy’s journal flip when she finds out about the news of her grandmother, a clear metaphor for both her life turning upside down and her stomach turning due to the shock she’s experiencing.
To tackle the subject of grief the team had some professional help. “We’ve been working with the Wellcome Trust charity on how we tackle grief and how we inform people,” explains Sketchbook Games founder, Mark Backler. “Wellcome don’t really want it to be a preachy thing, or a self-help game, they want it to be a great piece of entertainment that’s informed by science and research.”
Visions of grief
This narrative is being crafted by Rhianna Pratchett. “I thought there was a lot of potential to tell quite an emotionally engaging story,” she says. “I wanted to take someone on the journey of grief and of grief being an echo of love, and how we as humans deal with grief. Also, the intersection of grief and memory, and that grief is not always completely dark. There are light moments within that and holding onto those memories.
“Loss was something I felt was universal, something everyone goes through at some point,” continues Pratchett. “I remember losing my grandmother and that first time when you realise that life is unfair and life is going to deal you shitty cards, and the realisation that people die and you’re going to die. I wanted that sort of loss of innocence.”
To do that convincingly it’s vital to look to personal experiences. “I drew upon my relationship with my paternal grandmother, who I spent a lot of time with until I was about 12,” says Pratchett. “I think there’s a particular relationship you have with your grandparents, if you’re lucky enough to have them around, that’s different to your actual parents. I remember all my grandmother’s sayings and all her stories, and how she would tell me all about Greek myths and legends, which I think she used to do with my father as well. I kind of wanted to capture some of that, the relationship between children and grandparents that is based on it being more relaxed and open and kind of ‘teacherly’, and the passing on of wisdom in little sayings and things like that.”
Lost Words seems to be hiding a lot between its lines, and we look forward to exploring Izzy’s story when the game releases this year.
“Loss was something I felt was universal, something everyone goes though”
Above Words can be used to manipulate the world Izzy has created.
right The way events creatively play out in the journal is an effective method of storytelling.