An emo­tional story-led puz­zle plat­former with a twist

XBox: The Official Magazine - - CONTENTS - Adam Bryant

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.

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