At the end of 2012, UK developer Richard Perrin released Kairo, a first-person puzzler with gorgeously minimalistic 3D environments to explore. The game rarely involved any dialog — for the most part you were feeling the solutions out. Sixteen months later, Perrin’s next release couldn’t be any more different. Journal is a side-scrolling, story-driven tale that plays with the concept of someone looking back on their life, and wondering how it could have been.
“Both of them were really products of circumstance,” Perrin says. “Kairo was an art style I could do completely on my own, which is what I needed at the time. But by the time I began on Journal I was working with a 2D artist, so it made sense to do something more suiting her style.”
He notes that both games are rather extreme in their portrayal — while Kairo told a story through actions alone, Journal revolves entirely around characters and dialog, with no reliance on traditional puzzles or game mechanics.
“I love storytelling in games in all forms, and it’s been really exciting for me to try it from lots of different angles,” he adds. “In all honesty, where I go next will probably be somewhere in between the two.”
Written with artist Melissa Royall, Journal follows the story of a girl who finds that the pages of her diary have gone blank. Although the game appears to initially imply that she’s lost her memories, it transpires that it’s more of a tale about facing unavoidable tragedies.
It’s a fresh and unique take on storytelling in video games that I haven’t seen elsewhere. Perrin suggests that there’s plenty of similar story-driven angles to explore that haven’t yet been tapped.
“I think video games have actually only really mined a very narrow subset of what we can do with storytelling,” he reasons. “If you look at the breadths of stories in any book store and compare that to a game shop, it’s actually kind of depressing. Even comic books, which are notorious for a focus on superheroes and action, are beating games right now because of the huge selection of independent comics telling personal stories.”
That being said, Perrin believes that recent years have seen story-driven games take large leaps in the right direction.
“Things are getting a lot better and there are a lot of other indies out there now exploring more interesting and personal stuff,” he notes. “You only have to look at the rise of Twine to see that things are changing for the better.”
Journal is available to purchase now.
[Mike Rose wrote this article for sister site Gamasutra]